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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Way I Am

What is your earliest independent memory?

You know the kind -- not one which you "remember" because of family anecdotes, or because you saw a video or photograph of it.

But one which you actually remember inside yourself. When you were aware of your own mental processes churning within, as they received stimulus from the outside world.

I have many, many memories which fall into the first category.

I can't properly decide if they are authentic memories, or if I've heard my parents recount the event so many times, that it feels like I really remember it happening.

Then there's this memory.

I am 4. Almost 5.

No more than that, I am absolutely sure, because later that year, my father accepted a position in Canada, and all three of us left England, my parents never to reside there again.

We're in Carnaby Street, in London.

I'm holding my father's hand, whilst with the other, he takes our old Bell & Howell Super8, and films the "scene" all around us.

People mill about, tourists, foreigners, locals, feet, shoes, legs, arms hanging down.

Everything a child perceives, from this world spent looking up.

A man with enormous light-blond dreadlocks approaches me, scaring me with his loud voice and manic Viking-reggae looks. He moves on, and I look back at him. He's playing the fool, jumping up and down like a carnival harlequin, aware he's being looked at.

I grab my father's hand ever more tightly. He doesn't notice. He's too busy capturing the scene, maybe already knowing he'll not return, and that it needs to be recorded for posterity.

Anyway, he's so tall, and I'm so small.

I'm disappointed, like children are when they're not the centre of their parent's universe that very second. It passes, but you remember it more intensely when it happens the next time.

Carnaby St is oppressive.



Narrow, hung with overarching signs and bunting all around you, buskers sometimes brush against you, advertising their shops on London's most with-it street.

There's this man I remember, one of those End-of-The-Worlders, who populate the major pavements of every city, their shouted doomsday preaching only surpassed by the John 3:16 signs always mysteriously present at every American sporting event.

He passes us by too. Dad films it.

A crowd of young people come towards us. In slow motion in my mind, I remember the taller of the men, with a red t-shirt, sees my father's Super8, and gives him the finger.

I look up. My father is grinning through the viewfinder. We continue walking.

My mother enters the memory at this point, the way childhood remembrances have a way of doing, disjointed, and non-linear.

She sees a boutique which is selling wigs. She takes my hand, and we go inside it, as beads part all around me as if by magic at the entrance.

The shop smells odd.

I don't know what that is. It's a little like the smoke in church I know on Sundays. But there is something else added to the mix. Sweat maybe.

A cat is sleeping by the counter, near which a resentful young girl barely raises her head from a book she is reading.

My mother gets her attention, and they go to another room to look at a dizzying array of buttercup-coloured wigs.

I am alone now. I look around.

Suddenly, a man pops out of the beads, and I recognise my old "friend" the harlequin.

He doesn't look down at me, making a face this time, and I am relieved.

He looks at me. No. He looks through me as if I were gauze. I look down at his feet -- he has enormous uncut green-yellow coloured toenails; his arms are covered in tattoos; his eyes are blood-shot and yet register nothing.

Wild, angry, desperate eyes.

I look at the shirt with the weird sign. It's torn. It's dirty. I don't like this man.

I remember thinking to myself, at that moment, aged 4, with a crystal clear memory -- I remember thinking these very words inside me:

Whatever it is, I don't want to be anything like him.

Years later, when I was in San Francisco, a city which is majestic in its elegance and cleanliness, I was having a latté at an outdoor café, watching people go by.

It's one of my favourite activities -- watching, observing, drinking in the moment.

Suddenly, a skinny guy walks by our table, and I feel winded as if punched in the abdomen, immediately transporting me back to that feeling I had.

I am 4. Almost 5.

Telling myself, whatever the mad Viking is, is everthing I don't want to be in life.

And when I was surfing at a website just now, reading about a Veterans Day event which was canceled Monday, I saw that t-shirt again, making me queasy remembering that moment: alone, in the Carnaby St shop with the funny smells.

So here it is, just for you.

Never let it be said that children don't know who they are at an early age.

They know exactly what makes them feel good, or bad, inside.

15 Comments:

  • It's tough at times to distinguish between what you learned through your parents' retelling you and what you remember independently. My earliest real memories also go back to around 5 years old and mostly include the scary moments (an older boy who wanted to fight me) and the happy (big costume party) ones. I remember my parents not liking castro and his men as they marched into Havana. As an adult, I went many years without ever growing a beard because of those commies!

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Wed Oct 19, 08:57:00 am GMT-4  

  • Like father, like daughter, it appears you are getting a blurred finger too. Is that what brought back your memory? Or was it the t-shirt?
    Mine is age 5 or 6, with my father in downtown Pittsburgh waiting for a, we called them streetcars (trolleys)after meat shopping, and seeing amputees, especially one pushing himself on a flat cart, having no legs.
    They were war veterans, somehow surviving without the support system in place today.
    I always think of him whenever I read or see of prosthetic advancements and war casulties.

    By Blogger Paul, at Wed Oct 19, 11:11:00 am GMT-4  

  • My earliest 'amazing' memory is that of Sandy Koufax in the 1963 World Series. I have memories (even of baseball) before then, but Koufax stood out like a beacon!

    I also remember watching the Kennedy Assassination, yelling for my mother to come upstairs (from doing the laundry) and she couldn't hear me! So I drug myself down the stairs, (I was quite sick that day, and even walking was difficult) just to get her to come up and see...and I'll never forget the look on her face...

    By Blogger Ron, at Wed Oct 19, 02:14:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Late age 2/Early age 3:

    1) Playing "Laura" in "A Doll's House" (my infant brother was the baby brother) in community theatre

    2) Being rushed in a car to the hospital with my head wrapped in ice packs after being badly mauled by a dog, and being held down for the stitches

    3) Watching my mother make music reeds

    By Blogger reader_iam, at Wed Oct 19, 03:10:00 pm GMT-4  

  • It's tough at times to distinguish between what you learned through your parents' retelling you and what you remember independently.

    Sometimes my memory of the event in question varies from theirs.

    Then I begin to wonder -- is this something I really remember, as the independence of the memory would suggest or...how accurate can an 8 year old be? :)

    I remember my dad got out on the tarmac at Heathrow, showing me a 747. I must've been around 6.

    I remember it VERY well.

    My mother says she remembers that as clear as day too, but that we were in Ecuador not Heathrow!

    I told her, ECUADOR? What were we doing there -- she says, your father was invited to go to lecture so-and-so places in South America, and we were in transit.

    Come on, mum. Ecuador, no way.

    Dad says he doesn't recall. Typical.

    My earliest real memories also go back to around 5 years old and mostly include the scary moments (an older boy who wanted to fight me)

    Aww. Did you?

    and the happy (big costume party) ones.

    I have those too! I loved my birthday parties -- especially the one where my parents invited loads of kids I didn't even know (it's hard when you're an only child), and as a surprise, my parents gave out party favours at the end.

    As the kids left over our big lawn in my father's parent's home in Oxfordshire, they dipped their little hands inside some cloth bags, and pulled out baby chicks. :)

    (I called mine "John Paul", BTW. He was trampled by a housemaid called Susan...argh. I hated her)

    Every once in a while, now older, people come up to me in England and when they find out who I am, they say, "the chick girl!".

    I remember my parents not liking castro and his men as they marched into Havana. As an adult, I went many years without ever growing a beard because of those commies!

    That's amazing, Jose.

    Well, I like my men well-shaven anyway. ;)

    What else do you remember?

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Wed Oct 19, 07:14:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Like father, like daughter, it appears you are getting a blurred finger too. Is that what brought back your memory? Or was it the t-shirt?

    It was the t-shirt, but that's a good observant catch, Paul.

    I did notice the blurriness and the possible "finger" being given by the nerdy-looking girl, but I was rivetted to the spot by the hammer and sickle -- which I LOATHE.

    It's that t-shirt which sparked the memory.

    Mine is age 5 or 6, with my father in downtown Pittsburgh waiting for a, we called them streetcars (trolleys)

    Trolleys, how lovely. :)

    after meat shopping, and seeing amputees, especially one pushing himself on a flat cart, having no legs.
    They were war veterans, somehow surviving without the support system in place today.
    I always think of him whenever I read or see of prosthetic advancements and war casulties.


    The dread and sad mutilées de guerre syndrome is one you don't see on the streets every day these days.

    Possibly because of the very advances of prosthetics you mention, Paul.

    What an unusual, but may I say, utterly rational childhood memory that is.

    It's exactly the kind of thing a child never forgets. :)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Wed Oct 19, 07:19:00 pm GMT-4  

  • My earliest 'amazing' memory is that of Sandy Koufax in the 1963 World Series. I have memories (even of baseball) before then, but Koufax stood out like a beacon!

    Cool!

    It's funny you should mention Koufax, because his story fascinates me.

    Here's a guy who walked away, possibly the most intimidating, most complete pitcher in history (pace Bob Gibson), in the prime of his life.

    And of course, his reclusiveness is what makes him fascinating -- he harkens back to a time which didn't confuse famous people with celebrity.

    What a difference to Don Drysdale and his wife, Doris Day, huh? :)

    I also remember watching the Kennedy Assassination, yelling for my mother to come upstairs (from doing the laundry) and she couldn't hear me! So I drug myself down the stairs, (I was quite sick that day, and even walking was difficult) just to get her to come up and see...and I'll never forget the look on her face...

    I am so impressed.

    I loved this anecdote, largely because, despite not agreeing with his politics a lot of the times, I like President Kennedy's era and story a lot.

    Stay tuned for my Conspiracy Theories post, still in the works. ;)

    ...were you watching when Oswald was killed on TV?

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Wed Oct 19, 07:24:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Late age 2/Early age 3:

    What a memory.

    1) Playing "Laura" in "A Doll's House" (my infant brother was the baby brother) in community theatre

    Excellent! What an adult a play for your parents to include both of you in. :)

    Are/Were they active in the theatre world?

    2) Being rushed in a car to the hospital with my head wrapped in ice packs after being badly mauled by a dog, and being held down for the stitches

    Oh Lord. Do you have canine phobia today because of it, if I may ask?

    That ex-boyfriend I mentioned in another post was scared even of my (late) little poodle, because of exactly the same experience.

    3) Watching my mother make music reeds

    Beautiful. She DOES sound artistic or at least, inventive. :)

    I remember my mother dipping eggs into multi-coloured paint, and putting cotton balls on them for Easter.

    And I also remember the first (so far, the only) time I ever saw my father cry. When his father died.

    It shook the foundations of my world.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Wed Oct 19, 07:28:00 pm GMT-4  

  • No Victoria, fortunately our older sisters intervened and the fight was avoided! Sorry to hear about your baby chick's horrible demise!

    My memory of those early years is very spotty as we were pulled out of school when castro intervened and we moved a couple of times while my father went underground. I do clearly remember the day my sister and I left Cuba through the Peter Pan Project conducted by Monsignor Bryan Walsh here in Miami. We ended up in a Catholic orphanage in Indiana until my mother escaped a year later through the Ecuadorian embassy. (Maybe you were both at the same airport, same day? Just kidding, you're too young!)

    Incredible all the things that come out just from reading your blog!

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Wed Oct 19, 09:24:00 pm GMT-4  

  • reader_iam's post brought back memories for me of how my mother taught me to read. I didn't start with childrens books; she gave a Scholastic Hamlet and Micky Spillane's I, the Jury.

    Living near a Westinghouse wearhouse, where they threw away any and all things, I did a bit of dumpster diving as a child and came back with a Globe Illustrated Shakespeare. Being a sickly child, and armed with a book stand made with two coffee cans filled with cement, which held two large screws threw a heavy piece of wood set at an angle, I would read the small type aloud to my huge collection of stuffed animals. Eventually, I used these stuffed animals as "actors", and learned to do different voices (some stolen from cartoon characters!) to distinguish the different roles in the plays...all to myself, just out of love for the sounds of the words...

    It's good to get those old fond memories rekindled...

    Thanks!

    By Blogger Ron, at Thu Oct 20, 01:11:00 am GMT-4  

  • No Victoria, fortunately our older sisters intervened and the fight was avoided!

    Hermanas al Resgate!

    I said it first!

    Sorry to hear about your baby chick's horrible demise!

    Yeah, but don't worry.

    I made Susan's life miserable after that, since she WANTED to kill John Paul (I know it. Paranoid, moi?).

    Being a local girl, she had a village girl's dress sense -- very plain and countrybumpkinish.

    So I would grab hold of her extremely long blond pigtail, and hitch a ride on it all day long, as she tried to kick me from behind. In vain.

    Don't cross me, Jose! I have a mean streak about me.

    My memory of those early years is very spotty as we were pulled out of school when castro intervened and we moved a couple of times while my father went underground. I do clearly remember the day my sister and I left Cuba

    Wow, I've seen all the Pedro Pan documentaries (2) on PBS and elsewhere.

    Poor thing for what you went through, Jose, but you and the Nazi Kindertransport kids, at least share a bond of the transplants...

    through the Peter Pan Project conducted by Monsignor Bryan Walsh here in Miami. We ended up in a Catholic orphanage in Indiana until my mother escaped a year later through the Ecuadorian embassy. (Maybe you were both at the same airport, same day? Just kidding, you're too young!)

    Monsignor Walsh! That man should be a million times better known than he is today.

    If he had helped a different type of minority, MSM would be swooning all over him to report about what he did, or at least to "unearth" him as a lost saint.

    But because he helped the children of those evil Cubanos...you get the picture. :(

    Incredible all the things that come out just from reading your blog!

    I know, right.

    I told my parents the story about John Paul, and they marvelled at what I talk about on this blog.

    However, bad news, my mother says it was a duckling, not a chick, but my dad this time confirms my version.

    I will not be budged.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu Oct 20, 01:11:00 am GMT-4  

  • reader_iam's post brought back memories for me of how my mother taught me to read. I didn't start with childrens books; she gave a Scholastic Hamlet and Micky Spillane's I, the Jury.

    Hey, that's wonderful, Ron and kinda coincidental!

    In my post Nostalgia I mentioned that my great-grandmother used to read me Hamlet at night as a bed-time story, and then her husband, my great-gramps, would make puppets of Henry V and re-enact Agincourt scenes for me.

    No Mickey Spillane though -- but I did read James Thurber, Edna Ferber, Saki, and others when I was maybe 7 or 8.

    I just picked up some books one day, and started reading. No one stopped me, then or now. :)

    Living near a Westinghouse wearhouse, where they threw away any and all things, I did a bit of dumpster diving as a child and came back with a Globe Illustrated Shakespeare. Being a sickly child, and armed with a book stand made with two coffee cans filled with cement, which held two large screws threw a heavy piece of wood set at an angle, I would read the small type aloud to my huge collection of stuffed animals. Eventually, I used these stuffed animals as "actors", and learned to do different voices (some stolen from cartoon characters!) to distinguish the different roles in the plays...all to myself, just out of love for the sounds of the words...

    Aww. That is beautiful.

    I especially like that you were a curious child, and that your parents, who must've known about explorations right?, didn't stop you from fishing around for stuff.

    It's good to get those old fond memories rekindled...

    Thanks!


    My pleasure. :)

    And hey -- I know a lot of people's childhoods are not sunny and warm all the time.

    We all have our bad memories, where we were scared, or hurt, or worse.

    But what makes growing older so much fun, is it allows people to see just how much we miss our childhoods -- for their simplicity, and yes, innocence.

    When I think of how much I wanted to grow up, and fast, (14 going on 55), I could kick myself.

    One has 18 precious years to be a child. Then 60 years to be an adult.

    What a gyp.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu Oct 20, 01:21:00 am GMT-4  

  • Hermanas al Rescate, now that was very funny! Muy ocurrente Victoria!

    You are right on ragarding Monsignor Walsh, he was bigger than life to us Cuban kids! What a wonderful man and representative of God here on earth.

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Thu Oct 20, 03:11:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Victoria:

    While I think part of "early remember-ers" has to do with hardwiring (my own son shows the same propensity, like me but unlike his dad), I suspect #2 goes a long way toward explaining why everything got so vivid at an early age. The stripping away of the fog of innocence, and all that.

    To answer your queries:

    1 & 3) Parents are musicians, and there was a lot of artistic crossover as a result.

    2) For a long time, yes. It was probably exacerbated by the fact that the injuries required scores of stitches, and I underwent plastic surgery three times before I reached first grade. Even when I could consciously control my fear (or try), if I heard a dog bark without knowing one was nearby, I would literally become soaked with sweat and start to shake. Later in life, even when required to do so by a job, I had serious difficulties approaching houses with dogs outside and not under the physical control of a (trustworthy) human.

    But, love conquers all ...

    In my '30s, I met the man I later married, and he turned out to be a confirmed dog lover. It took a while, but almost 14 years later, we've celebrated 10 years of marriage, and I have celebrated more than a decade of being a co-dog owner (we have three).

    I'm still VERY vigilant about dogs where my child is concerned, however, and I can't abide German Shepherds (though I hide it well).

    By Blogger reader_iam, at Thu Oct 20, 06:07:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Being rushed in a car to the hospital with my head wrapped in ice packs after being badly mauled by a dog, and being held down for the stitches

    Wow, I have a similar memory of being wrapped up in a blanket in the back seat of the car being brough to Sick Kids hospital because of a bad concussion. I also remember eating jello and hamburgers that tasted like cardboard.

    I was reading at the Doctor's office yesterday about children who have memories of past lives. There's a researcher who has documented many cases of young children knowing verifiable facts about a grandparent's life. It's all very strange and they apprently forget as they get older. Very freaky stuff.

    By Blogger Renato, at Fri Oct 21, 10:12:00 am GMT-4  

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