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Monday, November 30, 2009

Childhood Memories

We all talk about childhood memories. We all have them. Do you know what your first childhood memory was? I do, and I somehow think there's a moral to this story.

My birth father died when I was about three years old. I honestly don't remember him dying, his funeral or anything. I'm sure there must have been a commotion in our family and our routine had to have been greatly disrupted. But I have no memory of any of that.

It seems that I only have a couple of memories of my father. One seems to be when I was still sleeping in a crib and wanted out of it. (He wouldn't let me.) To be honest, that memory is so old I sometimes wonder if it's real --- or if I just imagine that it happened.

But there is another memory of my Dad that I'm quite certain of. I recall it ... and my mother used to recall it. She said it was the best indication of the inquisitive child I was going to be. We called it the "electrical outlet" incident.

There I was, playing in the living room. I found one of my mother's hair pins on the floor and began to tinker with it. Then my eye caught the electrical outlet beside the front door. My Dad and Mom were sitting across the room on the sofa, just chatting. As I moved to stick the hair pin into the electrical outlet, my father was an electrician and had an appreciation for what was about to happen.

Dad yelled but obviously couldn't get up and across the room in time to stop me. So he took of his shoe, and he threw it at me!

And there is my first childhood memory. Dad's shoe flying through the air. Me being knocked to the floor by the flying shoe. And the hair pin never quite making it into the electrical outlet.

I hadn't thought about this story in probably at least a dozen years. But then I ran across this picture on the Internet. (No - it is not of me.) Seeing it there made me realize that perhaps I'm not as unique as my childhood memory would have me believe. It made me wonder what it is that drives little boys to do such things. It made me wonder if little girls ever consider such things.

But recalling this story today, what I wonder most is what my father's memory of that story might be. Had he lived, would he tell about it? Would he remember it? He has been dead now for nearly 48 years. Would he know that one simple act of throwing his shoe would become ... and remain my first childhood memory, and be a story passed on to my children and grandchildren?

So here's the thing about childhood memories. They're events that live one way in the minds of the child who grows up and takes them with him (or her). But there are big, open questions about what role they may play - or not play in the minds of others in the stories.

And there's a mystery even for the child who grows up and takes the memory with them. What is the dimension or aspect of the story that moves it from a childhood incident to a lifelong memory that gets passed on to generations?

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