Thursday, 3 May 2007

The edge of memory

I was having a think about my first memories last night, trying to see through the thick fog that has accumulated at the commencement of my life, to see if I were able to gather up any discernible shapes, dust them off and give them a good hard look at.


I have thought about early memories before, particularly while reading this book by Carl Jung. In it, he shares what he believes to be his earliest memory - he lying in his pram, enjoying the sun streaming through foliage as he is being pushed along.
I returned to the topic of first memories when viewing the writing challenges from EveryAuthor.com. Challenge #6 was called "pre-verbal", and offered these instructions: Take a pre-verbal infantile memory and set it to words. Now a few commenter's suggested that this could not in all reality, be done, and I have thought about it and, I must agree. I could offer an interpretation of the situation, but that is probably the limit of this exercise.

As far as infantile memories go, the fog thickens around the two - two and a half year mark.
I remember my 5th birthday party; being told by David Williams that I was "going to marry him. He would have a farm. I would be his wife and make his dinner". David was a nice enough boy. He was a friend. I was in no way infatuated by him, at any point in my young girlish life. I can't really detect a feeling that went only with his heartfelt demand. Perhaps I was a little shell shocked, like, "Wow, someone really wants to marry me...neat, but hey...you can make your own damn dinner!"
I remember wearing a chocolate coloured sun dress with little flowers on it, complete with GOD AWFUL frills around the straps. We had our playgroup graduation party straight after my birthday party, and so most of us went down to the school for a "Do" that the year four class was hosting. My mother didn't like David's family very much, and spent the entire party tearing us apart and steering me toward this older boy, who was the son of my Mum's friend. While we were dancing, this particular friend of the family kept lifting my arms up to peer down my dress...I didn't like it and spent the entire time trying to get clear of him, and then wrestling my arms down to the sides, in an effort to preserve my dignity.

Speaking of sundresses; I also remember one Christmas, my Aunt and Uncle giving me a grass green and white striped seersucker, floor length sundress with a frill at the bottom, and yes, it really was as ugly as it sounds. My parents made me put it on to show my Aunt and Uncle. I HATED it, and remember running away screaming and hiding behind a door. How embarrassing. I can only imagine how horrified my parents might have felt by that display. I was probably about three.

I also remember my third birthday party. The memory of my friend Vicki screaming in hysterics while my Mum was trying to take our picture, is helped along by the lasting photograph in the family album; her outstretched arms and tear streaked, traumatised face is frozen in that moment, for all eternity. I do remember her howling her head off, and wondering "what is wrong with you?"

I remember falling into my Grandparent's drain. It was a grassy trench, set at the back of their house, with a river of thick black sludge running along the bottom. I was probably a little over three years old. I don't remember the actual fall into the drain, but I do remember that I was promptly taken home in my Grandpa's ute, and being sat as far away from him as possible as we journeyed home, because I stunk. I also remember being scrubbed in a warm bath of water, smelling strongly of Dettol.
My brother and I are only 15 months apart in age. I remember this day. Not sure how old I am, perhaps three and a half. Mainly I remember cracking the absolute shits because the photographer insisted I hold the block, and I wanted the puppy. This grown man made just as big a deal, by insisting I hold the damn block, as I did, in wanting to hold the puppy. I was affronted that he should give me the insignificant inanimate-looking boring block. I wanted the cute little dog, "because ....because ....because I AM cute DAMN IT. Don't you GET IT! I am a living breathing person, not just another prop in your damn picture.....you bastard." I was such a delightful child.....

I grew up on a farm in the sticks, which was surrounded by scrub. One of the summer hazards of such a location were the snakes. If you are not an Australian reading this, then you have probably heard the rumours about Australia and our venomous snakes...well those rumours are all pretty much true.

My Dad was so concerned that we would naively want to pat the "nice snakey" sunning itself somewhere, or chase one as it tried to slither away from us, that he put the fear of God into us concerning such creatures. I can not remember him warning us about snakes, but he has told me that he did, and from a very early age. It must have been a fairly grave and penetrating conversation, because I have always and continue to this day, to have a profound snake phobia. The mere slight of one slithering across the yard half a mile away, is enough to see me crumble into a screaming, panicked and terrified mess.

So befitting the theme of this post, the earliest memory that I can recall, is not from infantile days per say, but from a time when I had probably just begun my career as a steady confident walker- perhaps I was two.

It was just after lunch, and I had run outside. My parents were still sitting at the table, probably drinking coffee or something. We had a broad veranda that ran around three sides of our federation-style stone homestead. I rounded the first corner at the front of the house, when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. When I got to end of the veranda I dared look back. Confronting me was a disturbed brown snake that had most likely been curled up asleep in the sun, prior to me running past it.

From my perspective, I was trapped. I could not run back to alarm my parents of the snake that was now slithering around in front of me. I didn't really have the vocabulary at that stage, to yell exact details pertaining to the emergency occurring outside, nor the ability to communicate feelings concerning the threat to my personal safety, and so I did what every other kid my age would likely do in such a situation, which was scream my head off in blood curdling decibels, in order to get my parents off their behinds and come out and see what the hell is up. I can only imagine the conversation from inside. It would have gone something like this......

"What the hell is wrong with her NOW?"
"Probably went arse over head or something"
"So.... do you want another cuppa?"
"yeah, sure".
silence...well, besides the wall trembling screaming in the distance.

"She is still howling her bloody head off out there".
"f*#@!"
"(resigned sigh) I'll go out and see what the problem is".
"WHAT. IS. WRONG WITH YOU?...oh!"

"HEY! You better get out here, there's a bloody snake!"

Apparently my Dad shot the snake. He is petrified of them too. I don't remember him shooting it, although I was aware that he shot other ones. Maybe my Mum took me inside at that point, but I do remember him heaving its lifeless body over the fence on the end of a garden fork; its body writhing on the end of the fork like it were made of rubber. My Dad would then bury it somewhere out in the scrub. I always had nightmares of snakes and falling into snake filled pits, after that. Shudder.

So there you go, just a little glimpse into the early memories of the The Brave's warped little brain. I still couldn't manage to put words to an early pre-verbal memory. I think really, the best one can do is paint the scene with words, rather than implying a running dialogue. It seems to be the feeling or emotion, and the sensory aspects of those early memories that stick in mind, rather than the running commentary. What do you think?

6 comments:

shishyboo said...

Stauss you are a super cute 3 year old in that photo. how gorgeous!

totally get the fear of snakes, if you're not scared of Australian venomous snakes then there's something wrong with you!

Loved your stories, I have flashes of memory of my very young childhood but not enough to really to create such vivid images for other readers. you have such a gift!

Jay said...

wow, you have a lot of memories from such a young age.

Tracey said...

Like shish my early memories are nowhere near as vivid. And a couple I wonder if I only "remember" because of photos and my parents relating something that happened.

You make me want to borrow all the old photos from mum's old albums and scan them in though! I don't have any of my baby photos.

But going back to you.. you really do have a gift! and you were a pretty cute 3 year old indeed!

Kathleen said...

I must agree with tracey. I think my "memories" stem mostly from discussions over photographs, rather than an actual memory or impression. You are fortunate indeed to have such a brilliant memory.....it's a gift! Thanks for sharing it.

monkeyinabox said...

So, can you watch Raiders of the Lost Ark or do the snakes freak you out too much just like Indiana Jones?

strauss said...

My early memories are "islands" in a sea of murky consciousness, as Jung says, not really connected to anything else, just moments. I lived in my first childhood home until I was 10.
And Monkey, I can watch Indiana Jones, but will close my eyes to such scenes. Even while providing the brown snake link, I was peering through open-but-a-slit eyes, just in case there was a big fat snake displayed on the opening page - dear me.