What’s Your Earliest Memory? Here’s Mine.

Allen Rizzi writes a blog that I follow. His post on March 30, 2021 (https://wordpress.com/post/janetswritingblog.com/17269) struck a chord with me and got me thinking. I made note of it so I could consider using the idea in one of my blog posts. I didn’t want to just duplicate the essence of Mr. Rizzi’s blog post, so I waited until I could put my own spin on it.

Mr. Rizzi asked his readers to share their earliest memories. The comments he received were surprising to me, for one woman remembered some details of a stay with her grandparents when she was nine months old. A man remembered his first ride in an airplane at the age of two.

I was amazed at both of those responses. I can’t remember anything from those early ages. I tried to think what my earliest memory was, but I was stumped for a few minutes.

My earliest memory

After pondering the question for a few minutes, I realized my earliest memory is of my Grandpa Morrison. He was the only one of my grandparents still living when I was born. He died when I was three years, five months, one week old.

Grandpa was unwell and pretty much bedridden by the time I was born. But he still had his cane. He spent his daytime hours in what is or was called a daybed. He kept his cane at easy reach. He didn’t shave every day.

My memories of him are specific: He delighted in taking the back of my tender little hand and rubbing it up his stubbled cheek to make me laugh. When I got within reach of his wooden cane, he delighted in tapping me lightly in the stomach to make me laugh.

Evaluating my earliest memory

I know what Grandpa looked like because I’ve seen photographs of him, but I have no recollection of what he looked like. Read that sentence again. Do you understand what I’m saying?

Taking it a step further, do you know why that sentence describes a distinct difference in memory? I didn’t understand the difference until I read Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova last week.

Dr.Genova is a neuroscientist and an excellent writer. She has to be an excellent writer if someone like me can understand what she’s trying to get across. Seriously. Understanding the intricacies of science was never my forte.

In her book, Dr. Genova explains how our brains create memories and store memories. She explains various types of memories: episodic, semantic, working, and “muscle” memory. She explains how working memory is able to retain a small number of items and for only 15 to 30 seconds.

Photo credit: David Matos on Unsplash.com

It was interesting for me to read in Dr. Genova’s book that the average age for one’s earliest episodic memory as an adult is three years old, so my memory of my grandfather was right on time.

Dr. Genova explains how we’re able to remember the details of an evening on the beach such as the smell of salt air, the name of the song playing, what we ate, and a child getting stung by a jellyfish. We remember that collection of details in an episodic memory; however, another person who was present on that same beach that same night might not remember what song was playing but they might remember there were mosquitoes. That’s because we each pay attention to different details.

The reason I remember my grandfather rubbing my tiny hand up he stubbled cheek and poking me gently in the stomach with his cane is probably because he did it repeatedly. It’s not that I remember “that time” he did it. I remember it because that’s the way in his bedridden state he was able to interact with me and the way it made me feel created a memory in my brain.

Grandpa couldn’t hold me on his lap. He couldn’t push me in a swing. He couldn’t play hide-and-seek with me. He did the two things he knew he could do that made me giggle. Once he did them once, he remembered they made me giggle. With that memory, he probably did those two things every time I visited him thereafter. In a fascinating way, his memory to do those things also prompted my brain to remember them. His memory of what made me laugh in turn made my brain create a memory.

One last word about my memories of my grandfather.

One of the last chapters in Dr. Genova’s book is about Alzheimer’s Disease. One point she makes about Alzheimer’s patients is that they might not remember for five minutes what you said to them, but they will remember how you made them feel. She refers to this as emotional memory.

I hope I’m not making an incorrect connection here – because my point has nothing to do with Alzheimer’s Disease — but this made me think about my memories of Grandpa Morrison. I don’t recollect what he looked like. I only know what he looked like from seeing photographs; however, I remember how he made me feel – even though I was only three years old when he died.

Back to Allen Rizzi’s blog post and my original question

Even after reading Dr. Genova’s book, I still marvel that a nine-month-old baby could years later remember her stay with her grandparents or that a two-year-old could remember an airplane ride, but I don’t doubt them because the brain is a complex and wondrous thing.

Photo credit: Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash.com

The more I learn about the brain, the more I’m in awe of it. To paraphrase something I heard Dr. Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project and current Director of the National Institutes of Health, say in a speech at Queens University of Charlotte a few years ago: The more I learn about the human body, the more I’m convinced that there is a God who created it.

Since my last blog post

I have finished reading or continue to read a number of books. I’ll share with you more about Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova, in my blog post on June 7 or June 14 when I tell you about all the books I read in May.

Thank you, Allen Rizzi for inspiring me to write today’s blog post.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. In her book, Dr. Genova says that one way we can try to avoid getting Alzheimer’s Disease (unless we’re predisposed due to our DNA) is to read books like hers that teach us new things.

Celebrate life and look for the positives. Look for the wildflowers! My yard and the open meadow across the road from my house are full of them!

Note: June is Audiobook Appreciation Month. If you’ve never listened to a book, try it. You might like it!


19 thoughts on “What’s Your Earliest Memory? Here’s Mine.

  1. I love this Janet. Especially how you emphasized it was how you felt when with your grandfather, not so much his physical appearance. You’ve planted a seed with me. Let’s see where it goes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post!
    My earliest memory is of myself laying on my stomach practicing to write my name in a book. I also hear myself repeating my name over and over as I write it saying it with a child-like pronunciation.
    When I recounted this to my mom, she said I would have been about 2 years old at this time and I went to pre-school early, my peers are all at least 1 year older. My mom says when I came home from half-day school I would lay on the floor and write through one exercise book, lol.
    I also remember several other memories from that time, like sitting on my uncle’s shoulders due to a flood while he took me to the pre-school. Incredible all that we are capable of.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have found that most of my first memories are those I have seen photo’s of and this makes me wonder if I am remembering it or the photo? Do you have photo’s of your first memories too Janet? Food for thought..lol

    Liked by 1 person

  4. No, I don’t have any photos of my first memory. In fact, there are no pictures of me with Grandpa. I know what you mean, though. When you see a photo all your life, that can’t help but influence your memory. I thought of you tonight when the hinge on the door of my toaster oven broke. Now it won’t close, so I ordered a toaster oven/air fryer combination. I’ll need to go back through your air fryer recipes. I didn’t pin any of them to Pinterest because I didn’t know they’d be an air fryer in my future.


  5. Thank you, Pene! I’m so glad you liked my post. That’s amazing that you were writing your name at two years old! I’m not sure I could do that until first grade. We didn’t have pre-school here then. In fact, we didn’t have kindergarten here then either. You have some great memories. I’m so glad my post prompted you to remember those things and talk to your mother about them. Did you ask her what her earliest memory is?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This was a great and interesting post Janet, I really enjoyed it and it made me think about the topic of memory as well as Alzheimer’s (my mother suffered this disease). My earliest memories are of my house on the beach, I must have been about 3 and I recall the house was on a hill overlooking the Caribbean Sea in Cuba. My father loved to go there from Spain…I remember the water and the beach and walking to the sand and stopping by the bar and getting ice cream…I remember my cousin and aunt who once came with us but their faces I only know from photographs…
    Take good care and all the best Janet. Hope your weather is fine, we’re warming up but still in the upper 50’s to mid 60’s Fahrenheit…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you. What a beautiful memory you have of the beach in Cuba! Thank you so much for sharing that. I could almost picture it in my mind, though I’ve never been to the Caribbean. I’m pleased that my blog post prompted you to think back and find your earliest memory! I’m so sorry about your mother. I think Alzheimer’s Disease an ALS are the saddest illnesses — and must be the most difficult for caregivers and loved ones to cope with.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes, they are very sad diseases and very difficult for loved ones and caregivers, especially if the caregivers are the loved ones. Thank you Janet, yes it is interesting to put one’s self through this memory exercise, the results are purely amazing! Take good care and have a great weekend. I get my second dose of Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday, God willing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yes, I asked my mom, she remembers being about 3 yrs old when her mom asked an older relative to walk her to school. She remembers her teachers and many other things playing with her old brothers, one in particular that she said was so gentle and kind.
    She said I would come home from school and refuse to take off my school clothes, lay on my stomach and proceed to write pages and pages in my book for hours, lol.
    I’m sure there were mostly scribbles, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Francisco, I’m a bit slow in responding. I’ve been working on too many projects this weekend and neglected my blog. I am so glad you’re finally getting your second Covid shot on Tuesday. Meanwhile, here in the US, many people are refusing to get vaccinated. It’s maddening, and I can only imagine how the situation makes medical professionals feel. I also wonder how the people in countries where the vaccine is scarce must feel when they hear that the US has more than it needs and yet some people don’t want to take advantage of it. The worse thing yet is that several states have started bribing people to take it by offering lotteries whereby they have a chance of getting money or a college scholarships. A young woman won $1 million in her state’s vaccine lottery. This really makes me angry. America has lost its senses.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pene, I’m so glad you got to ask your mother about her early memories. How sweet that she remembers one older brother being especially gentle and kind to her. I love that! It sounds like you wanted to be a writer when you grew up! That’s funny that you’d come home from school and just write and write and write.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I have been following these events and I am quite shocked because the vaccination plan has truly helped our situation here in Europe and all scientific and medical experts have said it is the right and most direct way out of this pandemic, so I really don’t understand the attitude of some people against the vaccine and against the wearing of the mask. It’s absurd. But we mustn’t forget those are the minority and although they speak loudly they don’t speak for all, not even most, thank God! I just read that a 36 y/o woman in Tennessee tried to drive her vehicle through a vaccination centre yelling “No vaccine!” Thank God she was stopped by the police…anyways Janet, these people are troubled and perhaps even mentally ill…take good care, good luck with your many projects and I look forward to your next post. Although I am not posting much I will keep up with reading. All the best,

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for your thoughts on the subject, Francisco. Yes, they are a minority, thank God! Many of the people here who refuse to take the vaccine are Trump supporters and they’re refusing out of a blind allegiance to him. Their loyalty to him and his hatred and conspiracy theories are reminiscent of the way people blindly followed Hitler. It’s not just anti-vaccine, it’s anti-everything good and just. Best wishes as you work on your book. Janet

    Liked by 1 person

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