I have for years tried to identify my earliest memory. For years? What a ridiculous phrase. It’s more since some age I’ve been trying to identify my earliest memory, some age when I realized I might forget my childhood, that I might be getting older. I don’t know what I’m saying except that perhaps 10 year olds don’t sit and try to identify their earliest memories because they are still experiencing them. Maybe sitting around with new friends made at college and we are drinking and smoking and talking as we seemed to do every day and every night after class, we talked about our earliest memories as a way to inform each other of our lives, our parents, our houses. Maybe I described the print curtains hanging on the windows of my bedroom. The tree with the hammock of an arm that my brother climbed and made a fort in, but I was too small to climb the tree and join him so instead a stood on a stepladder to be close. Maybe I talked about the chickens we slaughtered, the lambs we bottle-fed, the many cats and kittens that lived in the hay loft, the strange men who drove up our gravel drive asking for permission to hunt on our land, such strangers because we as a family didn’t hunt, so these men, they seemed maybe a different breed of man.
These are all memories I have of my childhood. Some of them must be mine because the men I were never suggested to me by an old photo like maybe the curtains and chickens, the lambs and cats, and the tree fort. At what age do we begin to treat our memories as something we may forget? As though we are (because we are) becoming nearsighted with age and the past stretches further from us like the horizon sometimes looks like the end of the earth rather than just how far the eye can see.
Maybe when my mother died when I was twelve I engaged in the too-early exercise of determining my first memory of her. But that too, how can I know what memories I have that weren’t hers? She told me about the day she and my dad and my brother picked me up from the adoption agency. My brother gave me a stuffed lamb (I know this to be true as I still have parts of the lamb, parts because one of my dogs would later discover it and treat it as his chew toy) that day. My parents took me, and two black garbage bags of toys I had been given by my foster families, back to the farm. This is not a memory I have, but this is my mother’s memory that I hold for her long after she died and she can no longer tell me the story again. So perhaps it is mine after all.