Tuesday, November 26, 2013

false memories

"To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night.  It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously."

Felipe and Jennifer have recently regaled us with answers to a common question: "What is your first memory."  Both of them related some very early memories in their inimitable styles.

I fear, though, that most of my early memories carry the same precatory language in which Dickens ensconced David Copperfield's early memories.  I am convinced that a lot of what I think I know, I was told by my parents, friends, or relatives.  The restored memory of my jallaba being only a recent entry in the "not-in-Steve's-head" contest.

But there is an early memory that I am convinced is my own.  Whether it is the earliest event I could pull out of the archives, I have no idea.

It was the summer of 1954.  I was 5 -- one of those ages where memories seem to start sticking. 

At the time, we were a logging family.  And logging required some mobility in those still-wild days of felling timber.

That summer we had parked our trailer in Sitkum on the shores of the East Fork of the Coquille River.  It was a perfect place for a boy of 5 to wander.  A forest alive with birds, caterpillars, and large carnivores.  And a river filled with water dogs and fish.

It was along that river that I found my first big treasure -- an abandoned tackle box.  The details are a bit vague, but I knew enough that it once belonged to a fly fisherman because it was filled with an assortment of feathered lures with barbed hooks that easily drew blood from young fingers.

At the time, I did not realize a fisherman was undoubtedly not too far away.  But certainly far enough away not to notice the light-fingered Hobbit lifting his tackle.  Even though I did not keep the tackle box (I am certain my parents found the rightful owner), it left a lasting fondness for the artifice of fly fishing -- with its tarted-up lures and their hooks artfully hidden from the eyes of fish far more greedy than wise.

But that summer contained an even more magical memory of my father sitting with me at our kitchen table teaching me the magic of making change and telling time.  With a stack of coins and a clock face, he initiated me into the rites of fractions and the relationship between numbers.  How addition and subtraction play yin to the other's yang.  And how a 10-base number system can hide a 4-base system when money is involved.

Did I understand all of that at 5?  Of course not.  But he planted the seeds that led inexorably to the knowledge of what it was like to live in an irrational world with a matrix of logic laid across the chaos.

What amazes me is what I do not remember.  I do not recall much other than the woods and the river behind our trailer.  And, for some reason, my mother and brother (he would have been 3 at the time) do not play parts in this particular memory.  I know they were there.

But that is the way of my memory.  For whatever reason, the tackle box, the river, the clock face, and, of course, my Dad are center stage in this set piece.

What I do not doubt is that the memories are mine.  The snow suit story, my reluctant introduction to Santa Claus, my wry comments to Aunt Bessie.  Those memories are so mixed up with tales repeated by relatives that I have no idea whether I was even a conscious participant.

That summer is my own.  A summer that somehow reminded me of Woody Allen's closing lines in Radio Days.

I never forgot that New Year's Eve...
when Aunt Bea awakened me to watch 1944 come in.
And I've never forgotten any of those people...
or any of the voices we used to hear on the radio.
Although the truth is...
with the passing of each New Year's Eve...
those voices do seem to grow dimmer and dimmer.
So, I raise my glass to memories.  They are what make us who we are.

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