Ah Yes, I Remember It Well

Today’s guest post comes from Steve Grooms

My artistic friend Sue has no difficulty describing the earliest memory of her life. Sue remembers looking through the bars of her crib at flowers on the bedroom wall. The wallpaper flowers were “funny,” she recalls–lumpy things with ugly colors. Such deformed flowers could only be somebody’s idea of a joke, and Sue laughed out loud. She had seen real flowers, so elegantly formed and suffused with vivid color, while these ugly blobs were nothing like that. By working with old photos and family lore, Sue has dated that memory to a time she was two or three years old.

Some folks simply cannot retrieve early memories. A friend once told me he has no memory—no memory whatsoever—of anything before his last years of high school. I find that spooky. Most people remember events from when they were four or five. One of my friends insists she has a clear memory from when she was two. I’m skeptical, and yet I don’t rule it out. Scientists tell us that children have memories from their earliest years, but as they age children lose those first memories, replacing them with later ones.

When my daughter Molly was a toddler, her daycare mom, Julie, talked with her about a woman who lived nearby. Julie once took her daycare class to visit that neighbor, and she mentioned this when Molly was about three. “I know,” said tiny Molly. “Her dog is Samson.” Julie was gobsmacked. When Julie took Molly to the neighbor’s, Molly was an infant, so young she hadn’t begun talking, and yet she remembered Samson. Molly no longer has that memory.

My earliest memory was set in the upper half of an old duplex in Manchester, Iowa,where my mother, my sister and I lived during WW II.

The duplex where Steve’s family lived during the war – the scene of the very first memory
I was two or three years old at the time, most likely three. My mother was using a metal key to wind the strange little cuckoo clock in our living room. The clock had a pendulum and a fat painted bluebird that wagged left and right.

“Where’s Daddy?”
“He’s at The War, Stevie. Daddy is a soldier and he is at The War.”
“Why doesn’t he come home?”
“He has to be a soldier now.”
“I miss my Daddy.”
“He’ll be home after The War.”
”But when?”

This is the exact spot along the Maquoqueta River where Steve caught his first fish.

That memory surely predates my recollection of catching my first fish. My father is part of this memory, so he must have been on leave or (more likely) this happened in 1945, shortly after he came home from Japan. Our family was enjoying a summer day in Tirrill Park in Manchester. The park is bordered on the west side by the Maquoqueta River. My father set me up with a fishing rod, baiting my hook with a worm. Against his repeated instructions, I walked up and down the bank rather than sticking to one spot. Then I caught a fish, a white crappie. Several years ago I returned to Tirrill Park while researching the book I was writing about my parents. With no effort I walked to the spot where I caught the crappie.

It is harder to describe the time my grandfather bought me a “drumstick” (one of those ice cream novelties). I was four at the time. I had eaten a drumstick before, but only one. Drumsticks, like most nice things in life, seemed to my child’s mind like magical and random events. When my grandfather bought that drumstick I suddenly realized that drumsticks were a normal part of the world; you could have one at almost any time if you had money. Life was more orderly and predictable than I had understood. Joy was repeatable, at least potentially.

My only clear memory of kindergarten took place on the first day of school. I was five. Toward the middle of the day Miss Carlson ordered the kids to take a nap. I rolled out my rug next to the rug on which Susie Stoever was trying to sleep. Perhaps I should mention that Susie was a blond cutie with a pug nose. I stretched out on my rug, my head near Susie’s face. Disgusted, Susie swapped ends so her feet were at my head. I switched so we were again head-to-head. We repeated that sequence several times before Miss Carlson dragged me off to the cloak room, that gloomy overgrown closet where we stored our coats and galoshes. And there I napped alone. On my first day of school I was busted for sexual harassment!

Some of my early memories have ideas or discoveries attached to them. When I was in first grade, a kid in my class named Andy Williams (same name, but not the singer) stood before the class to deliver a report. Up on the wall above Andy was a picture of our president: Harry S. Truman. Sitting in my seat (on the far right hand side of the class, three rows from the front) I suddenly realized that that was Andy up there talking, not me. “Hey, that’s Andy! That is not me! He is Andy and I am Steve. HE has to give a report and I do not!” It was my discovery of how each human being has a separate consciousness and a separate experience of life. I leaned back with a smile as Andy quavered his way through his report.

This last memory is my favorite, and it too is hitched to an epiphany. On a rainy spring night, I was in my crib in the little bedroom that my sister and I shared in the years right after the war. I was four or five. As cars moved north along Carroll Street, their headlights shone through our cottage’s picture window and made a spot on my bedroom walls. While the cars were distant that spot would move slowly, but as the cars passed us the light would suddenly whip around the bedroom walls with startling speed. Similarly, the tires of the passing cars hissed as they rolled along the rainy street. That hissing became louder as the cars got near us and then reached a crescendo of Doppler Effect just as the autos went by us and the light spot was zipping around. I clutched the bars of my crib and gloried in this show of light and sibilant sound. “This is beautiful!” I thought. And then I thought, “There is such a thing as beauty.”

Do you have any favorite memories from early in your life?

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143 thoughts on “Ah Yes, I Remember It Well”

  1. Good morning. Very nice entry, Steve. I think the earliest memories of the kind you described come from the first grade. I can picture a wooden plane that the first grade teacher helped me make. I do remember a little about places I lived when I was 4 or 5 years old. I don’t remember any specific events or interactions with people at those places. I have seen pictures of those places, but I think I remember some details that aren’t in any pictures. For example, I remember a swing set that was in our yard at one of these places, but I don’t think I have ever seen a picture of that swing set.

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    1. thanks jim i had forgotten the swingset in brainard. my moms soul partner in helpng me burn off the energy. i remember scaring the crap out of her by swinging too hard and having the swing come over on top of me. she had me in one of those little seats where you are locked in so when it came over i was entrapped with the swing around me and the frame for the swingset on top of me. what really made me mad was that she wouuldnt let me get back in there and start swinging again. she wanted stakes pounded into the ground, i spent an entire childhood ripping the stakes out of the ground of my swingset. should hae cemented in those poles. or put up a tire swing.

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      1. I don’t remember anything about playing on that swing that I recall from a time when I was 4 or 5 years old. I do remember that it was actually not a purchased swing set. I’m fairly sure that my dad made it by putting two posts into the ground and hanging a swing from a cross bar fastened to the posts.

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        1. sounds like just the thing to coat a track field with. the idea of cinders on the track surface never made a lot of sense to me but it did leae a lasting impression to the guy who went down after handing off the baton and giving it all he had.

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      2. Jim and tim: swing sets aren’t in my very earliest memories, but I sure remember them from when I was five and six. I was the kind of kid who stood on the wooden swing seat so I could “pump for speed” with my arms and legs. We had some impressively tall swings at my elementary school. And does anyone remember “bailing out” from the swing at the top of its forward motion? You could launch yourself into space and fly quite a distance. Today’s swing sets are boring, low, disgustingly safe jokes.

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        1. Agreed. I was also a “pumper”, and loved the tall tall wooden swings in Marshalltown’s (IA) Riverview Park. They have of course vanished.

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        2. I think the swings at my son’s former elementary school are still pretty high, and lovely pea gravel to bail out into too. I was telling him just the other day about the asphalt covered playgrounds of my youth, and I have to agree with him, that was just a daft idea.

          Every pair of pants I owned had patched knees and my knees are a mess of scars to this day.

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        3. MIG yes, asphalt is a terrible idea. Schools from my childhood had something almost equally bad, and you never see it these days. When homes, businesses or schools burned coal to make heat–and that was the standard fuel for warming then–there would be “clinkers” left over. Clinkers were about the size of a cantalope and had an odd, molten look. The were a ubiquitous byproduct of making heat. People smashed clinkers to turn them into cinders. And all of our playgrounds were covered with cinders. Cinders coated many alleys and driveways. If a kid bailed out and came down on a knee, cinders would go into the wound and mark the spot for life.

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    2. Thanks, Jim. I think you are right to think that our familiarity with a photo of early times can give us a false sense of remembering something. The memories I mention all came to me without the aid of a photo. Wouldn’t it be fun to have that airplane now?

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  2. Rise and Remember Baboons!

    Fun memories Steve. What people remember and whether they hold on to the memories is so interesting.

    I think my earliest memory is from about 18 mos. My parents took me to my grandparents house so she could babysit while they did something else. At this time I would have been around Grandma a lot, but probably a year prior to that my parents moved to the Amana Colonies from Nevada. Dad was a herdsman there. We were back in Nevada to visit, so contact was not as frequent as it once was.

    The primary impriint of this visit is emotion–interest and CURIOSITY. My mom told me, “We are leaving you with Grandma. You be a good girl.” They sat me in her lap because by that time she was wheelchair bound. That wheelchair was VERY interesting as was Grandma. And it was interesting and FUN to sit on her lap. She wheeled us into the GREEN kitchen to fix lunch. She picked up a device often shown in cartoons–one of those thingies that stretches out with a pincher on the end to pick up things. This thingie was INTERESTING. I wanted to try it–i was CURIOUS! How does that work? I WANT THAT!! Then Grandma said, “No. Be careful. That will pinch your fingers. Owie.

    And that’s it. Nice Grandma, and I want that thingie.

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      1. And the odds you remember that color correctly are less than even.
        My children had a grandma in a wheelchair and with all sorts of fum implements for her handicap, which made her apartment a fun place to visit. My mother-in-la

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      2. Judging by my children, the odds you remember the color correctly are less than even. My kids are full of vivid detailed memories they insist are correct that are not.
        My kids had a grandma in a wheelchair with an apartment full of fascinating handicap gadgets in a building with an elevator. What a place to visit it was for them. The lady had four grandkids, all of whom from their first beat seemed to understand to be very gentle with her. As babies in her lap on the chair they would lie very still, when normally they were pretty active.
        I am a late bloomer for memories, age 3 and half for my first, the day we moved into our farm. I only have snippets of memory for quite awhile after that. The day I saw the barn or fire when swinging on the backdoor screen, playing under my mother’s quilts in their
        frames while she stitched, a collie who played with the deer on the hard snow by the snow fence. That does not seem possibly correct, but sister and mother verify it as true.

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        1. I have a feeling we all have different memory areas that are stronger than others-for me, it tends to be visuals-the prints of my mother’s cotton housedresses I used to play dress-up in, china patterns, how the furniture was arranged in a room.

          I suppose my earliest memories are of the house we lived in in Tama, IA. We moved from there shortly after I started first grade, so all the memories have to predate that. I have a good sense of place and could probably draw a pretty accurate floorplan of the house as it then was (including wall colors, which my mom has confirmed :) ). To this day, I long to live in another bungalow.

          That house had a mostly unfinished basement, with a carwell in it. I used to go out hunting with my dad (pheasants-I wore my little red nylon parka with the thin black nylon hood that stuffed into a pocket on the back neckline), picking up hickory nuts and stuffing my pockets with them.

          Dad would clean the pheasants in the carwell, and one time, he must have shot the rooster he was cleaning just after it had gorged itself on corn, as when he cut into it, kernals of corn exploded all over that carwell.

          Weird thing for a little girl to remember, but there you are.

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        2. What is not weird, MiG, is that your memories are visual. You are artistic, and you remember the look of things. My friend Sue, who is the most visually creative person I’ve met, once told me, “ALL of my memories are visual.” Her eyes (or her vision, I guess) is literally different from mine. Sue can walk into a patch of clover, bend down and instantly come up with a four-leafed clover. Those “jump out at her” as a break in the usual pattern. Because you are gifted with artistic vision, I expected you to have visual early memories.

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    1. Wow, Jacque! That’s an early memory, but one filled with delicious specific images. I could probably give you my thingie (no naughty jokes, please). I have one of those “grabbers” that I no longer need since my rheumatoid arthritis has been beaten into submission by drugs.

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      1. I checked on the color with my parents. Indeed the color was green. However my mother was a little surprised. She is the one who said I was 18 mos. old.

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  3. hey steve nice intor to the day.
    we moed form frgo to brainard when i was 1.we lived there til i was 3 i dont remember fargo but i remember lots of stuff form brainard. i had a tractor i rode all over town, lots of stories from my wanderings but lots of memories too. took the neighbors basset for a walk along the mississippi river which was in our back yard. it was kind of a pain because so many people had fences in their back yard it made it hard to just walk to where you wanted to get to, i was always watching the river because there was a thing sticking out of the water and someone told me it was a log but i thought for sure it was an alligator just sitting perfectly still until i wasnt looking. i had a baby sitter who had layer upon layer upon layer of pettycoats and i thought that was cool, cowboy shows on tv were wonderful entertainment. and puzzles but once youd done them a time or two there wasnt much to them. my dad had just taken a job with my moms dad doing road and bridge construction and was gone to build stuff dutrint hte week, my mom was the typical 50′s housewife chatting on the phone watching as the world turns and creating a circle of friends from the church social committees. she needed her time away from an overly curious eternal motion machine so she would lock me in my bedroom using washcloths to jam the door shut. soon i was on to her tricks and was able to pull the door open then she resorted to butter knives in the door jam to keep me in the room. we moved to bloomington in 1957. a small town of 13,000 people with a cornfield across the street in the backyards and the minnesota river 3 blocks away. ray dewberry and scottie bowman were my partners in crime and we had the childhood memories are made of.
    i remember those lights form the cars at night. i had forgotten those. they were magic werent they. i also had an odd experience in a retail shop in brainard where the florescent lights ont he ceiling against the tin roof made such a pattern i was mesmerized by it. i still see it when i rub my eyes sometimes. i see a little electronic digital display behind my eyelids that always reminds me of that store.
    i had a high school counselor ask for my earliest memories when he was doing an anaylisys on why school was such a challenge for me and he was frustrated that it went on and on and on. i thought thats what he wanted he thought i was trying to avoid the question. i didnt know he had gotten to the question yet.
    thanks steve a flashback to 1957 is a cool way to start the day.

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    1. Great post, tim! Have you been back to Fargo? You should visit your old neighborhood and see if you might not have a memory or two. When I went back to Manchester I didn’t recall the address of our ugly brown duplex (shown in that first photo). But I was able to drive right to it. Mom and I used to walk from the duplex to her mother’s home, which was about five blocks away. I knew it instantly, and you might remember something of Fargo if you go back.

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      1. You are convincing me I need to stop in at Tama when I am down that way in a couple of weeks, Steve. I have no idea how to get to that bungalow (especially now that the elementary school one block over is now gone-another blog, I am thinking-really I need to get writing), but remember the address clearly as 707 Harmon Street.

        (for the record, we them moved to 316 So. Fifth Avenue, Coon Rapids, IA 50058, our phone number was 712-684-2425-if you would like my current cell phone number, I will have to look that up for you).

        I’ve got a head for number sequences as well as images, so long as I have a singy-sort of rhythm for them, which makes me think it is more of a music memory than numerical. Song lyrics I have no trouble with, but lines in a play were always the very devil for me.

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        1. MIG, I’m with you on phone numbers – I can tell you that my best friend’s phone number when we were growing up was 825-8843, but have to look up Husband’s cell number when I write it on forms (he’s speed dial #3 on my phone, so no muscle memory other than “3″)

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        2. I still remember the first phone number I ever knew, 982921. It belonged to the parents of a best friend when I was 11. Don’t know why I remember it since we didn’t have a phone at the time so had no opportunity to ever call her.

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        3. our first phone number was 107-J4, party line, 2 rings. I think we had 10 phones on our 1st party line but only 2 rang at our house.

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      2. The twister near the wizard of winepeg dropped a tree on it months after we left
        All that was remaining were the red ruby slippers of the wicked witch of the norths sister
        We were glad we hit the yellow brick road for brainerd when we did

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        1. If you are referring to the 1958 tornado, that was a horrible tornado that killed may people- 5 or 6 children from the same family, as I recall.

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  4. When I was about 3 we briefly lived in an apartment, or actually an upper duplex perhaps, and the woman who lived downstairs had a parrot that talked. I don’t remember anything the parrot said, probably just the usual things people teach parrots to say. We didn’t have pets when I was growing up, so having the bird living downstairs was pretty fascinating to me.

    The only other thing I remember about that apartment was that the bathroom sink had two faucets, one for hot water and one for cold. It wasn’t very unusual then, but it was the only place I’ve ever lived that had plumbing quite that vintage.

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  5. I remember a lightening storm in the middle of the night when the Presbyterian church across the street was struck by lightening. The commotion woke me up. I got out of bed and looked out the window, and I had to stand on tiptoe to see out over the sill. Given my height, I couldn’t have been too old-maybe 2 or 3. I also remember standing in the kitchen when I was only as tall as the kitchen table. On that occasion I remember facing the table, able to see more under the table than on top of the table, making the decision that I was no longer going to eat cooked carrots. I have no idea why that memory sticks out in my mind, or what prompted me to make such a decision.

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    1. I remember standing in my parents’ second floor bedroom in the dark (I was age 3-4, no doubt supposed to be asleep in my own room) and watching the lights of a distant radio tower. They were downstairs listening to a radio comedy, maybe Fibber McGee and Molly.

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  6. I enjoyed that post, as well as the comments so far. Memory is a funny thing, and such a valuable commodity considering how intangible it is. I’m embarrassed to admit that three of my earliest memories involve television.

    I remember playing under a table in an unfamiliar house, and being drawn out of that position by music that caught my ear. I later told my mom about this persistent memory, and she was amazed because she remembers it as well! I guess we still lived in NY then, so I was about 2 years old. We were visiting my mom’s aunt, who I didn’t know well, and I was shy so I hid under her coffee table. But they had the TV on, and a sh

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    1. What the wha…? I posted my first comment from my phone, and never noticed that it sent two instead of one (and this one went out incomplete!). What good is a “smart” phone if it doesn’t know better than to do that type of thing? ;)

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  7. I enjoyed that post, as well as the comments so far. Memory is a funny thing, and such a valuable commodity considering how intangible it is. I’m embarrassed to admit that three of my earliest memories involve television.

    I remember playing under a table in an unfamiliar house, and being drawn out of that position by music that caught my ear. I later told my mom about this persistent memory, and she was amazed because she remembers it as well! I guess we still lived in NY then, so I was about 2 years old. We were visiting my mom’s aunt, who I didn’t know well, and I was shy so I hid under her coffee table. But they had the TV on, and the Monkees came on. I guess I dug it because mom tells me I made a beeline for the TV during one of the musical segments and started dancing! I never remembered all this details myself, but when she filled in the blanks for me I was amazed that my memory did come from something real and not my imagination.

    I also remember being scared of Lucille Ball – for some reason, I thought her red hair meant she was a witch – and I remember watching Sesame Street and thinking it was the most magical, awesome thing ever to appear on my screen. I never gave that opinion up when I got older, as it turns out.

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    1. I can have no such early memories, Chris, because I’m so old my earliest years were before TV was commonly available. We bought our first TV set to watch Queen Elizabeth’s coronation (on June 3, 1953, almost 60 years ago). I was almost 11 when that thing entered our house. I was struck by the cigarette packs that danced on long, pretty legs.

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      1. My mom was disappointed when I stopped watching “Sesame Street,” because of the Spanish language lessons. She’d wanted me to learn Spanish so we could travel in Mexico and the Southwest–they’d been stationed in New Mexico for a while and loved it. Unfortunately, my dad decided to send me to a school where the only languages were German and Latin. Claims of Latin’s utility for learning other Romance languages are, alas, highly exaggerated.

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        1. I still remember the words abierto (open) and cerrado (closed) because of a segment on Sesame Street. I can’t remember most of the Conversational Spanish class I had in college, but those words I will never forget. Thanks, Maria and Luis! :)

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    2. I am a proud first-generation Sesame Street watcher. I still miss Mr Hooper, think Big Bird is the best friend a kid could have (Carroll Spinney wrote a slim little book about being Big Bird – it’s wonderful), and am a little disappointed that everyone can see Snuffleupagus now. And then there was Electric Company…oh I had such a crush on Easy Reader (Morgan Freeman) and thought Fargo North, Decoder was the funniest thing ever.

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        1. A favorite…the original Electric Company was so clever…and so full of talent (knew Rita Moreno first from EC and “hey you guuuuuuuys!” way before I ever saw “West Side Story”…)

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      1. Love this post, Anna! I never saw the Carroll Spinney book and will check on that in a minute. I have many books on Henson and on the Muppets, and the recent book chronicling the history of Sesame Street and the Children’s Television Workshop (Street Gang, by Michael Davis) is totally fascinating for anyone who is a fan of the show.

        Electric Company rang my chimes, too. I used to have an album with some of the routines and characters on it. Wish I still had it now!

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        1. UPDATE! I went looking for the Carroll Spinney book and found it, so thanks for mentioning it, Anna. :) But I also looked for the Electric Company album I used to have, and it is available for free download since it is now out-of-print. Just grabbed it and have already listened to the Easy Reader song, one of Fargo North’s phone calls, and of course the awesome opening theme. If anyone else would like it, here’s a link: http://wayoutjunk.blogspot.com/2006/07/electric-company-times-two.html

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  8. Yes, Renee! You just reminded me that little kids are intimately familiar with the under-sides of tables, whereas adults always know the tops but don’t have a clue about what is under the table. We had a card table that had a cardboard top. On the under side was a printed label showing several adults in 1920s garb standing on such a table.

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      1. I used to go to work with my dad from time to time (mostly the occasional Saturday he had to work when mostly we had the place to ourselves). Loved sitting in the kneewell of his desk while he worked. The smell of green metal desk and printers’ ink makes me think of my dad.

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    1. Yes, and on rainy days you would throw a blanket over the card table for a fort. Maybe someone would bring you a snack in there. :)

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      1. Bingo! One of my most delicious early memories, Barbara, is putting two or three card tables together and then draping sheets over them. I somehow constructed a two-story house that only a tiny person could fit in. My sister, two years younger, remembers that too.

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        1. You will be happy to know, Steve, that that has never gone out of style.
          It was a sad day for my son and the nephews to realize they are now too tall to comfortably sleep in the best place in my parent’s basement, under the pool table!

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        2. I never got over the urge to make forts out of blankets….just made one this weekend with Daughter for her and a pal to sleep in on Saturday night that stretched over about half the living room (it helps to have a grown up to reach the high places to get it started when you’re going that big).

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      2. I still do this with my daughter on occasion. And we always remember to bring snacks with us, because what good is a snackless fort? :)

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    2. I remember in 1st grade, sitting, squashed in a cardboard box with someone and singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ very loudly. Other students and the teacher would come by and look at us in the box and laugh and point; not making fun of us, just laughing at what we were doing. Mind you, I still have no idea what Yellow Submarine is really about.

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  9. Fun post, Steve. I have a lot of memories of the house we lived in till I was 5, on the edge of Storm Lake, IA. Earliest concrete one (I must have been 3, because we got rid of Blackie when my sister was born, and I was 4) would be of me rolling our little dog Blackie down the basement stairs, instead ot carrying him as I’d been asked. Then I felt so bad I sang him this little song I’d learned somewhere:
    I had a little doggie that used to sit and beg;
    But Doggie tumbled down the stairs and broke his little leg.
    Oh Doggie I will nurse you, and try to make you well
    And you shall have a collar too, and a little silver bell.

    I seem to have a good memory for songs – seems like I can remember almost any tune I’ve ever heard, and I can play them on a piano, like my mom.

    Hope to remember more throughout the day.

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      1. Did you have to reveal this?! Yes, that old cat lasted nearly 21 years and was my best (often felt like only) friend throughout childhood. I named him “Timothy Grunchen Grooms”. His middle name came from my intense jealousy of my grandma’s neighbor girl, Gretchen. You see, she had polio, got to use crutches, and got lots of attention that I did not. At 3 or 4, I couldn’t sound out her name, so “Grunchen” was the result.

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        1. cb, I can only imagine how lonely you must have been to be jealous of a girl with polio! I went to a Catholic boarding school where a girl named Wanda, who had had polio and who had to wear a metal contraption around her torso to keep her erect, joined us. I recall the lecture we got before Wanda arrived; we were to be kind and gentle with her and not shun her because of her handicap. Wanda arrived and we were all very protective of Wanda and wanted to be her friend until we discovered she was a selfish and spoiled girl who was mean to everyone. Didn’t take long before Wanda didn’t have a friend at the school, and no one to play with. She transferred out in short order.

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    1. I’m the same as far as remembering songs, Barbara. I think that’s why I have retained more U.S. history and grammar facts from Schoolhouse Rock than from my actual school! If I can sing ‘em I can remember ‘em, for the most part.

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        1. I’ve heard a story about a tour guide asking a group if anyone knew the Preamble to the Constitution and being startled when the group, all Gen-Xers, started singing “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…” Probably not true, but funny anyway.

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  10. Several years ago, there was one of those anniversary shows about “Laugh-In.” I watched it with mild interest and no recollection at all…until they got to scenes of the joke wall. I remembered it, vividly! Of course, it’s the sort of thing a small child would be fascinated by–bright colors and people playing peek-a-boo. The thing is, I have some difficulty imagining my adoptive parents as fans of the political and racy “Laugh-In,” as they were older, conservative folks whose tastes ran toward “Hee Haw” and “Lawrence Welk.” Perhaps Mom watched it while Dad was at work on the second shift, but I might have seen it on visits to my birth family–my earliest bad memory is of screaming and crying as my then foster parents left me at my biological grandmother’s (I actually found that house when driving around Frogtown looking for a friend’s place; kinda creepy). Other good early memories: seeing an albino squirrel in the backyard of the apartment building we lived in before I was 5, finding what seemed like a humungous walking stick (the insect, not the accessory) in the parking lot, and the Como Zoo volunteers bringing a python to my nursery school. Some of the girls were afraid to pet it, but not me–a live snake feels soft, sleek and full of life, which makes the dead, dried-out skins they use for purses and shoes truly horrifying.

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    1. Oh, man… Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk were a HUGE part of my childhood! My grandparents often babysat for my sister and me when my folks went out on a Saturday night, and there would always be the same block of TV on when they came over: Lawrence Welk, Hee Haw and The Benny Hill Show. And I do remember Laugh-In just a bit as well, though I don’t think my folks were regular fans of that one.

      I also agree 100% with your opinion about pythons, and any other animal used for shoes, purses, belts, etc. Blech.

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      1. frank scott was the piano player and an important part of lawrence welks arrangements for the show he was our next door neighbor in fargo dont cha know

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  11. My earliest memory of childhood was when I was 19 months old in the summer of 1957 and living with my parents in an 8×32 foot trailer in Lone Tree, Iowa while my dad was getting his degree in civil engineering at the University of Iowa. I’d crawled underneath the trailer where it was cool and dark, when I heard my mom calling for me and I didn’t come out right away. My mom remembers it well too for obvious reasons!

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    1. It seems that a ubiquitous early memory is of being tiny and hiding under things. I can remember the sense of power I had when hiding in places too damned small for my parents to enter.

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    2. We also lived in a trailer when my dad went to grad school, but it was for 3 summers in Greeley, CO, and the trailer was a 16-footer! Lived mostly OUTSIDE.

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  12. The photos can be enlarged by clicking on them. In the first one, I’m the tyke on the little trike. You won’t recognize me, as I didn’t have my beard then. These photos come from an incredible book my mother created for my father, who was away at war, for Christmas of 1945. It has ten black and white photos taken by my grandfather and hand-tinted by my mother. For each picture my mother created a little poem. The book is meant to represent our average life during the war to entertain the man who was sad because he could not be there with us.

    This is an indulgence, but I’ll share one poem, the one that accompanies a picture of little me in foot pajamas saying my prayers.

    8:00 PM
    Now I lay me down to sleep
    (and gimme a cracker will yuh?)
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep
    (why does I hafta go to bed when I’m not sleepy?)
    If I should die
    (You died the fly with your swatter, didnt ja Mommy?)
    Before I wake
    (Where’s my tractor?)
    I pray the Lord
    (No, I don’t haffta go-go Mommy)
    My soul to take
    (I’se awful thirsty)
    And bless Mommy and Daddy and Nancy
    and Nownie and Clarence
    and Grampa and Gramma Grooms
    and all the cows
    and all the piggies.
    Amen.

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  13. I have a strong memory from pre-school (I was probably four or so) of getting on our painting shirts and wondering why mine was so much smaller than everyone else’s. I had brought one of my daddy’s old dress shirts just like they asked, so why was mine so much shorter?…it didn’t occur to me to that my dad was probably half a foot shorter than most of the other dads (he was big to me, so shouldn’t that make him the same size as all the other dads?). A year or two later I remember getting a little painting easel of the variety with painting on one side and a chalkboard on the other – I don’t remember opening it, or anything else about the Christmas when I got it, but I remember being delighted that I had something for making art that was just mine. All mine. Also remember being able to play with tools under the supervision of my kindergarten teacher’s husband and making a “clock” out of a 2×4 scrap, a triangular scrap of wood, a big 16 penny nail and a purple crayon (he also gave us his old mailman’s hat for dress-up in our little yellow play house)

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  14. My earliest memories go back to when I was roughly 2 years old. We lived in Newcastle on Tyne, and I recall visiting auntie Annie and uncle Fred, the parents of my mother’s best friend, auntie Marge (after whom I’m named). They lived in one of those long, low grey brick row houses. I was sitting in my highchair at the end of the table, right inside the front door, most likely for a Sunday noon dinner. Dessert, jelly and custard, my favorite, was being passed around during lively conversation among the adults. To my horror they forgot to give me some. I waited politely, having already learned at that young age to not make a nuisance of myself, but when it became clear that they had forgotten me, I started to cry. My memory of this incident is crystal clear; I can tell you exactly who was seated where at the table. Insignificant as the incident was, it must have been pretty traumatic to me since the details of it are seared into my memory in such detail.

    I have a few other memories from that time, one is visiting uncle Fred at his place of employment. He worked for the railroad and his “office” was upstairs in a dirty brick switching station overlooking a large rail yard. I loved sitting on his lap watching the trains below, like a giant train set laid out for me to enjoy. I also recall having a very beautiful fiberglass pram for my doll. I was allowed to play on the sidewalk, unsupervised, but had strict orders to never cross the street. The row houses went all around the block, and I knew that the fish and chips shop was at the opposite end of the block in the row house behind us. I could walk there without crossing the street, and I often pushed my doll in her pram there. The owner thought it cute that this tiny girl, all by herself, would visit, and he never failed to reward me with a cone of newspaper filled with chips. I kept going back until my Mom caught me doing it and put a stop to it, couldn’t have a child of hers begging for food!

    I can date these memories pretty accurately because we moved to Ireland when I was 25 months old, two months before my sister was born. I have lots of memories from the time in Drogheda where my sister was born, many of them very traumatic and life changing. I also vividly recall arriving in Stubbekøbing in the fall of 1946 when I was 3 1/2 years old, and breaking my leg in a sledding accident that winter.

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        1. I totally believe you, PJ. :) And what great details you have in your memories! Mine tend to be a lot less specific. Only a very few from that early period are as clear in my head as your memories seem to be in yours.

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  15. Glad you got the custard, PJ! Most of these memories are pleasant. I have one of the other kind from when I was four. The people next door liked kids, me especially, so they kept gum or candy treats in a jar in their kitchen. They always welcomed kids in to have a treat. One day they were gone. Sure that they would want it that way, I walked in and helped myself to something from the treat jar. I think I later mentioned this to my parents, who did NOT take the same view of what I’d done. They insisted that I go next door that night and apologize for being a thief. I remember standing in that door, sobbing and begging for their forgiveness (which they readily granted). It is important to teach kids ethics, but that would not be how I would handle such a situation.

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  16. The traumatic and life-changing memories I referred to above involve sharing a bedroom with two of my mother’s teen-aged brothers. They sexually molested me, night after night during the six months we lived there. Of course I had no idea what they were doing, but I knew it was wrong and I hated it. I began fretting and crying when it was bedtime, didn’t want to go to bed. Mom couldn’t understand why I had suddenly become such a difficult child, and used the only parenting tool she had in her toolbox to cure me; she beat me. It was the beginning of the physical abuse she heaped on me ’till I left home when I was 18. I never told her (or anyone else) of the molestation; I don’t think she would have believed me. One of the brothers that molested me was killed in a motorcycle accident seven years later when he was 23. A couple of years after my mother died (1992), I learned that the other older brother ended up in prison. He had gone on to sexually molest his own daughter (and who knows how many others before that?), and when she became a mother herself, she outed him; didn’t want him anywhere near her daughter. I was 11 the last time I saw him, and he tried molesting me then too, but I knew enough to never be alone with him. He was a handsome and charming man, but a despicable, disgusting human being; no one ever suspected what he was up to. It wasn’t until I learned about him going to prison, and the reason for it, that I finally had the courage to talk about what had happened to me when I was just 2 1/2 years old. I felt guilty for years for not having told on him; perhaps he could have been prevented from continuing his predatory ways. Maybe! Or perhaps I would have just gotten more beatings for making up such awful lies about two of my uncles.

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    1. Oh PJ, I hope you have gotten help and support to begin to heal from such horrible treatment. Nobody and especially no tiny child or baboon should ever be treated so terribly.

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    2. It’s not something I dwell on or think about a lot anymore, but I have often wondered, since the revelation of all the sexual abuse by Catholic priests, whether those uncles were sexually abused themselves by priests in their church. Wouldn’t surprise me, but I’ll probably never know.

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      1. Unfortunately, cases like this are like the “gift” that keeps on giving. Once you start investigating back, you find perpetrators and their perpetrators and their perpetrators, ad nauseum.

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        1. Im afraid you’re right, Renee; it’s a lot more common than many people realize and until about 20 years ago, something people wouldn’t talk about.

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        2. Yes, and the denial runs just as deeply as the abuse. Unfortunately, you’re probably quite right to think that you wouldn’t have been believed and that nothing would have happened to stop them from hurting you or other children. I’m so glad you were able to find your way through it all.

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    3. PJ, how incredibly horrible for you. Too young to know how to tell your mother what was happening to you, except by crying. And her awful response to that. So sad. You seem to have turned out to be caring, kind and thoughtful in spite of what you endured. Amazing.

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    4. Oh goodness PJ – this just makes me angry on behalf your two-and-a-half year old self. Good on you for being able to get through it and beyond it. Can go back in time and put your little self in my lap and rock her and tell her she’s safe now?

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      1. Thanks, Anna. I have done that very thing myself. It took a good long while before she let go of the rage and pain that had been pent up for so many years, but I think she has finally forgiven everyone.

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    5. PJ, I wish this had been different for you, and I wish your mom could have responded differently. So often people just try to overwhelm and control what appears to be the problem when they do not understand.

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      1. Jacque, you’re absolutely right. In retrospect I know that my mother was a product of her time and place. She didn’t know any better, and I don’t blame her. Her childhood was a nightmare. Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes describes what poverty among the Irish looked like for that generation and that was the reality my mother and her siblings lived through. For better and for worse, it informed their whole lives. I know she loved me fiercely the only way she knew.

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        1. angelas ashes was so powerful and so sad. he and his brothers all seemed to turn out to be such gentle and caring people. i ws told once an alcoholic will either have children who are alcoholics or ones that will never touch a drop. maybe you turned out to be so introspective and good with people is a result of going through the truama of those early injustices. you turned out pretty good, we all have things e wish would have been different but you have it in spades, thanks for sharing. glad to hear karma got the boys.

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    6. Oh, PJ. How horrible and painful. You are intelligent and kind, and you have been brave and you’ve come very, very far. Thanks for sharing this with us. I hope that confiding in us can be a balm to that old, deep sore in your heart.

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  17. My God, PJ. I am so sorry that you had to endure such trauma and hope that the intervening years have brought you healing and as much resolution as possible.

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    1. it has been playing through my head all day. that and thank heavens for little girls are my two favorite chevalier tunes

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  18. Such a rich topic! Thank you for opening it for us, Steve. Everyone’s stories are so incredible.

    I THOUGHT that my first memory was of the house in Detroit, where I was born. There was a church or convent neaby that had bells that pealed a number of times per day. My memory was of the image of a large bell, just hanging in the sky, no supports or bell tower. Later, I realized that that couldn’t be a literal memory. I was also pretty sure about my image of the white sided, dark shuttered Cape Cod style house we had there.
    When I was pregnant with #1 son, wasband and I stopped by Detroit on the way to Ontario to find that house. We found it and it was not a white sided Cape Code but instead a brick double bungalow. I realized that that “memory” had been created by my image of our second house in Connecticut that looked just like that.

    Early memories from the second house (ages 3 to 7) house include the hidey-hole in the eaves behind my bedroom, playing on the rusty jungle gym, playing with “just a little bit of fire” nearby my father’s leaf fire (remember that wonderful smell?) and creating and narrating my own TV show (in my mind) as I galloped around on a stick horse. I had a name for myself which i cherish to this day. I can’t share it because I use it for passwords that only my brother and sister could crack.

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  19. You’ve just given me a wonderful new password, Lisa. Not yours, but one that I can start using. It was the name of my imaginary playmate when I was four, the name being as spurious as the playmate. And (sigh) I miss the smell of leaf fires. That was THE smell of autumn in my town.

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  20. I seem to recall that you had an absolute terror of something like a steering wheel? Or, did I just make this up?? I also remember the most exciting time of the year being our trips to Des Moines where Dad’s friend, Gus, treated us to unlimited amusement park rides at Riverview (side?) Park. He was a state inspector, so we got in for free. We’d often travel over the two hills between Ames and Des Moines in our feet-pajamas, so excited that we could barely contain ourselves!

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  21. One of my favorite memories is of a time when people granted others a private space. Privacy. A time and place away from the world and others. A sense not to intrude on others anymore than you have to with noise, smells, talk, etc. When the Arb did not call you on Sunday at 9 p.m. asking for money. When people did not shout right int your ear when you are checking out at a grocery store as a way to speak to someone 30 feet away.
    Sigh. I do miss it; I do.

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    1. Clyde, I wonder how accurate that memory is. When I think back, I remember being overwhelmed by the smell of cigarette smoke no matter where I went, even in movie theaters and restaurants. I remember a time when a fragrance-free zone was unthinkable.

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      1. There were a lot of things that were not right in the 50s and late 40s including no awareness of the effects of filling a space with cigarette smoke. However, Clyde is probably right, there was a little less rudeness. People seemed to not be so highly concerned about having their own way and getting what they wanted without regard for other people. Well, I guess there have always been plenty of rude people. I don’t know if rudeness has really increased over the years, but it does seem that way at times.

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      1. i remember going into a pottery store in jerome arizona. a classic hippy town in the 70′s and i was feeling very introspective and was having a conversation with the propieter in a hushed tone which was easy because it was so womb like in the studio. we talked for 20 minutes . i bought a coffeee cup or something and walked back to the old vw van and then on to another stop in jerome. well i saw the potter and he was having a cnversation at a normal rate of tone and i thought it was funny it never occured to me he was just responding to my vibe. now thats the polite accomadation that you are talking about clyde. too many people are not even aware they are not even aware. too bad.

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  22. My earliest good memories are of being daddy’s helper on the farm. When he milked, I stood on a stool and curried the cows. He taught me the names of all the tools and showed me how to use them. At 3 ½, he showed me off to his brothers by having me run to the barn and fetch open end wrenches by size.

    I remember my mattress being thrown out of my 2nd story bedroom window for nap time on hot summer days; my bed was one of those old cot-sized, iron frame with a thin cotton mattress. It was pulled under a tree where I could lie in the shade. I remember watching the clouds and the smell and feel of my pillow outside. This happened more than once, which may be why it seems to be such a clear memory.

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    1. how nice. to remember the smell of the pillow all these years later is wonderful. isnt it amazing how nice the shade feels on a hot humid sunny day.

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    2. What a lovely memory, Nan. My mom remembers, on sweltering nights, sleeping with her two sisters on a blanket in their yard under the stars (and this was when you could still see a lot of stars).

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      1. pillows and blankets outside were so cozy. Now, I’d fuss about the flies and mosquitoes!
        BiR this was in the Upper Peninsula, they still have amazing stars. Here I struggle to see anything but the brightest.

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      1. PJ tim has it right. In my case, a wire brush. Cows’ hides are tough and the pressure from a 4 year-old not so strong. I had no fear of the cows, would push them in place and really work hard to get them cleaned up. sweet/funny how seriously I took the job that my father probably gave me so that I’d stay out of his way while he was milking.

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  23. Here is something I hope will be a fond memory-Daughter and best friend are sitting in the driveway in camping chairs with the charcoal chimney lit, waiting to toast marshmallows.

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    1. Sweet! Funny how there’s no predicting what will make it into the memory bank and stay there. So many of the things that have made a permanent impression on my mind are such small and seemingly insignificant incidents. Am beginning to see more clearly that “truth” is a multifaceted thing depending on the point of view.

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      1. No, thank goodness, just skewers and an upturned laundry basket as a table. I just doused the fire and they are off to the grocery store for chips and dip.

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  24. I doubt anyone will see this. Steve, this post was too good to resist.

    I have a number memories from when I was about two years old. My dad was finishing dental school on the U of M campus. We lived in Commonwealth Terrace in St. Paul, near the campus. The apartment complex is still there. We moved from there before I was three.

    I had a friend, Eric, whose mother and mine shared a babysitter. I have a clear memory of Eric and I opening the foam pillows on the couch, removing the foam inside and tearing it up, throwing it all over the room while the babysitter was on the phone. When she hung up and realized what we’d done, she yelled something at us and THREW me in my crib. I remember the mobile above my crib moving more than it ever had. I was so fascinated that I forgot to cry over being tossed so roughly in my crib. That babysitter got fired. My mother agrees that this memory is accurate.

    I have two other memories of that time, both are brief. One was of being forced to say my father’s name and new title for guests: “Dr. William G. Wilkowske.” I don’t know why the adults found that so entertaining. My mother denies this memory.

    The other memory is of an Indian girl and her mother. I remember how beautiful they were, their lovely clothes and the strange oval in the middle of their foreheads. The girl’s name was “Radika.” I don’t know if that is the correct spelling or not. My mother remembers them too.

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    1. I saw it. Glad the babysitter got fired—I hope for the rough treatment. I had to stop reading books while my toddler son was up and about. I’d get too engrossed. Once he emptied his diaper drawer, carried about 3 dozen diapers into the living room where I was laid out on the couch. When I finally looked up the diapers were all unfolded and strewn about. I laughed though—didn’t throw him into his crib.

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