Have you ever sat alone, quietly, with no radio or TV or any other gadget making background noise, and thought back upon your life, trying to re-discover your earliest memory? I have. I enjoy doing it. It’s very much like a meditation experience, and you can discover a good deal about yourself in the process. It may surprise you if you try it.
It will also surprise you that your earliest memory will likely have an emotional experience attached to it. I don’t believe we remember many mundane things. The things we remember have consequences. That’s the reason why we go from event to event when we are asked to reflect on our lives. Our daily lives simply pass by. It’s the life changing events we remember, the things that mold us and make us different from that point on.
It shouldn’t be any surprise that my earliest memory involves my mother, but it is not of tenderness or affection or love, although my mother had all of these qualities.
My earliest memory is of drunkenness and violence. I was three years old. My sister was one, and my mother was not yet twenty and separated from my father who must have left us shortly before my sister was born prematurely, weighing a few ounces more than two pounds. My father never returned.
Mom and I and my sister were living in a small rental house with my grandmother and step-grandfather whom I called Gramp. I remember sitting on what was called an “overstuffed” chair, watching Mom who was ironing a shirt or dress on an ironing board set up in our living room. I remember how pretty she was. Gramp was in the room with us; so was my sister. Mom’s boyfriend, Hooper, was also there, sitting across from me. I had no feelings for Hooper, good or bad.
Hooper and Mom decided to go for a walk to the top of a hill in a little patch of woods behind our little house. I tagged along, holding Mom’s hand. It was a pleasant, warm day. At the hill top, Hooper hugged Mom and kissed her, and they sat down while I was playing in the grass.
Suddenly I heard a man yelling and saw him running up the hill toward us. He was carrying a heavy metal tire iron which was used to take automobile tires off wheel rims. I remember feeling very frightened. He was stumbling as if he were drunk. I already knew what drunk men were like because I had seen Gramp drunk many times. I feared drunken men.
He struck Hooper with the tire iron just as Hooper was trying to get to his feet, and he struck him more until Hooper was able to grab the tire iron with one hand. Both men began to struggle and curse each other while Mom screamed. Then I heard Gramp’s voice, also yelling and cursing as he ran up the hill toward us.
Gramp was a big man and a violent man. He was bigger than each of the two men fighting. He got between the men and held them apart while shouting to Mom and me to run back to the house. My memory fades from there, but from that point on, I hated drunks, and I hated violence, yet drunkenness and violence remained in my life through all my young years. My stepfathers brought those characteristics with them. Mom was not good at choosing men! That’s a very important life lesson: choose your partner carefully. Your future depends upon that decision.
I share this personal memory with you and all who might be reading this just as a reminder or an introduction to a very important fact: Children remember much more than you know. Children are formed by their very early experiences. I worry about our children, not only those living in unstable, violent, conditions within the United States, but those in similar and worse conditions worldwide. I worry about them and weep for them because they are innocent and helpless. I also know that those children who survive will never forget what happened to them. How they cope with those memories will forever affect their lives, the lives of their children, and the lives of all future generations. Ken McCullough