Memory is a funny thing. It is possible to have two people remember the same incident totally differently. A memory of something in the past is always coloured by the present and all that has gone in between. And no two people experiencing that one instant have all the same experiences after that shared one. And even coming to that shared moment nothing else is the same; everything is unique to each of them – even that shared moment. Whatever I shall write about my past – when I really get down to it instead of this meandering from one thing to another – is written here and now with here and now memory and interpretation of what I remember. There have been times when one or other of my children has corrected my recollection of something or other. On one or two occasions the recollections have been so different that I could but wonder whether we were talking of the same incident.
I have read and heard people talking about their lives when they were very very young, babies in fact. Some even talk about remembering their own birth sliding through the birth canal. I must say that I read and listen to those stories with scepticism. Yet, I do not want to deny them. Who am I to say what others can remember.
I have been trying to work out what my earliest actual memory is. I have been told things about me when I was a baby, but I do not remember any of them actually happening. My earliest hazy memories are about the primary school. In Finland, where I was born, children start school when they are seven years old, but I do not remember the first day as such. I do not know if my first memory is of that day or of some other day. I have a memory of standing in the school yard and being aware of my underpants, which were made by my mother and not your standard shop bought issue. I was ashamed of them and afraid that somehow other kids would find out about them. I have other flashes of memory about the years in the primary school. None of these early memories could be related as a continous story; most of this time is just a blur in my mind.
We used to play baseball in the school yard during recess and in physical education lessons in spring and autumn. As the school was a small village school with just a handful of pupils all years played together. In the winter we did skiing. We had competitions between other primary schools in the area. I remember becoming the third once and getting a spoon as a trophy. A girl from my year was jealous thinking that she should have got it saying something to that effect to me. An older boy told her off. I think that was when I was about ten.
Some of my most pleasant memories about this school were times spent in the school kitchen. It was a big room with a big farmhouse table able to seat ten or twelve of us children. We had breakfast at school made by the cook. It was the best porridge I had ever had. Another thing happening around that table was a story club. A few of us children attended it and our teacher read us stories or novels. I remember her reading Little House on the Prairie and eagerly waiting for each session.
The school library was a treasure trove to me. The children’s library was a bookcase about one metre by one and a half metres in size situated in one of the two classrooms. The adult library was perhaps slightly bigger bookcase in the school hallway open one evening a week to the whole village. In the four years I spent in that school I read all the book in the children’s library and when I was allowed access to the adult library I read many if not all books from there too.
There is one very sweet memory from those early years – my first love. I suppose it could be called that although I do not remember much about my feelings at the time. I just know that thinking about it now gives me a pleasant feeling. I think it must have been at the beginning of my last year in the primary school when I was ten. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon. We (don’t ask me who – I cannot remember) were walking home from school. A neighbouring farm boy told me that they had really good apples and he would give me some if I walked with him to their farm. So I went with him leaving others to continue on the main road. He went on ahead to make sure their dog could not get to the orchard as I was afraid of it. It had a fierce bark if nothing else and ran after us if we rode the bike past their house. (I usually speeded up before the house and put my legs up on handlebar for the stretch past the house.) He then came back to me lead me to their orchard. We lay on the grass eating apples and looking at the blue sky with a few cumulus clouds appearing here and there. We looked for shapes in the clouds, but apart from that did not talk much. I was late for dinner that day. Everyone else was sitting at the table when I got in. As usual I did not get much attention on coming in.
I keep thinking that I should have some earlier memories than the ones from the primary school and after. However much I strain my brain no memory comes from my early childhood. I wonder why and I wonder how common it is not to remember. All the people whom I have heard talk about their early memories have them from much earlier than me. I have some theories based on what I have been told and what my experiences of my home life were from the time I remember anything. However, they have to wait for another day.