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My earliest memory

“What is your earliest memory as a child?”

Somebody asked me that recently. I hadn’t thought about this for a long time.

memorylaneI was three years old. A hospital hallway. I was on a gurney….being wheeled into surgery. My appendix had ruptured. My Mom was standing over me…..but eventually she stopped. Tears filled her eyes. And I kept moving. It dawned on me that wherever I was going, she wasn’t coming with me. I yelled for her, but she didn’t come. For the first time, I was alone.

They let me come home early (interestingly, I remember nothing of a lengthy convalescence). For Christmas. All my brothers and sisters were waiting for me. My Mom carried me into the house, with my face buried in her shoulder. And….nothing. I shut down. When she finally pried me off her…I sat with my hands around my knees on the steps, rocking back and forth, not saying anything. Resistant to all attempts to cheer me up. I don’t know why I remember this….so much that happened before and after is gone. But this remains. I’m told before all of this, I was a normal, somewhat confident and outgoing kid. But the kid who came home from the hospital was almost excruciatingly shy and insecure.

I could go full on psychoanalysis and say that moment in the hallway was some sort of trigger. A kid’s brain’s way of drawing a line in the sand and saying….”this is the way things are going to be from now on”, and re-wiring itself accordingly.

But of course it wasn’t the way things would be. My Mother wasn’t perfect, but she was damn close. She always had my back. For the rest of her life. But something ruptured that day. And my personality changed. Completely. In retrospect, it’s as scary now as it was then….because it was more perception than reality. But I think it’s these moments that we do remember. It’s my earliest memory for a reason.

Eventually, we’re granted almost total recall. From our teens on we remember the good, the bad, and the ugly. Before that, it’s snippets like what I’ve outlined above.

What my father called “bits and pieces”.

The kid who shit his pants in first grade. The time I accidentally tripped the 3rd grade nun during story-time, and how she lost her shit and smacked me in the head thinking I had done it on purpose. The kid who got our entire school banned from the Philadelphia Zoo because he reached into the bird enclosure and pulled the feathers from a peacock, causing it to go into shock and die. The thrill of walking down to Pagnotti’s drugstore with enough money in my pocket to buy a 16 oz pepsi and a bag of Jax. Being goaded into jumping over an uncovered manhole and falling in and slicing my head open, necessitating a parental rescue. (A neighborhood kid took it upon himself to spray red paint periodically from the hole to our house, telling all the other kids it was a trail of my blood). And I remember feeling safe on a warm summer night, knowing the comfort of darkness had arrived, with my Father playing sentinel on the front porch, armed with Vin Scully and the Dodger game on the radio. Another day….and I had survived. I can remember these nights, desperate for them to go on and on, determined to stay awake….but always fighting a losing battle. Sleep would win, and the sun would be waiting the next day….threatening me again. In retrospect I must have been a barrel of laughs to be around.

And then there was that day in church. I had made the mistake of singing louder than the other kids in class, so was picked, with 2 other boys, to sing a solo. The song as “We Three Kings”. I had the first verse. We had to sing it while walking up the aisle, and when my cue came I opened my mouth and….nothing. My mind shut down. The words were gone. The kid behind me had verse 2, and was kicking me in the back of the leg. My face had turned blood red. I felt like I was gonna faint. And then somebody….to this day I don’t know who, whispered loud enough for me to hear….the first few lines…

We three kings of orient are, 
Bearing gifts we traverse afar

(although I didn’t know until right now that it was “traverse” and just sang “traveled”)….and from these my brain became un-stuck. And with help from a patient organist who simply went ’round in a circle, I survived to sing another day.

Yet from that day on, I require the lyrics nearby….either on a music stand or taped to the stage monitor or scribbled on my arm. Even my own lyrics. Just the first few lines…and the rest will come.

Who knows eh? Once that line in the sand is drawn……maybe it can never be wiped away.

In a bit..


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Mariellen Lankowski
    February 4, 2020 at 10:32 pm

    Love this 🙂 I
    , too had happenings in my life that totally changed me. Just keep on keepin on. 😉

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