Ever since I was a kid, my parents would tell me about how great my memory was. If some sort of challenge arose within the family, whoever was fighting over it would come to me and ask what my memory of said challenged event was. I’m not sure why I got a reputation for having a good memory – I do have some memories of very early childhood (first day of preschool at 22 months, second birthday, third birthday, other things here and there – more “what I was thinking about” at the time of an event than memories of the event itself). For most of childhood and through high school, I also kind of had a photographic memory, at least when it came to written material – I never had to study much in high school because usually if I’d read the material once, I could close my eyes and remember what the particular paragraph or sentence said that covered a test question. But once I hit college, that specific ability started to diminish – I don’t know if it’s because I got older or because college put too many other things in my head.
Last night I had a dream about my aunt’s wedding, or maybe it was people talking about my aunt’s wedding. My aunt got married when I was about four years old, I think; we only have a few pictures of the event but I do remember the yellow dress I got to wear, and all the standing up and sitting down and kneeling during the Catholic ceremony. My middle sister was a baby at the time, certainly no more than a year old. I’m guessing it was late in the summer, though I don’t remember specifically, but if I think hard about how old the other cousins were at the time it makes sense. So for some reason, I was dreaming about this aunt’s wedding, and when I woke up I remembered enough of my dream to be able to make some connections in my head and realize that something I’d connected in my memory for most of my life was actually incorrect. See, I remember another time we were in Southern California for Easter, and I got to wear a pretty dress and wore the same white sandals from my aunt’s wedding. My hair got curled (like it had for the wedding) and my cousins and I all played in one of the bedrooms of Grandma’s house. We also went to Disneyland on that trip, which I remember mostly because I was excited that we’d won a door prize (stuffed Mickey and Minnie dolls). For some reason, for years I’ve casually assumed that the aunt’s wedding and the Easter trip were the same trip, even though they couldn’t possibly have been – my sister is obviously older in pictures we have of the Easter trip; she must have been close to two rather than just over a year. This morning I was thinking about the aunt’s wedding and the Easter trip and had a sort of realization that they weren’t the same trip. I don’t know why I thought for years that they were, other than the hair curling bit and the sandals bit and the playing with cousins.
Sometimes I wonder how many of my early memories are colored by photographs; how many events I think I remember that maybe I don’t and just remember looking at pictures. The second birthday memory is certainly suspect; we have several photographs that bolster my memory of who was there (cousin, friend from preschool, friend’s sister) and what I was wearing. However, I think I remember how windy it was, and playing outside, and being glad for my blue hooded sweatshirt because the hood kept me warm in the wind. I know for sure that I remember my third birthday because I remember how it felt to be a little apprehensive of Chuck E Cheese, and I remember how excited I was that my mom made my requested butterfly cake. I don’t remember my mom being pregnant with my sister (which she was, about 6 months along); it’s possible that it simply didn’t register with me what my mom’s belly meant (or maybe I didn’t pay any attention to it at all).
I also find it strange that some of my really early memories are much stronger than memories of events that happened not too long ago. I strongly remember our first trip to Texas (I was 11) but don’t remember much about specific trips after that, other than the one the summer I was 18 (because we flew from Texas to San Diego for my cousin’s wedding). I better remember the trip to Grandma’s house the Thanksgiving I was 8 (and my little sister turned 1) than trips to Grandma’s in middle school. So many of my memories are punctuated by sounds and smells and tastes; I have this feeling that the events that happened when I was older didn’t correlate with first-time experiences of foods or smells so they just don’t stand out as much. I have a very strong memory of the night I lost my first tooth, not because I lost a tooth but because the same night we were at a party for a client of my dad’s (a 50th birthday, maybe) and they had champagne flavored ice cream and I thought it was the most disgusting thing I’d ever tasted. I didn’t try champagne for years because of the memory of eating that ice cream, thinking it would be vanilla and then getting this gross weird flavor instead. My tooth fell out in the car on the way home.
Dan can’t remember much from early childhood, but there are things that we’ve done together (or conversations we’ve had) where years later, he remembers and I don’t. I find this to be kind of disturbing. Where is my perfect memory; where is my recall? Why can’t I remember some things I used to be able to? Is it because I’m 28 and had so many experiences now? Is it because those things just weren’t important? Why are earlier childhood memories stronger that more recent ones? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m glad that I’m keeping this blog because it helps me to remember things that I just wouldn’t otherwise be able to recall months or years later. I’m starting to feel old.