There are some schools of thought in psychotherapy, that place very heavy emphasis on earliest memories. These theories say that earliest memories may reveal to us messages about life that we keep with us throughout the years, and also may give us a foreshadowing of what will remain important to us for the rest of our lives. I don’t particularly practice those therapies, but I have a new client who had a previous therapist who did, so we are spending time looking at those things, and that’s fine with me.
And it has gotten me thinking about some of my very earliest memories. For some reason, two stand out today.
The first day of school, first grade. Mrs. Schabinger’s class. Mrs. Schabinger was writing words on the blackboard (confusing that she called it that, because that board was green), words like “cat,” “car,” and “no.” Of course, we couldn’t read yet (this was long before anyone knew you were supposed to teach 2-year-olds to do physics), but many of us had memorized a few words from our travels. We were allowed to call out without raising our hands, if we knew the words. I felt wonderful because I knew every single word. That is, until Mrs. Schabinger wrote, “go.” Everyone in the class, even the quiet kids, even the kids I suspected of being dumb, knew this little word. But I didn’t know it. Only two letters and I did not know it.
To make matters worse, Mrs. Schabinger made the kind of “g” that is two circles, connected by a squiggle, with a small ear on the top right. Not only did I not know “go;” I didn’t even know the first letter! My mother had lied to me. I had been led to believe that I knew my ABCs. And clearly, here was one ABC that I had never encountered. This was my first experience of embarrassment in school, and it was only years later that I realized no one else was aware of my deficiency. I thought everyone knew that I did not know. When I got home that day, with my mother eager to find out how first grade was, I burst into tears and accusations.
“I didn’t know ‘go!'” I shouted at her. “Oh, Mommy,” I sobbed, “you didn’t teach me ‘go.’ You should’ve told me about ‘go.’ You should’ve told me about the g with one ear!”
The message: From this I could have learned that human beings will let us down, without meaning to. That even the very best, and those who love us the very most, will sometimes disappoint us profoundly, just because they are human beings. Looking back, I could have learned that lesson then. But I didn’t. It would be over 30 years before I really got that one.
The second memory that has drifted to the top this week is from a few years later. I was about 10. My mother, younger brother and I were driving from Delaware to North Carolina to visit my grandmother. We stopped at a gas station, and I put money in the soda machine. I got my soda . . . probably at that time my choice would have been an Orange Crush, and my 35 cents came back, too. I told my mom, and in typical my-mom fashion, she had me go into the gas station and give the attendant the 35 cents. The attendant was a boy, probably not over 16. He was very tall (I was 10, he may have been 5’5″), had brown hair, blue eyes, just a hint of fuzz on his upper lip and cheeks. He had a sweet smile, and the most perfectly beautiful skin — fair, smooth, luminous — which was blushing for some reason. I handed him the money and told him what had happened. He pressed my quarter and dime back in my hand, and told me to keep the money and the soda, “for being honest.” And he gave me a bag of Sugar Babies and a pack of Juicy Fruit, too. Are you imagining this scene? Imagine little cartoon hearts coming out of my 10-year-old eyes 🙂 The boy, the blushing, the treats — the sweetness nearly knocked me out.
I got back in the car with my mom, and told her most of the story. She said, “See, honesty is the best policy.”
Several miles down the road, still thinking of . . . um, how important it is to be honest, I said, “Mom, you know that boy back there? Is that what they mean by a ‘peaches and cream’ complexion?”
My mom looked at me with what I now understand was a mixture of amusement and terror. I only just understood that last weekend, when my 10-year-old asked me if I think Jesse McCartney is cute.
The message: Honesty is the best policy, for sure (almost all the time). And . . . it is fun to get gifts from cute boys? I don’t know, still working on that one.
And the foreshadowing of what would always be important to me, from these two memories? Let’s see . . . education, words, sweet boys and treats. Yea, that works 🙂
So, when you think of your early memories, what messages stuck with you? Was there something in those memories that remains important in your life today?