Psychologists say that very young children's memories are "flashbulb" or snapshot memories. You know, the kind where you remember a scene just as it was lifted from a photograph album. A brief vignette in time; usually a very emotional time....happy, sad, scared, confusing, exciting! Doesn't matter, doesn't even have to be extremely emotional; just an emotion that caused you to take a picture and store it in your memory. I began to have memories that lasted longer than a snapshot, and could remember days at a time, or more than one, when I was around 8, but my very earliest memories were from the time I was two and a half to three in snapshots, of course.
Sometime in 1946: My snapshot memories fo the year 1946 include living "on a mountaintop" in Tennessee. I have since seen where we lived, and it was on an incline, a slight hill, but loomed large into the sky to my three year old eyes. It was so green, and felt wild to me; there was a forest of trees behind our house. We lived in a 2 bedroom frame home, and I can see everything in my mind's eye but the bathroom.
Flash: I wake up and am startled; am laying in bed with my dad; he is asleep (I am told later that he and I both had the mumps and were sick, so mother put me in bed with him so she could keep one room quiet and tend to us). But don't worry about my dad's mumps affecting his fertility; he and my mother had four more children in the next fourteen years.
Flash: I am walking across a yard, very close to the bright green grass, there is a large leafy tree to my left, and just behind me a taller person. I am staring down at a shiny piece of foil in my hand, and I am so excited! My mother explained to me later when I told her of this memory that I was invited to a birthday party and I was three. She hurriedly wrapped up a Hershey's Bar. What a wonderful gift; I do remember being so proud of it, and wishing I was the recipient. She was walking me to the neighbor's house to the party. But that foil glowed in the sunlight! As snapshot memories go, I have no memory of the party.
Flash: Buddy, my 3 year old brother to my four years snd I are running through the woods towards home screaming at the top of our lungs, "A bear, a bear!" My mother, laughing, shaking her head, tells us we have seen a horse. Well, from our 3 foot vantage point, through the trees in the woods; it looked like a bear!
Flash: I am sweeping the wooden floor of our living room, the broom handle unwieldy in my pudgy hands, wobbling high over my head and hitting me in the head as I vainly tried to move it back and forth; feeling confused. I do remember that my Dad was standing there teaching me to sweep, and evidently I wasn't doing it right, but the confusing part was that I didn't know what I was doing wrong (I was 5). My mother was in the hospital in the neighboring town of Athens (we lived in Etowah) with my new baby sister, and Daddy was making sure the house was clean when she came home. As snapshot memories go, I have no idea where my four year old brother, Buddy, was. I do have another snapshot memory of either that day or the next of my mother laying in bed, and next to her was a china doll, my baby sister Linda with alabaster skin and blue eyes; I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, Linda Marguerite Witt, born March 25, 1948.
Flash: Standing on a box at the kitchen sink, playing with the soap bubbles as I wash the dishes (I am five), and my mother sits in the living room, reading a book. Of course, I probably wasn't really responsible for doing the dishes, just wanted to play at it; that responsibility didn't start until I was 8.
Flash: I am in the first grade somehow (I am only five but would be six in February of the same year) and the teacher standing at the front of the classroom asks if we have to go to the bathroom? She is going to read a story to about 20 students sitting in orderly rows in desks that are connected to the chairs, and "Don't interrupt!" After she starts reading, I feel a strong urge of course, and I raise my hand pointing one finger skyward as taught to let the teacher know if we had to do "#1" or "#2" (I wonder what difference that made)? She looks at me, never pausing in her sentence, and glances back at the page, ignoring me. I squirm, waving my hand wildly, and then I feel: a warm gush, and something wet....oh, what a relief! And oh, what an embarrassment! The teacher is suddenly towering over my desk, and looking at the little river running back, and back, and back down the aisle from my desk. We all just gaze in astonishment. Does anyone say anything (the blessing of snapshot memories--some of the harder things are lost)? I get to go home in my wet clothes, but have no idea how any of that happened.
Flash: My brother Buddy is standing on a chair in the hall of our house, reaching into the closet shelf, and takes my father's rifle down. He says, "I am going to shoot that old baby!" That Old Baby was my doll of a sister, born in 1948 when I was 5 and Buddy was almost 4. Linda is sitting on a blanket in the living room, looking very wide eyed, interested, but unperturbed. I am sitting beside her playing with her (with what I have no clue, maybe she had some blocks or something---that is another thing about early memories; they don't always fill in the blanks). Mother had told me to watch her while she went across the street to the little Mom and Pop grocery literally across the highway in front of our house. Ever the drama queen, with a cry, I throw myself across Linda and we lean to the ground which turned out to be a good thing. A shot goes over us (buckshot)? and through the screen of the window behind us--I can still see the hole in the screen of the open window, so grateful it was there instead of in Linda, never thinking for an instant that it could have been in me! My mother's silhouette fills the screen door and her anger fills the house......fade to black.
Flash: (Although this memory did last several hours; it was perhaps the first of my not snapshot memories). We are on a train going to the great State of Texas! What an adventure. It is my mother and the baby, Linda, who is about 6 months old in the fall of 1948, October to be exact, on one side, and facing them are myself and Buddy, 5 and 4. I am so excited that I don't think I will sleep until we get there. As darkness falls, Buddy nods off, the baby is laying asleep on Mother's shoulder and Mother is leaning her head up against the window with her eyes closed. A man walking down the aisle (conductor)? gives me a piece of juicy fruit gum (what a treat)! And noticing Buddy beside me, gives me another piece to hold for him. I chew mine, sucking the sugar out, and chewing until it was a wad of sawdust in my mouth. I hold Buddy's for as long as I can (surely it was a thousand miles), staring at it; looking at him, asleep; looking at my mother....asleep; I succumb to the temptation--I chew his! Oh, the guilt; can't even bring myself to tell him or my Mother of my transgression the next day. When I am 12, I confess to my grandparents after church one day (Granddaddy was the preacher, and who knows what he said that spurred me on). But I had kept myguilty secret for seven years! My grandparents actually complimented me on feeling guilty.
Flash: It was raining, and I was walking to school; now I know that it was about ten blocks or a mile from my grandmother's house where we lived when we came to Texas to the school, but back then, it was just a long way. I started out by myself (an unheard of thing today, but not rare back then); stopped to get Louis, my friend across the street, but he was sick, and not going. So I started on the trek without an umbrella and when I arrived at the school and went to my first grade classroom, the teacher stopped me at the door and sent me to the principal's office. I was not just soaked; I was dripping wet, and couldn't come into the classroom. I was not allowed to sit down in the principal's office, but after a short conversation with my grandmother on the telephone; he let me sit down in the front seat of his car. I was mortified to be sitting NEXT to the principal and didn't say anything on the way home. As my grandmother was helping me out of my clothes, wet to the bone, not a dry stitch on me, she scolded me for taking that important man away from his job. I was just happy to be home, dry and warm.