Earliest Memories

Reading will carry us through
Reading will carry us through

My book group read a fascinating book this month–not an easy read, but it led to a lot of questions and a great discussion. “Austerlitz” by W. G. Sebald was the book, a novel ultimately about a man searching for his origins and his lost family, a child of the Kindertransport.

We talked about a number of themes in the novel and how it was structured and narrated. It had a dreamlike quality, but also conveyed the destructiveness of buried memory and lost history.

One of the members of our group raised the question–what is your earliest memory? She is a psychotherapist, and she said the stories people tell about their earliest memory often encapsulate all the issues they deal with throughout their lives.

I thought this was amazing. One of our group members had clear memories of being in the hospital at age three, and how frightened and abandoned she felt. Most of us had no clear memories before age four or five.

I started thinking about it, and realized I just had an impression of emotions before I was four or five (and a clear memory of the family’s cocker spaniel, Janie, who died before I was five years old.) Between four and five I learned to read, and I clearly remember the moment when I was sitting on Daddy’s lap, looking at the Sunday comics. He was reading them to me, and I suddenly realized I knew what the words meant. It was like being struck by happy lightning! I started reading to him, and he was so proud.

Hence my lifelong love of words and books. I felt warm, safe, happy and loved, and my brain was totally charged up. I ruled the world! What could be better?

What do you remember? What is your earliest memory? I hope it is warm and happy.


There Is No Frigate Like a Book

Do you remember when you first learned to read?  I don’t remember the date, but I do remember the sensation.

I was five years old, not yet in school.  My parents and my sisters had read to me for years, and I loved books already.  But I loved most sitting in Daddy’s lap while he read the “funny pages” to me every Sunday.  At some point the words in the comic strips suddenly made sense to me before he read them out loud.  It was like something clicked in my brain, and there was no going back.

It was like waking up in Wonderland!  I read books, newspapers, cereal boxes, signs, anything with print on it.  Mother and my sister Sherrie taught me to write, which opened up another world of pleasure.  I fell into a world of words, and I’ve never left it since.

How powerful it is to read other people’s stories, thoughts, and feelings–and to express your own!  To voyage to worlds you will never see, or that only exist in someone’s imagination!  I love movies, photography, theater, and even online games sometimes (I’m struggling not to become an Angry Birds addict).  But I rejoice in the magic of words.  Emily Dickinson put it best:

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

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