Memories make us better
Minor MusingsWhy is it that, no matter how long we live, we tend to remember what happened when we were 5 years old more clearly than we remember five years ago?
Published: March 14, 2010
Published: March 14, 2010
My elderly mother recently reminisced to me about her first day of school. She had just turned 5 a few days before. She remembers walking to school that day wearing a new dress, the first she could ever recall having that was not a hand-me-down from her older sisters. She also remembers carrying her lunch to school, a lard sandwich in a tin peanut butter bucket.
Green River School in Northern Michigan was one room that accommodated five grades. Mama started first grade that day, not kindergarten; there was no such thing as kindergarten then. And just one teacher, Mr. Clifford Larson, taught all five grades.
Mama remembers being scared and excited all at once, like all kids on their first day of school. She also remembers how kind and understanding Mr. Larson was. She recounted how he would get all the students started working on something, then he'd call one grade at a time to come to the front and sit on the recitation bench for individual instruction.
She remembers playing in the schoolyard and she remembers a day when she walked home all alone. The older students stayed to take some sort of test, so the first graders were dismissed early. Imagine a 5-year-old walking three miles all alone! No one bothered her. No one worried about her. She got home just fine.
Mama also remembers later that year when her youngest brother, Mark, was born. The next day in class Mr. Larson said, "Eunice, I hear you have a new baby brother at your house. What is his name?" Mama answered, "I can't remember, but it's something like Line." And she couldn't figure out why all the other kids laughed.
Mama also remembers the school Christmas program. All of the parents came to watch the children sing carols and perform a comedy skit about baking a Christmas cake. Mama remembers how proud she was to be given a speaking part in the skit. An older student read from the cake recipe, "Separate two eggs." At that point Mama picked up two eggs and took the first to one side of the stage and the second to the other side, then she said, "Okay, now what?" This time, she was proud when everyone laughed.
Another memory from that year was not so happy. Mama remembers that her mother was sick for a long time after Mark was born. Grandma had planned to make my mother some more dresses for school, but she was too sick to do it. Consequently, Mama had to wear the same dress, the only one she had that fit, every school day for more than two months. She remembers that her older sister, Alice, felt so bad about it, she hand-washed and ironed her little sister's dress every night.
Today my mother is 82 and my Aunt Alice is 92, yet they both remember that year as if it were yesterday. They think about it often, and they wouldn't change a day of it even if they could.
My mother's memories are, in large part, what made her such a good mother. Drawing on her own childhood experiences helped her determine what she wanted her children to experience and remember. And also what she strived to ensure we would never have to experience or remember.
My childhood memories are just as strong as hers and they, too, are mixed, some happy, some sad. They are indelibly etched on my brain and they are a huge part of who and what I am. And I, too, am a better mother because of them.
So it goes, generation after generation, experiencing, learning, growing and passing on the memories. Whether you're five or 85, somehow that's worth it all.