Reflections – by Jerry Pierce

12

When Memories Start

There has been some high-powered academic research about the exact age when people start forming memories. The result of all that exalted study is that long-lasting recollections begin at different ages for different folks. I could probably have saved those researchers a lot of time and money by telling them to look through their parents’ old black and white Kodak photos. There’s a big cardboard box of those faded pictures in a closet at the house. I can sift through them and just about pinpoint the time when my brain started recording things that could be recalled years later. One thing I discovered is that I don’t remember anything that happened before the age of three. There are pictures of me with my mother’s mother. They show her pulling me in a wagon, helping me build a snowman and pushing me on a tricycle. She died just as I turned three, and I don’t have any memories of her except for the things my mother told me about her visits and the times she took me to stay at her house in Bastrop. All of my images of her come from the pictures.

There are some other old photos of me when I was three with my arm in some kind of sling. My folks told me I fell from a sofa, broke my collarbone and was in terrible pain for a few weeks. Thank goodness I don’t remember any of that either But there are other snapshots dated when I was five or six of things I vividly recall. Things like gathering mayhaws at a little creek for my folks to make jelly and of an old uncle who brought a pet monkey to our house. My mother was appalled. Communities had air raid drills during World War II, and I remember those. Sirens blared from the nearby paper mill, and people had to turn off their lights. My family got in the hall with a flashlight and closed all the doors to the hallway. It was frightening. I was just six when the war ended, but I remember my Uncle Buddy coming home from Europe in his uniform.

There are photos of me in the khaki, rectangular overseas cap he gave me. I wore it for years. My mother took me to Calvary Baptist Church every Sunday from the week I was born. After kids started to school, they had to leave the children’s area and go into the sanctuary for “big church.” I remember having a hard time seeing the preacher around the big hats Miss Irma wore with the plastic fruit on them. By the way, starting to school back then meant the first grade. If we had kindergarten or pre-school, I didn’t know about it. Now our three-year-old granddaughter Charlee is already in school and will be “Chef of the Day” next week. We have to eat there that day. I recall taking my lunch to school in a brown paper bag in the first grade and trying to trade my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the biscuit and bacon that a boy named Denver brought. We got a cafeteria later on, and they had milk in little glass bottles. There are a lot of birthday pictures in the box, and I remember those events and the kids in the photos. There were no bakeries, so my mother made the cakes. We couldn’t slam a door or run in the house when cakes were baking, because she said they would “fall.” My mother would make party pictures with her Kodak box camera and take the film to the drug store to be developed. We got the pictures in a week or so. My grandkids will do a cartwheel now and text me a photo of it a few seconds later. A picture of my younger cousin reminded me of a vacation trip with our mothers. The car was not air-conditioned, and the windows were down. She threw some socks out. I told her mother, who called me a tattle tale. She tossed out the rest of her clothes a piece at a time. Her mother was mad because I didn’t tell her. There are memories of men coming to the house even before I started school to deliver coffee, collect insurance payments and sell cookware, encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners. They would dump dirt on my mother’s waxed wood floor and then vacuum it up. I looked up information in those World Books all through school to do homework. The internet made them extinct, but I liked the ink and slick paper smell of the encyclopedias. Pictures show that my memory started at about school age. It stops when I’m looking for my car at Wal-Mart.