Prompt: Childhood Revisited
What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.
When I was nine years old, my teacher had the ill-conceived idea that a good speaking project would be to have each of us tell a funny story to the class.
Of course many of us had no clue what actually constituted a funny story, and even fewer understood how to tell a story so that it would make anyone laugh. The boys, for example, were at the stage of learning the finer points of underarm farting.
So poor Mrs. Ferguson suffered through two or three days of mostly unfunny stories, to a rather callous audience who refused to laugh politely, so she had to. I rode a pony, and I fell off! I got food colouring on my fingers! My brother did a belly flop! …I will never forget the sound of her lonely, fake laughter, echoing painfully in the classroom, after each story was told and the student took their seat again.
I did have a funny story, about the time I saw a bowl of sugar on the kitchen table, dipped my finger in and tasted it, and it turned out to be soap powder. Hilarious! It would have had my classmates in stitches. I chose to abandon that tale and substituted an obscure memory which not one person found amusing (including Mrs. Ferguson) and which might even have mildly traumatized some.
It was about a car trip with my family. I believe we went with my parents, three siblings, a cousin and an aunt to a suspension bridge, all crammed into one car, as you did in those days before seat belts, and there were a lot of kids to be transported. So we visited the bridge, enjoyment ensued, and then as I got distracted by an information poster at the site, my family all piled into the car and drove off. Without me.
Ha ha! I returned to my seat proudly after telling my story, convinced Mrs. Ferguson’s laughter was sincere in my case, even if the rest of the class sat in horrified silence.
Now my parents, stuffed into the car with everyone else, having abandoned a young child in a wooded and secluded area, soon realized they were one kid short and returned for me. I was completely unbothered by the incident, and they found me waiting patiently, not pissed off at all. In fact… ho ho ho! We all had a great chuckle.
The reason this struck me as strange was because I actually was traumatized as a very wee child. It is one of my earliest memories. My family used to rent a cabin near the beach for a couple of weeks every summer. There was an amusement park nearby, and I believe we did things like clam-digging and what not. I have vague memory of a giant pot of boiling water and sea creatures being dropped into it.
I was maybe two or three years old, spending a lazy afternoon at the beach with my mother. Everyone else was off somewhere, but we staked out a spot with a log to lean on, and I played with a plastic bucket in the sand while my mother sunned herself. Then I fell asleep, as tots are wont to do on a lazy summer afternoon. When I awoke, I was alone. The blanket was still there, and the imprint where mummy had been lying in the sand, but no mummy. There were only strange people all around. I stood up in a panic and started to wail.
A horrible menacing stranger tried to console me, until my mother reappeared, somewhat flustered, having dashed across the road to our cabin to use the toilet, and had only been gone half a minute. According to her. Or had she got tired of a small chubby girl with a powerful set of lungs, and planned to leave her alone on the beach among strangers, forever?
I still remember the sense of panic, possibly the first time I ever felt alone and out of the sphere of absolute protection and security that my parents offered. It’s not a pleasant memory. Perhaps it was the sense of absolute loss, followed by my mother scooping me up a minute later, that reinforced that even when I was out of sight, I was not unprotected or forgotten.
Because when I discovered my family had driven off without me, as I stood at the suspension bridge, I thought it was funny. I felt utterly unthreatened and imagined how amusing it would be to them all when they discovered I was missing. I knew my mother had just slipped away for a minute, and would be back to scoop me up.