Memory

7 Apr

“Say ice cream.”  “Gelato!” “That’s right, clever girl!”

“Say Good Night.”  “Bonna naughty!”  “No, it’s Buona Notte.”  “That’s what I said, bonna naughty.”  “No, it’s Buona Notte, can you hear the difference?”  “Bonna naughty, bonna naughty, bonna naughty!”

“OK, bonna naughty, good night, Victoria”

I’m about two and a half years old and my father is tucking me up in a high single bed with white sheets.  The summer sun is streaming through the window into the small brown walled room.  Down a few steps, is a larger room with a double bed where presumably my parents will be sleeping.  I am on my first holiday abroad, visiting my Aunt in Asolo, near Venice and this scene is one of my earliest ever memories.

I have quite a few memories of this trip.  Sitting on a stack of telephone directories in a dark restaurant with white tablecloths.  We are at a table near the back of the room, away from the window and near the kitchen and bar.  From my elevated seat, I can see into the brightly lit kitchen through a small door to my left.  The staff make a great fuss of me, serving specially prepared polenta.  I am deeply unimpressed.  Did they really consider this tasteless gloop to be proper food?

Playing in a round paddling pool in the garden in my little bikini bottoms, then running into the cool shady kitchen.  Yellowy faded sunshine like an old photograph.

Walking down a wrought iron staircase, which runs along the outside wall of the house, hand stretched up high to reach the rail.  As I’m going down, the warmth of the sun on my face, something stings me under the arm.  I stand calmly on the lawn at the bottom as adults rush around me, panicking.  What are they panicking about?  It was only a little sting.  Why on earth are they putting dark blue ink on my armpit?  Turns out that it was a hornet sting and someone had heard that ink was a good idea.

Crawling around in the back of the car, my father driving, my mother telling me repeatedly to sit down.  Telling me that driving in Italy is  more dangerous than driving at home.  The car breaks suddenly and I shoot forward between the two seats, hurting myself on the gearstick.  My mother is upset now.  I don’t understand.  Shouldn’t I be the one who’s upset?

Memory is a funny thing.  Some of the things I know about that holiday, like me begging my parents to go on a gondola, them finally relenting, then me promptly falling asleep and missing the whole ride, are family legend.  I’m sure I don’t actually remember them, I’ve just been told so many times they’ve entered my childhood image bank.

There is a photo of me in St Mark’s Square with the obligitory bag of pigeon food.  I don’t really have an image of St Mark’s Square other than that, so I think I’ve just seen the photo.  I do however remember standing on a shady bridge looking at a canal, reflections of sunlight bouncing around.  Do I remember it, or is it from another photo that I’ve forgotton about?

The telephone directories in the restaurant are probably another detail that’s been added to my mental picture later, along, possibly, with the polenta.  But I know that I can clearly remember the setting, so why not the indignation at the bland meal?

Two and a half seems very young to have so many memories, but maybe it’s because I was away from home that they are so specific, that they stand out so strongly.  These images of Italy are almost entirely visual.  I can’t remember smells or textures, just faded yellow silent film clips.  Highlights in the jerky, technicolour, feature film of my childhood.

These memories are very precious to me, as precious as real photographs and letters.  They are part of who I am, part of my family history, a connection to my parents and the stories of their childhood.  Does it really matter which memories are truly mine and which are part of my life’s narrative?  I don’t think so.

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12 Responses to “Memory”

  1. newdaynewlesson 07/04/2010 at 6:11 pm #

    Interesting. Was reading the other day that we don’t really have memories before 3. Was a psych text book I think.

    There are always exceptions though I guess.

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 07/04/2010 at 7:33 pm #

      I recently asked my father about it and described the room to him. I’m sure the conversation is something we’ve talked about since, but the way the bedroom looked, and how it was off another bedroom with steps down to it, is not something we’d have ever discussed. I suppose I was only a few months under 3 years.

  2. Laura 07/04/2010 at 7:32 pm #

    I’ve always thought I had a memory of being on a blanket in the back garden with a toy rabbit and feeling the house was a long way away and I couldn’t get there. I also felt childish. How old was I? Photographic evidence shows me at 6 months old! Feels real to me but who knows?

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 08/04/2010 at 1:43 pm #

      I also have babyish memories, very fuzzy but they’re there. I couldn’t date them though.

  3. Lucy Quick 07/04/2010 at 7:32 pm #

    Wow! The memories certainly sound very vivid – like you, I have memories (or at least what I think of as memories) from a very young age; although as you say it’s tricky to tell what’s truly remembered versus what you remember being told.

    Either way, they’re beautiful and to be cherished 🙂

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 08/04/2010 at 1:48 pm #

      Thankyou. The older I get, the more nostalgic it seems.

  4. SandyCalico 07/04/2010 at 11:19 pm #

    Lovely post. I often wonder whether my childhood memories are taken from photographs.

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 08/04/2010 at 1:47 pm #

      I’m sure they’re not all from photos. I have a very clear memory of when we got our dog. I was 2.5 and my father put hIm on the lawn in our garden. I played with him for a few minutes then was told I had to leave him alone because he’d get tired. I thought my parents were being mean. Why would he get tired? I see now why a toddler would be told to leave a puppy alone. That can’t be from a photo.

  5. Mummy Mania 08/04/2010 at 8:02 am #

    what lovely thoughts – an no, it doesn’t matter. what matters is the lovely feelings of nostalgia and comfort they bring you. Think what amazing memories your children are going to have! We’re off to Sicily in a few weeks and lik that, can’t wait for the girls to experience it. I wonder what they’ll remember. Your post reminded me of us at the moment, trying to teach them to ask for ice-cream in Italian!

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 08/04/2010 at 1:51 pm #

      Thankyou. That’s what made me write it originally. People have said to me, aren’t the children too young? What will they remember? Other than the general benefits, I think they they will grow up knowing a lot about our adventure. They will have a similar patchwork of photos and memories of their own. Or that’s the idea.

  6. Josie @Sleep is for the Weak 12/04/2010 at 9:05 pm #

    Beautiful memories. I love that you can conjure up those pictures so easily. I have few, very vague, memories from my early years. I wish I could recapture some of it x

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 12/04/2010 at 9:17 pm #

      Steve has no memory of what happened last week, let alone what happened when he was two and half. When people ask him questions about his childhood, he just looks blank. I find it really weird.

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