Early Childhood Memories

We are all born. And we all begin, at some point, to remember things. When that starts is a topic I have always found fascinating. I am mainly fascinated in this topic because I have wondered if my early memories start sooner or later than when others form them.

We all remember things from our childhoods. I remember my 7th birthday party really well – it was the one where neighborhood kids were invited over. I also remember my 4th, though certainly not as much of it. Some family members were coming and my mother sent my father to the grocery store for something. I wanted to ride along because Dad had a strange car home. Someone had probably borrowed the station wagon Dad had as a company car and left him with one of those really ugly early 60’s Dodges with the pushbutton transmissions. It was also the evening that my cousin Dave convinced me that if I stared into the garden hose I would see the water coming. I kind of did, but not the way I expected.

But I also have some much earlier memories. These are easy to date because my family moved from Ypsilanti, Michigan to Fort Wayne, Indiana in the late winter or very early spring of 1962 when I would have been three or four months away from my 3rd birthday. Those memories from my first home are random and scattered things, but there nonetheless.

Some of them were traumatic. Like the time I burned my right index finger. Dad was cutting the grass and either finished or took a break. The mower was sitting on a back patio made of concrete pavers with grass growing between them, making a kind of grid. I was fascinated by mechanical things and wondered what the little round thing was that was a different color from the rest of the red lawnmower. It turned out to be the muffler. The hot muffler. I remember getting taken inside and sat on a countertop in the kitchen while my mother put butter on my finger. I remember being annoyed that it didn’t seem to help.

I also remember the fire department coming to our house. There was a brown chair in the living room and Dad must have dropped cigarette. When Mom said that she called the fire department I was kind of excited – I had never seen a big fire. But I was disappointed – all that happened was that a couple of firemen came into the living room and cut open the chair cushion and pulled out some stuffing. They told us that it seemed to be out. It was nothing like I was expecting.

I remember having next door neighbors, a family that we were friendly with. I remember running barefoot on the grass in both of the adjoining front yards one early overcast evening while my father and the guy next door were out talking.

I also have strong memories of a time when my father went out into the garage to change one of the tires on our red Oldsmobile station wagon. I remember it being my mother’s idea that I should go and help Dad with that job, and he agreed that it would be OK. I felt quite important, but recall being a little unsure of my duties. I went back inside and the neighbor lady was visiting with Mom. I told her that I had helped Daddy change a tire, but was irritated when she seemed to have trouble understanding me by asking if I was tired. I remember thinking that I could not have been clearer that I was telling her about the tire.

We saw that neighbor lady a lot (I knew that her name was Lori) and I remember that she was nice and I liked her. I recall one evening when she was at our house watching me while the parents went out somewhere. We sat in the living room and a big upright console television set was on.

One of my most vivid memories was of right after my little sister was born in November of 1961. The Christmas tree was up and decorated, and it might have been Christmas Eve because there were wrapped packages under the tree. Someone got the idea that I should sit under the tree and hold Jackie on my lap for a picture. I don’t recall whether the idea came from Mom or from Dad, but it was a really bad one. First, there was not enough room under that tree for me to sit up. When they convinced me to sit up straighter I got a bunch of prickly pine needles in my neck. They put a pillow on my lap that this little baby on top of the pillow then took a picture. They were not happy that I was more interested in the red sled under the tree than in holding my sister, and I got chided for letting her slide halfway off the pillow.

I remember the day the movers came to pack up our things for the move to Fort Wayne. The weather was cold and it was getting dark. My father must have asked one of the movers to start our car because I recall him coming into the house and telling Dad that he had turned the blower on.

Sometimes our memories can get bolstered by old photos. Some of them, like when my grandma came to visit after Jackie was born, I think I might remember, but then again it might just be that I looked at a couple of pictures of her visit and those memories were implanted later. The photo under the Christmas tree might have been like this, and it shows the pillow next to me and not on my lap. But I don’t think the photo is the cause of the memory because every time I looked at it I felt those miserable pine needles again.

None of those memories can be organized or dated in any way, other than the last two. And most of the things I recall did not involve a holiday so there were no pictures taken. Were these memories abnormally early for an average person? Or is this common? I have no idea but maybe this would be a good forum for us all to compare notes on earliest memories. Hopefully yours are good ones.

COAL Update: Everyone needs a station wagon at least one time in life. Double points for woodgrain!

30 thoughts on “Early Childhood Memories

  1. This is a very good topic, one my wife and I have discussed a few times over the years. It seems my early memory is better than hers.

    Some of my early memories are hard to date but I can get close. All happened in roughly the same time period but haven’t a clue on order of events.

    I somewhat remember my mother being pregnant with my sister who was born when I was 2 years, 4 months old. At that time we were living in a house my parents sold when I was a little over 3; I vividly remember parts of that house.

    There is also the blue ’62 Ford Fairlane my father had purchased well used as a commuter car. This was during our time at the previously mentioned house and I remember the car well. Also, it was this same time period in which they purchased a new ’73 Ford Torino. The Torino was sort of always there but I remember it being washed, something my father has never done with any car since my sister was born.

    I also remember running my red VW Beetle toy car off the end of the coffee table (repeatedly) and drinking some Schlitz from my two-handled child’s plastic drinking cup. I kept asking for some of what my father was drinking and got it. Beer still isn’t a favorite of mine.

    There is also the hernia surgery I had at age 2 and I remember enough of that to count.

    You’ve aided in exhuming some good memories. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s funny how getting started on this topic will keep dredging up more and more. I also remembered my mother and Lori the neighbor discussing whether they liked rock and roll. Lori’s teenagers liked it but she and my mom weren’t so sure about it. I also remember one thing about the neighbors’ car – I can’t recall what kind it was, but it had a little sticker on the bumper – that I later learned was the logo for State Farm Insurance. I wondered why we didn’t have any stickers on our bumpers. 🙂

      And I think I would remember hernia surgery too. Ouch!


  2. My earliest memories are of babysitters, the ones my parents requested from “the agency” (a term that just came back to me as I type), with their giant beaded purses meant to hold toys and other necessities for babysitting. They were parental figures so maybe that’s why I remember them. Like you, our family moved in my childhood – when I was seven – so any memories beforehand are treasured. And photos definitely confuse the issue. Sometimes I’ll bounce memories off my brothers to determine whether they are real or just made up from photos and from what others remember.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The idea of a “babysitter agency” is a little foreign to me – we always relied on family and neighbors when I was a kid. With our own kids, Marianne’s family lived nearby and she also belonged to a co-op of moms who had an intricate system of accounting for hours and # of kids.


  3. A fascinating look back. I have dim memories of the 1969 moon landing — I was not quite 2. I also have some memories of the grand old house my grandparents lived in until 1969. My most concrete early memory is at age 3, hearing my dad’s alarm go off at 5, going into his room and lying quietly on the corner of his bed while he dressed, listening to the radio playing softly. The Carpenters “Close To You” was a big hit at the time and it played nearly every morning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I remember the moon landing too. At least I remember my mother telling me I had to watch this because it was important, that’s the only part I remember.
      My earliest memory is mom holding me and I’m really mad because I don’t have my soother. Apparently I only liked one kind, and when that kind was no longer available I hated the other ones and quit cold turkey.
      Funny how photos change your memories. I have several vivid memories of my uncle’s Toyota Land Cruiser, I must have been 4 or 5 years old. I remember it being grey (like in the photos) but to my surprise a couple of years ago I found out it was actually light green.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Space stuff was a really big deal, and I remember knowing about astronauts from an early age. But being older than you guys it was the Mercury and Gemini programs. But unlike the moon landing (that was a really big deal), the missions run together in my memories.


    • Music on the radio can really jog memories, as can TV shows. You jog another one – of my mother doing exercises while watching Jack LaLanne on television.


  4. It’s an interesting question. Back then a camera was a big deal and you only had 12 shots to get it right and it had to be something special to use the film for. I think this was so until the advent of digital photography. Does modern digital photography help with memories or just make pictures so commonplace we ignore them?
    I have memories without dates, like yours. I can remember my mom popping a bunch of popcorn on the stove because we were going to the drive-in movie to see True Grit. Now I can look up on the Internet when that would have been, otherwise, I wouldn’t remember, just, “When I was a kid…”

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make a good point about the pictures – I can remember looking through photos at my grandma’s house, where an entire lifetime of memories was in a department store clothing gift box. My mother probably accumulated 10x that amount and I am sure I have surpassed 10x of my mom’s output.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can remember awakening from a nightmare and thinking that a statuette on the bedroom dresser in my parents room, (where I was sleeping) was on fire. That woke up the whole house.
    At pre-kindergarten age I remember riding my tricycle on the sidewalk (my folks were in the house), and an older gentleman bumped in to the back of my trike. I had been blocking the sidewalk, and he being blind, could not have seen me there. He did not fall, thankfully, and I remember to keep off the sidewalk if I was not moving.
    My family and I were driving to Niagara Falls, and I remember some kind of traffic jam on the QEW. Suddenly my Mom shoved me under the dash in the car due to an impending collision. I don’t remember there actually being a collision though. I would have been perhaps 4.
    Early memories like these are pretty spotty. The age we are supposed to start remembering more is around 7, but for me even memories at that age are pretty spaced apart. My friend falling on some ice in the schoolyard and splitting his tongue open. Another time me being called to the principal’s office to answer for what some other kid did wrong and was I friends with them. Nuns were pretty generous with the strap in those days, so no I did not know that friend. Changing schools at age 9 and having gym class for the first time. Going to Expo 67 at age 11 with the school trip.
    Great fun. I keep all the photos from then that my Mom handed down to me to rekindle these.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I remember getting the strap too at age six for talking in class, which I’m sure was just a tap but it was the embarrassment of it and having to stand at the front of the class. – see below. God, no seatbelts in the cars back then!

      Liked by 1 person

      • My first grade teacher – Miss Rhoades – was probably in her 60s, very short and very wide, and generally pretty nice. The only thing I really remember from her class was that she used a variation of the dunce cap that she called “the thinking chair”. If you said something really wrong or stupid you had to go to the front of the classroom and sit on the thinking chair. I got my turn when I raised my hand to answer her question about whether there was such a thing as “a bigger half”. I knew there was because my sister and I used to argue about it all the time when we had to divide something like a piece of cake that wasn’t cut exactly 50-50. But that was not the answer she was looking for.

        Liked by 1 person

    • If the window extends to age 7, I have a whole slew more. But those are only dated by things like the cars we had, the grade of school and such.

      A near-accident in a car would have made for a vivid memory for sure! Those were no joke back in those pre-seat belt days.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Earliest memories have a great poignancy for me. Around age 3-7 I watched religiously Sesame Street and cartoons like Felix the Cat and Gigantor. When YouTube came around, I [re-]watched clips that I had not seen in decades. They brought back deep feelings of joy and contentedness–“Aha! I remember this!” I felt like I did back then.

    When I was little I was inexplicably drawn to certain things. Captain Kangaroo had this little clip where they showed this old-fashioned kitchen with a potbellied stove and I just loved that! I was also fascinated by keys and keyholes. My grandmother’s house had the old-fashioned skeleton key locks in all the interior doors and I had to try all the keys in the locks and know which ones fit which doors. I then started collecting old locks and hardware. I also went through a speedometer phase and had to study the speedometers in all the cars, and then make speedometers of my own out of cardboard, and of course my first bike had to have a speedometer on it!

    4th Christmas I got a red pedal car. It had a racing number 6 on the front. I insisted that Dad turn the number upside down and make it a 9! Where does this come from? Why 9 instead of a 6?

    I have a theory that if pre-existence is real, then we bring with us ideas that we experienced in past lives or in the heavenly realms. We bring those ideas with us when we incarnate into human bodies. When we are very young we still can feel a connection to our pre-birth, heavenly existence because we have not yet fully “tuned in” to being in a human body. These early feelings and tendencies (including some which I haven’t mentioned) affect me to this very day.

    I would like to find out more about this mystery, and if you have any insights I’d like hear what you have to say!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember watching Captain Kangaroo a lot, but Sesame Street came late enough that I never got into it. But yes, the cartoons like Tennessee Tuxedo and Mighty Mouse. Outside of Captain Kangaroo, kids television of the early 60s didn’t have a lot of redeeming value, but I sure lapped it up just as you did.

      I would have loved exploring an old house like your grandmother’s. All the ones I knew were much newer. As far as your thoughts on pre-birth or past lives, I don’t really have any thoughts on that. Where our souls come from before birth and go after death is indeed a fascinating thing to consider.


  7. Great topic, JP, but it doesn’t surprise me that some of your earliest memories would be about cars! (the car though, is another thing, although I did enjoy the read and the phrasing. Re I loves me an automotive bargain – you must you change cars so often! I just finished Elin Hilderbrand’s book of short stories, many of them set in previous decades, she mentioned woody wagons ten times – I’m thinking that would be a station wagon with the wood siding on it?

    As for the memories, my earliest is age 3 standing on the riverfront waiting for the Queen’s yacht to go by and we were supposed to wave. The next is age 4, going to get our family dog King, a blonde Border collie, much better than Lassie, but there are photos of this, so I may be confusing it with the photos, but I do have a distinctive memory of sitting in the middle of the back seat and being excited to get a puppy. I always got stuck in the middle. We had that dog for 15 years. Also, age 4 is a memory of my mother going to the hospital to have my baby brother. She was putting on red lipstick in the bathroom mirror, (where my dad was shaving), and then gave me a red lipstick kiss on my arm and told me to be good for grandma. (That might have been separation anxiety as pregnant women were kept in hospital for a whole week back in those days. I do have a few memories of attending a rural one room schoolhouse in grade one, (until all the rural schools were closed and we went to the Catholic school in town. There were only 3 of us in grade one, the teacher was always yelling and in a bad mood, you could cook hot dogs wrapped in foil on the wood stove at the back for lunch, and my cousin and I got the strap once for talking, (well she was, but I got punished too) – I clearly remember having to stand in the front of the class for awhile and crying at the unfairness of it all. We were dismissed early and walked home about half a mile down our quiet rural road, dawdling in the ditches for tadpoles and playing in the snowbanks, arriving home about the same time as my siblings. There were trees all along the road. I have one bad memory of that school, when my cousin and I accepted a ride home in a car from the parents of the other grade one student, who was not a nice boy. They were renters. They let my cousin out, and then drove right by my house. The dad was laughing, oh was I supposed to let you out too. I never forgot that as we were told even then not to accept rides from strangers, but my had cousin said she knew them. So much for age six trauma! My mother made me watch John F Kennedy’s funeral too, as she said it was part of history. And I remember the principal, a nun, coming into our grade 2 class and telling us we had to pray for the president. I guess I remember more than I thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is true that once you start pulling up those early memories, more seem to keep coming. All I remember about the Kennedy assassination was that my father was home from work and the funeral procession was on television. I remember the curtains being drawn and that my parents were sad.

      The little rural school would have been an interesting experience – my mother went to one of those but I never did. I do remember my 2nd grade teacher – Miss Butler – as a sour old lady who must have been teaching for 100 years before I got put in her class.

      And the woody wagon – you are on the right track. Before the early 50s those station wagon bodies were actually made of wood. Don’t ask me why it took so long to make them from metal, that was just how things developed from the days of the Model T. Those things were high maintenance cars if ever there was one, with annual sanding and varnishing necessary to keep them looking decent.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is true….the more you think about it the more you remember. I remember sitting on the tractor on my dad’s lap and my dad taking me to the corner store where I could choose a treat – chocolate milk or orange pop or a Jersey Milk chocolate bar (always a tough decision). And playing in the field with my cousin when my dad was stooking corn (an old-fashioned method of harvesting) on a beautiful windy fall day. The others must have been in school, and with a new baby at home my dad was often the babysitter. Those grandparent keepsake books were popular back in the 90’s and I always enjoyed reading my parents memories of growing up in the Depression. Something to treasure for the grandchildren.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ll give you another one: Again for unexplained reasons, around age 4 or 5 I was strangely infatuated with Charlie Chaplin. His silent movies played on Channel 13 (PBS) during the day. Of course I had to be Charlie for Halloween–with the cane, the derby, the moustache, and the worn Edwardian clothes. My friend Greg had a color TV, so I said, “Let’s watch Charlie Chaplin in color!” We did, but he was still black & white. Couldn’t figure that out. But why would a little kid in 1971 be drawn to a 1920s film star? None of my other friends cared about Charlie.

    As for Grandma’s house, new owners completely “remuddled” it so it’s now totally modern and unrecognizable. They gutted the place, ripping out doors, stained glass windows (who DOES that?!), chair rail moldings, window shutters, they slapped on vinyl siding, etc. So sad. They even offered the front door lock on Craigslist for $50. I was tempted, but I have no use for it in my house, so I passed it up. However, there are still a few nice original houses on her street like this one:

    Screenshot 2022-11-06 at 10-00-31 Google Maps

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those “wreck-o-vations” drive me crazy. There is one of those house re-do shows on HGTV that stars a couple of women in Indianapolis that run a company called Two Chicks With A Hammer (the show is called “Good Bones”). They do gut-job renovations on old houses in the city but every one they touch gets turned into a generic HGTV kind of house that looks like something you could get in a new higher-end suburb. Fortunately, they do most of their work in smaller houses on the south side and not on the grand old mansions on the north side.


  9. My brother Rory died right after I turned four so I can pinpoint fleeting memories of when I was three, e.g., like crawling around the kitchen with Rory where there is no photographic evidence. My brother Kevin had just turned three when Rory died and had no recollection of him even though the three of us were together in this particular memory. So I have some idea where early memories start in my family, maybe around 3.5.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I liked this post JP, but then you know and even commented on my posts about reminisces – they are interesting to have a lookback at your life. Like you, I can remember my 7th birthday. I got eyeglasses the day before and was not happy about them. Query: is any kid happy to wear eyeglasses? But that birthday sticks out in my mind to this day. I have the homeliest photo of myself taken on that birthday at Scott’s Chicken Villa in Oakville, Ontario. I don’t even know if I scanned the photo in when I digitized all the albums. I also remember the first day of school, but, as you suggested, some memories might be helped along by seeing those first-day-of school pics in the family album. I am lucky because, as an only child, I got all the family photo albums and happily Mom sat down with me long ago to tell me who everyone was as my grandmother was one of nine kids. Mom would tell me about family gatherings of all her kin and cousins galore. It sounds wonderful to me and something I can’t imagine as I have no family left. I have just a handful of photos from my father’s side of the family. I am going to rely on memories and mostly black-and-white photos this Christmas when I do a post about my toys back in the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • All too often we younger people didn’t care enough to listen to all of those old stories while parents or grandparents were around to tell them, then by the time we did care the old folks were gone. It was a happy occasion when both of those things came together for you.

      I was actually excited to get glasses – I have no idea why, but I thought they might make me look more grown up (I was in either 3rd of 4th grade). It didn’t work, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, older folks have a wealth of information and are always willing to impart their wisdom – we should give them that opportunity.

        Ha ha – I thought my cat eye glasses were so horrible that I’d take them off at school and say they were broken.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I didn’t know the Mercury Marquis came in a wagon model and it was classy looking with the wood-grained side panels. Seeing the picture you substituted (since you didn’t have your own picture of the Fox-body Marquis) with several screwdrivers on the top of the instrument panel made me think of my Regal with its “mushy horn pad” issue. For a year or so, to avoid the horn going off at an inappropriate time, like in the garage overnight, or in a parking lot, I had to pull the horn fuse out every time I left the car. And, although I’ve never been a horn-honker, even to this day, It figured it was prudent to drive with a working horn, even though, as I drove along, I fretted that the horn would pick that moment to honk non-stop and someone would take offense. I sure couldn’t have that mushy horn pad now with all the road rage! I finally got it fixed when a tiny horn button was placed in the center of the horn and the fuse permanently pulled. I was always dropping those tiny horn fuses, so had to have a Tupperware container of new ones handy.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, the mushy horn pad was a hassle and one of the many recalls that my ’88 Buick Regal had. I kept a big note taped on the wall in the cellarway that read “fuse out?” whenever I/we went out in that car because once the horn went off, it would not stop.

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