I’m sometimes asked how I can remember so much in these tales from my early life, but the truth is I only recall a few specific events, and I fill in the rest with generalized memories or things that I learned long after the fact. So for example, this post is based on two specific memories of events plus my vivid recollection of my grandfather’s farm, both his house and the house where we lived.
So our kitchen had a niche under the stairs leading up to the second floor, and in this niche was our telephone. By the way, at this time our telephone did not have a dial, one had to ask an operator to place even a local call, and we were on a party line where the telephone rang in a distinctive way if the incoming call was for us. The pre-school me was not able to master the intricacies of the distinctive ring (I think it was something like one quick ring if it was the the other party, two quick rings if it was for us), so I was not able to perform phone answering duties, even if I was right next to it when it rang.
Anyway the first event that I recall occurred when I was in the phone niche. Something, I no longer recall just what, but perhaps it was one of my old baby bibs, got me to thinking, and I blurted out, “I’d like to have a little brother.”
My mother and father were sitting at the kitchen table, and I distinctly remember my mother giving my father a look, sort of a smile, but something else as well. In light of what happened later, I used to think that maybe I had given them an idea, but now thinking back on it, I tend to believe she was already pregnant and was just smiling at the thought. In those days it would have been unusual to explain pregnancy to a pre-schooler—especially in our family. Remember, those were the days when I Love Lucy couldn’t even use the word pregnant on TV.
The second memory is from several months later. I had spent the night sleeping at my grandparents’ house, and my aunt Jane came to deliver the news. Now I don’t specifically recall what happened the night before, but I can infer that something happened that caused my father to take my mother to the hospital and send me to my grandparents’ house, which was just across the meadow, so I could have walked there myself.
Anyway I can recall Jane’s news practically verbatim: “When your mother got there, the hospital was fresh out of babies.”
Many years later I learned that my mother had had a miscarriage. In fact, it was her second one; she had had a miscarriage a few years before she had me.
So I hear you ask, what about your baby sister? Well, she was born in what was probably the following year, the middle of August 1954, just a few weeks before I started Kindergarten. And I have no memories surrounding her birth. Or of my mother’s pregnancy. Or of the first few years of her life. I have some pictures from those years, but no specific memories.
Oh, I know some stories. Like she used to turn off the TV when I was watching it and then run away, but I don’t recall them. I just know them because they’ve been retold in my family from time to time.
Isn’t memory a funny thing?