By: William G. Muir
Time to get into the WABAC machine (for those of you to young, that is refernce to Peabody’s Improbable History,
from the old Rocky And Bulwinkle Show) and see what my first memory is.
Although this might be kind of tricky, I am nearing 40, and the old memory is not what it use to be. What is likely to be the oldest memory I have today, might not be what my oldest memory was say just a few years ago. Not to mention that our memories are not etched into stone. You can’t just call up a memory from your brain like you would a file saved on your computer. Barring some sort of corruption, that file will be the same each time you call it up. But our memories are not static, they are instead plastic. They are capable of being changed.
Every time we call up a memory it is not the same as it was before. Some of the information might have been lost, some of it might have been rearranged in our heads. Our memories are also susceptible to outside influences. If we are part of a group, and that group has experienced the same events that we have, but the whole group remembers the details differently than we do, this can lead to us rewriting our own memories to fall in line with those of the group. And once our memory has been changed, it is almost impossible to recover the unaltered version.
The earliest place I can remember living was in El Paso, Texas. My father was in the Army back then and he was stationed at Fort Bliss. While I do have memories of being on the Fort Riley when I was older, I only have one memory of ever being on the base at Fort Bliss. That was when my father was being honored, I believe he was getting a promotion. I think it was a promotion because I remember telling one of the officers we were getting a big, brand new television (the things you are impressed with when you are 5). I can only assume the officer asked me what we were going to do with my father’s raise.
I also have a memory of seeing a UFO. Or at least that is what I could claim if I truly believed we had been visited by aliens. With my father being in the military when I was younger we moved around a lot. In those days my parents didn’t have much money, so you made do with what you got, especially when it comes to your car. My parents, my two younger sisters (I believe both of them were around at this point), and I were traveling in the southwestern part of the country. One evening we were driving down the highway (this is were the rearranging of memories comes in). What I have as a memory cannot possibly be what happened.
It is late in the evening and we are driving down the highway. I seem to recall that we happened on a part of the highway were the traffic was backed up. In my mind a military man of some sorts approaches the car and begins talking to my father. In some version of the memory my father gets out of the car, in some versions he stays in the car. Either way it turns out something is causing the backup, and the military is involved. I also think whatever it is has caused all the car batteries to die. So my dad pops the hood and looks at the engine. The whole thing ends with the military man coming back and giving us a warning that something is about to happen. The next thing I see is something raising up into the sky.
There was a time that I thought that something was a cloud of smoke, one that resembled a red skull. But it could just as easily ended up being a UFO story.
To be honest what I now believe happened was that we got caught in late night traffic. Our car wasn’t in the best of shape and that it died while we sat there. A police officer stopped and offered assistance of some type. They popped the hood and probably tried to jump the battery. Then something must have gone wrong, leading to the smoke rising in the air.
While somewhat mundane, Occam’s Razor would say the second version is the correct one. Also I seem to recall that we spent the next several days waiting for the car to be repaired at this garage that was basically in the middle of nowhere.
The reason I think the first one is what I remember is because I was a young child who was sitting in the backseat during a long car trip. I was likely bored and my mind was probably wandering. You throw on top of that it was late and I was probably somewhere between being awake and Dreamland. It’s a wonder that Godzilla and Dracula didn’t make an appearance as well.
I have bits and fragments of other early memories from that time. I do not know which ones are the oldest though. I remember my youngest sister coming home from the hospital for the first time, and I wanted to share my toys with her. I remember one of my sisters crawling over my ankle and having to see a doctor. I remember a teddy bear bigger than I was. I remember getting my first dog and fleeing the room in terror for no reason. I wasn’t afraid of dogs. I remember watching Little House On The Prairie and The Flintstones at night. I remember getting up early one Saturday morning to watch a brand new cartoon (The Smurfs) when it first premiered.