I saw recently on Facebook where someone asked, “What is your earliest memory?” I posed the question to my husband that evening and we spent the next hour bouncing our earliest childhood memories back and forth.
I was born on a small farm located at 51st Ave and Indian School Rd in Phoenix, AZ in 1948. The city has long ago grown and overtaken that land. We moved from there when I was five years old, so I tried to recall all memories from before we moved, making me five and younger.
- · Probably my earliest: We had relatives staying with us, so a crib was pushed into the living room for me to sleep in. I remember hating it because I felt “too big” for a crib. I have no recollection of my real bed or bedroom. My advice to parents: if your child thinks he/she is too old for a crib, do NOT make the little darling sleep in one. Do you want that to be their earliest memory?
- · My older brother, Gerald, and I going with Dad to fields (usually along the canal) to cut Johnson grass for our cows. I fell or jumped into the bed of the truck loaded with the grass, and the blades had sharp edges that cut. Lesson learned: Do not jump into a pile of grass no matter how cushy it looks.
- · The property to the north of us had several houses where a multi-family Mexican family lived. Nice people, except they had turkeys. We played with their kids frequently and we were visiting and/or playing with the kids one day when a turkey came at me gobbling and flapping its wings. I ran in circles screaming and crying while the possessed-by-the-devil turkey chased me. The kindly neighbors roared with laughter while chattering to each other in a language I didn’t understand. Obviously I survived. Perhaps an exorcism took place, casting Beelzebub out of the turkey. Or did he become dinner?
- · The neighbors to the south of us were Ed and Rose – I think that was their names. I do know they had teenage boys. For some reason I was terrified of the song “Three Blind Mice,” or perhaps those boys made me terrified of it. Because I would cry and try to hide whenever they sang that song, their mother yelled at them. So they would sneak up to me and whisper it in my ear. Note to adults: not all children’s songs and nursery rhymes are cute, funny and endearing. Mice chasing a farmer’s wife who cuts off their tails with a carving knife? Obviously my little-girl-self found that quite frightening.
- · I remember my mom, grandma, and aunts churning butter in our kitchen with that wooden barrel-like thing with the pole sticking out that you see in movies. Memory: nothing tastes as good as fresh churned butter on warm, freshly baked bread and biscuits.
- · We always had chickens. When Mom needed a chicken for dinner, Dad would grab one by the neck and swing the chicken around until its head detached from its body. For a little girl who cringed at the song, Three Blind Mice, I had no problem watching this happen. In fact it was quite entertaining how that the headless chicken could hop and run around the yard for seconds or minutes until it keeled over. My brother and boy cousins loved to run around with the headless chicken screaming, “It’s chasing me,” while I, and my equally intimidated girl cousins, found a spot high and away, lest the crazy headless chicken chased us. I do recall that a headless chicken (and a puffed-up desert horned toad) made me queasy. The dead chicken would be thrown in a pot of boiling water, feathers and all. This loosened the feathers so we children could pluck out the feathers. The chicken could be cooked once the feathers and insides were removed. Sometimes, once the feet were chopped off, we danced the feet around with our hands. I have never been able to make fried chicken quite as mouthwatering as my mom and Aunts Viola, Nola, and Esther. FYO – we ate chickens, but not desert horned toads, who puffed up because they were getting ready to spit blood from their eyes – at least that’s what Gerald and my boy cousins told me. These creatures, like the turkey, are devil-possessed.
- · A skunk was called a polecat by my family. I am not sure why. Our farmhouse set on cement blocks. A small person could easily crawl around on their belly under the house. But so could critters, which is exactly what a polecat did one day. My grandma and grandpa Brooks were at the house the day this happened, and Dad and Grandpa tried to chase the skunk, er… polecat away. He rewarded them with a smell that lingered for days. Lesson: Just because it’s cute doesn’t mean it’s nice.
- · Being awakened in the middle of the night so my dad could drive my Mom to the hospital to bring my brother, Clifford, into the world. I was four. I did not connect my mother’s bulging belly that disappeared to the birth of my brother. I’m not sure when I realized parents didn’t just go to the hospital to pick up a baby when they wanted one. Parents: It’s okay to let childhood innocence linger.
- · I remember riding my tricycle in a circle throughout the house – living room, kitchen, bedroom, bedroom, it’s how the rooms opened to each other – and drinking from a can of evaporated milk. I thought it tasted yummy and Mom let me, so that made it okay. Today: I think I would gag if I drank it straight from the can. Our taste buds really do change as we get older.
- · Gerald always stood to go pee. He even peed in the yard. It looked so simple. He didn’t have to sit or squat. What made him able to do that and not me? So I tried it. I had on a pair of coveralls. I unzipped the fly and peed – all down my legs and the front of me. What? That never happened to Gerald. Apparently I didn’t know or understand the difference between boy and girl anatomy. When I went in to tell Mom, she took one look and asked, “Did you try to pee like your brother?” I was amazed. My mother was genius. How could she know that? She didn’t even yell at me for ruining my clothes. In fact, I don’t remember my mother ever yelling at us. Or spanking us. Now Dad was a different story. Parents: Do your children remember you as a screamer and punisher? It’s okay if it’s balanced and tempered with love and kindness. That’s how I remember my parents.
- · Mom had us all cleaned up to go somewhere. Across the street there was a ditch, so Gerald and I ran across the street to look at the water while we waited on Mom. Either I slipped or Gerald pushed me – what say you, dear brother? – and I was in the muddy water. I tried to climb up and out on the slippery, muddy bank, but kept sliding back. I did get out, and Mom was not happy to have to change my clothes. Nor was she happy on another day when I went running into the house waving the mail I’d gotten for her from the mailbox, only to be told to put it back because it was outgoing mail. Memory: I was never afraid to tell my parents, especially my mother, anything for fear of the consequences.
- · My mother collected dishes from boxes of Quaker oatmeal. Cups, saucers, and other dishes that all matched. She told of the time she pulled a cup from the oatmeal box and my baby fingers reached for it. She gave it to me and I immediately swung it in the air, hitting her in the mouth and chipping a tooth. The cup survived. My mother and aunts also made diapers and clothes from flour sack material. It was a common thing to do then. Lesson: I learned frugality and resourcefulness from my mom and aunts.
- · While riding that tricycle in the house one day, I was chewing on the metal spring that is inside the stem where we pump air into a tire or inner tube. Do you know what I’m talking about? Somehow I swallowed it, and started to choke. Tears ran from my eyes as I gagged and tried to cough it out. It was lodged there and I was choking, and soon I saw spots before my eyes. I was frantic for someone to help me, but then I reached my own fingers down my throat and pulled it out. I was so shaken that I ran to find Mom and flung myself sobbing into her arms. I don’t recall if I told her what happened. Revelation: God keeps us on this earth until our purpose is fulfilled. I could have died, but He gave the ability to a toddler to save her own life.
These are a few of my early, before-I-turned-five-years-old memories. I think I had a pleasant childhood and was blessed with good parents. I've included a picture of Gerald and me on the porch of the farmhouse.