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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Thanks for the Memories

Megan Branch, Intern

What’s the very earliest thing you can remember? That sandwich you had for lunch today? Your last day of high school? How about your first day of kindergarten? Can you remember anything before that? In Karl Sabbagh’s new book, Remembering Our Childhood: How Memory Betrays Us, he challenges the idea of “recovered memories,” an idea that has been at the center of several recent court cases. In Remembering Our Childhood, Sabbagh uses scientific experiments to show how fragile our earliest memories are and how easily they can be reshaped during early childhood. In this post, I’ve tried to copy something Sabbagh does in the book and collect early-childhood memories from some of the OUP staff. Some responses were funny, some were sad, some seemed like they couldn’t be true. Whether you have faith in the accuracy of early-childhood memories or not, the employees at OUP definitely have some interesting ones. After you read, feel free to comment with your own recollections from early (or not so early) childhood.

Paige, Marketing Manager, Online & Scholarly Reference: My earliest memory is a mosaic of images from my family’s house in Omaha, where I was born and lived until I was nearly four. I remember the bright pink only-in-the-70s shag carpeting in my bedroom, the view out the backdoor to the park, the house flooded with sunlight, and the brown, green, and beige color scheme.

Rebecca, OUPBlog Editor: When I was about two and a half my Nana Sara passed away. I don’t really remember Nana but I do remember that day. I remember being terrified at seeing my father upset and my brothers, (who never paid attention to me) took me into the study to distract me and keep me away from all the friends and relatives who had come to sit Shiva. They helped me draw a picture of Nana and then let me hide it anywhere I wanted in the house. I hid it behind a picture frame in the hallway and no one found it there until we moved eight years later. I distinctly remember being both scared of what was happening to my father and excited that my brothers were giving me their complete attention – and I was so proud that I kept the secret of the hidden picture for so many years.

Susan, Senior Publicist: My earliest memory is from before I could speak or sit up on my own. I was lying down on my belly in my crib and I distinctly remember trying to lift my head because I wanted to take a look around. I tried and tried but realized quickly that I was unable to get my head up and that I would just have to be patient and wait. This is all before language but I remember thinking this precise thing. I simply put my head down, closed my eyes and decided to wait.

Betsy, Publicity Manager: My parents took me on vacation was when I was three. I remember packing all my dolls into the backseat of the car, and I remember being in the hotel room and being so happy that I could still watch “The Muppet Show” with my dad even though we weren’t at home. The TV was mounted up on the wall, and I had to look up to watch, but I was so happy to see Miss Piggy.

Cassie, Publicity Assistant: Can my answer be that I hardly remember anything? Most of my childhood “memories” have been extrapolated from one of the many, many, many pictures documenting it. So, for example, I think I remember falling asleep with a giant picture book/encyclopedia type thing about wolves when I was about six, but it may just be because I have a picture of me, dead to the world in my little pink room, with a giant book open across my chest.

Lauren, Publicity Assistant: My first memory is my mother standing in the kitchen holding my just-born brother and pushing a drawer shut with her left hip. She was wearing a blue terrycloth shirt and it was sunset, so the kitchen was very orange.

Shannon, Editor, Humanities: Well my first memory is of the moon landing in July, 1969. My mother stopped vacuuming to point at the fuzzy black and white television screen and explain the impossible goings on going on there. I mean, the TV itself was mind-boggling enough for a small fresh brain.

Purdy, Publicity Director: I was the youngest of three boys, still in diapers, growing up in a small house, in a small town during the dawn of the 1970s. I remember we had a dog named Stacy whose white coat was only interrupted by a brown black triangle near her throat. She had ghostly eyes that could be blue or gray, or white depending on the light. She was extraordinarily beautiful and had a wolfen look to her. Each morning I’d climb out of my crib, wake my brother Richie (whom I called Neighbie, short for neighbor, because I didn’t quite understand our fraternal relationship), then we descend the stairs to watch Popeye or Captain Kangaroo cartoons on the television before Neighbie went off to school. Often we’d discover by a big goopy pile of dog poop downstairs and Neighbie would step right into it and wiggle his toes about. He claimed this was “fun,” he claimed to “like the way it feels.” When he grew bored, however, he knew better than to walk about the house and sent me back upstairs to seek help from my sleeping parents. My reports were met with groans and more often than not, “Not again! What is wrong with that boy?”

Sarah, Associate Director of Publicity & Communications: My earliest memory is being tucked into my parent’s bed with my brother and my two cousins. I’m not sure why we were all bundled into bed together if our parents were having a date night together or what. But at this time we all lived together in a two family house in a working class area of New Jersey.

Megan, Intern: When I was really little, probably around 2 or 3,  I had some kind of eye condition that meant monthly appointments at a huge children’s hospital downtown. I don’t remember what went on at the appointments, but I do remember the waiting room. I loved going downtown each month and getting to play with the bright red, perfectly detailed, miniature kitchen, complete with metal taps!

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