My father told me a story about my childhood while I was with him in the hospital recently, and it got me thinking about memory, and my perception of memory.
The story was of a rocking chair that I had when I was small. To hear Dad tell it, I loved this rocking chair, and would drag it all around the house with me. Dad caught me standing up in the seat of the chair, holding on to the high back, and rocking for all I was worth. He warned me that I was going to hurt myself and to get down. I complied, but once he was out of sight, I climbed right back up and went on rocking like there was no tomorrow. Dad caught me again, and told me to stop, or he would take the chair away from me. Sure enough, he said, I was soon back up in the chair, rocking like the devil was hot on my heels. I fell out, and got hurt, and worse -- got caught. Dad spanked me, and took the rocking chair away, locking it in the trunk of his car for a month. He says that once I got the chair back, that I didn't stand up in it ever again.
Now, I don't remember this story at ALL, though I do remember the rocking chair. But, I wonder -- do I actually *remember* the chair, or have I been influenced all my life by the pictures of my childhood? There are several pictures of me, in that particular rocking chair, and I'm wondering if I have memories of that chair, or if I am just dredging memories up from those pictures?
That got me thinking to what my earliest memories were actually of -- I remember the apartment where we lived before we moved into the house where I currently live, but only vaguely. I remember sitting on the steps, and the big sliding glass door that my mother used to paint with holiday scenes. I had a gigantic toy box shaped like a green frog, which I used to hide in. I remember my bedspread -- my mother painted the dollhouse from the bedspread on the wall, and I would lay in bed, and knock on the door, and have conversations with the little girl who lived inside the house.
I don't remember hardly anything specific about Girl Scouts, but I do remember being one, and I remember that I had the metal mess kit that became a frying pan with a judicious twisting of the wing nut. I do remember being extremely excited to be at Girl Scout camp, and to be cooking pancakes over the fire in my metal mess kit when it began to snow. (It snows about once every seven years here, so this was a BIG DEAL.) I remember traveling to my Grandmother's house in CityOfMyBirth, and riding push cars down the sloping hill in her yard. I remember that Santa must know which years we spent at Grandma's and which years we spent at home because Grandma was secretly Mrs. Claus, and that's why my Granddaddy wasn't around -- they'd told us that he'd died back before I was born, but I remember thinking that he was really Santa, and we couldn't blow his cover.
Just the other day, I took out my baby album, and stared at the pictures for a long time. I ran my hands over the fading colors, and looked at my mother's looping, girlish handwriting in the margins. And I can barely, just barely, imagine the satiny feel of rocking chair wood underneath my fingtertips.