What’s Your Earliest Memory?
Slate staffers think back.
I was standing in line with my parents at the bakery we sometimes went to after church and I grabbed onto what I thought was my mom's leg. But the leg actually belonged to a dude who was wearing the same color pants as my mom. He told me, "I'm not your dad," which sent me scurrying back to my parents. I would guess that I was about 3 when this happened. –L.V. Anderson
My mom took me to see The Muppets Take Manhattan when I was 3 along with some friends of hers who had children the same age. I don't remember anything about the movie and have never gone back and watched it since, but something about the darkness and the loud noise was terrifying and I had to flee; I have a strong memory of being in the lobby of the theater with my mother afterward sad and baffled that large numbers of people seemed to watch movies for fun. –Matt Yglesias
I fell out of a moving car at age 3 (almost 4). Slowly rounding a corner in Pearl River on our way to the Bornemanns’ house/pool, the back left door of our Ford Falcon was somehow ajar and I tumbled out. Cut and bruised my elbow. Remember the X-ray process and my mom's unbearable anguish at having let this happen. –Bill Smee
I vividly recall being put in a cold bathtub as a child when I had a fever of 104 and the action was deemed necessary to lower my temperature. My sister tells me I was between 3 and 4 years old at the time. –Vivian Selbo
Nixon resigning. I know, it's not that plausible, but I really remember him walking down some red carpeted aisle, and my dad telling me to remember this moment. I was born in March 1971 so I was 3½. I also remember my great-grandfather giving me a piece of bagel, and he died when I was 3. That's just the smallest wisp of memory: more about touch and taste than sight or what he said. –Emily Bazelon
I remember walking from our house to a friend’s house one summer day in the house where I was born in Brown Deer, Wis.. I wasn’t wearing shoes, and our next-door neighbor’s lawn was unkempt; I stepped on some prickly weeds and hurt my foot. We moved to a different town the winter I turned 4, so I believe I am 3½ in this memory. But! In fifth grade Ms. Schulz had us do an assignment in which we wrote out our earliest memory, and I wrote this story. So am I remembering the memory, or remembering telling the story of “my earliest memory”? One thing I learned from Nicholas Day’s piece is that there isn’t much difference between the two. –Dan Kois
I think mine is from when I was around 4, living in Bethesda, Md. (deep suburbia). My dad raked our front yard and I jumped in the leaf pile. The dry leaves got all tangled in my hair. My grandfather, no longer living, spent over an hour picking them out one by one. Sitting still that long was excruciating! But the idea that a man as big and formidable as my grandfather could be so gentle and patient really stuck with me. (This also marked the awakening of my Jewfro consciousness. I think most curly-haired girls can log a comparable memory). –Katy Waldman
Last day of 1969, standing in my driveway near the mailbox, staring out at the street and the bridge over the bayou, and thinking, "Wow, this is the last day of 1969. It'll never be this decade again." I was 5. I'm suspicious of any memories I might vaguely recall before that. –Will Saletan
My first memory was staring down at my red, hard, sandal-like shoes that my parents dressed me in when I was 6 in spring at Langley Country Day school in McLean, Va. –John Dickerson
Nicholas Day explores the science behind early memory here.