What’s Your Earliest Memory?

Snapshots of life at home.
April 12 2012 10:39 AM

What’s Your Earliest Memory?

Slate staffers think back.

Girl thinking.
Our staffers share their first memories

Jupiterimages.

To accompany Nicholas Day’s article about childhood memories, we asked Slate staffers about their earliest verifiable memory. (“Verifiable,” of course, is a loose term.) One Slatester swore he had a memory from before his first birthday; another remembers nothing before age 6. When is your first memory from? Were your parents “highly elaborative” storytellers?

Under 2

I seem to remember being in my father's arms in line in a crowded office and reaching up to touch an overhead light and scalding myself. My parents have told me that this actually happened and that in fact it's when I said my first word: After I touched the light, my father said "hot," and I repeated, "ott." If it's true that I remember it, that's a very early memory—I think I was less than a year old. But it's also quite possible this memory is apocryphal, implanted a year or two later when my parents recounted for me the occasion of my first word. If that's the case, then what I'm remembering is actually a mental image that I would have conjured when they told me the story, and not the event itself. Memory's a weird thing. –Will Oremus

I swear I remember being weighed on the small child scale at my pediatrician's office when I was maybe 1 or 1½. If that was a memory implant, then my next "first memory" is getting so homesick at preschool that I literally made myself ill and my grandmother had to come pick me up and take me to her house for the afternoon. Age 3½. –Anna Weaver

This may sound weird but my first verifiable memory was the layout of a house I lived in when I was a year old in Rochester, N.Y. I asked my parents about it one day because we moved around a lot and I could remember the house layout but basically nothing else. They were blown away because it was a place we left when I was 18 months old and never returned to or even had photos of. –Ben Johnson

Advertisement

2+

My memory, which my mother has verified and which does not come from any photo, comes from July 1972, when I was 2½ years old. My family flew to England for a vacation in Scotland. On the flight over, an older boy on the flight played a game with me where he took and hid my shoes. It was really fun. I actually have a second memory of the same trip (less verified) of the field below the house we stayed at in Scotland. –David Plotz

When I was 2½, we went to Oak Island, N.C, for vacation with some family friends. I remember fragments of the drive, mostly because we were all crowded in an RV together, and I remember that on a beach walk one evening, my parents tried to get me to take a picture with a giant sea turtle that had washed ashore. –Rachael Larimore

Around age 2, I locked myself into my family's apartment/hotel room (not sure what it was) by accident. My parents had left momentarily and had left either the oven or stove on (not sure) so panicked about a fire starting (I had fallen asleep). I remember this, and them banging on the door trying to wake me up, but I think some of it also might have been filled in by my parents telling me about it when I was older in my childhood. –Rachael Levy

3+

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

4+

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

5+

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

6+

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.

Videos curated by Slate staff.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Dec. 19 2014 4:15 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? Staff writer Lily Hay Newman shares what stories intrigued her at the magazine this week.