The trouble with an early memory is knowing where it begins. What is actual memory, something concrete, real, beyond just disconnected images and impressions?
One of my earliest memories dates from perhaps three years old. My mother pushed me along in a buggy, down a hilly, grey London street near where we lived then. The buggy’s rain hood pulled up left me deeply sheltered not just to the elements but most of the world beyond. My mother stopped, in conversation with a woman. A friend, by their tone. Much of the conversation was about me, but didn’t involve me. Under the rain hood, I was completely unable to contribute.
Where had we been? How old was I? Was I still ill? I leaned forward, not very far, as I was strapped into the buggy with a test pilot’s harness. I could see no more of my mother’s friend than the edges of a dark coat and a pair of stockinged legs above high street shoes. Now I think about it, was she such a friend, or just an acquaintance? Somebody you meet in the street, down the shops, at the library, every few days or weeks. Perhaps, England being England, you never get around to introductions and never know their name.
There’s the mystery, there’s the memory. Who is this friend that’s talking about me, but not to me? Who was this mystery woman, reduced to a coat, a pair of stockings and a pair of shoes? I’m still interested in her, because, even if only in politeness, she was interested in me.
My mother doesn’t remember the conversation.