Family History: What’s Your First Memory?

cats in boxMost people remember events tied to a strong emotion, smell, or some other sensual detail. That’s especially true of first memories. Mine is a box of kittens my father brought home. I was two and a half, maybe three-years-old. I don’t remember why he had a box of kittens, where they came from, or whether we kept them. What I remember are the sensations–the fur, the claws, the smells, the sounds, and how they squirmed when I reached in to touch them. I remember laughing.

My whole life I thought I was a cat person. Dogs annoyed me. A cat purred and snuggled. Dogs jumped up on you with dirty paws and needed to be taken outside regularly. Unfortunately, I married a dog person. He grew up with dogs, loved dogs, always wanted one. I delayed and delayed, but that only works so long. Eventually he got his dog, which quickly turned into two dogs, both Great Danes. When people ask how that happened, I tell them I made him wait too long–the dogs grew larger and multiplied. You know, like unattended problems.

Turns out I’m a dog person. The bed is never empty. The house is never lonely. Bring on the slobber and the face-licks.

Question is: Would I have been a dog person earlier if my first memory was a puppy? That’s not an idle thought. We shape our sense of self from the stories we tell about the things we remember.

great dane dogs

Want more examples of first memories. Check out, a blog featuring videos of people telling their first memories. Interesting project.



Filed under children's stories, Family history, Family Stories, Memories, Why Stories?

5 responses to “Family History: What’s Your First Memory?

  1. First memories are very tricky things because we don’t really retain things in our minds like snapshots things we did or saw. Instead, we recall stories about such things — and stories can be made up of things we’ve been told or imagined. I have a vivid picture of my grandfather in his death bed with his glass eye on a bedside table. Memory? I doubt it. I was less than two when he died.

    • Interesting. I just did a family story workshop where people were asked to tell first memories. Several remembered things before they were two. In all cases it was a death or an accident with strong emotional content. Who knows? Thanks for comment.

      • The first image I have that I am sure is a real memory is watching my father hitch a log chain to the corner of the log house where I lived the first four years of my life. I can still see the chain snap tight and hear the crunch of logs as the old building collapsed. I also have vivid memories of building the new house: digging the basement, pouring cement, putting up studs, . . . .

  2. I think I became a cat person instead of a dog person because I had to spend so much time running down our fat beagle, Snoopy, who loved to escape his chain. My cat, however, would follow ME around, calling. His name was Oliver because the movie Oliver Twist had just come out (in the 1960s).

  3. Love your photos, Jerrie–from the box of kitttens to the Great Danes on the sofa! My early memories are of my brother, five years older than me, whom I followed everywhere. I’m sure he appreciated that! But one very early memory is of my grandfather on his deathbed. I was three. And something about taking his teeth out at night–who knew adults could do that?

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