My earliest memory is barely a memory. It’s just a series of images intermingled with concepts and emotions. There’s no dialogue, or at least the dialogue is now muffled by time. It’s a slide show of scenes that cycles through with the rest of my earliest memories. The first slide is me in the chicken coup. There is hay and barn wood underfoot. My parents are there—both of them—and it seems as if they are collecting eggs. I associate a strong desire to hold an egg with this scene as well as the feeling of a stern warning. When the carousel of my mind clicks to the next slide, the memory jumps into some interior room of some home. I suppose this is the dining room. I feel a large table and chairs crowding my peripheral vision. There is a sharp morning light coming horizontally into the room, and I feel my father’s presence, perhaps his shadow. But, the image only focuses on one thing: a broken egg. The yolk is spreading out over brown asbestos tiling, and there is disappointment in the air. I can’t remember any crying or any yelling or any words, but I’ve always remembered the disappointment. I was sure disappointed to have dropped my egg.
Perhaps my second oldest memory is from this same period of my life. Context clues date my age to be somewhere in the vicinity of two and a half to three years old. It’s set in the backyard of the house with the chicken coup—we moved from that house by the time I was three. These are early memories, but I know they are true and that they are mine. I’ve never shared them, and they aren’t significant enough to be anecdotal throughout the family like the time I almost killed by brother on the haystack. That’s his memory. This one’s mine. It predates the haystack. Also, this one has words. There is continuity to the plot sequence, and action drives this narrative. This little memory begins in the yard. Everyone’s in this memory. Mother is behind us—unseen but felt—and Father is way out in the pasture—almost unrecognizable. There’s a fence between the yard and the pasture, and the gate is off to the corner. We must zig across the yard and zag back to the center of the pasture, and my brother and I are excitedly speeding across the lawn. My brother yells, “Last one there’s a rotten egg!” He’s older and faster. He makes it to Father before I’m to the fence, and I’m the rotten egg. This might have been the moment when I was taught defeat. Later, I would learn revenge.
The triptych of memories that predates my sense of identity concludes with a drowsy memory. My brother and I are camping, but we’re indoors. Our sleeping bags are laid out under a table and some sheets are draped over the chairs, or it might just be a long tablecloth. It’s night, and there’s some rattling in the kitchen. Peeking out from the makeshift tent, I see Grandfather tapping something on the counter. He’s hunched over working meticulously at the sink. I sense that he’s annoyed or frustrated and that the frustration is growing. Finally, I see his hand produce a small, shiny boiled egg which he promptly slides into his mouth. At that very moment, his head turns to meet my gaze, and his face produces a wide but tightlipped smile. For a second his face seems bloated and his long neck strains. Suddenly his smile breaks open into a toothless grin. I dive back into the tent, wondering if I might swallow my teeth also.