There seem to be various games of tag going on in the children’s literature blogosphere. They are called meme. My first reaction was to read that the French way : meymey – kind of, I’m not good at phonetics – which means grandma. But I wonder if it’s not meme, as in me, me ??? Or is it a short for something else? No idea. Anyway, Linda Accorn, from Just Like the Nut started one about My First Memory. Rilla, then, tagged me, and so, it’s my turn to write about my first memory.
Now that’s a tough one, because I have basically no recollection of my childhood. Really, I don’t remember anything until I’m at least 6 or 7. Or do I? Upon much brain raking, two souvenirs finally scrambled to the surface. Since I don’t know which one came first, I’ll recount both.
Here I am, age 5 or 6.
1 : I’m standing in line with mom at the butcher’s shop in Paris. When our turn comes, the butcher asks my mom what she wants. His tone of voice is rather gruff. My mother, who is Spanish and speaks French badly and with a thick accent, asks for something, and the butcher sighs and rolls his eyes and asks her to repeat because he didn’t understand. He exchanges exasperated looks with the other customers in line, and my mother turns to me, looking rather helpless. I repeat the order and the butcher gets what we need, and when he hands the meat to my mother, he says something. I don’t remember exactly what, only that it is insulting – something along the lines of : foreigners should just stay in their country. What I do remember is the ambivalence I felt. I hated that man for being so mean to us, of course. But I also hated my mother for not speaking French properly. People always noticed us everywhere we went, and I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear.
2: We are in our apartment in Paris, a small apartment on the third floor of a small old building, and my mother has just received the news that her nephew died in a car accident. He was 19 and doing his military service in Spain. I don’t know whether we already had a phone at the time. Maybe we got a telegram. Anyway, mom starts crying, and runs to my parent’s bedroom, and I remember standing at the open kitchen window with my dad. It was early summer and the day was beautiful. I ask him why Mom is crying and he tries to explain to me what has happened.
Another early memory related to the death of my cousin takes me to Spain, a few weeks later(funny how it all comes back, now) : I’m in my aunt’s apartment – my cousin’s mother – and the doorbell rings. My aunt opens the door and sees a young man wearing a military uniform standing there with a cardboard box. She cries a horrible sound and runs to the lavadero – the small terrace-like laundry room that usually opens onto a patio, in Spain – and starts bumping her head on the walls and wailing and all the neighbors put their heads out. I’m standing there, not knowing what to do, and the young soldier is also standing there with that box in his hands, looking like he just wants out of there.
It’s all rather sad and makes me wonder if I don’t have some fun first memories ? I’ll have to think about it some more. Anyway, as I was writing these, I kept thinking, ok, I’m writing a first memory, but the writing is not good, and, most of all, it’s flat. It’s true, but flat. So, I have an idea for an exercise.
How about trying to fictionalize our first memory? Turn the flat reality into a little piece of reasonably good writing. It doesn’t matter if we have to bend the truth a bit or even a lot. Let’s use that episode and turn it into a good piece of writing. Whether we call it fiction or not is up to us.
Whoever tries that exercise, let me know and if you have a blog, paste the link in the comment section – I believe this is the way to do this. And you can ask others on your list of children’s writers to do the same. More tagging. Thanks, Rilla. This is fun.