Friday, October 4, 2013

October Memoir-And-Backstory-Blog-Challenge - Birth of Identity

October Memoir-And-Backstory-Blog-Challenge
created and hosted by Jane Ann McLachlan

my parents Lawrence & Irene Ketover 

First Memories - The Birth of My Identity (imbedded pun unintended)

First memories are said by the original psychoanalysts, most notably Freud himself, to be indicative of the manner in which one fashions their perspective about self, others and the world, and so this question about first memories is intriguing.  Of course, having said this - delineating a true first memory rather than a remembered memory retold and recalled is difficult and therefore my first memory is chronologically at the very best my second memory.  Whew... with that preamble here goes....

My first memory has me standing at the edge of a boardwalk, barefooted at age three and a half.  I can set this age because my new brother is precisely six weeks old.  My parents and I, much to my secret delight, have left the new interloper behind with our grandparents and traveled to Florida. 

I stand alone, at the edge of a very hot pale boardwalk, - my feet are chubby and pale and in the near distance, the sea sparkles in that pale irridescent manner that oceans seem to have very early in the morning in especially hot climes.  The beach is clear, the sand very light and all seems clean and newly washed.  There is a good deal of pedestrian traffic marching walking on the boardwalk; the boardwalk on whose edge I stand - alone, watching.

I am powerfully pulled toward the railing of the boardwalk where I can see myself standing on the bottom rung closer to the water - being able to perhaps even feel the spray of the surf that I watch roll in startling white lines - but, there is an impediment.  The single board which my bare toes touch impressively wide  - an impossible span for my bare three-year-old legs to cross - and cross it I must - yet, in the center of the smooth pale taupe boardwalk is a large hideous splinter - standing as blocking sentinel to my progress.  And so, I stand, watching, feeling the the heat of the boards that I do not walk, the cool steel of the sparkling sunlit railing I cannot touch, the spray of the sea, I cannot feel.  And so I stand and watch, aware that in order to reach all that pulls my heart I must pierce the softness of my soles.

Now..... as said... I have always remembered this as my first memory - because I am totally alone and to my knowledge - no one but I remember this.  Yet, prior to this memory is the memory six weeks earlier of the night of my brother's birth.  I am firmly convinced that many eldest children's memory's are awakened by the rude arrival of their siblings (who wanted by them or not) by their very presence change the entire scope of one's place in the Universe.

This other first memory involves a madcap ride to the hospital...My mother reportedly woke in the early morning hours after a heavy holiday family meal.  "Go back to sleep it's the brisket I feel it too."  my father is said to have told my mother who "felt something, lying heavy in her."  Minutes later I, at three fully prepared for this unfolding event, was standing with my parents in the elevator my coat embarassingly buttoned askew over my nightgown, my feet thrust willy-nilly into my dress shoes, which must have been the first grabbed.  I am embarrassed by my most undignified look; for I am a little-more-than-a-toddler with a forty-year-old-soul.   My embarassment rises, especially for my mother as well, since she had prepared a perfectly appropriate outfit and carefully placed it at the ready over a chair in the hallway.  I was told that the milkman was in the elevator of our building with us and that the elevator was going UP rather than DOWN and that my father (only in his early twenties at this time) began to jump as though he could reverse the elevator's course when he realized we were being so delayed.  I vaguely remember sitting in the backseat and the empty streets and my father's fast driving - which was something we usually enjoyed as a secret pleasure when my mother was not with us - I do remember my mother's bare long feet on the dashboard of the car for some reason that was not in the original plan as explained to me.  I was told that I patted her head, rather hard from my perch behind her,  as my brother's head began to annoyingly and dramatically make its entrance into the world smooshed against the car-seat and beginning one might suppose his penchant for dramatic entrances that lasted throughout his life.  I partly recall and partially was told that our race through the the blur of traffic of lights ended with my father pulling into his parents' driveway, despite his many timed rehearsal drives to the hospital ... I know that my mother, feet planted firmly on the dashboard, baby's head resting half freed on the car seat - rather clearly asked "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"  .... All this is a mish-mash of a not quite first memory. ...   

My first memory in this chaos begins as we pull up to the hospital and my mother is helped into a waiting wheel-chair, Now there was absolutely no talk of wheel chairs in the explanation given to me about the events that would surround this birth.  I remember feeling that something was absolutely "off" as anyone knew that wheel-chairs were for sick, not baby-having people.  I can clearly see my mother's face (she herself a mere twenty-years-old) smiling faintly, and remember her long fingers white with effort holding onto the arms of the chair as she was being wheeled through the glass doors.  And then, drum roll here, comes the real first memory.  I am standing at the stainless steel hosptial elevator doors holding onto the side of the wheel chair, ready to go with my mother and witness my brother (incidentally without benefit of sonogram I knew this was a brother - at least once I was apprised that the inter-specie choice of a pony or horse was impossible).  At any rate, I am standing at the stainless steel elevator doors and they open and I am pulled my unseen hands back AWAY from my mother and the doors unceremoniously shut in my face leaving me standing next to a gargantuan cigarette ashtray filled with sand that rises to my shoulder and stinks of the same sort of ash of humiliation I taste in my own mouth as I stand abandoned and humilated and excluded.  

And there you have it - water swirled with beauty, blocked egress, joyous anticipation and humiliation, expectation and changes of plans brought about through the marked non-malevolent but nevertheless, incompetent actions of others with whom my sense of dignity, independence and involvement was compromised momentarily, and my sense of self-reliance born and strengthened for a life-time. 


  1. Your first memories appear to be more than flashes. I enjoyed reading them. Lovely picture of your parents.

  2. Oh, my, what incredibly powerful writing! I love this description of your brother's birth, and I'm captivated by your 3-year-old sense of self! What a wonderful final paragraph!

    1. Oh Jane Ann - Thank you so very much - I can feel my head swelling around the grin that you have begun. Thank you again :)

  3. What clear and dynamic images! I'm envious of the sharpness of your early memories. I was around the same age when my twin sisters were born, but I don't have any defined memories from that time.