Childhood Memories

By Michael Lederer

Cred­it: Genia Chef, “Emer­ald Grot­to,” oil on pan­el, 1997 (frag­ment); pub­lished with the artist’s permission

Mem­o­ries are sto­ries we tell ourselves.

“When I was younger, I remem­ber how…” We cher­ry-pick. We have to. Oth­er­wise, we’d remem­ber what we wore and ate for lunch a day before our 6th birth­day, and the week before that. TMI.   

So, we edit. Mem­o­ry is a high­light reel we have archived for our­selves. I remem­ber so many details, for instance of my 12th sum­mer, but almost noth­ing of my 11th. I don’t know what my mind’s cri­te­ria were for decid­ing what to keep and what to let go. 

We move through the years, as from house to house. Some things mak­ing it into the box and oth­ers not. A trea­sure one day, some­thing less the next. Wilt­ed ros­es. Oth­ers, inde­struc­tible as dia­monds. 

Some mem­o­ries, the hap­pi­est, we keep because we long to. A grandparent’s smile. A famil­iar kitchen smell. A spe­cial hol­i­day. We cling to those as a man or woman at sea might cling to a float­ing piece of wood. They pre­serve us. 

Oth­er mem­o­ries we keep because we must. I will nev­er touch a hot stove again because I remem­ber what hap­pened the last time I did.  

I write this because my own chil­dren now are gath­er­ing the ear­ly mem­o­ries they will one day look back at. Lukas, 12, Alex, 11, lit­tle Kata­ri­na, 9, their world of fam­i­ly, home, school, hol­i­days, grow­ing swift­ly by the day. Inevitable first glimpses of a wider world beyond. 

Covid fears and pre­cau­tions. Lines of Ukrain­ian refugees at the train sta­tion near our home in Berlin. Grownups talk­ing of Russ­ian gas, infla­tion, melt­ing glac­i­ers, and dry­ing rivers. A child’s world does not remain small for long. 

I’m an old­er father and grew up in a gold­en time. Born 1956, my first indeli­ble mem­o­ry of a wider and more com­pli­cat­ed world was the day in Novem­ber 1963 when I saw my moth­er cry­ing on the front porch and asked her what was wrong. 

“Oh, dar­ling, some­one just shot the Pres­i­dent.” 

My wife Kata­ri­na is much younger than I am and grew up in Poland. Her first wider-world mem­o­ry is of the adults in her fam­i­ly cel­e­brat­ing some­thing called the fall of the Iron Cur­tain.  

A few days ago, our daugh­ter caught my wife look­ing sad and asked her what was wrong. My wife’s answer struck me like a thun­der­bolt, begin­ning exact­ly as my own mother’s long-ago answer to me. 

“Oh, dar­ling, the Iron Cur­tain is going back up.” 

“What’s an Iron Cur­tain?” 

Lukas came home from school not long ago and asked me if I think there will be World War III. 

We can­not calm the wider seas for our chil­dren. But if we and they are lucky, we can give them a safe har­bor in which to pre­pare for the long voy­age ahead. Also, bequeath them mem­o­ries and feel­ings that will remind them always of why they must cut through the waves and see what’s await­ing them after the storm. 

A bed­time sto­ry. A game in the gar­den. Cook­ies baked togeth­er. So much more than mere moments. Bub­bles in the bath won’t last. But the mem­o­ry of those bub­bles can last a life­time. 

 

Berlin, July 14, 2022 

 1,757 Total Views,  3 Views Today

Michael Led­er­er is an Amer­i­can writer who lives in Berlin. His newest stage play “982” is the sto­ry of the only small group of Jew­ish refugees from Europe admit­ted into the Unit­ed States dur­ing WW II. Com­ments about this blog are wel­come on the author’s web­site: https://www.michaellederer.com/