Early memories

Collected 1994-2015 by Paul Cooijmans

Introduction

In the mid-nineties I did research on first-year childhood memories. I had always had such memories myself, and experienced that many did not believe they were real. Through ads in magazines I found about 15 persons with very early memories, and wrote a report containing examples of memories and their answers to a questionnaire, as well as some comments.

Early memories cartoonThis report is, in hindsight, not satisfactory to me from the scientific viewpoint. Therefore I simply reproduce the memories below, also including material I gathered after the report was written. Might one still wish to see the original 1996 report, a facsimile edition in P.D.F. is available.

Note: I am no longer in contact with most of the these people, and do not know if they agree to this online publication. If you see your memories here and want them removed, let me know.

Memory psychology does not recognize the existence of these memories, and speaks of a general "childhood amnesia" with regard to the first three years of life. Over the past years I have realized the background of this is that current cognitive science denies or ignores individual differences, an attitude typical for the contemporary social "sciences", and that early memories are perhaps a more suitable research goal for differential psychology (psychometrics, I.Q. and personality testing) than for memory psychology. I have meanwhile formulated my own hypothesis to explain the occurrence of early memories in some.

Although the above is clear and leaves no room for misunderstanding, there remain people who read this report thinking all of these memories are mine (Paul Cooijmans'). So to be absolutely redundant: No, these memories are not all mine but belong to people who sent them to me, knowing I was interested in first-year memories. Yes, I know some of these memories are pre-birth. No, I do not believe in reincarnation. But I can not help it if other people have such memories. Excluding material just because I do not believe it is true would not be proper science.

Regarding my own early memories, I have composed a song called "Ut!", a MIDI-generated karaoke video version of which is available.

The memories

Baby chair

I remember sitting in my baby chair - I must have been less than a year old - and getting my first sandwich with red jam. Each bite they put into my mouth I spit out as powerfully as possible, preferably against something, so that it would bother them. Eeeks, that sweet stuff, brrrr. When my little sister proposed to give me sliced sausage on my sandwich, I ate two without problems.

I remember my mother was often away and left me behind, tied up in my little bed, sometimes with annoying baby-sitters. I remember very well being tied up by my wrists and ankles, I did all I could, especially squirming and screaming, to get loose. The screaming I heard from the neighbors. It must have been between my third and sixth month. After that I didn't allow them to tie me up any more, and the baby-sitters who heard me scream only came for one look and then ignored me. I didn't leave my little bed because I was not able to climb over the bars.

Believe

I have so many memories - clear memories - of my first year of life that I can't tell people about because they simply don't believe me! I can explain exactly how my diapers were changed and what I did while my mother was getting a fresh one. Things my mother said to me, gifts I received, lying in my playpen... even illnesses. No, my mother can't have told me, nor can I have heard these things from anyone else, 'cause my mother died when I was only five, and most things I kept to myself after having been laughed at several times, until they were (sometimes) confirmed by third parties. What a relief to see that at least someone might believe me.

Birth

Memories of events happening before I was one year old are still vivid in my mind. The earliest moments I can recall with confidence (earlier memories are too strange for me to want to mention them) are the first few days of my life.

The whole process was very confusing, but the most horrible were the strange, piercing lights of the operating-room. I was very disturbed by it and was still quite uncomfortable with bright lights for the next few days. I also remember being carried out of the hospital into a car (I did not see the process but guessed what was happening based on the sensation of being held by my mother and placed into something that shook).

Over the years I have spoken to a lot of people about the various experiences I could remember from my early childhood days. My parents initially found it hard to believe me even though I could draw the layout of my bedroom, seen from my baby-cot (my bedroom was rearranged when I could walk, we moved when I was one and a half year old).

Car

I had an experience that occurred when I was four months old. I remember being held on my mother's lap in the back seat of our car. We were traveling from the city of Edmonton back to our home on a farm near a little village. Suddenly the car, which was being driven by my father, was struck from behind by another vehicle. My mother dropped me on the floor of our vehicle and screamed, "Oh, I dropped the baby".

I do not recall anything beyond what I have just related. Years later, when I told my mother that I remembered this incident and wanted to know how old I was when it happened, my mother could not believe that I could remember the incident because, as she told me, I had only been four months old.

I should be noted that I was able to understand English at that age, even though I could not talk yet.

Christening

I have a very vague memory from age two months, being passed around at my christening, the church roof all dark and it being cold. I remember the water as well. Another was when I was in my cot, I could just stand so it was before I was nine months of age. My father was in bed with my mother and he was happy to see me stand for the first time. It was in the afternoon. The floral curtains were drawn. I can remember the position of the furniture and the leaves and fruit carved in it.

Another one was when I was lying in my pram. My sister was in the room with me and I was crying. I remember the light on the ceiling, the wallpaper with leaves and my mother coming and tickling my stomach because I was crying. My sister asked why I was crying and my mother replied it was usual for babies to cry a lot when teething. She made the string of blue and yellow rabbits an lambs bounce on my pram and walked off back into the kitchen. I never forgave her for poking me in the stomach because I had stomachache.

On a day, a Wednesday if I remember rightly, I was outside the Post Office in the late morning or early afternoon and another baby was there as well. We couldn't see each other but we knew each other from hospital (presumably from where we were born). She was there with two people, one was her mother. We talked about learning "their language" and compare what we had figured out. And also wondered why we had to learn theirs when we could speak ours, which was easier... There is one thing: I can't remember what language we were speaking, but I have the impression it came from inside my head.

I've found that my memories helped me when my children were babies. I always thought everyone had memories like these. But on saying that I've never found anyone else who could remember before he could talk, and we put that down to either a good memory or a higher than average intelligence.

Cradle

I remember lying on my back in the cradle and wanting out. I also remember where the cradle stood. I shouted, "Ut!", knew it had to be "Uit!" (Dutch for "Out!"), and was frustrated about not being able to pronounce the "ui". I was nine months old then, because relatives told me that my cradle stood at that place around that time.

On my first birthday someone showed me one finger, and said, "That's how old you are. Until now you were only a half". The finger was now bent, so that it looked half its size.

I remember people bending over my cradle, jabbering in twisted voices with twitched faces, as one does to babies. This appalled me extremely.

I remember being lifted under my armpits. That hurt, but one thought I liked it, because I laughed. My laughing however was not real, since the armpit-grip "tickled" and thus evoked my laughing-reflex.

These memories have been available in me uninterruptedly ever since the events in question occurred; that is to say, they did not suddenly arise later in my life, as you sometimes hear of, let alone that they were caused by "regression therapy" or whatever.

The contents of the memories, as one sees, is such that it is absurd to even consider the memories could have been formed by others telling me about the events. Because how could they have told me what I thought, considering the contents of my thoughts? For instance, the armpit paradox was first pointed out by me in the mid-1990s, and unknown before that. So how could they have told me as an infant, "as a baby we used to lift you under the armpits, and you laughed so we thought you liked it, but really it hurt and the laughing was a reflex caused by the armpit-grip", thus creating a fake memory? This is an obvious impossibility, yet it is exactly what memory psychology wants us to believe; it is their only explanation, stuck as they are with their dogma of "childhood amnesia".

Diaper

I recall urinating over my head and laughing about it when my grandmother was changing my diaper. It's my earliest memory. She quickly covered my - uh - fountain, and shouted to tell my mother that I seemed to think it was funny.

She was again changing my diaper when I was testing my ability to communicate. It was within the first three months of my life. I'm told I was talking very clearly and with a fair vocabulary by the time I was nine months old. My grandmother was very "homely" - with a goiter, a smallpox-cratered face and large hairy moles on her chin and beside her nose. She bent down in my face tolove, and I said, "ugly, ugly". She laughed and called out, "T.! He called me ugly!" My mother said, "he's been making sounds of several words lately. He's trying to talk". She bent over and I said, "T". When my grandmother again bent over me I said, "ugly". So "ugly" was my first word. I remember that clearly. I was less than three months old, because it happened in Grandma's house, before we moved to G. from K.

The most vivid memories I have from early life are from the move to G. I remember the automobile (a "touring" convertible). It had a big trunk strapped on the back and a washtub tied to that; a big trunk was strapped on the left front fender at a slant, and on the right front fender was a chicken cage, which was an early version of quick-food on the road; I remember where everyone sat, including my place on the lap of my grandmother, on the rear seat (there were three seats). I remember Dad having flat tires and building fires to cook, and the angry grumbling about having to pay a toll to cross the Mississippi River on a bridge. That trip was made when I was three months old, March 1928. I remember a lightning storm that summer and my Dad working in the fields of tobacco under white cloth. I remember the smell of the guana (bat manure) fertilizer. We returned to K. city, K. that same fall. I was one in December.

I have several other early memories, but none so clear as the ones I have told you. Some are very early, but I have no reference to establish my age when they occurred.

Finger

I have an interesting memory from my infancy to share with you. My eyes are closed and I have an acrid, tofu-like material in my mouth with a finger probing. The memory is interesting because it does not have vision and the taste and feel of the probing finger are vivid.

Ensuing my birth in 1952, the doctor or nurse must have used a finger instead of a suction bulb to clear my mouth. I hope it saved the hospital a lot of money.

Hand

I feel good; comfortable, satisfied. I see a hazy image: something with vague blue little spots. When I look harder the blue spots become clearer. I discern something I later interpret as a small blue flower.

Suddenly a pink streak crosses my vision, bottom left to top right. And then again in opposite direction. I'm frightened.

Now I know this streak was my hand. I wonder if this was the moment I realized to be in control of the pink thing myself. It could have been the cause of my fright.

To check this memory I ask my mother if my cradle had a white canopy with little flowers; my first association. She denied this at first, but after a while she told me in that period she usually wore a special dress to allow for breast feeding. This dress was white with small blue flowers.

The satisfied feeling I remember may have its cause in the enjoyed breast feeding.

Hospital

Since you are interested in childhood memories, especially under a year old, I thought I'd tell you of mine.

I doubt that I was over several weeks old. It was the day I was leaving the hospital. The scene opened with me looking up at the ceiling. I removed my left arm from a soft white blanket I was wrapped in. I looked at my left hand wondering what the hand was. My exact thoughts were:

'What's this? Seems to be a part of me. Who's this? Where am I? What have I come to?'

The part of me was my left hand and arm but before it's labeled it could be anything. 'Who's this?' referred to the mother who carried me. 'Where am I? What have I come to?' were my thoughts because even then I felt as if I was living a long time before but then I was in a small body.

Those were my thoughts but not in any language known to man. More in symbols.

As for the scenery, it was blurry but semi-clear. Sort of like when film is 'softened' on someone's face.

I looked to my right to the biological mother (I didn't exactly like what I saw). She had a pissed-off look on her face. Then I saw a nurse's cap to my left. It moved - tilted back as the nurse looked up. I saw her move her pencil, using the eraser end to indicate the waiting room. The mother turned in. I saw the father, an older brother and sister stand up. I mentally groaned. The scene ended.

I have never told the parents about the memory. Nor will I ever do so now. There was no rhyme or reason for it.

I had some other memories at under 18 months old. I was thrown over the bannister onto a cement floor of a basement. The mother threw me over. I'll never forget the complete evil on her/his face (the mother actually took on a masculine body language). The accident caused my eyes to go out of whack. I remember parts of the operation. I was hooked up to an EEG machine (electroencephalograph) and the ends were taped all over my head. Then I was given several glasses and asked to touch the wings of a fly. With the glasses on the fly grew large - 3D.

Anyway, I hope it helps. It may not. Oh. Never underestimate the power of the ol'factory. Both of the memories were triggered by smell. The father had a darkroom in the basement when I was thrown on the cement floor. Years later when I smelled the exact combination of chemicals that memory was jarred. Diluted alcohol triggered the hospital memory.

Well before I was 5, I was already a cynic. I never knew precisely why until my memory was triggered. It explained a lot. To this day I prefer non-humans for company. People were cruel to me since I had my speech impediment. The non-humans didn't care. They judged me by my body language. In turn I learned to read body language via my non-human teachers.

Kiss

My parents were quarreling; someone was coming over whom they apparently didn't like. I remember images of the sideboard in the room where I was playing on the floor, and of my parents walking by.

Then later they were in the front room, where I was not allowed to come. The sliding doors were open as usual, but I was not allowed to cross the rail. From the other side a woman came to me, my grandma, and bent over to me and said something like, "and is Grandma getting a little kiss?".

Scared I looked at my mother who stood partly behind her, because I didn't understand what the woman wanted from me, and I HAD understood this was a scary person.

My mother wore a black suit with a tight skirt and a white blouse. I remember her hips high above me and her saying something like, "Go ahead! Give Grandma a little kiss!". And I didn't even know what a "little kiss" was! I wasn't used to that as we never kissed in our family. My Grandma bent over to me and I must have done something with that cheek, because I clearly recall the white downy hair on her cheeks and the gray pinned-up hair and that I felt terribly betrayed by my mother. I have really never learnt to trust again ever since, no matter how hard I wanted to.