Tuesday, October 18, 2005

If Memory Serves Me...

People often tell me that I must have a good memory because I can recall, in great detail, things that happened to me years and years ago.

To be honest, my “photographic memory” is due to the fact that I have kept a diary (I recently was informed that they now are called “journals”) every day since 1962. So whenever I need to jog my memory about a specific day in my life, I just grab one of my 43 diaries. I don’t suppose I’d remember that I ate Chef Boyardee ravioli for lunch on May 1, 1965 if I didn’t have the momentous event recorded in one of my diaries.

Anyway, there was a man on TV the other day who said he could remember events that occurred all the way back to when he still was in his mother’s womb. He described the music and voices he heard, and how he knew when his mother was having a restless night and tossing and turning.

I didn’t believe a word of it, but I found myself wondering what my earliest memory (without the aid of my diaries) was.

I guess one of my earliest memories dates back to when I was about two-and-a-half and had to be hospitalized for a week. I don’t remember the actual events that led up to my hospitalization…and to be honest, even after all these years and actually seeing my medical records, I still find the whole episode difficult to believe…but I do remember the hospital itself.

According to my mother, it all started when she and I were out in my grandmother’s field one afternoon and I bent over to pick a flower. When I did, a piece of timothy grass poked me in the eye. I whined, rubbed my eye hard, and that was the end of it.

Or so my mother thought.

About 10 days later, my eye began to look red and puffy. My mother examined it closely and saw something green sticking up out of the corner of it. She tugged on the green thing. It wouldn’t budge. My screams nearly broke the sound barrier. The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital.

The doctor’s theory was that a piece of the timothy grass, which kind of looks like wheat, had lodged in my tear duct or beneath a membrane in my eye when I’d rubbed it, and the damp, moist environment in there had caused it to sprout. The doctor said it would have to be surgically removed and I’d have to stay in the hospital for a few days.

Upon hearing the diagnosis, my mother said she nearly panicked. I suppose it must have been traumatic for her, learning that her child was a walking greenhouse. She probably had visions of my face covered in plant life with roots hanging out of my nostrils.

As I said, the part of all of this that I remember clearly is being in the hospital. I still can picture the big room I was in. It contained rows of metal-barred cribs with kids in them. The tops of the cribs had nets over them. I guess the nets were so we couldn’t escape. We all looked like a bunch of little zoo animals.

I also remember daily “playtime” at the hospital. A woman, pushing a cart loaded with stuffed animals, would stop at each crib and hand an animal to each of us. My crib always was the last one she reached. Just as I would start to play with the stuffed animal, the woman would come back and take it away, saying, “Sorry, dear, playtime is over!” I can remember stubbornly trying to hold onto the animal as she tugged on it. I wasn’t about to let her take MY toy without a fight.

And I remember having to feed myself. A cart with food on it would be rolled up to my crib and left there. I had to reach out through the bars and grab my meals. I ate with my hands and I ate fast because I was sure that the lady who handed out the stuffed animals was going to show up and try to snatch away my food, too. I usually ended up with more food in my ears and hair than in my mouth.

The thing I remember the most clearly about the hospital, though, was the morning a nurse took me into a room that contained a full-sized bathtub and gave me a bath. Halfway through my bath, another nurse, carrying a little boy, walked in and plunked him next to me in the water.

I had no idea what to make of that naked little boy. I knew he looked different than I did, but I couldn’t figure out why. I did a lot of staring. In fact, I stared so much, I made the nurses laugh.

My mother said that when I finally came home from the hospital, I was not the same happy, smiling kid she’d taken there. She said I glared at her and my father, communicated in grunts, and I ate like an animal, shoving food into my mouth with both fists, as if every bite might be my last. And I’d gone to the hospital all potty trained…and came home completely un-potty-trained.

Considering my dramatic personality change, I think my parents should have taken me back to the hospital for an x-ray of my brain. Heck, they may have found a cornstalk growing in there.

So I guess that’s my earliest memory. Although now that I think about it…there was that time back in the womb when I socked my twin sister because she was hogging all the room.