Like most of you, I have a vast library of old memories that I replay at my leisure and have done so many times over. Yet incredibly, it seems new old-memories are buried in there as well! Hidden memories that can surprise you in their appearance after years of laying dormant. Memories, you didn’t even realize existed until out of nowhere, and right out of the blue, they pop into your head. Such is my sudden recall of Dorothy, a little girl from my old neighborhood some 50 years in the past.
Dorothy Doesn’t Like Worms
Dorothy was a little girl in my old neighborhood that was friends with my little sister, way-back when I myself was a young lad. Some 6 years younger, she lived on the same block that we did about 7 houses up. Since her and my sister were friends, I remember who Dorothy was but because of the age difference, that’s about all I remember about her. That is until just the other day, when suddenly and for no apparent reason her memory came to mind. And so-too the tale of little Dorothy who doesn’t like worms!
One day and many years ago…
I was walking home from school when I came across Dorothy crying alone on the sidewalk a few blocks away from her home. Maybe 6 years old at the time, she seemed to be frozen in fear and my heart went-out to this sobbing, obviously terrified little girl.
I asked her why she was crying but she said not a word, just pointed at the sidewalk where after a heavy rain, earthworms were wiggling about in abundance. And Dorothy, was terrified!
“Oh, don’t worry about the Worms” I offered, “They can’t hurt you!”
But little Dorothy wasn’t buying it. Fear had overtaken her and frozen her in place. Again, she did not speak, simply stifled a sob and with frightened teary-eyes, looked back at me. Her gaze but a glance yet the pleading in her eyes unmistakable. — This little girl was desperate in her need for help.
Yet what to do? I myself was but a young boy at the time and my problem-solving capabilities limited by my age. How was I going to get this frightened little girl home, if she was too scared to even move? Then it hit me, and perhaps no-surprise, a solution befitting a young adolescent came to mind.
“Hey I got an idea” I said. “Do you know what a piggyback is? How about you climb on my back and I’ll give you a piggyback all the way home, okay?”
Trying bravely to hold back the tears, she nodded ever so slightly. I squatted down and she climbed on. And so with this frightened, little 6 year-old girl clinging desperately to my back, we headed home. Her tiny legs locked around my waist, small skinny arms around my neck and though I was in no position to see, most-likely with frightened eyes shut tight.
Arriving at her driveway a few minutes later, I hunkered down and she climbed off, racing for the backdoor without looking back. No-matter, little Dorothy was safe. All was once again right in the world.
Satisfied, I headed home and by the time I got there — as per the ever-wandering mind of your average teenager — little Dorothy and the worm incident was already forgotten. So much so, that I’ve never once thought to mention it to anyone, or remember it myself so it seems, until today!
MEMORIES ARE FUNNY THINGS
How incredibly odd I find this memory to be. Odd, in that the last time I laid eyes on little Dorothy was some 50 years ago and odd in that I cannot recall a time she’s even once crossed my mind since then. So why do I suddenly remember her today? And what else is in there? Be there even more buried treasures from the past that as of yet, I have not discovered?
Perhaps, everything we’ve ever done every situation, every little trivial moment of our lives is recorded in memory. Maybe, all we have to do is to dig a little deeper and use the right key to unlock the long-forgotten ones? Maybe, my sudden recall of little Dorothy and the worm tale, isn’t odd after all?
Of course memory doesn’t work in this way. Certainly there exists no grand hall of recordings, no vast library, vault or even one place where memories are stored for later retrieval. Our brain is after all, a complex form of matter, the inner-workings that produce and allow memory recall just as complex as well.
Also, not every moment of our lives, gets recorded in memory and thankfully so. We have bad-memories as well as good and for the most-part, the bad-memories we’d like to forget. Imagine having access to each and ever bad memory over a lifetime and what a living nightmare that would be!
According to my friends and family, I have a very good memory. Most of them in awe of the detail and accuracy of my recall of past-events. Yet there are limitations, in how far-back I can go. In the old family photo-album for instance, there are many pictures of me as a child and of those I remember not. There is of course familiarity in seeing them again but no direct personnel memories in their association.
The Little Dorothy incident, although far from my earliest memory, borders the timeline of multiple memories I can easily access. After that, memories become harder to find and fewer in numbers until about the age of 7, when my memory recall starts drawing a blank.
According to studies, our young still-developing brain is physically incapable of storing long-lasting memories until around ages 3 and up. Personally, my recall falls well-short of this age number.
What about you?
How far back do your first memories go?
The capacity to produce and recall memories is certainly not unique to our species here on earth in the animal kingdom. But what is unique is how we have evolved as a species to use and rely on memories as the very basis of human functionality. Arguably, it is said that memories are the very seat of consciousness itself, going well-beyond the ability of simply recalling the past.
For instance, it is in our memories that we shape who we are as individuals. Memories link our past, present and imagined-future into a comprehensive linear existence. A story-line we can follow and one that dictates our perception of who we are. And, in association, our relationship to the outside world.
Memories are of course, also critical when it comes to storing what we learn and experience throughout our lives. Including the early basics of walking, language and remembering familiar faces and objects.
Without our ability to remember, we’d not only be incapable of learning but of repeating even our most basic human capabilities. Furthermore, without our experiences in the form of memories, consciousness of self would have nothing to draw on, no history to compare, no story of self to build upon.
Yet memories can often be a double-edged sword. There are bad memories mixed in with the good. Learning how to deal with our bad memories as well as enjoying the good, part and parcel of the process of being human.
Then there are the odd memories. Memories that pop to mind right out of the blue unexpected. Memories that for the life of you, you can’t recall ever having.
And with that thought, I think again of Dorothy, by now a middle-aged woman perhaps with a daughter or now with a granddaughter of her own.
I wonder if she remembers, that day long-ago, when our pasts collided but for a moment.
Or maybe, as life tends to work in full-circles, she finds herself one day, easing her own granddaughter’s fears while walking home on a rainy day…
“Don’t worry about the worms on the sidewalk my child” she might say —”They can’t hurt you!”
Funny, she thinks…
Where have I heard those words before?
Dorothy Doesn’t Like Worms
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