It’s hard to sort through young memories with the objective of discovering the earliest one. For me it is, at least. There are a few that sit there vying for the winner’s title of longest surviving moment captured by my memory filter, but I think I’ve narrowed it down with the help of that picture above because indeed, it took place the night that photo was taken.
When you’re small, everything seems very crowded and big. That’s how the world looked to me – bustling, full, every inch of the tall, tall things teeming with bodies and objects. Of course, another aspect of being small is that you don’t seem able to see that far away from you. The distance is a blur of moving colours. You focus only on one thing – usually your mother – and you lock your eyes on it, and ignore that busy view on either side of you until it melts away into ignored murmurs. I think this is why children walk into the legs of adults in shopping malls. They see mum, or a toy, and march towards it unseeing the big bustle around them.
That’s how the camping trip felt, all at once. The tent was as high (to my two-year old eyes) as a circus one. Thinking now, the grown up’s would have been able to touch the roof without even stretching fully; they did erect it after all. The bedding that was probably bunched up together looked spaced apart wide, doubling the width of the tent. No doubt this seemed so because as a two year old, any gap is easy to run through. And there seemed to suddenly be so many more of us sleeping there that night. Looking back, I realise there were only seven of us, not the fifteen I saw. Bodies double when you’re small.
I slept by my mother, my sister on her other side, my aunt and uncle and cousin opposite. My grandma slept soundly in the corner snoring so loudly I couldn’t sleep. I remember wondering why a woman snored – didn’t men do that? I did sleep, though, eventually. I woke sometime later in the yellow-glow-dark filtered through the orange tent to a ferocious wind that whipped the high top from side to side. Was it really ferocious? Or just slightly fiercer than usual? I’ve heard that a baby will fear only loud noises until they are taught to fear other things, so perhaps that played a part.
I lay pinned down by fear, and remember trying to see inside the darkened tent but only finding that glow and shadowed bodies. None of them moved, sleeping through the gale, so I did. I woke my mother, wiggled my two-year-old butt into her sleeping bag and curled up, safe and sound ready to sleep again.
It’s only right, after all, that your earliest memory is one where your mother made you feel the safest nappy-bottomed, wind-fearing toddler in the world.