I can’t recall whether it was my third or fourth Christmas, but that apart, what happened remains as clear as if it were yesterday.
The most magical moments of my childhood were Christmas Eve celebrations. In the morning, we put up decorations and garnished the Christmas tree with various items, including putting cotton wool on all the branches to give the effect of snow. In the afternoon, we always had to go to bed for a rest, as the evening would always be a very long one. Then a sumptuous feast was held, before the highlight of the evening, the giving and opening of presents. Then, off to midnight mass.
It had been apparent to my parents that I was already showing signs of being musical, and this particular Christmas they bought me a wonderful toy piano. I’ll never forget my excitement and wonderment as I realised what it was. Total ecstasy followed as I simply ignored everyone else to start playing my first tunes.
One of the big hits of the time was a ballad called “Oh my Papa”. I heard it on the radio almost every day. It had a fairly simple melody, and I tried to play it. It didn’t sound right. I kept trying, but it still didn’t sound correct. After several minutes had elapsed, my frustration built up. I just couldn’t understand why the melody sounded wrong. Eventually, that frustration turned to anger, and I threw my beloved, brand new toy piano with all my might as far as it would go. It smashed against the curtains by the back window, and fell to the ground with an horrific bang. I still recall those red curtains, and the flowery pattern on them, and that was over 60 years ago. You could just imagine the horror of everyone else in the room, at this horrible ungrateful little boy, and I just couldn’t explain to them the source of my tantrum.
It wasn’t until I started piano lessons a year or so later, using a real, proper piano, that I discovered what had happened and why. The toy piano had just eight notes, all of them white. The black notes were painted onto the white ones for effect. They didn’t actually exist as notes. In one part of the melody of “Oh my Papa”, it needed a black note to sound correct. As it didn’t exist, I had used the nearest white note, which was a semitone below the required sound, and so sounded wrong. Very wrong. It got to me. Hence the temper loss. And I still remember it oh so clearly.
My first memory
Memories are sometimes random. Unlike a file, there is no date and time attached to the folder, memories become little fragments that seem to float somewhere… without context. Is that memory of your visit to your Aunt’s home older than that memory of playing in the back yard? And how old were you, really?
But some memories are different and we can recall every detail. I can tell you where I was and who I was with on 9/11. I was in Williamsburg, Virginia on the day Princess Di died. I just can’t tell you why I went into the kitchen ten minutes ago.
In the US there is a chain of stores called Kmart. Kmarts were the Walmarts of their time; large stores with everything you need. There was one in every town.
They used to have Blue Light Specials. There was this cart with a flashing light at the top of a pole and the lady would announce a sale on some random item and the blue light would start flashing at the location where the sale was. They don’t do blue light specials any more. Kinda’ sad in a way.
These stores also had a big wall of TV sets along the back of the store. Black & white with knobs on the front and tubes in the back. This is what I believe is my oldest memory. I remember people were all gathered around these TV sets watching the news. Everyone was talking about a person named President. Of course, I didn’t really understand all of it but I knew this was important. My oldest memory is the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
My Dad was in the US Army at the time and he was explaining to me what was happening. Funny, I only remember fragments of it now, like pictures and a few words. It’s not a movie anymore. Life has a way of slipping through your fingers and writing this makes me feel old. My Father died about two months ago. Maybe some memories are best forgotten.
My very first memory
This was summer of 1977, I’m bit less than three years old (born October 1974) and it was the Crimea, the famous sea and mountain resort.
Back then nobody cared if it was Russian or Ukrainian, it was not an issue as it was the Soviet Union. So it was just Crimea. We call it Krym.
I remember me playing around on the sunlit Black Sea beach, lots of people near me. I don’t remember whether it was sandy or rocky but I believe it should’ve been covered with pebbles as the Crimean shores are like this.
I hardly remember my parents by the sea then, I just do remember they were there somewhere around.
Then some of them, mom or dad, again, no idea who exactly was it, told me: “Look, there are our military ships on the horizon.”
I looked towards the horizon and really, there were several dark grey silhouettes of the ships. Maybe two or three. Supposedly, it was the Soviet Navy. Supposedly, they were anchored as they didn’t move. For me it was just ‘military ships’, unlike other ships, civilian. But it should’ve been cool, as I felt it from my parents’ words.
I didn’t know anything else about it but I remember the feeling of pride in the air.
Sure, I didn’t know why the battle ships were there, I felt it was not really usual. I just remember those grey ships somewhere, not close, but still in good visibility.
Yep, the memory itself is rather short but, I guess, it was so powerful and so bright that I did catch it in my mind as my first thing. I don’t recall anything earlier to happen to me in my life.