What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.
The earliest memory I have is being 1-year old and crying at the back door of the house. My parents had gone to work and I was left alone with my grandfather who, because he was retired, was tasked with babysitting me. I stood there, tears streaming down my face, pounding on the door, wishing to be close to my mother, but unable to articulate exactly what I wanted. My grandfather picked me up and comforted me, holding me close, bouncing me slightly, while softly saying “shh-shh-shh” and walking me back to the living room. I remember crying in his arms for a bit longer and then the memory ends.
My parents and I lived with my grandparents, so it was as if I had two sets of parents. Being an only child, I had no playmates growing up, so my grandfather became my best friend, and we ended up being an unlikely pair. My grandpa and I would walk around the yard, doing gardening and feeding the chickens in matching rubber boots; his black and worn, while mine were bright pink. He taught me how to mend throw nets, how to eat half-ripe guavas from our tree with shoyu, vinegar, and pepper, and later, how to drive stick shift. He’d also take me to the old folks home to visit his friends to play cards or to the beach for a dip in the cool waters at Mahaʻūlepū. Sunday evenings were spent watching Filipino Fiesta and The Lawrence Welk Show on the TV, while my grandmother and parents silently wished to watch more mainstream programming.
When I’d go out shopping with my mom and grandma, my grandpa would give me spending money, which I’d always use to buy books I couldn’t finish reading in the bookstore while my mom and grandma shopped the rest of the mall. Although I had friends at school, I actually preferred hanging out at home with my grandpa, that is, until I moved out of the house to go to boarding school and then college. When I flew home to visit, we fell back into our comfortable co-existence. A naturally quiet man, I’d defend him passionately against my grandmother’s nagging while he snickered at my grandma getting called out for being bossy. He would motion in the direction of his bedroom, referring to his treasure chest jewelry box on his dresser, and raising his eyebrows in his usual way to let me know to grab some money for lunch. Of course, by then, I would act like I took the money, and actually didn’t, but returned to the house with our usual hamburgers and french fries from our favorite lunch spot, eating happily as we watched TV.
I vividly remember that particular memory of standing at the back door sobbing because it was the first time I became aware of the special connection I had with my grandpa. He became the first person, other than my parents, who I knew I could trust and rely upon. I was his first grandchild and he was my first friend and the lessons we learned from each other continue to live on in the way I live my life, and in the way I aspire to live graciously and gracefully, just as he did. Although he’s long passed on, despite all the memories I have of him, that one memory always comes to mind when I’m distressed and it will follow me for the rest of my life.
In response to: Childhood Revisited