Sunday, June 04, 2006

Earliest Memory

It is very difficult to pinpoint my earliest memory. The timeline for my earliest memories is a bit blurry, interlaced amongst the time my family spent living in my grandparents' house, living in a room in a rooming house and living in an all-metal one-bedroom bungalow.

One of the first homes I ever lived in was actually a room in a rooming house somewhere in Saigon, before the war was over. The laneway where the rooming house was located was safe enough for a small child to play, because I remember playing there. I remember playing with a table tennis paddle (probably chasing and waving off flies). A little dog came to greet me wagging his tail and barking, probably wanting to play as well. I'm not sure what was going through my mind, but at that momemt, I had the crazy urge to whack this poor little dog's behind with the paddle in my hand. I actually remember doing this. The next thing I remember however, was waking up on the counter in some shop, with my terrified mother and a few other adults standing over me. I don't remember crying or any pain, but do remember being scared, seeing the concerned adult stares.

I would later learn that the dog had bitten me in the face. I fainted. My mother instinctively carried me to the nearest Chinese medicine shop. The folks in the shop admistered a pain killer (morphine, I think) to the bite wound to stop any pain and other medicines to prevent infection. I don't think anything could have stopped my mother's pain at that moment. I can't imagine what must have gone through her mind given she had lost an earlier child (my elder brother) to illness. Sorry mom.

I will release one more unhappy memory before I move on to more happy ones. I'm not sure if it was in that rooming house or the all-metal one-bedroom bungalow my parents moved to next, because the rooms seemed similar. I remember one night being very sick and feeling very cold from high fever. I sensed my parents frantically trying to make me comfortable, with medicines, a thermostat, and wet towels to wipe me down.

The feeling I had that night was very distinctive and I will never forget it, and I've never had it ever since. I don't even know if I can properly describe it with words. I certainly have not tried to write it down until now. The feeling was as if my head was entirely engulfed by an all-encompassing sense of fullness. My mouth felt like it was filled with a large solid block, making it difficult to close. My entire body felt like it was embraced from the inside-out. I don't remember feeling any pain but I was definitely overwhelmed and possibly uncomfortable.

Looking back I can only attribute the feeling to hallucination from the fever, but who can really be certain?

I can remember some very happy memories, especially when we lived in my grandparents' house. There was no electricity to the house. So, in the evening, my parents would light oil laterns hanging from the exposed wooden ceiling beams. We obviously had no television, but my parents were equipped with a harmonica, a mandolin and their voices. Both my parents could play the harmonica and my father could play the mandolin. At times, my father would play one of the instruments and my mother would sing classic Chinese oldies from their childhood, and at other times, they would play duets. I remember slowly falling asleep on the bed that we shared, head resting on mother's lap, savouring the feeling of utter comfort, as I watched the swaying and flickering lantern and listened to my parents make music, admidst the chattering sound of bullets showering on distant rooftops and the rainless thunder of war instruments further into the distance.

If I had to guess, the very earliest memory in my mind is probably the time my parents brought me to visit my mother's elder sister, whose family was wealthy and had a black and white television. I believe I was probably about 2 years old. I remember seeing a lady with a baby and a cat sitting on a chair in the television set. The cat suddenly moved onto the ground and out of view. I remember being disappointed and moved right up to the TV screen. I tried in vain to find the cat, trying to look into the screen, thinking the moving pictures were real. My aunt's second of three daughters came up to me and asked if I could see the cat. I shook my head. She laughed.

Thanks to Sunday Scribblings for 10 writing prompts that have encouraged me to write more than I would otherwise. And, thanks to Jamie's blog for initially inspiring me to go there.


Colorsonmymind said...

Interesting and very similar to some of my earliest memories.

Are you afraid of dogs now?

Unknown said...

such memories! How confusing to wake up on the counter in a drugstore. How comforting to sleep on your mother's knee, lulled by singing and lamplight. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Your words are so powerful - 'savouring the feeling of utter comfort, as I watched the swaying and flickering lantern and listened to my parents make music, admidst the chattering sound of bullets showering on distant rooftops and the rainless thunder of war instruments further into the distance.'
What a wonderful testament to the power of loving parents to make their child feel safe, comfortable, and even happy, despite the hardships and peril of living through war-stricken times.
Thank you for sharing your story.

Jamie said...

John, I can't get over how beautiful all these memories are, even the difficult ones. I think that's a testament to your writing. You can just feel the love that you had in your family. I'm sure your son will grow up feeling as deeply loved.

And thank you for the thank you :)

John E. Tran said...

Thanks for the thoughts... I'm glad to say, not only am I not afraid of dogs, I love them! Although, I don't have one as a pet because my hands are full as it is taking care of one son!