Early memories are impressionistic smears of color, faded sounds and barely remembered scents. The sound of humming, the softness of rocking, the cushion and comfort of my mother’s lap. There are no words in the first memory, if there were, I did not understand the meaning, only the feeling of soothing rhythm and soft vocalized vibrations. Songs are my first memories; lullabies and nursery rhymes. Songs to soothe me to sleep, on afternoons when the sun leaked in the glass door, warming the room, silencing the house.
I lay on my father’s rising and falling chest, our breathing a round of response; the symbiosis present in the way I tried to match my inhales with his exhales so we wouldn’t be pushing against one another. With tiny lungs, my pace was always faster. He was teaching me to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and the vibration of his vocal chords was something that reminds me now of the way a cello soothes everything when the bow is drawn across the strings. A tone mellow and deep and safe. He once nearly put a llama to sleep by singing to it in this way when decades later, we visited a natural science center with his grandson. Only that time, the song was “Wooly Llama, Go to Sleep” a composition of his own inspired creation. I cannot visit the Llamas now without hearing this lullaby and the memory of his voice.
My first memory of taste involves a fresh garden tomato from his should-have-been-world-famous vegetable plot. He set a standard that I continue to quest after. At age four, I believed that all food tasted this way: raw, filled with flavor, bright, explosive. After these first tastes, I later waited all year to repeat the vine to mouth experience; to walk barefoot in the grass, lighter and free in a spring blouse with short sleeves, carrying a salt shaker. The sphere of tender smooth red fit exactly to the shape of my cupped palm. I learned the pleasure of anticipation and the value of patience, understanding that a long cold winter and saturated earth helped produce this miracle. Before biting deep, I discovered that I needed to peel through the tender skin with my teeth to find the wet that salt would cling to; it was this first salted deep bite bursting, rippling in concentric taste waves through my small being; the way a pebble dropped in the creek sent widening circles that spread to the sandy edges. Biting again, the taste still delicious but not as intense; it’s always the first deep kiss that sends me reeling.