Last week I accompanied my oldest daughter to San Antonio for surgery, and on the way home on I-10, we passed the Hackberry Street exit. Hackberry Street is where my maternal grandparents lived when I was very young. That of course prompted remembrances significant to none other than me, but I bet there are people out there who remember that once upon a time you could lay on the grass in your grandmother’s front yard in the heart of San Antonio and actually see the stars.
Recently, my gentleman friend asked, “How do you remember that far back?”
I honestly don’t know but I started wondering how far back most people really are capable of remembering, and what the ‘experts’ on childhood memories have to say about it. Perusing articles about studies on children and memory retention, a Cornell study caught my attention. While relevant to my question, it inadvertently explained another habit I have.
According to the Cornell Chronicle, “Females generally, although not always, exhibit superior retention of episodic memories than males. The gender differences, according to the researchers, may reflect the development of life narratives in late childhood and early adolescence, where girls often tell lengthier and more coherent life stories than boys. The narrative organization of life events may allow girls to better remember the events over time, compared with boys.”
In other words, to my sons who just want a ‘yes or no’ answer, that detailed explanation I feel compelled to give you, may be gender-driven as well as the key to why I remember what you’ve long forgotten!
But I digress. The whole memory ball of wax is more involved than I have the education or space to explain but it involves what professionals call explicit and implicit memories. One textbook definition goes like this, “While implicit memory involves perceptional and emotional unconscious memories, explicit memory involves information and experiences we can consciously recall.”
There are varying schools of thought even among the professionals about when memories form, with some saying they can begin as early as 2-years of age. They all seem to agree that something called childhood amnesia kicks in during the pre-K to 7-years age bracket. At that stage of development, the memory process becomes more ‘explicit’ and how we’re accustomed to remembering.
The study which supported recall of memories as early as age two also found that as the children aged and were requestioned a year or two later, their own perception about those same memories and how young they were, changed. It’s as if the older we get, we start to second-guess our first impressions. In my case, I determine my age at the time of a particular memory based on where we lived because we lived in four different houses from my birth to age 11.
Setting the record straight, lack of recall doesn’t always mean childhood trauma, but instead a lack of emotional significance, or a matter of memory storage or retrieval. My gentleman friend may be relieved to hear that his inability to remember events 70-plus years ago with the frequency or detail that I do doesn’t make him abnormal. My gentleman friend is representative of the majority and quite normal - it’s his lady friend who’s not!
That being said, French philosopher and writer Michel Foucault summed up my sentiments pretty well when he wrote, “I am hopelessly in love with a memory. An echo from another time, another place.”
Connie Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and award-winning columnist. She writes feature news articles on a weekly basis and an opinion column as the mood strikes her.