Early memories that stay with us throughout our lives must do so because they have some deep meaning to us. Else why would such a memory be so persistent?
My earliest memory is very vivid. After living with it for decades, I decided to address it in a poem.
Pulling My Wagon
My earliest memory, the one I remember remembering,
the one in which I was conclusively aware, “I am me,
I am pulling my wagon,” finds me somewhere between
two and three years old, wearing a white cotton
shirt, red corduroy overalls, and Mary Jane shoes.
I am playing in the basement, whose silver-gray concrete
floor slopes strongly away from the center. As I walk
around and around the imposing coal-burning furnace
which heats our house, and from whose raised eminence
the floor tilts way, I hold a black cord in my right hand.
On the other end of that cord is a toy, a flatbed wooden
wagon perhaps six inches long, varnished, with four red
wheels. In the middle of the oblong platform is a round
groove, and in that groove nestles a red wooden sphere
with a small knob-like projection. I consider the sphere
a rider in the wagon and the knob the rider’s head.
Pulling my toy around the furnace is no easy feat.
Although I am too young to understand this,
cords are insufficiently stiff links between puller
and pullee, so despite my determined path, my wagon
does not follow, but veers off toward the cellar walls,
where it crashes, this in turn causing the little red sphere,
which I wish to remain upright, to slip and slide within
its groove like bathtub soap and, sometimes, to fall
out of the groove and off the wagon. I am aware,
as I continue my journey, that things are not going
my way —that what I want to happen is not happening:
the toy does not follow me but wheels off in unpredictable
directions; the rider does not sit upright in his groove
and sometimes does not sit in the groove at all. In the midst
of this, perhaps because of this, I am aware that I am me,
a somebody doing something. . . . I do not have the thought, then,
that doing something in this world is neither easy nor predictable.
Unlike my wagon, this one has three “riders,” each of which could topple during a revolution around the furnace.
“Pulling my Wagon” appears in Barbara Gregorich’s first collection of poetry, Crossing the Skyway.