All of my earliest childhood memories are merely snapshots in my head. The Old Order Mennonite Church I grew up in does not allow cameras and discourages its members from having their pictures taken. My dad’s family religiously observed this ordnung or rule; therefore, I have no tangible photo album of my early childhood.
The only album I posses is the perceptions within my mind, taken as snapshots void of conversation, yet poignant with emotion. Through these emotions connected with each memory-photo, I have a knowing of what is being said even though I cannot remember actually hearing the words being spoken. I have wondered if, just like faces fade within our memory, the voices fade too, and therefore I am left with only the knowing and not the sound.
These photo-memories have aged and become somewhat fuzzy and since they may not have been taken in the best lighting, I have questioned their authenticity. Yet, through the years I have clung to the hope that they are genuine, because their contents are all the memories I have of my dad.
There is only one early childhood memory alive with movement. It’s a memory of my dad’s oldest sister, my Aunt Emma. Emma was a favorite with all of us grandchildren. In this action filled movie-memory Emma is sitting in the dining room on her white high-chair, her outstretched arm waving a straight, dark-walnut stained cane, her voice filled with laughter. I can still feel the sheer joy of darting back and forth between the kitchen and dining room; dodging sideways, evading her cane, peals of laughter bouncing against the white painted walls.
Over the years I have been curious why all the memories of my dad are contained in these still shot photos. Why Emma’s is the only early childhood memory with live action. Then, as I read my Aunt Emma’s journal and also began to record my memories, I stumbled upon what I believe to be the why.
My dad passed away from Hodgkin’s Disease when I was four and a half years old. My four year old mind was not capable of comprehending death: It could only perceive it as an abandonment of hellish proportions. My memories of him froze in action along with the grief of losing him. I still remember the feeling of being Daddy’s Baby Girl, but there is no sense of loss connected to those memories. My mind freeze-framed the memories before it got to the painful emotions. My aunt Emma, on the other hand, remained a source of joy well beyond my childhood. My memory of her is not merely a freeze-framed photo; it is a part of my life-movie.