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U3A Writing: Earliest Memories

…I am lying in bed in a darkened room, our front parlour as it happens my mother has her arms around me, cradling me. The light from the crack in the curtains illuminates her face and she is crying with tears running down her cheeks…

John Ricketts’s earliest memories are of unhappy days.

I think that our earliest memories remain with us because of the dramatic impact that they made on us. A friend of mine remembers being attacked and chased by a goose on her farm in Latvia. She can describe running towards the buildings in an effort to escape. She was deported from the farm before her second birthday, and remembers nothing of the nightmare journey across Russia to Iran and then into a refugee camp.

My own earliest memory goes back to the time when I was three years old. I am lying in bed in a darkened room, our front parlour as it happens my mother has her arms around me, cradling me. The light from the crack in the curtains illuminates her face and she is crying with tears running down her cheeks. I don’t think that I had ever seen my mother cry before. She was one who was more likely to cry with laughter than with sorrow and so the moment stuck in the memory.

I had a very bad attack of measles which had left me generally weak. My legs were unable to hold me without support and I had to be fitted with leg irons. These reached from my hips to my ankles, with straps at the top of my thighs, at my knees and at my ankles. The bottom of the irons was fitted into holes through the heels of special shoes. I had to be carried or wheeled everywhere. One day I was in my bedroom and grew tired of waiting to be carried down. I approached the head of the front stairs and swung a foot onto the top step. Of course I was immediately off balance and so pitched head over heels down the stairs, finishing up upside down against the door at the bottom. The noise I had made coming down brought everyone running. I was unhurt but the memory remains.

I wore those irons for many months and when I was five I was taken to visit the school I was to attend after the summer holiday. My mother pushed me to the school in push chair. I remember some of the other children talking about a baby in a push chair and others trying to be kind by saying that I couldn’t help it because I was a cripple. It’s strange that after sixty years I still remember.

Fortunately by the time I went to school after the summer, my irons had been reduced to short ones which reached to just below my knees. I can’t remember anyone calling me a cripple after that.

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