Identifying Those Early Memories

While  I muddled through trying to find a topic on which to post tonight (since, for once, I’m not either working or sleeping), I wandered all the way through old posts, back to 2011 and our post on the anniversary of the Challenger explosion.  I was re-reading an exchange in the comment between reader, Teapot, and Kristy about how Teapot, as a kid born in 1981, really didn’t remember Challenger like those of us born in 1980 (or earlier).  Kristy’s comment pointed out that in her research, so far, anyone post 1980 really did not remember Challenger the same way, and that the next really big world event was the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I thought, “I should have replied back and asked Teapot if the fall of the wall in Berlin was her first “global event” memory”  and that was followed by the thought that, Challenger was not really mine.

Prior to Challenger,  I have a very vivid, scary memory of a hostage crisis on a plane.  But I still don’t know what it really was.

What I remember is a large passenger plain on a tarmac, and people hanging out the cockpit window/door and men in fatigues.  The fatigues I remember clearly, in part because I remember that they were part of the confusion with my mother.

You  see, in my pre-kindergarten mind, camouflage fatigues equated to “Army Men.”  Color and race and flags on shoulder patches didn’t mean a thing in my world for a lot of years.  If I saw olive drab outfits, they were all “Army men.”  Hell,  I’m pretty sure the concept of “countries” and “nations” had not yet entered my head.  My entire World Map until I was somewhere over 6 or 7 years was the maps decoupaged on the chest that served as our coffee table (that consisted of a LARGE map of Texas, a smaller map that included Canada, Alaska and the lower 48 with a strangely large cut in of Hawaii and a medium sized map of Mexico–I could find Regina and Monterrey LONG before I could find Paris or London on a map).

Huge Texas, Medium Mexico, drastically reduced USA.  This was my view of the world for my formative years.  Not sure exactly when I figured out Canada and Mexico were somehow not the same place as "my" country.

The box that served as our coffee table–now in my brother’s old room as a night stand.  Huge Texas, Medium Mexico.  Drastically reduced USA. Disproportionately large Hawaii.  This was my view of the world for my formative years. Not sure exactly when I figured out Canada and Mexico were somehow not the same place as “my” country.

The image was disturbing–still is–and I remember it keeping me awake.  I was sure the “Army Men” were coming to get me.  No offense to the many men and women who serve the United States today, but my earliest memory involved me lumping all people in olive drab and camo into one bucket –and that bucket in the case of the plane situation was “Bad Guys.”  I was terrified and I kept getting out of bed at night and waking up my parents because I was scared.

I still remember the morning in the kitchen when my mom–frustrated and sleep deprived–demanded an answer about what was waking me up.  I told her about being scared of the “Army Men and the plane.”  I still recall the look of exhausted confusion on my mother’s face and my own frustration–the first time I really remember feeling frustrated–in not knowing what else to tell her about them.  I don’t think she ever understood.  She, and then Dad, who wandered into this dialog of misunderstanding, explained that the Army was to protect me.  I even remember words about my Grandpa and Papa being in the Army.  To be perfectly candid (and yes, this is a confession I’ve never made before right now), even with their explanation, I still feel a jolt of primal fear when I see a person in green camo.  It was something of a relief for me when much of the US Armed Forces went to the Mid-East taupe/beige/brown camouflage because I was spared that weird clutch of fear from the olive-green colors.

I do not remember when I finally managed to understand the difference between someone in uniform serving the USA and a bad guy in fatigues.  It sure wasn’t that day.

And it’s only now that I’m finally trying to narrow down that memory.  I’m 99.99% certain that the incident was the 1985 hijacking of a TWA flight.  The image of the man with the hood over his head in the door of the plane I found while Googling tonight hit me like a metric tonne of bricks–but, notice, he’s not in fatigues.


This is ALMOST exactly what I remember, except he’s not in fatigues. I get chills looking at this even at my ripe old age. No wonder I couldn’t sleep as a kid. (Credit per watermark to Getty Images/Joel Robine – found at CNN’s website)

Did my child mind combine other images of people in fatigues with this image to create the boogey men of my past?  Or is this memory a different hostage situation and a different plane?

Not matter which way you cut it, I have a pretty shitty first-global memory (my first memory period is visiting the hospital when my brother was born–WAY happier because it starts with Momma giving me a piece of Brach’s candy and ends with pleasant confusion as Daddy holds me up to this window on a room full of babies and says “Look!  There’s your baby brother!”  All I remember from that sub-moment was not knowing which one I should look at –proud Daddy forgot that I was 27 months old and couldn’t really read the bassinet labels…and all those little bastards look identical).

It seems sad that my earliest global memory is terrorism (hey, folks in kindergarten circa Sept. 2001, I got your back).  Even if it were Challenger like most of my 1980s cohort, there’s tragedy.  How awesome and positive if your first memory is the fall of the Berlin Wall instead?  Unless you are a Soviet fan, that is such a positive memory.  It’s like someone I work with whose first global-type memory is of–lucky her–Katarina Witt skating in the Olympics.  How excellent is THAT?

Any other early international memories out there?  Positive? Negative?  Beautiful?  Confusing?  Undateable?


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