Monday, January 13, 2014

Imprints

I’ve seen photos of dinosaur footprints made in mud millions of years before Man first made his appearance upon the stage. The mud through which the dinosaurs walked has turned to rock, but the footprints remain. And like the dinosaur footprints, many impressions made by and upon human beings in their youth remain with them throughout life. 

Science has proven that animals tend to “imprint” upon the first thing they are aware of after they are born…almost always a parent. Humans, I suspect, are similar, but more flexible in that certain events imprinted on us throughout childhood remain with and subtly influence us throughout life. And from time to time, something will spark a memory which instantly transports us back to the moment the imprint was made.

Why we think what we think when we think it is an eternal mystery. But every now and then a thought will come along for absolutely no known reason to trigger a deep imprint. Like most people, I have many such imprints. But there is one which is so powerful it sparks an actual physical and visual reaction to this day: all I need do are say or think the words “A is for apple, so round and so red,…” and I instantly have an indescribable physical reaction accompanied by a vivid mental image of a large children’s book—apparently an alphabet book—with coarse paper pages, and the illustration of a rabbit wearing a red waistcoat and holding a bright red apple. I believe the next words are “B is for baby, who lies in his bed” but I’m not sure. I don’t know if I am alone in having this kind of imprinting. I have no other memories that elicit such a strong response. Obviously, it relates to my childhood but why or how that image and sensation should remain with me to this day and still have the power to transport me through time is lost to me. I’d love to know.

Songs are universally recognized trigger mechanisms to suddenly transport us back to the times we associate with them. I have any number of them, mostly dating to the 1930s and 1940s, when they were imprinted into my being. Kate Smith singing “God Bless America,” for example, produces a physical flush of nostalgia and patriotism. One memorable personal trigger is the 1939 song, “All the Things You Are” (“You are the promised kiss of springtime/That makes the lonely winter seem long./You are the breathless hush of evening/That trembles on the brink of a lovely song./You are the angel glow that lights a star./The dearest things I know are what you are”). It is a snowy day in Rockford, my home town, and my parents and I are driving downtown to see a movie when we are hit by another car. “All the Things You Are” was probably playing on the radio when it happened. No one was hurt, but the imprint was, I’m sure, made at that moment.

Perhaps, for me, the strongest song-inspired imprint came not from my childhood, but from 1954, shortly after I turned 21. The song is “Unchained Melody,” (“Oh, my love, my darling/I've hungered for your touch….”). I need hear only the first four notes, and I am transported to a bar on Pensacola Beach, Florida, where my NavCad friend Harry Harrison and I are sitting at a booth in a small bar drinking a beer while waiting for a pizza. I do think, with this one, that I understand how/why it was formed: my days as a Naval Aviation Cadet were, clearly in retrospect if not so openly acknowledged at the time, a critical point in my life. I was making the transition from child to adult and the entire world lay ahead of me. For some reason, this particular incident was imprinted upon me as representing the entire NavCad experience.

And while I would dearly love to leave a lasting imprint in the mud of time, I fear my footprints, like the billions of others who have preceded me, will simply be washed away far, far too soon after I am gone. C’est la vie.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

Smell does that for me. A certain brand of popcorn always made me think back to being in K-Mart and smelling it where they sold it there.

Hong Kong apparently left an imprint with me, too. I was walking in a mall with my father and we passed a perfume store. Whatever it was, it was the same exact scent I smelled overseas. Took me right back to an area we frequently walked through. It never occurred to me that I smelled it there, but I did.