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The Lure of the White Worm
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Yes, another issue of our newsletter, The Orphan Scrivener is online. Mary writes about fruits she has known. Well, you'll need to read it. As for me, my contribution follows:

I write a lot about the past -- about history, about my own past. Too much probably. I have a terrible memory. There's a fog perpetually rolling along at my back. I turn around and everything that's happened is gone, obscured by a gray wall within which I can glimpse only a few misty ghosts. Writing about my childhood is practically like writing fiction.

Where does memory begin? Would there be anything to remember from the womb? What do the unborn think about? As neural circuits and chemistry develop is there a moment of pure awareness in the warm, dark sensory deprivation chamber? What does the functioning mind contemplate, without recollections or experience of the world? I imagine heartbeats must fill the whole universe.

I am certainly not among those who claim to recall their own birth. Far from it. My earliest memories are undated, but I know they don't go back very far.

There is a snapshot of my dad standing in a doorway. For some reason I sense it is raining outside. There's something gloomy about the picture. My dad wears a long overcoat of the sort he always put on over his suit to go to his teaching job. He must be coming home. The memory holds no sense of myself. It is nothing more than a scene observed without reaction. Perhaps I am really just remembering an old snapshot that was lost before our family photo albums were assembled.

On the other hand I have distinct recollections of fear. I was afraid of the open stairs leading down from the second story porch behind the apartment where my family lived. I recall the huge spaces between the steps -- big enough to fall through I imagined -- but mostly I recall the fear. I even remember terrible dreams about those stairs, or maybe it is only the dreams I remember. There also remains in my mind the disembodied fear of a huge, ferocious dog that lurked in the alley alongside the apartment. Did I ever encounter the dog? Did it really exist? I have no idea.

One day I looked down into the alley and saw a boy going past with his hair cut into a Mohawk. I was amazed. That I remember. I can't picture the interior of the apartment where I lived.

There is one other memory that might be the earliest of all. I am seated in a high chair, in a darkened room. A black and white television set dominates my attention. The show is called "Willie the Worm." I am pretty sure I am wearing a Willie the Worm bib and eating off a Willie the Worm plate.

A Google search yields a little information about a Willie the Worm children's show that was locally televised back in the early fifties, which would fit.

What does it say about me, if the first memorable impression I had of the world is a worm made out of a vacuum cleaner hose sporting over-sized sunglasses?

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