They say you start remembering at age four. Isaac has distinct memories from before this, but I don't. In fact, I only have a few "memories" before age five that seem to mostly be conjured up from photos. I may remember the ceiling fans on the church we went to in Iowa when I was two. I may remember the smell of campfires in Texas when my parents were in training for going overseas.
The first memory I'm sure of is distinct both because of the clarity and because of what it stands for.
I remember the customs line entering Indonesia for the first time when I was five. Tired from the long flight, overwhelmed by the heat and humidity and how strange and unfamiliar everything felt, I remembering whining and feeling grumpy. I remember the guest house we stayed in in Jakarta that night and waking up hungry and jet lagged while it was still dark. My parents dug around and gave me crackers and baby bell cheese. I was disoriented.
It's as if all memory of my early childhood in the USA was erased and that intense life change of moving across the world imprinted that first memory of transition and unfamiliarity on my brain, cementing what would become a pattern of life for the next 30 years.
Early memories of home? I don't remember a place that felt like home until I was about seven and lived in a house in Sulawesi where the streets flooded in the rainy season, dad walked to work around the block in bare feet with his pants rolled up, and frogs multiplied and hopped everywhere. We played Marble Works on the porch with Culu the neighbor boy, the other Western family down the street had a trampoline and Nintendo, and a becak (rickshaw) took me to grade school. My good friends Putu and Cindi were half Indonesian and half Canadian. We took Balinese dance lessons together and at their house I learned to drink through sugar cubes. My other friend was Esther from Holland and she ate strange sandwiches with butter and cheese.
There wasn't a home again until I was in fourth grade and we moved to Papua. I remember Dave Brooks picking us up from the airport and watching closely at the window and noticing the landslide we passed on one of the hills. It was home quickly, with a class of kids from Australia and Britain and Canada and Korea and Papua New Guinea. I climbed the trees at my dad's office, carved the initials of the boys I liked into the tree in the front yard, and spent hours playing Indonesian "keep away" with our neighbors. We watched Singing in the Rain a million times on our tiny tv that we kept covered with a cloth so no one would steal it, but they broke into our car three times to steal something, anything, even just the floor mats. Then our car burned in riots and the safe home didn't feel so safe anymore, but it was still home.
It's striking to me to look back and realize that my earliest memories are marked by transition and discomfort, and also that until I was 20 the only places that had ever felt like home, even just for a while, were in Indonesia.