When people ask me about my earliest memory, I tell them it goes back to 1903. Since I was born in 1949, either dementia has set in or I’m hiding a DeLorean in my garage.
Let me suggest a third option.
Long before she died I asked my grandmother about her earliest memory. She couldn’t have been more than three or four when it happened, which would put the year around 1903. This is the story she told me:
I was sitting on Aunt Lizzie’s front porch. Supper was over and I was playing with my doll. My grandfather came out to sit in his rocking chair. It was his rocking chair and nobody else could sit in it. He had long silver hair that glowed like a halo when the sun hit it just right. He was very old, and he didn’t like to talk. I noticed he didn’t stay inside for dessert. Everybody likes dessert. I asked him why he didn’t. My grandfather didn’t say anything for a long time. He just looked down and fiddled with his pipe. I went back to playing with my doll. Finally, almost under his breath, I heard my grandfather say something that stuck with me all these years. “Since the war,” he said, “I can’t stand the sight of cherry pie.”
I actually knew somebody who knew somebody who fought in the bloodiest war in American history. From that moment on, my grandmother’s earliest memory from 1903 became my earliest memory.
All of my grandmother’s stories about her life are in my head. Some of them are clearer to me than others. Unfortunately, when she told me her stories, there was no easy way to record and save them. That particular piece of technology would have to wait until five decades after Steve Jobs’s earliest memories.
Today of course just about everybody in the world has the technology in their pockets to capture the past. So please, do what I couldn’t. Interview the people you love while you can and store their stories in a safe place. Watch them. Cherish them. Share them. Learn from them.
My grandmother read her Bible every night. She went to church every Sunday. She believed that after she died she would live forever in the clouds with Jesus. None of us will know for certain what happens after we die until, well, we die.
In the meantime, there is a way for the loved ones we’ve lost to live on–if not in heaven–at least on a cloud somewhere.