The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Friday, November 2, 2012

My Earliest Memory: Shadows of Fear

The earliest event I can recall in my long term memory is one that was associated with fear.

I was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1940. Since we moved out of the city when I was about four, I only have one memory from that first time my family lived in Nashville. Both of my parents have passed on now, Dad in 2007 and Mom in 2009. But earlier, when I mentioned this memory to them, neither could remember the night in question. It stuck with me all these years I suppose because it was so frightening to a three and a half year old kid.

In 1943-44, we lived in an apartment house across the street from the Nashville Auto Diesel College (That school is still going after all these years; it's now known as the Nashville campus of the Lincoln Technical College group. The big old main building of the campus is still there and shows up on their website.)

My father drove a Nashville city bus in those days and his schedule sometimes meant that Mom and I were alone at night.

On the night in question, Mother and I had been out somewhere in the city for a purpose now long since forgotten. We rode the bus down Gallatin Road and got off at our street. I remember that it was cold and I could see my frosty breath coming out. There were always several outside lights on at the Diesel College and the front porch of our apartment house received some of the light. As we walked down the street and came to our place, Mother thought she saw a shadow move across the front of our house.

She grabbed my arm and quickly pulled me down behind a bush that was growing in the front yard. She whispered and told me that she had seen a shadow of a man on our porch. Her voice was shaking and she gripped my arm tighter. She put her other hand over my mouth. "Be very quiet now. Don't talk. He may be trying to get us," she said.

We stayed crouched down that way for several minutes. As I looked at the front of the house trying to see what she had seen, I could feel my heart beating in my chest and felt a great urge to run away.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally got up and went inside. Other than my feeling of fear as we crouched behind the bush and the image of shadows on the front of the porch, I don't remember anything else. We never saw a man.

What my Mom saw, I don't know. Maybe it was someone walking across the campus behind us and we saw his shadow on our porch. Maybe it was just some tree branches moving in the wind. It could have been anything.

Looking back now after all these years, Mom was always very fearful, very skitterish about anything out of the ordinary, afraid of this and terrified of that. I think she may have been scared and scarred by something in her childhood, something that made her fearful for most of her life. Her own mom had died when she was eight and soon thereafter a fearsome stepmother entered the picture. I suspect Mom's personality was partially molded by those events.

Her personality had other facets as well though. She wasn't a fearful and cowering individual. She conquered her fear of being in front of people in high school, for example, and developed a "Minnie Pearl" type comedy act with another young girl. They were quite a hit and appeared at civic meetings, etc. in all the surrounding counties in the early '30s. And as I grew up, I remember several instances of her standing her ground or standing up to someone who needed to be put in their place. She was strong. But fearful.

I don't think I grew up to be quite as cautious and worrisome as Mom, but it is a part of my makeup too. I sometimes experience night terrors and wake up in a sweat. Most of the time I'm trying to run away from some threat or trying to call out to warn someone about an imminent danger.

Maybe I'm still seeing those shadows on the porch.


  1. Your memory is MUCH better than mine, Dan. I can only get back to age seven or so, sitting here just now and trying my best.

    I have a daughter-in-law that's much like your Mom... a strong woman with sterling qualities, yet fearful in ways I don't understand. I guess some people are just made like that.

    1. Buck, except for that one memory at three and a hslf and a couple when I was five, the rest of my childhood memories are in the same ball park as yours...from around age six or seven. I think the fear which I felt from Mom is what made that one stick.

  2. Dan, that experience and sense of fear you related seem very real to me since I, too, am a scaredy-cat about shadows and the unfamiliar. I actually got goose bumps reading your story. Brrrr. Nothing particular in my past stands out except attempts from age 8 to 10 to spend a few nights at my uncle's farm with cousins near my own age. I had to sleep in the living room alone and was so terrified of the utter quiet and pitch black I had to have my parents come from Des Moines to fetch me, once at midnight. I can sympathize with your mother entirely.

    1. Jeanne, I remember something similar to your experience at about 7 right after I'd moved to Nashville. I tried to sleep out under the stars one night with some of my new friends my age on the block. We started out telling ghost stories (probably not a good idea). None of us made it through the night. We all had to go back to our own beds.

  3. Good post, Dan. I've been reading, but not commenting...just so you'll know.

    My first memory is at age 4. We lived on Douglas Drive in Bossier City. My older brother, and some of the older boys on the street pointed to a box mounted on a pole at the corner of Douglas and Clinton. They told me that if I'd go open the box and pull that lever, a man would come and bring me some ice cream.

    So, I rolled my wagon up to it so I could stand in it to reach the box. I pulled the lever. Sure enough a man showed up...actually several men in a big ol' fire truck with sirens blaring.

    The older boys ran off laughing their collective asses off. But, Mom was not amused at the trick they played on her little tyke.

    Ya' Mom was never afraid of anything. Still isn't! She's always been frank, direct, and not afraid of anything. Of course, at 76, she still packs, too...

    1. Andy, that's a good one. You didn't say, but I'll bet you didn't get the ice cream. If your Mom packs these days, she's mighty wise, IMHO. I'm afraid to say, but Mom was very much afraid of guns. Only when he was in his late '70s did she let Dad keep a gun in the house, and old .410 single barrel shotgun.

  4. My Mom loved to scare us kids, you know, the monster in the closet, the bear under the bed that ate bad little boys.
    I think she was easily scared, but would have fought a tiger for her kids!

  5. I remember that 'monster in the closet' feeling. Once when I was 12, I had just seen "The Thing" at the Knickerbocker theater in uptown Nashville. It was about 137 degrees that summer with typical Nashville 'bowl' humidity of about 300 percent. But the night after seeing that movie, I shut my two windows tight and slept in sweat all night. Better than having my head ripped off by a giant vegetable monster. In those days the movie makers knew how to scare you. They left a lot to your imagination. In "The Thing" for example they just showed glimpses of the monster, only a shadowy form. Your imagination filled in all the details. IMHO that was a lot scarier than what we get today.