Babies do remember..

Babyhood in a Hungarian village

What does a baby absorb and remember? I believe a lot more than we realise, but not in the way it’s easily retrievable. I have come to think that every minute of a baby’s life is imprinted with every word, sound, smell, emotion, taste of its own, it’s family and its surroundings.

Why do I think this way? Because nothing else would explain circumstances, outcomes, memories and dreams other than this fact. I believe a baby is a super-sponge until it begins to talk and interact with the bigger world. Then all this imprinting is filed away, never to be retrieved normally, but nevertheless will guide and form the child to adulthood invisibly and powerfully in both a benign and cruel way.

Photo by Diego Delso
Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Without going into a monumental life history, I’ll just illustrate a few events which lead me to believe this way.

I was born in Budapest Hungary. My father’s family lived in a small village southeast of the city. During the Hungarian uprising after World War two, my father made the decision to leave his country due to direct experience with Communist forces. He was a medical and surgical instrument designer and fabricator working for some of the top surgeons in Hungary. After many of these men were killed or their hands broken, he felt he would be destroyed by this regime also. We escaped over the border into Austria along with my Aunt, Uncle, their son and Uncle’s Mother. This exodus involved a train trip to a town close to the border, then on foot travel over snow covered fields with russian tanks patrolling the area and shooting on sight. We found our way to a refugee camp in Austria where we stayed until a country would take us. We were late to the party and America, Canada and many other countries were backed up and the wait was years. My mother was pregnant, so the camp doctor signed papers that she was not, instructed her how to wear her coat to hide the fact, and we boarded an American transport plane out of Austria.

(Pictured: Nagy Mama, my Father holding me and Aunt Julia just months before our journey).

28 years later, after the iron curtain was lifted, my parents took me back to Hungary to reunite with my family and be reunited with my birthplace. As the airplane neared the ground, I saw the red tiled village rooftops, the colorful blocks of planted fruits and vegetables, white spots of geese, patches of beautiful colors. Suddenly, my breath caught and I was convulsing in tears. This had never happened to me before and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but it was sudden, painful and completely beyond my control. I believe as a very small child, I must have looked out of the plane window that took me away and saw the same things, but also feeling the pain, homesickness and fear of the future the passengers and my family were feeling.

Returning to America, I began to examine my likes and dislikes, my nightmares and dreams, and a myriad of other things. I am a quiet introspective type, I love to study and learn but most of all I want to know “why?”

The actual field across the road from my Grandfather’s house and my babyhood.

Photos of sunflower fields always moved me emotionally. I planted them en masse at my home. The movie “Sunflower” broke my heart so I bought the soundtrack. Many years later I named my first little business “sunflower productions”.
When I arrived back to my Grandfather’s home, right across the road were acres of sunflowers. If the camera was pointed in the opposite direction, instead of at my Father and me, I would have seen them in the old photos. I spent most of my babyhood on that property surrounded by them.

A recurring nightmare during my childhood and most of my teenage years was of crossing over a chasm on a terrifying rope bridge. We crossed the border at Andau after the bridge was destroyed. Coincidence? I’m not sure. I was drugged with sleeping pills so I would be quiet, but apparently they wore off during the arduous trek.
The story of the bridge and the revolution has been written by James Michener. I did not read it until my late 20’s and it was a deeply emotional experience that brought back many things I didn’t know were inside me.

New Zealand.

Tasman street school, Nelson New Zealand.
Tasman Street School Nelson.
I googled the school and this image came up. I thought “yes it looks about right, I’ll use it. Then looking more closely, I knew them, they were with me. I’m not in the picture, but Ruth who tried to teach me to knit is here, Maxine who was so funny and wild, Colin, Ian, Rodney…

I always thought I was slow and stupid because I had such difficulty in school. I realize now it was because I didn’t know the language. We were the only Hungarian family in town, my Aunt had settled in Auckland, so it was my job to go to school to learn english, come home and teach my parents. I was forbidden to speak Hungarian at home to force us all to learn English faster, which we did. It was crucial for my father to speak well so he could advance from the shipyards, repairing propellers back to making medical instruments. Because there were no other families or children to play with that spoke my language I had no reason to retain it, and so consequently set about acquiring a proper British accent.

Decades later we arrived in Hungary and I understood almost everything I heard. The sing song cadences were so beautiful to my ears. I had trouble replying properly because by the time I had formulated my answer the conversation had moved on. However, week later I began to dream in Hungarian and then spoke fluently. I was teased a bit and set people off into gales of laughter because my language was dated, I spoke the equivalent of Shakespearean English with none of the current modern slang.

The most profound emotion for me was the feeling of being completely at home in a home I haven’t been part of for 28 years, and had only lived it for approximately one year of my life.
My baby life.

Imagine if a baby remembers every second of every day of its first year of life. Remembers every song, word, surrounding, smell or emotion it witnessed. I think it does, could be so.

Makes you wonder about where your dreams, desires and fears originate.
What if they are coming from your first year of life?

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