January 26th, 2012

WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST HUMAN MEMORY?
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Radish

Life is like a Radish.

I’m about three and covered in dirt, sitting in our tiny backyard garden plot in the Spring of 1964. It’s a typical warm San Diego day. The dirt is dark brown, rich and moist, and it’s all over me. My shorts and plaid short- sleeved shirt are dirty, but mom and dad don’t seem to mind. We are on a mission and I am helping: to find vegetables for dinner tonight. I see a green shoot and grab onto it and pull. Nothing happens. I dig around the shoot a little, then pull some more. Nothing budges. I stand up to get more leverage, bring both hands closer to the base of the shoot, and pull upward with all my might. Finally, the compacted dirt gives way, and I fall back a bit as my reward comes out of the ground.  The little ball is covered in dirt, but I can see it is a pretty pinkish/red color. It is hard like an apple, and about triple the size of a Jax game-ball. I brush the dirt off of my lucky find, and proudly hold it up to my Dad, who is standing nearby.

 "What is this, Daddy?".

 "It’s a radish!" He grins, delighted at my discovery. "A big one too!"

 "Can we eat it?" I ask.

 "We sure can," he says. "Try it!"

 I excitedly brush off the last bit of dirt with my shirt. Not one to be timid or shy, I bite hard into the pink, smooth skin. I start to chew and expect it to be sweet and crunchy, but it is nothing like that. A moment later, when the full bitter taste sensation registers in my brain, my mouth feels like it’s on fire.

"Yuk!". "Ugh!" "Aaargh!"

I hurriedly spit out the little bits of radish onto the ground, over and over, until no trace of the crunchy bits are in my mouth.

 "What? You don’t like it?" Dad asks.

"No! I begin to cry. "It’s AWFUL!"

I’m sort of mad at my dad, but then I see my mom and dad laughing, together. “This IS kind of funny,” I think. And I laugh too.

Many years later I look back on that first memory, and think how life is a lot like pulling up a big radish in the garden: Rewarding. Bitter.  Surprising.  And sometimes, kind of funny.