My nephew lives with my sister and brother-in-law four houses down. He's one and a half, and his vocabulary that I've heard so far consists of two one-syllable wordsone of which sounds like "dog" and one of which sounds like "car"and two two-syllable words, "mama" and "uh-pah." This last one can variously mean "iPod," "apricot," or "Uncle Paul."
I am mowing the lawn on Memorial Day. Down the street, Sister, Brother-In-Law, and Nephew are in the front yard, putting up a new fence. Look Nephew, says Sister, there is Uncle Paul. She points at me. Nephew turns and looks and sees Uncle Paul, far away down the street. Uncle Paul sees Sister and Nephew and waves. Nephew, for whom it is a very new thing, waves back at Uncle Paul, who is far away.
Uncle Paul thinks, Nephew is but one and a halfwhat if this is the first memory of me that Nephew retains? What if this pictureUncle Paul is a person who is down the street and waves, is his developmental and foundational picture of me? What if every subsequent memory he has of me is built on top of this Ur-memory, so that no matter what experiences he has of me the rest of our lives, when he calls up the mental model of me from his brain, the most fundamental, inescapable, primordial part of it will be this one, first, experience? There is Uncle Paul. Uncle Paul is far away.