Everyone has an earliest memory, intriguing in its clarity. Mine is from a December day in 1942. I was 2-1/2 years old. My family of six was moving from the cozy house where I was born to a roomier Victorian home.
Winter arrived that day, and in my memory I am standing in our old living room wearing a blue sweater and overalls. The last piece of furniture, a hulking upright piano, has just disappeared out the front door. I cannot see or hear my parents or my older sisters and brother. For one long, luminous moment, I am alone in the empty house. It is so quiet I notice the shuffling sound of my own shoes as I shift from foot to foot. Icy air flows in the open door over bare wood floors, gold as honey. Dust motes parade in measured grace through sunlight from a window. Time, like the dust, hangs suspended.
Ordinarily, I would have burst out crying when left alone. A clingy child, I would sit on my mother's foot, hobbling her when she tried to walk. But this time I didn't cry, because under the stairs, where the piano had stood, I spotted a prize: a blue and white marble, gleaming from the corner like a beacon.
Marbles, I knew, were important. My brother and his friends played with them often, hoarding them in drawstring pouches and trading them, always hoping for the highly-prized clear ones with bubbles inside, which they called aggies.
The boys drew circles in hard-packed dirt and shot their marbles with practiced flicks of the thumb. If they knocked a rival's orb out of the ring, they got to keep it. Marbles were wonderful coins in the big boys' realm. They conferred power and status. Even my big sisters weren't allowed to touch them.
But I touched one that day. For no one saw me cross the room to stare at the marble and squat for a closer look. No one saw me finger the smooth gem, then cup it in my palm while I examined its cold, hard surface. And no one saw me stuff it into my overalls' pocket.
Thus hidden, my marble moved across town with us. But what happened to it next? With a new house to explore, I forgot about it. Maybe the hand wringer on our Easy washer squeezed it from the pocket on laundry day. Maybe it rolled into a new hiding place. Its memory remained, but the marble disappeared.
Then, in 1967, it reappeared. I was reading Life magazine and saw the original pictures of Earth taken from space. The photographs were astonishing and seemed oddly familiar. I studied them, first in awe, then with dawning recognition. Earth's waters flowed a cobalt blue; its white clouds swirled like gossamer. There it was, my precious marble, radiant and powerful, found again.