It would be easy to surmise that I can't really be remembering this, that this is a false memory triggered by a photograph.
After all, I was just 2 when the photograph was taken, according to the year stamped in the margin. The stamp doesn't include the month or day, so I may not even have turned 2 yet - my birthday is in midsummer.
I know it's a real memory because I remember what happened before the photo. What is hazier is why the photo was taken.
My mother had been cleaning out the clothes closet, getting rid of the garments I'd outgrown. I was sitting next to her happily plowing my hands through the colors and textures. Every now and then she'd interrupt me to hold something up at my shoulders. If it didn't appear to fit, she'd toss it in a bag.
Then she pulled out the blue and white dress, its colors alternating in delicate stripes. It was a summer dress, so the fabric was thin and the blue was light - the shade one often sees in seersucker. The dress was sleeveless. It flowed down and out from the shoulders in the still-stylish trapeze shape.
For some reason, this dress stopped my mother in a way the others hadn't. Rather than merely holding it against me, she insisted that I put it on. She had to help me; it was tight. Once I was in, she gazed at me critically. She sighed and told me this would be the last time I'd wear it.
Suddenly, she got up, left and returned holding the camera. She told me to go sit in front of my father's desk. Why, I don't know, but I loved the suggestion and ran into his office.
The photo shows me on the floor in front of a blond wood chair. My hair in front is cut into bangs; the rest of it hangs longer than I usually wore it as a child, down to my shoulders. I'm beaming, thrilled to be in my father's special space and to be having my picture taken.
I don't know what my mother did with the dress, or why she had to have a picture of me in it. Perhaps it had been a gift from someone special. Perhaps she'd splurged and purchased it off the rack, rather than bending over her sewing machine to create it - she'd made just about all of my clothes at that age. I never got around to asking her what that dress meant, if anything, and now she's gone.
And why do I remember this moment? It seems like an ordinary enough moment - a mother sorting through a child's clothes, clinging a little longer than usual to one particular dress. It must have been because of the picture she took. Even at that age, I must have already grasped the import of introducing a camera into an event -- the camera made it special, made it significant.
My earliest memory, then, is of making a memory. You must remember this.