In a flashback, Morrie is eight, and a telegram comes from the hospital. Since Morrie's father, Charlie, can't read English, Morrie has to read the telegram out loud to his father—it says that Morrie's mother
Note that the first time we hear about Morrie's childhood, it's about experiencing death. This serves two purposes. First, it further develops the idea that the book is a meditation on death, in all forms; second, it makes it clear that this is the first extremely important event in Morrie's life. As we already know, he feels the loss even in his old age.
At the cemetery, Morrie remembers his mother while they bury her. Until she got sick, she ran a candy store. After falling ill, she slept or sat by the window. When she yelled for Morrie to get her medicine, Morrie, who was often playing in the street, pretended he didn't hear her. He believed he could make her illness disappear by ignoring it. Morrie's father, Charlie, came to America from Russia to escape the army. He was in the fur business, but often didn't have a job. His English was very poor and he was uneducated, so the family relied on public assistance. They lived in an apartment behind the candy store with no luxuries, and Morrie and David would sometimes wash porch steps for a nickel.
Morrie, for all the wisdom he has in his old age, was at this point naïve about death and tried to ignore it, which in the present is exactly what he says modern culture encourages. The symbol of food pops up in Morrie's mother's candy store. Candy, being sweet and a treat, make this an especially positive instance of the symbol. Additionally, in the same way that Morrie is losing his ability to swallow and enjoy food in the present as the ALS progresses, his mother must also give up her candy store when she falls ill.
After the death of their mother, Morrie and David's relatives decided to send them to a hotel in the woods in Connecticut, believing the boys would benefit from fresh air. Morrie and David ran and played in the fields, having never seen that much green before. One evening they went for a walk, and it began to rain. They stayed outside and played for hours in the downpour. The next morning, when they woke up, David found that he couldn't move. He had polio, and Morrie felt responsible after their fun in the rain the night before.
For these events, physical movement of actual distance causes change on a much smaller but more personal scale. Notice that the move out of New York, and the boys' movement out in the rain, culminates in David being unable to move at all.
David was taken back and forth to special hospitals and forced to wear braces on his legs. In the mornings, Morrie attended synagogue by himself and prayed that God would take care of David and his dead mother. Later during the day, he'd sell magazines in the subway stations, giving the money to his family for food. At night, he ate dinner with Charlie in silence, and he hoped for but never received any warmth or affection from his father.
Here we see Morrie's early involvement in organized religion, which will influence his creation of personal culture late in life. We also get a glimpse of what life is like without Morrie's mother. This absence and the lack of affection from his father will influence later decisions about the family Morrie creates.
A year later, when Morrie was nine, Charlie remarried. Eva was a Romanian immigrant with an abundance of energy and warmth. Morrie found her to be very comforting. He and David shared a bed in the kitchen of their apartment. Eva kissed them goodnight, which Morrie loved because it made him feel like he had a mother again. However, the family was still very poor because of the Depression, and sometimes only had bread for dinner. When Eva sang to the boys at night, her songs were sad and poor as well.
As a child, as in his old age, Morrie craves touch—it's one of the primary ways he experiences being loved. Again, these early experiences of either receiving physical affection or not will greatly influence how Morrie gives and receives physical affection later in life.
Eva saw education as the only way to escape their poverty, and wouldn't allow anything but academic excellence from Morrie. Morrie studied every night, and Eva attended night school to improve her English.
Here we see the birth of Morrie's love of learning. Eva here is a fantastic role model, as she shows young Morrie you can learn throughout your life.
Every morning, Morrie attended synagogue and said the memorial prayer for the dead for his mother. Morrie did this to keep his mother's memory alive, as Charlie had told him to not talk about her, so that David would believe Eva was his biological mother. This weighed heavily on Morrie, and he kept the telegram announcing her death for the rest of his life.
Again, Morrie finds comfort in organized religion and uses it as a remembrance for the dead. Spirituality, here and later in his life, is a way for him to deal with and process what's happening in his life—especially negative events.
When Morrie was a teenager, Charlie took him to the fur factory to try to get Morrie a job. Morrie experienced major anxiety and fear standing in the factory. It was dark, hot, and dirty, and as workers frantically sewed, the boss yelled at them to go faster. On his lunch break, Charlie pushed Morrie in front of his boss and asked if there was a job for him, but fortunately for Morrie, there was barely enough work for current employees because of the Depression. Morrie vowed then to not do work that exploited someone else, or make money off others' hard labor. After that, Eva began asking Morrie what he was going to do. He ruled out law and medicine, and by default settled on teaching.
The poverty of the Depression turns out to be what saves Morrie from a life of factory work. Morrie's shock and horror at seeing what life inside the factory is like shows how sensitive of a person he is, and illustrates with more detail how different Morrie is from his father. Notice also that it's Eva, not Morrie's father, who is asking Morrie what he's going to do with his life. She is the real parent providing physical and emotional care and encouragement.