I do not know what my first encounter with the topic of vampires was. I assume that I had seen vampires in cartoons or other child-oriented media? But I remember the first time I got close to some of the related Eastern European folk tales as a child. My grandfather told me the following story from his native Romania:
In a village, a middle-aged woman had died and received a burial. The following week, one of her children got sick. The child got weaker each day and finally died. Soon after, another child of the dead woman got sick and died. And so on. Nobody could find an explanation, and the children’s father grew more an more desperate. When his last remaining child fell ill, he and some of the villagers went to the cemetery and opened his late wife’s grave. They noticed that her heart was still beating, so they cut it out and destroyed it by cutting it into pieces. And the health of that last remaining child improved and the child was soon well again.
That is the story, as far as I can remember it. I might be getting one or two aspects wrong. My grandfather did not tell me this story as some sort of fairy tale, or a campfire horror story; he told it strictly as a folk tale, as something that more simple-minded people back home were sure had happened to someone some time, some place. So there was no artificial embellishment on his part. Still, he probably told his story with a little bit more detail and finesse than the rather plain version that I was able to retrieve from my memory for you.
I never thought about this story much, and as a child probably did not make a connection to vampirism. But after having read Dracula at university and reading and hearing some things about the wider cultural background, this story recently came back to my mind. After all, it were exactly tales like this one, tales of the undead, that lay behind the myths about people like Vlad the Impaler and Elizabeth Bathory; myths that led to the artistic creation of the vampires we know from classical literature. And it somehow amuses me that this particular folk tale was known in my family and that I never thought about it much until 30 years later. And of course I wish I had thought about it sooner or more often so that my memory of it would be less cursory.