The package deal

In my last column I moaned and groaned about losing my cell phone, my hand-held brain. With help from St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things, and his buddy, St. Jude, I was able to find it. St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. That’s me.

I need him – practically on a daily basis. I seem to shed stuff as I walk through life, forced to make return trips to hunt for the lost, the misplaced, the forgotten.

My mother had a few expressions about my forgetfulness, even as a young child. “Try to use your head for more than a hat rack,” was one favorite. The most common one, though was, “I swear you’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached.” That was very close to the mark. And I’ve been doing it ever since.

All my friends close to my age – and many who are quite a bit younger – complain about the forgetfulness that comes with age. Mine has been with me since my childhood. It just gets worse as the decades pile on.

Age-related forgetfulness is like a package deal at the car dealer: All you really want is the leather seats and the moon roof, but you can’t have them unless you spring for the package with the heated seats, padded steering wheel and turn signals on the outside mirrors. No choices.

The age package is more insidious. We expect to tolerate a wrinkle or two, a little touch-up for the grey wisps around the temples, a few aches and pains and not being able to find the car registration on the way to the inspection. Small potatoes. You’re not that old, for Pete’s sake, just late forties, early fifties, no big deal. But the package deal still applies – you can’t have just little wisps of gray without compromised vision or a bigger waistline.

Then your morning get-out-of-bed bounce evolves into a slow creep. Spicy foods don’t settle quite as well. If that afternoon cup of coffee doesn’t keep you awake, it slams your eyes open at two a.m. And you misplace your favorite screwdriver, or pair of scissors that “were right here just a minute ago.” You don’t mind a sign or two of Father Time’s assault on your body and brain, it’s just that they all start showing up together . . . with all that forgetfulness attached. The package deal.

Even that doesn’t last long. In no time at all it’s full-head hair coloring or balding, arthritis, stomach and gas medicines, all body parts with a three-inch sag, and suddenly you can’t remember anyone’s name, today’s date or the punch line to your best joke. As often as not you’re hunting for your keys, the checkbook or the coupons for three bucks off on Nexium – without which you’ll be dead by Tuesday. It’s an ugly package deal. Oh yes, and it continues to get worse – and more expensive.

You readers of a certain age recognize these symptoms – of not being able to remember while at the same time your body is disintegrating. But it came on you very gradually like I described. I’ve had this forgetfulness all my life. . . . way before grey hair . . . since pigtails.

I can still remember the teacher asking us to pass our homework forward and remembering that mine was on the dining room table. Or sitting down at the dining room table at night and remembering that the textbook I needed was in my locker. Happened weekly.

I was a latchkey child who lost so many keys my mother took to having two made at a time. Eventually I became well acquainted with the key man at the hardware store rather than upset Mom again. When I returned books to the library, the clerk would look over her glasses at my stack and ask “Have you figured out your fine total for today?” Due dates never made it into my memory bank.

Nothing ever seemed to stay where I put it – or thought I put it. I lost boots, scarves, sweaters, hats and even “idiot mittens” . . . the ones attached to a cord that ran up through one sleeve, across the back and down through the other sleeve. It was very handy having my mittens dangling from my cuffs – except when I lost them. I guess I never thought about how expensive it must have been to keep me clothed.

Eventually I realized that I had to be organized to survive my working life. American Airlines required us flight crew members to carry certain equipment: a working flashlight, a large, flight service manual (kept up-to-date), cockpit keys, nameplates for the crew board and, early on, a log book.

We were strongly advised to carry extra stockings for everyday but also the basic toiletries, undergarments and a change of clothes in case of a cancellation. And this was just for a daytrip, what we called a turnaround. Overnights required more clothes of course and I never traveled without a stash of reading material . . .or a bathing suit. I had to be organized – I couldn’t forget anything. Somehow I put my mind to this necessity and made it work, just like the two years I concentrated on overcoming airsickness.

The turnabout only seemed to apply to my work life however. Returning home to my NYC apartment dropped me right back into the land of the lost.

All this forgetfulness confounds Dear Richard. “How can you be so organized about some things and so forgetful about others?” he asks. Naturally, he’s involved in many of the searches. He’s also a very tolerant delivery boy.

“Honey, do you think you could bring my phone to the office? It’s either beside my chair or on the kitchen island, the deck or in the bathroom.” Or, “Richard, sweetheart, I forgot my pills again. Would you please . . . ??” Those are the most common requests but he has also delivered earrings, notebooks, business letters and shoes when I have left the house with only boots, and probably also left my gloves. He never does have to bring me a lipstick – I have two in my purse, one in my makeup bag at home, one in the travel tote, one in the car, one in my desk and one in the kitchen drawer. Go figure.

Hey, he knew I was like this when he proposed. I was white-haired, arthritic and very forgetful. He bought the whole package deal.

Editor’s Note: This column was published with the incorrect headline in Saturday’s Times Observer.