Memories of remembering
Someone recently told me to picture my memory as a bucket full of water – with a slow leak. I immediately thought of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike.
Memory is our brain’s amazing ability to store information, mental images, or accounts of past events. In other words, to remember something.
Trust me – remembering is not the same as having memories. The only thing those two words have in common is their root word, “mem.”
On a day-to-day basis, my memories give me a lot more satisfaction than my ability to remember things. My Flexible Flyer when I was 8 years old, my wedding day, Caribbean beaches, my children’s first days at school – all those joyful memories are in residence in my old noggin.
And there is one other technical difference. Memory is a noun. But remember is a verb. Verbs are the active part of speech, right? Not in this house. That action has left the building. Day-to-day remembering … for me, is now a distant memory.
Everyone I talk to has trouble remembering where their keys are, their old neighbor’s first name, and when that pesky dentist appointment is. Write that appointment down? Of course. Put it in my phone calendar? Absolutely. Even enter it into my computer calendar and then ask Dear Richard to put a reminder in his phone about my appointment. After doing all that, it mostly works. But not always.
I forgot a nail appointment over the weekend. Well, actually, I didn’t completely forget it. I remembered it at 9 a.m. when we talked about our plans for the day. I just didn’t remember it as I drifted into a dreamy nap after brunch. I woke up an hour later – a half hour after the appointment.
You know that adrenaline shot when you realize the scope of your stupidity? I bolted upright and “ran” to the phone. As I quickly brushed and dressed, I hit re-dial between every action hoping to beg forgiveness and throw myself on the manicurist’s mercy. The line was busy and it remained busy, busy, busy. That’s what saved me.
When I reached the salon, their computer was out. The result was also no phone service and no ability to use a charge card. And, just for that moment, no customers. No one had been able to reach them. The owner kindly reassured me and was able to accommodate this mightily embarrassed forgetnick.
A friend of mine is moving and purging all her files. As a result, I’ve received a few big envelopes of her findings – things we did together in different groups, way back when. The most recent envelope was very disheartening. It was an 8-page dinner menu from a party with all the recipes attached. The cover sketch was my old house, drawn by another talented friend. The date was St. Patrick’s Day 2005.
As I looked through the pages, I had a disturbing realization. Yes, it was held at my house, and yes, one of the printed recipes was an old favorite of mine. But I don’t remember a thing about the event itself. Obviously, I know when and where, but I have no idea who was there or what we did. I guess we ate.
The only things I really remember about 2005 was selling that same downtown house, moving to my current home, and becoming a grandmother for the first time. The rest of the year? Gone from my memory bank.
The arrival of that envelope made me realize that perhaps memories from the past do have something in common with today’s car keys. Whether short-term memory and long-term memory exist in the same brain space, I do not know. But I do know that my brain space is shrinking as fast as a wool sweater in the dryer.
When I was young and working in New York City, my Bostonian mother asked me if I was saving money from my salary. “Mom, I live in New York and I make $300 a month. There’s nothing left for savings.”
She pushed back. “You should save it first, before you start spending.” Spending? There wasn’t much chance of that, either. Then I told her how I really felt:
“Mom, these are ‘the good old days’ that I’ll want to remember for the rest of my life. These are the forever fun times. I’ll save later and make memories now.” She didn’t like it, but she understood. Funny, I remember almost all of those years as clearly as if they were yesterday.
That word root “mem” (from Latin, then French, then Middle English) gives us all the words for keeping our memories alive: memorialize, commemorate, remembrance, memoir and more. I just want to keep enough memory upstairs so I can reminisce about the best of times and still find my reading glasses.
Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Moby.email@example.com.