Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send Driver an email at email@example.com.
For several days in 2000 I was unable to remember the word “waffles.” I could picture waffles, and was able to imagine their texture and taste. But I found it impossible to conjure the word. A few days later “waffles” returned to my brain, and has stayed there ever since.
More recently, I watched an hour-long TV documentary on one of my favorite actors, the late Gregory Peck. A day later, his name vanished from my memory for several hours. The same thing happened 10 days ago with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. I could picture his face and his boring manner of speaking, but his name was nowhere in my reachable memory.
Do I worry about such lapses? You bet I do. But not for long. The experts say that such memory gaps occur at all ages. What concerns me more is my dropsy, i.e., my growing tendency to drop things on the floor. I guess I don’t grasp objects as firmly as I should, even though my fingers seem as strong as they should be. What irks me most is that each time I drop an item, I have to bend over and pick it up. On some days this is a major achievement, accompanied by pain in my back and knees, plus world-class cussing. As I rise up from my arthritic crouch, I lecture myself: “Focus! Focus, you #%!! dunce! When you handle a fork or dish, grip it tightly.”
Enough about the perils of aging. Old (or older) people can be almost as boring as young people, although old folks have much larger vocabularies and can recall who Joe Stalin and Peter Lorre were.
However, today’s youngsters (that’s anyone under 50) have amazingly nimble fingers. These people sit at home or behind the steering wheel with their iPads or 4-G Android Multi-App gadgets and rapidly punch out texts, sexts, Twitters and emails by the hundreds, addressed to bosom buddies or “friends” they’ve never laid eyes on.
And what do these messages say? “I’m at Publix.” “Which aisle?” “Dairy.” “Bring me some gouda, would you?” “What is gouda?” “It’s a kind of cheese.” “How do you spell gouda?” “Forget about it.” And thus is our civilization advanced and refined.
To return to our initial subject, memory: Someone once said, “Tell me your favorite memories, and I will tell you who you are.” I’m not sure that’s true. That’s because all memories – both the good ones and the bad – tend to fade. Show me a man with a clear conscience and I’ll show you a man with a poor memory. It’s fortunate that memories grow dim with time; otherwise we’d all sit around recalling the past while ignoring the present, its opportunities and its needs.
What things trigger memories most vividly? Some people say it’s smells – a flower, frying bacon, smoke, a woman’s hair. Sounds and noises also will do the trick – a distant lawnmower, a child’s laughter. I’m a sitting duck for music. A few bars or lyrics from the “High Noon” theme music will catapult me back into the greenest time of my life.
Disappointments and failure can form painful memories, unless we’re wise enough to balance them with recollections of rosy dreams that died and bloody well should have. For every employment turndown there are at least four more jobs that, had you been hired for them, would probably have driven you crazy. At age 20 a would-be sweetheart rejects you, and your life seems to end. Until later you learn that he/she became a Creature from Hell, and suddenly your broken heart is transformed into a field of lavender. All memories are subject to change.
If you don’t think so, ask someone in law enforcement. On Monday an eyewitness to a holdup may confidently describe every detail of a suspect’s face, build and clothing. But by Thursday the witness is not quite so sure. His memory has begun to shift and play tricks on him. By Sunday he’s not even sure if the suspect was male or female.
One of the most valuable forms of literature is the memoir. This newspaper you’re now reading can be considered a memoir; ten or fifty years from now it will serve as a useful snapshot of what life was like in Pinellas County on election eve 2012. I have long encouraged people to write daily or weekly journals of their lives, to record their joys, defeats, opinions, fears, the latest hurricane, who they loved, and why. Take time each day to scribble these life fragments in a notebook, to be handed to your grandchildren when you finally croak, or even before. They’ll thank you for it. Memories can be great gifts.
Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.