“I just shared something that you taught me when I was young.” Lauren, my youngest daughter, said that she remembers me giving her driving advice, telling her that when you’ve pulled into an intersection to turn left, don’t turn your wheels until you can proceed; that way, if someone should rear-end you, you are not driven into oncoming traffic. She had recently shared that bit of advice with someone else, and I was reminded, again, not just of the depth and range of her memory, but also of the kinds of memories we hold. I launched myself from that springboard into a pool of reminiscence.
When the oldest of my younger brothers was alive, I used to call him to coordinate memory; I’d recall a shared event, he would make adjustments, and I would then call my sister to get her input. Between the three of us, we would manage to reconstruct a reasonably accurate recounting of the event. The nature of memory is such that the effect of past events on current ones can bend memory into alternate shapes. I once shared a memory of an encounter with a woman, and that woman’s recollection of the event was very different from mine. We were there at the same time and yet, came away with different experiences.
I love poetry, but despite that, have been able to commit only two poems to memory, one of which was written by me. I can call up bits and pieces of lots of poems, but never the whole. I was surprised to find that a poem I had written was still remembered by my second bride, the only one of my poems I’ve managed to memorize. If a poem has been set to music, however, I can remember it. Leaving my doctor’s office recently, I entered the elevator singing a song, breaking loose a memory from my youth.
When I was 18, I listened to my sixteen-year-old sister practice singing a song which had been newly released by Dionne Warwick. My sister had — has still — a magnificent singing voice, which she unconsciously and unceremoniously worked to develop and improve. Just as music leaks out of me, it did so with her. I listened, in 1965, as my sister sang “Once In a Lifetime” over and over, struggling to climb over a hurdle, a chord change, an abrupt rise from a low note to an immensely higher one. For days, she missed the hurdle, but I remember when she cleared it: the note from her throat came sweet and clean, and joyously.
Once each year for the last three, a nurse has asked me to draw a clock’s hands at 10 minutes after 11, and to remember three words: for example, cat, pen, banana. We chat for a few minutes, then she asks me to recall the words. I’ve not failed to do so as yet, but I know that my memory is far less acute than it once was, a benefit of staying alive. For the most part, though, my memories seem more tied to emotion than lists; outside of “I do,” I cannot recall a single word said at either of my wedding ceremonies, but I remember well how I felt about those I married. My memory has the errant course of a rock skipped across a pond: I remember lines from poems whose entirety I cannot call up, but every word of every song I’ve ever learned.
When I go shopping in my store of memories, I sometimes forget what I came for, but I find bargains on memory lane.
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