After the Fact: The last place you look


Dr. Grigsby is a terrific cardiologist at San Luis Valley Health, even if he seldom agrees with my own diagnoses. More important to me, the department has some really sharp ladies making appointments, calling to remind me and all that stuff that makes an office run well. And they have a sense of humor. When I had to cancel a February appointment, they were very understanding. They pointed out that my appointment was actually in March, and laughed only a little bit. Maybe Dr. Grigsby would take me more seriously if he thought my marbles were all in the game. 

Nancy Kimble, one of my former classmates, figured she’d gone over the hill when she could not remember what it was she’d started looking for in the first place and couldn’t even remember why she was in a particular room to begin the search. She can be excused: she taught grade school for so long that she’s still singing the school bus song every morning as she walks a few miles to keep everything else in shape.

A while ago, my daughter Chris was helping Patience (the great-granddaughter) get her Valentines ready for school the next day. We didn’t get a list of students’ names from her teacher, so Patience was really trying to remember every student in her class. Some of the names were even beyond my spelling skills so it was a struggle from start to finish. Midway, Patience put her head in her hands, giving up the whole project: she said, “I’m like Dory. I have short-term memory loss.” Patience is in third grade. Dory is the ditzy blue and yellow fish in the Disney movie, “Finding Nemo.”

There are several hundred-thousand articles “out there” in some magazine, some book, some scholarly paper about how to slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s, from changing your diet to doing crossword puzzles in ink. I don’t think any “cures” are definite, and I’m pretty sure memory glitches are not necessarily a warning that dementia is on its way. My theory is probably as good as many and better than some: I think the brain operates along the lines of my computer. I fill up the memory, and it dumps whole programs to make way for new stuff. Or it sometimes decides, arbitrarily, that some of the old stuff is better and throws away whole chapters that I’ve just saved.  If you can’t find your glasses (and it’s impossible to find your glasses when you’re not wearing your glasses!), you just need to re-install the program. Sometimes, going back to the last place where you remember having had them on your face will re-boot the system. Other times, it’s necessary to take a nap.

Other than the minor inconveniences like misplacing your car keys, dispensing with some memories isn’t all bad. As your short-term memory slips a few cogs, your long-term memory fills in the gaps. It’s a lot more fun to be 70 or 80 and re-living your teens and twenties than it is to be 20 and worrying about which retirement village you’ll be living in when the time comes.

I love the Facebook “quizzes” that show a succession of photos of things like washboards or skate keys or Blackjack gum and ask “How many do you remember?”  Unfailingly, I remember all. But I also remember being a passenger in most of the cars at the Early Iron antique car show. It’s when you ask me about that thingamabob that we used to open triangle-shaped holes in the tops of cans that, without a picture, I may not be able to come up with the response, “church key.” But there aren’t many 20 year-olds that know that either, and they wouldn’t know which church door to try opening with one anyway.

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