Friday, May 6, 2011

Good Memory? Fuhgeddabout It

My middle brother Scott and I got into a mild argument the other day about what our phone number was when growing up in Allenstown, N.H. in the 1960s. That is where we lived until June 1968 when my parents came to their senses and came to Texas. They hired a mover to load up most of our possessions and pulled a U-Haul trailer with their 1964 Mercury Comet containing the immediate necessities — clothes, etc.

It was a grand adventure, three sons and the parents leisurely winding our way south, stopping at Gettysburg, in the Smokey Mountains, finally arriving in Longview — where I learned that I talked funny. Further, I had no idea how this nearly 13-year-old Yankee kid was going to survive an East Texas summer. It felt as if the world was on fire, and it was only June. Forty-three years later, I still wonder as summer begins — about two weeks ago here in Central Texas, just before Easter for Pete’s sake — how I’m going to survive the next six months. But I always do.

Anyway, I think our phone number was Hunter 4-3656. He thinks it was Hunter 4-8898. We both agree on the area code — 603. New Hampshire still has only one area code, which is part of the state’s charm. I do love visiting my native state and try to do so annually, though job responsibilities and economics have kept me away for a couple of years. But the Granite State is always on my radar when perusing the news. I would love to live there from July through September and then come back to Texas. I’m just one winning Lotto ticket away from being able to do so. Scott, who used to teach math, says the lottery is gambling for the mathematically challenged. He can be a bit of a spoilsport.

Anyway, this was a peculiar argument. For a number of years both Scott and my youngest brother Gregg have served as my institutional memory. Since Gregg is nearly nine years younger than me, and Scott and I are just 29 months apart naturally I lean more on Scott for childhood information. Both have a greater grasp of what actually happened when we were all too young to shave than I do.

I don’t know why my memory is so bad. This is not a recent development though it clearly is getting worse as I age. My one claim to memory fame used to be a better-than-average recall of phone numbers. Hence, my contention that I accurately remembered our New Hampshire home phone number. I know the phone numbers of every newspaper for which I’ve worked, and dumb things like the main line for the Ford dealership in Nacogdoches, which I haven’t patronized in nearly 10 years.

Cell phones have ruined that talent, useless as it was. Neither my daughters nor my brothers or most of my friends have landlines. Their cell phone numbers are plugged into my iPhone, so it isn’t necessary to memorize numbers anymore. Like most of you, I just scroll down until I find the name of the person I’m calling. So now I can’t even remember phone numbers.

I worked for a couple years running the Longview newspaper, where I went to junior high and high school. I was constantly being stopped by folks who said, “Hi, remember me? We went to high school together.” I would truthfully recall about one out of every 10 people who asked that question. Quickly I brought my high school yearbook to work so I could look people up and try to jog my memory. Most times that didn’t work, either.

It’s not just people that I can’t remember. I have gone to used-book sales at the library and come home with copies of books I already own. Worse, I’ve actually already read them. I have rented movies only to realize about 30 minutes into it that I have already watched this flick.

Oliver Sachs is a neurologist and writer for the New Yorker. He wrote in August about his personal struggle with prosopagnosia, which is the inability to recognize faces or locations. It’s a fascinating piece. Sachs can eat dinner with a colleague and meet her on the sidewalk 15 minutes later and not recognize the woman. There are times I wonder if I have a minor form of that malady.

I emailed a buddy in New Hampshire, my childhood friend with whom I still stay in touch and asked if he remembered our home phone number. Amazingly, he did. More surprisingly, I was right. A small victory but one that I will remember.

At least I hope so.

Originally published in the Hill Country News (Cedar Park, Texas), May 5, 2011.

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