David Treadwell

David Treadwell

About a year ago, I had completed rounds at the Crystal Spring Farmers Market and was scanning the area to find my Toyota Prius. “I can’t find my (expletive deleted)ing car?” I muttered to Tina. “You’re standing right beside it,” she said, delighted with this turn of events. Score one for the wife.

At least this experience can be used in a future article about memory, I thought to myself. And then I forgot to write it. Until now.

Most older folks have had an experience similar to mine with a “lost” car. That one was harmless, even humorous. A college classmate of mine had a more embarrassing memory lapse. He was checking in at his 50th reunion at Leominster High School. The woman at the registration desk said, “Pete Seaver! We used to date in high school. Do you remember me?”

“Of course I do,” said Pete, not having the foggiest idea who she was.

“What’s my name?” the woman asked.

Pete, being Pete, took a stab and guessed a name. He guessed wrong. Oops.

People at my stage in life are all susceptible to “Oops” moments. Mine revolve around forgetting names, even names of people I should remember. Bad on me. I wish I had the skill of remembering names after meeting someone for the first time. Then when I saw them again, I could say, “Oh, Hi, (insert right name)” And they would be impressed. I know I’m impressed when people remember my name after one meeting. Oh well. Next life.

I am good about remembering conversations I had with people I met just once or twice. Perhaps that’s from years of interviewing people for writing purposes. Although I always take notes, I have to listen carefully to know what to write down. And, like most people, I vividly remember significant life events: my first kiss, the births of my two sons; my wedding day(s); and so on. And I remember right where I was when I heard that Kennedy had been shot and that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I remember the night Barack Obama was officially declared the winner of the presidential election.

Some songs trigger powerful emotional memories for me, songs such as “Stranger on the Shore,” “You Needed Me,” “Try to Remember,” “Dulcinea,” and “The Rose.” As Petr Janata, a cognitive neuroscientist at University of California, Davis, noted, “A piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head. It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face in your mind’s eye.”

Apparently, music can have a positive impact on people with Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America web site, “When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.”

When she was in her late ‘80s, my mother (“Moo”) began to have severe mental lapses. She once sent three identical Christmas cards, for example, each one with the same hand-written note. She was forever losing her tiny hearing aid, an event which required pleas to Saint Anthony to help her find it. One day when I was visiting her, I said, “Moo. The hearing aid should always be in one of two places: your ear or this little box on your side table.” My “suggestion” worked, and she seldom lost it again. Or if she did, she didn’t tell me about it.

Back to the present. As my memory loses its edge, I try the usual remedies: do crosswords, get exercise, listen to music. I also try to heed the advice I gave to my mother. Have specific always-go-to-places for important things: keys, chargers, passports, checkbooks, bills, interview notes, etc. The “it’s somewhere in the house solution” doesn’t work for me.

I try to remember names, I really do, even resorting to mnemonic devices. If I meet a couple named Joe and Kathy, I’ll say to myself, “J and K.” John Kennedy. Easy. Then, later, I’ll forget whether the “J” stood for John or Joe or Jim.

Oh well, at least I finally remembered to write this column. Small victories.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary or ideas for future ‘“Just a Little Old” columns at [email protected]

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