My mother, who turned 99 last week, has begun losing her short term memory, to the point of worrying that she might not remember mealtimes, or she might forget a friend is coming for a visit.
Me? My short term memory is good, but my long term memory is questionable.
I’d convinced two old friends to come for four days for a mini-reunion. Linnea and I had roomed together in college for two years. I didn’t know Glenda well then–she was in science classes and we didn’t have a lot in common. But she and I found teaching jobs in the same school and city, far from other friends and family, so we agreed to share an apartment.
As the end of that first year of teaching approached, we knew we’d be going to summer school, and decided that if we had to go, we may as well choose an interesting, maybe even exciting, location.
Our first choice, Glenda remembered, was UC at Berkeley. That was nixed when a couple who would become my in-laws insisted that was too dangerous. We absolutely could not go there–Mario Savio was there! So we chose San Francisco State College instead, and convinced Linnea to join us.
I remember it as a great summer. I can see the flat we found, up a flight of stairs to the upper unit. I can remember the chilly, foggy summer mornings that sometimes, but not always, burned off in the afternoons. I have a clear picture of the three of us driving together to school. I can see the kitchen where I dyed my hair in the sink–the only time I’ve done that–a shade scarcely different from my own color. I remember driving through the Haight Ashbury district, awash in bright colors. I have a hazy recollection of Golden Gate Park.
Over the years, whenever I’ve mentioned the experience to anyone, they’ve commented on what an exciting time we must have had.
“Oh, no….we all three were students and all I remember was studying all the time.”
Not so. Glenda and Linnea reminded me that we had, with the help of Glenda’s book, The College Student’s Guide to San Francisco, made it a point to get out every weekend to go somewhere–often inexpensive somewheres. We had driven down that twisty Lombard Street, had drinks at the Top of the Mark, and eaten at Omar Khayyam’s. We’d wandered through the Japanese Gardens at Golden Gate Park and gone to Chinatown. We’d visited Fisherman’s Wharf and Sausalito. We’d attended more than one concert at Stern Grove, and visited Coit Tower. We visited Glenda’s aunt in Carmel. Linnea thinks we saw a Shakespearean play. Glenda remembered we’d driven on the sand at Cannon Beach in her new Mustang on the drive down–and gotten stuck.
My loss of memory became the object of much hilarity, of course. When they tried to tell me we went water skiing with a friend of Glenda’s at a lake, I assured them that I was quite positive I’d never been to a lake that summer. I had them convinced until one of them pulled out a photo of the lake scene–and there I was.
I did a little reading on long term and short term memory as I thought about this later, but it was too technical. When the article started linking long term memory and degenerative diseases, I quit reading. One interesting section described the positive effects of sound sleep–it helps to “anchor” experiences into long term memories. I’m pretty sure Glenda and Linnea grabbed the more comfortable beds that summer.
It was a wonderful reunion. I hadn’t seen Glenda in some 40 years, and all those years just melted away. The two of them restored some lovely memories for me, and as I think about them, bits and pieces are coming back.
My mother may be having problems with short term memory, but some of her long term memory is remarkable. On one of my last visits with her, my friend The Potter was telling her about taking his children many years ago to see the big draft horses at the county fair, “You know….those big horses…what were they called?” And without skipping a beat, she chimed in, “Percheron.” Perhaps those genes will surface when I get a little older?