The stubble on his face was razor sharp. Not his memory. That was growing soft---not growing really but diminishing. He couldn’t remember what he didn’t remember. Wasn’t sure that what he recalled was ten years ago or ten minutes. Frustrating. He didn’t mean to lash out in anger. Irritation comes as he tries to tether to the old memories and connect with the new. The rope keeps unraveling before he can tie it all together. Hair and memory both graying out.
My sister and I have shared the same moments…and we have different memories. I can access complete experiences if I see a picture. Blocks of my childhood are absent along with chunks through my twenties. A snapshot or a story will open those files—sometimes. Raising my daughter; full soundtracks and photos filling my personal memory cloud. My brain has archived trillions of tidbits; rock and roll lyrics, Monty Python skits, facts about writers; quotes and quirks—all easily accessed.
Memories are stored in the brain in multiple file cabinets; back of brain, front of brain. Current events we toss into the back brain cabinet (hippocampus). After a while we give it a manila folder. Every ten years the files are shuttled to front brain storage (frontal cortex). Simple. Unless there’s a disruption. There’s always a disruption. Current memory must be reinforced; the little file cabinet guy must scribble onto that folder. The folder properly placed in context. To retrieve it the incoming query must be clearly understood; “Okay, brain, find me the actors in eighties movie files.” Over time the little file cabinet keeper gets tired and just throws those memories into a box.
It came time to move him to smaller quarters, the movers were oblivious, the children miffed and mystified. The ‘new’ boxes in den and kitchen were filled with Hammacher Schlemmer catalogs, Hollywood Bowl librettos, miscellaneous mail along with important letters from the IRS, postcards from friends abroad and medical bills. The boxes in the backrooms were neatly organized; photos of grandchildren and family, notes from mom, lists of knick-knacks, tools and finances to be distributed ‘when the time comes.’ Temporary amusements and current finances not held tightly; not filed rightly. Kinships and clan, close connected friends and things done by hand---these the keeper stores in the strong room.