Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on July 10, 2024 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with one comment

A stroll down memory lane

 

“Memories,

Like the corners of my mind,

Misty watercolor memories,

Of the way we were.”

The Way We Were – Barbara Streisand

Quickly. What is the first thing that crossed your mind when you saw the picture in this post?

The human brain. Easily the most astonishing part of the human body weighing in at around three pounds, the brain is “a complex organ that controls thought, memory, emotion, touch, motor skills, vision, breathing, temperature, hunger and every process that regulates our body.” Johns Hopkins.

And if you’re counting, there might be upwards of 100 billion neurons, our own version of the Milky Way which contains billions of stars.

Now, “dear gentle reader” (I sound a bit like Lady Whistledown from Bridgerton!), why on earth have I chosen the human brain, and more specifically, memory, for today’s missive?

I saw the picture of the schoolbooks wrapped in brown paper and my brain instantaneously carried me back in time over 60 years when we all had to cover our school textbooks. On the first day of school, we were handed all the books we would need for the year. We immediately marched home after school and the first order of business was to cover these books. Every household had a large roll of brown paper. With eight of us all vying to complete the task simultaneously, it was the definition of chaos. I learned at a very early age that I lacked some core competencies, one of them being the ability to wrap things. Fast forward to wrapping Christmas presents. I was an abject failure at this and kissed the ground of the person who invented gift bags.

How does the brain process so much information at warp speed? When I saw the picture, I could quickly visualize our kitchen table covered in brown paper, scotch tape and markers. And in the same breath, I thought about that same table and the same roll of paper as we gathered around to package a side of beef from John D’s Meat Market. Each sibling was assigned a task. Weigh the meat (ground beef, roasts etc.) on an ancient baby scale, cut an appropriate size piece of brown paper, wrap the meat, tie it up with string and indicate the contents and weight. Transport to the freezer in the basement.

All of these images created by a simple photo.

Of course, this took me down that rabbit hole we call nostalgia. I thought about the large barrel of powdered milk (Starlac) which produced some of the most unsavory, warm, lumpy milk imaginable. Some of you might remember the packages of margarine, the ones with a dab of coloring which you had to squeeze to make it come out looking like actual margarine.

My mind drifted to the rotary telephone. One of the blessings of the old technology is that you had the opportunity to slam the phone down on an unwanted caller. Very therapeutic.

Nesbitt orange soda bottle caps.

K-Tel.

Writing out the lyrics of songs by repeatedly lifting the needle off of the vinyl record.

All of these things are stored somewhere in this giant processor inside our skull.

Sadly, as time marches on relentlessly, memories fade and some of our neurons stop firing. Nowhere is this more evident than in an Alzheimer’s unit. Last week, I had the privilege of playing music at one of our local nursing homes. I performed for a large gathering in one of the lounges and afterwards went to the Alzheimer’s unit. If you haven’t been to one, it can be a sobering experience, especially seeing people you grew up with.

This awful disease has robbed so many people of their memory and dignity.

Last week, I included a quote at the end of my piece which bears repeating. I saw this while reading a book by Jodi Picoult. Not to press the point too far but reading a book illustrates the power of the brain. As the words are lifted off the page with our eyes, the brain instantaneously converts the words into images. Every person reading the same lines sees the image differently.

I digress.

“If you ask me, music is the language of memory.” Jodi Picoult

This is apparent in an Alzheimer’s unit. Electrifying might be a stretch. Maybe heartwarming is a more apt description. It seems like it takes a while for old neurons to start firing when your memory bank is almost empty. But fire, they do. I discovered that a woman who was staring blankly into space, was originally from Mabou, the heart of Celtic music. I asked her husband, who was visiting, what musicians she liked most. Not surprisingly it was the Rankins and John Allan Cameron. I played Four Marys. You know what it’s like when you decorate your Christmas tree and turn on the lights. It’s magical. A few lines into the song, the most beautiful smile, bordering on angelic, broke out on her face. She was struggling to find the words but there was no doubt that she recognized the tune. Another resident sitting nearby was unresponsive for most of the time I was there. When I played Mairi’s Wedding, one of the amazing staff came over and the two of them danced. Pass the tissues.

I couldn’t agree more with Jodi. Music IS the language of memory.

That’s a wrap.

Thank God for gift bags!

Have a great weekend.

 

 

Highland Hearing Clinic
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