MEMORY LANE

Niobe by the River

When I moved to Sacramento last fall I wanted to become involved in the community so when a friend asked me to volunteer some time at a local Alzheimer’s Center I agreed. Once a week I would visit and start a discussion with the ladies on a topic such as “What do you remember about a pet you had as a child?” or “Tell me about your first boyfriend,” or “What did you house look like?”The topics were always about things of their childhood as I thought those memories might be more accessible than what happened two years ago. As they talked I wrote down their ‘stories’ and the following week would give them a typewritten version to keep and share with their families.

It was a very poignant experience. One lady could remember the dog she had as a child but not her husband. Another had little recall of young friends but remembered her childhood home. At the same time their minds were slowly crumbling away, I would sometimes see a deep kindness. If someone would start fretting because they couldn’t recall something, one of the ladies might give her a hug and say, “Don’t worry. I can’t remember some things either.”

In my own life, I now have to acknowledge that I sometimes have difficulty recalling a name or event or even the ‘right word.’ When I read some of the essays I wrote ten years ago I think I was much wittier then, could make more outrageous connections, walk a thinner tightrope. But at the same time my mind has become rustier, the hinges of my heart are better oiled.

Anyway, in looking through some past poetry I came upon this one that reminded me (pun intended) of these sweet ladies I met last fall.

Memories Slip Away

Memories slip away unnoticed from my mind

Like honey sliding off a silver spoon:

Five hundred and three forgotten

With a black sock in an old suitcase;

Sixty-two discarded

Along with a letter and brown creased photograph;

One hundred and twenty-seven left behind

In an unfinished book;

Sixteen wedged at the back of a dusty drawer

Beside a postcard of Niagara Falls.

If only I could remember one day, one moment,

I would know if I had learned to love,

I would remember if his kiss was sweet,

The color of the child’s eyes,

The shape of the mother’s face.

If only I could remember now,

I might remember who I am.

I might remember what it was I came to learn.

How can I escape this Wheel

When I have been so careless

And misplaced the memories of my life.

How can I be forgiven

If I do not remember my sins –

By commission and omission –

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

So how now shall I remember

Without a touch, a taste, a smell to anchor me.

It only I could remember,

If only I,

If…

Picture: “Niobe by the River” ink on rice paper, Marie Taylor

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