Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

April 7, 2002


The average person’s memory is amazing and mysterious


        A person’s memory is fascinating, both amazing and mysterious. Almost daily we hear about someone who can recall vivid details of childhood experiences but at the same time cannot remember what he ate for supper last night.

        One person can remember for 50 years the circumstances of being hurt deeply by another person. Still another finds that hurtful memories have been erased and are gone forever. Abraham Lincoln was once reminded that a certain man, whom he had recommended for a government position, had been publicly critical of the president. Asked he did not remember the man’s criticism, Lincoln replied, “No, I distinctly remember choosing to forget his remarks.”

        Some people have better memories than others. My mother had a remarkable memory, and so does my wife. My mother could rattle off the birthdays of 75 or more family members – even the year of each person’s birth. My wife can recall the color of a dress she wore when she was a child.

        Since my sister Laurida died at age 56, I recall more and more experiences we shared growing up. I saw my sister the other day at a shopping mall. Actually it was not my sister but a woman who was the spitting image of my sister. For a moment, a fleeting moment, I knew this woman was my sister. Fortunately I did not speak to her, and I hope she did not notice me staring at her.

        Nobody ever laughed like my sister. She laughed all over, and whenever she laughed, she made the most of it. Sometimes when I hear a woman laughing somewhat like Laurida did, I recall how much she enjoyed life, and how our family enjoys recalling her special kind of laughter.

        Laurida was a good cook, a devoted homemaker. One of her favorite things was to bake cinnamon rolls, which were out of this world. Nobody could make them like Laurida did. Once her reputation was made, she frequently surprised different family members of baking their own special batch of cinnamon rolls. None of her rolls ever made it to the second day.

        When Laurida was dying with cancer, and she knew she did not have long to live, a wedding for one of her daughters was arranged – at the foot of her bed in her home. I don’t think I will ever forget that wedding or that moment. We all felt that while the wedding was not performed in a church, it was performed on “holy ground.” That remains a very sacred moment, and a sacred memory, in my heart. I believe her daughter and her husband will never forget how special their wedding was even though it was not a “church wedding.”

        One day an older couple walked into my study and asked, “Do you remember us?” I drew a blank. I just knew I had never seen these two people before in my whole life. After enjoying my embarrassment for a few minutes, the man told me their names and said, “You married us 38 years ago.” 

        Now armed with their names, and the knowledge that I had married them, I still could not remember what they looked like almost 40 years before. I just took their word for it, and enjoyed a chat with them. Their names I did recall, but that was all.

         Occasionally someone will walk up to me and say, “Do you remember me?” Half the time I cannot remember their name. But I have a standard reply to this question: I always say, “I could never forget a face like yours.” Usually that produces a laugh, which gives me a few more minutes to work overtime trying to recall their name.

        But I have learned not to be terribly embarrassed when someone challenges me to remember his or her name. I simply say, “No, I know I should remember your name, but I don’t. Please help me.” If someone is ticked off by my memory lapse, I am sorry, but I do not punish myself with a guilt trip.

        It is a mystery to me how some things can be remembered and others cannot. As we get older we all excuse ourselves by saying that our memory is failing. And there are terrible diseases which may rob us of our memory altogether.

        We should all be wise to exercise our minds daily and maintain a positive attitude toward our own capacity to remember. Surely it is best never to say, “I have trouble remembering names.” Far better it is to say, “Your name is important to me; tell me your name again so I can write it down.”

        One last favor I request on behalf of all of us old codgers. If you hear one of us telling you a story we have already told you, just indulge us please. It is so embarrassing to have someone say, “You must be getting old; you keep telling the same old stories.”

        If it is a good story, then be thankful for that. And remind yourself, if you are lucky, you will be old yourself one day. Enjoy whatever memory you have; it may not last all your life!