My memory for names and faces has been rather poor for years, and as I grow older it doesn’t improve, to say the least. I am not disoriented; I do in fact always remember family members and good friends, but because of my work and family situation, I meet a lot of people for brief periods of time. The new or seldom-seen acquaintances can touch off a mini social disaster for me.
Too often, I have thrust my hand out to introduce myself to someone I met five minutes earlier. One time, I introduced myself to someone who had spent a whole weekend at our house several years earlier. On another occasion, we arranged to drive to a restaurant with one couple and to return with the other couple in our party of six, and I forgot which couple we drove with first.
Most embarrassing are the times when I take a chance and try to bluff my way out of a memory lapse. Once, I thought I was doing so well with a woman who looked vaguely familiar that I ended our supermarket aisle conversation with, “Say hello to David for me.” When she said, “who?” I jauntily replied, “Why, your husband.” She barked, “I’m single and you don’t know who I am.” Believe me, I have committed a myriad of similar social gaffes that make me blush to recall them.
The worst episode, however, occurred years ago, when both of our sons married within a few months of each other. The young couples lived out of town, as did both of our sons’ new in-laws. In my own defense, both of the new mothers-in-law were short, trim women with blond hair. Their names were Toby and Doris and for the name-challenged reader, Pauline is the only other name you must remember to follow this story.
After one son’s wedding, his mother-in-law, Toby, visited us for the Thanksgiving weekend. The next day Toby was my guest at my regular Friday morning water exercise class. After we tiptoed into the pool, just before the class was to begin, I took Toby over to meet the teacher, Pauline.
With hearty confidence, I said, “Meet Doris” (the name of the other mother-in-law). Both Toby and Pauline smiled and graciously addressed each other in unison: “Hello Doris,” “Hello, Doris.” A rapid-fire exchange ensued: “I’m not Doris,” said one. “I’m not Doris,” said the other. “You’re Doris!” “You’re Doris!” And then a duet: “Who’s Doris? Who’s Doris?” followed by silence as both turned to look at me quizzically, waiting for the explanation I could not give.
At first I had been as bewildered as they were. Why were they both saying, “Doris?” Then, familiar feelings of dread swept through me as I realized I had said the wrong mother-in-law’s name.
The pool floor was a disappointment. It didn’t open beneath me to take me away or, even better, to drown me. So I resorted to smiling sheepishly, simulating a coughing fit, shaking my head and shrugging my shoulders, praying for the exercise class to begin.
When I swap, “Who’s got the worst memory” stories with equally inept friends, this one always gets a good laugh. It happened so long ago that the grandchild from that marriage will soon graduate from high school. But even now, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night feeling very warm, seeing those two pairs of eyes and hearing those two voices asking me, “Who’s Doris?”