I didn’t forget. I just didn’t know I knew that.
Any number of times during a normal day, I reach into my memory banks for some fact, figure or past memory of a place or event and find only a blank spot, like a missing book on a shelf.
I remember that I once knew whatever fact was now missing, but somehow the complicated biology of the brain’s memory-storage system has mislaid the item. Or maybe my brain is just jerking me around. Who knows for sure? And just because the specter of paranoia raises itself doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you. They probably are.
When these senior moments, as they have been termed, occur, I usually just shrug them off. Futile attempts to search for a fact or memory are just like children looking for a lost mitten or clothing item. It simply isn’t going to happen.
I did take a cue from a college buddy who had been a “replacement stutterer” before he was cured with speech therapy. He frequently stumbled over a certain letter combination, but learned to instantly replace it with a substitute word that gave him less trouble. He laughingly related that many times he intended to order a hamburger in a restaurant, but his replacement mechanism ordered a hot dog because it was easier for him to say.
With this face-saving process in mind, I have started to say “Niagara Falls” whenever I can’t come up with a word or phrase. I do it so often that a few dozen friends in South Florida, all from differing parts of the country, are now saying “Niagara Falls” whenever they forget a name, place or event. It can be comical at times to listen to.
“You remember Jill, err, Jill Niagara Falls don’t you?” one will say with a smile. “The one with the big hair and awful golf swing.”
“Oh yeah,” I will say with eyes lighting up and the picture of this nameless Jill person, with the awful golf swing, coming to mind. “Sure, I know who you mean.”
It is an interesting process that serves many of us with failing memories in more effectively communicating and not having to stand there ruminating while a faulty mental retrieval system is not operating properly.
We try to laugh at this mental failing as just one more thing that you have to get used to when you are “over 39.”
Psychologists tell us that children forget much more than adults; they just don’t make a big deal out of it. They mercifully haven’t even heard of Alzheimer’s or dementia. And something out of sight is out of mind for them. The angelic mostri do not have the larger database that we possess after a lifetime of living. In their mental libraries, they have a few books and know every word on their pages for instant recall. After 60 or 70 years, you have several thousand volumes in your mental library. It takes a while to scan through the indexes for the right bit of sought-after information.
So, when you can’t come up with the right answer for a question you hear while watching “Jeopardy!” on television, or can’t recall that street urchin you knew so long ago, don’t worry about it. Just insert “Niagara Falls” into the conversation as a filler. Besides, none of those people from long ago can probably remember your name either.