A lunch bag, locks, and two kinds of milk. A lunch bag, locks, and two kinds of milk. A lunch bag...I'm chanting rhythmically to myself as I make my way to the grocery store. A lunch bag for Bob, locks for the backyard gates (because the neighbor kids are sneaking in to visit the dogs when we're not at home), and milk for breakfast.
Easy, right? A short list. I'm not sure how your thirty, forty, fifty-something memory is treating you these days, but mine is a bit like a dog dish on the back deck on a hot summer's morning: all the useful stuff has evaporated by midday, leaving behind only a few clumps of fir and a splotch of drool.
"Hey, Mom? I got 93% on my test."
"No kidding, son? Good job!"
"Mmmhmm?" I'm stirring or cleaning or folding, my mind on other things, but I force my mind to scramble it's way into the present conversation.
"Mom, that's the third time I've told you about that mark."
I stop stirring, cleaning, folding, ruminating. "What? No way. I would have remembered if you'd told me something so important. Are you sure you told me before?"
"Yeah. 'Cause you responded before."
"So, why'd you tell me again?
"Because I usually tell you things three times, even if you respond, so that I'm sure you've heard me."
I toy with the idea that my teenager is messing with my head. He's not serious? He's serious.
I call a friend to go over the details for a birthday we're planning. She listens politely as I ramble off the meeting times and places. She waits for me to take a breath and injects, "So, this is all of the same stuff you told me in your phone message last night, right?"
A phone message? Last night? I didn't leave a message, I'm sure of it. I'd remember that, for sure! Wrong. Bits of fir and a puddle of drool.
I do remember some things.
Like, I remember what it feels like to sit beneath a tree on Grandpa's farm. I remember the fairy-tale feel of the cool breeze and the bony roots and the reaching branches.
I remember the smell in the car-pool lady's car after she'd had her radiation treatments. How old was I then? Ten, eleven?
The woman I babysat for who cheated on her husband with (no kidding!) the milk man, my first car, Dad teaching me to drive a standard (and not ever swearing out loud -- not even in German -- when I nearly spun us into the ditch on a country road), the first teacher to give me a near-failing grade on an English paper, the first teacher to challenge my beliefs about myself, my God, my life -- I remember all of these things.
I remember the pillar-of-the-church man who was offended, weekly, by my bushy eyebrows and "man sized" hands and too-firm grip. How I felt the first time I read "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and when I first encountered God on a just-me level; my first time skiing and that one mean swimming instructor. I remember!
But the grocery list is a little elusive. Four things, I tell myself. You're just picking up four things. I keep walking and chanting, Lunch bag, locks..., allowing myself a bit of a giggle and making a mental note to just write it all on my hand next time (because, Goodness knows, I won't be able to keep track of a piece of paper). If I remember...