I may have to stop going out in public. I think my memory has officially reached its limit.
I used to hear that we use only ten percent of our brain, although that has been debunked as a myth. Still, I think ninety percent of my brain is clogged up with trivial stuff that I really don’t need. I know who played the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island, how many home runs Hank Aaron hit in 1969, and the name of the lead singer of the Archies. I have yet to make a dime from any of those fun facts, which are forever etched in my memory. So why don’t I remember so many people I have actually met?
Several times a day, a somewhat familiar looking person will walk up to me and say, “You don’t remember me, do you?” As much as I want to say, “Nope, can’t say that I do,” that would be rude. Instead, I go the diplomatic route. “Goodness, yes,” I say. “But it’s been a long time. Help me out a little.” Thus begins the journey down a rabbit hole with no escape.
I’ve been active in my community for a long time. Radio, TV, public appearances. I’ve interviewed a lot of people. I’ve emceed hundreds of beauty pageants, talent shows, and political forums. I’ve spoken to church groups, civic clubs, and anywhere else with two cars in the driveway.
So when I subtly ask for a hint of someone’s identity, they say, “You know. I’m the one you interviewed about that car wreck.” Or, “I won third runner up in that Little Miss Peach Pie contest in 1982. I was four.” (“Oh, yeah,” I’ll say, “and you haven’t changed a bit!”)
Sometimes I try to fake my way out of it. A few years ago, a lady came up to me at the store. She seemed to know everything about me, my family, and my career. She looked familiar. After she had quizzed me for updates on my wife, kids, and parents (she knew them all by name), I used my best investigative skills to solve this nagging mystery.
“What’s your husband doing these days?” I asked. “Oh, same old thing. He’s still working down at the plant. He’ll probably stay there ‘til he retires.” No luck. I dug deeper. “What about your parents?” She said, “They’re doing great. Dad just retired, so Mama and him are just taking care of the place, doin’ a little traveling.” I gave it one more shot, hoping she might name some of our mutual acquaintances. That might solve the mystery. “Have you heard from any of our friends lately?” I asked. “Not really,” she said. “I see some of them on Facebook, showing off their pets and grandkids.” Well, THAT really narrows it down.
I wanted to give up and say, “So, who the heck are you, anyway?” but I couldn’t. I was in too deep. I still have no idea who that was.
That reminds me of a day I spent with Chattanooga radio legend Luther Masingill. He accompanied me to my first book signing. I needed to draw a crowd, and he was the biggest celebrity in town. Sure enough, lots of folks showed up, most of whom were hoping for a chance to chat with Luther.
One by one, they filed by our table, and each had a memory to share with the 90-year-old man who had touched their lives. A white-haired lady said, “Luther, I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I knew your mother. She worked with my aunt at the hosiery mill.” Luther would smile and say, “Absolutely! Now what was her name?” “It was Betty,” she replied. “That’s right, Betty,” Luther would say. “Mama used to really like her!”
Next in line was another older lady. “Luther, I know you don’t remember me, but my sister Louise and I used to double date with you and your brother Charles.” Luther would respond, “Goodness, yes! Those were the good old days.”
This went on for hours. At the end of the day I said, “Luther, these folks are bringing up stories from sixty, seventy years ago, and you know every one of them. How do you remember them all?”
He winked and said, “I don’t. I just pretend!” He was the master. I will have to get better at pretending.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor and author, can be reached by mail at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.