hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

April 10, 2014

A date that never sticks to memory

Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — How are you at remembering important dates? I hope you’re better than I am.

I once stood someone up for a blind date because I was mindless and forgot the engagement. When it comes to remembering birthdays and anniversaries, I’m usually in a canoe without a paddle.

I often get chastised, especially if it’s my wife. With the children and grandchildren, I can afford to have a memory lapse. My wife is usually on top of those matters. She handles it. She gets the gifts. I write the cards — if I can only remember who’s who and not get the names mixed up.

With three grown children and six of their offspring, that’s a lot of remembering to control. I do keep a calendar, but often forget to record the names. My son composed a calendar for me with all the significant dates.

More often than not, I forget to check it over and miss the date. I do remember my own birthday and will never forget my wife’s simply because we got married on that day. It was a 2-for-1 deal. Some people suspect I did that to refrain from buying an extra gift.

That’s just the way it worked out — five days after Valentine’s Day. And the only reason I remember that is because you can’t go into a store without being reminded. And usually right after Christmas.

I jot the day down and stick he note to the panel inside my car as a constant reminder. On comes Feb. 14 and out comes the flowers. I once went to the florist a day early, just to be on top of things, and found a nice cool spot in the attic to hide the vase.

Nobody said a word. Valentine’s Day came and went. It wasn’t until a day or two later when the reminder came.

“Did you know what day it was yesterday?”

“National Barbershop Singing Day?” I retorted.

“Cupid. Hearts. Love.”

Upstairs I dashed, retrieving the vase I had carefully hidden in the attic.

“Better late than never,” I gushed. “Hey, I had the flowers all along.”

Truth is, if I don’t write it down and stick the note somewhere obvious like a pillow or the toilet seat, I’ll forget. I’ve been known to tie string around my finger and forget why it was there hours later.

My friends offer this advice: Try to remember, especially when it comes to people who owe you money. Life would be more pleasant if we could forget our troubles and remember our blessings.

Perhaps the trouble is this: There are just too many things to recall in the course of a day or a week. I have a friend who has a photographic memory. He remembers everything: Dates, events, historical facts and prominent occasions.

While I cannot remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday, he knows what he ate for dinner a week ago. I cannot remember a joke. He knows them all and can bore you to death at a single interval.

He knows the dates of the Magna Carter signing, when the Nuremburg Trials took place and the Battle of the Hastings. For the record, that took place in 1066. I didn’t look that up. He told me.

If memory serves me right, and if doesn’t, I can no longer recall the ages of my six grandchildren, much less my own kids. I cannot remember what grade they attend in school. Sometimes, and this is bad, I address one child by name and it’s someone else’s.

“Of course I know who you are,” I tell a granddaughter. “I was just testing you.”

Maybe I could get away with it for a 3-year-old. But 10? When they all have the same starting initial, one is as close as the other. I didn’t name them.

“Hi Rex. How’s school going these days?”

“Nice try, Papa. I’m Rocco. Rex is the naughty one.”

“Oh!”

“Nice outfit, Mazie.”

“I’m Mila. You said I’m your favorite.”

Actually, I tell all my grandchildren that, even if it gets me into trouble sometimes.

I must tell you that despite my occasional memory loss, I’m a lot better off than some people I know who have Alzheimer’s or dementia. They can no longer remember their loved ones, much less the lapse that compounded their illness.

I grieve for the caregivers, those who work in an arena of futility. It is especially hard for them, not the victim. My buddy Ted DeRoche visited his Alzheimer’s-stricken wife inside an institution most every day for eight years.

After she passed, there was no alternative. He continued going to that home and mingling with the other residents.

And at age 90, he still remembers his first climb atop Mount Washington decades ago.

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.