Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Memories--Misty Memories

Yesterday a friend of mine from high school and elementary school contacted me via Facebook.  I recognized her from the picture even though her last name had changed.  We exchanged a few emails in past few days and she told me that she had found our high school chemistry teacher online and that lead her to search for others from that time period.

I do not have any memory of my high school chemistry teacher or any other high school teacher, except for  my Trig and Calculus teacher who I had for 2 years.  And I do not remember her name.  I did not even remember that the high school chemistry teacher was a man (unusual at my Catholic girls' school) and that he was very young when he taught us--same age as my next older sister.  I learned all these facts by doing some research on him.  He became a renowned neuroscientist  with major finds in the area of adult stem cell and Alzheimer's research.  He was chair of the medical faculty and neuroscience faculty at UCI, which means he has lived 50 miles away from me while doing all these amazing things in science for the past almost 40 years. (I took hs chemistry in 1969-70).  And he is going to be playing himself (!) on Criminal Minds tonight for what I understand is a theory he developed about violence running in families that have experienced extreme trauma .  I set my Tivo to record the show, in part because I am wondering if I will recognize his voice and that will bring back memories of his teaching me.

This matter of memory is fascinating and frightening at the same time.  I live with a parent whose memory is clearly deteriorating, much to her own sadness as well as ours.  I have talked to others about their experiences with their parents' memories declining.   Everyone talks about the problems of what I call the "loops" which are a sign of working memory problems.  The loop is the person asking a question, getting an answer and then a few minutes later asking the same question again--rinse and repeat many times.   My problem is not a working memory issue.  It is a complete loss of memory of certain aspects of certain periods of my life.  I remember my friends and classmates for the most part from high school.  Why do I not remember the teachers?  I vaguely recall the social science teacher with whom I took history for a few years and did an independent study my senior year.  No name, just an image.  As I said, I also recall my math teacher--but again no name.  Oddly enough I remember two nuns-- my 8th grade teacher who I rudely called (privately of course) "Bowser" and the infamous Sister Charles at my high school who taught latin and typing, neither of which I took.  I cannot recall the real name of the 8th grade nun.  But then I remember my kindergarten and first grade teachers,  Sr. Irene and Sr. Eileen as well as my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Gavigan.

Memories are a funny thing.  I think my working memory is still pretty good but these gaps in longer term memory are mystifying.  I see my mother in law also not remembering longer term events but then at times she had very good memories, or so she claims, of events from her childhood.  Maybe my old chemistry teacher--now famous neuroscientist-- can explain it to me.  Hopefully I will remember the explanation.

No comments: