Hometown Memories

3 10 2010

One of the most important lessons I have learned thus far in the last half of my life is that I can have a very clear, detailed memory and that memory be incorrect.  I guess this phenomena is similar to what causes witnesses to recall the same event with considerable diversity of remembered details.  I read somewhere that the brain fills in the blank spots of a memory when that memory is recalled.  Human thought is in the form of pictures.  When memories/pictures are recalled, the brain will fill in any blank spots in that image.  For example, if a car was parked on the street where an accident happened nearby, a witness may well recall that a car was parked on the street but the make, model or color of the car may not be recalled at the same time the overall image of the accident scene is brought into the conscious mind.  The brain sort of proofreads the image and fills in any blanks with the most likely detail but not necessary the most accurate detail.  That is why a blue car can be remembered as a black car.

I first became aware of this false memory concept back some twenty years ago.  During one of those many times in my life when, along with several of my buddies, I tried to drink all the beer in Southern Indiana, I found myself retelling a story from our glory days.  As I concluded my tale, several of my friends remembered the story differently.

After thinking about their version, it dawned on me that they must be correct even though my memory of the event was unchanged.  I concluded that I simply did not remember the event correctly.  As my friends pointed out to me, one of the key individuals in my story had died in a mountain climbing accident three years prior to the time that my story took place.  I remembered the timeframe of the event correctly, just not all the details.

That narrative sets forth the context for what I hope to be several future blog posts.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I moved back to my hometown of Princeton, IN in order to take care of my 81-year-old mother who is suffering from Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer.  After making the 250-mile round trip from our home to Princeton approximately once a week for the last year (she was diagnosed in September, 2009) taking her to her chemo treatments and doctor appointments along with restocking her groceries, she is now at that point where she can no longer safely drive or effectively take care of her own everyday needs such as bathing, cooking, or administering medication.  I suspect this whole experience of caring for a parent through the end-of-life process will be something I write about at some point but not now.

I want to focus on the memories I am experiencing on a daily basis as I navigate around my hometown after being born and raised here and then leaving in 1972.  I have come back throughout the years to visit my parents, other family members and two of my lifetime friends.

On previous visits to Princeton over the years I would, of course, have memories of everything from childhood experiences to more contemporary happenings such as golf scrambles, old-timer softball games and family get-togethers.  However, those are memories more in the flashback vein than something of substance.  Over the last week and a half I have intentionally made an effort to drive on different streets throughout Princeton with the purpose of seeing what I remember and what has changed.

I hope over the next few of months as we care for my mother that I can sort out some things from my past, validate or discredit memories and hopefully, rid myself of some demons.

Later:

-gw-

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