Don Rogers: That sieve, memory
An older friend I made when I began here in 2016 called the other day to talk about the paper. I hadn’t heard from her in awhile and, well, I’ve been here just long enough for new friends to pass on. Great to hear her voice.
“How are you!?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” I replied. Told her a little of what’s going on in my life, then remembered to ask how she was doing.
“Oh, not so good, I’m afraid,” she said. “I’m losing my mind.”
Something in her voice told me this wasn’t the eye-rolling, ohmygod, life’s so busy I think I’m losing my mind. She meant dementia. Maybe Alzheimer’s, I don’t know. That’s the most common.
“It’s funny,” she said. “I always prided myself on my mind, and now I’m losing it. My body is perfectly fine.” She chuckled, wistful.
I was glad we were on the phone. In person, she might have seen me tear up. That’s not a thing I do, a stoic. For sad movies maybe, as my wife likes to remind. Real life? I was dry-eyed pouring my father’s ashes into the sea off Waikiki, even smiling at what blew back at me on the transom, bobbing, water so warm and blue, sun bright, plumeria flowers floating white and purple.
A Brit novel I’m reading, “I Still Dream,” is about a woman who creates an artificial intelligence that nudges on sentient and in her later years loses her own memories. The AI creates, in large part by re-creation, a mind even closer to what you and I would consider conscious after she’s gone.
Twice this month I’ve had lunch with older guys who lamented their wives’ short-term memory lapses. The implication is decline. Theirs bodily, their wives more like my friend.
A woman came to visit me at the office with hot type-era newspaper memorabilia. She reminisced about an early job out of college at a paper, showed me a print mat for the press I’d never seen before, old pages, yellowing worksheets for creating advertisements.
Then in afterthought, something she almost forgot, she pulled out a three-ring binder of printouts of her blog over the years chronicling her mother’s last years with Alzheimer’s. Writing about it helped somehow.
A short story I’m critiquing for a workshop this weekend begins: “My memory is a sieve.”
All of this over the past couple of weeks, maybe less. I wonder about metamessaging sometimes. What’s the universe saying here, exactly?
My grandmother was cheerful, and nearly 100. We talked and talked over the phone one night. She was, like, 2-foot-2, from an enormous family in a Texas Hill Country town that no longer exists, one of a dozen sisters. I remember that. She dyed her hair red after it went, well, you know. And she was as fierce as all that, believe me.
My grandfather was shrewd, kind of a Renaissance man who at 16 hopped a train to New York City from Anniston, Alabama. I’m certain he had the same twinkle in the eye I knew back when he won the heart of a fiery country redhead who roomed with an older sister in the Big Apple. He wrote poetry, pitched for a semipro baseball team, and drove oil trucks for Union 76.
He and Grandma preceded the Giants and their beloved Dodgers out west to San Francisco and then Los Angeles, where he bet his savings on a Union 76 gas station downtown. He made his first fortune shrinking the station to accommodate more parking, then the second selling the property for what became a skyscraper. Family lore has my mother, or maybe my aunt, conceived on the Golden Gate Bridge.
In retirement, at least, their passion was the Dodgers. If not at the stadium, then on television, TV trays in a spare bedroom where the big screen of the day was tuned always to the team, in my memory anyway.
I can mark growing pains in my ankles there, still wearing my Little League uniform. Stopping by when in town as an adult, trying on Nike sneakers Grandpa insisted on giving me. We wore the same size. He advised me to get into soap operas — I was good looking enough, he and Grandma thought. I laughed, knowing better, saying I was fine beating dirt for endless hours with the Forest Service.
They showed me his poetry when I began to write. This was who they were, once taking me to every game they could at Dodger Stadium when I was a boy with big dreams playing shortstop for Fairmont Enterprises.
Grandpa died at 86 and Grandma ticked on, still a huge fan. We talked that night forever. She told me that while she didn’t get out to the games anymore, she still watched them all and listened to that kid, Vin Scully. She gave me her analysis of the boys, who should be playing second base now, the pitchers, all of it. She was fond of the manager, Tommy Lasorda. Come to think of it, they had similar personalities.
At the end, she said she really enjoyed our conversation. Then she paused.
“Who are you, again?” she asked.
“I’m Donny,” I said, at first thinking Grandma was joking. “Don Rogers. … Junior.”
“I knew a Don Rogers once,” she mused. “He married my daughter.”
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299
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