My Prodigious Memory

Posted by: Duane Hiatt in Commentaries Add comments

This thought popped into my head the other night, “One of the good things about growing older is that you are surrounded by wonderful memories. Unfortunately yours is not one of them.”

Actually I have a prodigious memory, if I remember correctly what that word means. For example, yesterday I found my self singing this piece of wisdom literature:

“Cream of Wheat is so good to eat that we have it every day

We sing this song ‘cause it makes us strong, and it makes us shout ‘Hooray’.”

I could go on with the song, but that would just be showing off. Sufficient to say it floated to the top of my memory pond from all the Saturday mornings we children huddled around the radio to hear dramatized fairy tales in a program titled Let’s Pretend. We enjoyed the stories and enjoyed even more postponing our chores. Why the sponsor’s jingle revisited me these decades later I have no idea.

I also remember skills and abilities from way back.  I can still tie my own shoes, and on a good day I can keep a moving bicycle upright.  I can remember things from so far back I can’t remember when I learned them; things like saying “Mama” although those two syllables don’t take care of my needs the way they used to

Unless you have stopped reading this already which is understandable, you will identify with me somewhere here. My incredible memory is about the same as yours. We all have impressive memories. The reason we don’t think so is that other people seem to have even better memories. How about these examples from the latest issue of “Popular Science” magazine.

In 2007 Stephen Wiltshire flew over the Thames River in London for 15 minutes, then, from memory sketched seven square miles of London’s streets, rivers, and buildings, precise down to the windows.

Blind since birth, Leslie Lemke has a verbal IQ of 58, but his musical IQ is off the charts. At age 14 he and his family watched a movie containing a Tchaikovsky piano concerto. Hours later, his mother awoke to hear Leslie playing it from memory. He now can play thousands of songs without referring to the printed music.

Flo and Kay Lyman, identical-twins can tell you what they had for dinner, what they were wearing, the weather, and what they were doing on any day of their lives.

Daniel Tammet can recite pi to 22,514 decimals, master a new language in a week and instantly do heavy duty math in his head such as computing 37 to the power of 4. (The answer is: 1,874,161 in case you haven’t already got it.)

My favorite is a local boy from Ogden, Utah, named Kim Peek.  Kim, who died in 2009, was the inspiration for the movie Rain Man. Kim could read both pages of an open book at the same time, one page with each eye. Then he could close the book and give you a verbatim report of what was in it.  He was a walking encyclopedia having read it and 16,000 other books. . He could give you street directions to uncounted cities throughout the world, and on sight add up columns of numbers in the phone book.

Doesn’t seem fair does it, that we should stumble around on the same planet with these streaking mental gazelles or savants as they are called by the people who study them.

But the scales seem better balanced when you know the limitations these geniuses have to live with. Little things that we do from memory without thinking are insurmountable challenges to them. Kim had to be assisted in buttoning his shirt and in climbing stairs.

I also remember the words of one of my favorite newspaper columnists, the late Sydney Harris. He provided consolation to those of us who find words on the tip of our tongue but can’t quite spit them out.

He wrote, “In this world there has been much more sorrow and sadness caused by remembering than by forgetting.” That may not be exactly what he said, but that’s how I remember it.

This thought popped into my head the other night, “One of the good things about growing older is that you are surrounded by wonderful memories. Unfortunately yours is not one of them.”

Actually I have a prodigious memory, if I remember correctly what that word means. For example, yesterday I found my self singing this piece of wisdom literature:

“Cream of Wheat is so good to eat that we have it every day

We sing this song ‘cause it makes us strong, and it makes us shout ‘Hooray’.”

I could go on with the song, but that would just be showing off. Sufficient to say it floated to the top of my memory pond from all the Saturday mornings we children huddled around the radio to hear dramatized fairy tales in a program titled Let’s Pretend. We enjoyed the stories and enjoyed even more postponing our chores. Why the sponsor’s jingle revisited me these decades later I have no idea.

I also remember skills and abilities from way back.  I can still tie my own shoes, and on a good day I can keep a moving bicycle upright.  I can remember things from so far back I can’t remember when I learned them; things like saying “Mama” although those two syllables don’t take care of my needs the way they used to

Unless you have stopped reading this already which is understandable, you will identify with me somewhere here. My incredible memory is about the same as yours. We all have impressive memories. The reason we don’t think so is that other people seem to have even better memories. How about these examples from the latest issue of “Popular Science” magazine.

In 2007 Stephen Wiltshire flew over the Thames River in London for 15 minutes, then, from memory sketched seven square miles of London’s streets, rivers, and buildings, precise down to the windows.

Blind since birth, Leslie Lemke has a verbal IQ of 58, but his musical IQ is off the charts. At age 14 he and his family watched a movie containing a Tchaikovsky piano concerto. Hours later, his mother awoke to hear Leslie playing it from memory. He now can play thousands of songs without referring to the printed music.

Flo and Kay Lyman, identical-twins can tell you what they had for dinner, what they were wearing, the weather, and what they were doing on any day of their lives.

Daniel Tammet can recite pi to 22,514 decimals, master a new language in a week and instantly do heavy duty math in his head such as computing 37 to the power of 4. (The answer is: 1,874,161 in case you haven’t already got it.)

My favorite is a local boy from Ogden, Utah, named Kim Peek.  Kim, who died in 2009, was the inspiration for the movie Rain Man. Kim could read both pages of an open book at the same time, one page with each eye. Then he could close the book and give you a verbatim report of what was in it.  He was a walking encyclopedia having read it and 16,000 other books. . He could give you street directions to uncounted cities throughout the world, and on sight add up columns of numbers in the phone book.

Doesn’t seem fair does it, that we should stumble around on the same planet with these streaking mental gazelles or savants as they are called by the people who study them.

But the scales seem better balanced when you know the limitations these geniuses have to live with. Little things that we do from memory without thinking are insurmountable challenges to them. Kim had to be assisted in buttoning his shirt and in climbing stairs.

I also remember the words of one of my favorite newspaper columnists, the late Sydney Harris. He provided consolation to those of us who find words on the tip of our tongue but can’t quite spit them out.

He wrote, “In this world there has been much more sorrow and sadness caused by remembering than by forgetting.” That may not be exactly what he said, but that’s how I remember it.

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