Sometimes, when you are old, the memories from your past flutter by like butterflies in the Fall. They can be just as difficult to capture unless someone is there to help you.
Mamaw turned 93 a few weeks ago and we have to admit that she has considerable dementia. Yet, if I am with her at just the right moment in time and ask the right questions, occasionally the stories of old, although brief, unfold.
Today, we were talking about why my hair isn’t gray yet. I remembered that my grandmother’s hair was late in turning; so I asked about my great grandmother, Dee Dee, too. Neither of us remembered a time when her hair wasn’t gray. So I guess I’ve been lucky.
I also ask about my great great grandmother. “Mamaw,” I said, “do you remember Dee Dee’s mother?” “Well, of course.” Mamaw replied. I asked her what the woman’s name was and quick as a wink she said “Grammaw.” I said, “no, what is her real name?” She gave me the same answer and told me that Grammaw was all she was ever as called. Mamaw told me that Grammaw lived out on the farm in Oklahoma with her brother, Will, who had a wagon. Of course, I was thinking a little red wagon, but Will’s wagon was the big kind pulled by horses. Once, Mamaw said the family had her go to town with Will. She told me that she hid in the back of the wagon so no one in town would see her. Can’t you just see a little girl doing that?
Next, Mamaw told me that once someone in town died and she was sent out to the farm to tell Grammaw about it. She couldn’t remember how she got out there and with that, this day’s memories fluttered on and left us behind. I’ve learned there is no point in asking more probing questions; this only proves frustrating and, for Mamaw, painful.
Although I learned this years ago from my studies, today it was even more apparent that emotion has a big affect on memory. Whether it’s happiness, sadness, embarrassment or another emotion, feelings at the time of one of life’s episodes help a person retain the memory. It is also apparent that feelings at the time when a person is trying to remember can also affect the story. When Mamaw is upset, weary or frustrated, she answers most questions with “I don’t know; I just don’t know.” At that point, it’s definitely time to stop asking.
Some say emotions are fickle and perhaps that’s true, but when and if they are just right, feelings can help us capture those memories as they flutter by. I just hope I’m around when things are “just right” for Mamaw.