memories of The Charleston Shufflers


Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot
But he’ll remember, with advantages
What feats he did that day.

Shakespeare, Henry V, St. Crispin’s Day Speech

I’ve been having “senior moments” lately.  Since my heart issue three years ago, but I guess it’s about time for me anyway.

Words on the tip of my tongue – my mind knows it knows the bon mot, I see the shape of it, but recollection slips around it, gets absorbed, like Star Trek phasor beams on an impenetrable force field.   I say good morning to someone at the office but say the name of someone I went to high school with a similar last name.  I smile at someone with a cheery “Hey! How’s things?” before I remember that their mother died last week.

I was taught that the brain remembers everything, no moment your mind registers ever gets deleted, just filed deeper and deeper, never gets lost.  Now I read that neuroscientists are rethinking that; that your memories do disappear, fade away as their tiny bits of static between neurons fizzes away, and neurons and ganglia die, reshape, peel away from the past like sunflowers seeking after the sun as it travels.

Recent research reveals Alzheimer’s is not the brain’s inability to remember or remember properly, but the opposite.  The weakening of the filters that gatekeep all that you brain holds so you can process and work through the present moment effectively and safely.  My imagination is so thorough that I worry I will remember things that I merely thought about – women I wanted to be with, plays I intended to write, yelling I wanted to do but held my tongue.

When my grandfather was in the last days of his life, laying in a nursing home bed, he recounted to my father how when he was a young man he played banjo in a  group called The Charleston Shufflers.  Sounds like it was fun, and I can picture my grandfather picking away, hunched around his banjo, bobbing his head to the rhythm, his concentration and his tight jaw hiding his exuberance, until he would suddenly look up with a big surprised-looking smile.  But my father told us he’d never heard of that before.  His father had played the ukulele when he would come across one, on a lark, but had never played or mentioned the banjo, never before mentioned playing with any group called The Charleston Shufflers.

One of the reasons I decided to write 365 blogs this year – as uneventful as my life has been and as dull as I’ve become – is to dig in and pin down like butterflies in a glass case what I forgot I forgot.

But as I write, life becomes story.  Life and story constantly grapple with each other in our media-driven world.  Or at least in my head, as I’ve said here before.

I bet you, if I make it to a nursing home bed, little to do all day and little to look forward to and my mind just wandering, I’ll remember how my father telling us about my grandfather’s errant memory of The Charleston Shufflers had brought back memories of myself listening to him skiffle on the banjo in some Depression Era dancehall 30 years before I was born.

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