Cumberland Times-News

Maude McDaniel - Living

May 18, 2013

Feed your memories before they’re used up

Here’s what I’m worrying about this week: the modern pollution of early memory. Don’t get it? Well, that’s why I’m writing this article.

The other day I spotted a grandson (one of mine, that is) happily going through his older brother’s entire collection of Pokemon. At the age of 8 he has just learned to read well, and was being introduced to that vast collection of 20-year-old stories, iconic life adventures, and simplistic tales from, no, not the Bible. Not the Gilgamesh epic, or the Odyssey, all of which are ancient writings that developed out of real life experiences, and give readers age-old insight of what it was like in the early days of being human. Nope, these are the hundreds of stories of Pokemon, all of them invented for money out of whole cloth and connected to nothing in real life except children’s (especially boy children’s) desire for a coherent past upon which they can build a coherent future — preferably (the boys again) with a little violence included.

And my point is? When children are born they come complete with a totally unmarked memory, completely clean as it never will be again to the earliest influences it can dig up. The things you learn when you are very young, will stay with you in some form for the rest of your life. Unlike what you learn later on, including, in my own experience, algebra and plane geometry.

In other words, I believe that the earlier you learn something, the more likely it is to stay with you. (Not that you will always live by the rules you first learned — but you will never forget them!)

Ok, you want an example. Surprise, surprise, I just happen to have one ready right here:

Now as I was growing up, I learned lots of verses from the Bible, and lots of lines from classical poetry, you know, Byron, Keats, Dickinson, Shakespeare. (Well, maybe not a lot of Shakespeare, but I did read Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare in my early teens, and faked it after that.) Apparently, my mind still had some room left, because I did retain the plots, at least until very recently. Can I keep them straight now? No way, Jose. (There, see, even my attempts at slang sound like about 1950 — I still remember some of that era.)

But here’s the thing: the earlier I learned something the better I retained it. I can rip off your common nursery rhymes at the drop of a hat. The first songs I sang in junior choir, easy as pie.

You want an example? Consider my retention of a poem I learned early on in my life, at my father’s urging, as I remember. I was probably about the same age as my grandson who recently fell into Pokemon — say, about 8. Like his elder brother, he will probably take on Ugly Dolls later, still another recent innovation of boys’ toys, complete with individual backstories that have no earthly connection with real life or history. (I admit that American Girls, the dolls that come with real life-connected histories are the exception to this.)

And even if I have talked about this before, it’s worth another look for both of my readers. I cannot do algebra anymore; I have been known to forget words to music I am singing, and prayers I am saying. But I have never never never forgotten the immortal words of “Behold the Mighty Dinosaur” learned at about the age of seven, when my memory was fresh and green, and I barely even got the joke. I didn’t take Latin for another eight years or so, but you don’t have to know Latin to smile at it. (Okay, humor was different in those days.)

Behold the mighty dinosaur,

Famous in prehistoric lore,

Not only for his weight and length,

But for his intellectual strength.

You will observe, by these remains,

The creature had two separate brains,

One in his head, the usual place —

The other at his spinal base.

Thus he could reason “a priori”

As well as “a posteriori.”

 If there was anything after that, I don’t remember because when I got the laugh I never finished it Anyway, my point is that of all things I have ever learned, this one I memorized when my memory was still basically uncluttered. And this one is the one that I have retained all these years. We should be trying to find wonderful learning experiences for children with uncluttered memories — preferably with a touch of humor — but, please, not Pokemon with its fake histories, or any more of those children’s toys that prize killing (even the killing of bad guys) over, say, good will, friendship, and giving help in times of need, Ideas we will retain all our lives, because we heard them when our memories were not already used up on junk.

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.

1
Text Only
Maude McDaniel - Living
  • Very first memories of a very long life

    July 27, 2014

  • July gotcha down? Maybe these will help

    •In a hospital's Intensive Care Unit, patients always died in the same bed on Sunday morning, at about 11:00 a.m., regardless of their medical condition. This puzzled the doctors and some even thought it had something to do with the super natural. No one could solve the mystery as to why the deaths occurred around 11 a.m. Sunday, so a worldwide team of experts was assembled to investigate the cause of the incidents. The next Sunday morning, a few minutes before 11 a.m. all of the doctors and nurses nervously waited outside the ward to see for themselves what the terrible phenomenon was all about. Some were holding wooden crosses, prayer books, and other holy objects to ward off the evil spirits. Just when the clock struck 11, Pookie Johnson, the part-time Sunday sweeper, entered the ward and unplugged the life support system so he could use the vacuum cleaner.

    July 13, 2014

  • Hiccup cure you may find hard to swallow

    Let’s give a cheer for one of the things in the human experience that the scientific researchers haven’t fully figured out yet: how to cure hiccups! Somehow it kind of restores your faith in the world, doesn’t it?
    But don’t think they haven’t tried.

    June 28, 2014

  • She learned to laugh with relatives’ help

    Sometimes there are people in our lives whom we have never credited with all the influence they had on us when we were growing up.And now it is too late to thank them personally. I am about 50 years past due on this one (or two) but maybe somehow, somewhere they will get a hint of it — and — smile. Fondly, I think..

    June 15, 2014

  • Signs of aging and what comes with it

    It’s been awhile since I last informed you of new signs of old age, and meanwhile none of us have gotten any younger. (I’m working on it, I’m working on it.) I find one of the best things I can do to stay young is to read the obituaries. It reminds you that you are still alive and there are times in one’s life when that can be a serious concern. Of course, the trick is to avoid reading the obituaries for people you know, first checking the pictures for familiar faces. But for the folks you never met, they are remarkably invigorating, especially if they were older than you are. It gives you a goal in life — and we all need goals, right?

    June 1, 2014

  • Torn between failing in two different fields

    Which do I like better, singing or writing?
    That's a tough question to answer.
    Singing's got it all over writing as far as when I started (at about 5 in the church choir) but writing is certainly a close second. I have somewhere a collection of poems that I wrote from about eight on and I have the feeling that they are lost for a reason! As I remember, they were pretty awful, not at all the kind of effort an aspiring writer would be proud to quote 75 years later!

    May 19, 2014

  • Bad habits are hard to eliminate — but try

    Somebody mentioned smoking on these pages recently, so I thought I'd put in my own two cents on the subject. I started smoking in college, during exam week. The problem was that I was too busy during the rest of the year ever to stop and study for my courses — at least that is what I told myself — because I worked almost every night on the college newspaper. So when exam time kicked in, I threw some all-nighters for study. And the best way to stay awake all night (especially if you don't regularly smoke) is to, well, smoke.

    May 4, 2014

  • Trivial questions you don’t have to answer

    Every so often in this life, my mind, all on its own, generates questions that have no real answers. So I have decided to pass them on to you. I’m tired of them. If you come up with any answers, let me know. Remember when TV jealously guarded the time zone before 9 p.m. for wholesome shows that children could watch. My gosh, how many years ago was that? It seems like another world nowadays, when you can see murders, torture and rape, or those implied, every hour on the hour, somewhere on your public screen. It might be comforting then, to remember that most children nowadays are glued to their little machines with whole different worlds on them, that they can access all day long. Except that in these different worlds they also can view murders, torture and rape on demand.

    April 20, 2014

  • Rusty writes about the nature of doghood

    I am a dog.
    Therefore I bark.
    I don’t understand why it is so hard for humans to understand this.
    I mean, there are certain things that come with the territory, right?

    April 5, 2014

  • Free-range reminiscing and occasional nostalgia

    When I was in grade school, (many more years ago than when either of you were in grade school) my daily winter (fall, spring) routine included walking to school across a railroad track.

    March 22, 2014

Latest news
Facebook
Must Read
House Ads