Archives for posts with tag: Life on the Mississippi

xmas1987In 1987 I stood in for a tree when my sisters and our parents celebrated Christmas together for the last time in their tiny apartment. In 1988 Father died of an aneurism, in 1990 Mother died in her sleep, in 2002 Tanis (necklace) died of a stroke and in 2016 Enid (bow) died from Alzheimer’s disease. We all have to go some time and I think of them with love. One thing I know for sure is that neither you nor I want to die of or see anyone else die of Alzheimer’s, like Enid. Here’s what I do to score little victories that bring back one memory at a time:

1. Don’t panic if you are out shopping and can’t remember where you parked you car, have just jumped into the driver’s seat and can’t remember where you are going, or have gone down the basement to get something but can’t remember what. Pause, take a deep breath, keep quiet and tell yourself everything is going to be OK. The information is still inside and you can get it back. Then go over in your mind what you can remember doing just before you got blocked. Wait patiently until the missing information pops back.

2. After having a scare like this, I spend time just taking extra care of my memory. It needs to be exercised just as much as any part of the body. I do regular basic home exercises, if nothing else such as swimming is available. They make blood flow to my head and nourish my brain cells.

3. Practice and rehearsing are the keys. Before education was reformed in the sixties, children were taught ‘by rote’ in school. They had to memorize and recite poems and lessons. Before the days of TV, people put on recitals and concerts where poems as well as music were performed. Anyone who has read Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi knows how the river captains had to stretch their minds to an amazing capacity to accommodate mounds of changing, life-saving information. I know a pianist who glows to talk about how her memory has grown with each long performance piece she commits to it.

4. On the scale of my life, I have at least learned to go grocery shopping without a list and not forget anything. It is a big satisfaction! I make the list at home and then use a mnemonic, such as memorizing the first letter of each item on my list and reciting it to myself a few times. If I forget something in the store, I pause and try to remember it — or else do without!

5. The memory game or puzzle I like best is Sudoku. My performance on it indicates what shape my memory and ability to focus are in. After not having done it for months, I unloaded it for free on my ipad and found I had relapsed to the ‘easy’ level whereas I used to be at ‘difficult.’ I’m doing a few puzzles each day to try to climb back up again. A bit of pigheadedness probably helps fight off the Alzheimer Scrooge too.

Happy Preparing for Your Memorable, Unforgettable Family Christmas Holiday Time!


Cover of "Life on The Mississippi"

Cover of Life on The Mississippi

In his autobiographical memoir Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain says there’s been nothing else in the world like the marvelous science of piloting a steamboat on the world’s longest river.
Starting out as a teenager, he found he had got to learn “more than any one man ought to be allowed to know.” A pilot had to “get the entire river by heart and know it like abc.” Not only that, but because of the shifting currents and winds and tides, he must learn it again every 24 hours. An old landmark tree might have fallen over or a new shoal been formed.
In his tribute to pilots and Memory he writes,
“What a tremendous thing it is to know every trivial detail of 1200 miles of river and know it with absolute exactness.”
“Astonishing things can be done with the memory if you will devote it faithfully to one line of business.”
“I loved the profession (of piloting) far better than any I have followed since and I took a measureless pride in it.”
As a writer, I love to exercise my memory but it is not the only profession dependent on it. What about television reporters and actors who memorize their lines with grace at the same time as they address an audience?
Another fact of our society is widespread concern over ending up as an Alzheimer victim. At a recent video conference on memory I learned that 75% of elderly people will not suffer from it. However, the memory does age and become less acute, just as eyesight and hearing do. Tips I picked up to help cope are:

  • – your chances are good; cheer up and don’t worry
  • – slow down; expect multitasking to become difficult
  • – keep a notebook and write things down
  • – do physical exercise; it’s good for the brain too
  • – when you park your car, key the number of the spot into your phone or other device

This aspect of forgetfulness turns up in Life on the Mississippi too. Twain jokes, “For a long time I was on a boat that was so slow we used to forget what year we left port in.”
He was a multifaceted genius and one of my favorite writers.

You’ve just read, and I hope enjoyed, the latest of 45 posts and 95 pictures delving into the themes of cozy book basics and lives well lived. By clicking on the orange title at the top of each post you can read the previous one; or try opening the posts in  my annual report

Consider buying my family memoir A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void to relive a war bride’s adventures on a Swampy Cree reserve in the ’20’s and an Ontario minister’s daughter’s  turmoils in the ’30-’50’s.

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