I was reminded recently, by Mary about my rather less than stellar memory, specifically when it comes to names. I was going through my old overexposed, blurry and/or scratched photos, Mary would inquire as to the identity of people I obviously knew well enough to take pictures of and keep.  Not infrequently my answer would be “I don’t remember”. Even less frequently would I give an answer along the lines of, “an old girlfriend, but she came to a bad end”. Or the classic, “an old flame but she means nothing to me, nothing, my dearest. Would you like your foot rub now?”

As Mary pointed out, even forgetting the names of women from my past is not the worst of my failings. I forget family members also. Like the time I may have supplied incorrect spellings for the names of two of my sibling on our wedding invitations. Now in my defense, I should note that with two wrong names and four siblings, I did get fifty percent correct, which if you’re grading on a curve, is not too totally shabby. Of course, on that same curve we’re going to have to include the incident with my mother’s name, which is going to but me back in remedial section.

The infamous case of my mother’s middle name occurred also during the prenuptial time period, but in this case I didn’t just misspell her middle name. I supplied the wrong one entirely. Which ended up on our marriage certificate. Who knew that one mistake like that could invalidate a whole marriage, legally speaking? My not-legally-married-wife thought that a correction was required, and had to interrupt our honeymoon to file said change. My protestations that the issue was not a big deal did not improve my position, and there was some purchasing of jewelry and flowers required to shore up rapidly eroding spousal affections.

I have made the argument that the mistaken middle name was not really all my own fault, though to little avail. See Mom’s middle name was Marion, and I actually told the registrar that it was Francis because when we were young we lived in Charleston, in the steamy, sweaty state of South Carolina.  While we were living there, Disney developed and aired a short-lived TV series about Francis Marion – the Swamp Fox, of Revolutionary War fame. And the Swamp Fox was a local hero in Charleston parts so it really stuck squarely in the middle of my childhood memories. All those years later when I needed to come up with Mom’s middle name, I thought Swamp Fox (why, when I’m about to get married, I’m dredging up the Swamp Fox is obviously not a road I need to travel down) and thus, naturally answered that it was Francis. If you’re me, and don’t you all wish you were, it makes perfect sense. There was also a jaunty ditty for the series theme song which went something like ‘Swamp Fox, Swamp Fox, tail on his hat; Swamp Fox, Swamp Fox, nobody knows where the Swamp Fox is at…’ You can see how something like that would make quite an impression on an impressionable young lad.

Perhaps therein lies the crux of the problem. It’s not that I have an issue with remembering names, it’s that I have lots of extraneous information cluttering up the synapses. Like the Brady Bunch theme song, and the exact distance from the Earth to the Sun, and how many how many skill points an orc warlock gets at level 80 in World of Warcraft. None of this information is as intrinsically useful as how to adjust the tensioning on a chainsaw, or remove arrows from the fleshy part of your calf muscle, but I live in the hopes that someday, during a crisis, someone will shout out – “quick, what’s the distance from the Earth to the Sun? We only have seconds to avert a disaster!” And I’ll have the number right there. Which by the way, ranges between 91 and 94.5 million miles, depending on the time of year. Just in case you wanted to know. My mother had a similar philosophy about knowledge. She loved to play Trivial Pursuit, but didn’t know squat about sports so every time she got the sports category she would answer, usually before the question was asked, ‘Thurman Munson’, which represented the sum total of her knowledge of sporting lore. I’m not even sure she knew what sport Thurman Munson played, it was just the only thing she knew even tangentially about sports. She figured that eventually it would be the correct answer.


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