WHAT BUILDS US UP INSIDE

"Forgetful Jones" Muppets cowboy character

“Forgetful Jones” Muppets cowboy character (photo credit: Muppet Wikia)

My mom’s 95th birthday was July 12, the same birthday as Henry David Thoreau’s. (The same day, not the same year.)

Monday, July 15th, is the birthday of Forgetful Jones, a Sesame Street Character. Forgetful Jones is a cowboy who has two horses ~ Buster, and buster’s brother Whatshisname. Laurent Lin, Muppet workshop builder, said, “Forgetful Jones…brought out more of the simple, sweet side of Richard…” (Richard Hunt was Forgetful Jones’ performer/voice.)

Maybe Forgetful Jones had the same type of dementia my mother has, because she also brings out the simple, sweet sides of many people—myself included—even now when she can’t remember who people are, where she is, or what day it is.

My mother’s memory is confused, but her gentle temperament remains.

By definition, memory is “… a person’s power to remember things; the mind regarded as a store of things remembered.” Lately, I’ve been very interested in what others have to say about memory. Here are some of the quotes I’ve found by writers. (Sorry, no doctor, psychiatrist or nurse quotes. I was not part of the medical profession; I was an English, literature, speech and writing teacher.)

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” ~ Mark Twain

“One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.” ~ Rita Mae Brown

“Touch has a memory.” ~John Keats

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they really are.” ~ Marcel Proust

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” ~Cormac McCarthy, from his novel, ALL THE PRETTY HORSES

“Memory is a part of the present. It builds us up inside; it knits our bones to our muscles and keeps our hearts pumping.” ~Gregory Maguire, from his book, SON OF A WITCH.

And for my dad, who died of Alzheimer’s, and my mother, who is losing the battle against dementia, this is my favorite quote about memories and life:   “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” ~ Thomas Campbell

Many years ago, before Alzheimer's and dementia ~ me, with my dad, my daughter Molly, and my mom (picture by Jim Warner)

Many years ago, before Alzheimer’s and dementia ~ me, with my dad, my daughter Molly, and my mom (picture by  my husband, Jim Warner)

"We shall be known by the tracks we leave." Dakota proverb. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

“We shall be known by the tracks we leave.” Dakota proverb. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

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49 Comments

Filed under birthdays, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, writing

49 responses to “WHAT BUILDS US UP INSIDE

  1. Marylin…you write the loveliest posts!
    I’m so glad your mother’s sweet temperament remains…that is a blessing.:) What you share on your blog is of great value to others…it is generous of you to do this.
    And I love the quotes…especially important for parents and teachers is the one from Keats: ‘Touch has a memory’. We need to try to ‘touch’ our children (in both word and deed) in positive ways.

  2. A fine collection of quotes and perspectives on memory.

    • Thank you. I hope others furnish some quotes about the other perspectives on memory as these are pretty much the “greeting card” level of analyzing memories, which is about all I can handle while watching my mother’s dementia.

  3. Many excellent quotes, Marilyn. If “we shall be known by the tracks we leave,” then your memory … and the memory of your parents … will be a sweet one indeed. Her sweet temperament is no surprise. Just look at the daughter she raised. 🙂

    I hope your Mom had a very happy birthday.

  4. What a nice birthday tribute to your mom’s spirit and the memories she has created for her family. Blessings to all of you.

    • She does enjoy birthday sweets, Lynne, especially cake and cupcakes, and the feelings of a celebration. The ongoing blessing to all of us is her good-natured, pleasant acceptance of what IS, instead of struggling for what WAS.

  5. to live in hearts we leave behind… wonderful quote. So nice to see the four of you in happy times together.

    • It is a wonderful quote, isn’t it? The picture was taken before our daughter began college. There was a sense of excitement, hope, enthusiasm…and this was years before my dad’s Alzheimer’s. It was also years before our wonderful grandchildren were born, and their lives helped to offset the losses of my parents’ Alzheimer’s and dementia.

  6. Diana Stevan

    Such a meaningful post and a beautiful photo of your family. Love the photo and the Dakota proverb. Thank you for sharing.

  7. “Touch has a memory.” ~John Keats ~ I love this, Marylin! Your beautiful posts help me each day with the challenges of a loved one with dementia. As I’ve said before, you are a true angel.

    • I am so glad that it helps, Jill. Dementia affects us all. I don’t think I know anyone any more who doesn’t have some member struggling with Alzheimer’s or dementia, or at least a friend or neighbor. It touches us all, and sometimes it’s a hard hit.

  8. Beautifully written as usual Marylin. We’re getting a wonderful picture of your mother and of your devotion to her. Your aptitude for sharing is remarkable, and you write so movingly about the mother who was and the mother who is. You make it obvious that it’s being the mother that counts both ways.
    Huge Hugs xxxx

    • Thank you so much, David. It does count both ways. The adjustment for me came when I became the mother to a mother who was slipping into a child. It’s a new role, and many, many of us are–or will be–taking on the role.

  9. juliabarrett

    Beautiful – one of your best and I think you can never top your previous post. I guess each of us is composed of skin, muscle, blood, bone, memory. Maybe we lose the memory first, maybe last.

    • You’re so right, Julia. I have friends whose mothers, fathers or siblings suffered long trials with cancer or debilitating illnesses, but their minds were clear to the very end. Then there are others whose bodies are strong but their minds fade until the present and the past–and the future–are gone. I’ve seen the extremes of both, and I think it’s just as well that we aren’t given a choice between the two.

  10. dianabletter

    We’re on earth for such a short time. Marylin, your post reminds me of this. Your research is thorough and your writing is clear and concise. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and leaving behind important tracks!

    • Diana, I read your wonderful tribute to Michael Levin this morning. There’s so much we can’t see coming. Alzheimer’s or dementia, serious illness, or in Michael’s case, trying to free two friends in the military. You’re right; we’re on the earth for such a short time.

  11. Great quotes and a great family picture! I thought your daughter was you on that picture!

  12. I love the quote by Proust because it reminds me that memory is not something rigid like an iron key or a cell phone or a coin that can actually be lost or worn out or melted down or deleted. Memory is something much more mysterious, and elusive and ever changing and sometimes ephemeral. It’s fluid and flexible and altogether intriguing. Sometimes our power to remember something is strong and other times not so strong and we never know which combination of events will trigger or unlock a memory that we didn’t realise that we had. Recently a young friend of mine visited her grandfather, a person very special to me as well. She wrote a wonderful blog post of her visit and finished with this “He forgot what he was talking about one time and I asked him “Grandpa do you mean *this or *this??” He said “little bit of both.” Then he winked at us and said “that’s what I say when I have no idea. It’s tricky.” ” Memory is tricky; as your mother does, it is helpful to go along with what is ( and,maybe, eat the cake and blow out the candles as long as one is able to.)

    • I love the response by your friend’s grandfather. It’s the same good-natured, calm effort that my mother used until recently when she got confused. Now she smiles and nods or closes her eyes like taking a nap. Both are coping skills, just doing the best she can. Thank you for sharing a wonderful comment.

  13. Jim

    Pictures, text and comments were fun and helpful. Thanks to Marylin and all her wonderful blog friends.

    Gallivanta, I love your comment above. My perspective on memory “tricks” comes from playing sports. It sure helps to trick one’s memory into blocking out a bad play while playing on with zest and confidence. Of course, the trick always unravels later when the coach critiques the game, especially if we lose!

    • For my blog friends, the comment above is from my wonderful husband, Jim, who took the family picture posted in this blog, and who is my tech support and strong ally for this blog…and everything in my life. And in the lives of our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, too.
      During his mother’s decline into dementia, Jim was a caring, ever-helpful and attentive son, so he understands and supports the commitment I have with my mother. I couldn’t do this without him.

  14. What a beautiful post, Marilyn! Love the quotes too. When it comes to memory, I recently read The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes. You may like it.

    • You know, when I was writing this post, I thought of Barnes’ book!
      I read it when it first came out and liked it very much, the unfolding of memories within the story, the mix and rehash of their implications and meanings. It was a quiet but vivid study in memories.

      • So glad you share my liking for this Barnes’ book. In fact I chose it for my book club discussion last month, and it got us going the next day discussing it in our email. I still have to write up the summary for my blog, but it takes time to gather my thoughts and the group discussion. Your comment may have just given me the momentum. Thanks

  15. This is a beautiful and inspiring post, Marylin xoxo

  16. What a beautiful post. And how lovely that your mom’s temperament hasn’t changed. My grandmother’s personality changed drastically with Alzheimer’s. It was difficult to watch sometimes.

    • Oh, I understand that entirely. My dad died of Alzheimer’s, and his temperament changed entirely, especially the recurring “rage stage.” I’m so thankful my mother’s dementia hasn’t done that.

  17. Interesting that we’re both thinking about the importance/power of memory. I’m not Jewish, my husband is. Today is Tisha B’av–a day of memory (and not of pleasant memories, but rather of those we’d rather forget). Which reminds me that memory–all memory–is really not about our own remembrances, but about a more collective living “in the hearts we leave behind,” whether in the easy laughter or the difficult grief–it’s about the whole of life.

    (where do you get all your ideas? do they just flow out of you? I love your wonderful diversity!)

    • Tisha B’av is totally new to me, Tracy. Very interesting, especially about a day for memories we would rather forget. All of us have those kind of memories, so I’m glad you shared this.
      For 30 years I taught h.s. English–everything from A.P./Honors to Learning Center, all levels of literature and writing classes, plus speech and Writing To Publish (a creative writing class for seniors who were serious about freelance writing and submitting). I had 5 classes every day, at least 3 preps, and I functioned best by opening with a question or a strange fact or idea. Students loved it and we hit the ground running. Blogging this post has revitalized my brain to create or locate these things. But now I’ve slowed down and only have to do it every week instead of every day! Thanks for the compliment about my diversity of ideas!

      • I was going to be an English teacher (because my favorite teachers, who are also some of my favorite people, were all English teachers)–even went through a stint of student teaching. It was too rigorous for me. I love teaching, but I’m someone whose energy is depleted in social situations and replenished through solitude. My life is saner and healthier when I live a more secluded writer’s life–lots of alone-time. I still occasionally teach workshops or retreats, because it’s so rewarding to share with and learn from others. How did you manage 30 years of 5 daily classes? Besides being supremely organized and energetic, are you an extrovert?

      • When you’re teaching 150+ students a day, Tracy, the beginning of each semester is a chore. But then an energy evolves, and you and the students join the same team and try to facilitate the best possible outcome in each class. Sometimes it’s exhausting, and sometimes something magical and amazing happens. I had very high standards for the students’ work, a very low tolerance for excuses, and no patience at all for snide comments or the mean things teens sometimes do to each other. If you’d asked my students what they feared most, many of them would probably would say it was having me point to the door and say, “Wait for me in my office.” You do what you have to do to keep an entire class on task. Luckily for me, I loved English and literature and public speaking…and especially Writing to Publish.
        However, if you’d asked me my first year or my second or my third if I’d teach for the full 30 years, I would have said you were nuts to even ask. But I did do it, and honestly, there’s no other career that would have defined me and given me such satisfaction as teaching did.

      • I so understand–I think I might have taught despite everything, if I had had more physical stamina.

        I don’t think the majority of people understand what kind of physical stamina it takes to be a teacher. It’s almost an athletic event.

      • My first class began at 7:05 each morning, and I drove for 25 min. across town to get to the high school where I taught. For much of the school year I left for school while it was still dark and arrived home as it was beginning to get dark. We had over 2,000 students and moved to different classrooms to teach different classes. I’m getting tired just thinking about it now, but then…well, I had much more stamina!

      • Whew! I need a nap after just reading about that schedule! 😉

      • Retirement is very nice, Tracy. (But there are times when I miss teaching.)

      • How long have you been retired? My husband has been retired for 4-1/2 years. He really needed the rest, but now he’s doing some part-time consulting and now he’s designing a business in which he can act as a consultant/advisor, but not do the actual day-to-day operation. Whew! But, he read recently that people who keep “working” (in a reasonable way, consistent with their age) live longer. (your blog is sort of work-commitment, isn’t it?)

  18. A beautiful and heartfelt post Marylin. Personally I love the Dakota proverb of being known by the tracks we leave, which suggests to me not only thinking about how we live our lives, but that memory is, in a way, a collaboration and a shared experience – it’s not just my memories of things that count, but the way all the people who have lived their lives with me remember them.

  19. Love all your quotes and your family photo. One of my ways of staying happy with dementia is to think that it is a true lesson for me in living in the moment. How precious it is.

  20. Your posts are bittersweet, a memory of special times and a sadness in knowing your mother can’t remember them. Just the same, they were sweet to her for as long as she could remember and that is infinitely better than having bad memories. God bless.

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