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Snippets of a lifetime

One of my earliest memories as a child is falling down the stairs at home and knocking out a front tooth and being whisked away to the dentist. I can clearly see myself carrying a bunch of toys and missing a step.

I can’t remember what I had for dinner two days ago, but I can remember that day and I was maybe 2 years old. It was an important lesson that my brain decided needed to be tucked away in my long-term memory. I learned to watch where I walk and that the dentist has a treasure chest of toys. Important stuff.

I can remember the day we got my first dog, when I was 3 years old, like it was yesterday. I remember my first spanking. I can remember the look on my mother’s face when I was sick and in the hospital at age 13 when she said: “I’d rather die than lose you.”

I remember the moment I first fell in love, and the words of the nurse on the telephone telling me I was pregnant with my first child.

I can’t remember every day of my teens, but I have little snippets of time — walking across the stage at graduation, the curtain opening on my first play, the smell of chlorine in the locker room that was near the school’s swimming pool.

The brain is an amazing thing. What memories it chooses to hold onto is somewhat of a mystery. Some seem obvious — there was pain, great joy or a moment that changed your life forever. Others seem strange and less important to my conscious, but to my subconscious, apparently important enough to store for 49 years.

My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. As it progressed, she would be thrown back in time. I walked in her room one day and she was telling me she had to get dressed for school, that the carriage was coming soon. She would speak of my grandfather who died before I was born as if he was there.

I came to enjoy these times because, through her memories, I learned more about her than I had during the 20-something years I was alive. One night she said she had just come home from Broadway and spoke of the lights and the show she went to see as if it had truly happened a few hours ago.

I don’t know much about Alzheimer’s, but it was as if the disease unlocked all those snippets of memories we carry within our minds throughout our life, like running a film in reverse. The older her memories were, the less she remembered more current events, and sadly, people.

Each choice we make, each new day, each word we speak is a potential memory, for us, or someone in our life, that might remain throughout our lifetime. Which means every single second of every single day is a chance to learn something new or create a positive memory for yourself or someone else, and be important enough for our brains to file away for safe keeping to be remembered forever.

alyssa schnugg is city editor of the EAGLE. Write to her at alyssa.schnugg@oxfordeagle.com