I had to run some errands yesterday—little stops like the dry cleaners, the bakery, the library—and I planned on making the grocery store my last stop. I needed just a few things, three to be exact, and I can usually remember three things without making a list.
I’m not sure why three is my limit for testing my memory, but I wonder if it relates to the memory test doctors give to people they suspect of having Alzheimer’s. My father took this test, as did my father-in-law. Both men had the disease, but early on when we weren’t sure, they had to test their memory by remembering three words in order.
For each man, the three words were shown to them and then hidden, and they had to repeat the words. If they couldn’t remember them, then it was a mark against them and their future. That sounds harsh, but it’s not nearly as harsh as that damned disease.
Anyway, it was always the same three words with each visit, and for my father-in-law, the words were TABLE • APPLE • PENNY. When one of your parents has Alzheimer’s, you can’t help but be nervous that it’s in your genetic makeup, too. It’s your destiny to end up the same way, so you do things to boost your memory and keep all those brain signals firing for as long as you can. You do crosswords and learn new things to make the cells work even harder, and you do your best to remember the words your father couldn’t, like TABLE • APPLE • PENNY.
So, when I have to go to the grocery store for a few things, I repeat the mental list to myself over and over so I won’t have to write it down. Writing the list down seems like cheating. Garlic • TP • Hand soap • .Garlic • TP • Hand soap •. Garlic • TP • Hand soap. But add a fourth thing to the list, like diet root beer, and it throws off the whole game. Not fair. My father only had to remember three things.
I decided to write everything down, then, including the three things I had memorized, and I held the little piece of folded paper in my hand as I pushed the cart through the store. By the time I got there, I actually needed a cart because I had added more things to the list. But what I found was that I didn’t have to open up the piece of paper because every item was all right there in my head—Garlic • TP • Hand soap • diet root beer • bottle of Chardonnay • unbleached organic flour. That’s difficult to say over and over again, but I only had to say it once.
I’m not suggesting it’s not in my genetic code that someday I’ll have Alzheimer’s. I’m just saying that at least for yesterday all signals were firing. I’ll take whatever I can get.
So, how about you? Are you able to stop by the store after a series of errands and pick up what you need without a list?