Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Mind Games

When I was in high school and practically lived at the library, I discovered Agatha Christie and her eccentric Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. He claimed that his unique ability to solve crimes was due to the health of "ze leetle gray cells" - his brain.

Now that the Baby Boomer generation is close to retirement age, magazines are full of articles on how to prevent the dreaded Alzheimer's disease. Part of their advice is to use your brain over and over, in varying ways, to keep the little gray cells active. Things like doing crossword puzzles are OK, I suppose. I get on a tangent sometimes and will do the daily crossword puzzle in the paper for two weeks in a row, then I'll drop it for something else and won't do another for a year. My Aunt June adores crossword puzzles, and she's still mentally going blockbusters.

However, I prefer to personalize my brain activities. What better way than to play around with my memories? It seems that when we Baby Boomers are well into the second half of our lives, we look more to the past and less to the future.

One activity I do with my brain is to try to remember the floor plans of buildings that have meant something to me. Take my home church, Harris Memorial United Methodist Church in Memphis. It burned down a long time ago, but that building (along with the aforementioned library) was our second home for a lot of every week. I go through the annals of my mind and picture each room, each door, each hall, each set of stairs, then try to draw it all out on a piece of paper. Of course, memories are not infallible, and I would really enjoy taking several former Harris Memorial members and having them do this same thing, then comparing the drawings. That would be enlightening! I try to do the same kind of thing with my high school, or the places I have worked. I believe it stimulates the brain very well.

Ever the "method-ist," my second game is a memory game organized under the labels "earth, wind, water, and fire" - the elements. I methodically go through each category and list the memories I associate with it. For example: For earth, I try to remember anything having to do with the ground or dirt, such as sliding on the front lawn on cardboard boxes. For wind, I remember when Joy and I used to play badminton on the front lawn and the wonderful feel of a good hit when the birdie seemed to float through the air forever. Water is pretty easy - I'm sure most of us can think of a lot of memories involving water. One of mine involves the Mississippi River, when Dad would take whoever was willing up to the park on the bluff, to see what he considered the best view of the Mississippi River, bar none. I have Dad in the fire category, too, for all the "wild goose chases" he used to drag us through when he saw a fire engine roaring past.

My third game is to remember things with the senses. I list the smells, tastes, noises, sights, and textures of my life. The smell of fresh-cut grass when our family worked together out in the yard in the summer (and as contrast, the smell of Mrs. Perry's old house with many, many cats). The taste of pot pies, our supper on nights Dad was at a meeting (and as contrast, the taste of milk of magnesia). The sound of our cat Mike jumping on the piano keys when I was trying to practice. The blinding light in my eyes when Dad was filming his home movies. The texture of the sharp jacks and the smooth round ball in my hand at the same time.

So many pleasant memories are from my growing up years, but I have others as an adult. The smell of the ocean up here in Maine. The taste of different brands of chocolate. The first time I heard the beautiful sounds of the Celtic harp. Seeing the kids graduate from high school. "Fondling" the fabric at the quilt store.

It's hard sometime just to ask, "What are the memories of your life?" It's much easier to sort through them using "ze leetle gray cells" and a little methodology. Who knows - it may not ward off dementia - but it certainly is a lot of fun!

1 comment:

Tif said...

Amelia and I played badminton this evening, but on the driveway since the dog poop hasn't been picked up from the grass in a while! That feeling of a good hit with the racket is not so frequent in old age as it was when we were younger. (I tell myself it's the wind, not me, making me miss the birdie.)

I've often run through HM's floor plan in my mind as I lie in bed at night but have never thought to draw it out. It would be interesting. The things that stick out the most to me there were the choir room with its sloping floor and bath (shades of my house!), the incline leading to the nursery, the huge but dingy kitchen, and those wonderful steps to the Sunday school area--such fun to slide down!