Memory loss leads to rooftop reminders

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We’ve loaded our Honda, and we’re on our way to Fulford to catch a ferry to Victoria. We’ve left plenty of time to make sure we don’t get flummoxed by a long ferry lineup or, heaven forbid, an overload. Suddenly, we are confronted by a yellow diamond-shaped sign warning us of road work ahead. Within moments we are halted by a hard-hatted flagman waving a stop sign.

We think the worst as we watch the backhoe operator pushing some fill across one side of the road. We both wonder simultaneously what our chances are of making the ferry. Just then, the flagman drops his arm and gives us the signal to proceed.

What luck, we think, with a sigh of relief. Just as we drive by the backhoe, however, the flagman on the other side of the big machine raises his stop sign and stares us down to a full standstill.

He motions me to roll down my window and then asks in a deliberate, innocent voice, “You wouldn’t happen to be missing a book, would you?”

He lifts a hardcover copy of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch off the roof of the car and hands it to me through the open window.

I can’t help but be reminded of the time many years ago when I decided to bake a birthday cake for my friend, Samantha. This was not going to be any ordinary cake, but a two-layer Black Forest cake with cream cheese icing and a whole boatload of kirsch-infused Bing cherries embedded in a whipped cream topping, the first cake ever that I ever baked from scratch, and to my surprise, I produced a masterpiece.

I carried my stuff, a small gift, a card and a salad for the potluck, out to my pickup truck. I made a separate trip with the birthday cake, which I had placed on a platter inside a solid cardboard box. I didn’t want things to slide around on the bench seat of my truck, so I balanced the bags and boxes until it all seemed safe. As I started to back out of my driveway, I felt something move beside me. I realized how precarious my situation could get if I had to hit the brakes in order to make a fast stop.

Not being the kind to leave well enough alone, I stopped and stepped out of my truck, hauled everything out, and rearranged my possessions on the seat so there was little chance of anything moving or sliding. Then I jumped back in, started up, and off I drove.

I lived in Vesuvius then, and the party was taking place in a house high up Mount Belcher on the other side of Ganges. As I drove along Vesuvius Bay Road, I couldn’t help but notice unusual expressions on the faces of the drivers and passengers in the approaching vehicles. The first few that drove by me sounded their horns or flashed their headlights. I assumed that there was a radar trap up ahead so I checked my speedometer to make sure that I was driving within the legal speed limit.

The occupants in the next two cars that passed me reacted even more strangely. In both cases, the drivers cocked their heads to one side and pointed up to the sky. Something weird was going on, and so I decided check out the situation by pulling off onto the shoulder of the road just before I got to Portlock Park. As I touched the brakes to slow myself down, the inevitable happened. As if it was a scene out of a movie, filmed in slo-mo stop action, the cardboard box containing my exquisite Black Forest cake came sliding down from the roof of my cab, diagonally across the windshield, and finally, in a daring manoeuvre that would make any lemming proud, slid off the passenger side of the hood.

When I came to a full stop, I quickly jumped out and assessed the damage. It was the worst that could have happened (naturally). Beside my truck lay the upside down cardboard box. Beyond it stretched a long white streak of whipped cream and kirsch-infused Bing cherries. What made it all the more painful was the inner knowledge that I would possibly have made it all the way to the party with the cake on my roof if I hadn’t decided to stop to see why I was getting such strange reactions from oncoming traffic.

This is just my long-winded way of introducing my “nobody asked me, but” subject for the month, memory loss. We lose many things during the course of our lives: keys, wallets, passports, grocery lists. As we get older, we find that when it comes to losing, the gift that keeps on giving is our memory.

It’s not just forgetting how to spell words or the laws of grammar, such as how to use an apostrophe when writing “its,” or even the silly little rhyming mnemonic that tells you how many days make up each month of the year. Sometimes you remember the face but not the name and sometimes it’s the other way around. There are desperate times when you remember both the name and the face but haven’t the foggiest what you were going to say.

Possibly, the most embarrassing of these unforgettably forgettable moments of mind fog occurs during the course of making a phone call when, just as you’re about to press the last digit of a phone number, you suddenly realize you’ve forgotten who you were calling.

Your heart goes into panic attack as your brain races through the different possible scenarios of who you are trying to call at this time of day. Are you making an appointment with your doctor or dentist? Do you want to complain about a phone bill or your cable service? Not wanting to look stupid when the voice on the other end picks up, you may try to extract a clue as to who you may be talking to. How long can you make small talk before you give away the fact your memory has flown away? “How about them Canucks?” can only take you so far in retrieving the information you have misplaced.

Whether your loss of memory is due to your train of thought being derailed by a misplaced book, birthday cake, or general “blank out,” rest assured that anything lost has the potential to be found again. Just take a deep breath, hope for the best, and let your own metaphor for kirsch-infused Bing cherries point you in the right direction.

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