“Mom and I went to the Mennonite restaurant to eat, and there was a hearse parked right in front of it,” I said to my brother, Donnie. I had stopped by the nursing home to visit him while I was in town. “I couldn’t help but wonder if a coffin was in the back—in this sweltering heat! Mom said, ‘Even hearse drivers have to eat.’” I told Donnie about my covert glance into the hearse, and we shared a laugh about my concern.
Donnie’s speech is slurred from strokes, and I have to listen closely to hear what he has to say. The hearse story reminded him of a memory. “Do you remember when Butch Gardner bought that old hearse? He thought he was really going to get the girls to go out with him, but none of them would ride in the hearse.”
I laughed at the memory of the hearse. “That wasn’t Butch that owned that hearse,” I said, delving into my own memory. “It was a guy named Bruce—he was Claude and Leroy’s cousin. He was a good-looking guy, and I did go out with him in the hearse. Mom and dad disagreed on whether I could go or not, but they finally let me. The date turned out to be the two of us and a whole carload of kids in the back.”
“Yeah, I remember riding in the back,” Donnie said. “I thought it was Butch.”
“Remember, we went to a creek and went swimming. That was my ‘date’ in the hearse.”
“I think that was our club that went to the creek in the hearse,” Donnie said.
“I believe it was too,” I said. A big group of us country kids formed a club and went on different activities together. Butch was in that club, so that’s probably why Donnie thought the hearse belonged to him.
“Do you remember the skating party?” I asked. “That was the second time I ever saw Jim. I told Jim our club was going to be at the skating rink and he met us there. He wore a shirt with the sleeves ripped off.”
Donnie nodded and I knew that he too was remembering Jim. After Jim and I greeted each other, he went to get his skates. I sat on a bench next to Claude to lace up my skates. “Is that guy bothering you?” Claude asked. I’m sure he thought Jim was some kind of local punk. “If he is, just say the word and I’ll straighten him out!”
I reassured Claude that I knew Jim and had invited him to the skating party. I was touched since Claude was a mild mannered kid and Jim was a former Golden Gloves boxer.
Donnie and I laughed over our shared memories.
In a serious moment, Donnie said, “I think I know more people that have died that I know who are alive.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. The memories I had just shared about Claude and Jim, once a shared memory between the three of us, is now mine alone. Both of them are gone.
I kissed Donnie on the cheek, feeling good about our visit. Some days he is depressed or upset, but today we had found a happy place in our shared memories.
Our visit made me remember how vivid Jim’s memories were before dementia erased them. Before dementia, little slices of life lived in Jim’s memories long after I had forgotten them. I thought about how sad it was when our memories were gone, and how lonely I felt when Jim couldn’t remember our special times together.
Our memories are flawed because we each see life from an individualized perspective. Certain moments in life are etched into our brains with clarity, while others are fuzzy and out of focus. The older we get, the more memories become so buried that we may never retrieve them again.
Memories may be distorted by time or disease, but if we voice our recollections, those reminiscences are a way to reconnect to a shared past. After stories are erased from our brains, they can linger forever in our hearts.
Copyright © July 2011 L.S. Fisher