Sunday, October 21, 2007

The memory is the first thing to go...

Way back in 1961, after completing Air Force basic training in San Antonio and a technical school in Wichita Falls, I was assigned to my first permanent-duty station in Orlando, Florida. There I became friends with Stanley M., a guy in my barracks who hailed from Rome, New York, and we have stayed in touch through the years. In fact, he was a groomsman in my wedding, and he has never failed to send us birthday cards and anniversary cards, as well as small monetary gifts to the children at Christmas until they were grown. After leaving the military, I lived in Poughkeepsie, New York, and Boca Raton, Florida, and for thirty-two years now, here in the Atlanta area. Stan moved around, too; he lived in Manhattan, Atlanta, and Los Angeles over the years before going back to upstate New York when he retired. Several years ago I decided to stop sending a card on his birthday and call him on the telephone instead.

This has worked just fine until the last couple of years. I could always remember the date of the month but I began to have trouble remembering whether his birthday fell in October or November. Then I thought of a mnemonic aid. I remembered that when we were stationed in Orlando, Stan once bought himself a set of smoky topaz cuff links (this was back in the days when shirts with French cuffs were all the rage) and I remembered that he told me it was because topaz was his birthstone. So I looked up a list of birthstones, and there it was: October, opal. November, topaz. Since opal and October both start with "O" and Stan's birthstone was topaz, I had a way to remember that his birthday was in November, not in October.

But last year when I called, Stan said, "You're a month late; my birthday was last month." It set me to wondering whether those cuff links had been opal instead of topaz, and whether my mnemonic aid was supposed to remind me that Stan's birthday WAS in October instead of to remind me that it WASN'T. So I called him last week and said, "I'm calling to wish you a happy birthday," and he said, "You're a month early; my birthday's not until next month."

"Stan," I said, "is your birthstone opal or topaz?"

"Topaz," he said.

"That's what I thought," I said. "But you told me when I called last year that I was a month late."

"Bob," he said, "last year you called me in December."

We had a nice chat and I said I would call again next month. And I will. If I remember.

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