I was once browsing through a lovely springtime garden nursery. As I walked through rows and rows of beautiful flowers, I was naming each kind of flower in my mind—‘Now there are the impatiens, the sunflowers, the daises, the coreopsis and there are the hmmm…what is the name of that flower? Hmmmm… It was so common and was residing on the tip of my tongue, but I just couldn’t bring it to the forefront.
The word for which I was searching was the common ordinary “geranium.” I have always had difficulty retrieving that word. I don’t recall having a traumatic encounter as a child with a geranium that has left me in need of repressing the word. I did feel better when my mother told me that she has a mental block coming up with the word “curry” on demand. What’s that all about?
My worst mental block situation happened when I was sixteen. I was looking forward to “trying out” for my driver’s license. My friends had warned me of one gruff examiner in the office that I most certainly didn’t want judging my cruising abilities. So… on the much awaited transition date of quite possibly becoming a “viable drivable” member of the roadways, I drove my father’s giant Toronado to the Department of Motor Vehicles. You guessed it. I was assigned the intimidating man about whom I was warned. Nervousness set in. I placed my hands on the “key-starting” area and began trying to make it turn over. However, I couldn’t get the engine to “rev-up.” I said to the “scary man,” in a bewildered way, “I don’t know what’s wrong. It worked fine when I drove it up here with my mother.” With a scowl on his face, he dangled something in front of my face and said, “You need the keys.” This was basic forgetfulness in how to operate machinery based on panic caused by intimidation. The good news, inspite of my goof-up is that I was issued an actual driver’s license that day. Amazing!
So, sheer fear is an excuse for forgetfulness, but what excuse do we have for the type of forgetfulness that causes difficulty with the retrieval of such simple words as “geranium” and “curry?” The made up terms “thing-a-ma-jig” and “what-cha-ma-call-its” have to suffice as your mind frantically searches your memory base.
So, I decided to investigate the “it’s on the tip of my tongue” dilemma. According to my college textbook, Psychology Today, “a memory trace is formed on the brain whenever we learn an item or have an experience. The better the item is learned, the stronger the trace. Over time, these traces are subject to decay. Retrieving the information depends on how well our brains organized it when we first absorbed it.” Did you know that our short-term memory can only retain items for around twenty seconds unless it is continually rehearsed? Forgetfulness can also occur when other items that are learned interfere with what is being retrieved.
These scientific explanations for why we forget have great credibility. I, however, have my own hypothesis. I think most moms would agree that it is entirely possible that we lose our vibrant, powerful brain cells through the placenta during childbirth. So…”geranium” and “curry” traveled right on out and are irretrievably lost. The fledgling left over cells will reside on the tips of our tongues…that is, until our children grow into fine, young adults and give us our brain cells back. Just a kooky and improbable theory (Or is it?) You guys will have to invent your own excuse. Hunter Darden-personalized copies of my books may be ordered by scrolling back up to the top of this page and clicking on the link or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.