Talking ‘Bout My Generation

I’m not part of the Forgotten Generation.  You couldn’t forget Baby Boomers, even if you wanted to.

I’m part of the Forgetful Generation.

“The name’s going to come to me,” a friend says, beating her hand against her forehead.  “I know I know it.  I just can’t think of it.”

She knows — and I do, too — that she’ll remember it eventually.  She’ll probably call me up and proudly announce what it is.  By then, of course, we will have moved on to something else that we’ve forgotten, wailing and beating our heads over yet another name that won’t come to us. 

I take a certain amount of comfort in my friends’ — and even my husband’s — failing memories.  That’s because, sad to say, it reassures me.  None of them has a father like mine, who’s mired in Alzheimer’s.  They don’t have the same fears I do that they’re completely losing their minds, that it’s genetic and inevitable, that we should be building a family wing on the facility where Daddy’s being cared for.

“Sometimes, when I’m with Daddy, I forget everything,” I once told my sister.  It was true.  Being around him, when his memory was failing badly, but he was still, however shakily, on his own, I began to panic.  I forgot phone numbers, familiar names.  My heart started pumping wildly.  I was a mess.

Ellen stared back at me, looking horrified.  She’s noticed, I thought, that I’m losing my mind, too.  Great.

“The same thing happens to me,” she said.

I felt relieved then, too.  It’s the same way I derive some satisfaction when it takes my husband and me working together on some bad days to construct a grammatical sentence.  God, you derive satisfaction out of the saddest things the older you get.  But I can look at my husband’s father, 90 and going strong and still sharp, even if he is deaf as a post, and draw a deep, relieved breath.  That’s my husband’s future, I tell myself.  If I’m doing as well as he is, I may be OK.  For now, at least.

“This is Katherine Tannen,” I once introduced a writer friend of mine at a party.  The introduction was half-correct.

“Katherine Tanney,” she said.  I wanted to die.  I’d confused her with Deborah Tannen, obviously.  I apologized every time I saw her after that.

Months later, even maybe a year, Katherine introduced me and botched my last name.  I can’t even recall what she said.  Ruth Pennington or something.  But it was wrong.  And it was enough.

Maybe she did it on purpose.  I don’t know.  The point is, we were even now.  I could stop apologizing, stop feeling like a clod.  The time wasn’t right yet to start building that wing next to Daddy’s room.  That could wait for a while.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

1 comment… add one
  • Katherine Link

    it wasn’t on purpose, i swear. my father died of early onset alzheimer’s, so i understand the fears you’re talking about. i have a friend named liz penniman, a painter. you know how the mind gets close sometimes but just misses 😉

Leave a Comment