Carnett: Baffled by surfacing of a long-forgotten memory

Daily Pilot columnist Patrice Apodaca recently wrote a fascinating column on memory.

Titled "Unlocking the Mysteries of Memory," the piece demonstrates what a marvel the mind is. Its processes are mystifying.

Last week I wrote about my induction into the U.S. Army 50 years ago. I took a brisk walk before writing that column and during my constitutional discovered that dozens of memories about basic training — that I'd not contemplated in decades — bubbled to the surface like letter pasta in a bowl of alphabet soup.

I quickly processed this surfeit of information.

As I sat down to write, numerous images flashed before my mind as though pulled randomly from a long abandoned steamer trunk.

But one memory I uncovered had lain dormant for at least 40 years until I began writing the column.

In 1964, I developed a one-week friendship with a fellow GI while we were attached to the reception center at Fort Ord in Monterey. We hit it off from the outset and shared many common interests.

After a week of getting to know one another fairly well, we were assigned to different basic training companies. We saw each other only one more time — for about 15 minutes — before shipping out to different advanced training destinations.

Though I never saw him again, I never forgot him.

After a decade or so, I realized that I failed to recall his name. And try as I might over the years, I couldn't retrieve it.

His nom de guerre was erased from my memory banks, or so I thought.

Nearly 20 years after basic training, I became a fan of the 1980s action-mystery TV program "Simon and Simon." One of the stars of the show, Gerald McRaney, looked strikingly like my basic training buddy.

Every time I saw McRaney on TV or in a movie I thought of my friend.

But what was his name? I ruminated and ruminated to no avail. How could I not remember? Alas, it was impossible to coax it from the recesses of my hippocampus.

Then, as I worked on last week's column — not even thinking specifically about my friend — his name surfaced as clear as can be on my mental LED screen.

My gosh, I fairly gushed at my keyboard, that's my friend's name! I haven't remembered it for 40 years. What just happened? I jumped up from my chair and danced a jig. Borrowing from Luke, the gospel writer, I waxed lyrical: "He was lost but now is found!"

It was concrete reanimation. But where did the name come from and why did it take so long to percolate to the top? I defer to Patrice.

I've always had a fairly decent memory, particularly in my younger years.

In college, I had roles in numerous theater productions and musicals. I never had difficulty memorizing lines, and I don't think I ever dropped a line on stage.

I'd learn my lines at rehearsal sessions during the run-up to a show. Never did I have to specifically study lines. I'd crack the code onstage as we rehearsed. And I always had the lines committed to memory weeks before opening night.

I learned in mid-life that that phenomenon is a byproduct of young brain cells.

In my 50s, I returned to the stage and did a number of productions. No longer was line-learning a piece of cake. Plus, as an "old guy," I was sensitive about messing up lines in front of younger actors. The pressure was on.

I labored over scripts for hours. I even took scripts with me on vacation.

Why was it so difficult committing lines to memory in my 50s when it'd been so easy in my teens? The tissue between my ears had obviously fossilized in 35 years.

There's a wise saying, which I've nearly forgotten, about elderly dogs and new tricks.

In any event, I've reached that stage in life where my mind has developed a mind of its own.

JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.

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