It has always been interesting to me how memories work. We all hold onto parts of time. They’re stories that can be told in a few minutes, when the actual events took hours, or years to unfold. I think everyone has a friend, or relative who tells the same story, over and over. Maybe they tell the story of how they met their significant other, or how they scored the winning point in the big game.
When I worked in a nursing home, I met a ninety year old, white lady from the South. She had to pick cotton in the fields as a young child. She said she would sometimes sneak away and play with a little African American girl, who was also picking cotton. She told me, “We weren’t supposed to be friends, but it didn’t stop us.” She couldn’t remember the other little girl’s name and recalled little else about that part of her life. It was sort of memory in a nut-shell.
It’s like my grade school story. I had hit an older bully on the bus who had picked on my brother. So boys actually started daring other boys to kick me. After they’d run away. It usually wasn’t fast enough…
If and when I caught them, I would punch them a couple times. It was kind of like tipping cows, which is a thing in small towns, and running. Sadly, I was the cow. I don’t remember many details. I would have to embellish to paint a vivid picture.
Now if you can, imagine remembering everything? Even mundane details like the bathroom sink being crusted in toothpaste last Wednesday, but clean on Thursday. And not only recalling what you had for breakfast two years ago, but what you were wearing when you ate it. There are people who literally remember everything. This ability is called Hyperthymesia, and it’s very rare.
A woman, named Owen, talked about some of the dark parts of her gift on 60 Minutes. “Sometimes, having this sort of extreme memory can be a very isolating sort of thing,” she said. “There are times when I feel like I’m fluent in a language that nobody else speaks, or that I’m walking around and everybody else has amnesia.”
Memories are rooted in the cerebral cortex. Long-term memories are tucked away in the temporal lobe. Hyperthymesia is believed to be caused by enlargement of temporal lobe.
Would you want to be able to remember everything?
What early memories have you tucked away?