I have a very good memory for details. The best I can explain it is that I retain a lot of details from my experiences and reading, and they are connected to one another in a massive and complex web that I nonetheless find very easy to follow, moving along from one irrelevant-sounding detail to another until I find the fact I seek. Although this process is very pleasing to me, I’ve gradually become aware that many people find it boring or irritating even to hear about, so I try to avoid spelling out how I retrieved the information in favor of getting on with what I’m saying.
I don’t know if I taught this thought process to my 7-year-old son or it’s inherited, but a few days ago we had the following conversation:
NICK: There’s a certain toy I really need to have, but I’m not sure what to call it. What’s that dip made from avocados?
NICK: Yes! When did we have guacamole at Ada’s house but out on the porch?
MAMA: At her birthday parties.
NICK: So was there one of her birthday parties when we went across the street down lower to another house, and there was more guacamole there? Because that’s where I played with this toy in another room.
MAMA: Yes, one year David and Julie did a concert at their house during Ada’s party–
NICK: Are those the people who play the piano and sing?
MAMA: Yes. It must have been Ada’s second birthday because it was the same party when her parents announced they were going to have another baby.
NICK: Ada lives in that place with all the houses that share a big yard, and the party was in the yard until we went down the stairs and across the busy street without going to the corner, because this other house was straight across; was that their house with the concert?
MAMA: Yes. But I don’t remember the toy.
NICK: It was in another room. Actually more like a hallway. This toy had, like, some tubes and some marbles and a spinning thing; it was different colors like red, yellow, and green; I think it was plastic.
MAMA: That sounds familiar . . . but I don’t remember David and Julie having anything like that at their house. . . .
NICK: You can hook the parts together a lot of different ways, and you put the marbles through it. I need one! It will teach me all about the science!!
MAMA: Ooh, I think I know. That same spring, but not the same day, we went to a home Eucharist–we had church on a school night, with Pastor Cynthia, and we had Communion and everything but in their living room, remember?
NICK: Maybe . . .
MAMA: That was at the [last name]s’ house, right around the corner from David and Julie’s. After the service we ate a potluck dinner, and then all the grownups were talking and you got bored, so you asked if they had any toys. They had a thing like that with tubes and marbles that they got out of the basement for you.
NICK: And did it have a spinning thing that the marbles ride around and drop onto another track? And did I play with it in another room, only it was a skinny room like a hallway, with shelves? And did they have a big dog?
MAMA: Yes, yes, yes, I remember you didn’t want me to go talk to people in the dining room, even though you were just around the corner, because you were afraid the dog would come bother you.
NICK: Right! So that’s the kind of toy! I need to get one at the next upcoming gift occasion, if not sooner!
MAMA: I will keep that in mind.
Ridiculous, yet satisfying! By connecting the details that aren’t “really” about the toy, we were able to home in on the kind of toy he means. You might think we could have gotten there using just one sentence: “This toy had, like, some tubes and some marbles and a spinning thing; it was different colors like red, yellow, and green; I think it was plastic.” Well, probably so, yes. But by pinpointing the exact toy Nicholas recalls and visualizing how he played with it, I can better recognize which one among the vast array of marble-maze toys is most likely to delight him. Besides, this conversation was fun. It made both of us feel clever. 🙂
Ada will turn 5 next month, so this birthday party + concert Nicholas was recalling was 3 years ago, when he was 4, almost half his lifetime ago! (What he didn’t tell me was what made him think of the toy now, in the middle of an ordinary mealtime at home.) I might be surprised if I were a different person, instead of one who suddenly asked my parents during my college graduation weekend, “Who were those friends of yours who had me spend the night at their house without you one time when I was about 4 or 5, who didn’t have kids but had a dachshund that we took for a walk after dark; I think their house was yellow, with shutters?” My parents had no idea what I was talking about; they often can’t follow my chains of details–although sometimes they do and provide the missing link for me, which I appreciate! Several times they’ve contacted me with a question like, “Who is this person who sent us a wedding invitation?” and usually I can give them an answer like, “He was that teenager Dad tutored or helped with computers or something when I was in kindergarten, and I think his parents bought our old piano; he had a mother and stepfather with a different last name; her first name was Ivy or Iris. . . .” (That is an actual response. My parents eventually remembered the guy but were astounded that he felt connected to them enough to invite them to his wedding!) It’s good to know that I’ll be able to ask Nicholas about these things when I feel mystified!
Gift-givers, take note: The Original Toy Company Marble Maze appears to be the same toy we remember or very similar–and it isn’t nearly as expensive as some of the other marble maze sets out there.