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The past would be more useful if I could remember it

I’ve been using this expression for a while (so, if you’ve spent any time at all in my presence, you’ve probably heard all about it, and you have my permission to go do something else, like organize your sock drawer) — but here it is:

The past is not what it used to be.

The same is true of the future, actually, but today I want to talk about the past. Or, at least, our memory of it.

I’m thinking about starting a 12-step group for people who, like me, can’t remember much of anything anymore.

“Hi, I’m Mikel Kelly, and I can’t remember anything.”

“Hi — uh, what did you say your name was?”A former editor for several Oregon newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review, Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, Mikel Kelly now works on the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune and contributes an occasional column.

That’s right, everybody’s a comedian, even us forgetful types.

Now, here’s a little test to give yourself to see if you should join my program.

Do you start forgetting things the minute you wake up in the morning?

Do you forget important things even when you’re alone?

Do you find yourself forgetting 10, 15, 20 things or more per day?

Do you tell yourself you could quit anytime and start remembering things, if only you wanted to?

Do you go around telling people what those old people in the “Pickles” comic strip did because it struck you as funny and highly profound?

If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, you my friend, are a chronic forgetter. And, chances are, none of the rest of us should believe a word you say.

I know this is the sad truth around my house. The person I share most of my wisdom and pithy observations with almost never believes a word I say. She knows good and well that, even if I do remember a shred of truth from my past, it’s probably morphed into something so grand and unreal that it can’t be trusted to be factual.

I’ve been shot down in the middle of brilliant dinner-party monologues, every syllable upon which assembled guests are hanging — only to hear: “That wasn’t you, bean-brain; that was me!”

Oh, I’ll shrug, admitting she must be right since I didn’t actually remember ever taking birth control pills. Then, of course, an attempt to restart the narrative, with her as the main character instead of me, almost never works.

This memory thing also plays a huge role in our recollections of our early lives — especially as we get older and older and those things take on even more importance — which is why, I suppose, we insist in relating these things to the younger people around us.

You young reporters today, you have no idea how tough it was when I started out in this business. Why, I once had an editor who, if he didn’t like your story, he just pulled a pistol out of his desk and shot you in the head. That’s right, no messing around for him. You either kept the typos down to a minimum or you were outta here — and I mean pushing-up-daisies outta here.

I do have an overwhelming urge to point out that on my first day of school I walked more than a mile from my house to the bus stop, at the point where Scott Creek meets the Alsea River, and I was not accompanied by my parents. They sent me over to the next-door neighbors’ house, where a student named Carmen was beginning his senior year of high school while I was starting my very first. He walked with me that first day, but I don’t remember him ever doing it again. Usually, he drove or rode with his cousins, a pair of twins named Dennis and Dwayne.

I was 5, for pete’s sake. And I haven’t been back to check the mileage with an odometer, but it was at least a mile, maybe 2. It was not uphill (both ways), and I don’t remember it snowing, but I do know that today that would be considered child abuse.

It was on that same school bus that I first saw my future wife. She was a grade behind me, but she was mind-blowingly cute, in a Shirley Temple-ish kind of way — all curly blonde hair and great big eyes. I’m pretty sure I told myself right then, “Kelly, someday, you’re gonna marry that girl and live with her so long she’ll stop believing anything you say.”

If I did say that — and I honestly don’t remember if I did or not — it was 100 percent accurate. I know the part about how cute she was is true. And nobody can dispute that. Not even her.

Mikel Kelly is a former editor for several Oregon newspapers and contributes an occasional column.




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