Ask Cousin Eddie and he might have said, “Ken, that’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year!” I beg to differ!
Snuggled around the family Christmas tree late December 2019, I opened up the envelope from my son and daughter-in-law. There was no gift card to Starbucks or my favorite restaurant inside. Such pleasantries would have been too easily satisfied. A few stops requesting a Venti Pike Place Roast cup of coffee from Starbucks and the balance would soon register zero. Generous though it is, one dinner out with my bride and the other card could be kept by the server to sever with a scissors and deposit its remains in the trash.
This was a special present picked especially for me. “Present” could arguably be a bit of a misnomer. An “assignment” was more like it.
No, this was not a subscription to the Jelly-of-the-Month Club. In fact, it wasn’t monthly at all, but rather weekly. Eddie was right about one thing, though. It would last the entire year, or all of my 2020.
Officially it’s called “StoryWorth,” and for about 34 weeks and counting, my beloved daughter-in-law has been relentlessly sending me a new question via e-mail every Monday morning. My job, it turns out, is to thoughtfully, creatively and exhaustively answer each query to the best of my ability and with as many words as I please.
As an added bonus, I can even attach a clever picture to accompany my response. When push comes to shove, which is not to say I want to do either, once the whole of this memorable year is in the rearview mirror, I’ll have generated just more than 50 contributions to this grandiose inquisition. If desired, I can have the pages and pictures compiled into a published book. Its suitability for publishing will be questionable. Trust me, if it happens, there will be no need to check any New York Times “Best Seller” lists in 2021.
It should be noted that these weekly requests do not oblige the phrase “No time like the present.” She never asks about my day, what I’m having for breakfast, or what book I’m reading. On the contrary, her barrage of requisitions is more akin to unearthing multiple “blasts from the past!” Consequently, I weekly rack my brain attempting to generate an intelligible and coherent response.
She wants to know my fondest childhood memory, what my mom and dad was like growing up, how I got my first job, whether I ever got in trouble in school, my first date, my favorite candy as a kid or how I figured out how to be a parent. By the way, as empty-nesters, it’s too late for that last matter, but I’m still doing the math, if you get my drift.
All of us can agree that as life moves quickly forward, chapters and verse of our unique stories are collected and the volume expands exponentially. As time marches on while above ground, we also start realizing that much of the material may also start collecting dust.
Deposits are daily being dropped off into our cranial memory banks. For a while, we may know where they’re stored and even how to retrieve them, but in due time, their locations have a tendency to become muddled and our ability to recall them, illusive.
We posit and bank boundlessly with the hopeful guarantee we can make demands of those deposits and withdraw them at will. For nearly eight months, I’ve been pulling up to the drive-thru window attempting to make withdrawals from my 64-year-old account. So far, and after some careful analysis, I still know my account number but have trouble recalling details of most of my deposits.
Time will tell, and isn’t that the truth, how long it lasts. I know I continue to make countless contributions to the memory account, but the balance slowly depletes.
A couple weeks back I went home to visit my 90-year-old mother in northwest Chicago. I’d not seen her live and in person since celebrating her birthday in late December. Hard for her, and harder, I believe, for my siblings and me, she’s having increasing difficulty making those memory withdrawals as she battles the progressive effects of Alzheimer’s.
Unable to see her on any regular basis, the span between visits can accentuate some of the decline. Quite literally, my one sister is making all the deposits and withdrawals on my mother’s behalf in her bank account. Outside the checkbook register, some of the “returns” are noticeably diminishing, yet we love her even more.
During my visit, I took some time to scrounge around in the random archives known as her basement attempting to recollect some memories of my own to aid in my weekly literary assignments.
To my delight, a few discoveries were unearthed and a bit of sun came up to burn off a few foggy memories. These included newspaper clippings, faded black-and-white pictures, and even a school Progress Report from second grade where my teacher, Ms. Constance Johnson commented, “Kenneth quietly and conscientiously does his work, for the most part.”
Yet, as memories lapse and the banking hours shrink, I’m sure I’ll be grateful I made the choice to conscientiously invest in the loving gift of “StoryWorth” and hopeful my investments of weekly deposits can grow to last a lifetime in return.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at email@example.com