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The reminiscence bump and baseball cards

Memory has been on my mind, even more than usual.

For the last seven months my family and I have been dealing with my mother's declining health and memory. Doctors haven't been able to provide a concrete diagnosis and health care workers and assisted living personnel have visited my folks' house so often we should install a turnstile. It's a draining situation for everyone and the demands on people's time and resources are enormous.

The baffling part is my mother was an extremely healthy individual for the first 77 years of her life One day, when I was a kid, our sugar cereals disappeared out of the cupboards and my mom began cooking "healthy-alternative" meals. From that point forward, she was an encyclopedia for healthy living. The mental aspect was important to her, too. I'm still turning up crossword puzzle books at my parents' house even though she can't do them anymore.

I've been reading articles about restoring mental capacity and such. Music, of course, is a great instrument in assisting people with brain conditions, such as Alzheimer's Disease. I am constantly aware of music's ability to evoke memories and emotions. I encounter it daily as I refuse to let 24 hours pass without music.

I've begun to follow various musicians and music writers on social media and even they have helped elicit memories that were long dormant in my mind. For example, one musician asked yesterday about the one album that you love that no one else knows or cares about. My brain went immediately to the debut of Lone Justice, an alt-country band (called "cow-punk" at the time) from the mid-1980s when that kind of music was the rage.

It's not a perfect album and even though it had the backing of the biggest names in the music business, the record was ignored. However, some songs are priceless and among the most honest I've heard. The potential there was amazing. And, most importantly, the album introduced me and the rest of the world to Maria McKee, one of the greatest songwriters of the last 30 years.

Anyway -- I'm getting to cards, I promise -- my memory of that album, which was released when I was 23, strikes at the heart of a psychological term called "the reminiscence bump," which is particularly notable for people my age.

"The reminiscence bump" applies to a bump on a graph in studies that chart people's recall of moments over their lifespan. People age 40 and older most frequently cite memories of events that occurred when they were between the ages of 10 and 30. That's where the bump lies.

There are various theories for this. One says that you are at your best cognitively when you are a teenager and young adult and you process and store your memories more efficiently than at any other time in your life. Another says that you form your identity and make decisions that affect the direction of your life during your teens and 20s and therefore those memories stick in your brain.

I know that when I hear music, 80-90 percent of the memories associated with those songs are connected to periods from childhood to adolescence to young adulthood.

And I can say the same thing about baseball cards.

I have written many posts about baseball cards and the moments I associate with them. I swear that's half of this blog. Most of those memories come from the first 25 years of my life.

It's about time I include those baseball card memories all in one place: on this particular blog post.

I will try to recall a specific memory from a card set from a specific year. In most case, that memory will spring forth as soon as I see the card. If I have to think too hard, I'll skip the year.

So, here we go, the reminiscence bump illustrated through baseball cards:

1974: I'm 8. I'm sitting in a little grotto area in my bedroom (it's not as fancy as it sounds, it was a part of the room that jutted out between the closet and the storage area/attic). I'm at the desk my brother and I shared (the same desk in my basement right now). I am opening a cello pack of 1974 Topps bought for me by my mother at the grocery store. It's the first pack of cards I've ever opened.

1975: I'm 9. My brother and a friend and I are obsessed with catching frogs in the yard. When we catch them, we put them in a bucket that we've made into "frog living quarters" with grass and twigs and rocks. The frog is dead within three days. What does this have to do with a Ken Holtzman card? I don't know BUT I THINK ABOUT THE FROGS EVERY TIME I SEE THIS CARD. So obviously it has something to do with this card.

1976: I'm 10. I'm in fourth grade. I am in an experimental class for the whole year in a building called "The Annex" which was built off the back of the main school (the whole school complex was wiped out by a flood a few years ago). The Annex features no desks, just tables and chairs and work stations. My friend Mario and I would stash our 1976 Topps under one of the tables in the back room of The Annex and try to catch  glimpses of them when the teacher wasn't looking.

1977: I'm 11 and a sixth-grader and back in the main building with desks. They're the flip-top kind. Loved those desks. We stored our cards in there. The teacher was cool this time. She didn't mind us bringing baseball cards. So many memories with this set, but one of them is throwing those rubber-banded cards into the flip-top desk before heading to lunch.

1978: I'm 12 and have just seen a complete set of Topps baseball cards all in a single box. My brother ordered the entire set through the mail: a dream of all of ours. And my brain is nearly in explode mode as I sift through each of the cards in the long box.

1979: I'm almost 14. The '79 set may remind me of baseball more than any other set. I immersed myself in baseball that year. It was a painful, awkward time filled with longing and loss. Baseball -- that throw from Dave Parker in the All-Star Game!!! -- took me away from that.

1980: Age 14-to-15. I remember the walk to the discount drug store on Washington Street. We couldn't take our bikes there because mom said it was too busy. So we'd walk up Adams, down Monroe, to Washington to get our baseball packs, which sat on an end cap directly across from the front register because us fool kids kept swiping them.

1981: I'm 15. I'm at Monroe Market, a corner store on the way to the drug store. Monroe Market has all of the cards: Topps and the new sets from Donruss and Fleer. Money is tight (paper routes don't pay great) so I can never buy all three. I usually pick Topps and one other, and then try to sneak a peak at the obscured Playboy cover of the latest issue, which is just above the card and candy aisle. Nice placement, Monroe Market.

1983: I'm 17. It's March or April of '83. Two months from high school graduation. Everything is wonderful.  The '83 Topps set is awesome. It also reminds me of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean and Dexys Midnight Runners' Come On Eileen. How about that? Cards reminding me of music!!

1984: I'm 18. It's the spring. It's sprinkling out, kind of dismal. I'm standing in front of the library at the community college where I go to school. My friend is selling me a complete set of 1984 Topps, which has just been released. It sounds logical for a busy guy like me, buying the entire set in one shot. I feel dirty.

1988: I'm 22. The new cards are out. I've pretty much ignored the hobby since 1983. After buying complete sets in '84 and '85, I bought a smattering of '86 and '87 Topps, maybe a rack pack or two. In 1988, I bought one pack of cards. One. (so much for the baseball card boom!). I recall viewing this card of Phil Lombardi. I had no idea who he was. That seemed appropriate. I was out of touch.

1989: I'm 23 to 24. I've graduated and am working a couple part-time jobs, including one in my chosen field. My girlfriend and I are getting serious. For some reason, I decide this is the perfect time to try to complete a set through buying packs. My lasting memory of '89 will always be buying another pack at the drug store in the plaza in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst. I don't know how many trips I made to that store. 50? 60? Still came 4 cards short.

1990: I'm 25. New job. New address. I have no idea where I am. A lot to process. Zero time for baseball cards. My co-worker in the office buys a few cards from the convenience store across the street. They're 1990 Topps. They're ... different. I get a look. That's all I need. I buy nothing that year.

1991: I'm 26. Newly married. The card-buying fever has hit. My lasting memory is of digging in the back of our bureau office for a couple of boxes that will house my growing collection of 1991 Topps and Donruss and Score and Fleer.

1992: I'm 27. Buying every card in sight. The store only a quarter of a mile from my apartment sells every card in sight. The cards are all down an aisle near the front of the store. I recall the first day I saw something called "Pinnacle." Didn't even know what it was. Just knew it was new. And I had to buy it.

1998: I'm 32. Cards mean little to me. I've mentioned before that I discovered 1998 Topps at a book store in a mall and decided to buy three packs for old-times sake. I thought the Roberto Clemente card was cool but had no idea what it meant (that a retro era was just beginning). What I didn't mention is that when we were at the mall, I was pushing my daughter in her stroller. She was no more than 4 months old.

2006: I'm 40. It's the Year of Walmart. Early in the baseball card season I see some rack packs of 2006 Topps at Walmart. The rack packs advertise "3 vintage cards" in every pack. SOLD. Even though most of the vintage cards are from the mid-1980s, it's enough to get me hooked on modern cards again. Every trip to Walmart that year was exciting.

2008: I'm 43. I'm sitting right where I am now. I'm creating something called "a baseball card blog." I barely know what I'm doing. But the thought of writing about baseball cards is as exciting as anything I've come across in years. Blogger tells me to hit the orange "Create new blog" button. I do.

So if you got through all that, you saw the reminiscence bump in action. The vast majority of those memories are between the ages of 10 and 30. Also, unlike music, most of my baseball card memories have to do with ... uh ... baseball cards, rather than a specific relationship or activity, like music might evoke. So I don't know if it's the best instrument for unearthing memories.

But it certainly does its job. That's why when I'm old and in my rocker, I will have two things next to me: my music and my baseball cards.


Mark Hoyle said…
I’m with you on the music invoking memories. Some song definitely bring you bavpck to a specific place. Hope there is a good outcome for you, your family and your mom
Old Cards said…
Great memories. I remember seeing those ads in the back of the magazines to buy complete sets, but the price might as well have been a million dollars. What little money I had was used to buy wax packs. Like you, felt like I cheated when I bought a complete set as an adult. Sorry about your Mom.
DMA said…
Thanks for sharing all this.
mr haverkamp said…
Amazingly heartfelt of your best. I felt kind of dirty when I bought the complete '76 Topps set that August while on summer vacation in Minnesota from a guy that advertised in SCD. My aunt drove me half an hour to his house, I paid him 7.50, and brought them back. Organized them in the order I wanted while watching John Candelaria throw a no-hitter against the Dodgers on Monday night baseball......good times!
Hackenbush said…
Great post. I wish I had ten percent of the memory you have. Sorry for the tough times your family is going through.
Billy Kingsley said…
Memory is an interesting thing. For me, I can remember 1988 to 1998 very well, but anything after that is a lucky guess, essentially. I have so few memories from some years, it's almost comical, if it wasn't so frustrating. I have pictures to prove I've done things or been places...but I have absolutely zero memory of it. One of the reasons I started a card blog was so I would not have to try and remember things, and then get frustrated when I couldn't. I have medical reasons that cause my memory loss, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating.

I started listening to 60s music in 1998. I had been listening to the local pop channel before that, but I went almost exclusively 60s then...still my favorite era and still what I'm 90% chance going to play when I pull out a CD. If your TV provider offers Music Choice, I highly recommend it. They have decade specific channels for the 70s through 00s, and one called "Solid Gold Oldies" which covers 1954-68. That's what I usually have on although now I've got Christmas music.
Jon said…
I'm sorry to hear about your mom, I can't imagine how difficult this must be for her, and for the rest of your family -- hopefully the doctors will figure out what's what sooner than later.
Rob said…
Thank you for being an awesome blogger and blessing us with these kind of posts.
Nick Vossbrink said…
This is a great post and I'm just going to drop the idea that this should be a blog bat around in the comments in case anyone else wants to go down memory lane so we can all learn a bit more about each other.
BaseSetCalling said…
These days, we have the Americana Music Association with its wonderful awards, perfectly curated shows on Sirius and elsewhere, and even here and there, such music on actual radio stations. Lone Justice would be winning the hearts & minds of those fans if they were a contemporary band. But back then they had much less of an infrastructure to support them, and much like the Long Ryders (who have an interesting career revival going), they struggled to gain enough traction for a longer, more fruitful career. I never did get around to picking up my own copy of Shelter, that was dumb, and have just that first LP shown above. But I keep thinking/hoping some new Americana artist will lead us back to them, maybe via a cover of Ways to be Wicked - that would fit in perfectly alongside new artists like Margo Price or Wild Rivers.
Nick said…
I wish my memories of youth were that clear. I have many, but can only guess as to how old I was, what grade I was in, etc. All this reminiscing is making me want to write a post about my younger days even though I'm still a ways off from the "reminiscence bump."
Thank you for a great post from the heart. I've been a fan of NOC for years, and this is the best post I've read.

I share your love of music and baseball cards, and I too am often taken back to another time and place when I hear a certain song or look at a certain card.

I wish the best for your mom, you and your family. Stay strong.
Jafronius said…
Prayers to you and your family. Hope things get better for your mom.
Fuji said…
Another thought provoking post. It's not easy watching our parents get old. But whenever I start stressing out about it... i immediately think about all of the sacrifices they made for me. It helps me put things into perspective a little more. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that 2019 is a better year for both of our moms. As for the reminiscent bump... that totally makes sense. I'd say that 80 to 90% of my posts deal with my reminiscent bump.
Metallattorney said…
I am so sorry to hear about your mother. My thoughts are with you and your family in this time.
Fred Pike said…
I am old. I have cards. I have music. I have memories. I am not in a rocker as yet. Great post.

My mother made the same journey years ago. My thoughts are with you and your family.
GCA said…
This was my thought too...
AdamE said…
My first card memory was 1986. I got a pack of 86 Topps Football cards at a birthday party. I pulled the Record Breaker card of my favorite player, Walter Payton. My collecting stared. There was no ball card store close but my dad worked about 40 minutes away and every now and then my brother and I would go with him on a Saturday. Afterwards we would go to a stamp coin shop (my brother collected coins and I collected stamps) After I got that first Football card I started buying cards instead of stamps. (Which infuriated my dad. Stamps would someday be worth something only kids buy ballcards)
1988 I moved to Missouri. There was a used book store that sold cards in my new town. I didn't like 88 Topps so I spent all my money on 85s and 86s. I'm pretty sure that used book store still has packs of 85 Topps. (86s are all gone though, Jerry Rice)
1989 - Our local grocery store stared getting cards. So when we would go to Price Chopper I would get cards. I bought a few 89 Score Packs but I really liked these new cards called Pro Set way better. (maybe they were cheaper I don't remember) Hindsight says I should have focused on Score, Barry Sanders.
1990 - My mom found a clearance on Score Update and bought my brother ad I multiple boxes.
1991 - My town gets a ballcard store and Stadium Club comes out. I only buy like 1 pack because they are so expensive but man are they beautiful.
1993 - I'm in high school and I haven't collected for the past couple years. But then McDonald's releases some football cards and I'm back in it.
1994 - Cards and cards and more cards. So many cards.
1995 - I built a set of Select Certified from packs. Can't tell you how much it cost me.
1996 - I start to expand into basketball and baseball thanks to playing "Home Run" in the card store.
1997 - he card shop goes out of business and it's my last year of collecting for a long long time.
2005 - My Red Sox win the world series. I nose around ebay and can't believe how cheap jersey cards are I start buying a bunch of them along with any other Red Sox I can find. (when I stopped collecting jersey cards were brand new and rare as hen's teeth)
2006-2007 - Wal-Mart is all I have. Well that used book store is still around but they don't get new stuff.
2008 - I found blogs and trading online.
2011 - I move to Phoenix and life turns upside down. No money or time for cards. Now it's just ebay and vintage.

You never know what will spark a memory. My grandmother is 92. She's in great health for a 92 year old but her memory isn't what it was. It is amazing things that she will remember though. I was visiting last year and my uncle and I turned on HBO to watch boxing. My grandmother sat down to watch with us and spent the whole time talking about how when she was a kid her dad would listen to Joe Lewis and Dempsey on the radio. She mentioned a bunch of fights from that time period and knew both opponents and who won. My whole family was shocked she remember that stuff.
heluva bump. And for the rocking chair, sounds like a good plan.
gcrl said…
i'll bite. i've got a post that will go up on monday.
Bo said…
Best wishes to you and your mom. My dad is 77 and also had some health issues recently. It is an uneasy feeling when you're parents suddenly seem fragile. I wrote a reminiscence bump here -
Ah yes, music, memories and parents. Some of my fondest memories are of my parents sitting at our snack bar, the radio always on a big band station. That's how I got hooked on Sinatra. If the radio wasn't on, they were watching the Angels on the little kitchen tv. Not baseball cards specifically, but with both of them gone now it's a nice connection between them, baseball and music.
I hope your mothers health concerns get resolved.
Fuji said…
Here's my bump...