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.