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Memory Surprise

January 25, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments


I’m hardly breaking new ground in saying that the way memory works is a continuing surprise. And I’m no Oliver Sacks (alas), so I’m not about to write an engrossing essay with startling anecdotes. This is a simple tale, about the memory I know best.

Late yesterday afternoon, Gail and I were driving (well, you know, we were in the car together. I was driving) out of the neighborhood for an early dinner down the hill at The Attic, our local tavern. As we were heading out, I was thinking of a restaurant a few miles south where we might have gone instead if we hadn’t already made up our minds. It’s a restaurant we ate at regularly years ago, then stopped going to, until we stumbled on it again two Marches ago on the way to the airport to pick up Joel. And then we didn’t return again until a month ago, when we had a superb dinner. The place is down towards the Mt. Baker neighborhood. It sits atop the I-90 tunnel, practically on a cliff, with dramatic views to the west of downtown, Elliott Bay, Puget Sound, and the Olympics. When we stopped in last month, no one else was there. (It was only 5:00 PM. We were on our way north from a holiday open house and decided we may as well have dinner before heading home for the evening.) As a result, we were given one of the three tables at the window, allowing us to take full advantage of the view.

Anyway, in the car yesterday, I wanted to mention to Gail that we could have gone to this restaurant, but I couldn’t remember its name. I knew the name had two words. Or was it three words, with “The” being the first word? Could be. But two content words. I always have trouble remembering its name. But I figured Gail would remember. So I asked if she did remember. I didn’t want her to give the name away. I just wanted to know if she remembered the name of the restaurant across the street from where her Great Uncle Harry used to live. Harry moved to Seattle in the late 1930s, became a policeman, had a house that still sits across and about 30 yards south of the restaurant. And when other relatives, one by one, moved from South Dakota to Seattle, they would spend some time in Uncle Harry’s home before finding their own accommodations. We took Gail’s father to the restaurant when we first started eating there and he pointed the house out to us as his own first Seattle home.

Here’s the thing. Gail said sure, she knows the name of the restaurant. Well, it didn’t help that I first described it as the restaurant across the street from Uncle Butchy’s house. Wrong uncle. But once we cleared that up, she knew the name. As a hint, she suggested I think of a song. Without hesitation — without hesitating for a moment — I said the first song name that came to mind. My Cherie Amour. The Stevie Wonder hit of 1969. I knew fully well that this was not the restaurant’s name. But it’s the song I thought of, so I said it. And here’s the surprise. Gail laughed, saying no, it’s not My Cherie Amour, it’s That’s Amore. (The famous Dean Martin song, a 1952 hit, though if I have to say Dean Martin, you probably don’t know the song. Maybe if I tell you the opening lyrics: “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.”)

I had no idea what the restaurant’s name was. It wasn’t on the tip of my tongue. It wasn’t in the back of my throat. It was nowhere. Or so I thought. But something was going on in my brain, because when Gail told me to think of a song, out of the blue I came up with one whose key word is also the key word in the restaurant’s name. Wrong language, but still. Amour. Amore. My brain was getting there, unbeknownst to me. I have new respect for it.

Categories: Restaurants, Science
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