Thursday, October 18, 2018

"The glory days are over": A timeline reflection On the Importance of Memory Work

In our own Little Homeschool, we memorized various poems from "The Laurel, Harp and Wreath", I still had most of them memorized; My dad had us memorize things like "The Charge of the Light Brigade", "the highway man", "Gunga Din", "the hound of Heaven", a Paul Bunyan Poem, and a random menagerie of folk songs like "the pinery boys", "Starving to death on the government claim", "do you think its going to rain?", "going to leave old Dixie land" and others by Norman and Nancy Blake; my mom got us to memorize some Italian Folklore; us kids freely memorized the Gilligan's Island theme song, "I ride and Old Paint" and songs from Theater camp-- I think if properly challenged, we could still sing them all; while showing cattle I memorized the birth date and dam/sire of my heifer each year; when raising pigs or cattle I can tell you all the weights at different points for each steer and most of our pigs; I have price points memorized for cattle and pigs;  I naturally memorized various quote from the bible; I can copy out 5 generations of our family tree by memory; and, In piano, each of us kids have a song that we have annoyed the world with, for me, it was memorizing "take me home country Roads" by John Denver-5 years later it's still there, and just to drive our piano teacher crazy, I still play it.
Some time after these years, but before my later teen years, is when I was introduced to the concepts of classical education and the Charlotte Mason Method. I have since fallen in love with the Charlotte Mason Method. There are many resources on what to memorize and how to memorize. I have followed some "what to memorize" lists as a yard stick, but mostly, I seek to memorize whatever I want. My aspiration as a teen included memorizing various things.
Later on in life, I became one of the cool kids with my mom and her brother spitting out Seinfeld lines ("is anyone here a marine biologist?!" is my personal favorite), Sebastian Maniscalco jokes, and our favorites from My Cousin Vinny (I SHOT THE CLERK?!"); over the last few years I have made pages on Evernote and playlists on YouTube titled, "trying to memorize", they have included songs and scenes from the above comedies. Currently, the playlist contains the Creed in Latin and the Beverly Hillbillies theme song. I have copied out many things that I have wanted to memorize-prayers, quotes and such. In recent years, I have done this more for the thrill of it, or with some other purpose in mind like for prayer or for showing off with my mom and her brother. I always seem to find the best times to drop a line from "The Coal Miner's Daughter". I listen to the same songs over and over again to try and memorize their lyrics. Last year I took a class in Psychology and I think my eyes just glazed over the parts on the memory. Then, in February, I met someone with Dementia.

I have always thought of knowledge as what is in my head and what I have memorized. I have valued Memory work in a personal sense and in a educational/Charlotte Mason sense for a few years. It wasn't until recently that I have realized what a gift from God memory work really is!

On the night that my Grandma died we all--her living sisters, her grandkids, her kids and their spouses and her husband--gathered around in the bedroom. One of the things she said to us was, "thanks for all the memories". At the time, I remember thinking, "what a dumb comment to make when you are about to die". But, over time, I have wondered the truth in those words.

"the glory days are over" is what I told myself the first time she didn't recognize me.  I knew it was bound to happen, it was just a matter of when. Having now spent so much time with someone who has dementia over recent months, has given me a new appreciation for memory work. It scares me to think that one day I might not remember my name or what day I was born. It's frustrating to watch her struggle with her memory...things like the days of the week or the months of the year. It's so weird to watch her struggle with the year she was married in the morning, and then that same afternoon correct me on the Apostle's Creed. It's strange to watch her not be able to name her kids. Yet, the things she has memorized, the things she remembers, its like watch out, because she really remembers them. She still knows her patron saint and how to say the Rosary. I realize this is all a very specific example of someone who has lost most of their memory in recent years (Obviously, there are good days and bad days-her memory isn't totally gone), still, her strong presence in my life makes me think. I can't imagine what I would be like if I didn't quote my favorite personality would be so different.

The more I think about it, the more I think Charlotte Mason was right, with the importance of so much memory work. I think that memory work is the back bone of knowledge.  Mostly, I lack motivation to work on memorizing things. I want the end product of having the thing memorized, but often, I don't want to do the work to memorize it. I realize most of what I want to memorize isn't particularly important, but it is what I am attracted to memorize. It is with a recent renewed effort that I work on Memory work. I am always glad to hear a Catholic Schoolhouse CD played. My current memory work includes reading "Sophie's Squash" over and over and reading "How to Train a Train" repeatedly. I still do copywork in my notebook, and I try to listen to my YouTube playlist at least once a day. I have firmly come to believe that Memory work is for all ages (I'm 20). When Jesus said, "..."I come that the may live life, and live it abundantly" (John 10:10), I am pretty sure that Memory work is included!


  1. Wow, Frannie -- a great perspective on memory work. Our ability to remember is absolutely a gift from the Lord. There is a section from the book Gilead that was my first realization of that. If you haven't read it, you might enjoy it.

    1. Thank you, Celeste! Thanks for the book commendation! I haven't read that one yet, and its on my list. Now that you mention it, I think I'll put it higher on the priority list. :)