The Anatomy Of A Memory

By Ron Ciancutti

Memories are elusive. When you stop to consider the premise of enjoying a good memory, it isn’t a long process. It’s a moment or a quick thought, like “I remember last summer on the boat.” Then, in that moment, you relive the wind in your face, the sun on your back, and the scent of sunblock on your nose. It’s a flash, a click of your internal camera—the snapshots of your life history. And then it’s back up in the cloud, waiting for the next retrieval.


Some people relish a good memory by meditating on it, re-creating the whole event in their mind. They think about getting in the car, driving to the vacation spot, seeing the beach come into view, and running to the shore as soon as the car stops. They attempt to re-experience the whole thing. I find this very difficult. It’s like praying—you can only concentrate for so long.

Attachable Moments
So, many years ago I devised a little system when I’m experiencing a moment that I am fairly sure will later be called upon as a memory. It’s similar to the methods in trying to remember names and being told to associate a picture in your mind when you meet someone. For example, you meet someone named Art. In your mind, you imagine a picture hanging in an art museum, and you associate the name with that picture. “Matt” might cause you to think about the welcome rug on your front step. You get the idea. With memories, I try to designate an “attachable moment.”

I’ve found that all memories include some type of peak moment that defines them. That moment occurs when the memory swells, and some emotion attaches itself to the experience. If I try hard enough, I can “feel” the experience as well as simply recall it.

A couple examples stand out in my mind:

· On my wedding day, there were a lot of details to deal with, and typically I am the one handling such matters. Upon arriving at the church, I was standing in the back, giving directions to anyone who would listen—who was to sit on which side, whether the lights were properly dimmed, whether the organist had the musical selections in the right order—when, suddenly, things got quiet, and I realized the ceremony was about to start. I took my place and looked down the aisle, and there stood the star of the show. She was stunning, and the light behind her seemed to illuminate her all the more. She and her father walked quietly and confidently to the steps before the altar, and he gave her to me with a broad smile; he and I had become very close. My bride and I ascended the stairs and I whispered, “Are you all right?” And then I had my “attachable moment.” She looked at me in that way she always did, and in her face I saw all the challenges we had experienced to come together as a couple, and there had been many. This was the day we had anticipated for so long, and the dust had finally settled, and it was now just her and me. She said, “All right? I’ve never been so sure about anything in my life.” When I recall that moment, I can hear her tone and pitch, I can smell her fragrance, I can see the sheen of her lipstick and the clarity of her blue eyes, and I get that same rush as I did that day, having heard the greatest pledge of a lifetime of loyalty and dedication. As John Dunbar related in his diary in the film Dances with Wolves, “I knew right then the love between us would be well-served.”

· When my eldest son scored a last-minute touchdown as time clicked off the clock, it seemed that the entire high school stadium was yelling his name. He stepped away from the crowd and pointed at me with the game ball. He raised the other fist in the air, and I read his thoughts—all those years of pee-wee football, the nights of extended practice and late meals, the coaching I provided, the encouragement, the talks, the college teams that were already calling. He was simply saying, “Thanks, Dad.” As he plopped into the car an hour later and sighed, I said, “Awesome game, kid.” He said, “Did you get my message?” I nodded, choked with emotion, and he said, “All right.” We drove home in silence. I can feel that lump in my throat as I write the words even now.

And, of course, not all memories are good ones, but they are experiences, nonetheless:

  • Watching my dad draw his last breath before a sudden heart attack took his life

  • Holding my aged dogs as they were “put down,” succumbing to the consequences of long life

  • Saying goodbye to friends who moved away

  • Watching people settle for things in their lives when they were clearly expecting more

  • Remembering embarrassing moments that I wish I could do over

  • Recalling things I said that I wish I hadn’t

  • Hearing medical news I would rather not hear but knowing I had to deal with it.

But of all the memories, I find the ones that have stayed with me forever are the hellos and goodbyes that seem to come as bookends as the chapters of life begin and end.

  • Completing elementary school and leaving childhood behind

  • Graduating from high school and entering the adult world

  • Choosing a girlfriend and breaking up with her (the loss of true innocence)

  • Finishing a sports season or theatrical play and departing from newly acquired comrades

  • Moving out of my childhood home and moving into a new home without all that security.

Like Billy Joel once sang,

“So many faces in and out of my life,
Some will last, some will just be now and then.
Life is a series of hello and goodbye.
I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.”

A Link To The Past
My wife and I attended our youngest son’s Victory Banquet recently as he and the rest of the 2018 Bowling Green Falcons rugby team took their division’s National Title for the first time in the club’s 50-year history.

The evening began with reckless abandon. The drinks poured, the toasts were many, the stories were told and retold, and then it became clear that after that evening wrapped up, the previous years of building this team would ascend to that memory cloud I was talking about.

The players and their experiences will be forever linked by the championship trophy, but it would all be just a memory from then on. Their heads will gray, they’ll put on a few pounds, and they’ll get together and relive the games for years to come, but with such strong memories there is always a sense of loss. The “new normal” carries some regret as things can never stay the way they were.

Log those wonderful moments in your minds, my friends. They were once fulfilled dreams of the best days of your life.

Ron Ciancutti worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He is now retired. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A. from Baldwin Wallace University. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at