Wednesday, September 6, 2017


The onset of geriatric short term memory loss is a perfectly normal and commonplace phenomenon for a man of my age, but damned if it isn’t frustrating, annoying and embarrassing.

I can remember the name of the little boy who had an personal accident in Sister Mariam Joseph’s second grade class, but I cannot tell you the name of the man with whom I rode around the golf course the day before yesterday. Of course, if my golfing partner had done what Harry Bloink did in 1936, I surely would recall his name, too.

Names have always been a problem for me. My law school classmates bandied about the names of the cases we studied with comfortable familiarity. I only remembered the facts of the case and the legal principle involved. For me, the famous 1929 New Hampshire tort case of Hawkins v Mcgee was simply the case of the “harry hand.”

I suppose my increasing difficulty remembering people’s names would be more concern if it were an alarming new experience. It isn’t. I have always had a problem with names.

When I was Chief Justice, I had many occasions to work with the State Bar of Michigan. The name of one charming and gracious lady with whom I often interacted in those days, never stuck in my craw. Every time I saw her, I was immediately, and uncomfortably, aware that I could not call up her name.

Embarrassing as it was, I would ask to be reminded. I have always felt that the embarrassment of asking someone’s name is at least more honest than the embarrassment of not knowing the person with whom you are having a conversation.

In any case, no matter how many times I saw her, no matter how many times I asked, and no matter how many times she told me her name, the next time we met, I would draw the same annoying and frustrating blank.

It finally came to the point where, every time I saw her, she would open the conversation with the triumphant question, “You don’t remember my name, do you?”

It is perhaps a work of charity that I cannot call up her name as I write this blog. I still feel my face getting red as I tell the story.

The process of people recognizing other people has interested the medical profession for years. Wikipedia tells us that scientists at Cal Tech have conducted brain imaging studies which show that we humans have several tiny regions in our temporal lobes – about the size of blueberries – that specialize in responding to faces.

They have actually been able to record the crackling of these brain cells in a monkey and identify who the monkey is thinking about!

All of which harkens me back to the early 1940’s, when, on a summer’s day, I ran into the street intent on playing catcher in a pick up baseball game, only to catch the full force of a baseball bat on my forehead – right between the eyes. I went down and out with two black eyes and a bump on my forehead that is still there.

Makes me wonder if it had anything to do with the pituitary tumor I developed about twenty years ago. And my annoying inability to catalog names and faces.

In any case, memory loss is all a part of the aging process. My sainted mother used to write notes to herself to avoid forgetting things. She simply  took it all in stride.

We were concerned about her driving her beloved old Ford Mustang. She insisted than she never drove over 20 miles an hour and never made left turns. We took her car and when she realized it was gone, we told her she had sold it. She smiled and said, “Did I? I don’t remember.”

I don’t write notes, although I do keep a diary on the computer. It’s not fool proof, but it helps, especially when I check it against Polly’s calendar, which is never wrong.

By the way, the kid with the baseball bat was Lee Johnson. I wonder what ever became of him.


  1. I have a book that explains your frustration Judge, "Old Age is Not For Sissies" by Peter Pauper press.


  2. Judge, cops are always supposed to remember names - period. I have your affliction and embarrassed to recount the many times while walking through the 'mall' I had to turn to Jan and say "Who is that coming toward us", her polite reply - "It's Jim and you've worked with him for about 20 years now" to which I replied "Thanks, don't need the commentary:-).... Larry

  3. Never got hit with a bat. Still can't remember names. Never could. I could remember dreams patients had if I saw them on the street but not their names. I recall things about some patients well after they themselves have forgotten those things. But their names....not there.

  4. I have the same problem. When I was teaching five classes with 25 or more students each, I told them on day one that it take me a couple of weeks to learn their names. And at my favorite restaurant, I let each of the new help people know that I will ask their names more than once. After a couple of times, I remember after that. So far, no one complains that I do this.

  5. Puppa, it must be hereditary! I have always had trouble remembering names and have experienced those embarrassing scenarios more times than I care to admit. Thank God for my wife. She too is the keeper of the calendar...and she is never wrong.

  6. So I can remember the names of the starting line up for the 1968 Detroit Tigers – Cash, McAuliffe, Stanley, Wert, Horton, Northrup, Kaline, Freehan, and pitchers – McLain, Lolich, and Wilson and pinchhitter Gates Brown. But I’m like you – I come home from Golf and Bill asks, “who did you play with?” and half the time I can’t even remember whom I rode with in the cart for 4 hours. Hurricane Irma heading our way, but it looks like it’s turning eastward. Hope you are well! Miss you!


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