Constance E. Sibrava
My big sister often says that I would be a genius if I could get rid of some of the useless bits of trivia stored in my head.
As much as my father loved me, he was very strict and had very strong opinions as to how children should behave. He believed that children should be seen, and not heard. As Cat Stevens sings, “From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen.” And so I listened. And I listened. And, I memorized a good bit of what I heard.
My grandfather was not always sympathetic to my father’s rules; however, he did his share to flood my brain with information that would be of no use to me in my adulthood. He took the time to teach me the alphabet…backwards. Long before I could recite it correctly. When I entered kindergarten and the teacher asked who knew their alphabet, I proudly stood and blurted out “Z, Y, X, W, V….” Mrs. Allen was not impressed and told me that it was useless to know the alphabet backwards. She didn’t congratulate me. To this day, it is stuck in my head. I am unable to get rid of this (useless) knowledge.
The alphabet was only the beginning of the data that was to be permanently etched in my memory. There were all of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s songs. “You load sixteen tons and what’d’ya get?” “Give me, oh give me, I really wish you would, that watermelon hanging on the vine.” Then there was the not exactly memorable to most people (except my sister) music of Allan Sherman. “Grow Mrs. Goldfard, fatter, fatter. Pile the potatoes on your platter!” Or, who can forget Danny Kaye´s songs? Certainly not me! “Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, friendly old girl of a town.”
My sister and I were often sentenced to long, long days in our bedroom for doing things like talking and laughing and being kids. I remember the gloomy days memorizing poetry, which I still recall when the need arises. Sometimes, a good recitation of “The Raven” or “The Charge of the Light Brigade” just makes you feel better. If we wanted to make our father cry, we would recite “In Flanders Field”. It felt good to make HIM cry for once! Or there are times when just thinking about the words to Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky” makes me feel happy inside.
Of course, there are things pounded into me that MAY be useful one day! Take the quadratic equation! This was quite literally pounded into me by my soon-to-be brother-in-law when I was unable to remember it. And, it is certain that I will NEVER forget it. I am never quite sure how it’s used, but if I ever need it I have it! Or the Gettysburg Address, or the Preamble to the Constitution or the capitols of all the states in the US, or the planets in order from the sun (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and….Pluto…although poor Pluto has recently lost its planet status). How many people actually can remember the names of the US Presidents in the order in which they served? Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison…
It’s always useful to have some knowledge of sports, also. Why else would I remember the trio of Tinker, Evers and Chance and their famous triple play when they played for the Chicago Cubs?
Now that my children are grown, I see this same phenomenon in them. My son, for instance, can recite, word for word, the scene from A Few Good Men
where Lt. Kaffee has Col. Jessep on the stand. “I WANT THE TRUTH!” says Lt. Kaffee. “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH” shouts back Col. Jessep.
My two daughters can recite much of Steel Magnolias
. “What nice shoes you have, Miss Clarice.” “I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special.” They are also able to quote large portions of the movie, Beaches
. “I don´t even remember what it was I was mad about and I don´t care. Whatever it was that you did, I forgive you." Who can say when this information might be useful?
I worry about the youngest generation. They spend mindless hours on electronic devices playing games and texting their friends and surfing the web. What will happen in their adulthood? What will happen when my grandchildren need to know, for instance, the capitol of Nebraska? How will they be able to compete in the game of Trivial Pursuit? Don’t they care about Shel Silverstein and his great poems? What happens if they get old and need to recall “Ickle Me, Tickle Me, Pickle Me Too” and are unable to do so? And will they ever be able to recite Dr. Seuss´s great work, The Cat in The Hat
, from memory as I can?
Recently, I came to find out that maybe this “stuff” in my head isn’t useless at all. I have become quite the Jeopardy fan and many, many times when Final Jeopardy comes on the television, I know the answer (unless it’s a question about ballet or opera or the Roman Empire!).
Now, if I can remember where I laid my glasses or what I went to the store for or why I went in the other room, I will be happy!