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Silver Threads: Playing the memory game

When my husband and I had been married for only four or five years, I decided to clean out a closet and chose to discard a faded, pea-green corduroy jacket with a red wool lining. It was badly worn, and I’d never seen him wear it.

He spied it on a pile of other garments — 99 percent of which were mine — that were destined for Goodwill, and went ballistic. I had unwittingly unearthed the Anding family tradition of keeping things forever.

My own family, on both the maternal and paternal sides, were used to traveling light. I was going to tell you about how my daddy’s family burned all their spool beds when they got some newfangled iron ones, and my mother tossed an ancient Kodak camera just weeks before I read they were selling some for $300, but I did a search of the documents in my computer and discovered that I’ve already written about all that. I’m glad that memory served me — just in time. Please — send me an email when I get too repetitive, okay?

Anyhow, this must be the time of year when those of us who will never accumulate enough memorabilia to go on “Antiques Roadshow” get the itch to clean up and clear out.

So I didn’t hesitate for a second when the Salvation Army called and asked if I would have some stuff on the front steps, ready for them to pick up tomorrow morning. And I even convinced the aforementioned husband to go through at least one closet and jettison some shirts and jackets.

But, wait, while I was writing the above paragraph, I remembered that I’ve also told you in the same column that the Salvation Army called, which must have been about this time last year, when people get the itch to clean up and clear out. (Gee, that line sounds familiar.)

So, herewith a switch in plans, a column about memory — lack of it in some cases, in other cases, not.

I‘ve undertaken to write a series of stories, about my father‘s family, for the reading pleasure of my daughter and grandsons, my remaining first cousins and those once, and twice, removed. The stories are things that I remember about our parents and grandparents, what went on at our large family gatherings, and the people and places in the little town where I spent much of my childhood.

I’ve no trouble remembering all this. I can tell you how it felt to hide from my siblings and cousins in Grandmother’s big old quilt box, how my youngest uncle rescued me from the hayloft when I was too scared to climb down, how it felt to sit around the fireplace in the dark with the rest of the family and “hitch a ride” with an aunt carrying a kerosene lamp to the kitchen.

I can see the two-story red-brick schoolhouse we all reported to, hear the principal’s indignant voice as he broke up a slapping match between me and my sister just outside the door, see the big gym where basketball tournaments were held and the boys’ locker rooms that were being cleared out for re-painting still had some “dirty” words and a four-line R-rated poem inscribed on the walls I remember that poem today, also the tennis courts next door (Tom buried Billy‘s racket in a hole nearby), the little pond down the road into which my cousin Mary pushed our school principal’s pesky son, the wide porch at my best friend’s house under which we kids buried — after tearful funeral services — dead bugs in match boxes.

I can remember having my tonsils out at 5, how I kicked at the nurse trying to stick a needle in me and what I dreamed of — Tarzan of the Apes swinging through the jungle trees — while under the anesthetic.

How then can I forget so often where I put my glasses, the name of that new neighbor down the street, what some of the books in my kindle are about, and how the movie I saw last week ended? Not to mention the subjects of the Silver Threads I wrote last year?

“Is a puzzlement!” as the guy in “The King and I” said. What was his name?

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at



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