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Column: Cherish your memories while you have them
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

What do you remember? 

I can recall every telephone we had at home. I remember some of the full names of some of my ancestors. I can name every teacher I had in elementary and high school. 

I’m not as good as I used to be when it comes to knowing names. I envy people who have a memory that allows them to store names in their head. I have a friend who is in his 90s and can recall names like the first time he heard them.

I don’t think there is any ailment that is as bad as various forms of dementia. Tommy Nobis was known as the first Falcon. After he retired from playing, he helped start a center where they taught people with challenges to work. I saw a guy taking tiny electronic parts and putting them into a small plastic bag with absolute accuracy. 

Nobis, like a lot of football players, developed dementia. One day I saw him walking around the outside of the capitol. He clearly was confused. I walked up to him and said, “Tommy, I’m Harris Blackwood.” 

He repeated my name under his breath in what appeared to be a way he could remember my name. He looked up at the Gold Dome and asked me what building that was. 

“That’s the state capitol.”

 “Oh, yeah,” he replied. 

He died a few years ago. Over the past few years, I saw local bankers, attorneys and business owners lose their memory and their ability to do the things they used to do. 

My only brother died of a brain tumor. The first year he was sick, he had a fair memory, but would do things like constantly change the channel on the TV remote. We used to have to hide it. 

In the second year, he began to forget names and other things. He heard his boys call his wife “Mother” and began calling her that, too. After a time, he forgot his boys’ names. Somehow, he didn’t forget my name until the point where he stopped talking.

 I stayed with him on Tuesday. I would get to their house and he’d wake up and ask when I got there. Then, he’d ask me to fix him some breakfast. I would feed him and clean him up and shave him. 

About three hours later, he’d wake up again, ask me when I got there and ask me to fix some breakfast. I was glad to do it. 

I was sad to hear that actor Bruce Willis now has a more advanced form of dementia. Here was a guy that played the tough guy in countless movies. He seemed to always be able to take out the bad guy. 

I was sad to hear about his plight. Dementia is a terrible thing, whether you’re rich or poor, famous or unknown. How many times have you heard a report on the news that someone with a form of dementia had driven to another part of the state and was lost? 

I often tell people that when their memory is strong and vivid, it’s a great time to write your memoirs. One day when your mind is fading, our children and grandchildren might like to know more about you. 

Memories are great things, but put them to use while you still have them.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns publish weekly.