Memories Like Bits of Paper, Shaken in a Jar

Commentator David Greenberger travels around the country, talking to older people and collecting their stories. This is the story of Gertrude Berg and the difficulty of remembering.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Commentator David Greenberger travels around the country, talking to older people and collecting their stories, which he then retells himself. This story comes from a woman named Gertrude Berg.

DAVID GREENBERGER: You know, when I was in the hospital, I could remember everything the doctor would ask. He'd say, what is this and what is that? But I couldn't remember the date. I had 1996 in my head, I'd say 1996. And he'd say, no. No it ain't, Gert, it's not 1996. So I woke up one night at the hospital and I said, I'm going to remember this, because it was '98. All night, it was in my mind. So the next morning, when he came and he said, well, what's the year? I said, 1998.

He said, How'd you — good for you. I said, well, I stayed up all night working on it. But then a couple of days afterwards, I lost it again just for about two hours. And you know? The doctor explained to my daughter, he said, what happened to your mother is like you take a paper and tear it all in little pieces and shake it in a jar and then try to put it together. That's the way her brain fits. All the pieces are there, but you have to work to get them together.

I had a speech therapist, but see, people sometimes get disgusted with them because they do ask you some of the dumbest questions. She'd say, I have to ask you this. And I'd say, yeah, I know what you're going to ask, something stupid. They'll be on one subject and change quick to something else to see how quick you can do it. And they said I was real quick on, you know, remembering.

My mind was good, that's one thing. That's one thing, I'm thankful of that. Because there's so many out here that forget. We had one poor woman, and she'd come out and she'd say, is this morning or night? Am I supposed to be getting undressed or dressed? She was so confused. I thank God every night I'm not like that. I can remember.

SIEGEL: A story from Gertrude Berg, collected and retold by commentator David Greenberger.

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