Gardner Variety: forgotten memories come alive


The human brain is an immensely complex organ. In fact, it’s arguably the most complex living structure in the universe, at least according to us Earthlings.
With an estimated 100 billion neurons passing signals to each other through as many as 1,000 trillion synaptic connections, it continuously takes in and analyzes sensory information, responding by controlling all bodily actions and functions.
It’s easy to go on with our day-to-day lives without reflecting on just how remarkable our trusty biological computers really are. I hardly ever stop to think about the fact that everything I do — my thoughts, my actions, my observations and interpretations — is the direct result of a pinkish, spongy assortment of tissues.
While I was visiting my family in Katy a few weekends ago, it hit me like a bombshell.
My brother and I, feeling uncommonly nostalgic Friday night, decided our best course of action for the evening would be to search for our old collection of Pokemon cards, because, obviously, we make good decisions. The battle would have been epic, no doubt, but we never got that far. As we began to dig through an old closet, which probably hadn’t been opened in at least five years, the importance of our chosen task suddenly faded.
As we began to sort through the piles of old toys and board games, memories that had remained dormant for more than a decade suddenly flooded my mind. I picked up an old, dusty bag containing softball pins I had traded growing up and was immediately transported back to my childhood.
Growing up, I basically lived at various softball fields and complexes throughout the summer. My sister, who would eventually be named an All-American at the University of Texas, played on a travel team for as long as I can remember, cementing my place in the softball universe.
As I looked through my collection, the importance of it all for me, at least at the time, became as clear as if I was there. The negotiations. The drive to secure “blinkie” pins — the most coveted pieces of all because, as the name suggests, they contained a small, blinking red light. I remembered the disappointment I felt after failing to make a deal, and the triumph of successfully claiming my prize.
It sounds trivial, I know, but pin trading was a very large part of my life in those early years, and I hadn’t thought about it in more than 10 years. My sister continued her softball career in college and at the professional level, but the world of pin trading was very much restricted to high school-level travelling teams.
As we are all forced to do at one time or another, I left behind an important part of me. Had I not stumbled upon that old pin book, those cherished memories would have never crossed my mind. Why would they? I grew up. I moved on. What truly astonished me, however, was the fact the memories were still there, in all of their vividly coherent complexity, buried somewhere deep within my mind waiting to be drawn on again.
It’s really quite astonishing, when you stop to think about it.
As I stated at the start, the human brain is an immensely complex organ. I wish I could say I understand why I can see my six-year-old self helping my mother bake cookies every time I smell cinnamon, or how something as simple as a book of pins could bring back such extensive and lucid memories, but it’s simply beyond my understanding.
For now, however, I’m content with enjoying the unexpected memories and marveling at the mysterious organ that shapes our lives.


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