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Beth Underwood: The old memory isn’t what it used to be… Has anyone seen my grocery list? Or my pen?


As you may be aware, I tend to be a brain-over-paper girl. Why write it down if I’ve got it all up there (tapping finger on the side of my head). Even as a child, I’d learned to memorize just about everything — mathematical times tables, Bible verses, historical points in time:

“In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

So is it any surprise that I’ve been known to hit the grocery store without a list?

For years, the ploy served me well. I could be standing in the condiments, relish and hot sauce aisle, pull up my mental list, and see that I needed a 14-ounce can of evaporated milk. I could be 10 feet away from check out and run back for a bunch of bananas. (I didn’t say my methods were always efficient — only that I got home with everything I intended.)

These days, though, it’s more likely that I have a list with me. Because my memory just isn’t what it used to be.

And here’s where it gets real. Taking the list to the grocery isn’t enough (assuming I remember to grab it before heading out the door). These days, I need to go one step further and mark off each item on my list after pulling it off the shelf and putting it in the buggy.

If I fail to take this step, my brain puffs out its proverbial chest and takes over, poo-pooing the idea for a list to begin with while trying to prove the ol’ memory works just as well as it always has.

It’s a lot like the guy who tries to prove he can still do a backflip off the high dive at the pool, even though he hasn’t stepped a toe in the water for 30 years. Instead of nailing the backflip, he does a massive belly flop. The kind of belly flop that people a mile away can hear. And they wince in vicarious pain for the poor fella. But I digress.

In grocery speak, if I don’t mark things off as I go, my brain isn’t capable of more than a passing glance. It focuses my eyes on the list as a whole, not on individual items. Worst of all, it tries to blow it off.

Yeah, yeah. I’m sure you got everything. Let’s just go. I’m hungry. Aren’t you hungry?

And while that may sound like the voice of authority when you’re ready to check out, it falls short as soon as you realize you forgot the eggs you need to make French toast for dinner.

The remedy is clear. I need to hit the store with a pen in hand. And if I have a pen, that also means I need something to write on. Which brings a new list of questions into play.

Do I need a special notebook for the store? Or will a notepad work? Should it be a full-size notebook? Or something that fits in my pocket? And if it fits in my pocket, where will I put the pen?

Clearly, a single sheet of loose paper just won’t do. I think we both know nothing is worse than holding a flimsy piece of pulp, marking off items on a list, and stabbing yourself with the pen.

So if you see me set up in aisle six with a make-shift desk, don’t mind me. I’m just checking off my list. Because my memory just isn’t what it used to be.

Beth Underwood is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She shares stories of everyday life that entertain, inspire, and encourage others. Her books include Gravity, a narrative nonfiction account of a small group of Tennessee National Guardsmen, and Talk Bourbon to Me, a lighthearted look at Kentucky’s native spirit. Drop her a line at beth@bethwrightunderwood.com, or visit her website at bethwrightunderwood.com.


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