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I have to trust my recollections

So much of what I share with you folks every week revolves around my memories, and often I’m asked something like, “How do you remember all that stuff?”
And that’s valid. I wish I could say, “Well, thankfully I’ve kept a journal since I was in the third grade, so it’s easy for me to refer to what I wrote as it was happening.”
And that would be nice. But as faithful readers might recall, I told a story about something that happened when I was in second grade not that long ago, so that shoots down that possibility.
The truth is that, aside from family photographs and letters I’ve saved, there isn’t a lot of tangible evidence to which I can refer. I have to trust my recollections.
One good thing about being the sole proprietor of S. Michael Dewey’s Museum of Memories is that hardly anyone can contradict me because, well, both of my parents are gone. Sure, my sister and my brother are still alive and well, but as the oldest child, I still hold sway.
Am I sometimes wrong? No, perhaps mistaken but never wrong.
See how easy it is to turn the truth on its head? I should have been a lawyer. Or president.
As it stands though, I’m just a humble storyteller. But that works for me.
So how did I develop such well-defined memory muscles? Like any other God-given talent, I didn’t do much to get it, but once I knew I had it, I was determined to keep it strong, sort of like had I been blessed with being a great baseball player or an admired rock ‘n’ roll guitarist, both of which I aspired to being but soon realized I wasn’t going to get to either place, ever. So I just remember.
My mother kept something she called my Baby Book, which was an accurate enough description of the volume until I was like 10 years old, and then it became kind of embarrassing.
I remember getting my picture in the paper after the Little League team I played for won the city championship. My sister said, in front of all my teammates, “Mom can put it in his Baby Book.” Which she did, incidentally.
Mom also noted my first steps (a day short of my first birthday) and my first operation (tonsils and adenoids snipped out when I was 6 years old). I remember mountains of chocolate ice cream served to me there in the hospital.
Then there were the school milestones: first report card (a U for “unsatisfactory” in attitude/discipline), first honor roll and first dean’s list.
Just kidding about that last one. Mom wasn’t still writing in my Baby Book when I was at Notre Dame, though she did clip the notice from the local paper and mail it to me.
Speaking of mementos, there is a photograph from the same newspaper, one of me dressed as Abe Lincoln — stovepipe hat, long dark coat and a beard fashioned from broom bristles — that’s survived all the years since I was in sixth grade.
And it all gets back to my skill at memorizing stuff.
The year before, I was honored to have been selected to “try out” for the altar boys “team.” I made it only to discover that part of being truly accepted would hinge on my ability, at the age of 10, to commit the entire Roman Catholic Mass to memory, in Latin, over the course of a single weekend.
Some of that sacred server speak I can still repeat: “Et cum spiritu tuo” (and also with you), “Confiteor Deo omnipotenti” (I confess to almighty God), “Kyrie eleison” (Lord have mercy) and “Gloria in exelsis Deo” (Glory to God in the highest).
Pretty heady stuff, but I found out I kind of enjoyed being on the altar — onstage as it were — and that’s how I wound up saying, “Sure, why not?” when asked to memorize Lincoln’s "Gettysburg Address” the next year.
It was pretty cool to go from classroom to classroom, delivering that famous oration, which at only 272 words, was not that big a challenge.
Nor was “Casey at the Bat,” Ernest Thayer’s immortal poem all about there being “no joy in Mudville” after the home team’s star player struck out to end the game.
That was a little more difficult to memorize because it consisted of 13 verses and hundreds of words, but at least when I recited it in front of the whole school, I could wear my Little League uniform.
Flash forward a year when, dressed as Edgar Allan Poe — white shirt, black tie, vest, trousers and sneakers — I recited portions of “The Raven” in a ninth-grade classroom bathed in candlelight. That performance propelled me into accepting an invitation to portray Mr. Witherspoon in the freshman class’ production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
Was it the smallest part in the play? Well yes, but to quote Constantin Stanislavksi, the revered Russian thespian, “There are no small roles, only small actors.”
I only had about a dozen lines, all delivered in the final act, but I don’t remember being nervous in front of all those people in the auditorium. Quite the opposite, I was confident.
Memorization had always come easily to me, and that weekend after the final curtain had dropped, I remember thinking I’d always recall the feeling of taking a bow, applause in the air.
Standing next to me, as I like to remember it, was an altar boy, a statesman, a ballplayer and a poet.
Mike Dewey can be reached at CarolinamikeD@aol.com">CarolinamikeD@aol.com or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. Join his Facebook followers.

Published: April 16, 2018
New Article ID: 2018180419958