1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


Musings on the human memory or,
 Is 38 a name for a Hizer or a football play?

One of the beautiful things about an internet site like the Aldersonian is that anybody can write almost anything and get it on the internet. Don’t get me wrong. The Aldersonian is an exemplary feat. Thanks primarily to Barry Worrell. The quality of the material, photos, and the remarkable organization of so much and so varied information is astounding. Some would suggest that I am sucking up to Barry with these comments. What’s your point? Should I cuss him?

I give this preface because I would like to share some brief musings on the human memory. I have done this without research and forethought which leads me to my point about the Aldersonian. Barry could easily say,” Alex, what experience or credentials gives you the right to write about the memory for the Aldersonian?” If so questioned, my response would have to be that I grew up in Alderson. Barry would probably respond," That is credentials enough for me.”

What was it he said?

Politicians rely on the short memory of voters. Some people say the memory of voters is 30 days long. A friend of mine, Steve Spence of Charleston, WV says it is no more than 30 seconds. Any politician worth his or her salt has at least 25 number one priorities. If he or she is in front of doctors he or she will say health care is his number one priority. If he is in front of a chamber of commerce the next day he will say that business is his number one priority. This shortness of memory of the voters allows politicians to say almost anything and not get punished.

As long as a politician waits a little time, he can be on four sides of the same issue. A politician can be in California and say that the nation’s energy future depends on solar energy and that he doesn’t care what happens to a bunch of coal miners in Appalachia. A few hours later that same politician can be in West Virginia saying that coal is the key to the nation’s economic future and that he doesn’t care what nutty tree huggers in California think. It seems that a democracy would require voters with longer and more disciplined memories. What was I saying? I can’t remember.

Politics is a little like Vegas. Get enough lights, sound, and glitter and the tourists will be so confused that they will lose all self control and go crazy at the tables. In politics, talk enough that the voters get so confused that either they don’t show up and give up voting, vote for the same people time and time again, or the worst of all follow the newest political messiah.

Yoda Jim Rowe and Bill Wade

Bill Wade was without doubt the most famous athlete there ever was with an Alderson connection. He was a counselor at Camp Greenbrier in the 40s or 50s. He was a quarterback who played football at Vanderbilt University. Wade was a professional quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams and the Chicago Bears. He is best known for being the starting quarterback on the Chicago Bears' 1963 NFL championship team. He is considered one of the all-time great American football quarterbacks. He is also considered one of the greatest athletes in Nashville and Vanderbilt University history. Wade is a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the Vanderbilt Athletic Hall of Fame.

Some of the Alderson guys of that time period knew Bill very well as he came to camp for several years and he struck up friendships with a number of the boys from the town. I met Bill when I was young but I couldn’t remember it very well and have always been curious to learn more about him. Long before Google, Wikipedia, Ipods, blackberries and even books, people use to pass down information orally from generation to generation. I know someone is going to say that there were blackberries before the cyber age. But the old tradition of passing stories down over time orally is still an Alderson tradition. The one distinction from earlier oral story telling is that in the olden days they would usually pick the quietest guru to be the story teller. In the Alderson version we often pick the quickest talking guru to be our story teller.

One day when the old Alderson story teller was telling or revising history I dosed off in a dreamlike trance, In my trance I asked Yoda Jim Rowe, brightest of all the Jedi warriors, “Yoda Jim Rowe what can you tell me about Bill Wade the famous football player who was a counselor at Camp Greenbrier?” Yoda Jim Rowe paused and gathered his thoughts before he said anything to me. That was the first clue that I was dreaming. Yoda Jim Rowe then said, “Grasshopper Alex let me tell you.” Then someone shook me and I looked up and there was Jim Rowe that I knew and not the Yoda Jim Rowe that I had dreamt about. Jim said,” Alex don’t you know any damn thing? Rush Limbaugh invented the single wing and he invented the internet”. I said, “Thanks for the update but tell me about Bill Wade. “ Jim started off about 50 miles an hour and was soon up to 80 miles an hour talking about Bill Wade.

Yes, Dear

Human beings apparently are the only species on earth that have awareness and forethought. But I think a number of species have something that resembles a memory. Anybody that has had dogs, we have four, would be convinced that dogs have memories and not merely a repetitive reaction to certain stimulus. Elephants reportedly never forget.

Any man who has been married would probably observe that women don’t forget, a lot. I would suggest that the memory of a woman is sometimes selective and it is almost always used for leverage in arguments or negotiations. But Lord help the man who questions his wife’s memory. Hell knows no fury such as a wife’s reaction when a husband has questioned or contradicted her memory. If there is ever a time in a husband’s tenure that he should say “Yes, Dear” it would be every time she begins a sentence with “as I remember….”

What is it that we remember?

People are not robots with perfect memories. For instance, witnesses at crime scenes are notorious for having sketchy memories.” He was some where between 5’8 and 6’3””. A calm demeanor would probably correlate with a higher degree of accurate memory in theses events.

Roger Bowyer, Bill Kincaid and I try to get together a couple of times a year to discuss current events and to go over old times. It is pretty clear from our discussions that memory is selective and very individualistic. The eyes of the beholder adage seem magnified when it comes to memories of 40 to 50 years ago. It is unbelievable how one of us will remember some portion of our shared experience with exact detail and not even remember some of the featured characters in the particular little episode.

The mind is constantly seeking ways to store information. To a certain extent the memory is identical to people who will only listen to newscasters that confirm or enhance their preconceived ideas. We seem to store in our memories those things that fit in with the way we each believe the world works. I would think that Rick Hughes’ failing memories of the events at Elvin Keadle’s Exxon back in a summer night of the 60s illustrates how memories can be very subjective.

There are different layers of things that we remember. Probably at the top level are those memories of those that owe someone money. I went to school with someone who would run for his life every time he might have a chance opportunity to run into someone he owed money to. His memory was very active and very engaged.

At the next level are published authors who write memoirs like I did. There are three sets of friends that are interested in not seeing me: those I wrote about, those who I did not write about and those who live in mortal fear that I will ask them to buy my book. But persons in each of these categories have memories that fade over time. If I don’t bring the book up, old friends will begin to forget about the book and talk to me without the fear that I will get them down on the ground and twist their arm until they buy a book or that I will write about them in the next book.

Groundhog Day or the delight of Rick Hughes

Every year for the last ten years my high school classmate, teammate and life long friend Rick Hughes and I get together in Charleston, WV around Labor Day to run the Regatta 5k race. A 5 k race is 5000 kilometers which equates to 3.1 miles. I used to run this race and now I jog the race. The cutoff between runners and joggers is 9 minute miles. The 5k race always starts about 10 to 15 minutes after the distance run of 13 miles which starts at 7:30.

It was last year or probably any year that we have run. Rick was beside me at the starting line saying, “Watch out McLaughlin I am going to get you this year”. When the gun goes off after the countdown, Rick shoots out of the gate at top speed. I want to say to Rick don’t run so fast you won’t be able to keep this up for three miles in this heat and this humidity. I wonder why Rick’s memory does not tell him that his plan this year to start out fast was the same plan that he had in past. But it almost seems like the movie Groundhog Day. Rick starts out fast and I never see him again until the end of the race when I am there waiting and waiting for him to come to the finish line at Laidley Field. Somehow I believe this year may be different and Rick will be waiting patiently for me at the finish line. One thing is sure he is already saying, “This year McLaughlin I will get you.”

It’s over

I try to work three cross word puzzles a day to keep my memory as sharp as possible. Because it looks like in the foreseeable future I will have to learn Chinese in order to write my check to the IRS every year or at least the portion that goes for interest on the national debt. Even with the work on crossword puzzles I can already see some signs of deterioration. For the life of me I can’t remember if 38 was one of the Hizers or was a football play.