Storytelling & Memory

“Old age crept up on me today.”  That was Mom’s description of turning down my offer to trek over to our beloved Chestnut Hill for sauteed soft shell crab.  As Mom put it, “Am still saying it to myself – I turned down soft shell crab.”

Mom’s posting is 17+ years old, but her storytelling still makes me smile.  How she loved language & playing with words!  For her, it was as natural as breathing.  Those who knew Mom, could picture her through her writings;  those who didn’t, wished they could meet her, soak her in.

Much as she was a lifelong devotee of soft shells, they lost their premier position the moment she had her first bite of Oysters Kilpatrick,  at The American Club in Sydney.   I’ve never tasted them, but Mom practically lifted right out of her shoes talking about her beloved bivalves.

Her description of tucking into a soft shell crab has me pondering a supper time run over to 8142 Germantown Avenue, it’s that tantalizing ~ ~ “Have you ever sunk your teeth into a soft shell crab?  One bite, and I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.  Lightly floured, delicately sauteed is culinary bliss.”

And then there is her personal “Best of Soft Shells” – “I have an honor roll of places I have dined delectably on soft shells – the Crab Claw in St. Michael’s, Maryland;  the Robert Morris Inn in Oxford, MD;  Monique’s, an Alsatian restaurant in New Hope, PA.  The best I ever sampled was at Louisa’s in Cape May, NJ.  Under the Blue Moon in Chestnut Hill was our traditional haunt for many years, until the owners had the audacity to retire (many frequent diners went into mourning);  now we go to Roller’s for our annual gastronomical pilgrimage.   Wherever I am, if soft shell crab is on the menu, I am doing just fine.”

Reading that again, for the first time in several years, got me thinking about Mom & how she was a natural storyteller, got me pondering if storytelling affects our memory skills.

Turns out that Mom’s form of spinning a yarn has a name – autobiographical memory (AM). Alas, I was only able to access abstracts of indepth articles (which might have been way over my head), but my brain lit up reading them.

What I was able to scope out from the abstract of Susan Bluck’s Autobiographical Memory – Exploring its functions in everyday life,  is that it pulls together or touches psychological, social and/or cultural historic context.  It appears to foster social relationships, engage emotional states, reflect & feed back how we perceive the world & our own inner landscape, nurtures other cognitive abilities.  It’s believed that the functions of autobiographical memory sort themselves out into three core areas of functioning – self, social, directive.  (I have no idea what that means!)  Personally, I love that accuracy is no big deal in autobiographical memory, that “levels & types of accuracy need not always be regarded as memory ‘failures’ but are sometimes integral to a self-memory system that serves a variety of meaningful ends of human activity.”  Praise be!

Here’s the kicker, at least for me – sharing our stories with interested listeners positively impacts OUR  memory function!  The abstract for Monisha Pasupathi, Lisa M.. Stallworth & Kyle Murdoch’s How what we tell becomes what we know: Listener effects on speakers’ long‐term memory for events discusses how sharing memories of our past with attentive others could be considered “rehearsing one’s memory,” that a single recollection could have a positive long-term impact – if it is told to an interested listener.  Or, to use their more learned phrasing, “Variations in the social context of recollection affect how we tell others about events, such variations can also come to influence long‐term memory.”

Interesting thing about this study – the positive impact did not seem to be tied to sharing it with simply other people, but depended on telling INTERESTED listeners.  “Attentive listeners facilitate long‐term memory, whereas situations with distracted listeners are difficult to distinguish from the situations with no listener and with no recounting at all.”

Turns out that Mom’s love of telling tales plucked from her life might not have had as powerful impact on her memory – which was excellent to the last – as much as having people like myself, my sibs, her loved ones, friends & pleasant acquaintances lapping up every word.  Something to ponder.

Author: auntdeev

playfulness coach, life enthusiast & general instigator, ENTJ, cat lover

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