Do memories burn at 451 degrees, too?

There’s a lot to keep up with these days. I need more memory. I want a delete key, better hardware, bumped up megahertz, an improved search function.

If I call one of those service operators in India or Pakistan and wait on the line for 30 minutes, can I get some help?

Was it just last November that Bush bullied his way back into office? Please, tell me I’m wrong. It feels as if we’ve been dealing with his mishigas for a decade. If I didn’t know that most years go by like minutes and some days like years, I’d say that 2008 feels like a lifetime away.

“Don’t worry,” I say to someone under 30 who finds he or she has forgotten something. “It only gets worse.”

Just the other day I heard some kind of reference to Fahrenheit 451, that fantastic Ray Bradbury book about the burning of books. Before you Google the title, I’ll remind you the date it was written: 1953. Can you believe it? Just remembering the book, I know it’s a must reread.

I have no idea where I heard the book referenced. I forgot to “save” it and since, as a matter of course, I try to “trash” everything at the end of the day, the reference is lost. I think it was on radio.

Maybe Garrison Keillor and his daily noontime show, The Writer’s Almanac, an absolute breath of fresh air between the psychotic treadmill of bungled bureaucracy, fears of flu and greed in high office.

Back to Bradbury. During some mention of the book, which I read in high school and again in college, the commentator reminded us that 451 degrees is the temperature at which paper burns.

My thought was this: Did I know that? If I did, I could not pull it up from the past. While the main point of the book was retrievable, the detail of the title was lost, gone, deleted, canceled, dragged to the trash can.

Which makes me wonder how many other things are or will be lost.

I felt slightly better after reading a blip about Bill Maher, the iconoclastic humorist formerly of “Politically Incorrect.” It was a silly magazine snapshot about his opulent and singular life.

But what struck me most -- besides jumping on a trampoline as part of his exercise routine -- is the room he reserves for file cabinets of memorabilia and/or minutia -- chits, lists, names, schedules, programs, brochures and other assorted written items.

“My biggest fear is forgetting,” he said.

So I’m not alone.

During my last trip to Southfield, Mich., where my 91-year-old mother is living -- almost totally in the present, forget the past, why worry about the future -- I was fishing through her remaining five drawers for something to do. That’s when I found a copy of a book of newspaper columns I put together four years ago.

For no particular reason, I set the book I call Everyone’s Gotta Be Somewhere out on my mother’s couch, which in this phase of her life has become her office, her library, her studio, her universe.

A few weeks later during our weekly Sunday morning phone conversations, she said, “I’m reading your book. It’s really good!”

“Thank you,” I reply, a little surprised yet pleased at the late compliment. While loving and supportive, my mother was never big with compliments.

“I can’t believe you’re so smart,” she continues in a vein she never took when she had her full capabilities. “I can’t believe you’re my daughter.”

The next week we had the same conversation.

“Want to know what page I’m on?” she asked.


“Hold on a second, I’ll find out,” she said, putting the phone down. “Page 104.”

The next week she’s still reading. But this time, she has a bone to pick with me.

“You could have at least told me you wrote this,” she said.

When I insisted I had, she disagreed.

We went on and on like that for a few more weeks before I finally threw her the bone she wanted and said, “OK, maybe you’re right. Maybe I never did tell you.”

Without missing a beat, she came back with a gleeful, “Aha! I knew it!”

You know what? Four years is a long time ago. Maybe I did forget to tell her.

E-mail Jane at

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