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Differently Cognizant

by Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
My husband and I, when out with our elderly relatives, have often exchanged glances, nudged each other surreptitiously in the ribs, and suppressed giggles at the things they sometimes say. "Hey there, Porkchop! Looks like they're feeding you pretty well at college!" "Now honey, you are such a beautiful girl, I just can't imagine why you would do something like that to your hair!" "Hey Slugger! Howzza boy? You get a job and get some money in your pocket and maybe you can get a decent looking girl to go out with ya!"

I read somewhere recently - okay, I read on the internet recently - I just like to say "somewhere" because I think it makes me sound like I subscribe to and read so many scholarly journals that I can't keep them straight, and that's the ugly truth of it. So, I read on the internet recently that the elderly lose some of their social constraint because as we age our frontal lobes begin to shrink. Why should this come as any surprise? Everything else shrinks or stretches or gets wobbly. Why not our brains? As our frontal lobes shrivel up like old oranges, we lose the ability to censor ourselves and we just say whatever it is that we are thinking. Regardless of whether it is polite or hurtful or racist or bigoted. This is an explanation, it is not an excuse.

After having spent a lot of time with elderly relatives lately, and after having read that article (Yes! I believe everything I read on the internet, dagnabbit! Everything!) I have been doing some thinking. Why is it that some people seem to have much less restraint than their contemporaries? As an example, I cannot imagine my grandmother ever saying anything mean. It couldn't happen. I have known her for quite a while and I have never heard her say a mean word about anyone. I did, however, hear her say "damn it" one time, and not under her breath either, and I thought the world might freeze on its axis. But that is a different story. I wonder if hydration has anything to do with it. Maybe it is just a matter of genes - the way that some people go gray in their forties and some people never do.

I have been thinking about myself and my brain lately, and I have been trying hard to catch myself saying something I shouldn't. Just exactly as you might expect from a woman who thinks every headache is a brain tumor, I have become aware that I may have some issues in the cognition department. This worries me sometimes, but then I get distracted and I am better. Here's an example for you: I recently got a new car, new to me anyway, and it has a key fob with buttons to lock the doors, unlock the doors and open the trunk. Nice. Handy. Only it worried me a bit. What, I asked my husband, would I do if the doors were locked and the battery in the key fob died? I would be in a big pickle then, wouldn't I? What if I was at the grocery store with a whole cart loaded with frozen food and a big windstorm came and I couldn't get the door open and I didn't have my cell phone and then the store closed and then a big blizzard started? Just where would I be then, huh? In, as I said, a big pickle, that's where!

My husband still has a big fat juicy brain. He is a problem solver of the highest degree. He just took the key fob from me and showed me the way that the key fits right in the door lock as if it was made for it! Whoops! Silly me! I giggled right along with him. For a few minutes. I finally decided that enough was enough and asked him very politely to quit rolling around on the grass screeching like a hyena. I informed him that I was not stupid, I was just "differently cognizant." Oh! He thought that was a rich one!

"Differently cognizant" is his new favorite phrase. He uses it all the time now. How I wish that I had kept my smart mouth shut for once and just left him there guffawing in the grass! But no, not me. I had to give him a nice little bullet which he can use for years and years to come! Juuuuust great! Oh! Is that a kitty cat?
Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
"The Girl Detective's Theory of Everything" >
February 1, 2007 Column
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