Remembering what was memorized

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution of the United States of America.

In case you don’t know, that’s the preamble to our constitution. Believe it or not, I just entered that without reading anything. I guess it’s still in my brain from eighth grade, when my civics teacher required that we all commit it to memory. I wonder if she realized I would still remember it more than fifty years later.

The social studies teacher then was an old-line, learn- the-basics, no-nonsense teacher who apparently thought memorization was vital to a good education, because we also memorized facts like the names of the U.S. Supreme Court justices and all of our presidents to date in order of when they served.

So I wonder if you’ve ever considered what you can recite from memory. If you grew up going to Sunday School like I did, perhaps Bible verses were the first things you memorized. And you may still find that helpful. In about fifth grade, my Sunday School teacher had us learn a verse for each letter of the alphabet, and then we could choose one to answer roll call each Sunday. The most popular verse was for J: “Jesus wept.”-John 11:35. (We had to know the reference, too.) I still remember some of the verses for the letters.

When I think of it, much of the memorizing we do happens as children. Among other things, we memorize the multiplication tables, something we use the rest of our lives. We learn the jingles to jump rope and sing songs even before we can read. But jingles and songs are easy to learn because of their rhythm and rhyme.

If you’ve ever had much to do with music, it’s likely that you’ve memorized a piece or two-maybe for a contest or a recital. I can still play on the piano some lovely songs I learned when I was in junior high plus several hymns. It’s nice, because when I get a chance to sit down at a keyboard there’s always a song or two I can play to entertain myself without having to hunt up music.

And I remember one of my favorite pieces from the book, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” with which I first became familiar thirty years ago. “Generally, by the time you are real, all your hair has been loved off and your eyes droop and your joints become very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all. Because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”