On Saturday, I met Henry, the greeter at our local Wal-Mart. Just before wife, Carole, and I entered the store, I took a phone call on my cell, so got left behind. Fifteen minutes later, I entered and asked Henry to point me in the direction my wife went. He laughed at my silly humor. I teased that, if he could help out that way, customers would be impressed.

Henry was likeable and engaging for conversation. He said I would be surprised how many people and names he knew, not because he set out to remember them, but because of his interest in people and the repetition of seeing them come into the store. He told me he learned to speak a second language that way. His teacher, he said, spoke five languages and mentored him to forget trying to associate Spanish words (for example) with English words, but instead to associate them with the items, concepts, and experiences they represented as if the English language did not exist, perhaps as a child would learn a first language (or something like that). The point seemed to be that there is a difference between memorizing and learning.

But sometimes, the hurry-up method of association works just fine. For example, when I run a new trail, I identify landmarks so that I can remember my way back home. Also, on more than a few occasions I have used it to impress small groups of as many as 20 persons attending a seminar by asking them to introduce themselves, then through association, immediately calling back each of their names.

Of course, I wanted to remember Henry’s name, so I associated it with Henry James, a BBQ restaurant in Carole‘s hometown. But sometimes, the association method can let you down. Having caught up with Carole at the checkout, and now on the way out the door, I smiled and waved at Henry.

Showing off my memory skills, I leaned over to whisper his name to Carole.

“That’s James!” I said.

Don Loy Whisnant/Journey Notes 8F09