The autumn of our forgetfulness

Old age is like a car turning over 150,000 miles; no matter how many times you’ve changed the oil or rotated the tires, things start going clink, clank and pfft. 

In older people, a sputtering memory is assumed to presage dementia. We fret about finding ourselves in the day room of a nursing home, drooling and speaking in tongues, with a nurse or spouse gently patting us on the head or changing our diapers, even though, really, at that point we won’t know or care. 

At 71, my memory seems to be pretty much intact, or no worse than it’s ever been, except that recently I’ve been having problems remembering the names of movies and movie stars. 
For a gay man, that’s a particularly frightening sign of Alzheimer’s: If I can’t remember the name of Barbra Streisand’s gay son, or how many Oscars Meryl Streep has won, that will erode my credibility among gay friends, who might start ridiculing or even shunning me.  
Some oldsters take up exercises such as doing riddles or crossword puzzles, or even taking nutritional supplements, to stimulate the thinking processes. Think of it as Metamucil for the brain. 
But I’ve read, can’t remember where, that such routines are useless. You might become a wiz at crosswords or Scrabble, or spend a fortune at the organic apothecary, but your memory will be as arthritic as ever, and getting progressively worse. 
Still, one must do something, we can’t just wait helplessly for the final deterioration of our bodies or brains.
So I’ve taken up the hobby of learning the scientific Latin names of all the succulent plants I own, which are close to a hundred. I may have written a post about this daunting pastime, though I can’t remember when.
Et tu, Kalanchoe?
I began by first finding a botanical dictionary plus several books about succulents, with lots of color pictures.
My tack is not just to memorize the names but learn the translations from the Latin, as an aide memoire. 

I’ve also begun needlessly sprinkling foreign words in my writing, preferably French, as another memory-enhancing technique, even at the risk of sounding like a fatuous poseur.   
It’s all a serious challenge, especially because I intend to learn the first and last names of the little succulent buggers. 
Not just Echeveria, of which there are hundreds of varieties, but also the complete proper moniker, as in Echeveria setosa. 

A curious aside: This genus of succulents was named in honor of Atanasio Echeverría y Godoy, a Mexican botanical artist and naturalist of the eighteenth century. Thought I’d throw that in now, before it slips my mind.
So setosa, in the case of the Echeveria, means something like “fuzzy ” in botanical Latin. But tomentosa, as in Kalanchoe tomentosa, means “very fuzzy.” So even this supposedly scientific nomenclature leaves you wondering about degrees of fuzziness. 
Cat or Rabbit Ears: You be the judge. 
I could try to make things easier for myself by using the nickname “Cat’s Ears” for the K. tomentosa, but it doesn’t sound as learned or impressive as the scientific Latin. 
Besides, its leaves don’t look like the ears of any cat I’ve ever seen, but more like rabbit ears.
It’s no wonder that succulent names, even in books, are frequently confusing, except to connoisseurs, or that sometimes you find two or three scientific names for one succulent. 
Or that the differences among some succulents are so minimal that confusion is inevitable. 
Worse, I worry about people who actually know succulents coming over to the ranch for tea and crumpets, from, say, the snooty-sounding group that calls itself The San Miguel Cactus and Succulent Society. 
They could spot plant labels with wrong names and notice me babbling incoherently in Latin, and conclude I’ve lost my mind—forget about my memory—and go home shaking their heads.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, Barbra’s gay son is Jason Gould. And Meryl has won three Academy Awards and has been nominated for 21. 
P.P.S. Here’s a photo of Félix standing by a display wall that we just built, out of clay bricks, for displaying some of our succulents. Eat your heart out Succulent Society!

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