The only thing faster than the speed of thought is the speed of forgetfulness.
– Vera Nazarian
In that otherwise forgettable film Men In Black II, Agent K, played by Tommy Lee Jones, spends much of the movie trying to remember.
Anticipating he might one day be in this situation, however, Agent K has left himself clues and he spends much of the movie seeking them out.
I know how he feels.
Car keys, billfold, glasses (especially glasses) apparently decide to go hide sometime during the night, and many mornings I spend frantic minutes trying to find them.
There are, however, other things in the house. Things I haven’t seen in years that I know must be there, but I don’t remember where I put them.
That brings me to Emlen Tunnell.
For those of you who are not NFL historians, let me explain that Tunnell was one of the best defensive backs ever. He was a star with the New York Giants in the 1950s and was the first black player elected to the NFL Hall of Fame.
He was also a man modest of his many achievements, as I found out when I bumped into him at an Atlanta bank building back in 1975.
We got to talking as he waited in line, and he introduced himself.
“You’re Emlen Tunnell?” I asked with some amazement.
“You know me?” he asked with an equal sense of surprise.
He was so tickled, he took a piece of New York Giants stationery from his pocket and – though I did not request it – wrote an autograph beneath the letterhead.
I casually retold all this to my son one night while we were watching a football game.
He quickly hit the Internet and was very impressed that the signature of this forgotten star commands a tidy sum on eBay.
“Where is the autograph?” he asked.
And with that the hunt began.
“Where was the last place you remember it?” is the old question we often ask ourselves.
“I don’t remember,” I told myself back.
I looked in an old desk upstairs that contains many such keepsakes: photos, event pins, a videocassette tape from a Christmas in the 1990s. It wasn’t there.
I looked in an old jewelry box and found my grandfather’s cuff links, a high school class ring and even a fraternity pin.
Where would I have put it?
I went back to the desk and dumped out the contents of each of its four drawers on the bedspread and sifted through the debris like an archaeologist seeking bone fragments. No luck.
Now it was beginning to bother me.
Over the weekend, I went to the bank and checked the safety deposit box with its wills, Mickey Mantle baseball cards and old jewelry. Unsuccess.
Finally, I asked my wife what she thought I would have done.
“Redefine your search,” computer babe advised.
She was right. I had been looking for something valuable and thought I would put it where valuables are kept.
But what if I had “defined” it differently?
(Cue the light bulb over my forgetful head.)
I went to a file box in the attic, one of four I have around the house filled with manila folders on various subjects and topics I thought I might one day find useful.
Toward the back of one box, in folders starting with “S” was one I had long ago labeled “Sports.” And there, between a World Series press pass and a 1968 Atlanta Chiefs soccer team photo, was a piece of New York Giants stationery with the name “Emlen Tunnell 1975” written below it.
I put it back where I put it before.
Christmas is the season of memories after all, and often we find a special one if we look in the right place.