My memory is like a dog that can do the occasional showy trick but still pees on the carpet. It can forget to shave or vote or do the laundry. It can forget that my son's soccer practice ends in two hours. It can forget that Christmas is coming -- in fact, it does forget, every year. (Any day now I'm going to have to get to the present buying.) So my memory is not practical. But it can, now and then, recall items of no practicality from my remote past.
The starting point for this thought was my recent loss of my workout bag and contents: squash racket, clothes, towel, plastic bags, corkscrew (for some reason I have corkscrews the way some people have mice. They seem to show up everywhere) and combination lock. I went to a discount sporting store and replaced everything last week, and my first thought, on opening the new lock, was how little they had changed since I went to high school. And then, with the padlock open in my hand, I had a madeleine moment (In an old house in Paris all covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines -- no, I mean the other madeleine -- the one you dip in tea). My memory reached down deep and pulled out a sequence of three numbers: 45-25-50. Which was the combination to my first ever padlock. I used it on my ninth grade locker more than thirty years ago.
I wonder what it is doing in my head when I cannot remember dentist appointments and costume parties and the names of the characters halfway through the movie? I suspect the answer has do with the importance of a first time. Having your own locker is a big deal. It is institutional space that is yours and yours alone, territory outside the home that you control -- with the aid of a lock. It's a private and safe haven for books, old lunches, incomplete assignments, and notes from girls, and it functions because you know the combination to your lock and no one else does. So the lock assumes a significance much greater than a random sequence of numbers.
45-25-50. There it was, there it is, there it will be, for ever and ever amen. My ninth grade locker combination. I sure hope it's on some exam I'll have to take.