12/20/2013 04:03 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

Christmas Memories

During the Christmas season, I can't help but think about past Christmases. While I believe very much in living in the present -- that you can't go back in time -- I still remember nights when I couldn't sleep because I was so excited for Santa to come. As I got older, I couldn't sleep hoping the children would enjoy Christmas as much as I had preparing for it. In the memory bank are stored memories of past Christmas dinners, who joined us and what we had to eat. If there's one season that invites memories, this is the one.

I read somewhere that every time we remember something, it strengthens that memory in the brain; it kind of makes the groove deeper, like on an old vinyl record. I believe it. There are some memories that rise spontaneously whenever they're triggered by something.

I remember walking one of our boxers, "Biggs," in our local park many years ago. It had been rainy that spring and there was a lake with ducks on it. She didn't know she couldn't walk on water and purposefully strode out on the lake to go after the ducks. Didn't happen. She learned the power of gravity and how quickly one can sink in water. Even though it's been well over 20 years, every time I drive by that park, I think of her and smile. She may be long gone, but the memory of that walk remains.

And how about all of the restaurants where we've celebrated everything from graduations to anniversaries? Their names may have changed over the years, but the memories are still there. Whenever our son comes to visit, there are two must-do things on his list. He's never been able to replace "In 'N Out" (that's considered the BEST burger chain by many Southwesterners) or Super Mex (we live in Southern California, so we get a lot of really good Mexican food) in Seattle. Don't know if it's the food at Super Mex or the memories he has of sitting there with his high school baseball team, but it's always a must-do. When my daughter-in-law comes to visit without him, we have to stop at Super Mex on the way to the airport and get two tacos to go for him. I hope the tacos bring back the memories he's looking for!

When we're driving through an old neighborhood or shopping center, we can't help but remember what it used to be like. When we see the school we attended, we're flooded with memories. It's been my experience when aging shopping centers or buildings are torn down, there's always acry by old-timers to keep it "just the way it was." Why, because that's our memory of it and if something is torn down, does that mean our memory of it should be dissolved as well? In other words, are we having trouble letting go of the past?

Even though there have been a lot of changes on the coastline near where I live, every time I drive by, I remember the summer my children and I went to the beach almost every afternoon. It was a wonderful time of wading, body surfing and watching the sea gulls scavenge for food at 3:30 every afternoon. If I'm near the beach at that time of day, I still watch for the seagulls. Some things never change!

Now I find I'm etching new memories. My grandson is a devout birder. For his birthday, we went to a local bookstore (and they are getting few and far between!) so he could pick out bird books. Whenever he and I are driving near the Navy base not too far from where we live, he tells me where I should look in order to see the birds. I take his word for it. My husband asks me to watch where his golf ball goes and my grandson tells me where the birds are. The memory of the places may have been etched in my memory, but I still can't locate the ball or the bird!

A smell, a sound, or any sensory perception unleashes memories. They seem to have a life of their own! I think, in some ways, we are our memories. What's in your memory groove?