published Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Galletta: List-making leads to compulsive behavior


by Jan Galletta

My husband, Fred, recently brought me a list he’d found on the supermarket floor. He said the handwriting resembled mine and he knew that I, a list-dependent shopper, would need my notes to keep me on task.

The list wasn’t mine, but as I perused it, my voyeuristic interest was piqued, and I realized how revealing even such casual writing can be. It made me want to craft more eloquent lists that I might, after all, be leaving for posterity to read.

My mom and her sisters were prodigious list makers, but theirs weren’t penned to promote productivity. Theirs were designed to keep their brains alert and forestall senior dementia, judging from the jottings Fred and I unearthed when we dismantled the households when they died.

For example, my mother wrote lists that were nods to her registered nurse’s training 65 years earlier — inventories of muscles, nerves and bones, all rendered in the fancy Spenserian script she executed with the aid of a wooden ruler to keep her penmanship straight. She used onion-skin paper and a black-ink fountain pen for the job.

My Auntie O. spent a long career in the secretarial pool of a Connecticut insurance company, retiring only when a supervisor replaced her manual typewriter with an electric model. She went blind in later years and liked to listen to Atlanta Braves games on the radio.

Among the lists she left behind, painstakingly pounded out on a 1930s-Underwood typewriter, were several years’ worth of batting lineups and field-position charts for the team, including such player tidbits as the fact that Dale Murphy’s wife was named Nancy.

The middle sister in the five-sibling group, my Auntie M., created lists clearly meant to test her mental recall. Because she scribbled all of them in the same ruled tablet, I could really appreciate their variety.

They ranged from alphabetical arrangements of hymn titles (“Amazing Grace” to “Zion Haste”) to slightly risqué limericks (“There once was a girl named Loretta; all the fellows wanted to get her.”).

I hang onto such ephemera because it amuses me to think of these elderly ladies, now long dead, comparing notes and staging competitions to see who could list from memory the greatest number of U.S. presidents.

I wouldn’t mind also having one of my daughter-in-law, Nicole’s, lists to add to my collection. She understands how gratifying it is to check a chore off one’s to-do chart and cross through every article on a grocery list.

Nicole said she prefers “a different-color pen to mark off items. And if I do something that’s not on my list, or buy something that wasn’t originally on my list, I’ll add it so I can cross it off.”

Fred chides me for not carrying over uncompleted jobs from one day’s list to another. He doesn’t know about the lists in my purse of things I’m supposed to know, such as names of foreign heads of state and populations of the nation, state and town where I live.

He also says I take a less-efficient approach to list-making than he does.

He absolutely should be a world-class list maker.

En route to Florida several years back, we listened to an eight-hour audiotape of instructions for using his new day-planner. It covered goal-setting and list-making so completely that Fred even got a primer on objectives he should achieve when taking a shower.

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