One man realizes the magnitude of this gradual loss and does his part by making signs to hang on ordinary objects in preparation for the day when everyone will forget what things are for. The sign he hangs on the neck of his cow, for instance, reads "This is the cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with the coffee to make coffee with milk."
As the author explains, "Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters."
The story is food for thought on this presidential election week, not least because America is now suffering from its own Plague of Memory. The forgotten gap consists of all the things that happened to our country between the years 2000 and 2008.
We invaded two smaller countries, and the toll of deaths and injuries for soldiers and civilians quickly swelled beyond what even the wars' direst critics had predicted. Months became years, with no end in sight.
At which time America was struck by one of the largest-scale natural disasters in our history, in the form of Hurricane Katrina. As days passed and the level of suffering worsened, we discovered that the specific government agency created to deal with just such scenarios was instead top-heavy with political appointees whose expertise ran more toward (believe it or not) managing professional show horses than to extracting residents from a major city that had essentially been swept out to sea.
Just when our country was figuratively beginning to get its head above water after those incalculably destructive debacles, the bottom fell out again. We discovered almost overnight that the touted "free market" legislation our leaders had meticulously put into place during the past decade had created a wheel-and-deal loophole so gigantic that the very richest of us could rob the rest of us without fear of penalty, and bring on the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
We went under for the second time, and the 99 percent of us who did not get richer from the Great Bank Heist don't have our heads completely above water till yet.
Astonishingly, one of the most crucial eight-year periods in our history has been essentially dropped into some mysterious Memory Hole. We're told that even bringing up those events and the reasons for them is damaging to our country, and that we should not "dwell on the past."
Except that the past, as William Faulkner once put it, "is not even past." And if we believe the adage "those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it," this week's election is not a difficult choice. Our suffering from the disasters of 2000-2008 is far from over, and there's no guarantee we'll get our breath back anytime soon.
Yet, millions of people in one party believe we should not only go back to the leadership and principles of 2000-2008, but we should go double-or-nothing on the bet. These are the same individuals who would express the most surprise if, as a result, our country then goes under for the third time.
"The definition of insanity," some wise person tells us, "is repeating the same action but expecting a different outcome."
If we go that route in the voting booth this week, the history of our time that will someday be written by my granddaughter's generation will be a grim verdict indeed.
"First, they lost their hearts," it will say of us. "And then they lost their minds."
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His books, columns, photos, and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program "Music from Home" airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM and is archived afterward on his website.