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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Random Thoughts, Part II

Since writing last week’s entry, my wonderful mother found her way to the other side of the veil. I am sad and grateful all at the same time; and humbled by the presence of something beyond us all. For me it is a goddess presence; for others it’s the godhead. I’m not sure it matters much what you call it. Simply the knowledge that there’s more out there than is immediately accessible through one’s five senses is both comforting and a bit unnerving.  

One of the many things I’ve been thinking about since the mortuary called to tell me they had my mother is the close-to-hundred years that spanned her life and how much things have changed in that time. Born in 1916, the baby in a family of seven children, mother grew up in a small town in Indiana where there were more horse-drawn carriages than cars. The iceman brought blocks of ice to her home; thus the old term “icebox”. Those of you who are old enough might remember the space in a cold box where you put the ice. When it melted, it was replaced by another chunk. During the summer months, people used sawdust to insulate the ice and help it to last longer.

Mother grew up in a huge old house with hidden staircases, a library with floor to ceiling bookshelves on every wall and rats in the cellar (with resident cats to control them). I remember both bats and birds in the fourth floor attic, although my Uncle Bill, an MD who moved into the family home when he returned from the European theater after World War II, worked far harder to control the pest population than my grandparents ever did.

Commercial radio came into being around the time mother was four. She lived through part of World War I, all of World War II, the Korean War, and all the more modern conflagrations as well. People used manual typewriters when she went to college and went to the library to do research. She saw the dawn of commercial air transportation, television and the computer age—and marveled at each of them. Modern medicine came into being during her lifetime as well with the advent of antibiotics and greatly improved surgical techniques, not to mention the proliferation of our pharmacopeia.

By comparison, they had computers when I was in college, but they were the old Univacs that took up entire floors in university buildings. Data had to be transcribed onto cards and fed into them. Personal computers didn’t really emerge as consumer items until I was in my early to mid thirties. Mother never liked computers. She tried to learn to use them, but there was something about the impersonal nature of the electronics that gave her the creeps. After a time, I stopped trying to sell her on the wonders of email and instant-gratification pictures, not to mention the ability to check her stock portfolio online.

Seventh born of seven children, mother moved from her home to a college dorm and from there to live with one of her sisters until she married my father at the age of twenty-eight. Not surprisingly, she never liked being alone. In fact, it made her extremely uncomfortable. She and I talked about that. I, naturally, suggested she spend some time in therapy to try to come to terms with whatever was going on. She, however, looked at psychotherapy as one step up from witchcraft. Somehow it was different if the “therapy” came from me. More palatable. So, I kept doing what I was doing and we simply sidestepped calling it anything other than our biweekly telephone conversation.

Appearances were very important to Mom. How you looked, being able to set a nice table and addressing others with the proper level of deference were all critical. Everybody was “Mr.” and “Mrs.” when I was growing up. Much of that societal structure has broken down in the last fifty years. And, I’m not sure we haven’t lost something precious. If nothing is worthy of our respect, we cease to respect ourselves as well. And, when I look at some of today’s youth, dressed in ripped clothing that clearly needed a visit to the washing machine last week, I wonder where their parents are. And, I am ever-so-grateful for both of mine. For their old-school insistence on doing the right thing, even if it inconvenienced me. For the values they inculcated into me. I never have to stop to figure out the right thing to do. That path is usually crystal clear. It’s just setting foot on it that takes a level of moral fortitude. So, thanks Mom—and Dad, too—wherever you are. Thanks a million times over.

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