Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Both of my parents are from the "Greatest Generation That Ever Lived" as described by Tom Brokaw in his book of the same name. They lived through the Depression, World War II and the raising of four children between 1948-1976.  They saw lots of changes in their lifetimes.
New inventions routinely made appearances within the household over the years. Electric washer replaced the wringer, electric dryer replaced the outdoor clothesline,  a dishwasher took the place of washing by hand (which was great in a house with four kids), a side by side replaced the traditional refrigerator, push button telephones replaced rotary style only to be replaced by cordless later on.  Black & white TVs were replaced by color TVs and got thinner and used remotes as opposed to turning a dial manually.  When made available, microwave ovens were purchased, as well as, a personal computer. Now my father, Bill, was familiar with computers from working at North American/Rockwell,  although they were nothing like today's PC.

My mother, Mary Beth,  never learned how computers operate. She never used a cell phone.  And I doubt she ever understood texting, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  New technology flummoxed Mary Beth whether it's computers or something else.  Sometimes I envy her lack of technical knowledge because she still believed in phone calls, personal letters on personalized stationary and direct contact when dealing with the outside world.  I never saw the importance of that beyond it being quaint.  Now, I am not so sure.

When I was growing up in Bexley, Ohio in the 60's and 70's, our phone rang all the time.  One would assume it was due to having 4 kids in the house, but it was more likely because of my mother.  To describe Mary Beth as a "social butterfly" would be accurate.  She knew a lot of people.  Her best childhood friend from the 30's.  The wife of my father's co-worker from the 50's.  A neighbor from the 60's.  The ladies she met at the Bexley Pool and in tennis classes in the 70's.  Several  ladies from church in the 80's and 90's.  Plus, lots of ladies who were acquaintances.  I find that pretty impressive.  It's hard to find one kindred spirit in life, let alone 6!   Since she preferred life when it was pleasant, Mary Beth didn't morn the dead.  She had seen her share of death. She announced decades ago that she was through with attending funerals.  They cramped her style.  It was her intention to avoid her own funeral by making it known before she died that there would be NO service of any kind.  My mother simply avoided bad news, by waving off the messenger and pronouncing that "it" was too complicated or unpleasant to hear about. If my father printed out emails for her to read,  she would refuse to read them if he confirmed that it contained any bad news.  This coping mechanism worked well for her.

She did care about the living, though.  Sending handwritten notes to check on her friends or grandchildren even if they didn't respond back was a priority.  She would send magazines, recipes, and birthday cards on a regular basis.  When she did receive a response it made her day.  When she didn't get mail she announced that nobody loved her.  Her self-worth was directly connected to the attention she received from others.

The calls and notes dwindled over the years.  Many of her dear friends died leaving a void in her life.  Writing long-hand became more difficult for my mother and I know it frustrated her.  Her childhood friend is in a nursing home in California with dementia.  She is also blind now, so even if she understood who my mother was to her she wouldn't be able to read the letters.  The thought crossed my mind recently about the possibility that my mother lost the will to live because her friends were gone.  I wanted to talk to my mom about her friends, but I know how that conversation would have gone since she considered past memories to be unpleasant.  I almost find it to be a bittersweet thought.  I've had quite a few of those this past year.