Rogers: A mother’s enduring wisdom
My mother lays the very ruination of civilization on high tech and the internet, whatever that is.
At nearly 90, Mom’s sharp other than that Fox News affliction. But, she’s hard of hearing, and I worry. Deafness is associated with cognitive deterioration, I’ve read, though I see no sign in her. And, I’m not so sure she’s wrong.
Hard of hearing, but her eyes betray a sly merriment, and I pick up the barest suspicion she hears what she decides to hear, perfectly content to let the young ‘uns ramble on, believing we’re out of earshot as we chat in the car around her.
While I stayed with her recently, she met the news staff on Zoom, thinking I was talking to her. I caught her on the phone trying to cut off the internet. With my sister gone, she saw no need. I don’t think she understood yet what I meant by working remote.
She was less amazed later at me putting out the latest edition of The Aspen Times from the lobby of the retirement place she was touring with my wife and niece. Here was the furthest thing from newsrooms boisterous and together right up until the pandemic struck.
Some residents sat quietly in sofa chairs, taking in the world that made it through the front door, sometimes children! Others gossiped and bickered as they played a game with tiles on a table. Here everyone seemed to have time.
I was on deadline.
We’re more remote in all ways now. My mother would have a commentary about that, I’m sure. Maybe if I had stayed with her any longer and probably over dinner and a glass of her favorite rose — only rose, a case of it bought in person at Trader Joe’s. Did you know she shopped at the first one, before it was even named Trader Joe’s, well, …. I confess I lost the thread about then.
I think I mentioned Mom hates tech. Don’t get her started. I know. I have. You can’t get in her gated subdivision with google maps, you know. Takes you to unmanned gates without key pads that only open for the sticker in an owner’s windshield. And the stories! Leading slavish followers onto airport runways, to mythical mountain passes in snowstorms. People have died, you know, believing in their devices over their own eyes.
Which of course leads to those kids today, noses in their phones, not talking to anyone around them, like people actually there with them in person.
She has a flip phone, proud it’s not connected to the blasted internet. Phones are for talking. That’s what’s natural. Not flying a space shuttle or whatever, opening the garage door, starting the car. That’s ridiculous.
Electricity, a TV, a phone, a microwave. This is all the tech one needs.
Her hearing aides are the exception — proof she’s not anti-tech or anti-progress, whatever her son might think, that she’s not one of these old fogeys against everything new. I’m not clear if they’re top shelf now or were a decade ago when she got them.
Somehow this all connects to being born during the Depression, a time of want leading into World War II, having the lights on only in one room and blankets taped to all the windows at night. And, Dad’s best man, Ken Nakagawa, being a hard pill for Grandpa not much more than a decade after that war, Korea still fresh. How all this shaped her generation. How they made real progress from their parents’ blinkered attitudes and ways. Why they developed more common sense than my generation, or the next, or the next.
Maybe the hearing aids represent progress that brings people closer — in person. The internet, the video games, the smart phone all push us toward the two-dimensional. Mom talked a lot about life becoming ever more two-dimensional.
I’m thinking I should have listened closer.
She put on her sun hat and lingered at the table where I worked. She walked behind me during a Zoom meeting. She stared me down.
“I need to get to the grocery store before …”
Only us. Only one driver. Some things dwarf even deadline. We went to the grocery store.
And, we shopped in a very specific way. I learned this when I pulled a package of string cheese from a cooler and raised a quails’ covey of protest from Mom. This was not how she did it. I was totally out of order. First lap goes through each row for the non-perishables. Then, the fresh fruit and vegetables. And then the refrigerated and frozens. Sheesh.
She didn’t want anything to spoil. OK, but the house is, like, two minutes away.
Apparently, now, she couldn’t hear me, and the logic I couldn’t keep from uttering. I put the string cheese back.
She told me how my sister couldn’t hardly stand to shop with her, a soul always in a hurry. We had the laugh of the Irish wake, a bonding moment, then embarked on the first lap. Eventually, we got back to the string cheese.
And finally, checkout.
But, what was she doing with her credit card, tapping it flat on the screen instead of sticking it in the slot? Maybe she was beginning to lose it as the clerk talked to her, and she couldn’t or wouldn’t hear.
I started over to correct her and take over as the dutiful, competent son, only to see the card took. Weird.
“This is the most secure way,” she explained.
I looked again. It took me a moment, but suddenly I realized my mother had taught me how these cards worked now. And, I saw merriment in her eyes.
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