Sunday, September 24, 2006

Happy Birthday, Mom

Today is Mom's birthday. Had she not succumbed to emphysema, she would have been celebrating her 73rd birthday later today, going out to lunch with Dad and her twin sister and my uncle Red and Kim and Susan and me, talking and laughing and enjoying the day in the way that we always did.

When Robert E. Howard's mother died, he took his life shortly thereafter, denying the world all the wonderful tales he might have written in the remainder of his life had he not cut it so short. I can understand how he spiraled into such an inconsolable darkness that he felt it could not end; while I have not plummeted to such an abyss of spirit, I think I have been buffeted by the ebbs and flows of depression ever since Mom died. Losing her left a void that none of us have been able to fill.

As I watch videotapes of bygone happy times, I regret the fact that Mom was almost always the photographer and rarely the photographee. She loved to work the video camera, and Dad never seemed that interested, so Mom is the unseen voice in most family videotapes. On days like this, I watch those tapes, knowing I won't see her, but also knowing that I will at least hear her voice once again.

I miss that voice so much. I spoke to Mom almost every day of the last ten years of her life, and spoke to her several times a week in the many years before that. I knew her phrases, her responses, her words, and I fear that I took them for granted. I guess I never really considered that they would be silenced so soon.

As bittersweet as Mom's birthday is for me--and as sad as I still am about her death--I know that it must be immeasurably worse for Dad. A lot of people are happily married, but Dad was more than that--he had found the woman who balanced him, whose strengths complemented his, and around whom he had built his life. He is surrounded by memories of those happy times, and I can understand why also slides into emotional shadows as her birthday nears.

Happy birthday, Mom. I miss you.

Friday, September 15, 2006

In the Queue

Sometimes people surprise you.

I was at the post office today to send a few packages registered mail, which meant I had to stand in line rather than doing everything at the USPS website. There were about six people in line when I got there, and for every person who completed his/her transaction, another person joined the queue, so the line remained about six people long. There were only two windows open, since it was lunch time, and that meant that the progress was a bit slow.

I worked my way to the front of the line just as an elderly woman with obvious health problems came in. She moved laboriously with a cane, and she had a nasal cannula and an oxygen tank that led me to believe that she must have emphysema as well. Almost immediately after I saw her, the clerk called for the next customer. I walked back to her and said, "Ma'am, would you like to exchange places with me?" She looked surprised and grateful as she made her way towards te window.

"Hey, I've been waiting in line, too!" One apparently fit mid-20's man said.

"No problem--I'm not moving her up in line, I'm exchanging places with her. Your place in line is exactly the same as it was," I said as I moved to the last place in line. The guy still looked irritated, but he couldn't argue with the fact that he was still fourth in line.

And then, less than a minute later, the woman who was next in line stepped out of line and walked behind me, taking a place in line immediately after me, just as she had been before I exchanged places with the elderly woman.

A few seconds later, the second person in line did the same thing. Then the third. Now the man who had complained was first in line. Then the man behind him did the same thing. Now, rather than being the sixth person in line, I was the second, immediately after the man who had complained.

No one said a word about it. But everyone seemed to have a little bit more of a smile than they had prior to the arrival of the elderly woman. Everyone except for one man, that is...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Time After Time

Since my last entry, my nephew Cole and his wife Christy have closed on their house; they've found that the due date for their baby is April 14th, which is one day later than Dad's birthday; and Cole and Christy are halfway moved into their home. They've paid rent on their duplex through September 20th, so they're not facing an urgent deadline to move; as a result, they've been able to move gradually and much less stressfully than mine and Susan's typical move (every move we've made except one was on a 24 to 72 hour deadline, which means that you start out with the intent of moving methodically and deliberately, and you end up tossing things in boxes at random just to get 'em out of the old house while you still have a moving fan available).

It's hard to believe that Cole, at the age of 21, has a 1600 square foot house with central heat and air; a computer; digital cable and a PVR; cable modem access; an HDTV; a dolby digital surround sound stereo system... the list goes on. I'm not talking about Cole in particular, really; I'm talking about the ever-rising standard of living that makes it possible for a couple married less than a year to have all of these things as part of a normal middle class existence.

A year after Susan and I were married, we couldn't have possibly bought a home; we had one small window air conditioner that semi-cooled one room in our house; we had an electric typewriter; we had a cheapo Singer stereo system (yes, the same Singer that makes sewing machines used to sell stereo systems); we had a 15" black and white television (didn't get our first color television of our own until we had been married for three years). And we considered ourselves solidly middle class; we had more than many of our friends who were our age.

Those who talk about the middle class pinch and family budget woes ignore the fact that our standard of living as a culture has risen exponentially with each decade. What is considered basic middle class now would have been upper-middle ten years ago and lower-upper-class ten years before that. Our economy makes it possible for people to have a tremendous quality of life for a much smaller investment than ever before.

I'm sure that, if Dad ever got on the internet and read this, he would point out that what Susan and I had after a year of marriage was phenomenal compared to what he and Mom had after their first year of marriage. And if my grandmother were still alive, she's undoubtedly point out how much better Dad and Mom had it than she and my grandfather did when they had been married a year.

Pretty amazing, when you think about it. And I have to wonder what will be considered a "middle class necessity" for Cole and Christy's child when he or she turns 21...