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Legacy

Last weekend, I went to see the Broadway musical Carousel. I had been anticipating seeing it for months. Three bars into the opening number, The Carousel Waltz, my eyes filled with tears. Not because I was anticipating the sorrowful plot elements or the poignant ending (though of course I was). I was moved to tears by the beauty of the music.

My reaction was visceral. In the space of a few seconds, I felt the gorgeous music take root in my gut. It surged through my chest as if it were a powerful river tossing my emotions in a rushing current. Moved and overwhelmed, I wept.

I know that this must sound like overwrought hyperbole. I promise it is not. To say I love music doesn’t come close to describing its effect on me. I don’t just listen to music. I devour it. I experience it with all my senses, not just my ears. It takes me out of the here and now. Unlike most people, I can’t have music playing in the background while I work, or tidy up, or have a conversation. The music commands my full attention, pulling me in and enveloping me.

When I was growing up, the house was filled with music. The phonograph played all day long. It was one of my mother’s greatest joys. She could fall into music as if down a rabbit hole in the same way I do now.

Mom played many different types of music. There were the Yiddish songs of The Barry Sisters, World War II-era popular music such as The Andrews Sisters, classical music, even some soft rock such as Simon and Garfunkel or Don McLean. She didn’t expose my brother and I to this variety of genres and sounds with the conscious intent of providing us with a solid music foundation. She simply played what she loved, what made her happy, and shared it with us because she wanted us to be happy too. I know you can’t teach someone to love music. However, by creating a musical environment in our home my mother most definitely nurtured and reinforced an innate predilection.

The deepest musical bond my mother and I shared was a love of Broadway show tunes. We played the same albums over and over and over, inhaling the songs and learning every single lyric. Our standard rotation included Carousel, Oklahoma, The King and I, West Side Story, The Music Man, Guys and Dolls, Finian’s Rainbow, Camelot, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, and The Man of La Mancha. You can see she had great taste. These are arguably the greatest musical scores in the musical theater canon of that era (from the 1940s through the early 1970s).

While our passion for music created a bond between us, it didn’t follow that I appreciated it. When we went to see a musical play or movie, my mother would inevitably sing along. Every. Single. Time. Not loudly but most definitely audibly. Typically, she was set off or inspired (depending upon your perspective) when the actors performed one of her favorites, either something especially upbeat (think Seventy-Six Trombones) or intensely poignant (The Impossible Dream). Every time, her behavior annoyed and embarrassed the hell out of me. I would tap her on the hand, and if she didn’t get the message I would hiss at her, “Shhh! You’re disturbing everyone.” I knew I could have said it in a nicer, gentler way, but I didn’t care. I thought a grown woman should know better. Now I wish I had been more generous of spirit.

In the late spring of 2011, my mother was diagnosed with a virtually incurable type of leukemia. One day I will write of her courage and grace during the 14-1/2 months she lived after her diagnosis. The chemotherapy and clinical trials (eight of them) she underwent during that time required many lengthy stays in the hospital. Since my mother felt fine until the last two months of her life, she was bored to tears during these periods that she was trapped (as she justifiably called it). My father and I were there nearly every day, but there was no escaping the ennui. We passed the time with small talk, reading, watching sitcom reruns, and staring into space during periods of silence.

One early evening, the three of us were sitting in her hospital room watching an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond that we had seen at least twenty-five times before (if not more). There was a knock and in walked a young man holding a guitar. He introduced himself as a volunteer and asked if we would care to hear him play on the guitar and sing for us.

My swift and cynical reaction, one I fortunately kept to myself, was no I don’t want to listen to some corny amateur musician. I groaned inwardly at the prospect of having to plaster a fake smile on my face while he performed.

My mother, on the other hand, replied, “Yes, thank you, I would love that.” I looked at her and saw she was beaming with delight. When he asked what she wanted to hear, mom thought for a moment before she asked, “Do you know any Simon and Garfunkel?” “Of course,” he replied. “How about The Sound of Silence?”

That was one of my mother’s favorite songs. Throughout the performance she was smiling with her entire face, and singing along, which made the young man smile back at her. Swept up in the moment, I sang along too. He played a second song (I don’t remember which one) before he left. My mom’s smile and upbeat demeanor lasted the rest of the night. To this day I thank the Lord that I didn’t voice my contemptuous view about an experience that gave my mother such joy, as music always did.

During the last few hours of my mother’s life, she was uncommunicative. I remembered someone telling me that hearing is the last sense to go at the end of life. It was possible she could still hear the world around her. I positioned myself on a chair near her head and tuned in to the music I had stored on my phone.

There were a lot of songs from which I could choose, from many different genres. In many ways the music collection on my phone mirrored the musical life she and I had shared. I turned up the volume and held the phone to her ear. I played some classical music. Then I played some country music, a genre she and my father had come to love later in life. Finally, I played If I Loved You from Carousel. Soon after that she died. I hope the music she loved was her final awareness of this world.

Thank you, mom, for a gift that has transformed and enriched my life. I miss you.

………………………

Most of us have memories of our mothers, whether they are still living or have passed on. Memories may be happy, sad, heartwarming or any combination of emotions. These memories–not material items–are the true legacies our parents leave us. In honor of Mother’s Day, it would be great if you would share a memory of your mom in the Comments section below. Thanks and to those of you who are mothers, Happy Mother’s Day!

A FACEBOOK ALTERNATIVE

A friend of mine sent this to me, and I thought it was so funny I wanted to share it with you. It showed no author attribution. If you know who wrote this, please let me know in the Comments section so I may give credit to this witty author. I have added a lot of my own material, but the credit for coming up with the premise of the piece belongs to someone else. By the way, to the best of my knowledge he or she did not post this on Facebook.

 

You may remember that initially Facebook was available only to college students. At some point it was opened to the general public and almost immediately lost its cachet among those initial users.

 

It also lost much of its utility. Now parents could see or read what you were thinking, what you were doing, where you were doing it and with whom. It was no longer a safe space where kids could complain about their parents. They could spy on you and ask you even more intrusive questions than they already did. Full disclosure: There is an option to make a Facebook page private, but that would only result in more questions: “What are you doing that you don’t want me to know about?” “What are you hiding from me?”

 

In response, other platforms soon developed, such as one where you send a select group of people a photo that disappears after ten seconds. I don’t know too many adults who use this tool, or even understand the concept of giving someone a time limit for looking at a picture.

 

Not everyone from our generation jumped on the Facebook wagon. Many cannot comprehend why Facebook even exists. What did it do for you that couldn’t be accomplished face to face? I thought it would be fun to experiment using Facebook’s methods to make friends and disseminate information but in person, rather than through electronic media. Here is a chronicle of how that turned out.

 

Every day I walk down the street and tell passersby what I have eaten, how I feel at the moment, what I have done the night before, what the weather forecast is, and where I am going either today or sometime in the future. I share with them inspirational sayings (often accompanied by cards bearing drawings of hearts and kittens), my political views, unsolicited advice, news about the Kardashians and Taylor Swift, and even my musings about the purpose of life. I extend holiday greetings “to all who celebrate.” If people don’t notice me approaching, I get to listen in on their conversations.

 

It’s not just a one-way street where I do all the talking. The people I meet fill me in on important information, such as rumors about members of their high school graduating class. Later the information may prove to be false but hey, so what? Nostalgia is a popular topic, such as asking who remembers the bowling alley that is now a CVS. Many feel it is important to say RIP in honor of the latest celebrity who has died, expressing as much grief as if they actually knew the person.

 

I encourage people to vent about anything that is on their minds. The larger the group of people, the more entertaining these sessions become. Some enjoy debating political issues, such as what they think of DACA or gun control or throwing paper towels at people who are homeless due to a hurricane. I also hear many sports-related debates, such as, “Is LeBron James as good a player as Michael Jordan was?”, or “How can Tom Brady be a better athlete at age 40 than he was at age 30?”

 

Sadly, it is not unusual for these discussions to morph into nasty arguments involving name calling and personal insults (at times including cutting remarks about someone’s mother). But no big deal; it’s all in good fun to call someone who doesn’t agree with you a moron, isn’t it? When these disagreements turn physical, I have to chalk up a point in favor of electronic Facebook.

 

At times, someone will assign me a task, accompanied by a directive to ask others to participate. They tell me that if I don’t comply (1) I am not a true friend and/or have my head in the sand regarding important social issues, or (2) some catastrophic misfortune will befall me. No one’s going to tell me what to do, though, so I mumble something noncommittal and sidle away as surreptitiously as possible.

 

A particularly appealing feature of Facebook is the ability to post photos or videos. To simulate this feature in my Facebook alternate universe, I always walk around carrying a stack of photos. I may start with photos of plates of food, and groups of smiling people sitting around those plates of food. I frequently show them pictures of my dog because who wouldn’t be interested in that?

 

I have lots of family photos, such as the four of us posing in front of Old Faithful, one kid with his back turned toward the camera because he didn’t want his “stupid picture taken next to some lame water fountain.”  My older son recently got married, so I have about 20 photos from the wedding that I like to show. I have noticed from time to time members of my “audience” trying to hide or stifle a yawn. But they must just be tired. After all, they expect me to look at similar photos of their friends and families. I don’t think they would do that if they didn’t enjoy reciprocating.

 

On Thursdays, I carry old photos with me. When I show someone one of these photos, I yell, “Hashtag TBT!” which stands for Throw Back Thursday. I may show them one of me at a ballet recital in a tutu, in an awkward, decidedly ungraceful pose that makes no one wonder why I didn’t become a ballerina. There are photos of my kids from the 1980s. They are wearing braces, large glasses, and sweat suits in garish colors that feature decals of Sonic the Hedgehog.

 

On average I speak to around 20 new people on every simulated Facebook outing. According to commonly accepted Facebook conventions, these people may now be my friends, even if our interaction was brief, or they told me to, “Get the hell out of here.” I currently am up to 357 of these new dear friends. I just have to go through one additional step—the friend request. The friend request is exactly what it says it is—you have to ask a person if you may be their friend. This is where electronic Facebook has it all over real world Facebook.

 

This process has high humiliation potential. No one ever says no outright. They just don’t answer, and extricate themselves from the situation, such as turning their backs to you or walking away. But the message is clear, and when it happens to me I feel crappy about it. If I were alone at my computer, it wouldn’t be quite as bad. Being rejected in front of a group of people? Not so much fun.

 

If the person accepts your friend request—with a handshake or a hug–you are now one of their confidantes, even if the two of you met just ten minutes ago. Again, electronic Facebook has the advantage over real world Facebook. Who wants a hug from some stranger? Oops, ignore that last sentence. What I meant to say was, “Who wouldn’t want a hug from a friend?”

 

Facebook users often point to the number of people following them as a metric for—well, I’m not really sure what they are measuring. I do know the goal is to amass as many followers as possible. (This also applies to friends.) I am able to report that I already have four people following me. I have noticed the same two police officers hanging around places I frequent. There’s also some guy who I guess thinks he’s incognito, but who keeps talking into his lapel. And several times I have come home to find my psychiatrist parked in my driveway. I didn’t think doctors made house calls anymore.

 

A Failure To Communicate

When I was growing up, my family ate dinner together every night. Yes, that’s right. Every. Night. Much of the meal was “Comedy Hour.” My father, a civil engineer, worked with someone who had an apparently endless supply of jokes. You’re probably not surprised; engineers have a legendary reputation for their wacky sense of humor.

At every dinner, my dad would tell us the jokes he had heard that day from Morty (who we began to refer to as the Great Morty). There almost always were two or three new ones. Many of them were corny, Borscht Belt-type shtick, but we didn’t care. We laughed long and hard, often until it hurt or we choked on what we were eating.

After a while, we developed favorites and would make requests. We had memorized every word of these favorites, yet still delighted in hearing our dad tell them from start to finish. As time passed, we developed a shorthand. We didn’t need to hear the full joke. My dad, or one of us, would say the punchline and the four of us would laugh as heartily as if we were hearing the entire joke for the first time. “Don’t blame me if you get a ringing in your ears.” “Oh, you want Greenberg the spy. He’s on the fourth floor.” “You stupid yenta! Everyone knows the number 3 bus doesn’t go to Coney Island.” None of these mean anything to those of you reading this, but I promise you I am laughing as I type these punchlines I first heard over 50 years ago.

As my father delivered his routine, we paid rapt attention to every word. We didn’t want to miss his delivery or the joke. Fast forward to 2017. Imagine a dinner at which, miraculously, every family member is present. It might go something like this…

Me: Tells joke. Waits for reaction.
Silence.
Me: Looks around the table and sees this—

 

 

Me: Hey! Zombies! Can you all look up from your screens for a minute?
They raise their heads, eyes glassy and unfocused as they adjust their vision from staring at something a few inches from their faces to looking at me at the other end of the table. They are as disoriented as when I wake them in the morning for school.
Son #1: Wait, what?
Me: Did either of you hear the joke I just told?
Sons #1 and #2 exchange a glance.
Son #2: Oh yeah, sure Mom. It was hilarious.
Son #1: I heard it. It just wasn’t funny.
Son #2: Sorry Mom.
Son #1: Mumbles something I can’t hear.
Me: Any possibility we can get through a meal without the two of you checking your phones?
Son #2: I’m making plans for tonight.
Son #1 Doesn’t even bother to answer.
Eye rolls from both, then they look back down at their phones again.

I am more than certain that many of you have had similar experiences. Often, when I try to communicate with my offspring, I feel as if I am a dinosaur who has somehow been teleported from prehistoric times to the present. Mostly I feel that way because my kids tell me this, or something equally as insulting.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the concept of “the generation gap” entered the vernacular. It was a hot topic for the nightly news, magazine cover stories, newspaper feature articles and opinion pieces. Our parents and their friends were confounded by this rupture in their lives that now had a name. Girls no longer wore sweet, tidy dresses to school; these were replaced by bell bottom jeans, frayed at the hem from dragging on the floor. Boys’ neatly combed crew cuts gave way to long hair, often past shoulder length. Instead of the tolerable music of The Beach Boys, our transistor radios blared the harsh, dissonant sounds of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix.

Then there were the words and idioms we used, verbal tools to solidify the wall we were building (that no one had to pay for) between us and them. Some of our favorite (and rather ridiculous) adjectives were “groovy,” “right on,” or “far out.” Events or activities we enjoyed were “out of sight” while those not to our liking were “not my bag.” You could “dig” something without needing a shovel, and you avoided “the fuzz” at all costs, because they might find the “grass” hidden in the pocket of your Wrangler jeans.

Communication is fundamental—in fact critical—to forging connections with other human beings. In our teens and twenties, we recognized this, and made up words and phrases specifically intended to block (or at least hinder) communication with the older generation. And who did we consider the “older generation”? A popular expression warned us not to “trust anyone over thirty.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that. From my current perspective, people in their thirties are babies.

Forty plus years removed from our youth, we try to show our kids that hey, we’re not as “lame” (i.e., old and out of touch) as they believe we are. We watch Netflix and Amazon and Hulu rather than broadcast television. We know who Drake and Sia are. We use social media, and believe the way we dress strikes a perfect balance between up-to-date and age appropriate. But deep down, we know we have stepped into our parents’ shoes. The generation gap is alive and well, patently obvious in the way our kids communicate with one another, using a set of conventions that make us feel as if we are sitting on the sidelines without a play book. Our kids have modern, shiny objects at their disposal to assist them in disassociating from old people like us. All we had were words and music. Different means, but the same message: Hey old people, you are not invited to the party.

Remember what a godsend we thought answering machines were, enabling us to either (a) not miss an important call from an actual or potential significant other if we weren’t home, or (b) screen our calls to avoid telemarketers, crazy ex SOs, and parents? Answering machines are relics of the 20th century; now voice mail serves the same purpose.  Well, maybe not for everyone. Here’s a scenario that both educated me, and made me feel old at the same time. Kudos to my son for being efficient and killing two birds with one stone!
Son #1: Did you call?
Me: Yes I did. How are you today?
Son #1: Fine. Why did you call?
Me : Didn’t you listen to my message?
Son #1: No, I never listen to voice messages.
Me (after a moment of stunned silence): May I ask why not?
Son #1: I can see on my phone that you called. If I’m gonna call you back, why should I listen to the same thing twice?
I proceed to repeat everything I just said into the phone a short while ago. I guess the takeaway from this encounter is that it’s better for me to say the same thing twice than for him to have to listen to the same thing twice.

Son #2 and I recently had an in-person, face-to-face, real live conversation! True story! He told me he had a date with a girl he recently met at a party. I then asked what I believed was a simple question. Hah!
Me: So, you guys talked at the party and then you called her and asked her out?
Son #2 (eyes narrowed with derision, mouth clamped to stifle loud, mocking laughter): Mom, no one calls anymore. (Unable to keep his composure any longer he snorts.) We text.
Me: Why? Isn’t it easier just to talk to someone?
Son #2: No. (Shakes his head and rolls his eyes)
I hang my head and shuffle off in disgrace. As I leave, I hear him ask, “Hey mom! What are you making for dinner tonight?” Why is he asking me, I wonder? Wouldn’t it have been easier to send me a text?

I quickly deduced that if you want to connect with your kids, texting is the way to go. (Warning: Do NOT send an email if you want a response any time before the year 2025. It is the rare millennial who checks his or her email with any frequency.) However, this means of communication is not without its frustrations, as illustrated by the following conversation (conducted entirely via text messaging):
Son #1: Do you know where my birth certificate is?
Me: Sure. Why?
Fifteen minutes pass with no response.
Son #1: I need it to get my new driver’s license. Also, do you still have my Sega Genesis games?
Now even I know that Sega Genesis is from the 1990’s. I know I threw those games away a long time ago. I also know that, like myself, Son #1 is a saver of things of marginal/no value, and will pitch a fit if the answer is no. I decide to buy myself some time.
Me: I don’t know. I’ll have to look in the basement. Why do you need them?
Again, nothing new appears on my screen, this time for twelve minutes. Yes, I am just that petty and annoyed that I actually time it. I have watched my sons text their friends, and I know there is no pause in those conversations.
Son #1: I saw an old console on Craig’s List and I thought I might buy it if we still have the cassettes. Let me know.

In all likelihood he did not type “let me know.” He undoubtedly typed “LMK.” Which brings me to my next topic—the pervasive replacement of real words with acronyms. When they first began appearing in messages and yes, even emails, I thought this was quite clever. I applauded the convenience of substituting letters for commonly used phrases. OMG, acronyms were so great! IDK how we ever managed without them.

However, those original acronyms appear to have been a bit promiscuous, spawning hundreds of next generation acronyms. Presumably, using them saves time. But how much? I would like to ask my kids, “How much time could you possibly be saving? Enough to make a great scientific discovery or write a highly acclaimed novel?”  As I said above, I do get it–but in moderation.

In addition, using an acronym can misfire if the recipient is unfamiliar with it. One time I was texting with Son #2 and he used the acronym “SMDH.” I hit the ceiling. The only words I could think of to fit those letters were pornographic and not something you should say to your mother.
Me: What was that? What does that mean?
Son #2: Shaking my damn head. What did you think it means?
Me (relieved): Never mind. (Had I instead typed NVM, I could have saved myself at least two seconds. Hopefully I won’t make that mistake again.)

I can imagine one of my kids having the following text chat with a friend…
Friend: SFLR. AFK.
Son: NP. WU?
Friend: NM. CYT?
Son: SLAP.
Friend: GR8.
Son: GTG. POS.
Friend: TBC. TTYL.

I would love you to hear your guesses regarding what the above means. Send me your thoughts via the Comments section of this site. In other words, LMK. I will share some of the answers in my next post, as well as translate the above for you.

In the meantime, I continue to SMDH.