Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

So Long Ago, and Yet Like Yesterday

Thirty-two years ago, on the night of Oct. 15, my mother died in a hospital in Brooklyn, NY, from the cancer that returned after five years, spread from her spine to her liver and then to her brain.

She was 60.

It is hard to believe that it has been 32 years when in many ways I remember the events of her death, my getting the news and the funeral as if it was yesterday.

But that's not why I am writing today.

I was thinking today about how the world has changed since she died in 1980.

What would my mother think of computers now? Around the time she died they were still big, clunky things that easiily filled a room.  Programmers needed keypunchers - one of my college jobs - to type keys that would put holes in a certain order for the computer to read the information and then do what it had to do.

Now, computers have gone from filling a room to filling your hand. In my own case I went from a personal computer tower and monitor that my husband and I had to take turns using to separate laptops that have more memory in each than those big computers.

What would my mother think of smartphones? When she died, you had a phone. It sat on a table or was attached to the wall. It rang and you answered. If you were expecting a call you waited by the phone. How many songs did we grow up with where someone lamented waiting by the telephone that never rang.

Now, we're always connected. You can put an answering machine (with caller ID, to screen out the spam calls) on your landline - presuming you even have one. A lot of people have been giving them up.

Instead, they carry around a phone that isn't used so much as a phone anymore as a way of getting directions, planning your day, googling information, sending email and taking pictures. The talking part is almost an after-thought.

What would she think of texting? Of driving and texting or driving and talking or people walking down a public street blithely shouting intimate details?

What would she think of the end of the space program? It was America's pride. She would've remembered the Soviet spacecraft and President Kennedy's determination to best them in space and get to the moon.

She died before the first space shuttle, Columbia, was launched, in 1981. And now the entire program is gone, Columbia with Discovery and Endeavor. If anyone is going into space it is either a private company or another country including, gasp, the Russians.

What would she think of buying music electronically, by the song? In that, she would see a lot that's familiar. Buying individual songs was what one did, first with 78s, then with 45s. You collected them and put them into an album - hence how the word got used for what we also called long-playing records, or LPs. The concept of buying them through a company like iTunes and the possibility of sharing songs electronically would've confused her, but the overall by-the-song concept would not.

She would also recognize some of today's best-selling musicians, starting with that bunch of geezers known as the Rolling Stones. They've been together 50 years. She would remember when they appeared on Ed Sullivan and Mick Jagger had to sing "Let's spend some time together" while the look in his eyes reminded you the line actually went "Let's spend the night together."

Perhaps she'd be shocked by how old they look now. But then she could look at the Beatles' Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and think they haven't aged a bit - unless someone reminded her George Harrison died of cancer in 2001 at age 58 and John Lennon was murdered.

In 1980, as it happened, two months after my mother died.

What would she think of having a black man as president? It would scare her. But what would scare her more would be the thought of losing Social Security and Medicare, as the other guy's plans might do. And she would worry about an anti-Semitic nation like Iran building a nuclear arsenal. Yet, the fighting in the Middle East would look all too familiar.

Same stuff, different millennium.

And what, in heaven's name, would she think of the destruction of the World Trade Center, Osama bin Laden, the invasion of privacy, picture IDs to vote, the torture that has become flying in an airplane, airline security, the state of the economy, the end of job security and the widening gulf between rich and poor?

Yes, the world has changed a lot since 1980.

However, I can't say all of that change has been for the better, especially for me since Oct. 15.