Karen Heller: The marvels my mother missed

Posted: April 29, 2013

This weekend is my mother's birthday. A big one: 80.

We will do little to celebrate. She has been gone for an eternity, 16 years. My daughter was then in diapers, scampering over the hospital bed, giving my mother her last moments of unbridled bliss.

My mother - Barbara to people who didn't know her, Bobbie to those who did - adored the new. Babies, trends, the latest anything. She was an enthusiastic, early adopter of gadgetry, some of it questionable, which she was often slow to master.

This was the woman who bought the Baconer, which had precisely one use.

As technology hurtles at a rocket pace, I am reminded frequently, sometimes hourly, of how much has changed since she died, how much she never knew yet might have savored.

They say God is in the details, but I see my mother in the delights of quotidian life, the things and moments we take for granted.

Amazon was around, but this ardent reader did not live long enough to benefit from one-click, super saver shipping, or the miracle of ordering something with morning coffee and having it appear at her doorstep by dusk. I imagine her being on a first-name basis with the delivery driver, and inviting him in for an evening round of bacon.

My mother had an utterly errant sense of direction, which for years I feared was hereditary. We once waited an hour to get on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the only way to get to the Delaware beach she loved, only to have her turn to me once over the water and ask, "Are you sure this is the right way?" I was 10 at the time.

Though Mom lived four decades in Washington, D.C., she would get lost the minute she traveled over the border into Virginia. We tended to blame this on her issues with Southern politics.

GPS would have been her personal salvation! I imagine her weeping at the very idea, as though they invented it with her in mind. Why, she might have been fearless in Virginia.

And there is rarely a time when I program my car's GPS, such a small act, that I don't think of her, or when I consult the genius of the rearview camera.

Nobels have been awarded for less.

Because my mother died in 1997, she lives virtually nowhere on the Internet, which tends to catalog the ancient or immediate, eschewing chasms of history and people in between. She belongs to the recent generations of the missing. (Then again, given the sewer of snark and worse, sometimes this is a blessing.)

Today, my mother might have lived on the Internet, especially as an inveterate insomniac, Tweeting and blogging, keeping up with grandchildren, including the fifth she never knew. I imagine her cracking my son's will and getting him to friend her on Facebook, while he kept his parents perpetually at bay.

My mother loved sleek, gorgeous, clean design. How she would have engaged in our insistent iWorld, even as the lack of instructions drove her batty. I can hear her saying, "Why not have a few more buttons?"

I watch Mad Men and think of her and her era, which she was quick to abandon, and telling me: "No, it was even worse. The undergarments alone. You're so much luckier now." She never knew HBO or cable, DVDs or DVRs. I think of all the lost, long conversations - how she loved the phone - after the airing of favorite shows.

She missed so much, most of all her grandchildren, and I think of her every time my children do something she might have loved.

My mother lives everywhere and nowhere. I think of her now that winter she abhorred is over and the world is in bloom, so many scenes an Impressionist painting, the best birthday gift she might have had.

Mostly, though, I think of her.

Contact Karen Heller

at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com. Follow her at @kheller on Twitter. Read the metro columnists blog, Blinq, at www.inquirer.com/blinq.

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