Thursday, January 22, 2009

Historical Perspective

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

People with Birth-years of 1913, 1925 and 1965, Dining Together

I pulled up to my mother's house at 5:35 pm, ready to ferry her to her belated birthday dinner with her friend; she had been too ill on the day, but now, was well.

Driveway: empty. House: dark. Oh, God, was my mother being competitive with her nearly 96-year-old friend? The friend had insisted on driving herself to the restaurant and so did my mother drive there on her own, too?

Sitting in the dark, in the car on the snowy driveway, I wondered if my mom were safe and what could have motivated her to make the trip on her own. I dialed the home-number. No answer. I dialed her cell. Voicemail.

By 5:40, I figured, I better just head over to the restaurant, all the way at the other end of town, on the Greenwich border. By 6:10 pm, I'm in the ladies room and my cell-phone rings: "Where *are* you?"

"Mom! I was there at 5:35. Where were *you*?"

"I got home by 5:45."

"I'll come get you."

"No, no, I'll be there as soon as I can."

Being Baby-sat by a 95-year-old

Five minutes later, her friend arrives right on time.

The friend is a retired physician, having retired 30 years ago, and having graduated from med. school in the '30s. Her hair is shiny-white and her eyes, bright-blue. She must be surprised by my towering size, as my mother is now so small compared to me and she and I've never before met.

"It's a comedy of errors," I said, holding out my right hand and taking her left hand. I kept holding on for a minute more than I meant to while explaining, "I drove to my mom's to pick her up, but she wasn't there, and so I thought she had decided to drive here on her own. She'll be here as fast as she can."

"Oh, OK," she said sportingly and sat down with me at the table.

"Would you like to order or wait?"

"Oh, no, we'll wait, of course."

We talked about losing loved ones to cancer, which I had brought up, until she moved us to more present-future-oriented topics. "What an exciting day," she said; it had been the U.S. presidential inauguration earlier.

"Did you believe it would happen?" I asked my mom's friend.

"I think it's wonderful, especially since the last lynching we know about was as recent as 1981."

Was my mom's friend like my mom, I wondered? Could I free-associate with her? "Do you remember that play about the Jewish man, who was lynched in the south mistakenly? I saw a play at Lincoln Center with my partner, 'Parade,' I think it was called."

"Wasn't that...Frank? Leo?"

"Right, Leo Frank! I couldn't remember his name, but you did!"

Thus began a string of boorish, ageist remarks that I seemed to have no control over spewing at intervals throughout the evening. For example, she mentioned she would be 96 in March and I don't know why, but I had thought she was just 92.

"Ninety-six?! I thought you were 92."

"Well, there's not that much difference --"

"There's a *world* of difference!"

Oh, boy. How could I be so ignorant? I kept looking at her face because her brain was working much more actively and livelily than mine.

Finding My Mother at the Entrance

"Would you excuse me," I asked, "I just want to make sure my mother isn't waiting anywhere." Psychically, my mother walked through the front-door as I arrived at it. She was wearing her usual coat, but then a lavender, mohair hat, lavender sweater and long, darker-lavender, cashmere gloves.

"I'm so sorry," my mother began, "Will you have an Hors d'oeuvres?"

"No, I ate lunch very late because of the inauguration," said my mom's friend.

I looked at both of them and suddenly my mom looked much younger to me than usual, as she's just 83, and I made another ageist gaffe: "How are both of you feeling about today, since both of you have such a long historical perspective? I mean, which other presidencies were unusual to you?"

My mother turned to her friend and said, "Was there a Mrs. Hoover? Did he have a wife?"

My memory goes back only as far as President Nixon.

Activism Circa 1932 v. 2007

We talked about their activism when they were younger -- how my mom's friend lobbied Mayor LaGuardia for medical interns to be paid, as they did not earn any salary in her day in New York City, until she convinced the mayor to pay them. "You'll earn $12 a week and you'll be happy with that," she said he told her, if I remember correctly. And then she also lobbied, so that nurses wouldn't need to work 12-hour days six days a week.

And my own mom had gone to several marches on Washington. I told my mother's friend that I did my own sort of activism, too. I said that when we were in India for my work, I found people who were willing to start up the India chapter of our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employee network.

"Tell her how you lived in India," said my mother, and I was pleased at how she helped me ensure that the story was optimally poignant.

"Pat and I lived in separate rooms during the week, and then gave the maid the weekends off, to avoid her finding out about us and potentially telling the police, since homosexual activity is jailable there."

My mother's friend's face screwed itself up into full incredulity -- about the jailability part. So many people just don't know how harsh it still is for some GLBT people around the world, whether or not it is prosecuted anymore -- just having it on the books still is an indignity. I wondered if I were the first openly-lesbian person she had met in her nearly 96 years.

She was definitely the oldest person I had ever met. I couldn't stop thinking about that as we talked because she didn't seem at all old.

The next morning, I told my mom, "The two of you wore me out. Seriously."

"I never feel my age when I'm talking with younger people, though I know they notice it," said my mom.

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