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(Almost) Forever Young
MY MOTHER turned 86 on Wednesday.
Almost all my life, my mother has always seemed young to me. For a period of a decade or more, between the grey hair and receding hairline (and the cigarettes and rum) that aged me and her redoubtably unfading natural beauty, if we went into a restaurant in another country together, people assumed we were husband-and-wife, not mother-and-son.
Even with my own creeping decrepitude nowadays, they don’t make that mistake any more.
She’s a great-grandmother now, my mother.
My old lady has become an old lady.
My brain understands we all age; and I only have to look at the mirror if I doubt that it applies to us all.
But my heart wants to rebel.
And my mother has somehow seemed almost exempt. She has always been the best-looking mother in the room, no matter where that room was.
Of course, she’s still the best-looking woman in the room if it happens to be filled with 86-year-olds.
But rooms like that tend also to be filled with beds. And intravenous drip stands.
Thanks to her late sister’s husband, she wasn’t the oldest person in the virtual room on her surprise birthday celebration, held online by the extended family which, on Wednesday, stretched from Port of Spain to Georgetown Guyana, St John’s Antigua, London, Toronto, Austin, Montreal, three different parts of Florida and back to the Bajan countryside.
There were 17 different members of the WhatsApp birthday group, some, like my sister’s son, adding his family of three, all of whom took part including the new baby, as well as my mother’s living sister and her nieces on a computer. There could have been two dozen people and almost as many screens involved.
I couldn’t count the number of boxes appearing and disappearing on my own phone screen, popping up and then just popping away, or hanging on for no discernible reason. I could just barely keep up with who was speaking and could not at all figure out who was talking to or hearing me. I don’t know how the anagram of the online host decided which individual faces to put on my own screen and which to hide at any given time but the whole experience was like watching a really complicated whodunit movie, like The Usual Suspects, with different scenes playing on multiple split screens simultaneously and the volume coming and going like the old BBC World Service.
People laughed and I couldn’t figure out why. My son, in Quebec, kept telling me to turn the television down but it wasn’t even on. (Was he Keyser Soze?) I’m still not sure I saw either my brother’s or my sister’s eldest sons and I only caught a glimpse of my brother-in-law as the whole thing was winding up. My elder brother and his wife, in their living room together, each had a screen of their own.
I won’t name the online host but I would suggest they contemplate changing their name to www.Tower-of-Babel.com.
I didn’t understood clearly a single complete sentence anyone said (except for my son’s directions to turn someone else’s TV volume down and something about graphic novels from my nephew in Texas).
But everyone appeared to be in a great mood and my mother was deeply touched and moved to a rare display of emotion.
My mother, at 86, in tears, on a telephone screen split into more boxes than The Brady Bunch intro.
The celebration came to an end (or, at least, I thought it did; for all I know, everybody else might still be talking at and not understanding one another at this very moment).
I pressed the X in the circle and the screen went blank and the babble stopped.
From where I stood, I could see the sun setting on my mother’s 86th birthday.
And I wondered about us. Not just my own extended family, but all families, and the family of man & woman.
Will we all ever see one another again?
My mother, bless her, turned 86 on Wednesday.
It will be a year before she’s 87.
And I hope to stand, then, with my children and nephews and watch her dance with my elder brother, her natural dance partner since my father died.
BC Pires is undersubscribed on techie stuff and overladen with sentiment every 86 years or so