My mother died in 2003, almost nine years ago. It’s been a long time, but it doesn’t make it any less painful. I find myself thinking about her often, and sometimes I have imaginary conversations with her, or I wonder what she would have thought of one thing or another. Last night, when I was working on a new blog layout way past a sensible bedtime, a random thought shot through my head:
My mother would have loved blogging.
At first I just liked the sound of that line, but the more I thought about it, the more it rang true, and I just had to make a story out of it right then and there (as, precisely, my mother would have done).
My mother and me, 1967
One indelible childhood memory is that of my mother sitting at her old, old, typewriter, hacking away, occasionally turning that wheel on the side furiously to pull in a new paper, or yanking out the current paper in disgust. That typewriter was a constant companion of hers through many years, later replaced by a computer, at first grudgingly, and then with mounting excitement about the new possibilities. Writing each other emails from afar brought the two of us closer than we had ever been before.
But writing a blog? She would have definitely struggled over the very word, blog. Anything that wasn’t in her childhood Duden (German dictionary) would have raised some serious eyebrows. Bringing home new words picked up in school, like “cool,” were usually met with a lot of ridicule and disdain. “A WHAT?” I can almost hear her saying if somebody had told her they were writing a blog. “That’s not a word!” The same went for any music that wasn’t written by either Beethoven, Mozart, or Bach. “Hott ‘n Tot” she would call anything we might secretly listen to, under cover of night in our bedrooms, in a vague reference to Rock ‘n Roll but really anything modern she didn’t deem worthy of the word “music.”
And not that she would have liked ANY blog. In fact, I’m fairly certain she would have voiced many criticisms and improvement suggestions about MY blog, had she ever gotten to see it, much as she had a habit of doing the same about MY life. If she harbored any pride of her children, she did it secretly, or perhaps when talking to others, but never to our faces. For starters, she would have scoffed at the writing being done in English rather than German, of that I am sure. Even though she was the one who instilled the love of languages in me. I have fond memories of her wandering across markets in Southern France or Italy, Assimil Language Guide in hand, and haggling for watermelons. While we’d sink into the ground from embarrassment, she’d happily stalk off to talk to strangers – who’d more often than not end up inviting us to their homes as a testament to how travel in Europe was still very much in its infancy in those years – and she’d come back, proudly touting the new word she’d just learned. And the watermelon.
Pencil study of my mother by me, a few years back
But back to the blog. I think she would have liked HER blog. She wasn’t one of those set-in-their-way conservative people but rather embraced the concept of lifelong learning. I will never forget when she decided to try waterskiing for the very first time in her sixties, leaving my dad to shake his head at the craziness of such an idea. Something tells me she would have been curious and overcome her distaste for a made-up imported word, and she might have tried herself at creating a blog, had she lived into the times when those things really took off.
Because she had LOTS to say. She was interested in everything (except cooking; and, I often felt, us kids). I can just see the tags lined up down the side of my mother’s blog: Politics, Parenting, Genealogy, Healthcare, Economics, Medicine, Early Childhood Education, Literature, Botany, Geology, the Environment… Neat labels would have lent her thoughts order and structure, which in some ways eluded her most of her life. Or maybe she would have left them in a cloud.
Not that she would have rambled. She was definitely a writer, a good one at that. My brother recently unearthed (and typed up, thankfully – as all doctors, my mother had the most terrible handwriting) some diaries she’d penned during our summer vacations, and I treasure few things more dearly than learning snippets about my childhood through them (even though I often don’t come across in such a very good light, little Miss Whiny-pants) and peeking into her mind. What better than a blog as a one-stop instant outlet to all her thoughts and insights? What I wouldn’t give to have that now.
Because my mother was also our family history’s keeper. She could sit for hours and listen to the umpteenth retelling of my grandfather’s wartime (both WWI and II) stories, when I was far too young and snotty to have patience for any of that. How I wish I had more of those stories now. I do have some of them, in various forms, ranging from typed-up letters from the Western Front to a collection of her own childhood memories retrieved from her computer (also a painstaking effort because she never got the concept of subdirectory trees – we’d often get calls for “Help, I lost my story somewhere on my computer!”). Just thinking about those letters makes me want to start a whole new Wartime Memories blog.
My mother would have also loved the instant publishing aspect of blogging. A brilliant mind, she never had much taste or ability for marketing. She was the only doctor I know who managed to not make much of a living from her profession. Some of her best essays are never-published letters to the editor, although a good number of them did make it into our local paper and occasionally the Frankfurter Allgemeine. Being able to just hit “Publish” and know that a number of people would now read what she wrote, would have been very satisfying for her.
This is how I remember my mother
Like me, she would be struck by an idea and had to bring it to paper. She even enrolled in a creative writing course once. I remember one of the childhood stories she wrote as an assignment, and it was riveting, having me yearning for more when it ended. In fact it inspired me to make similar forays into my own past, a great exercise for any writer. Which in turn inspired her to to give me a book on creative writing which I still turn to every now and then. Writing could have been one passion we had in common.
Perhaps she would also have loved the concept of followers. An automatic audience, people who were interested in what she had to say, yet didn’t even know her. I like to think that she would have been above the rest of us and not checked frantically if any new followers emerged or subscriptions materialized or how many pageviews she got yesterday. But I can’t be sure.
What I am quite sure of is that my mother would have loved blogging. It would have been a great outlet throughout her life and especially in her retirement, first from being a doctor and then from her political career.
But she died too young.
I miss you, Mama!