Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Really, Really Long Distance Birthday Phone Call

“Mom, where are you?” I said. My query was directed to the computer’s screen. We were using iChat, and I was anxious to see my mother’s face.

“A minute, a minute,” I could hear her say.

I turned up the volume on my Mac and heard clicks -- a lipstick top being circled downward, a pocket mirror snapped shut.

“You don’t have to put on a face for me,” I said. I raised my voice, not only because we were using technology to manage our two-way conversation, but also, because my mother and I were so far away. Me, here on earth. Her, up in heaven.

“What kind of example would I set coming to see my daughter with a plain face?” she asked. Slowly, the colored pixels on my screen swirled and combined into my mother’s beautiful face. Blue eyes the color of Lake Michigan, Max Factor’s bold red lipstick, and pinkish rouge that highlighted her cheeks as she smiled.

“You look gorgeous as always,” I said. I was telling the truth. In all the 67-years of her life, I doubt if she had a homely minute. Even when she lay in the hospital, on the last day of her life, she remained the prettiest woman I had ever seen.

“So, you’re still wearing your hair grey,” she said. The corners of her mouth turned down, as did her voice. “And so short? Why not a little color? I liked it when you were a redhead,” she continued. “Some length wouldn’t be so bad either.”

I laughed. When she was on earth, judgments like that would sting. But with her gone nearly 30 years, I relished any of her comments. And, I was a big girl now, a mother and grandmother, five years older than she ever got to be. With age and wisdom, I realized her enormous love for me pushed her improvement efforts.

“Listen, Mom,” I said. “I have to apologize. I think I was too hard on you in my memoir."

“You think?” she repeated. The tone was sarcastic, but she was smiling. Her eyes confirmed she was kidding.

“Writers embellish,” she said. She tossed a manicured hand upward, as if to fling my apology away. “That’s what I told the crowd here. She had to have conflict, drama. What kind of an author would my daughter be, I told them, if it was blah. No fights.”

“Whew, I’m glad to hear that,” I said. “I’ve been worried about your reaction.”

“I liked the part when you said I was a good businesswoman,” she said. “That gave me the nerve to start my own company.”

“You’re in business?” I said. “That’s so great! What is it?”

“I have a clothing line,” she said. “My own designs. MinWear. One word. I have a website.”

"A website?" I asked. "I didn't know you had them up there."

"You never heard of cloud computing?" she asked. "I'm surprised; you're supposed to be such a techie."

Again, I ignored the jab. "Clothing," I repeated. Then, I recalled the awful outfits she bought for me in my childhood: the plain, scratchy green woolen skirt, the outlandish brown storm coat, the shoes with wedge heels to make me taller. And, I could see the cheap, gaudy clothing she considered beautiful for herself.

I bit my tongue. “So how’s it going?” I asked. “How are sales?”

“Well, you know the economy,” she said. She did sound businesslike. “It’s affected us up here, too.”

“I’m sure it’ll pick up,” I said. “So, listen, I got in touch to find out what you’d like you’d your birthday. Give me a hint.”

“I love all the pictures you’ve sent of my granddaughters and great grandchildren,” she said. “I show them off to my family whenever you send new ones. But, it’s hard with the iPhone you sent last year.”

I had a feeling I knew where this was going. Now that Mother was a businesswoman and needed gadgets to increase productivity, I was certain I could predict her suggestion.

“Have you seen the iPad?” she asked. Her face on the computer screen was alive with excitement. “If you can handle the shipping charges, I’d really love one of those.”

“No problem, Mom," I said. “No problem. It’s on its way.”

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