My mom loves to tell the story of how she bowled the best game of her life the night before she gave birth to me. Clearly a safe choice, (as was the whiskey sour a day that she confessed to having throughout her pregnancy — but I’ll leave that for another day). I still have the “Most Improved Bowler” trophy that she won. It’s pretty awesome. An impressive four inch high marble base, with a silver statuette of a very elegant lady in a skirt — bowling.
As luck would have it, they also invented the microwave that week. And my mom won it. The very first microwave in existence. It was enormous — about three feet long by two feet wide. And loud. And so powerful that it dimmed the lights when you used it. That enormous piece of imperfect counter top radiation came into our house when I was a newborn, and didn’t make its exit until my sister bought my mom a new one, somewhere around the year 2000. I was 27.
Appliances are not meant to last that long. That alone makes its presence in our home during all of the formative years of my life f-ing terrifying. I would love to blame all my bad decision making on the fact that I used to love to rest my forehead on it and watch my food cook. But I’m pretty sure my sister did that too — and she’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. So, yeah, no luck.
Of course, we tried to buy her one sooner, but you don’t know my mother. Not only did she not want a new one, she absolutely refused to allow the replacement of the damn thing. My sister had to sneak it out of the house — literally. I’m pretty sure my mom started to cry when she saw its shiny, digital replacement. And they weren’t tears of joy. Imagine taking the old family dog away from a nine-year-old, killing it in the night, and trying to replace it with a bunny. Now imagine that look on the face of a 60-year-old woman.
The microwave wasn’t the only archaic appliance we had in that house. Yes, it’s the only one I blame for my inability to conceive for many years, but now I have my kids, so that’s neither here nor there. Our TV was fodder for legend.
Remember when electronics were also furniture? That was brilliant. Why make a necessary piece of household equipment small and efficient when it could be enormous, and also a piece of non-functional furniture? Our TV sat about five inches from the floor, on a swivel base. The TV itself was about a 40 inch. The size of the shiny wood siding that housed it was about a three and half foot cube. It was enormous. We got it in 1978 when we moved to California. My mom didn’t get rid of that one until we refused to pack it for her move to Florida in 2003. Only one button worked on the remote — the channel up button. Do you know how incredibly frustrating it is to have to cycle through 52 channels to get to the one you want? Very. I mean, never enough to make us get off our asses and walk to the TV, but very.
My mother still brings that TV up. When we finally convinced her not to pack her 300 pound soul mate up for the move, she gave it to a tenant she was renting a room to. Boy is she pissed that it’s still working, and not in her possession. I saw Mike when I went back to San Jose. Do you know that he still has that TV? He loves it. He says its the best TV he’s ever had. It really did have a nice picture. And it was so different — the way you could watch it in the living room, and swivel it around and also watch it in the dining room.
They don’t make things like that anymore.
I kept the first Mac power book I bought way longer than I needed to. A 27-year-old microwave, and a 9-year-old Mac are basically the same thing. I didn’t turn the computer off for three years, for fear that it wouldn’t turn back on. Seriously. And I didn’t do any software updates either, because You know they put viruses in those. Apple does. They don’t want their products to last that long. In case you didn’t catch on, that would be the inner dialogue of my brain. Also, if you unplugged it, you’d have to fiddle with the power cord for about five minutes to get it to work again. Why did it take me so long to buy a new one? Genetics, clearly. I’m hard-wired to exhaust the shit out of anything that can be plugged into a wall.
In 2012 I still had a TV was bought for me by my mother in 1998. It was a Sony 32 inch traditional boxed TV. It was old. And huge. And my friends had been known to tease me, relentlessly, for still having it. My husband bought a flat screen one day, and set it up in the living room as a surprise for me when I got home from work. Oh. Wow. Yeah- great. The picture is nice, but it’s a little too clear- isn’t it? I mean, everyone looks kinda haggard. And the sound, it’s tinny isn’t it? But great. It’s great. Thanks!
The night he brought it home, I lay in bed — visions of my old workhorse just sitting sadly in the corner of the living room were too much for me to bear. I mean, I was really bothered by this. I just kept thinking I like my TV better. It’s old, but so what? And who cares if it juts out two feet into the only path through our front room — not me! Suddenly I realized I was laying awake thinking about my TV. Ridiculous!
But, with the clarity that only comes when you are lying awake in the middle of the night: I learned something about my mother — and myself. Of course a new flat screen would be better, in every way. But it’s not the thing itself, it is its quiet, unwavering presence in your life. In other words, welcome to aging. Welcome to your youth slipping away. Welcome to memories attached to things that were around, when you were younger and better in every way. And who wants to give those up?
Needless to say, my husband’s flat screen lived in his office for a few years, and my beloved television took up residence in the most important room in the house — until I was finally ready to say goodbye.
They just don’t make things like that anymore.