Mothers and Days and Procrastination

My heart goes out to fellow weblogger, Robert Scoble, whose mother is gravely ill. He’s in Billings, Montana, to be with her. Tomorrow, on Mother’s Day, I’m going to drive for just under an hour to visit my Mom for Mother’s Day and spend the time looking at old family photos and recording oral history of her Mother’s side of the family (my grandmother graduated from Billings High School in Billings Montana. Small world.) Oh, and just so you know, that’s Mom up in the masthead of this site. My nephew is interviewing her.

I feel as though any discussion of what this site is about is a poorly-timed. too-loud shoutfest that intrudes on Robert’s time with his Mom, but I know there are a whole lotta bloggers and blog-readers who are getting a sudden moment to reassess the value –and fragility– of life, This site is dedicated to one of the Noble Deeds Oft Procrastinated… “Oh man, I’d really like to sit down with Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa/etc and get him/her to tell me the stories from his/her childhood.”

My Mom’s Mama left Billings for her birthplace, Cambridge Massachussets, to attend MIT and then went on to Schenectady, NY, where she worked as an engineer for the General Electric Company, met and then married my Grandpa, eventually left the GE Labs to raise a family, and then went back to work again to support the war effort in 1941 or thereabouts.

I didn’t really know her; she lived on the other side of the country, and died in 1967 when I was just shy of 8 years old. She died when her daughter (my Mom) was 34 years old. At this point, my Mom has lived more years after her mother’s death than the 34 years they lived in common. Mom and I navigate a new mother-daughter ground than she experienced as a daughter with her Mama: Of an older mother to a daughter in her mid-30s to mid-40s. (My Mom’s father, on the other hand, lived to be 100, so she’s been a daughter for most of her life)

There’s something deeply significant about this in my relationship to my Mom, but I don’t know how exactly to describe it, Or what to say about it. But I do know that our recursive Mother’s Day plans (Daughter sees Mother, interviews Mother abour her Mother and her Mother’s Mother) somehow and somewhere dwells in this territory. We will look through photos of Mom’s Mama, photos from Billings and Schenectady, and see what emerges. (And yes, after writing about maps, I’ve gone to Google Maps and printed out maps of both cities, to see if that might help elicit details of who what when why where and how.)

When I called my Mom yesterday to make arrangements for Sunday, I told her about Robert Scoble and his Mom. My Mom said that when an older person dies, it’s as though a library burns down. She paused. “Yes,” Mom said, “that—library—is the best way I can think of saying it.” As she was talking, I wrote down the word Alexandria, for the library that was the repository of ancient history. It burned, and its vast knowledge vanished.

… . .

So, if you’re getting together with your Mom tomorrow, and you have a tape recorder, or minidisc recorder, or digital voice recorder, or even a pen and paper, ask her some questions. What to ask? Any and all questions about what was it like growing up? Leaving home, getting a job, getting married… Ask questions in an open-ended way, Open ended questions elicit a descriptive answer, and not just a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

“Tell me about….”
“What was it like…”
“How did you get to school/celebrate family holidays/etc…?”
“When did you….?”
“Where were you when…?”

And check out the Interviewing category of this site; that’s where all the tips for question asking are.

[cross-posted at my weblog, 2020 Hindsight]

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 13, 2006 in • Personal History
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