When I remember my mother, I remember her with a phone in her hand. Not a little cell phone like the ones that you stick in your pocket, or even one of those larger ones with a touch screen that glows lighting your face in shades of cyan, magenta and yellow, but a desk phone, large with a cradle like two football goals. Hers was an antique design, white ear and mouthpieces with a handle of shining gold like the mask of an Egyptian mummy or more like the brass beds showcased in her mail-order catalogues.
I would come home from school or from playing outside and find her sitting back against a ruffled pillow, phone handle in her hand, her slightly shrill voice echoing through the hallway as she talked about the news of the day. Not the national news. That was the purview of my father who turned on news radio before the coffee percolator. A stern and serious man who devoured news shows like peppermint sticks so that I learned to tell the time by the television theme songs, bedtime announced by the jingle for the ten o’clock news, and Sunday dinner by the ticking of the Sixty-Minutes logo.
No, my mother’s news was local. She would spend her days calling and receiving calls. Her address book was a thick thing with metal rings and phone numbers scratched in in different colored inks some stretching back decades to previous homes, previous times, previous lives.
If I wanted to know what was happening, I only need stand just outside her door to hear about my aunt’s new car, or my grandmother’s surgery, or my cousin’s new child. She listened to people and told others what was happening to us and to her friends. It was as if she was always pushing reblog, broadcasting what she heard to everyone around us even facts about my progress in school, or things about us that I wished she wouldn’t say. Sometimes I wished I’d had a content filter so that I didn’t have to hear about my neighbor’s divorce, or that having five children didn’t mean that the sex was good or frequent.
When I think of my mother I remember her skin pale from days spent in the dark of our house. Floral curtains and the waving shade of trees outside her window that she rarely touched, only wandering out into the daylight on Sundays in her best white dresses shielded by her broad-rimmed hats that were always a bit fancier than anyone else’s. When she’d take the time to sit at her vanity on a red velvet cushioned stool, putting on earrings and strong smelling perfume as she told me that the way to be a fashion leader is to wear it first, and the others would follow. A statement lost to me as I wandered around in little striped t-shirts and short shorts trying to live up to the name of tomboy but really just being a girl who liked nature and trees and creeks that had overflowed their banks. A child who spent more time among the dandelions and among my dogs than inside where the dust suffocated me.
My mother, on the other hand, thrived in the dim light of the lamps decorated with crystal chandelier glass and off-white fringe. She was most animated when she told others about her son’s graduation, or her daughter’s new boyfriend. It’s hard to imagine my childhood home without the sound of her voice in the background sailing through the open door as I built tents in my closet mingled with the sound of my sister’s singing as she wandered in and out slamming the front door behind her.
When my mother died, it was like a sudden internet outage. Like being caught in a tunnel. Suddenly there were no updates on the saga of my first cousin’s new job, no updates on my brother’s travel itinerary. It was as if the service was gone and the towers had been knocked down. There was no news, and I didn’t know how to find out if my cousin’s roof was ever repaired, or if her daughter had to go to summer school. I knew that I should be able to pick up a phone, but when I tried to talk to my family my calls were short snippets dominated by greetings and awkward pauses. I had never bothered to cultivate the ability to chat about feelings. I hung up the phone without ever asking about the little things that make up the minutia of daily life, only able to ask about the big things. Interrogatives like, “Is she still in the hospital?” or “When will he graduate?” In time I tossed the broken strings of my connections away and went through life in ignorance of what went on to those I used to know only through overheard connections. People whose faces I may never have seen, although I knew about their fears and their joys, their favorite purchases and their sons.
It’s only now, as I spend my days sitting in the darkness lit only by the light of a monitor screen that I realize that my mother was Facebook, reblogging the daily lives of all around her, posting constantly as she dialed each new number to check on another member of her circle. People called her knowing that she would always be there to push ‘like’. That if they needed her to, she would never fail to re-post a request for help.
I look up and see my own children standing just outside the doorway and realize that they also have never seen the faces of the people who I talk to daily. The network of connections to whom I tell their accomplishments and their trials. I imagine them after I am dead looking at my list of contacts like I looked at my mother’s address book and realizing that I was part of a larger community even when I never left my room.
Now I know that people who I never met, cared about me. They rejoiced in my joys, counting my first words and my baby steps. They were sad at my disappointments and sent cards to my high-school graduation. Maybe what matters is not the limit of my current contacts, but the knowledge that at heart we are all connected, and that when I struggle other people care, and want to help.
Perhaps what I should do for my children is to teach them that other people go through the same challenges that they do, and that with the help of those around them, they somehow get by. I should remind them to give to charity and to pick up trash, even when no one is watching. To be kind and to expect strangers to be kind as well.
I used to think that my mother spent too little time in the sun. She was the sun, radiating her love through the phone-lines to people all over. A hub with others connected to her like the petals of a daisy or a dandelion. I miss her, but I know that her legacy lives on in the mother whose parent she once gave good advice to, and the woman who recovered because she was heartened by those frequent loving messages when she needed it most.
I can try to be like she was, liking here, reblogging there, participating in an experiment that is more than physical. It is a network of the heart, and even if you don’t know everyone your reblog reaches, even now, you are a part of it.