My 89 year-old mother and technology are like oil and water. Not only do they not mix, they aren’t even on a first name basis. I thought this phenomenon was unique to her until I found this cartoon by Roz Chast in The New Yorker magazine. It shows I’m not alone in having a mother who thinks the t.v. remote is a lethal weapon.
I should have recognized the roots of this behavior years earlier during the weekend of my daughter’s wedding. We had to stay with my parents because it was an eight hour drive from our house to where the nuptials were to take place.
I asked my mother if I could use her iron to take some of the wrinkles out of my truly lovely (ack!) mother-of-the-bride dress. So out comes this antique that belongs in the Smithsonian, forget about anywhere near my delicate dress. I instantly remembered that this was the same iron I had last used my senior year in high school—in 1965. The year was now 1995.
My mother snatched it out of my hands and proceeded to set the dial to the lowest possible setting, which was either “cold” or “off.”
“You have to be really careful with it,” she said, as she made featherlight passes over my dress, barely even touching the material.
“It gets kind of hot and you can burn the fabric real easily,” she continued, keeping the iron a good two inches above the dress as she mimed the act of ironing.
“What in the hell are you keeping it for then?” I bellowed.
The next day we went out and bought her a modern iron with automatic shut-off…..just in case.
So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when we moved her to Texas to be near us after my Dad passed away that she would bring along an antique television. This one was so old, it didn’t even come with a remote. You had to change the channels by getting up, walking over to it, and turning the dial. And, no shocker here, the dial no longer worked correctly.
“No! Don’t touch the dial!” my Mother would shriek when I made an attempt to see what else might be on the four, maybe five, channels she got on the thing.
“You have to leave it on channel 3 or maybe sometimes 13, if you’re lucky. The picture starts to flip if you try to change it,” was her learned observation.
Needless to say, we went out and got her a new t.v.—one with a remote.
That was almost ten years ago, and now that t.v. was heading for the last round-up. But my Mother didn’t want to accept that. Maybe it was her Depression Era upbringing that made her want to hang onto everything until it was absolutely dead as a doornail.
So, one day she calls me and says that the t.v. has been on the fritz, with a black screen with some horizontal lines running across it. She thinks it’s the cable, but I know deep down in my soul that it’s the t.v.—and I’m in for it.
When I get to her house, she’s standing in front of the t.v. staring at the offending black-horizontal-liney things on the screen. I pick up the remote and press the “channel up” button to see if it does this on every channel.
You’d think I’d suggested euthanasia. For her.
“No!!! Don’t do that! Now you’ve made it worse!”
Before I can even begin to form a reply, the cable technician is at the door. She’s a pleasant young woman with a very capable air about her. We explain the problem and remove ourselves to the adjoining room to allow her to work in peace. However, we weren’t out of earshot, that’s for sure.
My Mother and I begin to have a hissing argument revolving around whether the t.v. was already a goner when I arrived, or whether I had administered the coup de grace by trying to change the channel.
But since my Mother is getting pretty hard of hearing (read: deaf as a post) the hissing becomes loud stage whispers spoken through clenched teeth, which I’m quite confident the cable technician heard very clearly.
Just when I’m thinking euthanasia isn’t so bad an idea, the technician calls us back into the living room.
“Well, I’ve checked everything out and I’m afraid it’s the television,” she states to my still disbelieving mother.
The technician goes on to explain things further, but my Mother has already tuned her out.
Then the cable gal does something that completely takes me by surprise.
She stands back a bit and gives the t.v. a resounding “whack” on its side panel with her fist.
Voila! The old unit jumps back to life, with a picture on the screen where only moments before there was blackness and liney things.
I had to laugh out loud (much to my Mother’s consternation.)
“Wow! Sometimes the old ways are the best,” I hooted. “This was the way we used to do it back in the 50’s when something didn’t work. Just give it a smack!”
The fix was only temporary and my Mother’s set was back to its old tricks by the end of the day. We went out and got her a new flat screen LCD television with a remote (which she’s still terrified of) and her problem was solved.
Until she started to have some other difficulties that, to me, were clearly cable-related.
This time I kept my distance and let the professionals deal with it.
You can’t whack a flat screen television.