MY DAUGHTER, 15, takes great pleasure in teasing me about my youth, a period she calls the Ancient Times.
“Was that the Stone Age, Mom?” she asks. “Before fire?” “Did they have electricity back then?” “The wheel?”
Forty years separate us, two full generations by some measurements, an eternity by hers.
The first time she sat at a computer, she grabbed the mouse and never looked back. She was five. When I was five I played with clay.
When she was eight, PowerPoint was an integral part of her third-grade curriculum. At that age I had the latest technology, too: a Sheaffer cartridge pen to practice my Palmer script.
On 9/11, her school and our town were in emergency mode within minutes of the first plane crash. About 40 years earlier, when President Kennedy was shot, I heard about it the old-fashioned way. A neighbor told me the news as I ambled home from fifth grade.
My daughter, child of the new millennium, is always connected — to her iPod, her computer, her DVDs, her favorite TV shows. If I were bombarded by that sort of nonstop noise, it would surely be the seventh level of hell.
But then summer comes around and the buzz dies down. We play badminton. We read. We have actual conversations, often outside under a fat maple, about the kinds of things human beings have time to think about when they can hear themselves think. Apropos of an afternoon like this, my daughter said: “I was just thinking about something really weird. I was thinking that I’m a person, and someday I’m going to die.”
I believe I burst into song — Oh, sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you — not quite on topic, but you get the point. I was thrilled at this philosophical opening, all set for a tête–à-tête about self-realization and the meaning of life, when she cut to the chase:
“So — then what happens?” she asked.
As a family, we have no religious affiliation. I am a lapsed Catholic, my husband is a former Unitarian, and our daughter and her elder brother have formed whatever belief system they have from their parents’ somewhat eclectic view of existence.
She knows, for instance, that whenever I hear the wind chimes on our porch, I imagine it’s my mother or father, long dead, saying hello. She also knows that my mother was orphaned at age eight and that my father died suddenly at the same age her father is now, so maybe she fears a similar fate. All I could do was assure her that I had no intention of dying anytime soon, and when I did, I promised to let her know what followed.
During most of June it poured continuously. Thunder struck and lightning cracked, my favorite kind of weather. Rain fell in sheets while we snuggled in bed and read. It was heaven.
I flipped through an old copy of Holiday magazine, all about Europe in 1962, a year after my parents made the grand tour. They were dreamy-eyed for months afterward, reminiscing about the new-style bikini on the Côte d’Azur, and of rubbing elbows with Eva Gabor and Oleg Cassini at the Hotel de Paris casino in Monaco.
When the power went out, my husband, who works at home, took a break and joined us girls. We spent the afternoon talking about where we’d go if money were no object. Not surprisingly, Europe was at the top of my list. He played along, suggesting we could retrace my parents’ footsteps, especially the bikini and casino parts.
Finally, the skies cleared and my daughter and I resumed our outdoor puttering.
We sat in the shade of the maple, watching a pair of resident groundhogs graze our hillside clover. A mother blue jay splashed in the birdbath, teaching her fledgling how to bathe. A ruby-throated hummingbird hovered by a tube of nectar hanging from one of the maple branches, and a chipmunk perched on a glacial erratic, surveying his domain.
My daughter announced that she wanted to go to a nearby amusement park for her 16th birthday in August, and hoped her friends would give her gift cards toward a new iPod, one that held more songs than her current model does.
I stared up at the sky. A few clouds were heading east, and a silver jet, quite high, was heading God knows where.
“Mom? Did you hear me?”
“I heard you.”
“Well, can I do that?”
“If that’s what you really want.”
She jumped up and headed inside.
“Hey, kiddo, wait,” I called.
She answered by making the buzzer sound that tells me my time is up.
I knew our reverie couldn’t last forever; I just hoped it would last another day. I closed my eyes and listened to the birds. About fifteen minutes later I heard the wind chimes playing and opened my eyes. There was my daughter ringing them, very softly.
“So — there really is some … place?” she asked.
“I’d like to think so,” I said.
My daughter waited a moment before she finally asked, “And will you be there?”