One of my mother’s best qualities was her willingness to embrace new ideas, to live in the moment, even as her contemporaries clung to traditional standards and practices. She hiked her skirt lengths up or down when fashion decreed minis or midis (the former was her forte, since she had the best legs in the world). When I wanted to blast the stereo system with The Eagles or Bon Jovi, she never said, “Turn off that noise.” She tried, actually tried, to understand why Springsteen’s voice had the same weak-in-the-knees effect on me that Sinatra had on her generation. (She was famous among her friends for once leaving a dinner party early so she could go to a Neil Diamond concert; he was her gateway drug to rock and roll.)
She dutifully read the instruction manuals for the technology that invaded modern life, from changing the battery on a watch, to programming the VCR, to microwaving dinner. (The latter is where we parted ways. I find a microwave useless for anything except popcorn.) The recreation room of the apartment complex where she moved after selling my childhood home had a bank of computers; she learned basic skills and set up an email account. Although I think I was her only “contact,” she had lots of real-life friends who were decades younger.
As I dated a series of all-the-wrong-men, a friend asked if my mother would accept a man outside of our religion or race as a son-in-law. “I think she’ll be okay so long as it’s not Ellen DeGeneres,” I said facetiously. Then I realized, she’d be just fine with Ellen. (Alas, I am irrevocably straight.)
She was also open-minded and exploratory in the kitchen. Bereft of any culinary skills when she married my dad, she not only learned how to make delicious versions of the blintzes, chicken soup, and other specialties of her Jewish heritage but also ventured into other cuisines. One year I bought her a Chinese cookbook; her pantry filled up with sesame oil, hoisin sauce, and a wok.
It’s challenging to adapt constantly as one ages, when clinging to the past can feel so comforting, even though it’s ultimately futile. The world moves on. And so, following my mother’s example, I try to live in the century in which I happen to be alive. It may be the best part of my DNA from Mom. (I didn’t get those gorgeous legs.) I participate in social media (although I refuse to use the word "friend" as a verb). I listen to (some) hip-hop music. I find friends among Generations X, Y, and Z. (I’m only half-joking when I say that I want visitors in “The Home” someday.)
No microwave, though.
Aimee Lee Ball is a journalist and co-founder of Eat, Darling, Eat. Her work is at the cleverly named www.AimeeLeeBall.com.
Sesame Green Beans
1/2 lb. green beans (thin haricots verts are best)
2 t. toasted sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 t. toasted sesame seeds
Fill a large frying pan with water, and bring to a boil.
Add green beans, cook for 3 minutes, and drain.
In the same pan, heat sesame oil over medium-high heat.
Add green beans, salt and pepper, and toss until they get slightly charred.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds.