Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Music to my ears

While my mom was staying with us for the Tuesday-to-Tuesday week encompassing the Columbus Day weekend, she had plenty of opportunity to witness our various daily routines, e.g. the little girl’s naptime rituals. On the Monday holiday, I had taken the day off from work and so I got my daughter settled down for her midday siesta, turned on her fan and radio, went downstairs and turned on the baby monitor in the kitchen and started to make myself some lunch. My mom was also in the kitchen and she asked me what radio station it was coming through the very-lo-fi speaker; of course the call letters and whatnot would be meaningless to her, and what she really wanted to do was simply comment that she liked the hour’s worth of music that had been playing every naptime and bedtime.

Longtime readers may recall that the radio station in question is the local dinosaur rock Clear Channel affiliate, which I generally regard with a mixture of bemused gratitude and dispirited resignation. I’m thankful that there is a commercial FM station in this market which has a playlist which is mostly stuff I like and not unbearably repetitive and makes excellent mindless background noise, but at the same time it’s still a little bit repetitive, both in its own self-reflexive way and in the sense that it’s all the music I grew up listening to in my parents’ house, and it’s not an avenue for discovery of either forgotten classics or (obviously) anything new and up and coming.

Still, it was slightly surprising for me to hear my mother expressing any kind of interest in the music format, because my mother is not known for having very strong opinions about much of anything. I think of dinosaur rock as the music I heard “in my parents’ house” but I might as well say “at my father’s knee” because he’s the one I tend to associate with tuning the dial on the stereo or bringing home new 45s (well into the late 80’s). Nevertheless, I didn’t out and out challenge my mom or anything, and if she stakes a claim on something I’ll simply take her at her word, which is what I did. My mother then further elaborated that, as far as she knew, there weren’t any similar radio stations out where she lives (near Albuquerque). Country/western, latino, top 40 and talk, sure, but no dinosaur (I’m sure she’d prefer “classic” or somesuch) rock.

Arguably that marked my mother rendering not one but two heartfelt aesthetic judgments in the same conversation: pro-rock and anti-country, which would have been remarkable in and of itself. It also might have been utterly infuriating to me, as yet another exhibit in the ever-growing pile of evidence that my mom Really Isn’t Happy in New Mexico. I can’t recall how much detail I’ve gone into around here, but the shortest version I can possibly give goes something like this: around the time my Very Little Bro was finishing high school (the mid-aughties), my step-father became obsessed with the idea of flipping houses in the booming southwest U.S. housing market. So when Very Little Bro graduated, my mom retired from her job at the bank, collected her pension as a lump sum, and invested it in real estate. She and my step-father bought cheap, lived in a house as they fixed it up, then sold it for profit and started the cycle again (as you do). Over the next few years, a couple of things happened: my mom became a grandmother, and the housing bubble burst. So the original plan connecting them to New Mexico was no longer operative, and there was that much stronger pull back to the east coast in the form of adorable babies. Mom and step-dad did actually come back home a couple years ago, but the transitional plan they had for finding jobs and a place of their own to live was derailed by various natural and family disasters. And they wound up back out in Albuquerque again, for … reasons? The whole situation put a strain on my relationship with my mother, which meant I never talked to her enough to get a sense of why they would head out west for a second go, which meant I found the whole arrangement frustrating and so on and so on.

All the time (both times) that my mom and step-dad have been out west, my mom has compiled a list of things that bring her down about hanging her hat there, from the profound (she misses her family, her brothers and her kids, all of whom live on the east coast; she never really made any new friends out there) to the trivial (the bread isn’t as good!), towards which I’ve been sympathetic when she’s been in the process of correcting course and coming east, and less so when she’s been (dis)content to stay put. The east coast and the southwest really are very different cultures, and although they both count as genuine flavors of America, and I’m not saying one is inherently, objectively better than the other, I know which one I prefer and I’ve gotten the message loud and clear which one my mom prefers. Not a big fan of slide guitar and fiddle? Hey, I hear ya. There are places where the airwaves are less saturated with those vibes. Feel free to relocate accordingly.

However, my mom’s general pattern is to open up and come out of her shell little by little over the course of a visit, so clearly this conversation about radio station diversity or lack thereof came near the end of the weeklong visit. And by that time, it was a day or so past the point at which she casually mentioned that her husband was going to work his job in Albuquerque for another year or two until he hits the minimum age to collect Social Security, during which they’ll save as much cushion as they can, and then they’ll pack up and move back east again (permanently this time, one hopes!) to be closer to the family. My Little Bro lives in upstate New York and my Very Little Bro lives on the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border, so with my brood in Virginia it seems likely that my mom and step-dad will wind up somewhere central to all of us, like rural Pennsylvania. This is welcome, happy news. A lot could go wrong (or just go weirdly, unexpectedly different) in these two-ish years that need to elapse before the plan goes into motion, but I’m optimistic. At the very least I’m willing to listen understandingly to my mom’s venting about New Mexico knowing that she’s willing to do something about it, eventually.

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