Knowing that it is a strange comparative, between a mother and a television set, there are parallels that cannot go unnoticed. My mother was a modern woman, modern for her thinking more often than her actions, however always open to new ideas and even technologies. She balanced on a beam somewhere in a limbo of mid-generations, teetering between the gravitational pull of her encouraging offspring and her pooh-poohing spouse, constantly in danger of giving too much weight to one or the other. Unlike so many of her peers, she found meaningful uses for vcrs, cordless phones, computers, and larger and larger tv screens – adopting some of these items before her own children did.
One of these modern conveniences appeared soon after my father’s death: a 1993, large-screen (41”), rear-projection television, Sony model KP-41EXR96. In her mind this was the best investment she ever made, and she knew full well that my father would never have allowed such an extravagance. One might argue that it was a necessity of sorts because her eyesight had worsened with age, but she loved movies, and the idea of watching them at home on what was then the largest piece of real estate available to the home-viewer was just the ticket, as well as the price of admission.
Some of us worried that it was an addiction, in a sense. She positioned chairs in front of it, then later beds – her TV room started to resemble an opium den. Any visitors would be lured to the big screen, first, as a kind of demonstration of its beauty, then to watch with her (again) the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. It is incalculable how many times she viewed that movie; alone, with others, maybe again in her dreams. If there had been other cult followers with her, they would have recited the dialogue in unison as a mantra. That TV delivered to her the romantic illusion that she so craved, over and over, and in nearly life-size scale. Not far behind, both of her children, individually, purchased their own rear-projection big screens. To one of us, she would claim that the other one’s selection never lived up to her own; in a kind of Goldilocks moment, she would compare the size or clarity, and the others would fail in every measure. She loved her set.
After her debilitating stroke, life-changing therapy and relocation, I think that one of her major concerns was reuniting with her TV. Along with other belongings, we moved its then eight-year-old hulking carcass nearly six hundred miles, placing it as her hearth in her new smaller living room, and building the room around it. We offered to replace it with a newer, lighter and even bigger set, but she was a one-set woman. In some way the set must have represented many things: a link with her more normal past self; a lingering thumbed-nose to my father; a retained sense of having found the right one – the superior-to-all-others TV, still, at eight years old; and a comfortable and friendly face in her new environment.
The TV set outlived her, and we were faced with what to do with it. At one point, it developed a high-pitched buzz, but otherwise it worked. We had it fixed and took it to our home, along with other belongings of hers – after all, she loved it so. It wasn’t so much that we wanted it as that we felt we had to keep her memory alive with it, it had been such a cherished object. It weighed a ton, and it was so large that most of our rooms couldn’t accommodate it, but it ended up in our bedroom – and it gives one pause to think that either it had developed a mind of its own or she had willed it to be so.
It has been eight years since her death and, now, in the past several months, there are death rattles in the set. First, there was a strange color separation, giving me acid flashbacks, in which every image had an aura – every person, every chair, every single thing in the picture oddly illuminated in tripartite rainbow array. I continued to watch it, learning how to read it, refracted. I think it was challenging me in some way. It made me think of my mother’s stroke and how her “set” was having the same misfiring of its own wiring, sending the wrong signals. And just as suddenly as that affectation appeared, it disappeared, some sort of self-healing of its internal parts. The high-pitched buzz returned, then left as well. Was my mom trying to communicate to me through this contraption?
About the time when we said, well, it’s finally over and we will find a place to recycle it, the picture improved – possibly to a clarity it never before had attained. Why would we consider pulling the plug? But now, as the thing heats up, there is a new kind of light show in which the screen goes black and three wavy lines, red, blue, green, snake around the empty picture field. It reminds us of an EKG for an alien species, and we are waiting for it to flatline. Sometimes during these episodes, almost like seizures, the TV set turns itself off. We wait a few minutes and turn it back on and it has a good picture. Its remote control no longer controls the power in either direction but it still has a working volume and mute. My mom would be tickled about that, since she used both with a vengeance.
So we wait and hope, in a way as with my mother. We can’t end the relationship, so we wait for it to happen naturally. Who knows: Maybe my mom’s spirit is somewhere in that TV set. Maybe she is controlling the volume and picture. I hope so.