“That man! Improve, improve, improve! Damned improvers of the world!”
When anything pushed Mother’s intolerance button, the Committee for the Academy Awards missed an opportunity to uncover raw talent. I don’t know how she fared in scriptwriting when she studied English, but her performance, synchronizing words, facial expressions, hand movements and footwork, could surely have been borrowed by Dame Edith Evans.
Influenced by English parentage, Mother’s two expletives were “damn” and…well, the word that refers to a more solid sampling of bodily eliminations. We fled like deer in a wildfire when we heard either word trumpeted from a usually collected mother. The escape ended within earshot. The juicy morsel that robbed her of normal eloquence would have our rapt attention. I would cross my fingers in hopes that it was caused by an older sibling who had been caught in some unspeakable act of “sneak and deceive”.
This particular day, the outburst was over the discovery that Dad had fixed the car so well that Mom could not get it started. She had complained to him, during one of his periods at home, that the car would not start consistently. Dad not only fixed the problem, he added some ingenious gadget that would make life easier for Mom. When she suddenly needed the car, the gadget would not respond.
Probably our father tried to have her test the new starting procedure. I imagine her saying, “Well, if it starts, that’s all that matters.” After he’d left for another stint away, when the car was found unworkable, Dad’s invention would have been swept past praise and appreciation and given last rites for ‘improvement’ purgatory.
For many years, Mother’s dislike for improvements baffled me. She loved learning. She attracted youth faster than new clothing with her genuine interest in all that was going on in their lives. She read voraciously and embraced cultural events with exuberance. New technology fascinated her to the point where learning how to operate a new remote was as exciting as a test run on a new ATV.
I asked her about it years later. “Mom, you have told me that you would like to be considered ‘resilient’ . Yet you are dismayed over certain changes that are made – especially now that Dad is also retired and home all the time. You get upset when he tries to improve anything around the house.”
“It’s not the newness or change that I find upsetting. It’s the inconvenience of needless changes to something that was purposely set up. Especially when I’m not even asked. When something is handy and functioning, it does not need improvement.”
“Convenience and constancy contribute to the quality of my life. I do not want to waste my time looking for things. I want to spend time doing what I enjoy in life,” she explained. “I may have some strange set-ups, but they are like that for a reason.”
She said, “One of the biggest challenges with aging is health forcing us to give up control. It is very subtle at first. I do not want to wake up and realize I’ve handed my life over to other people or things when I have enough faculties to be as self-sufficient as possible. Living my life in my own wonky way keeps me active and alive.”
“Okay, Mom, give me some examples of ‘improvements’ that bug you in old age.”
She rhymed examples without hesitation:
- “We have the T.V. set at a particular angle. It may look strange, but I don’t want the kitchen light reflecting off the screen.
- Don’t put the phone back on the phone table. Leave it on the couch beside me. I miss important calls otherwise.
- The grocery store rearranges the produce and I can’t find anything. I have enough energy for a 20 minute shopping trip, but not one that takes 40 minutes.
- I find the perfect holder for objects that I need close by. I do not need a bigger, brighter or nicer looking one. I’ve adapted this one to my needs. We work nicely together.
- Leave my kitchen alone. I may not spend much time there, but when there, I want to find things.
- Put everything back where you have found it. Even if it makes no sense to you.”
She said, “What I feel is a taste of how countries, cultures, communities and people feel when others come along with their set of standards and begin dictating how to live in the name of ‘improvement’. Improvers of the world are actually controllers.”
She paused to let the concept sink in. “Improvers hide negative motives behind what appears to be good ones,” she said. “And they’ll do it without even asking.”
From the heart and hearth of home…