"Mom will be here any moment"


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Jul 06, 2011 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

Over the past forty years I have written a lot about my mother and father, who were called “Mom&Pop(TM)”. They were the perfect examples of the average person who is befuddled by electronic devices and their controls. Their inability to use even the most rudimentary electronic devices has become well known in human interface design circles.

As some people know, Mom died last March, and at that time I wrote about her life and death at length. I expected Pop to die soon after, as they had shared the same bed for 68 years, and I felt that the grief of Mom's passing would “do him in”. What I had not counted on was Pop's very intense Alzheimer's disease, which made him keep forgetting that Mom had died, and saved him from the pain of not having her any longer. To Pop, Mom would always "be here at any moment”.

Pop's 68-year love affair with Mom (and her love affair with him) started with his first train ride at the age of 18 from Glens Falls, New York where he was raised, through New York City to West Trenton, New Jersey to attend the Luscombe School of Aeronautics to learn to be an airplane mechanic. By the time that Pop finished the school, World War II had broken out, but he could not fight due to flat feet and a bad case of epilepsy which he would control with medicine his entire life. While at the school Pop met this nice girl named Marian Rhoda Burns. Upon completion of his schooling they married and moved to Baltimore, Maryland to work in the Glenn L. Martin factory building aircraft for the war effort.

In those days the war effort took a lot of the consumer goods, and everything was rationed. Housing was in short supply and Mom&Pop(TM) first stayed in a boarding house, then in an unfurnished apartment, sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags, and eating off turned-over shipping crates in lieu of a kitchen table and chairs. Eventually they moved into a small cottage in a community built by Glenn L Martin to house their employees called “Areo Acres”. The community was built in the rough shape of an airplane, and Mom&Pop(TM) lived at “5 Cockpit Street”, where Pop built the first of his two garages for the family car.

My grandmother and maiden aunt followed Mom&Pop(TM) to Baltimore, and lived in an apartment above our family. After the war was over, Pop was laid off from Glenn L. Martin, and went to work for Bethlehem Steel and Proctor and Gamble (soap manufacturers). Pop was also laid off from both of those companies, so eventually he got a job with Aircraft Armaments, where he worked for thirty-one years before retiring.

In 1959 they purchased a house in Lutherville, Maryland where I spent most of my formative years. They lived in that house for thirty years, turning the normal built-in garage into a mother-in-law apartment for my grandmother. My dad did most of the installation of my grandmother's kitchen and living room himself, and it was here that he built the second of his two garages, complete with a grease pit that he dug by hand. My grandmother lived with them until she died at the age of 97.

Pop could do almost anything when it came to wood, metal or machinery. His father had been a pattern-maker and a boat-builder, and Pop had learned a lot from him. With that learning, and the training he got at Luscombe, I watched him take apart two of our family's car engines, clean them, replace worn parts, and put them back together without any instructions, nor any parts missing or left over. Pop would also help with various “kid projects”, such as Pinewood Derby race cars for Cub Scouts, or building two rabbit hutches (one for my brother who was seven years older than I, and one for me when I reached “that age of pet rabbits”).

Pop also worked two jobs most of my young life, and the one that I “helped with” was a job at Moore's Toy Store. From the time I was six years old to the time I went to college Pop worked two or three days a week and Saturday at the toy store. I went with him to “help” when I was not in school. At first I would carry small boxes of toys from the warehouse to the main store. After a while I would assemble some larger toys that came disassembled for shipping. Eventually I was big enough to assemble bicycles and “go-karts” (which we named “Acer Racers” after the company that invented them). We also assembled and installed above-the-ground pools, with Dad designing and building the outdoor display area on a section of parking lot. I am sure that it was in this setting that I developed my skills at problem solving and love of mechanical objects, which lead to electronics and computers. And what young boy would not like working in a toy store?

Yet despite the competence my father had with mechanical things, put an electronic device in front of him with more than an “off-on” button and he fell apart. He just shook his head when I would twiddle a few “knobs and buttons” and get the “dang computer” working again. “I did that and it did not work” became his theme song when it came to computers.

However, the greatest gift that Mom&Pop(TM) ever gave was the gift of independence, both physical and emotional.

Mom&Pop(TM) were fundamentalist Christians. They did not believe in evolution and did believe that the earth was made about 6000 years ago. Yet when I brought home fossils from Calvert Cliffs that were 22 million years old for a school project and was cleaning them off at the kitchen table, my mother just said “That is nice” when I explained what they were. Years later she explained to me that she and Pop wanted me to make up my own mind about what was right and what was not when it came to religion and life. Mom&Pop(TM) were guides, not dictators.

When at the age of fifteen I had a chance to be a summer camp counselor at an Easter Seals camp for handicapped children in Thurmont, Maryland, they gave their blessing and encouragement, and later when I had my first job after college in a city far away, they told me to follow my dreams. They did not want me to have to change things to accommodate them they way they had to accommodate my grandmother. It was because of this that I spent most of my adult life living nine hours by car from my parents and blood family, seeing them at Christmas and other major holidays, and calling them once a week.

Mom&Pop(TM) planned their entire life, and lived it together. Each decision was a joint decision. While most people think of marriage as "50/50", Mom&Pop(TM) knew it was "200/200". Together they picked their retirement village, their nursing home and had even paid for and planned their entire funeral arrangements.

I go tomorrow to attend the funeral of the last of two great hearts. As much as I have prepared myself for this inevitability over the years, I will cry, but I know that they will be together again, and always.

“Mom will be here at any moment” will be true once again.

Carpe Diem!


  • I Lost most of the words again

    Hi Johnn,

    Long time no see =[ , but that story just made me think about my life again... take care my friend and hope see you very soon on Free Software Events.
  • God Bless

    Wow that is a great story. Thank you for sharing this history with the rest of us. It truly is the history that has made us. Thanks so much.

  • nice

    Gerar story! My condolences for you!
  • Love Immortal

    A truly inspirational love story! Its really heart-rending and emphasizes the bonding between two lovers and their relationship with their children; and how well they have instilled the virtues of humanity in their kids through their simple living and by always being a guide to their children.
  • A short message...

    Hi my friend John,

    more than 6 years ago, during our free software meeting at Amazonas, Brasil,
    I told you that you transmit to us a beautiful message about peace. Then, I would
    Like to repeat this for you because even in moments like this one you are able to
    do this. I wish you my best feelings, my friends.

    Best regards,
    Jansen Sena
  • <3

    An beautiful love story : ) thank you <always> for share
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