My mother was invented long before e-mail, so when I get one from her it's like time has gone inside-out.
She thinks I'm unhappy. She knows things about me she's never told me, the way the mad scientist never tells Robbie The Robot about the secret circuits inside him that enable vast powers of earthly destruction. My mom only hints at things about me I still haven't figured out about myself. So I give her credit. I trust her, occasionaly. If she thinks I'm unhappy, it's usually because I am and am too busy with work to notice.
Mom says, "Write something funny. Write something to make you laugh." She knows I write stories because I always have. She was there when I started telling them. She handed me my first sharpened pencil.
She suggested I tell you this story because in the telling I would feel better. That's the sort of suggestion my mother will make when she detects I'm getting blue. Write a funny story. Invent something that will make a lot of money. Start another Microsoft. Move back to New Jersey where you belong.
These are my mother's suggestions for future happiness. I have decided to write the story she suggested so time will go right-side in again. It's one of my Mother's favorites.
When I was in first grade we got little pulp science magazines every week. They suggested experiments. I remember my first ever science magazine because they delivered them with great pomp to us first-graders at Saint John the Apostle school.
"This is YOUR FIRST SCIENCE MAGAZINE."
It was. I was excited. I remember the experiments. One experiment was about starch and how our bodies digest starch to sugar. They suggested we munch a saltine cracker and chew it up for a really long time. Eventually it would start tasting sweet because the saliva in our mouth would convert the starch in the cracker to sugar.
I liked sugar a lot, and the idea of turning a box of saltines into a virtual chocolate cake in my mouth seemed like a first-rate idea. So I sat in the kitchen with two saltine crackers my mom gave me and I chewed them from the time I got home from school till my father got home for dinner. As an adult I know this was roughly two and a half hours, but as a kid, it was long enough to be born, grow to adulthood, be elected president, die of old age and be buried in Arlington.
At no point did the cracker taste sweet enough for me, and I was horribly angry at the whole "YOUR FIRST SCIENCE MAGAZINE" charade. Something was wrong. This wasn't science. It was a way to get kids to eat crackers without jelly.
But my mom encouraged me to go back to it. Try another experiment. See, She always thought I would be a scientist someday. (Now that we're both older she knows I became an engineer. But that's ok to mom. She thinks that's the same as "scientist" only I actually make money, and I have no motivation to disabuse her of that notion. She's proud of me and it's good to have a mom feel that way.)
When we went back to the magazine we had a problem. The little tissue paper thin pulp magazine had suffered some sort of water damage. Over my two hours of chewing I might have drooled onto it, or I might have dripped toothbrush leakage onto it when I tried to get the chewed up cracker out of places in my mouth it was no longer welcome.
Chunks of the page had just plain dissolved. All that remained of the second page of experiments was a picture of a baby chick, and the description of an experiment that involved dropping a dried lima bean into a cup of water, leaving it for a week, and then looking at it later. Something was supposed to grow. It would be a baby something.
I have always been the sort of person to connect facts, and there was a chick picture on the page with the lima bean. The fact there were words missing was not going to deter me from growing a veritable army of baby chickens from a bag of dried lima beans.
I pestered my mom to get dried lima beans. I did it for days while she insisted the truth in my mind was a fallacy. I would never grow chickens from lima beans. Lima beans were not members of the animal kingdom. Chicks could not exercise photosynthesis.
I didn't understand these things but I was sure they didn't matter. What I did understand was that I had a SCIENCE MAGAZINE and there was a baby chick and a lima bean on the same page, along with a hole where the instructions explaining how to get one from the other were missing. If it wasn't true they wouldn't be handing it out to kids in school. It was school after all. We were supposed to be learning these things.
My mother didn't want to buy the lima beans, primarily because nobody in my family could stomach them (especially me) but also because she couldn't even imagine using them as filling to a comfortable pillow project. But I wore her down. I was right, she would see. I would get a chick from a lima bean left in a glass of water for a week. In fact, I would get several. In double fact, I was nearly finished with the construction of a chick pen from random pieces of wood and wire I found in the vacant lot next door. I was developing a distribution channel for all the eggs. We would soon be lousy with chickens.
Meanwhile, I sought out my first grade teacher and told her my plight. Having unbelieving parents would stunt my intellectual growth. I might need to be placed in foster care while adequate, better educated adults could be found to raise me in the tradition of the world's great thinkers.
She agreed wholeheartedly. She was thrilled I was doing the experiments despite my brain-damaged parents. And to drive the point home, she gave me a fresh copy of the FIRST SCIENCE MAGAZINE to bring home to read along with my parents so they could be enlightened.
Eventually, my mom bought the beans. I put them in the water and a week later they sprouted instead of hatching. In disbelief, I handed my mother the fresh copy of the SCIENCE MAGAZINE while I pondered where I'd gone wrong. Was I supposed to induce an electric current? Should I have added an egg as a seed to precipitate the crystallization of the chicks? Surely she would now read the magazine and show me where I missed a step in the process.
I never actually read the intact magazine, personally, refusing to accept I may have misinterpreted the Dead Sea Scrolls of my childhood. Later I learned the difference between plants and animals. I learned that the experiments in the SCIENCE MAGAZINE were generally as exciting as reading the dictionary and I quickly developed passion for burning things and creating explosions.
My mom actually read the magazine to me, but it was heresy whose imposition upon my youthful ears was a crime against all things scientific. And to this day, I still hold out the hope that someday a baby chick will emerge from a dried lima bean tossed into a cup of distilled water, something my mom thinks is funny and will make me laugh.
But that's because she's not a scientist like me.