Off Topic: Mom&Pop(TM) - the passing of Marian Rhoda (nee Burns) Hall


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Mar 11, 2011 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

Mom&Pop(TM) were married in Trenton, New Jersey on June 27th, 1942, Pop was a 21 year-old graduate from Luscombe's School of Aeronautics fresh from upstate New York and Mom was a graduate of the business program of New Jersey's high schools, barely 19 years old at the time. Thus started a sixty-eight year commitment of love.

They moved to Baltimore, Maryland to build airplanes at Glenn L. Martin in the war effort of WW II. Rubber for car tires was a dream, so they rode bicycles to work. Not having any money for furniture, they slept in sleeping bags on the floor until they could afford a bed, but after they bought that bed they shared it for over sixty-eight years, except for a week when Pop went on a business trip, and another week when he was in the hospital.

About a year after that, my brother Ralph was born. I was to arrive almost eight years later.

Mom adored Pop. There were no other words for it. In her mind she existed solely to take care of him. She viewed him not only as the major “bread-winner” but the head of the household, who had the final say in things. When Pop earned money at his jobs, it was not “our money” in her mind, but “his money”. Of course Pop did not feel this way, and almost anything that Mom wanted he was glad to buy, but this concept of Mom's led her to have jobs at a gift shop, the school cafeteria and other “retail” jobs just as soon as my brother and I were old enough for grade school. These jobs gave her “mad money” that she could spend on “her things”.

This is not to say that Pop was a domineering person. Quite the opposite. Pop never made a major decision without asking Mom. They were a team.

Buy a car? Pop chose the make and model, Mom chose the color and had veto power. Mom (for some reason) never liked station wagons, so Pop never bought one. Pop liked manual transmissions, but Mom never learned to drive a “stick shift”. So we always had automatics transmissions on our cars.

Pop took care of the cars. He once took the engine of the car apart, cleaned it, replaced worn parts, and put it all back together again, with no parts missing or left over and no instructions. Mom, as far as I know, never even pumped gasoline her entire life. It was Pop's job to keep the car filled with gas and oil. “I just get in the car, turn the key, and go!” was Mom's stated philosophy on the subject.

Buy a house? Pop looked for ones that were well built, had little exterior maintenance, and that they could afford. Mom had power over the interior layout (especially the kitchen), the color of the rooms and when they would be painted, and other “domestic” things. They both worked in the yard, but while Pop mowed and raked, Mom weeded and planted flowers.

Mom was the artistic one in the family. She collected plastic flowers from the first day they were manufactured, and would use them for all types of floral arrangements. She made dolls for little girls, and was the major driving force in decorating for holidays. “The guys” did not care about the decorating, which frustrated her more than a little.

Pop made things of metal and wood. He followed plans. He worked in a toy store, and I helped him assembling things. This is where I first started my love of mechanical and electrical things.

Mom was not a technical person...any skills I have in that area, I got from Pop. So when I tried to describe that I wrote software for a living, Mom would try very hard to understand, but eventually ended up saying “That is nice”. Of course that was a different time, and people did not have computers at home. All Mom ever saw of a computer were spinning tape drives or punch cards falling into slots on a sorting machine on TV, meant to represent a “computer” to the masses.

Mom&Pop(TM) did visit me at my various jobs over the years. They came to Hartford, Connecticut where I worked on large (for the time) IBM mainframes and later taught computer science at Hartford State Technical College (HSTC). They met the students there, and (of course) the students loved them.

I have explained that Mom&Pop(TM) were a team. Often they would strike up conversations with a total stranger. Pop would ask them what they did for a living. Mom would ask them about their family, and the conversation could go on for hours. When they parted, the former stranger would suddenly realize that Mom&Pop(TM) knew a lot about them, but they knew virtually nothing about these two nice people. Mom&Pop(TM) did not do this for any reason other than they liked people, were interested in them, and enjoyed talking to them. This activity of theirs, of course, embarrassed me until I was twelve years old.

When I was twelve we were visiting a railroad museum near Bloomsburg, PA and Mom&Pop(TM) decided to wait in the museum coffee shop while I explored the small museum. I came back about an hour later and saw that Mom&Pop(TM) were once again “bending the ear” of a man in the coffee shop. Embarrassed, I quietly sat in the booth along with the three of them. Eventually, as I tuned into the conversation, it filtered through to me that the man they were talking with owned the museum! And after a few more minutes he turned to me and said “Son, would you like a tour of the museum and see things that we can not show to all the people?” Sure! And he and I went off to seen steam engines under repair, old cabooses being restored, and many “railroad trinkets” that had not been placed for display yet.

After that, my parent's hobby of “collecting people” never bothered fact, I have cultivated that hobby myself. But I could never beat Mom&Pop(TM) at this hobby....they were “pros”...and every time I introduced them to my friends, they stole the show. Women would tell me “how cute” they were. Men would agree. And children were just in awe. I was “second fiddle”, but I was glad to give way and watch them at their “hobby”.

After HSTC I went to Bell Laboratories, and finally to Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). It was at DEC that Mom&Pop(TM) gained the reputation of being “the average home user of computers” in a classic white-paper I wrote detailing why an order of magnitude of work had to be done for Unix to be used as a desktop computer. Mom&Pop(TM) instantly became famous, and were even captured on the Usenix Facesaver project while visiting Usenix in 1989. I was told (never verified) that the University of Maryland used my paper and my parents as examples in their course on Human Interface Design. I continue to use Mom&Pop(TM) as examples of the "average computer user", who do not know (and should not have to know) how a computer works. The average user just wants the computer to do a few “simple things” for them.

Many years later Mom&Pop(TM) finally got a home computer, and after several years of using it, Mom began to realize what a “program” was, and that creating this software was (somehow) what I did for a living. She was very proud when I came home for a visit one time and told me “Jon, I finally know what you do for a living”. By that time I had stopped writing software other than for my own use. I was deep into trying to promote the concept of Free and Open Source Software, so I replied to her “Mom, I do not write much software any more...I am now selling Free Software!” She carefully thought about that phrase for a few minutes, and said “That is nice”.

Mom was a very literal person. What she said, she meant. A woman of words, she was also the main family disciplinarian as we grew up. Pop often worked two jobs, working the “night shift” most of his life, so normally my brother and I only saw him on weekends. When we were bad Mom would try and correct us, and if we did not listen eventually the dreaded “wait until your father comes home” would be spoken. At that point it was too late. No amount of pleading or “sorry” would prevent the inevitable. Eventually we fine-tuned the point where we would stop right before the dreaded phrase.

But Mom's literal nature allowed the three “guys” (including my father) to introduce “tall tales” around the dinner table. This reached a peak when my brother was in the Navy, and would come home with stories of his travels to foreign lands aboard ship. He would start to tell about the native people in the various ports of call, and while the stories started out calm enough, pretty soon they were stretching to the limits of imagination, with my brother slyly winking to Pop and me, but Mom hanging on every word. At the end of the “story”, Mom would breath out the word “Really?” And my brother would break into laughter and say “no”. Then (as all of the rest of us broke into laugher) she would get disgusted.

Mom&Pop(TM) encouraged their sons to be independent, and to live our own lives. While my father's mother had lived with our family until she died, my parents were determined that my brother and I should be free to go where we had to go and do what we had to do. As I traveled around the world, I made it a point to send them post cards from every place which Mom kept in a box, and bring my mother back a small souvenir, which she put on display in their house.

They planned their future to the end, including the retirement and nursing homes they would reside in, and the funeral service that they would have. Their tombstones were all carved years before they would be needed, with everything engraved except the ending date.

In the twilight of their years Pop became more and more dependent on Mom. His diabetes became worse, and it was Mom who kept after him to take his sugar readings, take his insulin, and to eat right. Eventually it was seen that Pop's Alzheimer's was going to make it impossible for Mom to take care of him the way they wanted, so Mom and Pop executed their plans for the nursing home and went into “assisted living”. Of course the family visited them whenever possible, but the two of them continued to take care of each other as much as possible, with Mom still fussing over the man she loved. Universally at the nursing home, people would talk about how nice the “Mom&Pop(TM)” couple were.

Sadly, the ending date for the tombstone has arrived. On March 4th, 2011 Mom had a massive heart attack. While there was no pain, it left her weak and dizzy, and she was admitted to the hospital. At first we thought she would recover, but an electrocardiogram on Monday morning showed how massive the attack had been. Pop, who we had been shielding from the news, was summoned to her bedside in the hospital, and the two souls spent a couple of more hours together just holding hands. In the early hours of March 7th, two months prior to their sixty-ninth wedding anniversary, Mom passed away.

No matter how much you prepare for the event, the death of your mother is always a shock, no matter how stalwart you want to appear, the tears still flow. Most of us thought that my father would die before my mother, but after thinking about it, this is the way it had to be. Mom has gone to prepare the way for Pop to join her, just as she always has.


  • My Condolances


    What a great family life you lived.

  • RIP

    What a wonderful story of life. Family is the most valuable treasure we have and the departure of a loved one is always painful. My condolences to you, and your family.
  • Mom&Pop

    My condolences to you, and your family.

    Thanks a lot for your live lesson.
  • RIP

    Beautiful memories, John. I was thrilled when read your text. Thanks for sharing with us.

    My condolences to you, and your family.
  • Thank you

    Thank you for sharing their beautiful memories that may enrich all our lives.
  • Thank you

    Thank you for your condolences. My family and I appreciate them.
  • :)

    This is beautiful. Mom&Pop(TM) had a more-than-great life together. Thanks for sharing this. My thoughts are there with you.
  • Condolences

    I was very sorry to read the news about the loss of your mother. Thank you for a wonderfully warm remembrance, a testimonial of the teamwork and love between your parents.

    My condolences to you and your family.
  • Thank you for sharing your story


    Thanks for sharing your story. My condolences to you and your family. And also thanks to Mom&Pop for nurturing you so that their good qualities live on.

    Bless you.
  • Off Topic: Mom&Pop(TM) - the passing of Marian Rhoda (nee Burns) Hall

    So sorry for your loss, but thank you for sharing the story of your parent's wonderful life together.
  • RIP

    So sorry! My most sincere condolences.
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