I still have my mother’s 2nd Generation Kindle.
I bought it for her as a surprise gift in July of 2009 when Amazon introduced the new model of its popular e-reader. According to my order history on Amazon, I paid $299.00 and is, to this day, the most expensive gift I ever gave Mom on my own. (The small 16″ Samsung HDTV I ordered for her on Amazon that year cost $400, but my half-sister gave me $200 to help pay for it,)
Before July of 2009, Mom started having trouble reading the small print of her paperback books. She had, of course, prescription reading glasses, but sometime after her 80th birthday her eyesight started to deteriorate. She had glaucoma, for which she had to use prescription eyedrops every morning, and, of course, she was getting older and frailer.
And after she lost the ability to drive and fell into a depressive state over the loss of her independence, losing the ability to read her favorite books was just one more blow in a series of blows that included a harrowing bout of skin cancer, anemia caused by a medical condition known as watermelon stomach, and having to sell her beloved Mitsubishi Mirage due to spells of dizziness that robbed her of the ability to drive safely.
Now, my mom could still read her hardcover books because the print was large enough for her weakened eyesight. But most of her library consisted of paperbacks, so replacing them with hardbacks would be prohibitively pricey and space-consuming.
And when my half-sister helpfully suggested getting the large-font editions of books and magazines printed especially for the visually impaired, my mom wasn’t particularly enthused.
I hated to see my mother, who had been so resilient, active, confident, and full of life, so frustrated and sad over the loss of one of her most loved leisure time activities.
I was still making good money with both my Epinions reviewer’s gig and a pet sitting job I had in East Wind Lake Village, so I went to Amazon on July 17, 2009 and ordered what was then the newest version of its Kindle e-reader.
Per the Amazon Product Description:
Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6″ Display, U.S. Wireless)
- Slim and Lightweight: Just over 1/3 of an inch, as thin as most magazines. At 10.2 ounces, lighter than a typical paperback
- Wireless: 3G wireless lets you download books right from your Kindle, anytime, anywhere; no monthly fees, service plans, or hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots
- Books in Under 60 Seconds: Get books delivered in less than 60 seconds; no PC required
- Improved Display: Reads like real paper; now boasts 16 shades of gray for clear text and even crisper images
- Longer Battery Life: 25% longer battery life; read for days without recharging
I didn’t tell my mom that I was ordering a Kindle for her. I knew my mother well, even more so than my half-sister because I had lived with her all of my life, pretty much, so I figured that a surprise gift would lighten her mood and maybe even snap her out of her depressive state.
I can’t describe the joy my mom displayed when the package from Amazon arrived at our Miami-area townhouse a few days after I ordered the Kindle, at least not in a way that would give the moment justice. I can tell you this much, though: the smile she gave me when I handed her the Kindle for the first time was one of the sweetest, happiest smiles she ever gave me. Ever.
Mom didn’t have an Amazon account, so when I bought the Kindle it was – naturally – linked to my account. As a result, that Kindle was named (by Amazon) Alex’s Kindle, even though it was for Mom.
I charged the Kindle for Mom while I read the instructions on how to use it. Like the product blurb described it, the Kindle (Generation 2) was easy to hold, weighed less than a Danielle Steel or Stephen King paperback, and – once you knew how to navigate the keypad and various function buttons – it was easy to use.
This was less than a year before my mother’s last round of health crises started, so she didn’t exhibit any signs of impaired cognitive abilities. Mom had never used a computer and she absolutely hated the cell phone my half-sister gave her in case of an emergency. So at first she wasn’t sure if she would learn how to use the Kindle unassisted.
“Look, Mom,” I said, showing her how to turn the Kindle on and how to turn the pages and adjust the font size for her reading comfort. “It’s easy to use. Easier than the cell phone, at any rate.”
“Can I buy books on it?” she asked.
“Yes, Mom. I’ll do that for you if you want; it’s registered on my account but I’ll be happy to get books for you when you want me to,” I replied.
“Well, I have been hearing a lot about a book called Angela’s Ashes. Do they have it for this?”
“I’m sure that they do. Would you like me to get you a copy?”
“I think so, yes.”
By now the Kindle was fully charged. I turned it on – the Welcome screen showed a black-and-white illustration of Ralph Ellison, the author of Invisible Man – and I clicked on the Kindle Store option.
Hit “Search.” Typed “Angela’s Ashes.” Saw it was available for $9.99. Hit the Order button.
In less than two minutes, the first of Frank McCourt’s three memoirs (the others being ‘Tis and Teacher Man) was in the Kindle’s Library. I later bought her the rest of the McCourt Memoirs to complete the trilogy.
“There you go, Mom,” I said.
She took the Kindle from my grasp and began fiddling with the various controls, especially the font size selector and the Next Page button. At first, she touched the buttons with an attitude that seemed to say “I hope I don’t break this thing!”
But in those last months before her health took that downturn and dementia first showed up, she was still mentally sharp – she read the Miami Herald and its Spanish edition El Nuevo Herald every day, and she watched local and national TV news every evening – and within, oh, a half hour, she was happily reading Angela’s Ashes, using the Kindle as nimbly as if she had been using it for years instead of minutes.
Eventually, before June of 2010, Mom had a total of 11 books on her Kindle, including:
- Carrie, by Stephen King
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows
- The 11th Victim, by Nancy Grace
- ‘Tis, by Frank McCourt
- Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt
- Under the Dome, by Stephen King
Sadly, Under the Dome was the last book I ordered for my mom (on January 5, 2010) for her Kindle; she managed to read it (she liked it, not knowing that it was basically a science fiction novel), but soon after that, she started suffering from back pain that made walking difficult. (Eventually, the pain was so severe that she had to be operated on; her spine was in bad shape and a nerve was being crushed by a displaced disc of her vertebral column.)
Sadly, one of the first signs that Mom was having mental acuity issues emerged in the summer of 2010, less than a year after I gave her the Kindle. All of a sudden, after nearly 11 months of happy reading experiences, Mom just laid the Kindle on one side of her State of Florida-supplied hospital-style bed and wouldn’t touch it.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“I don’t know how to use this anymore. I forget how to turn the pages.”
I picked up the Kindle. Turned it on for her. Waited for the Welcome screen to come on. Chose one of her favorite titles – The 11th Victim, I think it was – and waited for it to load. Gently, I handed her the Kindle. Then, smiling reassuringly at her, I tried to show her the Next Page button.
She looked at the Kindle, which was in its leather case and fully functional, as if she had never used it before. Listlessly, she pressed a key that was not the Next Page button. She didn’t say anything, but her eyes had a confused What do I do with this damned thing now? look.
She tried, half-heartedly, to examine the keypad, not realizing that the Next Page button was clearly marked and placed on the side of the Kindle. She pressed the Space button, the Home button, the Back button…every button save the one she needed to push.
Finally, frustrated and dejected, Mom closed the still-running Kindle’s case and put it on the side of the bed.
Mom would live on for another five years, but she never used her Kindle again.
Mom died in the early morning hours of July 19, 2015. When I packed most of her belongings in the weeks and months after her death and sent them to my now-estranged half-sister, I decided to keep the Kindle, even after I de-registered it from my Amazon account and bought a newer Fire HD tablet. It still works, though the on-off button is tricky to use and it doesn’t hold a charge in its battery for as long as it used to.
And of course, since the books I bought for Mom are pegged to my Amazon account, they are now part of my ebook library now. So, in a way, I’ll always have memories of my mom, even though she is no longer with me.