Here’s to the Old School: A Thank You

I’m pretty sure she didn’t consider herself a geek.

In fact, if I had used the term to describe her in her presence, I probably would have gotten The Glare. Maybe not. Maybe I would just have earned a smile.

Because it was true. My mother-in-law was a geek, in the best sense of the word, and I offer that up as a compliment. I just wish she could here me say it. We lost her recently, a loss we’re all still coming to grips with.

I called her a force of nature more than once, and it was true.

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Photo copyright Jill Keppeler

She wasn’t allowed to go to college back in the 1940s; girls didn’t do that, her father said. Undaunted, she worked, saved her money and traveled the world with friends. Paris. The French Riviera. Egypt. At home, she developed a passion for subjects such as international dance, which she taught.


Eventually, at an age later than most women of her time married, she met and married my future father-in-law. They had two children, my husband and his sister. Then cancer took him much too soon.

She went to college … in her 60s. She studied art history. She hung out with her son’s friends, a pack of college guys with whom she shared a love for playing cards. Many of them called her “Mom.” They still did, right up to the end.

I don’t think she considered herself a geek (no more than she considered herself a feminist — that would really get me The Glare, even though it was true), but she was interested in geeky things. She watched bad SyFy Channel movies. (A fondness she shared with my husband and me.) She loved Star Wars and Indiana Jones. (The small stock of tie-in novels for the latter still rests on a bookshelf in her home.) She watched Babylon Five and Battlestar Galactica (the original) and, more recently, even Game of Thrones.

And then there was Star Trek.

The very first time I met her (which was before I ever started dating her son), she proudly told me about how she watched Star Trek while pregnant with him. I never had a chance to ask her why she was interested in it (and I’ll never stop wishing I’d done that while I still could), but my husband recalls that she thought it was intelligent and forward-thinking, and that it painted a bright picture for the future — which was pretty uncommon when the show first ran.

She would later encourage him to watch it when it started in syndication.

“Despite the fact that I was a 6-year-old boy at the time, that wasn’t enough to scare me off,” he said. He watched the premiere and was hooked. Sometimes, they would watch it together. And two years later, she took him to see Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry at an event in Niagara Falls, New York.

She encouraged him. She bought him Spock costumes for Halloween and Enterprise models for his room. She never pushed it, he said, but just let him discover it on his own. It stuck.

And, years later, I would walk into my new job and meet the man who first intrigued me because he liked Star Trek and conventions… and who, five years after that, would become my husband.

She saw us introduced to Raiders March at our wedding reception. She went to all the Harry Potter movies with her new daughter-in-law. She got to see her grandchildren watch Star Trek, and saw them dress up as Star Wars characters for Halloween. She loved that. I wish to heaven she had been able to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I think she would have liked Rey.

So, here’s to the old-school geek moms, the geek grandmas and great-grandmas. The ones who may not have identified as geeks or fans or anything like that back in the day, but who had a huge hand in supporting the things we still love today … and who raised the geeks and geek parents that drive the trend now.

All I can say is “Thank you.”

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