Maybe five years ago, when I was about eight, Mom thought I should have a computer. Broccoli — my little brother’s name is Brock, so you can see why I shortened it to Broccoli — wasn’t old enough yet for anyone to detect in him any apparent intelligence, so the computer idea didn’t apply to him at the time.
In second grade we had Apples, and Dad agreed that pretty soon we should get a computer for home, but not until it was perfectly clear to him what you could do with one. (He still won’t carry a cell phone unless Mom makes him do it.) At first Mom fretted that we’d all be computer-illiterate. Then she bought iPods for herself and me, then a “smart” phone for her, and read-and-spell-type games for Broccoli, then an iPad for me, just so we’d always be ready to make the jump to the big-league machines when the time came. Dad, meanwhile, appeared unconcerned. Then Grampa died, and our computer era began.
Up until then Dad, and Grampa, (his father), ran RENTandRUN together. (Dumb name for a business, if you ask me, but it’s supposed to remind you of the phrase EATandRUN. Familiar-sounding, that’s all. EATandRUN, RENTandRUN, get it? No? I don’t either.) Dad had thought of the rental business idea for our town when I was a baby, and Grampa, who lived alone, came along soon after and helped him get it started. (Sorry about the spelling of Grampa, but that’s how I wrote it when I first could write, and everyone thought it was cute, so of course no one would ever spell it right after that.)
Even though it was really Dad’s business, Grampa, sweet old man that he was, seemed to take over. Nobody argued with him either, not even Mom. And everyone in town just naturally thought that it was Grampa’s business with Dad helping out.
Grampa had things that he was in charge of, and one of those things was the signing-in and signing-out of equipment. He also took care of the displays, and made the place look like an ad for an early American hardware store. Dad was in charge of what things they would buy to be rented out, and how many, and how much they’d charge. Mom kept the books.
Anyway, since Grampa was in charge of ins-and-outs, and since, in our business that would be the logical place to use a computer, and since Grampa believed that in all the world there was a need for probably three computers, RENTandRUN operated nicely without one.
But then, as I said, Grampa died. I won’t try to tell you with too much detail how I felt when that happened. He wasn’t your grandpa, so how could you know? It was awful, though.
I’ve already described him as sweet. He was basically simple, and loving, and extremely caring and helpful to people. I think people would come to RENTandRUN and take out a post hole digger just for the pleasure of having him wait on them and explain it to them. Then they’d bring it back an hour or two later just to enjoy him again.
“How many holes’d you get dug?” he’d ask them.
“Oh, about fifteen,” they’d answer.
“How deep did you go?”
“Look, if I let you take it a while longer — no charge, you understand — you’d better sink those holes at least twenty-eight inches,” Grampa would say.
“Oh, but you see, we’re only planting spruce seedlings, and they aren’t much over ten inches tall!”
Then Grampa would say, “Fine! Fine! Just making sure you made the best use of our tools. We wouldn’t want you to be disappointed!”
Then he was gone. And everyone cried. Customers came into the store days later and sniffed along with us. Who wouldn’t miss such a gentle soul?
Within a month, Dad staggered into our kitchen with three big boxes, one at a time, and introduced us to what we thought would be a computer, and it is, but now we all call him Grampa.
Grampa is actually twins now. He’s a terminal at RENTandRUN and he’s another terminal on a computer desk in our alcove at home. He’s twin Windows computers. Both are connected through the internet, so wherever we are, at home or at the shop, we can tell what’s checked out, manage the books and inventory, and play with all the non-business features Grampa now has. The third box, in case you’re wondering, was a printer.
Sometimes Dad and Mom joke about calling him Grampa, and privately that hurts me, because Dad looks at the screen and says something like, “Ever since we started calling that thing Grampa I swear I hear a faint voice inside it whining ‘Let me out, let me out!’” It bothers me to picture an image of Grampa all panicky inside that computer. It’s such a cruel way to imagine such a gentle, humble person.
Mom was a picture of contrasts when Dad surprised us with the thing. She was overjoyed that we would become computer-literate, and at the same moment she was horrified that what the two complete computers had cost could have bought us all a trip to Europe. Dad called it mixed emotions. I didn’t know what he meant by that until he put it this way: “Suppose, Suze, someone offers you a million dollars to jump out of an airplane without a parachute. So you do it. And as you shoot toward the ground with all that cash in your pocket, you have mixed emotions. On the one hand, you know it’s going to hurt when you land. But it sure feels good to be a millionaire.”
“We’ll have to inventory everything we have at the store right away,” Dad announced, as he tried to plug five or so cords into strange-looking holes and to find enough switches to turn it all on. “As soon as it’s on-line, we’ll track all our rentals on it, right at the store,” he explained, as the computer screen, in clipped phrases, asked 500 start-up questions. “And we’ll use the unit at home to become proficient with our programs, and to get our data loaded in the evenings. And you, SuSu,” (he called me that whenever he wanted me to throw up involuntarily), “can teach your mother and brother how to use a computer.”
Now, half a year later, I realize that I should have seen from the start where it would all lead, except I couldn’t have foreseen my being in jail.
Dad is not a hacker, really. But he is definitely a computer commando. He’s the one who started calling it Grampa, at the store. He types in an item and while he’s typing he says, “Who had this tiller out last, Grampa?” And electronic Grampa says, “Emerson, Paul – 6 hrs – $12.00 – paid”.
Broccoli has learned two games on the one at home. I don’t even know what his games are called, but they both have the same wholesome plot: Destroy endless waves of ugly invaders that God never conceived using endless supplies of red missiles shot from ugly guns.
Mom is deathly afraid of it. “But what’ll I do if it says ‘File not found’ or ‘Unrecoverable track writing to drive F’?”
And I love to write on it. In truth, though, I might not have written so much, so readily, if Mom hadn’t thought up The Clover Street News.
The Clover Street News – Chapter 1 – Chapter 2 – Chapter 3 – Chapter 4 – Chapter 5 – Chapter 6 – Chapter 7 – Chapter 8 – Chapter 9 – Chapter 10 – Chapter 11 – Chapter 12 – Chapter 13 – Chapter 14 – Chapter 15 – Chapter 16 – Chapter 17