Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lost Badge of Honor


Last week I lost my “Hi-tech Grammy” badge. Granted this event isn’t as momentous as losing your virginity, or even your wallet, but I’m chagrined nevertheless.

When our grandchildren were tots, the computer in the den offered an entertainment option. I admit to feeling a degree of satisfaction when one or the other would call out, “Grammy, we need help finding our game.” Once retired, I’d progressed from not knowing how to turn on the computer—for years we had an efficient and knowledgeable secretary—to being quite proficient with word processing. Little did I realize the challenges ahead. Wireless keyboards, printers, and USB ports. Docking hubs, modems, and routers. Servers, providers, and Google. Pages of new words added to the dictionary.  I’ve somehow managed to keep up. And computers were only the beginning.

My first cell phone served as a paperweight on my desk and offered nothing but the opportunity for voice communication when away from home. After a couple of years rebuffing the laughter from the grandkids—they’d somehow become teenagers—I changed to a smaller, clamshell phone. In no time, they were laughing again. “When are you going to get a smart phone, Grammy? Then you could text us.” Now I have one. Do I dare admit I haven’t added any apps? Still, they brag to their friends, “My grandmother knows how to text.” It’s a good thing, too, because email correspondence, which is my preferred form of communication, is much too tedious for them now they are all in college. They do still chuckle when I remind them I have only two-hundred free text messages a month. “I use that up in a day,” my granddaughter tells me. So far I’ve never exceeded that free limit.

I think it was when I designed my own website they awarded me my virtual badge. I followed that accomplishment with getting a Facebook page, although I sensed some trepidation when they knew I expected us to be friends so I could keep up with their postings. I’ve not shared my frustration with the major changes made to the site after I thought I understood it.

My next venture was to establish my blog. The grandkids were impressed. Still, they have more to do than add my postings to their required reading list, so I count on other family members and friends to become followers. Another secret I keep from them: after months of postings, I recently discovered how to manage the settings of my blog so others could be  notified and add comments. Perhaps I will blog more now.

With all of this techy stuff under my belt, I confidently went about installing my new printer, the same all-in-one model we have in our winter home. Except this one is wireless. In no time I set it up and inserted the CD to guide me through the connection process. The directions led me step by step…until informed “USB connection not found.” The instructions told me to return to the previous page, where the annoying message stared at me again. No matter what I tried, I could go no further.

I double-checked: yes, the USB was inserted in my computer, the other end into the back of the printer. The power was connected—I could turn the printer on and make copies. But I couldn’t send a document from my computer to be printed. I did everything I could think of. In the middle of the night I woke wondering what to try next. Nothing moved me past the roadblock. I gave up, totally frustrated.

The next day I invited my son and grandson, a college senior, to dinner. After handing both of them a beer, I told them my problem. My grandson bounded up the stairs two at a time to our den and planted himself in front of the computer. We followed close behind. He flew through web pages faster than I could blink. And there was that message again. “Connection not found.” I left him and my son, who was peering over his shoulder, and went to finish dinner preparations.

Not five minutes later, the two of them joined me in the kitchen. “It’s working now, Grammy.”

“No kidding?! What was wrong?”

“You inserted the other end of the USB connection in the port for the fax line.”

As I mentally tore my “Hi-tech Grammy” badge off my blouse, he put his arm around me and said. “Anyone could make that mistake.” So maybe the badge is still there, but a lot of the shine is gone.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Anchors in Time

Our lives are a succession of events, many barely noticed, others remaining as dim memories, but we all have milestones that serve as markers along our life’s pathway. Historically, we may remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon, the assassination of President Kennedy, the horror of 9/11. All provide anchors to a time and place. But, on a personal level, certain occasions can leap to mind as easily as pressing the on-button for TV.

Birthdays come along every year, but some require extra attention. Young people eagerly anticipate reaching twenty-first birthdays as their passage to adulthood. Who doesn’t recall their own?  But for me, the special birthdays began when I reached forty. My husband, Ralph, and our two children, both young teenagers, conspired to surprise me with a party—in our own home. Without my suspecting a thing, they invited the guests, purchased and prepared food, and planned for me to be at a neighbor’s for a birthday drink while friends arrived at our house, bearing gifts. Our son, Steve, had the assignment of lighting the fires in our two fireplaces, which he did—forgetting to open the dampers. When I returned to the house, I smelled the smoke even before I opened the door. When I heard two dozen waiting guests, shouting “surprise!” my first thought was “thank goodness I cleaned the house today!” I couldn’t find words to tell my family how touched I was they’d gone to such lengths to mark the occasion. The smoke in the air dissipated quickly, but the memory of that 40th birthday remains forever.

Since my birth coincided with Thanksgiving, my husband and I planned a long weekend in New York to mark my 50th birthday. On the night of the holiday I was thrilled to see the Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall. The Rockettes had been a favorite of mine during my teenage years when I took tap lessons and danced with a group called “The Danny Sheehan Rockettes.” And I still had the next day’s tour of NYC and an evening at the theater to look forward to. But I missed Steve, now living in Denver, and our daughter, Laurie, in Minneapolis.  “I wish they could be here with us,” I said to my husband, annoyed to feel tears in my eyes. I reached in my wallet and pulled out their photos to place on the table as we enjoyed the after-theater supper.

The following evening, as I was dressing for dinner, someone knocked on the hotel room door. I cautiously looked through the peephole. My mouth fell open. I threw open the door and there stood our children, ready to join us for the evening. Ralph had found a ninety-nine dollar round trip fare for each of them and arranged for them to fly into New York City for twenty-four hours. That was the best surprise of my life.

A business trip to Boston coincided with our 25th wedding anniversary. Friends who had recently moved there met us at the airport and took us directly to the theater to see an unforgettable performance by Shirley MacLaine. The next day a dozen red roses arrived at our hotel, along with greetings from a couple who remain friends to this day. “What a lovely anniversary,” I said to my husband. “We’re so lucky to know such nice people…. “

He interrupted with, “…and I’m so lucky to have you.”

We decided not to wait until our 50th Anniversary to have a party. Neither of our parents or grandparents had lived long enough to celebrate a half-century together. “Who knows if we’ll still both be around in ten years,” I said. “Let’s celebrate our fortieth, just in case.” So we planned a three-day wedding party reunion with twenty-one guests. All of our attendants, ushers, and their spouses, as well as several long-time friends, came to Milwaukee in June 1997, some from as far away as California. “Do you notice how much we look like our parents did forty years ago?” I asked.

The event couldn’t have been any better, as the videos and photo albums attest. We were gratified to have my father, eighty-nine-years old and the only one of our parents still living, fly from Florida to be with us. One evening he remarked, “I wish I were seventy again and could dance with all of these good-looking women.”

Ten years later, when we actually did reach our 50th Anniversary, we chose to bring all the family together at our daughter’s home in Minnesota. We combined it with the celebration of the high school graduation of our oldest grandchild, Annie. We used the occasion to gather our son and daughter and their spouses and our three grandchildren for a family portrait. “This is much better than a party,” Ralph said. “Our kids and grandkids are our best friends and the ones we really want to be with.” I agreed with him completely.

The year we both turned seventy-five, we celebrated Ralph’s big day with the family gathered once again, this time at Steve and Patti’s in Wisconsin. Each one of us, including the three grandchildren—now seventeen, twenty, and twenty-two—wrote a  love letter to Ralph and read it to him while we gathered on the outdoor deck, enjoying the late August afternoon. With his eyes filled with unshed tears he said, “Now I know what it must be like to be inducted into the hall of fame.”

We had returned to Florida when my seventy-fifth came around, so my love letters arrived in the mail. “Dad’s celebration was special enough for both of us,” I assured them. And it was.

When our daughter turned fifty-years-old, it seemed impossible. Where did those years go? She planned a big party in her new home, with her new love. “Mom and Dad, I sure wish you could come from Florida and be here for my big night,” she said. We told her we would be with her in spirit, but Minnesota was too cold in March for us to be there.

What fun it was the day of the party to walk in, along with her brother, Steve, and ask, “What time does the party start?”

Laurie was arranging flowers at her kitchen counter. For a moment she couldn’t move, then characteristically broke into tears and said, “Mom and Dad, thank you, thank you. I’m so happy you’re here.”

Three years later, when Steve was about to reach the same milestone, he told, Patti, “I don’t want a party. We’ve been to a dozen fiftieth celebrations this year, and I’m done with them. I’d really like to go to Florida and see Mom and Dad. But I guess, with both kids in college this year, we shouldn’t go.”

That’s all Patti needed to hear. A week later she handed him their airline tickets and said, “We’re going to Florida for five days and celebrate your birthday with your parents!”

When Laurie heard of the plans, she made some of her own. “Jim and I will arrive early on Thursday. We’ll have one day when we can all be together before he and Patti have to leave. He will be so surprised!”

And surprised he was when after an hour on the tennis court he walked to the Tiki Bar for lunch— and there sat Laurie and Jim, with a large 50th balloon floating above the table. “Did you think I’d let you turn fifty and not be around to see it?” she teased. They hugged each other tightly while Ralph and I basked in the joy of having the family together for another memorable occasion.

One more of life’s markers etched in our minds and on our hearts.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Weighty Problem

My husband absorbs the National Geographic the way bread soaks up milk. His eyes light up when his monthly copy arrives in the mailbox and whatever he was doing before is set aside as he dives into the magazine’s shiny, slick pages. I know not to try for his attention any time soon. Which is why he surprised me last week as we prepared our condo for installation of new carpeting.

We hadn’t planned to replace the nine-year-old Berber until next fall, but the stars seemed to align when we happened upon a sample of just the right shade of celery green and a small business owner with honest eyes and a low-key sales pitch. “My prices are low now because of the recession,” he explained. “Now is the best time to buy carpeting.” How could we resist?

Brian, the carpet man, arrived a few days later to measure our space and give us an estimate. He assured me, when I asked. “Yes. The price includes removing the existing carpeting and pad, installing the new, and moving the furniture. We do it all.”

Except, of course, we had to take everything off the shelves, tables, and out of the cabinets. Which was where the magazines came into play. One cabinet groaned under the weight of sixty-two copies of the National Geographic. (Another forty fill the shelf of a built-in storage area in our Wisconsin apartment, but they weren’t the problem at the moment.) We hauled a box from the garage and made the mistake of filling it with the yellow-bound treasures. “Help me lift this, Ralph. We have to put it on the porch.”

I thought my ears were playing tricks on me when he said, “We should probably get rid of these.” We’d had this discussion a month ago when I purged my bookshelves and hauled two cartons of my accumulated favorites to our Ocean Village library. When I’d suggested he do something with the magazines he assured me he used them as reference. I knew not to say more. I’d already reminded him we couldn’t find anyone who wanted the fifteen years of accumulated copies when we sold our home and moved to an apartment. “Yeah, I know. Everything is on the Internet,” he said dejectedly.

Last week the weight of the magazines became the problem of the worker on the recycle truck. I wasn’t here to see him struggle to lift the green bin, nor did I hang around to see the pain in my husband’s eyes.

So yesterday, when I brought in the mail and said, “Here’s this month’s National Geographic,” I was heartened to see his eyes light up once again. I didn’t bother him until I had dinner on the table. Hopefully, we won’t be replacing carpeting for another ten years or so.