Mom Goes On The Line
I received three e-mails from my mother today. This is unusual because until today, my mother didn't own a computer. She's watched me work on my assorted computers that occupy my office and my kids’ bedrooms. For us, computers are a way of life. For my mother, computers have been frightening machines that collect way too much dust.
The first e-mail from my mother said, "Believe it or not---I'm on the line. It took a long time. Call you later. Mom." I figured by "on the line" she meant "online" and laughed at her interpretation. As a little girl, I remember my mother putting someone on hold by saying, “hold the line.” Then again, to my mother, there was a phone line, a clothes line, and A-line dresses. “Online” was never a concept she learned. “Online” just happened.
“Welcome to the club,” I replied in my e-mail. “Have fun exploring.”
The second e-mail came several hours later. It said, "I'm just learning, so don1t mind the mistakes. I bought a Dell like you suggested. Eventually I!ll know what I!m doing. gIVE mE A lITTLE tIME. Love you- Mom." This was all written in the subject line of the email. The body of the email was empty.
With a little interpretation, I saw what my mother did. So used to typing on a Smith Corona keyboard, she let her fingers decide which keys to press instead of looking at the keyboard to see the computerized differences.
I didn't want to burst my mother's bubble and tell her that she might never know what she's doing on a computer. So I sent her a reply explaining that the apostrophe and quotation marks are not over the 1 and 8 anymore like they used to be on her old Smith Corona typewriters. I explained where they were and a few other intricacies of the newer keyboard. Then I told her that the message didn't belong in the subject line. I told her where to put it. I told her to have fun and explore this new cyber-world. I told her about bookmarking favorite places, using a virus scanner, avoiding pornography, and other simple things. I worried that I was putting too much into an e-mail, but then again, I had wished I knew someone when I started out using mine who could walk me through the tough stuff. I told her I hoped the beginning is interesting and relatively easy for her. I told her not to be afraid. I told her that unless she messed around and tried to upgrade the inside of her computer like I do, she'd be fine. I don't think she'll try to see what's inside the box. And if she does, which I doubt she will, I can fix it for her.
I also sent her a second email with some links to some of my published work online, things she has never read because she could not access them without a computer. My mother has seen most of my print publications; until now she has missed everything on the Internet.
When I was in elementary school, my mother was one of the few moms who worked outside the home. In the late fifties and early sixties, other mothers stayed home. Mine worked because she had no choice. Life sometimes forces us to make those decisions. Some mothers made cookies; I don’t have any memories of my mother baking. Instead, my mother typed my school reports for me.
In my case, the situation was ideal. The office where my mother worked was across the street from my school. She was often able to coordinate her lunch with mine, and I was none the worse for it. I always had a ride to school, and for lunch, we would visit a local coffee shop and eat grilled cheese sandwiches together. I'd have my chocolate egg cream; she would have her black coffee, no sugar.
It was so long ago, but I can still visualize her office with the modern machines that impressed me so much back then. I have always liked machines. This probably explains why I love my computers so much and why my sons had no arguments when it came to purchasing Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Playstation, Xbox, and the other game machines they have wanted. The only problem for my sons was getting Mom to stop playing so they could.
In my youth at my mother’s office, I liked trying to figure out how her machines worked. My mother's office had great modern machines such as assorted electric typewriters, phones with five lines, a manual adding machine with a slot machine-like pull arm, and a Xerox machine that needed pink paper placed on top of white paper all placed in a hard plastic sleeve just to make one copy. These copies were always too dark or too light and looked nothing like the original, but there was no alternative and I was the only one I knew who could ask her mother to make copies of things. My mother never said no since she was in charge of ordering supplies at this office.
I remember when I took typing in high school, a required course for all academic students going on to college or secretarial school, and I finally made it to 40 words per minute; my mother was doing 65 words or more at the time. She never made mistakes. I tested her once at 80 words and no errors. She was an incredible typist. In those days, fixing errors required specialized typewriter erasers that tended to rip the paper if pressed too hard against the print. Sometimes it required starting from scratch. In those days, carbon paper made barely readable copies, and they served the purpose because if another copy was needed, my mother would type it again. In those days, my mother typed the addresses, one at a time, on the letterhead and on the envelopes. Billing clients took several days. In those days, my mother was the master of her trade. She typed fast and rarely made an error that she couldn't fix with ease.
My mother’s third e-mail was a reply to the one I had sent filled with, what I thought, were helpful hints. It was also written completely in the subject line. “Why did they move the apostrophe and quotation marks? There was nothing wrong with where they were. I’m going to write Dell a letter about it. Love Mom.”
Today, my mother took a big step. She is on the road to being computer literate in a world very alien to the one where she had been a super star. With as much tact as I could muster, I told my mom where to find the apostrophe and the quotation marks, and she told me, in a 21st century e-mail, what I could do with them.
©1998 by Felice Prager. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
This essay has been published in several places including The Front Porch, Sasee Magazine, and Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul. aka MODERN MACHINES.
Republished In 2006 and 2012 in Memory of Marcella S. Klein.