My Gramps is great, but a techie he ain’t. Teaching him something on a computer is like giving instructions to a bewildered passenger trying to land a 747. I hear my voice get higher and higher. Remember, he taught you to ride a bicycle, I remind myself, remember he taught you to eat with utensils and tie your shoelaces. He was patient with you then; be patient with him now.
But sometimes Gramp’s escapades in computer-land are entertaining. Take, for instance, his foray into what he always refers to as The E-mail.
Nobody my age even uses e-mail anymore. We don’t answer our phones, either. Text it or forget it. If we do go online, we use Instagram or Snapchat. But for Gramps, e-mail was a new and exciting way to connect with old friends. He asked me to give him a tutorial and, heaving an inward sigh, I agreed.
We got through the first hurdles of what e-mail provider to use and what his password would be. I know, I know, gramps42 isn’t exactly hack-proof, but who’s going to hack my Gramps? He totally did not get on board with the idea of using abbreviations, emojis or initials in his messages. No, every word must be typed out in full and spelled correctly. Each message must begin “Dear Somebody” and end “Sincerely yours” like a real letter. That slowed him down, but he said, “What else have I got to do?”
Eventually, he accumulated enough of his old friends’ e-mail addresses to get a nice little group going. He enjoyed hearing what his former high school buddies were up to, although he was quiet for a couple of days after he learned one of them had died. “Gotta expect it at our age,” he said, but I knew it was hard.
One day he called to tell me his computer was “acting funny.” It happened often enough that I’d installed a program that allowed me to sign in to his account remotely and see what was going on. Usually it was a snarl caused by his impatient mouse-clicking when the response wasn’t fast enough to suit him.
“Just give it a minute, Gramps. See the little circle going around? That means it’s working. Let the computer do its thing,” I must have said nine hundred times. But he’d click until he was thoroughly confused and so was his computer.
This time he’d somehow deleted his e-mail account, so I reinstated it. I scanned a few of the recent messages to make sure they’d been retrieved.
“Hey, who’s Cutie Patootie?” I typed, teasing him a little.
“That’s just a nickname for someone I knew in high school,” Gramps typed back, and closed up like a mollusk.
There were no more problems for a while. When I asked him if he was enjoying renewed friendships, he seemed a bit evasive and quickly changed the subject. Okay, I got it. It was probably humiliating to have to keep asking a smarty-pants grandchild for help, and now he wanted privacy. I didn’t give it another thought.
Until the day Gramps called and asked if I could stop by his house after work. His voice sounded shaky, something I’d never heard before. When I got there, he was sitting at the kitchen table, laptop open before him.
“What’s up?” I asked as I entered.
“Well, see, I don’t know what I did wrong,” Gramps said with unaccustomed humility. Usually he got mad at the computer and then at me for being on the computer’s side. “I’ve been e-mailing a, uh, friend from high school days. Good to get back in touch, you know, catch up on each other’s lives.”
“Yeah, so? What’s wrong?”
“Now some people are apparently reading our correspondence.” Gramps definitely was blushing.
“Shall I take a look?”
Seems Gramps had gotten reacquainted with an old high school friend, all right, the aforementioned Ms. Patootie. As I scrolled through their numerous e-mails, I saw the acquaintance deepen to friendship and then to something more. There were other e-mails, too, butting in like brats, quoting Gramps line for line and adding the kind of teasing you get with your first girlfriend or boyfriend in middle school. My dear Gramps was deeply embarrassed.
“I don’t know how those other fellas hocked into The E-mail,” Gramps said, “but I don’t appreciate their smart remarks.”
“It’s hacked, Gramps, and they didn’t. I think I see the problem. Look here, where you replied to her e-mails, you hit ‘reply all.’ That means it goes to everyone on the address list of the original e-mail. You were part of a group and then when you thought you were writing only to her, you kept on including everyone.”
I got it straightened out. Gramps and Patootie, whose name was actually Caroline, kept writing to each other, then meeting, then dating. Finally, in a triumph of hope over experience, as Gramps put it, they got married. We all liked her just fine and I was happy to take some credit for the happy ending.
E-mailing ceased to be a priority now that Gramps and Caroline had each other. I relaxed. For a while. Then Gramps called.
“Say, Caroline and I want to get on The Facebook.”