I have an old Jimmy Dean biscuit box that sits on a shelf of my desk, just above my printer and computer. Jimmy Dean, of sausage fame, hasn’t updated its logo design in a while, so it sticks out like a pimple against the bare nude of my walls. When my Southern California friends ask if I found it in a thrift or vintage store, I smile and reply with the shocking knowledge that I have dared to go where no one has gone before: the frozen foods section of a non-organic grocery store.
The box is tattered and no longer smells of greasy discs of low-grade sausage, but it is bursting full with white envelopes, fattened with newspaper clippings from my hometown and hand-written letters from my grandparents back in Maryland.
My grandmother has been making me write in cursive since before I can remember. She told me, “Amy, cursive is faster, easier and even though it’s sometimes harder to read, it’s classy.” At age six, the last thing I thought about was how to be classier, but I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I still write in cursive to this very day.
My family had decided to bestow the gift of the Web to my Mommom and Poppop (as I call them) for Christmas, hoping to bring them up to (high) speed with the rest of the world. We have sung its praises time and time again, likening it to the technological savior of our age, and we decided it was time for their cyber-messiah to come.
It wasn’t a quick decision to do this. My grandparents have a strong aversion to learning new things. Over time, they have slowly given in to our dogged harping about the wonders of the digital age. We enjoy “decking them out” technologically, like little children enjoy dressing up their pets with doll clothes.
So, the day after receiving their large-screen, large-keyboard laptop, I accompanied my grandfather to the local Verizon store in order to pick up an Internet “card.” Living on an 80-acre farm has prevented cable Internet from reaching their house.
Poppop marched directly up to the counter.
“This ain’t some serta trick, izit?” he said as he pointed his right ring finger at the first unassuming girl he saw; she recoiled, and drummed her two-inch nails against the keyboard. When my grandfather points at someone, it feels different than a casual point from a friend, probably because of the oversized Masonic Lodge ring that his finger boasts. The contrast between the opulence of the gold-set garnet with the wrinkled skin of his arthritic hand speaks of a magical wisdom he must hold, like something that Dumbledore or Gandalf might wear.
There are two things, and two things only, that my grandparents trust: the Bible, and the Republican Party. This girl at the Verizon store hadn’t proven to be either of those things, so a thorough assessment of her intentions was necessary.
The girl cocked her head to the side as she responded. “Sir, I promise you, Verizon would never try to trick you into buying an Internet card.”
It took a minute, but we (the girl and I) managed to ease his worries and continue on with the process of purchasing the Internet. We might as well have been buying a new house, because it took over an hour and a half, and about 50 questions, before my grandfather was satisfied enough to swipe his Visa and head home.
Over the next two weeks, I spent nearly every morning at my grandparents’ farm. This suited Poppop just fine since he swears that my grandmother only cooks when a grandchild is going to be in the house. “Every other mornin’ all I git is dried-up cereal, Amy-girl. She spoils you rotten.”
The Internet scared the “livin’ daylights” out of my Poppop, a man that had served in the Air Force and then started his own motel, which he owned for 20 years while also maintaining his soybean farm. My Mommom refused to go near it, content with leaving the work to Poppop. “Once I get this thing figured out, Amy,” he would say, “she’s gonna work me ter death tryna get all her nosy information.” Their love is a tenured one.
I think I had grossly underestimated the learning curve of someone who had previously never owned a computer, let alone the Web. The first three days began with me walking into their house, finding my grandfather shaking with anger that he couldn’t get “the stupid Internet to start up. I knew that girl was trickin’ me.” I gently reminded him that his Internet card needed to be plugged in for the process to work. We finally mastered that practice.
The following days consisted of helping Poppop get over his strong hatred of his “mouse pad,” that he found to be ridiculous since it didn’t have a mouse, and writing him step-by-step instructions on actions such as how to get to “Home Page,” and how to send an email to me. Each action that I wrote directions for took about two pages of tedious instruction. The progress was slow. We ate a lot of bacon to pacify our nerves. We laughed, took Fox News breaks, and he told me stories of his days in the military, how he came to know that Jesus was his Savior, and what made him realize that smoking wasn’t all that cool, before all that “cancer talk” even started.
I remember the excitement I felt of knowing that I was being a part of one of the greatest improvements in their lives. They were learning something from me, for once! I was giving them freedom from the intellectual paralysis that surely comes with retirement and old age. I looked forward to our new cyber-relationship, one that I had given birth to.
Our two weeks drew to a close, and I hopped a plane to return to school. I was satisfied. I nursed to life this virtual existence for my grandparents, and couldn’t wait to reap the benefits through emails and maybe, one day, chatting online, or something of the sort.
I have received about five emails from them. Each one about three sentences total, though there isn’t a period to be found in the entire thing. I’m assuming that I’ll need to tell him over the phone where to look for the punctuation keys. I write back every time, usually with about triple the amount of content.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when, after during the second week back at school, I received a letter in the mail, a little brown from traveling, but inked with that familiar cursive that mirrors my own. My grandparents defended themselves with something like, “Amy-girl, we love our new Internet, but we just think we get our thoughts out better on some paper. Now let us tell you about our home-group Saturday night, and have you read the devotional for today? It’s wonderful it speaks of…”
I now receive about two letters for every email I send them. I hear that Poppop still loves to add Web sites to his Favorites bar, and has grown especially fond of the Drudge Report.
As for me, I’m planning my next trip to the frozen foods aisle. Jimmy Dean has never sounded so good.