Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I’ve tried for years to get Pop online. He’s my father-in-law, is in his late 80s, and is an avid reader, researcher and published author. He also wears his Luddite badge with pride, and I’m constantly trying to move him into the glorious, rewarding and productive world that is The Internet.
He’s working on his second book, a biography, so we got him a small iMac to replace the DOS PC that he’s used for 30 years. I thought it would be nice for him to be able to back up his work, and those 5-inch floppies are getting hard to come by. I also thought that being able to do some online research would be helpful for his biography project.
I’ve given him little tutorials on how to do basic searches, how to open multiple browsers, how to find funny videos on YouTube. (“Ha! Did you see where the soccer ball hit that guy? Isn’t the Internet great? Now, to watch it again, you just click here …”) But he’s not interested. He has all the reference books he needs, he says.
It was the attic discovery that finally did it. We’re living with Pop while we renovate our new house, which is directly across the street. Our “new” house is a 108-year-old home that’s revealing a lot of treasures as we pull bits of it apart – especially if you consider multiple layers of hideous linoleum to be “treasure.”
The attic is where all of the best goodies have been unearthed – as we dig out the old insulation we’ve found some old tincture bottles from the early 1900s, a Denver Post from 1907, candy cigarettes from the ’60s and … THE LETTERS!
A big old clump of letters, more than 20 of them, dated from 1899 to 1906, shoved under the attic floorboards 100 years earlier and never touched until now. Christina is the one who found them. She held them up to me triumphantly from the other side of the attic, knowing that I’m just crazy for the old stuff. I didn’t have time to read them right then, so I walked the entire letter wad over to Pop. Look what we found. Pretty cool, huh? Well, gotta get back to it. See you at supper.
When we quit for the day and headed back to Pop’s, he’d already read and cataloged all of the letters. They were all to the same person, Mary Chapin, and he was wondering who this person was and how she came to be here.
“We could check online,” I said. I say this sort of stuff to him all the time.
Only this time he didn’t say no. Hmmm …
The next morning we got him started, refreshing him on all the searching, clicking and printing basics. We left him to it and spent the day across the street, hammering stuff. That night over supper he told us of his online adventures, how his search for Mary Chapin had led him to her relatives, then to her religious group, then to some famous pilgrimage that this group made, then to a ship bearing her name, and to a biography of that ship’s builder, and to a history of ships in that era and, and, and …
The next day he discovered pictures. He had a dozen windows open, and he showed us pictures of people who may be Mary Chapin’s relatives, and some who weren’t even remotely related, but were interesting, because he’d spent the day reading all about each of them, who they were, what they did, where they lived, and, and, and …
And it’s still going on. Pop’s legal pad is filling up with notes about this mystery woman, and ships, and who knows what else. Each day his searching skills get a little bit better, and he’s able to go in a few more directions at a time. He’s surfing!
I did it! I got Pop on the Internet!
And there, shoved in a pile at the corner of his desk, is all the research for his biography – the one he really wants to finish. It’s remained untouched since the day I showed up with those letters.
Oh no. I got Pop on the Internet! What have I done?
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A faithful reader, known to his internet friends as “Ski Bum,” sent me the following quote after my last column. It seems fitting this week.