MacBook Musings

This summer we bought a digital camera. In my delight at not having to ration my picture taking to the usual roll of film, I snapped thousands of photos and downloaded them to my little Mac Mini. I overloaded its storage capacity. Its circuits ground slower and slower until my old friend threatened to freeze up.

So we drove to the Apple store and picked out a sleek laptop, which will accompany us on our travels. When we’re home, we can hook up the old monitor, keyboard, mouse, and printer and use it like a desktop. I’m so proud of my prowess! I will never be as computer-literate as most of today’s middle-schoolers, but then, they’ve grown up navigating the world of electronics. They don’t worry about writing legibly by hand.

Back in the good old days, the teaching of penmanship ranked right up there with readin’ and ‘rithmetic. Students learned how to shape the building blocks of communication on sheets of blue-lined penmanship paper.

Alas for this eager learner: My brain and my hand didn’t communicate very well. No matter how hard I tried, my big, soft-lead pencil smudged and jerked across the page, making untidy angles instead of flowing curves. It got worse when we learned to write with ink. Each of our desks had an inkwell–a hole in the upper right corner–into which fitted a bottle of ink. Using wooden pen holders with replaceable metal tips called nibs, we dipped them into the dark liquid, and trying not to get too much on the nib, we practiced the same exercises we did with our pencils. If we did it right, ink flowed from the tips of the pen onto the paper in neat cursive that gradually faded with each letter. Then we dipped the pens again. But if we didn’t get it right, our finished exercises would be blotched with blots and spatters of ink.

Whether using pen or pencil, handwriting for me still causes great tension. My readers often have to ask for a translation. Which brings me back to those fascinating, frustrating, fabulous computers.

  • Frustrating, because those in my generation start with a disadvantage. Learning to use a computer can be confusing and complicated.
  • Fascinating, because the Internet has opened windows onto worlds we could never have imagined exploring.
  • Fabulous, because we can communicate with people all around the world with just a few keystrokes and clicks of the mouse.

Sometimes I marvel at how easy it is to share the written word now. In my lifetime, I’ve gone from pen holder and ink pot to fountain pens and then ball points. I graduated from the monstrous, noisy typewriters in Miss Easton’s typing class to the smaller portable typewriter I carried to college and upon which I later typed my first novel (original and three carbon copies), after first writing it in longhand on yellow legal pads. Then came a state-of-the-art Selectric typewriter. My fingers flew over that keyboard, barely whispering, and I loved it. I next tried a combination typewriter/word processor with a window that showed three or four lines of typing at a time, then bought my first real computer. It came with a word-processing program that no one even knows about any more.

One thing is not going to change though. Even the smartest computers can’t replace the thinking, feeling, creating persons operating them. Their ideas and compassion change the world for the better. And that, this Thanksgiving season, is one thing for which I’m very grateful.

Hometown Parade

What’s more fun, marching or watching the crowd?

By 8 a.m. the day of the Granite Falls Railroad and Alumni Days parade, my old home town is ant-hill-busy. Both sides of Granite Avenue are lined with canopies and tents in various stages of set-up. Vendors and festival officials mill about as latecomers like me try to steer our vehicles through the confusion.

Suddenly, a figure from the past grabs my attention. A woman, shapeless in layers of garments under a sweeping, street-length coat, leans on a walking stick. She’s topped her ensemble with an outlandish, wide-brimmed hat. It’s Mrs. F., once an object of mixed pity and amusement to the young people of the town. With a jolt, I realize this can’t be Mrs. F. She was already an old lady fifty years ago, when I last saw her.

From her motorized go-cart, the director points me to the spot where I’m to set up my shelter and offer books for sale. Right on a corner! Not only a good spot for vending, but I have a front-row seat for the parade and people-watching. Hank is sick, so brother-in-law Jimmy has come to help me set up. My sisters Lois and Patty are down the street at the alumni breakfast, and brother Bill is helping at the Granite Falls Historical Museum. Here we are, the remaining Rawlins siblings, back in the town where we went to school six decades ago.

Families towing excited children pass. I smile at them, remembering the upwelling anticipation that once kept me bouncing on my toes the same as the children are doing. It doesn’t matter that many of these faces are tawny or black, where Granite Falls kids were once mostly Caucasian. One dark-eyed tot with a purple lollipop in her mouth breaks away from her family and talks to me earnestly. “I can’t understand you with candy in your mouth,” I say to her. She removes it, but I still can’t decipher her words. Then her mother calls to her in Spanish, and I know why I couldn’t.

Another town character waddles past, beaming good cheer in every direction. “Isn’t this fun?” she asks each time she goes by.

Across the street, the high-school cheerleaders, wearing orange-and-black trimmed outfits, set up a pie-in-the-face fund-raising booth. They could have been my own high-school classmates, full of energy though not so physically fit as teens were back then. With preparations finished, they group themselves in the street and practice cheers.

A growing crowd wanders from booth to booth. My sisters arrive from the breakfast, along with old high-school friends. Strangers, acquaintances, and friends stop to visit. Looking at my book, A Logger’s Daughter, opens the floodgates of memory for many of them. Oh, the stories that pour out!
Here comes the band!
Music trumpets from up the street. Here comes the parade, first the flags and then the Granite Falls Tigers high-school band. Who cares if their notes are a bit uncertain? After all, school has barely begun.

Every age is represented in the groups on parade, from mini-cheerleaders marching in formation, to 4-Hers on their float, politicians, church groups, and wrinkled Shriners with the float and calliope they’ve used for years.

Ladies in red hats and purple outfits follow a shiny black Model-A draped with a red lace shawl. A platoon of belly dancers shimmy down the street, some with far more belly than dance. There’s a “Sauerkraut Band” and some of Seattle’s Seafair Pirates. The local museum’s entry is a wagonload of plastic pumpkins filled with candy. Brother Bill marched with other museum volunteers to toss candy to the children. He arrives before the parade is over, saying they’d been too generous to the kids at the other end and run out of candy. He collapses into one of my chairs to watch the rest of the parade.

Niece Heidi deposits her toddler, Grace, into Papa Bill’s arms so she can comfort little Noah, crying because his red balloon has escaped and headed toward the clouds. Sister Lois calms Noah’s crisis by commandeering one of the balloons tied to my tent.

They say you can’t go home again, but celebrating Railroad Days in my old home town comes pretty close. It’s a wonderful chance to observe the whole gamut of life in one place. I’m reminded that people are pretty much the same today as they have always been. That gives me hope for the future.

Now that’s a Sun Break thought!

The first three photos above are courtesy of Lois Drake. The one of Bill with granddaughter Grace is courtesy of Mr. Cecil Andrews, from his collection taken for the Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce. You can find more of his photos online at Greater Granite Falls Photo Collection.

Cecil writes, “In your blog you could let folks know how active the Granite Falls Chamber is becoming and encourage them to join. Individuals are just as welcome as businesses. They can apply online at our web site: Granite Falls is a community on the move and the parade is just one of the things the Chamber sponsors.”