We decided it was time. Over the holidays, my siblings and I got together and bought my parents a computer. They are both in their seventies, and neither had ever used a computer. They resisted the idea because they don't like it when we spend money on them, but we gave them no choice. We didn’t want them to be the last people in the country to be online.
The learning curve was steep at first ("Click? What does that mean? Drag? What does that mean?"), but I gave them a few lessons and pretty soon, they were both using email and google. Several times, I've had to answer frantic phone calls ("The email program is just gone. I don't know where it went.") and drive to their house to straighten things out, but they both learn quickly, and now they are exchanging emails with friends who have moved to warmer places.
When my father figured out that he could email more than one person at once, he immediately began coming up with ideas of how to use this new technology. "How about if I sent all the grandchildren messages in Morse Code? Wouldn’t that be cool?" Then this week, he set up what he calls the French Roundtable, putting all family members who speak French on the email list and sending them instructions that we would all exchange emails written only in French. The designation speaks French is pretty loose. I'm on the list, for example, because I took two years of French over twenty years ago.
The funniest part of the French roundtable is that my father has never taken a French course – and does not really speak French at all. But he has always wanted to learn French because he thinks it's a beautiful musical language, and he has been trying to teach himself out of some old schoolbooks. He found a bookstore that carries the French newspaper Le Monde and will spend hours trying to read it. My family has always had the firm idea that you can learn anything, anything at all, from books. When my Dad wanted to learn how to sail, he took a book out of the public library, read it through, and then built a sailboat in his basement.
I have to admit that it's been fun to get emails from family members, whom I normally see in person or talk to on the telephone. And they are written in French, of course. Tonight, I was sitting on the couch with my laptop when an email chimed in from Shaggy Hair Boy, who was upstairs doing his homework. A response in French came from Blonde Niece, who was at her home, with her golden lab on her feet, doing her homework. Urban Sophisticate Sister, working late in her Manhattan office, sent a message, riffing off something Blonde Niece sent. Since I was talking to my daughter on the telephone, I knew that she was in her dorm room, reading these messages and laughing. Boy in Black paused from working on his English paper to send an answer to the French riddle that his grandfather posed early in the day. Urban Sophisticate came up with the same answer, but posted her message 45 seconds too late. Even a big city reporter can't beat Boy in Black to the punch.
Tonight, when my parents came home from the movie they’d gone to see, my mother called me on the telephone to tell me what she thought about the way the theater had been renovated. In the background, I could hear my father saying with excitement, "There’s been a flurry of activity on the French Roundtable." And even though they resisted the idea of the computer at first, I know that they are thrilled to be connected.