Remembering Dad on his birthday and two new calculators

Remembering Dad is one thing I try not to do. Ever since his symptoms of Alzheimer’s have started taking their toll, it makes me feel bad to remember the dark-haired vibrant man with a quick wit that I knew growing up and into my 30s and 40s.

My dad was born in 1933, or as he put it when I started interviewing him for his life story, several years ago at his request:

“I came in on the 18th day of January, 1933 at 715 Manier Ave., Piqua, Ohio. Uncle Paul said it got a little exciting around the house.”

I decided in honor of my dad’s birthday today, to tell you a little story I remember.

My first time in college, when I was a traditional student right out of high school. I was attending the University of Dayton which was a short drive from my parents’ home, but I was living in the dorm on campus. I was working on a chemical engineering degree. We did a lot of heavy-duty calculations in my engineering classes. A calculator was a must.

On the evening before a big test my sophomore year, my calculator I had gotten as a high school graduation present broke. In those days a calculator was a nice gift, costing in the neighborhood of $100 which was a significant amount of money. Calculators were a new thing back in the 1970s. My senior year of high school only one student in my algebra class had a calculator. We used to pass it around the room. One of my teachers had these big bulky calculators that looked (and probably functioned) more like adding machines. We were still being taught how to use slide rules, although I suspect we were one of the last classes to learn that. Calculators were a big deal.

Anyway, I was studying for a test in one of my engineering classes by reworking homework problems when my calculator died—a real death knell for an engineering student. I panicked. I scrambled and found someone I could borrow a calculator from in the morning, but I was worried it would still be problematic because the tests were timed and I would be slowed down by trying to use a calculator I had no experience with. Not to mention that was probably the end of my test preparation for the evening.

So I did what I have always done in my life when I’m worried or in trouble, I called my mom. Crying.

I don’t remember the conversation, and I don’t remember if I felt any better afterwards. But what I do remember is that about an hour later there was a knock on my dorm room door and there stood my parents with a brand new fancy calculator for me. It was one of those stellar, top-ten moments in my life that I’ll never forget.

Earlier this week I was rooting around in the closet in our study when I pulled out a clear plastic tub to see what I was in it. I found an old cell phone complete with both an AC and a car charger; two wireless mice; two apple monitor adapters ( I have no idea what these are for); a two-slot USB port hub, two sets of headphones; a small set of computer speakers; an assortment of wires, cords, and plugs; and in the very bottom, I found my old calculator. The reason I know it is my old Texas Instrument SR-51? Because my dad had inscribed my name in the metal plate so that no one could steal it. I think this is probably my very first calculator that I got at graduation—the one that failed me on the night before my test.

Texas Instruments SR-51

I loved this calculator. It did all the trigonometric functions; it did linear regression (finding slopes, intercepts, and all that other fun algebraic stuff); it did all kinds of statistical functions like the mean and standard deviation (which I rarely if ever used) and it had a function for metric measurement conversions (which I don’t think I even realized at the time, but see now as I examine the back). It was my best friend through my first year and a half of college.

The best part of this little calculator you can see if you look closely at the metal plate above the sin, cos, and tan buttons. This calculator is personalized by my dad with my name, Christine M. Smith, inscribed in metal.

I’m breaking all the simplify-your-life-rules about not hanging on to mementos. This one’s a keeper.

So thank you, Dad (and Mom) for the first and second calculator.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I know you won’t be reading this, but I’m glad that you’re still here to hug.

34 thoughts on “Remembering Dad on his birthday and two new calculators”

  1. What a lovely story and a wonderful way to honor your father. I know it hurts to remember him, but with such beautiful memories I am sure it can be healing as well. Just this morning I was thinking about how sad I am that I can’t really share my trip to Slovakia with my Dad. He is in a bad cycle at the moment, and I don’t know that he even knows I was gone. My Dad before would have been so excited and interested. It makes me want to cry.

    Happy birthday to your dad. This is a lovely gift.

    1. I know. I’m sorry you can’t share your trip with your dad too. I feel the same about a lot of things in life. I especially miss being able to hear his opinion and view of things.

      You just have to try to forget what you can’t do, and focus on what you can do with your dad. My husband’s father died four years ago in March. There is no warm body to hug.

      I’m trying to appreciate what I have for as long as I have it.

  2. Oh, Christine, I’m so happy to read this story. It’s a great one. I’m so sorry that remembering who your father was for decades is now painful. I don’t know exactly what that would be like, but I can imagine it would be like dying a very slow and agonizing death, The person looks the same, but is no longer there. This is a wonderful memory. Thanks so much for sharing it!

    Happy birthday to your dad!


    1. For me it is losing him by a slow painful death. It’s an open sore that will not be able to heal for some time. And sometimes, just every once in a spectacular moment, Dad will surprise us and say something, or get a look on his face like before and it’s an amazing gift.

      Thanks for the hugs.

  3. Hi Christine .. I wasn’t an engineering or chemistry student .. but I have a Texas calculator still & book etc .. and I always wanted to know how to use a slide rule – my uncle used one …one day perhaps someone will give me some simple instructions!

    Lovely story of your Dad .. cheers and happy memories – Hilary

    1. I don’t have my book anymore. I’ll call you if I need to look something up. 🙂

      I learned how to use a slide rule, but can’t say that I remember. I do remember thinking that it probably wasn’t all that accurate, or at least precise to a lot of significant figures. Ha! Do you remember that one – significant figures?

  4. Christine—my husband, an electrical engineer, had that TI calculator too! Your post definitely made me smile because that is something that I would have done–called home crying! And your dad ‘Fixed” it, didn’t he?? What a sweet sweet memory ! I am so glad you shared that with us. And that calculator is definitely a keeper. No doubt about it.

    1. Yes. Dad fixed a lot of things, including my car several times. How I’ll ever get on without him, I don’t know.

      (I guess the same way I’ve been getting on without him for the last few years.)

    1. Thanks, Melinda. I don’t know how long you’ve been reading my blog, but if you are interested in reading more about Dad and his Alzheimer’s you can read the posts under the Alzheimer category (in the drop-down menu) in the right column.

      Here’s a couple posts about Dad you might enjoy:

      I can’t remember exactly when Uncle Jim died, but I think it is getting close to the anniversary, isn’t it? Is it going on two years since he’s been gone?

      Thinking of you and wishing you well.
      Thanks for commenting. I love hearing from you.

  5. What a precious memory and a beautiful tribute–not just to your father, but the bond you have with your parents. It made me smile to read it–I can only imagine how happy it made you to find that calculator, Christine.

  6. What a sweet story — so beautiful — and exactly the kind of loving gestures you’ve shared with your own children, I’m sure. As you say, although he won’t be reading the post, you’ll be able to give him a hug. Hugs to you, too, my friend!

  7. I wonder if you should take your calculator along on your next visit to see your parents, and share your memory with them.

    1. I should have done that last night. I tried to show him the blog and the picture, but I don’t think he “got” it. It’s tough knowing how much he understands sometimes.

  8. I found one of those in a box in the garage from the hubby’s college days!
    How bittersweet. Hope your dad’s birthday is lovely.

  9. Christine– Thanks for sharing your sweet memory. As an Engish major, the nuances of calculators remain a mystery to me but the generosity and love of your parents were evident. I love that your dad inscribed your name on it–that’s such a dad thing.

    I laughed out loud at the picture of a classroom of studious high school seniors sharing the strange new marvel. It expressed so well how far technology has come in the 150 years since we were in high school (And of course as your classmate there, I wondered who had the calculator!)

    Happy birthday to your Dad. How lucky he is to have a daughter who loves him like you do.


    1. What a wonderful surprise to see you commenting here, Nancy. For some reason, our high school classmates rarely venture out here.

      I believe, if my memory doesn’t fail me, and in this case I’m pretty sure it doesn’t for reasons you’ll understand, it was David’s. His dad was an engineer, so maybe that’s how he managed to get one.

  10. P.S. I too have that box of puzzling cords and electronic effluvia. I keep it because I live by the Hoarders Creed: I Might Need This One Day (Even Though I Don’t Know What It Is).

    1. That’s exactly why I keep them too. I figure I will know what it is when I need it. Maybe I’ll just throw the whole thing in the trash and save myself the trip to the basement with it (and back again years later when we move).


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