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.
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.