I stand in line at Geek Squad. Again.
The staff has grown accustomed to me over the past year, after my old workhorse of a Toshiba laptop died. Bo and I had just gotten a new desktop to replace the dead one; the budget for yet another technology expense was not there. But Bo couldn’t deny the need for a laptop–if I couldn’t, I couldn’t keep my job.
So when the staff, already astonished my Toshiba lived eight years, pointed to a Lenovo on sale for under 200 bucks, I bolted for a box and checked out. It’s not like I needed anything more than bare bones.
Silly me that “bare bones” meant a computer screen that turns off when I have more than four tabs open online. “Bare bones” meant a power cord port that breaks after six months. “Bare bones” meant a memory card that’s soldered onto the hard drive, so I couldn’t get a bigger memory card. “Bare bones” meant a memory that’s so shitty it couldn’t even function with Microsoft Office downloaded because Office is too big and I couldn’t delete the Office programs like OneNote or Access because Office is a UNIT. You want a taste of Word? Then you swallow Office whole and like it, bitches!
Barely a year owning the laptop–yes, just after the warranty expires–and I’m in line at Geek Squad because no power cord of any kind will work on the laptop now. It’s down to its last ten percent of battery. Windows 10 refuses to properly update due to lack of memory.
I put the Lenovo on the table. Again.
The Geek tries my cord. Goes into the back. Tries one of their cords. Then shrugs. “Yeah, you’re not gonna find anything. It’s a cheap computer. You need to spend at least five hundred to get a good one.”
End of service.
Just having the money to get the kids shoes is a problem. All three needed new sneakers this spring. That’s a hundred bucks right there. The boys shredded half a dozen pairs of jeans this winter.
At least they’ll have cutoffs galore for summer.
I’m happy to wear stuff until the holes are so prominent I could be arrested for indecent exposure. I’ll eat what everyone else hates, what’s expired. Hell, I’m starting to give plasma to help cover the grocery bills.
Where the hell’s five hundred bucks going to come from?
If your only knowledge of pastors comes from the televised evangelists, you might assume pastors are quite the affluent folk.
If you know what a rural church is like, you know how that’s utter bullshit.
Every dollar counted at home. We lived on the hand-me-downs of relatives, on rummage sales, on gifts from farmers. Christmas meant presents from the elderly of our church, rarely from our parents.
So the useful going unused always stings me. All the more for my mother, as much of my father’s things still stand, sit, lay about. His books on doctrine. His comics. His carefully gathered Dr. Who canonized novels. His thousands of recorded sermons, bible studies, coloring pages for Sunday School. All just…sitting.
But today we’re not looking at those things. Today Mom’s pointing to a little Lego display Dad had in his study of Lex Luther in his robot fighting Superman and Wonder Woman. “Think Blondie would like this for her birthday?” she asks.
“Of course!” I say, happy every time Mom’s able to let something go without tears. I glance at Dad’s crown, wishing I could ask for it, but I know Mom still uses it with her own students.
I spot something else.
Dad’s computer backpack.
“I thought Pierce took Dad’s laptop.” Dad had bought a Sony Vaio the year before he died. Spent at least a thousand on a top model, knowing he’d need it for producing services for local broadcasts, bible study presentations, liturgy projections, the lot. Thankfully the church covered a chunk of the cost. That’s probably what kept Mom from going crazy about the price tag.
“He did. He tried to use it, but, you know. It’s hard for him.” Mom sighs and moves a few preschool assessments across the desk. Dad’s old desk.
Yeah, it’s hard.
But sometimes we don’t get to leave something untouched just because it’s hard.
“Are you using it?”
The first thing I do is change the picture: Dad and Mom outside their mission church in the Dakotas. That much I must do, because seeing him laughing there and knowing my kids have forgotten what his laugh sounds like turns the skin beneath my eyes hot.
Much of the software’s out of date, but Office still works, everything still works. The battery’s not much, but an hour of work time in the car is better than nothing.
I scroll through the files.
There’s so many.
Pictures. God, the pictures.
My grandparents as I remember them.
My hip folks pre-me.
Dad and I in North Dakota.
Pioneer days in town and in church. Yes, I’m the tiny one.
Dad, his elder brothers, parents, and Tippy.
Pictures of my childhood, of his. I’m seeing more relations here on a dead man’s computer than I have since his funeral.
Hymns he wrote. Sermons. Notes for come-and-gone weddings and funerals.
A newsletter he was working on for Mom’s preschool to be handed out the month he died.
So many writings, begun.
“Dad’s computer working okay for you?”
“Great. It’s really helped a lot.” I don’t tell Mom about the scraps of Dad I found in the backpack: post-it notes about contacting Grandma’s doctor. An old bulletin with bio stats and hospital info, all in Dad’s thin, clipped scrawl. I doubt Mom ever looked inside his backpack. I wonder if Pierce even made it so far as to open the laptop itself, with Dad’s highlighters and notes still jumbled up in the power cord.
“Good. It just seemed so wasteful, sitting here.”
I don’t tell Mom I still feel like I’m borrowing this technology with the intent to return it to Dad, say thanks. Share the struggles I’ve had with parenting, faith, maybe even writing.
But Dad’s heart broke a few months shy of his 60th birthday. Despite repair after repair to his throat, his stomach, his legs, one bad break rendered the whole lifeless.
End of service.
“Ooo, Mommy, you got a new computer!” Blondie peers over from her sketch of the Nautilus. After reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Bo, she’s fascinated with technology altered by fiction–especially if it involves a church organ. “What’s the sticker for?”
I’ve put such a sticker on every laptop I own, A) because I love the coffee, and B) because it separates this one thing from all the other stuff in the house. I’m the only coffee drinker. Bo hates laptop-sized keyboards. Blondie wants a mouse when she plays computer games. Don’t ask what the boys do with a working piece of anything.
Now Dad’s good and faithful servant holds chunks of my own fiction, analyses, and interviews. It keeps me connected to my students. Right now it’s letting me type this post while “attending” a meeting about cornerstone projects in liberal arts education while also pulling Bash off of Biff in a fight over worms and dump trucks.
My words may not be poetic hymns or thoughtful sermons, but they are filled with study, feeling, and imagination. And now they share a space, however small, with the words of my father.
I think Dad would like that.