“How about this one, Mommy?”
I looked up from the clump of coreopsis I was weeding. My eight year old hopped barefoot on the blacktop driveway. Clutched against his chest was the vase I had inherited from my grandmother; cut blue glass bleeding into clear. Almost certainly an antique.
Every time I arranged flowers in that vase, I would run my thumb along the side, thinking that Grandma's hands had touched the exact same spot. The vase held more than flowers. It held my memories of my grandmother: The way she bought her first pair of jeans when she was in her fifties. How she took her coffee with a cup and saucer. The way she sang in the car after she and my grandfather had taken my sisters and me out to Ponderosa.
But who can resist the smile of a child, especially one’s own? “OK.” I returned to my weeding.
“Thanks, Mommy.” He barreled into my perennial bed, beheading my yarrow, the Shasta daisies, my prize lilies.
The clink was immediately followed with a strained, “Mommy, can you come here a minute?”
“Did you break it?” I yanked out a weed before glancing at the vase. A third of its base had broken away.
I looked at my forlorn boy squinting, red-eyed, from behind smudged glasses, a hosta leaf drooping from his left hand. Suddenly, I remembered the day I formatted the hard drive on my father’s business computer.
* * *
Dad bought one of the first personal computers on the market, an Apple II. It came with a tiny black and white monitor, two giant floppy disk drives and a tape deck. Dad taught himself dBase and VisiCalc. I played Space Invaders. The years went by. Dad upgraded. He moved his computer to an office in our barn. I abandoned Space Invaders for Zork, typing obscenities whenever I got stuck in the game, obscenities which the game politely denied: “No, thank you.” Along the way I learned to type. Eventually, I acquired some clients who paid me two dollars per typed sheet.
I needed to format a new disk one night; one of those giant 5 ¼ -inch beasts that folded up easier than a soft taco shell. The command was simple enough. But eons ago, DOS wasn’t as forgiving. It was easy, back then, to unwittingly format a hard drive. Forget to point the operating system to a particular drive, and it would format the default drive. The hard drive.
At the c:\ prompt, I typed the command: Format.
Idiot, the computer must have whispered to itself. “Formatting drive C. 1 percent complete.”
After a split second. I realized my mistake. I pressed the escape key.
“Two percent complete.”
“Three percent complete.”
Escape. Escape. Escape.
“Six percent complete.”
There was no undo button I could use, no way to pause the process once it had started. I spewed obscenities at the computer.
No, thank you. “Fifteen percent complete.”
The progress bar steadily moved across the monitor; the computer slowly devoured itself. I scowled at the horrible machine, resisted the urge to grab a hammer from the barn. I could hide the computer. Pretend it had been stolen. I could act as if I had no idea what had happened. Maybe the data just vaporized during the night. Worked fine for me last night, Dad, I imagined myself saying.
“Twenty percent complete.”
I trudged slowly into the house, the awful image of the progress bar burned indelibly into my brain. My father was in his usual spot in the den, feet up on the La-Z-Boy, cigarette in his left hand, TV remote in the right.
“Hey.” He waggled his eyebrows at me. “What’s goin’ on?”
“Dad?” The words were sandpaper. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Uh…Dad? I think I just formatted your hard drive.”
His eyebrows stopped waggling. Rose a little higher on his forehead. He turned the volume down on the television set. “What?”
“I formatted your hard drive.”
He folded back the footrest of his chair and stood. “Back in a while,” he said, hiking up his pants as he walked out the door.
I held vigil for interminable hours. I couldn’t eat. Couldn’t drink. Couldn’t sleep. I’d ruined my father. All his business records, gone in a poof. With one stupid mistake, I’d cost my father all his clients. I’d lost our house. Our farm. Our…
The back door slammed. I met Dad in the kitchen. “How is it?” I asked in a quiet voice.
“We’re good.” He waggled his eyebrows again.
“Backed it all up,” he said. “Just had to reinstall everything. I’m going to bed. I’m beat.” And I could swear there was a slight swagger in his step as he turned and headed towards his bedroom.
My father never brought that moment up again. I’ve never forgotten it.
* * *
I smiled at my son. “It’s OK. Why don’t you find another vase?”
He beamed at me before turning and walking into the house.
I picked up the broken pieces of the vase and threw them away.
I don’t need a vase to remember my grandmother. I have my memories backed up in my heart.
Labels: Gardening, Growing up, Raising Children