My grandmother taught me to use a computer

Back in the late 1980s when I was three or four, my grandparents bought an IBM PC clone to manage the affairs of their restaurant and catering business. Its specifications are unknown to me now, but it was capable of running Wordperfect, Lotus 1–2–3, and some other office productivity software. It also ran one thing that was important to me at the time: games.

The sort of games the computer could run then were pretty basic: Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, Commander Keen, and my favourite, Tetris.

Almost every Saturday, my parents would go to the restaurant for lunch and often I’d find myself going to the back to play on the computer provided that my grandmother wasn’t doing any work. She’d encourage me to play on it when I was there and eventually got me to a point that I could launch whatever I wanted to from DOS.

This experience extended to my grandparents’ home where they had a slightly more powerful computer that ran Windows. I’d find myself playing all sorts of games that had far more colours than the what was back at the restaurant.

Eventually my grandparents received a Commodore 64 from my aunt after she had moved back east to Toronto. They had no use for it so they gave it to my parents and in turn it became our family’s first home computer. It came with a standard Commodore colour monitor, a disk drive, printer, and a tonne of floppy diskettes with all sorts of games and utilities.

One thing that made the Commodore stood out in contrast to the PC was the fact that out of the box I was able to write software for it. In fact, the C64 shipped with a book on Commodore BASIC and I soon figured out how to make the computer do things based on the examples within.

Eventually we did buy a PC and since then I’ve had many, many different computers but the time spent in my grandmother’s office were the most memorable.

My grandparents — my grandmother specifically — made sure that I was doing something on my computer other than playing games. They’d get me applications to help me with my studies, a new (to me) monitor when mine bit the dust, and much more.

One thing I regret is that growing up I eventually surpassed my grandmother in terms of knowledge on how these things work and as such I began to bemoan having to help her or anyone else for that matter on their computer issues or questions.

When I graduated from high school, it really seemed to me that everyone expected me to either make a million dollars on the Internet during the post-Dotcom boom or somehow go on to become some brilliant programmer who’d come up with something like Pied Piper and ruin the behemoth that is Hooli.

For many years in some sort of rebellious-like manner, I had instead pursued a career in teaching, avoiding anything to do with computer science. All the while I was attending local 2600 meets, was actively programming, and still kept playing games.

That said, it was always a point of pride that I could boast that my grandmother was an adept computer user and had been so since the 1980s.

I eventually relented on my decision to pursue a career in teaching and found myself landing a job as a systems administrator — now I am working on a cyber security team for one of Canada’s largest companies. This career has lead me to travelling, meeting fascinating people, speaking at companies and conferences, and making friends with people that I otherwise could have never met.

The most recent and last thing I did for her computer was that over the summer I discovered that she was having problems because of a forced-upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Combined with some nonsense from her anti-virus software, her Internet browser failed to open and she was struggling to take care of her online banking. A few minutes of reading Event Logs and some reboots later, I had everything fixed and suggested to my dad that we give her computer an upgrade.

Unlike when I was in my late teens, I did not bemoan this visit to help her out.

Last Monday, my grandmother passed away at the age of 82. She leaves behind a legacy that I cannot ever forget.

Written by

Queer dork with an interest in LGBTQ+ issues, computer security, video game speedrunning, and Python programming. You can see her stream on Twitch at @KateLibC.

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