Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

The Homestanders
Book Four of the Bradford Exiles
Wes Boyd
2005, 2011

Chapter 28

Tuesday, December 21, 1999

Emily had been a freshman at Bradford High School when the first computer came to the school – an Apple II, which seemed so incredible with the stuff it could do. She really didn’t get much time with it – there was only the one computer for the students, and there was a long line of people who wanted a chance to play with it. Since she was a freshman she was down toward the tail end of the pecking order, although she did get a little time in on it.

But the fact there were more kids who wanted to use computers than there were computers to use soon came to the attention of the administration and the school board. When she returned the next fall there was a new computer lab, all fitted out with ten brand spanking new IBM 8088s. The 8088s weren’t quite as good as the sole Apple – which occupied a corner of the room – but they were a whole lot cheaper, which had almost everything to do with the decision to buy them. In fact, even by standards of the day it was a little on the limited side, but the humble 8088 was the foundation upon which most computers to follow were laid. Years later those kids who got their first real exposure to computers on the machines in the Bradford High computer lab could say justifiably they were “present at the beginning.”

Emily wouldn’t admit to being one of the most enthusiastic of the kids who kept the machines going from the minute they opened the doors in the morning until the custodians ran everyone out at night. But she spent more than her fair share of time staring into the old green and black screens. She did a little programming in BASIC, never enough to get good at it, learned how to use primitive database and spreadsheet programs along with primitive word processing programs, and played some games. By the time she left high school the old 8088s were getting pretty obsolete, and an upgrade was planned for over the summer. But she thought computers were pretty neat, and figured she’d have to get one some time.

Things were a touch on the tight side the first winter she and Kevin were married – there were a lot of newlywed expenses. Kevin was working at the old Bean-Chamberlain plant, running a machine for peanuts and giving some consideration to going back in the Air Force, but not wanting to while Emily was pregnant with Kayla. But they had some wedding present bucks left over and decided that rather than just giving normal type Christmas gifts, they’d splurge. Splurge they did – there was a guy out at the plant who assembled computer clones on the side. He could save them some bucks, so there was a brand stinky new AT sitting under the artificial Christmas tree that had been handed down from Emily’s grandmother. The AT – the same thing as an IBM 286 – was so far ahead of the old 8088s Emily had used at the school it wasn’t funny. It even had a color VGA screen, was screamingly fast by comparison, had a spiffy new Epson dot matrix printer, and could do a lot more.

Kevin hadn’t used computers much in those days, but they whiled away some time playing primitive computer games like Jill of the Jungle and Pac-Man, until Kevin discovered two interesting things: for whatever reason, the guy at the plant had included a modem, an old 2400-baud thing. Through some aberration of the phone company, Hawthorne was a local phone call, and one evening the guy came over and taught him how to get on CompuServe. That opened a new world – e-mail, forums, online games, lots of other useful stuff. The first time they took a real vacation together, after J.J. was born, they’d bought the airline tickets over EasySABRE, the early online ticketing agency, and saved a bundle.

The 286 had been fun, but it had also proved its worth. The only problem was that one evening it wouldn’t come on – something had fried. Kevin had moved over to Macy Controls by that time, but the guy at Bean-Chamberlain was still building computers. Since he had some parts to start with, he upgraded the old 286 to a 386-33, three times as fast as the old machine, with a bigger hard drive, a 14400 baud modem, and some funny operating system called “Windows”. The old monitor got flaky after a while, and was replaced with a new one. Three years before, something new had been under the Christmas tree – a small oblong box with the word “Netscape” on it.

The old machine was still sitting over in the corner of the living room, but despite the modifications it was getting really obsolete now. Although it had been in the works a while, a few weeks before Emily and Kevin had gotten their heads together and decided the time for something new had come. That meant there was a brand new Pentium 300 sitting in boxes under the tree, along with a new monitor and a laser printer. After some discussion, they had decided that the old machine wouldn’t be retired, but moved up to their bedroom, where they could do a little web surfing of places that might not be quite totally appropriate for the kids. The new machine, when it was set up, would be in the living room where Emily and Kevin could keep an eye on the kids using it, with an adult-site blocking program backing them up. Both of them had used the old machine for that a little – curious about Eve’s battle with gender identity, Emily had spent some time hitting websites on the subject in the weeks following the reunion to learn a little more about it.

But for now, the old machine was still in use, and Emily had put out her annual Christmas letters on it back at the first of the month. Letters, plural, since there were two different versions. One was to relatives and close friends, updating them on the normal family things like how the kids were doing in school, and where they took their vacation. Emily had more than one alarmed phone call from some distant aunt at the thought of her and Kevin riding motorcycles, Harleys at that, out to South Dakota for the bike rally. But there had been more congratulatory phone calls at the news of Emily’s election as mayor of Bradford! That had been particularly satisfying. They’d already decided to get a digital camera like the one Emily used down at the Courier when she did stories for Mr. Weber, so in future years the annual letter could include a photo or two.

The other Christmas letter was an outgrowth of the first, and went only to classmates from the Class of ’88. In time, it had become something of an annual class newsletter, mostly exchanging news of what Emily had been told other classmates were up to. Emily knew in her gut it wasn’t right to put pure gossip into the newsletter, but considered something directly from the person or their parents fair game. Much of the class had scattered in the years after high school graduation, although some, like Vicky and Scott and Aaron had Bradford as a home base until their college graduation and marriage, which for a majority of them happened in 1992. Since then, the newsletter had been one of the tenuous threads that kept the class together. Sometimes, it reported marriages and births and divorces – thankfully, no deaths yet – and sometimes it had a little more detail.

Of course, Emily’s election as mayor was grist for the mill, but Emily made a point of not headlining the newsletter with it – in fact, it waited until the very last item. Vicky made the newsletter, mostly on the strength of her new job at Macy Controls, but Emily also mentioned that the two of them liked riding their motorcycles and had taken some trips on them.

In the weeks following the annual mailing, Emily had a lot of phone calls from classmates, most just catching up, with the newsletter as inspiration. Emily kept a notebook on her classmates, the source for a lot of the material for the newsletter, and picked up several items, but some came from the fact that there were a number of classmates who she contacted more frequently. So it was not totally surprising one evening for her to get a call and find it was Eve McClellan on the phone, just checking in and calling to congratulate her on the news of her election.

Of course, they had to gossip a bit. Eve’s big news was that she and John were slowly battling their way through an immense pile of paperwork in hopes of adopting a child from a Russian orphanage. In spite of her admittedly unusual background, Eve had a strong motherhood urge, and John felt the same way about being a father. They’d decided to put it off until their careers were established a little, which they now were. She and John had also moved; they’d been in a condo in the north Philadelphia suburbs, but had decided to move to a suburban house, partly in preparation for adding to the family, and partly because her parents had bought a retirement house in Bucks County. That kept them close to both Eve and their other daughter, Susan, who lived in rural New York State. The move had been in the works the last time Emily had talked to Eve, and it had been mentioned in the newsletter, but now she got the details.

Eve also reported that they saw a lot of Shae Kirkendahl, who was up to her high-altitude ears in Avalon – the name had been simplified. Emily had checked out the show a few times and thought it pretty cute for little kids, although both Kayla and J.J. were past it now. “She moved to a new place,” Eve reported. “She had been living in New Rochelle, but it was a long commute and a long haul to the airports. She didn’t particularly like the place anyway, and her boyfriend showed her an apartment he used to have in a building on Staten Island. Shae took one look at it and grabbed it, but I sure feel like a midget when I go in there!”

Eve was not tall – barely five feet when barefoot – but she’d been close friends with Shae for so long it was hard to believe her words. “Why’s that?” Emily asked.

“It’s a rather unusual apartment,” Eve laughed. “It’s been modified for someone who’s really tall, and it usually gets passed around among guys who play for the New Jersey Nets, which is what her boyfriend does. You want unusual, you have to see Shae with a guy who’s four inches taller than she is!”

“That would be a sight,” Emily agreed. “I don’t think I ever saw Shae with someone taller.”

“Right,” Eve laughed. “But this apartment, it has real high ceilings and doors, the kitchen counters are higher than normal, and so is most of the furniture. Even the commode in the bathroom sits higher than normal. I mean, Shae looks normal height in there, but to me it’s back to being a little kid where everything is just a little too big for me.”

“It’d be neat to see that,” Emily laughed. “As far as that goes, it’d be neat to see both you and Shae again some time. John, too.”

“I’d like that,” Eve said warmly. “I only get back that way rarely, and usually it’s to Chicago on business. That means that I don’t have much time to kill. The same thing for Shae, covering games, although she hasn’t done much of that this year. Both of us at the same time, well, the reunion was the only time we managed that. But if you ever get out this way, you’re welcome to drop by. If it’s in the summer, we have a pool out back here, and it’d be no trick to get Shae to come over. She visits often, anyway.”

“It’s not impossible,” Emily said. “Vicky and Jason and Kevin and I were talking the other night about doing a long bike trip next summer. Jason and Vicky made a real quick trip to see his son at Harper’s Ferry last summer, and they said they’d like to have been able to spend some time there. Then we got to talking about riding the bikes down Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, especially if his son is still down around the Smokies, somewhere.”

“If you get as close as Harper’s Ferry, it’s not real far out of the way to come here,” Eve replied. “We’d love to have you.”

“It might be worth thinking about,” Emily said thoughtfully. “Dave Patterson and his wife are in New York, and I’ve never met her. They live right on Manhattan Island some place, I don’t think we’d want to ride bikes there, but maybe we could get together with him. Mandy Paxton is in the Richmond area the last I heard, we might be able to get together with her, too. But it may wind up depending on Jason’s son. He may be gone somewhere by spring; he’s trying to get into the Park Service, and he could wind up anywhere.”

“Well, if it works out we’d love to have you,” Eve said.

“It’s something to think about,” Emily said. “It’s probably going to be spring before we know about Jason’s son, though. But riding east like that is a strong possibility. I know there’s some beautiful country in the mountains and I’ve never been there.”

“There is indeed some neat country here, and there’s a reason why Bucks County has a reputation for being scenic,” Eve told her. “If you decide to come, let me know as soon as you can, so I can mess around with my schedule to fit yours.”

“Or vice versa – we’d have some play on this end as long as we know early enough,” Emily said. “But like I said, it’s all up in the air since it may get involved with Jason’s son.”

“Jason and Vicky are still going together then, I take it?”

“Oh, yes,” Emily said. “They spend a lot of time together. They just say they’re good friends and don’t go any further, but it’s clear to me it’s just a little more than that. But I’ll tell you what, you compare Vicky today to what she was like at the reunion, and she’s a whole lot happier. Things have finally started to go right in her life.”

“Good,” Eve smiled. “I always like to see people work out the problems in their lives. That’s what I’m in the business of doing, of course, trying to help them. Usually the problems I deal with are a little different, though.”

“I’ll bet,” Emily replied.

They talked for a while more about a few class members, especially Scott and Sonja and Aaron and Amber. Finally, the conversation started to wind down. “Emily, I was serious about you dropping by if you should happen to get this way,” Eve told her. “By next summer, we may even have a kid of our own running around here, and I think I’d like to show him or her off.”

“I can understand that,” Emily laughed. “I’ve done it a time or two myself. I’ll run it by Kevin and Vicky and Jason and see what they think, but like I said it might depend on Jason’s son. Of course, if he’s far away somewhere, he and Vicky might fly out to see him and leave the bikes home. But we’ve all agreed we want to do a bike trip together, and Jason gets more time off than the rest of us, so it’s not a done deal that way, either. I expect things will firm up in the next few months.”

“If that doesn’t work, we’ll just plan something else,” Eve said. “I told you back at the Halloween Party at Aaron and Amber’s that I was pleased to discover I have friends in the class after all, in spite of everything, and I’d like to enjoy that friendship a little more than I have so far.”

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To be continued . . .

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