Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Joy Of Granddaughters

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 16, 2019] ©2019

I wrote last week about finding the ideal Christmas gift for Olof:  a slide rule.  I’d like to report that it is being lovingly slid on a daily basis.  Who knew there were so many reasons to calculate a logarithm?

But this Christmas was special for another milestone: For the first time ever,  I finally got to buy a grandchild a pair of earrings, in this case some sapphire-ish studs, her birthstone, to adorn her newly-pieced eight-year-old ears.

My adult life has included two husbands (I’m still married to one of them), two sons, two nephews, and a dog named Winston.  Nary a girl in sight until two lovely young women deigned to marry my sons (truthfully, we thought the ladies could do better) and produced two granddaughters (as well as three grandsons).  

I adore all five more than life itself.  But boys?  Been there, done that.  My sons were never all that interested in lunch and shopping.  And maybe that’s the good news. 

Hours after my first granddaughter’s birth, my fantasies went wild about all the things that we would do. I fervently hoped she would join a long line of proud feminists and enjoy learning about how her great-great, and great-great-greatgrandmothers were passionate suffragists, dedicated to the right of women to vote. 

It was clear to me when my sons were young that boys and girls were very different beings.  We would be at the home of a friend who had only girls, and my sons would be tearing around the house while the daughters were sitting on the floor dressing Barbies.  Clearly annoyed, the friend would say, “Could you please ask your sons to play quietly?”  And I’d think, “Sure, I can ask, but good luck with that.”  It’s not that they couldn’t be controlled or even compelled to sit, but “playing quietly” was an oxymoron.  It didn’t take too long until we pretty much didn’t have friends who only had girls. Not that girls can’t be holy terrors themselves. 

My two granddaughters (my other son produced a daughter 18 months after his brother did) are polar opposites.  Yet when they come together, they bond like long-lost siblings, perhaps because neither has a sister or even female cousin of her own.  Although both are theoretically Californians, I think they regard each other as exotic foreign exchange students,  each marveling at the dramatically different life of the other.

My older granddaughter lives in the uber-competitive world of West L.A.  She and her brothers all play multiple sports (both of their parents did in their youths as well) starting with Soccer Skills class at 18 months. It’s a rare holiday weekend that doesn’t include at least one tournament.

In a galaxy far far away, my younger granddaughter spends her weekends in Santa Cruz hiking public lands (for which they have annual passes) with her older brother and her parents, and invited friends, picking berries with which they make pies or jams when they get home. They raise chickens in the back yard for fresh eggs, and otherwise lead an unfrenetic life of wholesome organic-ness. 

When both granddaughters were here in July of 2017 for Olof’s and my joint 70th birthday celebration, I regularly fielded queries from one about the other.  West L.A. granddaughter observed in total astonishment, “Mormor, did you know that Molly doesn’t play a single sport?”  West L.A. granddaughter could not even fathom that there were children who didn’t have assorted athletic bags piled up by the front door.

Santa Cruz granddaughter was equally puzzled.  “So, you have to go somewhere after school every single day?”  She could not imagine that this would be a chosen life.

One afternoon when all the grandkids were in the pool, Santa Cruz granddaughter announced that she had to go to the bathroom.  So she jumped out of the pool, went behind the nearest semi-camouflaging philodendron, pulled down her suit, went, pulled it back up, and was back in the pool all within a matter of 30 seconds. 

West L.A. granddaughter was dumbstruck.  “Mormor,” she asked me later, “is that allowed?”
“Well,” I said, “it sort of depends on who your parents are.  And where you live.”  I explained that in her cousin’s world, she spends a lot of time hiking around park lands where there are not actual bathrooms, so that’s what you do. 

But the young ladies were a solidly united front hawking cherry tomatoes from our plants at our front gate at exorbitant prices to generous passers-by.  Farmer’s markets were a language they both understood.

When I learned that my older granddaughter had recently had her ears pierced, I was thrilled at the opportunity of a first-ever purchase of earrings for a child or grandchild.  I don’t know who got more pleasure from it, me shopping for them or her wearing them.  But it’s a whole new era. And I’m loving it. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

A Slide Rule Finds Its Forever Home

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 9, 2019] ©2018

It becomes harder and harder to find really special gifts for Olof at Christmas, especially when he has everything he wants, buys it himself if he doesn’t, and we’re always trying to downsize.  But this year I hit the jackpot: a slide rule.

Let me be clear that there aren’t that many people left who even know what a slide rule is, much less covet one.  Or know how to use one.  Or wouldn’t rather just calculate on their Apple Watch 4. 

In Olof’s and my youth (see “Mesolithic era”) there were, astonishingly, no handheld electronic calculators.  The really geeky guys (they were always guys) had slide rules which are mechanical analog computers, a phrase that I’m sure helps you as little as it did me.  (By “computers”, we mean a device that helps you compute rather than something you plug into a power circuit.)  Sliding the little bar thingey (not its technical name) back and forth you could do multiplication and division and also functions such as exponents, roots, logarithms, and trigonometry if you knew or cared what those were.  Olof informs me it was accurate to three places. 

Now, one would think that there would be a ton of cheap slide rules available out there for the mathematically sentimental, until you then realize that those two terms are mutually exclusive.  What was astonishing as I began my search was that searching “slide rule” on Amazon usually just got you pictures of slide rules on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and even wall paper. 

Suffice to say, the better source was eBay, and not surprisingly, every option was labeled “pre-owned.”  If you own stock in a company that claims to make new slide rules, you should sell.   A technologically-savvy neighbor helped me weed through the choices and ultimately found one that, while pre-owned, appeared to be new.  The seller apologetically noted that the case was engraved in gold with the name “William G. Vande Logt” presumably making it less valuable (unless your name was William G. Vande Logt). 

I was sold the second I saw it.  A slide rule with a back story! Does life get better than that? 

When it came, the leather case and carry strap (if you wanted to wear it on your belt to look super-geeky), were still in its original box. The documentation underneath it was literally crumbling and didn’t appear to have ever been removed.

William Vande Logt appeared to have been underwhelmed with this gift. 

I immediately Googled his obligingly-unusual name and found the obituary notice of his death on May 10, 2012 at the age of 81.  He had been employed by Zenith Electronics Corporation for 50 years in the Chicago area, was an avid golfer, had no children, was pre-deceased by his wife, beloved by nieces and nephews, and greatly mourned by his dog Breezy. 

But apparently not a slide rule guy. 

So I’m thinking a slide rule like this was likely given as a high school graduation present, which in Mr. Vande Logt’s case would have been 1949.  But who gave it to him? And was there a message there?  A father who dreamed of his son going into some prestigious engineering career?  Was this a sore subject?

One thing for sure:  this slide rule had never been slid.

It took a certain amount of brute force to move the middle bar which Olof notes will require an overdue application of lube, or at least some occasional use. 

I’m imagining Bill Van de Logt eagerly opening what he thinks is going to be whatever the hot new gadget was in 1949 and finding…a slide rule.  I can see the long face even now.  But why didn’t it end up in the nearest Salvation Army bin? OK, maybe because it had his name on it. 

So, what has this slide rule been up to since it was presented to Mr. Vande Logt?  Well, besides nothing for at least 63 years until his passing in 2012.  Mr. Vande Logt had no children to whom he could inflict this long-ago excoriated gift.  And what about the last six years until it was apologetically (given the personalization on the case) put on the eBay auction block? 

Inquiring minds would love to know. 

Our grandkids were quickly bored with Olof’s Christmas morning gift since it didn’t actually DO anything.  We explained to them that a slide rule was not the same as an abacus (one of them had heard of this) which pre-dated us by at least a decade. Our four-year-old grandson asked if we could put it down and help him sync his new remote-controlled tank to his iPad. 

Well, Bill, your slide rule has waited a long time for the loving home it has always deserved.  And if that’s not a warm fuzzy spirit-of-Christmas story, I don’t know what is.