The White Binder
By Jan Wilberg on March 09, 2014
My brother had our parents’ stuff laid out like a well-organized garage sale with no price tags. Relatives were picking up and putting down my mother’s costume jewelry which was arranged in rows on the basement ping pong table.
I found a locket that had been my great grandmother’s and put it in my pocket, misclassified, I guess, with the jewelry that didn’t matter much. My mother’s tangled nest of wristwatches, including the tiny gold watch with her initials on the back that was her high school graduation present, sat in an old gift box next to my father’s tarnished tie clips and cufflinks, rarely used since he always wore short sleeved dress shirts and clip-on ties. Seeing their things displayed made me feel like I was shopping rather than inheriting.
I left my parents’ house that day with pockets full of watches I would never wear, an old bait bucket, and my father’s 18-month old cobalt blue iMac which I found sitting on his desk just inches away from his 1938 Underwood typewriter. I’d sent him the iMac as a Father’s Day present three months after my mother, his wife of 64 years, had died from Alzheimer’s disease.
Dad was stoic and quietly good-humored in his grief but lonely and wandering the worn paths of his life, from kitchen to TV room to the grocery and back home. He read fat novels from the local library and watched CNN with the sound muted, pretty much all day long. I figured an iMac would zip him into the 21st century, perk him up, and connect him to the world, connect him to me.
I wanted him to send me an email.
And send emails he did, dozens of them, short one or two-liners telling me about his bowling score and giving me pep talks about my teenage children. After he died, I printed off all of the emails he had sent to me and put them in chronological order in a white three-ring binder. I slipped a snapshot of him under the plastic cover and put the binder on a shelf in my office where it has sat undisturbed for the past eleven years. I put the emails in the binder figuring I would want to see them sometime but that time hasn’t come and I don’t know when it will.
Dad’s iMac sat on my office floor for several months. I walked around it and stepped over it until one day I put it on my desk, plugged it in and turned it on. The screen came alive. I was looking at my father’s iMac screen with the cheery row of iMac icons along the bottom. I clicked on Documents and found one, a long poem about mourning the death of a beloved wife. It appeared that he had re-typed the poem from a book so he could save it. Seeing it there, the only document in a vast amount of computer storage space, I imagined him typing it one night when he was especially sad. By typing it he was saying it, keeping it somewhere safe.
I hovered over the email icon, trying to convince myself that there might have been emails I’d missed that ought to go in the white notebook. It still seemed like an invasion of privacy. A dead man’s emails should die with him. But maybe I needed to check to make sure there weren’t emails I’d left out. In the back of my mind, I wondered if my father had been emailing other people, my sister or brother. What would he have said to them? I wanted to know. I shouldn’t know. I clicked on the icon.
It asked for the password. My father had his email password-protected. I tried a couple of obvious choices with no luck. When the offer of a password hint came on the screen, I clicked yes and waited.
Pudding. That was the hint: pudding.
What was his favorite pudding? Chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch? Rice? Tapioca? Was pudding a stand-in for a nickname, a term of endearment? No guess worked. A techie friend offered to get around the password; I declined. It seemed like cheating.
I put the iMac back on the floor where it stayed for two years, reminding me of the poem and how I thought I should read all my father’s emails. Now, I look at the white notebook up on the shelf and think, what else did I need to know? I knew enough.
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