Winnie Herbert

Winnie and Marion frequently asked Dad to have lunch with them in The Terraces dining room. When I was there on Saturdays to conduct computer classes the four of us would often dine together. I suppose they are in their 80’s and not particularly outgoing people – originally from somewhere in the Midwest. Dad’s hearing had deteriorated and increasingly he would have trouble getting his thoughts together, so I would take it on myself to engage the group in conversation. I must say that it would take a powerful imagination to picture me as the catalyst for lunch table conversation. I didn’t particularly enjoy the role but the alternative would be total silence.

Winnie also enjoyed learning about the computer in the Residents’ Business Center and this particular Saturday morning before Winnie came in I sat in front of the computer, waiting for my regular visitors. First I chatted with Wyona, who is a frisky 92. A few months ago she told me that a friend who is 40 years her junior was coming for a visit. It seems that the friend was expecting Wyona to drive her to a “boring lecture” in San Mateo in rush hour traffic, then drive her back to Los Gatos after dark. When she asked me what I thought about that. I said, “would you consider lending your car to your friend to go to the lecture so you can stay home and watch TV”. She responded, “my, my you are a smart man; that is exactly what I am going to do”. Since that day, she often calls or emails me for advice.

Gerry, the retired physician came in next. The AMA had sent him a CD on bio-terrorism and he didn’t want to stick it in his new computer without checking with me first. I put it in my computer and we both watched as it installed itself with only a few clicks of the mouse. That gave him confidence to go home and try it himself – it worked fine.

Charles had his 90th birthday a few weeks ago and he is very concerned that his memory doesn’t seem as good as it once was. He didn’t really have a problem to ask about this week but he likes to talk and talking causes him to think of questions. I remembered that his sound card was not working the last time I visited him in his apartment. I showed him how to click Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Device Manager > Sound, then to look for the yellow exclamation point. Then click on the exclamation point, then Properties > Driver > Update Driver. He said, “Ok let me try it”. He did it exactly the way I had shown him and I told him that most people half his age could not do what he just did.

As Charles was leaving Winnie came in and sat next to me in front of the computer. Without looking at me, she said, “I couldn’t do it”. Several weeks ago she had asked me about looking for her son’s picture on the website of a German company where he works in Munich.  I showed her again how to find the Favorite that we had placed in her AOL account last time. Then we browsed the entire website for 10 or 20. I was a little surprised – she had never expressed that much interest in it on prior occasions.

As she got up to leave, she reached for a new 2002 calendar on the bulletin board and nervously paged through it. It featured 12 different American Indian tribes. I am sure she already knew which month was Cheyenne. It reminded her of the reservation near Busby, Montana where she had worked as a schoolteacher during the depression. A few months ago I helped her get started writing her autobiography on the computer and reminded her again how happy it was going to make her great-grandchildren to read about her experiences. After six months she is already up to 15 pages, all prior to World War II. She smiled a big smile and admitted that she had enjoyed the experience on the reservation but I could tell there was something else on her mind.

Finally, she looked over at me and said, “I really miss your Dad”. In an instant, the tears came streaming down her face and then down mine. I hugged her and we cried together. She had not come to learn about the website, or her time on the reservation, or to talk about her autobiography. – she came to tell me how sorry she was that Dad had passed away a month earlier but she just didn’t know how to get started.

By: Jim
Written: March 11, 2002
Published: May 29, 2020
Revised: February 15, 2021