A Calculator for Christmas, and then a bad time.

My Mother’s father, whom we called “Poppy”, visited us for Christmas in Vancouver this year – a real treat! Poppy was in his late seventies by this time. It’s possible that his health was just starting to suffer with his age, but he still came over from Vancouver Island to spend Christmas Day with us. He and Mum had missed each other a lot too, so I’m sure this was a very happy time for my mother.


One gift I remember very well was a calculator from Radio Shack. Man, I can’t explain why I loved that thing. I played with it the same enthusiasm that a kid today would play with a new X-Box game console. I was fascinated with the smell of the plastic case, the feel of the clicky little buttons, and the mysterious, flickery, ruby-red glow of the blocky numbers. Dad told me they were called Light Emitting Diodes. I had seen that on the box too.

I cannot explain my fascination with this first electronic device. It was my first computer, I suppose.

It was also a fetish object for me, such that I ignored repeated calls from my parents to come to the table for dinner. Finally, when Poppy himself called out to me irritatingly, “Put that machine away!”, that got my back up. Machine? Machines are loud, mechanical and greasy. This was much more advanced than some machine. Dad had explained to me that it was a solid-state device, meaning that it had almost no moving parts, which just made it sound all that much cooler and high-tech. I emerged from my room to join everyone, retorting “It’s not a machine! It’s a calculator!”

Sometime after Christmas, once Poppy had returned to Victoria, Mum and Dad invited a few of the other residents of the Mountain View Motel over for what turned into a big, drunken mess.

I remember some angry noises from my Dad directed at one guy (nothing more than slurry words really), and then the young pervert guy (the guy with the dirty calendars we met earlier) fell down into our fake Christmas tree and almost broke it in half. Christmas had become officially screwed up for us kids at that point. Drunken strangers reeled around; people sat around our place in varying levels of consciousness. It was chaos. I wanted it over and for all of them to go away. I didn’t like all these strangers laying around our place with my parents asleep in their chairs. It felt scary and deeply messed up.

Kim was getting scared and I wasn’t happy either, so I said “let’s go” and we walked out the front door in our pajamas and slippers. It was cold outside and I led us up the lane to the closest warm place I could think of: the Motel’s laundry building, which was a small structure containing some pay washing machines and dryers. It was a lot warmer inside. After we went in and closed the door, Kim sat up on top of a running dryer, and we waited for what seemed like a long time. I felt that it was better for us to be away from our drunken parents and their stupid drunken guests. Looking back, I wonder if Kim thought we could not go back home again. Kim asked me questions like “Why do they drink?” or “what are we going to do?” or other things which I couldn’t answer. I was about 9 or 10, and she was only 7 or 8. I only knew that I hated the feeling of dread and uncertainty in my stomach, and it was better to walk away from it than just sit there surrounded by drunken assholes. Kim and I didn’t stay in that laundry building all night, but we stayed there for what seemed like a long time.

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The memoir and family history of E. John Love