The folks in Carding, Vermont now live lives awash in technology. And like most folks, few are early adopters of the latest and supposedly greatest gadgets.
While Edie Wolfe comfortably uses technology for lots of tasks and has even been known to text her grandchildren on her cell phone, she’s slow to change because, well, change takes time.
And it never goes well.
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Edie Wolfe sighed in exasperation as she walked across Carding Green. She’d left her cell phone in her coat pocket again, and now someone was interrupting the quiet of her cold morning walk with something that could have waited a few more minutes.
“I don’t have to answer it,” she muttered. “I don’t have to answer it right now.”
But the metallic chirp would not be denied. Edie grumped, grunted, and finally managed to grip the phone’s outside edge with the tips of her gloves in order to extract it from her pocket. But as soon as it was free, the phone took off like a just-released bird, diving corner-first onto the sidewalk where it broke into three pieces.
“Damn.” Edie loaded the curse with all the invective she usually reserved for weeds in her garden. “Damn, damn, damn.”
She scooped up the plastic bits, admired the crystalline pattern of her phone’s shattered screen, and then trudged toward the Crow Town Bakery to find her grandson, Wil.
She didn’t have to utter a word of explanation as she spread the wreckage out in front of him. Wil had been urging her to upgrade for quite some time. “I want just what I had,” she told him.
Wil’s thumbs froze in place over his cell phone’s screen. “Um, I don’t think they make that kind of phone anymore, Gram,” he said, giving the wreckage a chin jut.
“Really? But it’s not that old.” Edie sighed. “Okay but keep it simple. I don’t need any of those bells and whistles. I wouldn’t know how to use them, and…” she raised a hand to stop Wil’s protests, “I don’t have any reason to learn. What I had worked fine for me, and that’s all I care about. I’m not here to serve the needs of technology. It’s supposed to serve mine, remember?”
“Okay, Gram,” he said. “No bells, no whistles. It should be here in three or four days.”
Wil lifted his eyebrows in his sister Faye’s direction as Edie left the bakery, getting an eye roll in return. “You wanted to be her tech support,” she said as Edie left. “All I can say is better you than me.”
“Oh Gram’s all right,” Wil said. “You sure you don’t want to share the moment? Think of how much you’ll learn.”
“Hmph, are you forgetting the iPad incident?”
“No,” Wil smiled. “But she didn’t really throw it down the stairs.”
Faye laughed. “Yeah, well, I’m just sayin’, better you than me.”
Three days later, Edie showed up at the Crow with a package under her arm from the post office. “Would you like me to help you set it up, Gram?” Wil asked. “It’ll take just a few minutes.”
“No, I think I can handle it,” Edie said. “I just wanted to thank you for ordering it for me.” And with a wave, she and her dog, Nearly, walked home.
Wil rushed to grab a window-side table from which he could watch Edie’s front door. Then he tapped the timekeeper on his phone. “It’s exactly nine-oh-seven,” he announced to everyone in the bakery. “What are your bets? Remember, it’s whoever gets closest to the time she gives up without going over.”
His father grinned from his post by the bakery’s grill. “Edie hates changing technology. I say she’s back here in 20 minutes.”
“Now come on,” his wife, Diana, said. “Mom’s a very intelligent woman. She’s going to do just fine.” She frowned at Wil. “I’m not betting.”
“I know she’s intelligent,” Stephen protested. “That’s why this stuff gets her so mad. She knows she should be able to figure it out herself but somehow, she doesn’t.”
“She just opened the front door,” Wil said. “I’m starting the clock now.”
“I’ll take 60 minutes,” Faye said. “Gram can get awful stubborn so I think she’ll hang in there for a while. How about you?”
Wil scratched his head. He had a lot of respect for his grandmother, and he knew that her cell phone company had been upgrading its customer service so maybe this time…
“Ninety-four minutes,” he said.
“Really? That long?” Faye said. And then they both turned to watch the front door of their grandmother’s house.
As soon as she got inside, Edie took a long, slow breath. “I’m not going to get angry no matter how long this takes,” she promised herself. “I can figure this out.”
She propped her iPad on her kitchen table, refusing to think about the incident with the stairs. Soon she was online and ready to activate her new phone. But her heart sank as she read the instructions on the website’s home page.
“Who writes this stuff?” she muttered, taking another deep breath and resisting the impulse to chant “om.” Then she raised her hands to type in her phone’s serial number, clicked on the green “submit” button, and waited for the next screen to pop up.
“Why do they want me to repeat the serial number?” she muttered, striking the keys a bit harder as she scrolled through a litany of questions. “Yes, I do want to activate this phone. Why else would I be here? And yes, I want to eliminate my broken phone. And yes please, transfer my data.” She clicked on the green “submit” button again.
That’s when a spiral located near the top of her iPad’s screen began to twirl in place, spinning faster and faster while Edie waited. And waited.
Then everything stopped, her screen winked, and Edie found herself right back where she started.
“Oh come on! Seriously?” Her voice rose to the next higher octave.
Edie eyes flicked around the screen, seeking another button to push. She finally found a phone number that promised a conversation with a human being. “Good thing I’ve still got a land line,” she said to her dog. “I don’t know how they expect people with cell phone trouble to call them on a cell phone.”
As she struggled through the tape loop, pressing “one” for this and “two” for that, she sensed the pressure of teeth on teeth, and struggled to relax her clenched jaw. I’m doing okay, she told herself. I can do this.
“Sorry, we are experiencing heavy call volume. Your wait time will be approximately seven minutes.”
Well, Edie told herself, I can wait seven minutes.
Meanwhile in the bakery, the number of eyeballs glued to Edie’s front door had grown to more than twenty. Andy Cooper glanced at this watch. “Come on, Edie. I’ve got minute seventy-two,” he muttered. He glanced down at the money gathered in a take-out container sitting in front of Wil. “I never asked. Where’s the money going?”
“The winner gets to choose a local charity,” Wil said. “So far, we’ve got $125 in there.”
“I’m telling you, Mom figured it out herself, and you’re all waiting for nothing,” Diana said. Her comment stirred up a little murmur but then everyone settled back into watching Edie’s front door.
As she waited (and waited and waited), Edie fished around in the kitchen drawer where she kept stuff she didn’t have any other place for. In other words, junk.
Her fingers curled around a red, egg-shaped container. She squeezed until it opened, removed the ancient Silly Putty, and began to knead her frustrations
into the beige plastic blob.
Seven minutes crawled by. Then ten, eleven, twelve.
Suddenly, the insipid muzak stopped, her phone clicked, and the persistent buzz of a dial tone filled her ear.
“Aarrrggghhhh! I’m done! I’m done!” Edie jammed her arms into her coat sleeves, shoved the recalcitrant phone into her pocket, and wrenched her front door open.
“Whoa, there she is,” Faye said excitedly. “How many minutes, Wil?”
He looked down at the clock on his phone. “Ha!” He raised it triumphantly. “What did I tell you. Ninety-four minutes on the nose.”
Faye leaned forward to evaluate the purplish hue of her grandmother’s face then launched herself toward the stairs that led to the family’s apartment above the bakery.
“Hey, where are you going?” Wil asked. “Don’t you want to watch and learn?”
Faye grinned as she looked over her shoulder. “Like I said, better you than me.”
Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find a short story in your inbox every Thursday morning. And new for 2017, there will be weekly 60-second reads from my upcoming book on writing and publishing called What Would William Shakespeare Do?
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The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):
The Road Unsalted
Thieves of Fire
The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life