Back in high school, many a year ago, I took an aptitude test. I scored off the chart in mechanical ability. That made no sense to me. I could change a tire if I had to, but I wouldn’t have known how to change a spark plug or identify a distributor.
Four years later, when I lived on a ranch south of Dodson, we had electricity but none of the other niceties. No running water. No bathroom. No bathtub. I did have a precious electric wringer-washing machine. It sat in a corner of the kitchen. I hauled buckets of water from the pump out at the corner of the yard, heated it on the wood stove, then hauled more water for the rinse and poured that into a galvanized tub. In the dread of winter, with my brand new baby in diapers, my washing machine quit. Back then all diapers were cotton. So every day I had to wash by hand. Diapers, sheets, towels, my husband’s work clothes, everything — on the scrub board. My husband teased me that if the creek wasn’t frozen I could pound diapers on the rocks. I did not find it funny. He was a cowboy, not a mechanic. He knew better than to dig into the machine. Since we were snowed in, there was no way to bring a repairman out from town.
The daily scrubbing had me in tears. One night in a dream I saw how to repair the washer. The next morning I gathered tools. I lay on the floor, head tucked underneath the washing machine. I took it apart, following the steps that I remembered from my dream. I placed the parts in the order I removed them. I found the disconnected whichit and put the whole thing back together with only three extra parts. I plugged the washer in and it worked. The aptitude test proved right. I was a mechanic.
Fast forward to the brave new world of the computer. Electronics terrify me. Computers are mysterious. My children freely experimented and learned. I was afraid if I touched the wrong button, the computer might go up in smoke. Eventually my 8-year-old son, who was already writing programs, taught me a few simple functions. Over the years I learned more. But when I had a problem, I called Ben to rescue me. Then I moved to Montana. Now we live a thousand miles apart. So I have been forced to learn more computer skills.
Today I am ready to dust off my resume and enter the no longer daunting field of computer repair. Here is how it happened. I was racing a deadline for my column in the Havre Daily News when my computer turned itself off. In a panic I called Ben. “It’s OK, Mom. One of the fans malfunctioned. You can use your computer for short periods, but turn it off when you are done. If you leave it running it will overheat. I’ll ship you new fans.”
Sure enough a few days later two fans arrived in the mail. Ben called and said, “Let’s fix your computer.” So I unplugged it, hauled it over to my work bench and set my phone on speaker. First he told me to take off the side panel. You push a button down and the panel slides off. It’s quite slick. Then he told me to unplug the skinny fan on the back of the computer. Next, remove the screws. I untangled a nest of wires and quickly installed the new skinny fan.
Next Ben had me work on the larger clunky fan. “This one is trickier. Carefully lift the fan straight up. Don’t jiggle it because the CPU might be stuck to its bottom.”
I tugged. Tugged again. “It won’t budge.”
“Lift harder. Be careful though because the CPU has little prongs made of gold and if you bend them, you will be in big trouble.” I squinched my eyes shut and lifted harder, harder, harder, straight up and the fan released with the CPU stuck to it.
“Remember exactly which direction the fan came up. Carefully remove the CPU from the bottom of the fan, and put it back on the mother board. Don’t touch the sticky stuff,” he told me as I swiped my finger across the goo. I marked the edges of both the CPU and the new fan so I could remember which direction they went and placed the precious little prongy unit back where it belonged. I found the tiny lever which allowed the thousand gold prongs to slip into the whatchajiggy and took a deep breath. Following Ben’s directions, I replaced the new clunky fan. I plugged in the computer. Both fans whirred.
As I hooked my computer back up, I thought, hey, I could start a new business: Sondra’s Repair Shop — Computers and Wringer Washers, Our Specialty. But I still don’t change spark plugs.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)