My Uncle Walt died earlier this week. He was my mom’s brother and a great uncle. Larger than life, really — a big man with a big voice, big laugh and a big heart. Since I’m 2,500 miles away from almost all of my relatives, I only got to see Walt (and his wife Sue) once or twice a year when I was home visiting my parents. It was always a good time when everyone was together.
As I’ve been thinking about Uncle Walt this week, something occurred to me: It’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that Uncle Walt is a big reason why I do what I do for a living right now.
See, when I was a kid, we would go over to Walt and Sue’s house fairly often. Many kids may not have liked visiting their aunt and uncle, but their aunt and uncle probably didn’t have a computer at the time. Uncle Walt had a computer and I loved going to their house to play with it.
Every time we’d visit, while the adults were off in the living room or dining room or wherever they were gathered, I’d be in front of the computer playing for hours on end. Nonstop. You couldn’t get me away from the thing.
I’m not sure what computer it was — might’ve been the Apple II, might’ve been an IBM. I remember it had the green screen with green text, which makes me think it was probably an IBM.
But anyway, there was this geography game that I played constantly. Don’t recall the name, but the computer would spit out the name of a country, and you had to come up with another country whose first letter was the same as the last letter of whatever the computer showed. So, if the computer said “Denmark,” I had to come up with a country that began with “k.” I would type in “Kenya,” and then the computer had to come up with a country that began with “a.” And the game would continue until someone was unable to add another country.
Playing that game taught me one fact that’s stuck with me to this day: There are a zillion countries whose names begin and end with the letter “a.” Seriously, like a zillion. Like in the example above, after I type “Kenya,” the computer would respond with “Austria” or something else, and the game always ended in a race to see who could name the most countries that began with “a,” and most of them also end with “a” — Australia, Aruba, Angola, Argentina, Albania, Andorra, and so on and so forth.
Visiting Uncle Walt’s house made me love computers.
I got to continue using them in the late 80s when I was at Pepperdine – every dorm had a community Macintosh, and we also had a nice computer lab filled with Macs. Even in my early media career, I loved and used computers. Heck, in 1995 when almost no one had Internet access, I ran a segment every Monday night on the KEPR 11 pm news called “Nothing But ‘Net” in which I showed off some new sports website I’d found. (I can only imagine what viewers thought of that at the time. Must’ve been weird.)
And now, since 1997, I’ve made my career around computers. Couldn’t imagine life without them.
And it really all started with that old green-screen computer that Uncle Walt and Aunt Sue owned, and kindly let me use every time we visited. Thank you both.
Walt … I miss you. Thanks for introducing computers to me. It’s changed my life.