by Susan Decuir
I moped around the house for months after graduating from Thomas Jefferson High school in Dallas in 1964, when one day a man in a business suit knocked on our door. Mom invited the stranger in and offered him a seat on her 50’s style brown sectional sofa. I sank beside Mom on the sofa across from the man. I must have been twisting my mouth in that way that annoyed Mom because she gave me that disapproving look before introducing me.
“It’s nice to meet you, Susan. From what your mother told me when we talked on the phone last week, your excellent typing skills qualify you as an ideal candidate for our IBM Keypunch Operator course at Draughon’s Business College.”
I lowered my eyes, embarrassed that Mom had obviously told the stranger that I made straight A’s in typing.
“Wh…what’s a keypunch operator?” I mumbled.
“Keypunch Operators key data onto 7 3/8 x 3 ¼ inch punch cards.” Noting my blank stare, he added, “For computers.”
Whatever that is, I thought while Mom signed me up. I was only seventeen.
I passed the course with high marks and landed my first job that Fall as a Keypunch Operator for Texoma Gins in the Cotton Exchange Building on the corner of North St. Paul and San Jacinto Street in downtown Dallas.
Pete operated the main computer that stored the data from the punch cards, the punch card sorter, and the printer—taking up three walls. Sybil, Janie, and I operated the two keypunch machines and one verifier—taking up the fourth wall.
As my hands flew over the keys entering the weight of individual bales of cotton, I was in my element. Sadly, when the cotton season was over, I was laid off. I worked various office jobs after that.
In 1978, I worked for General Electric Credit Corporation in Exchange Park as the bookkeeper, using ledgers and a mechanical adding machine. One day my boss commented that someday everyone will have a computer on their desk. That will never happen, I thought, remembering the huge computers lining the walls at Texoma Gins.
In the 80s and 90s, I was a stay-at-home homeschooling Mom. When Sarah graduated in 1998, I decided to go back to work.
The job description in the newspaper Ad was vague, but it sounded simple enough. A pleasant woman twenty years my junior interviewed me then showed me around the office. “This would be your work-space,” she pointed to a cubicle with a computer perched on the desk. I shuddered. My sole computer knowledge consisted of writing letters, printing Sarah’s tests, and publishing our homeschool support group newsletter, assisted by my computer literate husband, Ron, and Sarah.
During my interview, I was assured the job was easy and they would train the person they hired.
Well, it won’t be me. Surely, she senses my computer phobia.
Miraculously, I landed the job. Thankfully, Misty, my trainer, had the patience of Job. Upon learning the company database program, I successfully selected and printed my first batch of labels without her help. My confidence level soared—until she asked me to send an e-mail.
Do I have to learn e-mail?” I whined. Misty assured me that it wasn’t hard and that I would like it once I got used to it. She let me practice by sending an e-mail to my engineer husband.
I moved the mouse to the send button, clicked, and sent it on its way. She was right. It was easy! I laughed at my husband’s clever reply, “What hath God wrought!” I wondered if Samuel Morse might have laughed too.
The first time I left my computer for a few minutes in the middle of preparing labels for printing, I panicked when I returned, seeing hundreds of stars shooting across my blacked computer screen.
“Help! My computer has gone into outer space.”
“That’s your screen saver. Jiggle the mouse and your program will come back.” Misty and I had a hearty laugh over that one.
It turned out that my boss at General Electric Credit was right. Now I wonder, how did we ever survive without computers on our desks, as I type this story on my laptop computer.