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Lucille Monday, December 1, 2008

#1 User is offline   Chefelf Icon

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Posted 01 December 2008 - 10:42 AM

Lucille

I'm not sure how it started. My father ended up taking me to see Lucille when I was about ten years old. I can remember distinctly as my Dad's old Chevy Nova took the right turn into the parking lot which was surrounded by tall evergreen-like shrubs. She lived above a family operated funeral home which, at the time did not seem creepy or unusual. Her apartment was upstairs, above the funeral parlor and her main room was large and open. There were bookcases that boxed off a portion of the room surrounding a large computer desk, home to an old IBM/Tandy (as they were referred to back then). I can't remember the exact make and model of the computer but it was surrounded by boxes, drawers, and those old containers with the hinged lids, all full of diskettes with handwritten labels. The computer desk was placed against a window that faced outside towards the trees on the back side of the house. The house smelled like a hundred thousand cigarettes. The stale smoke hung in the air, replaced with fresher smoke the closer you got to Lucille who was always seated at the desk, a lit cigarette burning in an ashtray by her keyboard.

Her shelves were taken up by three-ring binders, some of them homemade, others were those giant binders you would get with programs. DOS 3.1 was written on the side of one of them. There were countless others that I only wish I could remember. My mind seems to fill in things like COBOL and PASCAL written on the side but I don't think Lucille was a programmer.

Lucille worked with my father at an organization in our home town. She and my father would often talk about boring adult things that were of little interest to a ten-year-old. They would go through old slides and binders and talk about subjects that I can't remember because I don't think I was paying attention. This probably sounds like it should be torture for a ten-year-old but it was often the highlight of my week. You see, Lucille had the greatest collection of IBM compatible computer games that I was aware of. Her books were filled with binders that had instruction manuals, diskettes, and other necessary copy protection relics needed to access the games. Lucille was also the proud owner of the coveted 16 color EGA monitor. My monitor at home was only 4 color and my friends, Scott and Paul, had to suffer through monochrome displays for a while. Even at school the majority of the school's three Apple computers were monochrome.

The favorite games of Lucille were those from Sierra On-Line, founded in 1979. I'm not sure what the "on-line" referred to but in 1987 when I started playing their games I can assure you it didn't have the meaning it would have today. The games she mastered from Sierra were numerous: The King's Quest series, the Space Quest series, the Police Quest series, Gold Rush!, Manhunter: New York, The Colonel's Bequest, The Black Cauldron, and likely a few others that I'm leaving out. She would seem to get new games weekly and beat them just as quickly. When finished she would give the games to me and I would have a chance to play them. My friend Scott would come over and for hours we'd play the Sierra games, trying to solve the endless riddles and mysteries presented by the games. This often involved typing simple commands with the keyboard such as "use rope", "get rope", "look rope", "look room", "look dragon", "strangle dragon", and then would eventually descend into typing in curse words which eventually the games got wise to and responded with clever things such as, "Such language is not becoming of a Prince."

Since Lucille was the master of these games she was the go to person for any tips or hints. There was also the Sierra Help Line which cost money to call. My friend Scott was not too proud to use this number on a few occasions but I knew that wouldn't fly with my father so I was left with only my weekly visits to Lucille to ask her for advice. Sometimes Scott would pressure me into giving Lucille a call during the week when we were really in a tight fix. Lucille seemed to have the entirety of each game stored in her head but she would never give us a simple answer. Her hints were always more like riddles. "What do you think the sea monster would like to eat?" would be a typical hint from Lucille. We were always made to feel like we'd figured out the answer on our own.

She also gave us Splash!, which I still consider to be the most fun drawing program ever created. Sure it's not as robust as Photoshop but it was actually a pretty incredible program for its time. Paul, Scott, and I would spend hours drawing in Splash!, often times setting a timer and giving each other 30 minute shifts on the program while the others two of us played Nintendo or used Legos or something.

Another game that was a favorite of my cousin Jeff was Test Drive which was a game where you had to navigate along a mountain pass in a Porsche and try to get to a gas station quickly. It was exceptionally primitive. There was a time limit of when you could get to the gas station but there was no countdown timer or anything, you just sort of figured it out when you got to the gas station and the guy operating the pump either berated you for not getting out of second gear, or congratulated you on your tremendous speed. The highlight of the game (probably only for us) was that one of the drivers in the game that passes you (or slams into you if you aren't careful) looked like the woman that lived across the street from us. That prompted many fits of rage where Jeff would scream, "Damn you, Mrs. Rochon!" while waving his fists at the screen.

Lucille gave us countless other titles such as Bubble Ghost, Lode Runner, Pharaoh (a Lode Runner clone that I preferred to the game it ripped off), Hole-in-One Mini Golf (which I could never get working properly on my computer), and countless other titles most of which are escaping my memory without that giant box of diskettes in front of me.

As time went on Lucille gained more and more mythical status in our young imaginations. Scott would often suggest calling her or asking her for tips as if she were some sort of god. You see, I was the only one of us that had ever actually met Lucille. As far as my friends were concerned I could have been making her up. I'm the only one who spoke with her on the phone, gathering tips. I'm the only one that went to her house to return with great games. She could have been my Tyler Durden, revealed in a twist ending that would shock everyone! She was real but we certainly deified her. After getting my first computer (meaning a non-shared family computer) in 1991, I dubbed my old IBM PS/2 "Lucille" after the woman who'd shaped our formative computer years. This summer on a trip back home I took some pictures of Lucille's hard drive in an attempt to try to figure out how to retrieve the old data from it. Some thought the Lucille moniker was a reference to B.B. King's guitar, something that had far less impact on my life than Lucille had.

Early last week my father emailed me to let me know that Lucille had passed away the previous weekend. I sent Scott a text message to let him know to which he responded, "Oh man, so sorry to hear that. I wonder if she realized how much she changed our lives." I don't think she did. She was clearly a woman with man interests, computers being one of them, and probably to her we were just some kids who liked video games. It probably didn't strike her as anything remarkable at all. Certainly she couldn't have known how important she'd been to us. It's terrible that these things are often left unsaid while people are still with us, not that I'm even sure I'd have been able to get in contact with her anyway.

To avoid feeling regretful I wish her family all of the best. I don't know if she continued to have the same love for computers and computer games as she did when I knew her. So for that I hope she is enjoying an old-fashioned adventure game in the sky, the type of the pre-point-and-click variety where she can type away text commands with limitless possibilities. Whatever that game may be, I know she'll have mastered it before long.

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#2 User is offline   Vesuvius Icon

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Posted 01 December 2008 - 08:33 PM

I really liked this, Chef. All of that was refreshing.

My dad had a friend years back that had a ton of computer games and such also. I don't know what happened to him, but your story reminded me of similar times in my life.
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Posted 02 December 2008 - 07:34 PM

Nate:

I think that is one of the best eulogies I've ever read. It really summed up Lucille quite well. I think she enjoyed having you visit her and talking about the games. She did have an awful lot of them. Last weekend I spent two days in the barn trying to straighten up the mess it has become. After setting up some shelving I proceeded to repack some of the 20 tons of material you still have up there. I can confirm that Lucille still sits there proudly, with it's 640k of ram and 20meg hard drive, which was more than we would ever need if I correctly remember the salesman who sold it to us.
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Posted 03 December 2008 - 07:39 PM

QUOTE (Vesuvius @ Dec 1 2008, 08:33 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
My dad had a friend years back that had a ton of computer games and such also. I don't know what happened to him, but your story reminded me of similar times in my life.


You should reach out to him. Try to get in contact some way. I wish I'd done that. The freakin' internet exists, I don't know why I didn't try.

QUOTE (Cemetery guy @ Dec 2 2008, 07:34 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Nate:

I think that is one of the best eulogies I've ever read. It really summed up Lucille quite well. I think she enjoyed having you visit her and talking about the games. She did have an awful lot of them. Last weekend I spent two days in the barn trying to straighten up the mess it has become. After setting up some shelving I proceeded to repack some of the 20 tons of material you still have up there. I can confirm that Lucille still sits there proudly, with it's 640k of ram and 20meg hard drive, which was more than we would ever need if I correctly remember the salesman who sold it to us.


Didn't you expand that to a full MEGABYTE of RAM? Who would ever need that much memory anyway?

And 20 megabytes could fit at least 4 or 5 mp3s. If they were short songs. And encoded at poor quality.

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 02:24 AM

I loved this story and felt I had to respond, so I joined your site just so I could.
I also knew Lucille, but never met her in real life. I met her online and we were friends for several years. This probably was in the mid 90's if I remember right. She became a teacher to me also, but not in games, she was very into Corel Draw, she had bought the program and taught herself everything there was to know (almost) about drawing templates and making graphic layouts to print out. At that time I was a member of a computer crafts group on what is now Yahoo Groups, but at that time was onelist. She joined the list I was on and started sending in really nice layouts that we could print and put together, I was mesmerized and probably asked a million and one questions on how she did some of the layouts. I was doing my own layouts, but mine were crude compared to hers. At the time I met her I was using a different graphic program to make layouts with, so she talked me into buying Corel and told me if I would buy it, she would teach me how to use it. How could I pass up an offer like that? Actually there were several people that she taught the program to. We became quite good at creating "gifts" with the computer and our printers. She had mastered making box and bag templates and shared that knowledge with us with a course of lessons that we were sent each week in an email and then we had to complete it and send it back to her for grading. She was a tough teacher that demanded perfection, some got it some did not.
I never saw the game playing side of her, so your story was a surprise to me.
But I do find it interesting that you are a chef, and wanted to let you know that she also was quite a gourmet cook and also taught cooking classes. She loved Julia Child, and patterned her cooking style after her. I think Lucille had written and published a cookbook. In fact if you google her name Lucille Rock Wilson, you will find several sites where she had submitted at least one of her own recipes.
I just wanted to thank you for sharing the story and let you know that she did continue on with computers, although you were right in the fact that she was not a programmer. Just a very determined self taught computer user.
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Posted 04 December 2008 - 09:57 AM

This all has lead me to believe that Lucille was a wholly remarkable person, and the world is at a great loss in her absence.
My condolences.
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Posted 04 December 2008 - 07:02 PM

mojo,

Thanks so much for sharing that. The more I learn about her the more remarkable she seems. I had no idea (at the time) that she had an interest in cooking. Indeed that would have been something if we could have shared cooking ideas or I could have shared some of my cooking adventures with her.

I can see her being a very good teacher. She was really good with me on teaching me to use certain programs and games. Sadly Corel Draw I don't think was out yet. The most advanced graphics programs we had at the time were the aforementioned Splash! as well as things like BannerMania.

Thanks again, mojo, for posting!
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Posted 04 December 2008 - 07:46 PM

Just to clarify a point, her last name was Wilcox not Wilson. Mojo is correct in saying she was an accomplished chef as well. She put together the American French Genealogical Society cookbook back in the early 80's. We are presently in our third printing, and although it has been modified a bit, it still sells very well. Although I had been into genealogy for many years before I met her, she gave me a copy of a computer program for inserting all my information into the computer. The old DOS program came with about 5 diskettes (5 1/4 floppies) and a 6 inch thick manual which slid into one of those heavy cardboard sleeves. I still use the same program today, but in a much newer, sleeker version.
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Posted 05 December 2008 - 10:19 AM

QUOTE (Cemetery guy @ Dec 4 2008, 06:46 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Just to clarify a point, her last name was Wilcox not Wilson. Mojo is correct in saying she was an accomplished chef as well. She put together the American French Genealogical Society cookbook back in the early 80's. We are presently in our third printing, and although it has been modified a bit, it still sells very well. Although I had been into genealogy for many years before I met her, she gave me a copy of a computer program for inserting all my information into the computer. The old DOS program came with about 5 diskettes (5 1/4 floppies) and a 6 inch thick manual which slid into one of those heavy cardboard sleeves. I still use the same program today, but in a much newer, sleeker version.

OOPS, yes it was Wilcox, sorry about that mix up.
She also published a couple of books on her French ancestors, I think.
I think of all that she did and could do, though I do believe that cooking was her greatest love.
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