1946: Reprogrammed

Joelle Pester, guest writer

“What a success!” I exclaimed to myself as I hopped into my vehicle. It was February 14, 1946, and my greatest accomplishment and passion had just been revealed. I, Jean Wilson, helped develop, create, and build the “world’s first digital, general-purpose computer” (Levy). Today, the electronic numerical integrator and computer (ENIAC) was shown to the public for the first time. Years of schooling and hours of work had paid off in this one, single evening.
Driving home, my mind raced with the events of the day. I woke up early that morning with great anticipation. I had a quick cup of coffee and headed off to the University of Pennsylvania so I could prepare for the excitement awaiting. The rest was a blur filled with rushing back and forth, checking and rechecking. Finally, the great moment happened. The public saw the computer. The crowd applauded, and I beamed.
It’s time to relax. I turned on the radio to listen to “That’s My Desire” by Frankie Laini while I let out a sigh of relief. It was short lived however. At the end of my driveway a glowing light from the dining room met my gaze.
My husband. February 14. Valentine’s Day. I slammed the wheel of my car. How could I be so forgetful.
The ENAIC had been at the front of my mind and heart for the past several months. Within those months my husband, a Sergeant, came back from wherever he was during WWII. After his return I practically ignored him. I had work I needed to do.
As I slowly continued down the driveway a thousand scenarios flooded my mind. Was he going to be upset with me? How was I going to explain? I truly did love him… it’s just… I was… he had been gone for so long.
Upon entering the house, I saw Michael in casual clothing. He had a simple but nice dinner on the table.
“Michael, I… I’m sorry. I was in such a hurry and rush to…” My voice trailed off as I came up with multiple, lame excuses.
“It’s ok, it’s ok. We can make it up right now.”
He pulled the chair out for me to take a seat. As I sat down, I decided to fully engage in this moment. Mike asked about the revealing and I rambled about it.
After the meal, Mike abruptly got up and left the room. A few seconds later he returned carrying several items.
“You did not need to get me anything.”
“Sure I did! Now before you get too excited, I do have some bad news. Which do you want first?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I guess the gift.”
“Alright. So first, a card from your sister. She dropped it off this morning. And here, I have a package and card for you.”
I tore open the package and inside was some sort of container.
“What is it?”
“It’s called Tupperware, ‘a new alternative to storing food’ (What). It stores food so you can keep it in the refrigerator or take the food places. Or if we get one of those new, fancy microwave ovens,” he joked, “you could use it in there. I thought you would find it useful.”
Practical. Just how I like it. I smiled.
“Now open the card.”
As I looked at the contents of the card, I was confused. There was a note, then some sort of receipt.
“I was at the ceremony tonight. I was able to snap several photos. In a week or so you can pick up the pictures.”
I felt awful. He had been there and I hadn’t even noticed… or cared. Sadly, this described the past forever of our relationship.
“Hit me with the bad news.”
He bashfully looked down. He cleared his throat.
“I am going to be leaving again,” He paused. “Not for war this time, but for justice. The Chief Counsel ordered me to assist in the Nuremberg trials.”
I sat there in silence.
“I know that since you are now done with the revealing of the computer that we could start to settle down and get to know each other again, but an order is an order.”
“Unfortunately, I will be leaving the day after tomorrow.”
It had been five months. I wasn’t sure when he was going to be back. He occasionally sent letters to me, but I just set them in a stack on the table. The card from my sister that he gave me cluttered the table too.
Abandoned and friendless. That’s what I was.
To cope, I just piled myself with work, the same way I had always done. A majority of my coworkers were female, but business was what we focused on.
My mind wandered back to the unopened card from my sister. She would be there for me. Just like my husband, I had pushed her away because of the ENAIC.
Maybe that was the difference between my sister and myself. We were both driven by different things. I loved work, she loved people. When I saw her, she was always talking about God, purpose, or something I didn’t see the point of wasting breath on.
Proof of her true love and concern for people happened today. Before I knew what was happening, she showed up, we settled in my living room and started talking.
“Did you read my card Mike gave you before he left?”
“No I didn’t. April, these past months have been so hard.”
“No worries, Jean. I told you in the card, but I get to tell you now face to face. I have super exciting news.”
“Well, What is it?”
“I’m pregnant!”
“Congrats! I’m so happy for you April. You’re gonna have a baby boomer, huh?”
“I am due in August sometime. I have already decided to make its middle name Jean.”
“Awe, that’s so considerate.”
“Anyway, now about you? I am worried about you.”
I was wrestling inside. How do I explain to her? I had been so lonely. I was upset, but I deserved it.
“April, I’ve been so alone. I try to cover it up but it’s getting hard. I don’t know when Mike will be back. I don’t know if he ever will. Why would he want to?” I leaned forward and started to cry softly.
“Oh Jean.”
“I just can’t anymore.”
“Dear sister, Mike still loves you. He spoke to me before he left. He knew it would be hard on you, but he told me to reassure you that it will be ok. Now, how about you join me and my husband for dinner tomorrow and then we can talk some more. I need to get back home.”
“April, you don’t have to. Money has been tight after the war, especially with the employment issues.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. God will provide.”
There was a new meaning to my world. A world with God, thanks to my sister. I was changing, but I still felt an ever looming despair. Life was starting to be filled with genuine joy and meaningful moments. The issue was, it was all without Mike. I was ecstatic to get to know him again and fix what I had messed up.
A bit of hope peaked once when I was reading the newspaper. “Bikinis Released in Paris.” Boring. My eyes moved over to the next page. “10 Nazis Hung at Nuremberg Trials, Oct. 16.”
I read the article and reread it. Would this mean Mike would come back?
“April, he’s dead!”
“What! Jean, is everything ok? He wasn’t actually at war, was he? What on earth happened? Jean come in and sit down and tell me what happened.”
After several long minutes I was able to explain that when he was coming home, he was on a military plane that crashed at Christian HBS. Twenty-four people were killed. He was one of them.
“Tragedy literally just flew into my life. I never got to tell him sorry. We were going to be so happy. We were going to work on our relationship and grow in God together. How could God let this happen!”
“It’s not God’s fault. God will guide you. You cannot control everything. Meaning you cannot program your life. Give that to God.”
Works Cited
Levy, Steven. “The Brief History of the ENIAC Computer.” Smithsonian.com. November 2013. Smithsonian Magazine. Web. 31 January 2018.
“What Happened in 1946 Important News and Events, Key Technology and Popular Culture.” The People History. 2017. Web. 31 January 2018.
“Baby Boomers.” History.com. 2010. A+E Networks. Web. 31 January 2018.
Gorman, Robert F., editor. “Nazi War Criminals Are Tried At Nuremberg.”
Great Events from History, 2008, 498-502. Print.
“Historical Events in 1946 (Part 2 and 3).” onthisday.com. 2018. Web. 31 January 2018.