Sometimes, when a big part of your life ends in a disaster and before you can say, “O, woe is me,” something else comes along and starts you in an entirely different direction. Sort of like the saying about a door hitting you in the backside as it closes while a ray of sunshine comes in the window. That recently happened to me, Jonathan D. Grant III.
I stared working part time at the Bytes and Pixels electronic store when I was in my first year in college. My parents agreed they would pay for four years at Wordsworth College, a private school in Northern Indiana, but I would have to work part time to get acquainted with the business world.
My father and grandfather, mechanical engineers, owned a profitable machine company. When grandfather died, my father sold the company to a larger company for a goodly amount. Now Mom and Pop survive very well on their investments. They live in their homes here and there doing this and that and leave me, my brother and sister pretty much to ourselves.
During my sophomore year Dr. Isaac Samuelson shuffled into my life. I say shuffled because that was his usual gait, head down, thoughts up somewhere. Dr. Samuelson, as I knew him in those days, taught courses in math and philosophy. Other students talked fondly of ‘Old Ike’ and since Mathematics was a required course for me. I decided I might be able to slide though his Basic Math class.
As it turned out, I could not slide through his class and that was a good thing. He was a formidable teacher. In appearance he had unruly black hair graying at the temples, sleepy eyes, well dressed (thanks to the good taste of his third wife) but always rumpled by mid-morning. Coatless in the classroom, tie loose, sleeves turned up, he threw strings of numbers on the board then tuned, his soft brown eyes hunting for someone who was not paying attention. “Grant, what’s the next step?”
How rude, interrupting my thought of the girl I met at the party last night wondering if I should pursue her, but then I was daydreaming because he lost me at 4X plus 5Y over 10Z minus something equals something else and so on. Numbers are not my thing. Without the cash register at B&P to figure totals, taxes and change due, the store would go broke or make a big profit, depending on the direction of my error.
To his credit, Dr. Samuelson did not bully students. Instead of grilling me about why I was so stupid he said, “If any of you are having trouble keeping up you can come to office for extra help. I did indeed need help — lots of help at that time. By midterm that semester, I was not only in danger of failing math but, because of mediocre performance in my other classes, I would lose my parent’s support. Out of desperation, I made an appointment with Dr. Samuelson.
His office was in the administration building at one end of the long hallway that ran the length of the second floor. The dark woodwork and the smell of the floor wax and the oil used for mopping made that long walk seem like the prisoner’s last before the gas chamber. His office, small with one window looking toward the brick prison-like gym added to the feeling of doom. Piles of books and papers covered most surfaces except for a rickety swivel chair behind the desk and an uncomfortable wooden chair in front of it. He motioned to the chair so I sat down and began by explaining my situation, adding that I very much wanted to do well in math and would do what was required. Instead of yawning at this oft-told tale, he smiled and looked sympathetic and said, “So you’re here willing to learn and apply yourself. If you’re serious I’m sure we can improve your grade.”
To tell the truth, I wasn’t all that serious about doing what it would take but I needed the grade so for the next six weeks i went over and over formulas, solved for the elusive Xs, Ys and Zs. I wrestled numbers around to balance the two sides of equal signs. I actually began to enjoy the challenge in the work that Ike, as I began to call him, gave me. By the end of the semester I knew enough to pass the final with a generous B grade given partly for extra credit, Ike said. With that my grade point average came up enough to keep me afloat in the eyes of my parents and the college.
Ike also became a mentor for me for the rest of my college years and beyond. He seemed to respect and like me and I was certainly impressed by anyone who could make math interesting and I developed affection for him and his firm but gentle coaching.
He helped me with some of the papers I wrote for my literature classes and suggested I get involved with the school paper that came out bi-weekly. In my sophomore year I wrote some articles and helped with editing and layout and in the following two years, by default and lack of interest among the other student staff members, I became the editor.
I didn’t have a lot of time for extracurricular activities but I liked to go to dances and student productions of plays and musicals. Sometimes I went with my apartment mates and sometimes with a date. The girls were fun but none lasted more than a few dates. Then one day during my senior year Brenda Livingston came into the store. Bytes and Pixels was about the size of a large grocery store, filled mostly with computer equipment in the front section and television sets many of which lined the walls and were turned on so customers would see the fantastic pictures and be enticed to buy. We also carried a wide assortment of audio and video discs arranged in aisles in the middle of the store. At the back of the store was a small selection of audio equipment.