UPTON, Mass. Twelve-year-old Jennifer Goshecki would like to have a Facebook account, but her mother Julie doesn’t think she’s ready. “Why should I expose her to millions of dirty old men on the internet,” she asks rhetorically. “We’ve got plenty of them hanging around the town pool during the summer.”
So Jennifer took evasive tactics, downloading the Instagram app on her iPod Touch, which she used to text her friends before her mother nixed that as well. KidzVuz, Viddy and Club Penguin followed with Julie in hot pursuit, leaving both mother and daughter exhausted.
Into the breach stepped Jennifer’s grandfather Claude, who tried to find a compromise between his daughter’s maternal instincts and his granddaughter’s desire for privacy. “I’ve got two strong-willed female descendants,” he says with a laugh as he rummages through a trunk that contains memorabilia from his school days and pulls out a worn spiral notebook.
“Here, sweetie, take a look at this,” he says as he hands it to Jennifer.
“What is it, grandpa?”
“It’s a slambook,” her grandfather says, referring to a cultural artifact that has fallen by the wayside; a paper-and-pen precursor to today’s social media in which “tweens” of the past registered their opinions of one another.
“Why do you call it that?” Jennifer asks, and Claude explains the essential advantage of a slambook over its latter-day counterparts.
“Because when you see a teacher or your parents coming, you slam it shut,” he explains. “And it’s in code, so you don’t have to worry about mom seeing what you write.”
“How does it work?” Jennifer asks.
“You sign in and take a number on the first page,” her grandfather explains, “then you write that number next to your answers to the questions.”
“What kind of questions?”
“Well there’s a ‘W.D.Y.T.O’ question–which stands for ‘What do you think of?’ somebody. Here’s mine,” he says as turns the pages to one that holds many memories. “See, Paula Ferguson is number 21, and she says ‘I think Claude is a dreamboat!’”
“Was she your girlfriend?” Jennifer asks.
“No–I had a gigantic crush on Lisa Fidler,” he says as Jennifer looks down at the brightly-colored scribblings.
“Where’s her page?” Jennifer asks, and her grandfather’s face clouds over as he recalls a particularly painful discovery.
He hesitates for a moment, wondering whether he should shield his granddaughter from the uglier side of adolescence, then decides to give her the unvarnished truth. “Turn to the page that says ‘Who’s the best kisser?’” he says, and Jennifer dutifully complies. “Lisa is number 17.”
Jennifer looks down, and reads the fatal reply that crushed her grandfather’s spirit six decades earlier. “She thought Junior Embree was a better kisser than you, grandpa?”
“That’s right, hon,” he says with a lump in his throat. “Sometimes you’ll find that the truth hurts.”
Jennifer moves to comfort her grandfather, putting her arm around him and patting him on the back. “I’m glad you didn’t marry a stupid nimmy-not like her,” she says consolingly.
“Why’s that sweetie?”
“It’s biology,” she explains. “If you did, I wouldn’t have been born.”