As an introvert, I grew up loving books. In the summer of 1979, I moved to Fort Belvoir, Virginia from Seymour, Tennessee. My father was in the Army in the Corp of Engineers and Uncle Sam decided he should takeover managing the construction project at Blue Plains. He was attached to the Capitol Area Office of the Baltimore Engineers, so we lived at Fort Belvoir on 21st Street (yeah, the Army can really pick great street names, can’t they??).
There my brother met David Panzer. He showed us both the great library on the Fort and my passion for reading was fed in overdrive. I would check out 12 books at a time and read them in a week. I loved the Hardy Boys books and soon moved on other mystery books such as Encyclopedia Brown. It would not be long before J. R. R. Tolkein would enter my life in the form of The Hobbit.
During the second half of my sixth grade year, I took an elective on book writing. It was taught by a wife of an Army officer who had written a children’s book about living in the African bush. She taught up about form and how to submit transcripts to publishers. My vivid imagination had an outlet. Over the next few years, I wrote about space battles and far off planets. I invented military ranks and battle plans. I wrote a short story about an invasion of Washington, DC. I used real maps to determine paths and defenses. We had no television, so reading and writing was what I did. (I also played against myself in Risk, but that’s another tale.)
Before I started 8th grade, Uncle Sam decided it was time to move us again. This time we packed up and moved to Fort Ritchie, Maryland where my father became the Facilities Engineer. Our first question was naturally, “Where is Fort Ritchie?” Nestled in the Mountains of Maryland in Cascade, it was a picturesque and quiet post. The perfect place for my imagination to grow. And grow it did. The plans became more elaborate. I started to create my own alphabets. One day, it all changed.
It was near the end of my 8th grade year. I was walking through the school library when I saw some of my fellow students using a computer hooked to a television. They were making a shape move across the screen. A Realistic cassette tap recorder from Radio Shack was connected for long term storage of programs (yes, recorded to cassette tapes as noise. so old school). The computer was an Apple ][. It was magical.
I watched and tried to learn. I pestered my fellow students for the syntax to AppleSoft BASIC. I had to know more. The library had little. There were programs and skills tests in our Algebra textbook, so I tried them. Soon I could write a program for any of the skills tests, even if we had not yet covered the math behind it yet. It was a whole new world.
Where the Apple ][ would take me I would learn over the coming years.