Who’s Norton? by
(24 Stories)

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I walked into my 90 year old mom’s house years ago and heard her crying. I dropped my purse and the bag of glazed donuts I’d brought her and rushed into the den fearing I’d find her on the floor with a broken hip. But no. She was sitting in front of her computer screen, perched on a phone book so she could reach the keys, sobbing.

Relieved to find her intact, I asked, “What happened, Mom?” I tried to read the screen in front of her, thinking maybe someone had sent her an email about a death in the family. Email was all she knew how to use on the computer my brother had set up for her. (And he was no computer genius, himself, so maybe email was all there was on her computer anyway.) She would write an email message, print it out, and mail it, by U.S Mail,  to the recipient. And she was amazed when a message from someone she knew showed up in her inbox! I tried to explain that she didn’t need to mail the letter, but to no avail. After all, how would they get it? It would just stay in the machine!

“Who is this Norton?” she wailed. “Why doesn’t he leave me alone!”

“Norton?” I had no idea who Norton was. I had no cousins named Norton. And I was no computer genius either.

“Look,” she ordered, pointing to a window that blocked her message. “He won’t let me read the letter from Len” Len was her favorite nephew. “He keeps telling me I have to pay him or I’ll get a virus.” She cried some more. “I don’t like this computer. Take it away. I don’t want to get sick. And I don’t like Norton. I couldn’t sleep last night because of him.”

I pried her away from the desk, promising her that Len’s letter would wait for her, and that we would figure out how to get rid of Norton once and for all (though I had no clue how I would do that.) And we went to the kitchen where she was immediately distracted by her need to feed me. When I produced the donuts I’d brought for her, she forgot all about Norton, Len, and the computer and we sat down to a pleasant cup of tea and donuts.

I must have called my tech specialist–I had one because I had to use a computer for my work and barely knew more than my mom about what to do when things didn’t work the way I expected them to–and we deep-sixed Norton. She went back to reading and writing– and mailing– emails. She would be devastated to imagine the US Postal Service going out of business.

Now it’s my turn. I’ve got the email thing down pretty well by now. And the texting. But when social media became a necessity to maintain a presence in the business world, I quit. I refused to learn how to tweet my way into the hearts of clients. And when that orange guy decided he could run the country by tweeting…well, a twit just doesn’t have the gravitas to run a country. At least I have the sense to know that I don’t have the wherewithal to keep up with technology. Or Norton. I get it, mom.


Profile photo of Penny K Penny Righthand

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Great story, Penny. I love that your mother would print out her emails and mail them to the recipient. It seems ironic that it was somebody named Norton demanding money from her, since Norton is the name of one of the big antivirus programs. But maybe this happened so long ago that antivirus programs didn’t exist yet.

    Glad that you have mastered technology sufficiently to publish your wonderful stories on Retrospect!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Love this story, Penny. Like Suzy, I find it wonderful that your mother used email as a word processor to write, then print her emails and send them through the mail! What wonderment when they magically were answered on the machine. Until that pesky Norton thing showed up, demanding you buy it or else.

    Believe it not, Mr Norton himself owns a rather fabulous home in a very public location on Martha’s Vineyard, which he restored to glory with the money he made keeping all our computers safe (more or rather less these days, as real ransomware is a thing now). I’ve seen him riding his Segway to the post office. He is an odd duck and HATES it when people come up to his home to check it out (there are signs posted).

    • Betsy! Thanks. You nailed it. My mom was often in awe of the technological wonders that surrounded her, having grown up on a small farm in Russia. In her century in America she saw so much change and develop. Radio, TV, cars, electric ovens, microwaves to name a few. And all in the blink of an eye. Her 95 years on this earth went by way too fast.
      As for Mr Norton…too bad he’s such a sourpuss. He made my mom’s computer life miserable. Seems like his style.
      Didn’t know you lived on Martha’s Vineyard. All year long? Must be wonderful:-)

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        Not on the Vineyard all year, Penny. It is our vacation house (lucky us – read my story “Holmes Coffin House” for a description of it). My husband is there now, as golf season has started. He’s spending about 6 or 7 months there. I spend a little over 4. Not much for me to do there yet. I need to be in Newton, MA to get all the family photos that I use in these stories!

  3. Thanx for the laugh Penny, but your mom’s idea is not so foolish.

    After all emails can always go missing in Cyberspace, but a back-up hard copy sent via US mail will hopefully get thru in rain, sleet or snow!

  4. Marian says:

    I suspected it was the anti-virus program, Penny, fantastic story. I’ve gone through similar, although not as dramatic, scenes with my 93-year-old mom and her iPad. Part of the problem is not knowing terminology and concepts: my mom doesn’t understand the difference between email, the internet, and apps, and keeps saying URLs and her email address are “phone numbers.” All that said, I’m totally with you on social media and now get clients on a word-of-mouth basis only. No nonsense with my own website or social posts!

    • Marian
      I’m not sure I know the difference between some of those … whatever they’re called! I try to stay away from it all as much as possible, but often find myself in battle with one program or application or another. Which is why the novel I’m working on is so hard to finish. I can’t figure out what version I’m working on, or if it’s in Word or in Dropbox. Or just in my head;-)

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Penny, I can totally relate to this. Your description of your mother could have been mine. And while I know who Norton is, “he” is annoying by constantly popping up trying to frighten me into paying for virus protection. BTW, I also hate Twitter.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    Great story. We all struggle to keep up with tech. I too am averse to social media–I think Retrospect is as close as I get. It can be a bewilderment to anyone with intellectual or educational challenges, worst with the generation just before us. There is so much now that is tacit tech knowledge, that it is hard to know where to begin to explain how to maneuver. My mother, a brilliant woman who kept up a diligent correspondence most of her life, never adapted to the computer at all, using the trusty Hermes typewriter to the end.

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