In 1989, Alice was in her late 50s and a successful author of children’s books. Her brother had encouraged her to try this new service called Prodigy, which provided “online” news, features, and electronic mail or “e-mail”. It proved to be a good resource for keeping up with her siblings and their families. There were also “message boards” on various topics, including one for writers. Alice began participating in this message board; and she posted to it looking for advice when she found herself wanting to write some scenes into her next book about Dungeons & Dragons, about which she knew next to nothing.
Cut to the headquarters of Prodigy in White Plains, New York. A 20-year-old college student works there in a part-time job as a tester. She has a lot of downtime, and she spends it reading the message boards, basically all of them, since there aren’t that many. She sees this author’s query about D&D. She’s played it maybe twice, didn’t like it. But since she’s got downtime, and she’s got opinions, she responds.
When this story unfolded into legend, Alice would tell everyone that my response was simultaneously utterly charming and utterly unhelpful. But that response quickly blossomed into a daily correspondence, or daily meaning every day that I was at work, since that’s where the “e-mail” was. We easily chatted every day I was at work, sometimes several times per day. I told her all my problems. Alice was interested in people and interested in helping, so she advised me. I had no one to look up to in my life, so I listened.
So there was a period where I was away from work, probably some holiday period, for a longer time than usual. Alice said that her husband Larry found her at the computer looking a bit listless and forlorn. He rubbed her shoulders and said jokingly, “You miss her, don’t you – your ‘daughter’.” When I returned and Alice told me about the exchange, she said that Larry was right, she had missed her ‘daughter’; but since we looked way too dissimilar to ever pass as mother-daughter, we should perhaps adopt each other as aunt-niece. That’s how she became my Aunt Alice.