Typewriter

“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.”

 

This is a phrase that my mother would use when she practiced her version of 1950’s keyboarding. They called it typing back then, and my mom’s fingers flew over the keys as she repeated this sentence on our typewriter at home. That’s right! I said “Typewriter”!! Look it up!!! You buy them in antique shops when you want something to dress up the den. They are the original keyboard!! Well that’s not quite true, the first keyboard was a rock, followed by the hammer and chisel, etc., but now I’m just being silly so suffice it to say that the typewriter was the pioneer of the word processor.

 

I grew up in a home that always had a typewriter. My father wrote for the newspaper and my mother worked for the Federal Government in the secretarial pool. The typewriter, like the stove and the toilet, was a common fixture in my home for as long as I can remember. For the longest time I mistakenly thought that every house had one, much like I thought that working in the secretarial pool involved swimming, but 50-years ago it was not a necessity for most families and pencil and paper worked just fine. Back then the families that did have typewriters usually had them put away in the closet not sitting out on the kitchen table or dining table or coffee table in the living room, that beast was always sitting out on some table! It was the type you see on ‘American Pickers’ and ‘Antique Roadshow’, it was a piece of furniture!!

 

My father did much of his work at home and the clatter of the keys hitting the paper was common place. When I would wander into the kitchen to raid the refrigerator he would stop typing and ask me what I thought about what he had just written.

 

“How does that sound” he would say after reading it to me.

“That sounds really great Dad!” I would respond.

 

What did I know?! I was only seven!! I didn’t understand half of what he said!! But I was always very positive when responding anytime my father asked my opinion, since there was always the chance there might be a reward for being supportive. With Dad that meant money that I could spend the next time I was allowed to cross the street and go to the store.

 

My mother wasn’t permitted to bring her work home, something about privacy acting (they swam and acted at the secretarial pool. It was where I was going to work that was for sure), so when Mom used our home machine it was to practice. When I would meander by her I was always recruited to be the ‘timer’. I held her watch and stared at the second hand for two minutes, which for a seven-year-old was an eternity!! “Go” I would shout and “stop” when either the two minutes was up or I could take no more (Mom could type faster than she thought).

 

“Wow Mom,” I would say to her, “you’re really fast!” She would thank me with a smile and a hug which was reward enough for me. Dad should have tried that, it would have saved him a ton of cash.

 

I was permitted to use the typewriter but it was more trouble than it was worth I quickly learned. Even though I couldn’t spell a word with more than 3 letters, I thought it was fun to push the keys down and have the long arms of each letter spring up from under the cover and slam into the paper. Inserting paper into the ‘roller’ so it was straight and hearing the bell ring as I reached the end of the row and slamming the carriage return arm back when I did, just like dad. I would mimic mom pushing the keys as fast as I could until they got tangled with each other and then I would get covered in ink trying to separate each letter. I would then transfer the ink to the nearest surface and before you knew it my finger prints were all over the house. Playing on the typewriter lost its interest quickly, it never gave me the kind of reward praising other’s abilities did. Typewriter ink is a bitch to get off the wall. I left the typewriter alone.

 

One day my father came home with an electric typewriter, something he and mom both used when at their respective offices. My parents had always disputed who was the fastest typist. Using the home typewriter to judge this would have been unfair my mother had always argued. Her hands were smaller and weaker than those of my father’s, so pressing down the keys took a quicker toll on her. The arrival of an electric typewriter immediately evened the playing field and it wasn’t long before the gauntlet was thrown down and a competition at the dining room table was arranged to settle this once and for all. It was very exciting for a 7-year old! It involved a lot of G-Rated trash talking and a real stopwatch!!

 

She crushed him. The first time I saw the fist pump ‘whoop-whoop’ was not Julie Roberts in ‘Pretty Women’ but by my mother at the dining table 3 decades earlier. She humiliated my father and now my father was the one making up excuses as to why the competition was unfair. He explained to me that he was a two-finger typist and never used all ten fingers like my mother and he wasn’t use to using an electric and he was hitting the keys too hard and it slowed him down. He said this to the only witness as if it had some kind of bearing on what I had seen. She whooped your ass pal!!! It wasn’t even close no matter what you say! You could have started the day before and she still would have beat you!!! My mother smiled at my father and gave me a hug thanking me for helping with the watch. I looked at Dad and he handed me a quarter. Double payday!!!

 

The typewriter is gone from most homes now and my grandchildren will know nothing of their existence as they grow. Laptop and tablet keyboards with no mechanical parts to jam and programs that help with spelling and grammar auto-correct will be the norm. Screens instead of pages and printer ink that is almost impossible to get on your hands. They will never know the sound of the bell and the joy of slamming back the carriage with the handle that spins the roller to the next line. Even the keyboard is slowly becoming obsolete as more devices just allow the user to speak a sentence or easier yet just record a video with no words written at all.

 

I broke the hybrid PC/tablet into two permanent pieces the other day and went and got myself something that does what I want without doing what I don’t. I had the programs installed that I was familiar with and this is the first article I have written on my new laptop. When I first started using a keyboard as opposed to a typewriter the word processing programs came with the sound of clattering typewriter keys as you wrote. As a sort of sentimental tribute to the typewriter I went to turn the sound on to write this piece only to find out that the option no longer exists. The future is ever unfolding.

 

“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Wonderful! Wonderful piece! Do you know that your mother used to win awards for the speed with which she typed? It’s true. In High School, she capped in at 120 words per minute–on a manual typewriter!!–the highest word count by a student ever recorded at her school. I used to watch her type when I was a kid too. Watching her and listening to the sound of her typing was like listening to music. I envied her. I was like your dad, a religious typist (you know: “Seek and ye shall find”), a two-fingered whiz of a typist who could punch out a good number of words in a minute as long as I was looking at the keys, but I was down to maybe ten or twelve words a minute (on a good day) if I had to copy something. Your mom put everybody to shame. And she was very proud of her typing abilities. It’s nice that you remember …

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