The first typewriter that I ever used was the heavy gray one that sat in Grandma and Grandpa Cousin’s dining room. It sat on Grandpa’s desk, which was squeezed in along a wall. There was just enough room between the table and the desk that Grandpa’s chair could be rotated between the table to the desk. You knew it was Grandpa’s chair because it had arms on it, and because it was the one next to Grandma’s. Grandma’s was easy to tell, because it was closest to the kitchen door.
The desk was always heaped with papers, these balanced carefully between the heavy gray beast of a typewriter and the two adding machines–electric and mechanical. We kids loved to use those machines, but Grandma didn’t like us using the electric 10 key calculator too much because we burned through all of the adding tape paper. So we’d take turns pounding out nonsense on the sheets of scrap paper that she kept around for our visits. We never really ever SAW Grandpa using the typewriter, but I know that he did. We occasionally received typed responses to school-related inquiries, and his sketches were often completed on the backs of the beginnings of typewritten letters that had gone hopelessly wrong. Also, his records of the 15,000+ record collection were completed on that typewriter. It had both a red and a black tape, and you really had to pound to get that thing going.
I read the book “Cheaper By the Dozen” as a kid. Not the dumb Disney version, but the actual biographical story of a family of 12 kids with parents who were interested in economy of movement and consulted for industrial operations to improve their efficiency. One chapter focused on the father’s teaching the kids to “touch type” and taking them around to show off to prospective clients. I figured that was OK, so I practiced at Grandpa’s and on mom’s machine whenever I got the chance. Mom’s machine was portable and kept high up on a shelf in a closet. She’d bring it out for us occasionally, and it released a wafting puff of “office” smell whenever it was opened. I loved typing so much that I would simply transcribe stories, for the sheer joy of hearing the clack and seeing the smooth, even result of a perfectly-typed page. She didn’t like us to type too often, though, because we burned through the correction tape.
When we got our first computer around about 8th grade, it came with a typing tutorial program that I took to like it was going out of style. In my opinion, the resulting dot-matrix printed results weren’t nearly so aesthetically pleasing as those done in unbroken inked-letters on the powder blue travel typewriter. My first research paper in 7th grade was done on that typewriter, footnotes and all, an exercise in frustration that was rivaled only by my senior thesis at Lawrence in 1998 in which my image drive was somehow corrupted. In the spring of 8th grade Joanna McCall showed up with her social studies paper printed out on a smooth, creamy sheet of paper with nary a dot matrix in sight. Her family had an early ink jet or laser printer. It looked like her work could have been part of the actual social studies textbook, so smooth and professional.
In high school my mother made me take typing, a class that I resisted due to the effect that it would have on my GPA. It is by far the class that I use most readily every day. Sure, it didn’t do anything in particular to launch my academic career, but I can carry on a conversation or stare out the window dreamily while I type, thanks to that class, the only class I ever took in the Business department of Milton High School.
Computer keyboards have come and gone, but I’ve never felt a true commitment–lots of passing flings, but no keyboard monogamy. I knew what I liked–clacky, a bit of oomph required, but my previous keyboard relationships were but mere infatuations once I met my new true love.
It arrived under the Christmas tree, a gift from my husband who knows me so well. It is a computer keyboard that looks like a typewriter. The keys are round and raised slightly up. They require a bit more effort to engage, and I suppose that this results in a bit more fatigue, but the sheer tactile joy of this thing makes up for it. The keys clack so satisfyingly that even responding to mundane emails has been rendered a joy. And the space bar–oh the space bar. Its tone is slightly more high pitched and more resonant than the other keys. I will simply never be able to give up two spaces after a period after this.
Every day I try to write at least 500 words, usually of sheer drivel. My 500 word habit has become an obsession thanks to the love of my typing life that took me back to the dining room on Elm Street, kneeling on a phone book, clacking away on the old grey beast while Grandma cooked in the kitchen.