Typewriter tales

Carrying two small cases, my husband passed a group of teachers as he walked into the grade school.

“What do you have in the cases?” one asked.


“What is a typewriter? and why are you bringing them here?”

“One of the teachers wants them.”

Another teacher remembered, “Ms. Cupp is teaching a unit on writing novels and wants her students to experience how authors wrote novels before computers. She asked to borrow typewriters for the unit.”

Typewriters as a novelty. How fast we have forgotten. My mother, an office worker, insisted my siblings and I take typing as a college prep class. The first day of class, I carried a package of typing paper to school. Sitting at a business desk with a manual typewriter, I folded the cover of my typing class book up over the top of the book. The teacher instructed us to use the correct fingers and practice typing the home keys: a,s, d, f, j, k, l and ; without looking. The arrangement of letters on the keyboard accommodated the differences in key strokes, letter usage and mechanics of a typewriter. Although modern computers no longer need the same engineering, the arrangement remains.

Today computers automatically correct my typographical errors. The typing teacher expected us to type without mistakes. She refused to let us use ‘whiteout’ to paint over our mistakes. Grades depended on skill and speed.

On a computer (with auto-correct) I can type 60 to 80 words per minute. With a manual typewriter, I typed much slower for accuracy and because it takes a heavier stroke to type each letter. We typed every day. I learned to type without looking at the letters. That year for Christmas I received a blue portable Smith-Corona typewriter as did each of my siblings the year they took typing. I carried my portable typewriter to college, loaned it to others, and stomped my fingers across the keyboard when I wrote my papers. After college and marriage, I typed letters to my mother and stories for a newspaper.

I applauded when my fifth grader wanted to use his birthday money to buy a lightweight typewriter at a yard sale and a book with a record to teach him touch typing. We had a record player. We did not have a computer. Within days he could touch type. A couple of years later when we bought our first computer, he knew how to key in information quickly. He settled in front of the computer and hasn’t left since. As a visitor once observed after watching our son spend hours in the lounge chair typing on his laptop, “he is just sort of part of the furniture, isn’t he?”

When we married we began as a two typewriter household. my husband had a typewriter. He took typing in high school, but I have always typed faster. We gave his typewriter to person who needed it. By the time my typewriter needed repair, a computer took its place. We never looked back.

So ‘why’ when Ms. Cupp asked for manual typewriters, did I realize I had three manual typewriters: two portables, and a heavy, old fashion upright? I don’t use any of them except when grandchildren visit and I want them to experience how l used to write letters home every week. Thus, my granddaughter happily spent hours typing a story last summer while I kicked back in the lounge chair with my laptop. My fingers still stomp across the keyboard. Young teachers may not know what a typewriter is but my fingers have known for decades and old habits die hard.

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