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Where’d it go?

Food For Thought

While cleaning out a drawer the other day, I came across an old typewriter ribbon. (I never actually “clean out” a drawer in the sense of emptying it and putting its contents somewhere else; mostly I just look through stuff and put most of it back.) I don’t know how long the typewriter ribbon has been there, but it must have been a good long time, as it was a ribbon for a little portable Olivetti I had while in college and used for maybe 25 years afterward. Come to think of it, I didn’t have that particular drawer until sometime in the 1990s, when I got my first computer, so it’s amazing the ribbon was even there. (Maybe I saved it because I wasn’t sure I’d stick with the computer and might want to go back to the typewriter?) Anyway, it got me thinking about the different typewriters I’ve used during my lifetime.
Like so many other important things in my life, I learned to type before the subject became available to me in school. This was probably due to a couple conditions; one being I had a sister five years older than I and Dad brought home an old typewriter from his office at the Chevy dealership for her to practice on when she took her first typing class in high school. It was a big, clunky old Underwood and the keyboard had round keys with the letters and numbers clearly marked and covered by clear celluloid. Each key was a raised rim of metal all the way around it and they were all stiff and required a good hard punch to get a clear impression on the typed page. Typing with any speed on that machine called for short fingernails, calloused fingertips, and strong knuckles. To help my sister learn the “touch” method of typing, he had die-cut little circles of white paper to cover the letters on the keys, so she had to learn the keyboard more or less by trial and error.
Either my sister learned the touch-typing system easily or else she gave up, I don’t remember, but the Underwood was suddenly available for me to experiment with and it wasn’t long before I’d learned where most of the letters were located and could type my letters, poems, stories and even some of my schoolwork. (I didn’t bother with the numbers and other things in the top row, however, and still have to peek when typing those.)
When it became my turn to take a typing class in high school, I stayed at the head of the class for most of the first semester. The fairly new Smith-Coronas were wonderfully easy to type on, taking hardly any pressure as compared to the Underwood, and the keys were shaped so my fingers fell naturally into place. I could even let my fingernails grow to a more attractive length and still maintain a fairly impressive word-per-minute speed. The second semester comprised all the advanced students from the beginners’ classes and a boy named Seward proved to be stiff competition for both typing speed and accuracy.
In college, I learned it would be beneficial to be able to turn in some of my assignments in typewritten form. A typewriter had not been on the list of items my parents considered college necessities, and I strove to keep my handwriting legible so my teachers would not complain about the written work I turned in. After the first couple of years, I found a girl living near me in the dorm who had a typewriter but who did not type, and we soon negotiated a deal allowing me to use her typewriter as much as I needed to if I would type for her the things she was required to have typed. This arrangement worked for the two of us until my husband-to-be realized my predicament and gave me the little Olivetti he bought for himself but seldom used.
When I started volunteering at the Solon elementary school, I dragged out the Olivetti and typed reams of material for the informational folders necessary for the Picture Presenter Program. I had to do a lot of research and, while some things could be Xeroxed from books and magazines, much of it needed to be summarized or otherwise reduced to more manageable length. This newspaper column was born sometime around that same time, and while many early columns were submitted in longhand, I began typing most of them. When I learned about a new sort of typewriter that had a memory (the word-processor), I began to think about getting one but couldn’t justify the cost, so settled for a used electric typewriter from my husband’s office. That was a big improvement but, when a friend talked my husband and me into jumping into the world of computers, everything changed.
I look at this little roll of ink-soaked tape, this typewriter ribbon, and am amazed at how fast it became obsolete. I wonder if my grandchildren would even know what it is.