The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

November 2, 2012

The typewriter, a fascinating device

Points East

PAINT LICK — I was at a yard sale on the last warm Saturday we had in October when a little girl who was maybe 8 or 9 years old walked up beside me to stare, intently, as I played around with the device I was seriously considering.

I had rolled a sheet of paper into the old, manual Royal typewriter, and I was in the process of hitting every key, one at a time, but I was having trouble with capital letters because my left arm still has issues about doing what I want it to do. So I turned to the kid and asked her if she’d mind helping me out for minute.

She was more than ready to help me out. If you’ve ever seen a child totally fascinated by what’s going on and how and why something works, then you can draw a mental picture of the enthusiasm this one had for jumping right in.

“See this key right here? I need you to hold it down for me because it won’t lock like it’s supposed to, and I can’t use both hands,” I told her. She was so obsessed with the typewriter that she didn’t even ask what was wrong with my arm.

I started running through all the keys to produce the letters and symbols that the shift key produces and got to the end of a line. Then I showed her how to grab the carriage arm and swing it back and then how to roll the paper up a couple of spaces. She was literally bouncing up and down and after every maneuver. She kept saying, “Wow,” “Awesome,” “Cool” or some such variation of exclamation.

By this time, we’d drawn an audience including her mom, the elderly couple running the sale and several customers. We had introduced ourselves (“My name is Emily, but you can call me Em,” she said.). I had explained that the “thing” was called a typewriter and that before computers came along, it was all we old folks had to write with and that, “Nope, you can’t send email with it,” a question and answer which drew loud guffaws from our audience.

Em asked if she could take it for a spin, and I was not at all surprised to find out that the key locations were very familiar territory to her, nor that she wanted to know why they were so hard to press and why they had to go down so far. I was only mildly surprised when we jerked the hood off the machine and Em began discovering, understanding and even explaining how it worked, mechanically.

“Very smart kid you have here,” I told her mom (Veronica) who proudly beamed and agreed that, “Emily catches on to stuff pretty fast.” Mom had previously figured out that I was that “guy who writes for the Richmond Register,” and, for whatever reason, that seemed to give the praise I had for her daughter a bit more credibility.

Em then tugged on my bad arm to get my attention. “So are you gonna buy it,” she wanted to know, and I could tell by the look on her face that she was hoping I’d lost interest. So I told her that I’d give her first shot at it.

“Ohhhhh, Mommy, please, please, please.” The jumping up and down started all over again.

I could tell, by the look on Veronica’s face that my credibility with her had suddenly vanished.

“What on earth would you do with it? You have a perfectly good laptop and a printer at home. You would never even use this old thing.”

“I would take it to school and show it off and have the most awesome show and tell in the history of 4th grade,” Emily exclaimed! “And then I bet my friend, Ike, would buy it back.” She looked up at me hopefully, and I nodded “yes,” and we both looked at Mom.

“How much,” she sighed at the grinning sellers who were shaking their heads with twinkling eyes.

“Oh, just take it on,” the seller said. “The entertainment has been worth more than I was going to ask for it,” the old gentleman laughed.

That was two weeks ago, and I still haven’t heard from Emily and Veronica, but I have a feeling that I will. My only problem is that I don’t have an explanation and argument for Loretta anywhere near as valid as the one that Em had for her mom.

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