The Typewriter

lcsmithA dozen years ago, my wife and I helped my parents with a garage sale before they moved. One of the items they decided to sell was a big old L.C. Smith typewriter from the forties. (We had sold our old Macintosh 128k computer a few years earlier for $100 at a garage sale; little did we know that both machines are (now, anyway) collectible.) I rolled a sheet of paper into the massive typewriter and typed a sentence to show that the thing worked. The heavy but smooth action was why my dad had this thing: he had learned how to type on a similar model (and he was very fast and accurate).

One family that came to the garage sale included a brother and sister of about eight and ten years old. They were fascinated by the big black typewriter even before their parents told them what it was. I showed them how pressing the keys (“It’s like a computer!”) caused the typebars to swing up, hammering the paper between ribbon and platen. The letters on the struck keys appeared immediately and mechanically on the sheet of paper. The bell ringing toward the end of a line and the tactile pleasure of pulling the chromed lever to move down a line and return the carriage were unexpected and delightful surprises. These kids had to have the typewriter, and their reluctant parents bought it (for $10, I think), and I carried the 35 pound monster to their car.

That family had a computer and a printer and a word processing program. I know, because the parents kept reminding the children of that while being pestered and wheedled into purchasing the new old plaything. The typewriter was, however, a “word processor” that connected the familiar keyboard to the familiar print on paper in a direct, immediate, and intuitive way. The look of wonderment and understanding on the kids’ faces was a joy to behold. Kind of like the look I see on the faces of accountants when I show them XLstatements and they see the direct, immediate, and intuitive way it works.

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