Making our way through Gaston Pickers in Gastonia NC one Saturday afternoon, we heard a puzzled little voice – a real live boy this time, not one of our Space Ranger bottles – asking, “Hey, Mom what is this old thing?” Turning around we could see a puzzled look on Mom’s face. “I think it’s a typewriter,” she said dubiously. It was obvious that this young woman had never had the opportunity to type on a manual typewriter.
So, if you’re my age and took typing way back in high school, I’m sure you remember the click-clacking and dinging of a roomful of students typing away on Royal and Underwood manual typewriters. At first, they even had us typing to music supposedly to help us set our rhythm – more likely to drown out the racket we were making. Unfortunately, their selections didn’t include summer greats like In the Year 2525, Bad Moon Rising, or A Boy Named Sue. We dutifully learned the home row keys – a,s,d,f and j,k,l,; - the foundation of “touch typing.” There was no such thing as a “return” key. Remember the swooping motion required by your left hand to sling the carriage back to the starting position at the end of each line? But the main reason I took business courses, the classrooms were air-conditioned, unlike the rest of the school. So spending an hour each afternoon in the luxury of an air-conditioned classroom made it worth learning the home row keys.
Once we knew where our fingers belonged, we were taught the #1 rule in typing – NEVER, EVER LOOK AT YOUR HANDS. Mr. McCloskey wielding his mighty ruler would cruise around the classroom just waiting for one of us to commit this mortal sin or even worse, looking at what you had typed on the paper. When he found you, whap went the ruler. He didn’t have to explain – you knew what you had done wrong.
When we had mastered the manual typewriter, we were allowed to move up to the electrics with the almighty return key. Being allowed to use the IBM Selectric – the one with interchangeable type head balls - we thought we had died and gone to heaven. Just by changing the ball, which was pretty easy to do, you could change the font. Yeah, I know nowadays on a computer, you can change fonts just by highlighting, viewing a vast array of fonts in multiple sizes, and then clicking on the one you like – faster than you can say Selectric.
As we advanced, we learned how to cut master dittos for the stencil duplicator and spirit masters for the mimeograph machine - my personal favorite. You see, the only reason I ever went to school in first grade was to sniff that purple mimeograph ink. So when I had the opportunity to actually type the originals, correct them using razor blades (yes, we were allowed to have razor blades in the classroom) and run them off – well let’s just say I was more than a happy camper. And then Xerox machines came along and my purple ink was gone forever!