The Old Typewriter

Photograph of The Old Typewriter

My Old Typewriter
©susan Sheldon Nolen 2012

The old typewriter was a large part of my childhood.  I made my first attempts to type on its stubby olive keys, under the watchful eye of my father.  I was not aware of the emotion attached to my childish pounding the keys, and only thought he watched me to prevent my fingers from somehow rendering his sturdy machine unusable.

It takes effort to type.  This old manual bangs away with a loud clap, clap on the paper, and if the force of the keys are too strong, it leaves behind not only the impression of inked letters, but tiny holes where the periods have not only made their presence felt, but actually have punched through the paper.

I used to fall asleep to my father’s typing as he wrote letters late into the night, listening to Indian music so loudly, that no shouting down the stairs from my room would cause the music to soften.  In seething rebellion, I turned the dial of my red radio as loudly as it would go, but the Beatles, You say want a revolution, could not match in volume, or sheer force of presence, the dominating tones of the India Ragas.  It was a battle quickly lost.

The nightly sound of the keys hitting the paper and the little bell tinkling that the end of the line was approaching soon, were to me no different than a mother’s lullaby.  I knew as long as the clatter of the keys punctuated the still night, all was well in the world.

When my father died, the typewriter was a part of my inheritance along with his letters.  The typewriter sat in its case with carbon paper and envelopes, waiting for action.  I had my computer and it was far too tedious a process to type on an old Smith Corona and then copy the text back to the computer.  The old green typewriter was destined to wait for many years in the bottom of the closet covered by sweaters and scarves.

Over the years, I read with an awed fascination that some writers still pound the keys.  I pictured them sitting at a desk, with a black iron machine, a fire crackling in the fireplace; the clock wound tight, ticking, and the sound of a dog sleeping.  Peace.  The beginnings of literature pounded into shape in the still of the night.

After several moves, the typewriter came out of storage crates and sat beside my desk, still waiting.  One day I grabbed at the battered old case and opened it.  The old green body with green keys looked the same as the day my dad sat brooding at the kitchen table, keys silent, rum and coke in hand, and the smoke of a cigarette curling into the air.

I found some paper, put it into the carriage, and turned the wheel.  The first few keystrokes were awkward, like the first kisses of young lovers not sure what to do.  Surprisingly it took effort to push the keys down and too much effort made the keys clang together in a tight mess requiring the prying apart of the metal letters.  After sitting untouched for ten years, the ribbon still produced a strong dark ink, and before I knew it, I was captured by the sound of the keys hitting the page, the little bell tinkling its warning, end of page, end of page.  I was sliding the carriage-return back like a pro. I had quite a few number 8’s in my letter, as there is no exclamation mark.  The typewriter demands that the lower case l be used, and then back type with a period placed under, leaving behind a fine impression of an exclamation point.

The act of typing forces ones thoughts to slow down, unlike the computer, which allows thoughts to flow as fast as the fingers can fly over the keyboard.  There is no need to edit as one types on the computer, as it is easy to erase, delete, but the typewriter demands one to slow down as there is a sense of permanence to the writing.

There is something comforting in knowing that this old machine, my father’s machine, now mine, is still working, still willing to be a companion and assist my thoughts on to paper after all these years.  There is also an affection towards the machine, an affection that my father must have felt as he sat before the green keys, and possibly his thoughts, his feelings, his worries, all that he could not speak, came through the keys on to the paper.  I like to believe that a part of him remains with the old typewriter and now keeps me company as I too, sit up late at night with the sound of the little bell tinkling away. So with a final tinkle of the bell, I wish you, good night little friend.

Photograph of My Old Typewriter

Good night little friend
©susansheldonnolen 2012

About susan sheldon

I am an explorer. It's taken me awhile to realise this. But I love capturing bits of our wonderful world with my camera, travelling through time and history, always returning to write, or paint what I've discovered. I use my Leica and my iPhone to capture images, and with those images I try to hold on to a feeling, a moment in our busy lives. Sometimes those moments bring me into the past, others into the studio to paint, or back to the old typewriter to try to use words to capture what the camera has done for me already. One of my goals in my blog is to have a space to take a breath away from our frantic world. I hope you enjoy your time here. It’s such a privilege to have readers.
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16 Responses to The Old Typewriter

  1. Jules says:

    I remember my mums typewriter!! Oh I loved it, I felt so important if I was allowed to use it. I wonder what happened to it? Hmmm I will have to ask…..

  2. susan nolen says:

    Thanks Jules, It’s amazing what we can find in old cupbaords. My aunt also had an old typewriter in hers and it still worked after donkey years! I wonder if we can say that about our old computers!

  3. I so can relate to that hammering sound, my dad was also a literature lover, smoke filled his study and books and papers everywhere…It is in those memories the things comes a live, like the typewriter echoes your fathers soul.

    • susan nolen says:

      Thanks Ingrid, there is something about the sound of the typewriter that transcends time. Sometimes I feel as if he is looking over my shoulder when I type, carefully correcting mistakes!

  4. Jacky says:

    I bought myself a portable years ago with a view to teaching myself to type correctly but somehow I still only use two fingers even on the computer key board.

    • susan nolen says:

      Hi Jacky, I remember in school there was no choice..home ecocnomics Ie. Cookery, or secretarial. That’s where I learnt how to type and to do Pitman Shorthand. I can type but my handwriting on a good day is unreadable never mind the art of shorthand!

  5. sodastream13 says:

    nice one. Still got my old one, pre golf-ball IBM days.

  6. Loved this , Susan! Great writing and you struck a chord with Phil and I. We both started on an old style newspaper as cub reporters 24 years ago. The company was notoriously stingy and we wrote our first stories on 1950s Imperial typewriters. We know the hammer of the keys and that little bell so well.

    Great post! Welcome!

    • susan nolen says:

      Thanks Kate! My aunt had an Imperial typewriter which I had to use when we had a power shortage one winter! Granted only for a few hours, but it was fun to bash away at the keys in the front room! Here’s to the sound of writing!

  7. shiratdvora says:

    Susan, love the story about the typewriter. Your words touched me.

  8. Now that’s a sound you don’t hear often nowadays, Susan! And you are so right about the typewriter slowing you down as you write. The typewriter I used to use had very little ink, and the typed letters were never in a straight line (when you could make them out, that is!), and the full stops went through the page as you described in your post! Ah, great memories… great post 8 (! ;))

  9. elspethc says:

    I first wrote on a typewriter, second hand from somewhere in Camden. Long gone. I am writing this on my EIGHTH computer – the first was an Amstrad now unheard of. I have a photo of number 7 which I don’t think I can get into a comment, and an iphone (call it 9) I write on or talk into sometimes when I am out and about. This list is not meant to be about me but about the transience of things, maybe especially now, and the longevity/permanence of feelings which might be attached. Thankyou for a lovely remembrance story.

    • Hi elspethc
      Thank you so much for your kind words! I can’t remember how many computers I am on. The one thing about typewriters is, the lasted forever! This computer? well…next year!

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