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At our garage sale recently, one of the treasures we offered for sale was a box of IBM Selectric typewriter ribbons. These ribbons sparked so many conversations with the shoppers who browsed our tables! It’s funny how such a small item can bring back so many memories.

I learned to type during one hot steamy summer in New Orleans, sitting at a picnic table in the backyard banging away at a manual typewriter (for you young’uns, that means a machine that did NOT plug in and was NOT connected to the Internet). I am not kidding about the banging – you had to press the keys quite hard to make the metal letters on the little arms come in contact with the ribbon and the paper. Typing was not a regular class in my elementary school, but my mom had taken it in college, so I borrowed her textbook with its pages of stimulating exercises like “f j f j fj fjfjfj.” When my attention flagged, I would get distracted by the anoles sunning themselves on the chain-link fence or by the fire-ants crawling up my bare legs. Somehow, though, I managed to teach myself to type!

This gave me a big advantage over my non-typing peers. When I had to take Typing Class in junior high school, I was able to breeze right through it. Good thing, too, because by then my attention was distracted by Steve at the typewriter next door.

In high school, my typing ability actually earned me a profit when I was hired one summer to type addresses on index cards at Educational Testing Services in Princeton. This led naturally to a college summer job in the “typing pool” for a federal government publication. There my attention was caught by an editor on the China desk (seeing a pattern here). I remember racing to the In-Basket to grab the China articles before the other girls, so that I would have an excuse to deliver the typed pages to his desk. My interest in the editor faded when I returned to college, but the experience kindled a lifelong interest in Chinese politics and history.

One reason for my fading interest in the China desk editor was my new college boyfriend. Guess what he did for extra spending money on campus? Repaired typewriters! (Ask me sometime about the embarrassing items that students managed to jam into their keyboards.)

My major in college was Chemistry, which was not a typing-intensive career. However, I remedied that situation when computers made their appearance in my laboratory. It didn’t take me long  to throw over Chemistry in favor of Computer Programming! And I have been typing my way through various careers ever since.

Digital scrapbooking is perfect for me, because I can type SO much faster than I can write by hand. I have a better chance of keeping up with my racing thoughts! But I could never do it without the backspace key. It seems like I type backwards almost as much as I type forwards! Fortunately, I don’t have to drag out the eraser or the correction tape for every mistake like we had to in the “old days”. Instead, my fingers seem to automatically correct the mistakes without any involvement from my brain. Sometimes.

And those typewriter ribbons at our garage sale last weekend?  We gave them away to a nice couple who still have an IBM Selectric.

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23 Responses to Blog: Just My Type(ing)

  1. Janice says:

    Loving this story soooo much Penny – especially the part about the “extra interests” while typing – you had me laughing out loud!!! I did a secretarial course and had to do speed typing tests on manual typewriters. Once I was going so fast and typing so hard that when I hit the carriage return, it slid straight off the typewriter and onto the floor (thankfully there wasn’t anyone sitting on my right!).

    • Penny says:

      It was hard to type fast on a manual typewriter, wasn’t it? I can imagine whacking the carriage return right onto the floor! I remember when computer keyboards first came out, the “Enter” key was called the “Return” key (short for Carriage Return). I sill think of it as the Return key!

  2. Linda H says:

    My dad didn’t want me to take typing my last semester in High School. He thought I could teach myself to type – he was right, I could have – but I knew I’d never get very far! So, took typing. I don’t remember if there were any cute guys next to me, but I did learn (sort of). Or rather I learned that I can type fast, but not accurately. Or v-e-r-y s-l-o-o-o-w-ly, and acurately. For HS graduation, i received a Smith-Corona manual typewriter. It was yellow. I was so proud of it! I was never able to type papers for anyone else in college (partly due to the fact that mine weren’t done early enough to give me the time to type anyone else’s). But, I never did have to pay to have my papers typed. And, I got my job in acquisitions at the library because I could type and no one else could. Luckily, they didn’t expect me to type quickly to fill out the little forms – just accurately. I can’t say I got any other jobs because of my typing skills – but it was probably the most useful thing I took in HS! The typewriter is long gone, and my speed is no better, but no matter! I can type far better than I can text!

  3. Carol says:

    Penny, I too remember learning how to type on a manual typewriter in High School. We weren’t allowed to use the electric ones until we got the manual ones down. So frustrating. My mother was a secretary which lead to an Executive Assistant and always told me keep up with your typing you will have that to fall back on. Not wanting to be a secretary growing up and fought her on this huge. But guess what exit high school and spent the next 25 years working in an office on a typewriter and was thrilled when the computer with word processing came out. I then switched to a merchandiser in the retail business and here I am 52 years old unemployed (not by choice) looking at going back to office work (it’s easier on the body).

  4. Leslie says:

    My typewriter story: I had a conference I wanted to attend out of state and needed a new typewriter that had some fancy bells & whistles for greater efficiency. Money was pretty tight so I had a sense the answer would be no so I requested the funds for the conference first and received a resounding “no!” Not to be deterred, I asked if he would consider a new typewriter for $150 (1/10th the price of the conference). He signed the paperwork immediately!! Timing is everything!! And the typewriter was great help!!

  5. Barbara Mitchell says:

    OMG Penny! What memories!!! I remember learning to type on a manual typewriter that was NOT electric, and then being excited about that IBM Selectric! And how exciting it was to use that typewriter with correction tape and not have to use those strips of correction paper that you stuck down in front of the hammer to correct your error!

    Thanks for a fun trip down memory lane!

    • Penny says:

      I know what you mean about being excited about the IBM Selectric! It was SOOOOOO high-tech!! The little spinning type ball was amazing. And you are right – the automatic correction feature was such an improvement over the strips of correction tape!

  6. shirley shingara says:

    Great story and yes, it brings back my memories of Mrs. Yamamura the teacher, and sitting next to Albert and hearing all about his fascination with Animal from the Muppets! Good times!

  7. Marilynne Turner says:

    Loved your story as it brought back memories of my learning to type as it is the same as yours. Used my mother’s college typing manual on the old keyboard because I loved typing. Got skilled the same as you with the repetitive cjcjcjcj and when I started typing in junior high was way ahead of everybody else, and when I was raising klds, typed papers and put on disc for College students for extra income. Have joined pixels2pages this year and just love it. Am leaving for holidays in 4 days with my sister, so looking forward to making some great pages when I come back.

    • Penny says:

      Maybe we were sitting next to each other in junior high typing class! 🙂 Glad to hear that you are loving pixels2Pages – we are happy to have you with us!

  8. Carolyn says:

    The day is coming where we won’t have to type at all. We will think it and it will be sent. We are closer than we might think, according to a leading neurologist I listened to on NPR the other day. Fascinating! Also fascinating is all of your life’s intersections with a keyboard and associated gentlemen. Great story!

  9. Deanna Emmert says:

    Had typing class in High School. It was essential to have a typewriter in college through my college years. I still remember typing term papers at 3:00 in the morning and hoping I was not going to wake anyone else up. They were pretty noisy. 🙂 Took a keyboarding class after I married. Have not looked back! 🙂 Since my hubby is a software developer the computer is it for this family. Given the current state of technology, I feel very blessed to be able to be married to someone who truly gets it because I often don’t!!! Now my problem is that I would rather type on my laptop keyboard than text message on a cell phone! I actually do not like texting on those itty, bitty keypads. lol. Meanwhile my daughter whips out text messages… I am not going to want to wonder what will come along someday that will make me feel like my current laptop is the old electronic typewriter of yore! lol! Great blog, Penny! 🙂

    • Penny says:

      Thanks, Deanna! I wonder too what will come next. Our great-grandkids will be amazed to read about our typewriters and computer keyboards and even our cell phones! I try to write about these things as they come to mind, because later on the little details that we take for granted will be so interesting to read.

  10. Janet Carr says:

    Penny!!

    I just LOVE your story!!!!! I can remember walking into to typing class, and seeing white paper taped over all of the key boards… (there would always be the big sounds of uuuugghhhh as we all piled in the class room) with a mutter of… a pop quiz………

    By the way… I still have my Mom’s IBM electric and an old Royale that I still use for typing my journaling on my traditional layouts!!!

    THANKS so VERY MUCH for using my digital kits too!!!!!! LOVE your page… it is simply WONDERFUL!!!!!!!!

    • Penny says:

      So cool that you still have typewriters to use for traditional layouts! I wish I had not parted company with the electric that I used all through college. Now I am reduced to using digital fonts that simulate typewriters. And it was SO much easier to type envelopes, labels, index cards, and all sorts of odd-sized items on a ‘real’ typewriter instead of a word processor!

  11. Linda DeLaughter says:

    Yes, I too learned to type on a MANUAL typewriter. How did I keep my arms and fingers from hurting through all the “banging”? Then came MagCard computers and finally color monitors and wireless keyboards! I did win a contest once in my community as having the “fastest fingers”!

  12. adakallen adakallen says:

    Well this blog brought back MANY MEMORIES!
    When I began teaching school they had manual typewriters in the classroom for Typing 1 students. They had Selectric typewriters for Typing 2 then eventually got Selectric for Typing 1. By that time Selectric had gone from the little ball to disk, YUK! I had not much more than mastered all the quirks that kids could do those machines when they plopped Mac computers in my room. I had to master several levels of Macs along the way. Then they moved me to the office to manage the state testing for all kids and by the time I was “comfortable” with testing they came and got my Mac and put a PC in my office. It was not a normal PC. We all laughed the scool district found a bargain on mass purchase of PC’s “made in someone’s garage. By the time I retired they had discovered the error of the ways and came and got my garage model and put a Dell in my office. WOW this is the outline form of my memories. I need to write this in detail and add it to my “This is me Exposed” album.

  13. Alison says:

    Dying to know what embarrassing things the students managed to jam into their typewriters! Love your story Penny, and I wish I’d learned to type properly when I was young like you did!

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