In Grade 10, I took first year Typing. Our classroom held about 15 desks which came in two adjustable halves: on one side of each desk sat a grey steel manual typewriter, and on the other half we placed a copy of our typing textbook, looped over a stand so it stood upright. Our teacher, Mrs. Wangsness, was kind but firm. I did well enough that year to qualify for Typing II, which I took in Grade 12. By Christmas break, I could type 80 words a minute on those clunky old manuals.
My parents must have decided it would be worth the investment and surprised me with a brand new, brown and tan Sears Selectric typewriter in its own carrying case for Christmas. I was floored! It cost over $200, a ridiculous sum for a Christmas present in 1976. It came with ribbon cartridges that you simply slid into the side and discarded after use. A secondary cartridge held a correction ribbon whereby you could type over your errors with white and, voila! Your mistakes magically disappeared. Provided you typed on white paper, of course.
I lugged that thing to typing class every day for the remainder of the school year while the rest of the class lumbered away on the manuals. It probably weighed more than five of today’s laptops, and all it could do was type!
That spring, a nearby business college sponsored a contest for high school students and I represented my little school in typing and shorthand. (Shorthand—now there’s another story for another day!) Others on our team competed in Accounting and other business related tests.
They allowed us to bring our own typewriters, so I carted along my trusty Selectric, plugged ‘er in, and went to work. I found it challenging and more than a little stressful. At lunch time when Mr. Myers asked how I thought I’d done, I told him I felt satisfied that I had done my best. He agreed that was the main thing.
At the awards ceremony later, they called out the winners’ names starting with third place. I hoped it might be me, but no.
As they prepared to announce the second-place winner, my hopes lay somewhere down around my feet. And I was right; someone else’s name was called.
Then they called the first place winner and I nearly fell off my platform shoes. I won! The prize was a $400 scholarship to the college which I never took advantage of, and a medal which lies tarnishing somewhere in our storage room. I made my parents proud, though, and landed a job right out of high school working in the offices of the Portage Co-op store.
I carried that old typewriter with me into married life and used it to type my husband’s college papers, crank out letters home, and create newsletters for the student wives’ club. I even earned a few bucks typing papers for other students. Later, I wrote annual family Christmas newsletters and drama scripts for church.
Sometime after we obtained our first computer in 1996 and I learned how to use it, I donated the 20-year old typewriter to MCC and I have no idea whether it still exists.
And no, I don’t miss it.
But I’ll always feel grateful for that beautiful gift. Did my parents suspect that I would one day make my living as an administrative assistant or that I would become a published writer? I don’t know, but I shudder to think what a challenge either of these would be without those typing classes and my good old personal typewriter to practise on. It was a gift that kept on giving.
Good investment, indeed!