One would think I’ve written enough about typewriters. After all, not only do I share memories of Dad’s click-clacking away in My Music Man, but even after that I featured this two century-old appliance in its own blog (see: Pen, typewriter, computer). I would have stopped there –if it hadn’t been for the essay I read in the bathtub the other night. (Confused? Maybe you missed this one: Tips for reading the bath (or how to avoid fines and electrocution).
I have purposefully meandered, admiring extra-long sentence elucidations, the pages of Brian Doyle’s final book, One Long River of Song. It was Doyle’s essay The Old Typewriter in the Basement that jettisoned me back to the sounds of keys, carriage rings and spell-checking requests. The essay made me miss Dad like the dickens. Visions of a younger me in each of three different childhood homes materialized, the click-clacking of keys escaping each room. Doyle writes that the memory of his dad’s typing …”sounded cheerful and businesslike and efficient and workmanlike and true.” Exactly. That’s all of it, punctuated for me by the carriage bell and the thrump of the whirl of the carriage return. I can still imagine the quick thrust Dad made of his old Royal carriage as if conducting a private symphony. I love this memory. More often than not I visualize him typing in his old green velour robe, characterized by an immodest gap below the belt in the front –especially embarrassing to me as a teen when he’d step out to take the dog to pee.
Moving into our final couple of years on the banks of the Willamette, although sounds still came from Dad’s typewriter, especially late into our weekend afternoons and evenings, I knew that something was amiss, although I still offered tips to his shouted-out queries: How do you spell perceive? Does annoyance have two n’s? And he did still find a dictionary in me, a temporary solution to dyslexia as he was living in our house again –and commuting to Salem for work, having left advertising, an industry he never liked much….”Chapter 12: Girl in a Boys’ World, My Music Man.
I’m reminded often about how Doyle’s words spoke to me so clearly one night at a monthly Willamette Writers event at Portland’s Old Church several years ago. At the time I was excited in the anticipation of the release of My Music Man. I had joined other first-time published authors in feeling nervous, filled with worries of self-doubt. Is it good enough to be read by others? What if people think it is stupid? And yet, Brian’s words soothed me. He left me (and others, also eager-to-sop-up messages from this master of the written word) with a forever take away that even now gives me the shivers. Everyone has a story to share, he humbly told us. I suspect each of us perched on the wooden pews felt the comment directed at us. I have attended other Willamette Writers events in that church, but none impacted me like those moments with Brian Doyle. The memories I now carry of The Old Church have more recently matured into an even larger emotional vision, as my last visit to this old-time sanctuary was for the memorial service for our friend Karen. Dear friend, writer and poet, and Doyle fan. Her memorial was one of the last indoor public events I attended before the pandemic broke loose, a few bottles of hand sanitizer nearby to foreshadow a future we only now can fathom. Perhaps that is why the echoing of clicks and carriage returns brings me this strange combination of joy and sadness.
Recently I checked in with my four brothers to query them on their memories of Dad’s old typewriter: were they as forever as mine? All four reminisced about the click-clacks oozing from Dad’s writing spaces, the basement in Wilsonville, den in LaGrande, and bedroom in our smaller Portland Madison Street home. Each brother expanded on their recollection of the gift his colleagues at the Port of Portland gave Dad when he finally adopted a computer: a clear plexiglass cover to fit over his trusty old Royal, imprinted with the label Dick’s Backup Computer. Not one of them, though, remember acting as his human spellcheck. Strangely, this makes me feel that more special –not only the sole daughter, but the one he relied on for spelling help. Perhaps it was because I was around or just maybe, Dad thought me to be a bit more brilliant (okay, at least as a speller) than my brothers. (He always liked to tell them I had more varsity athletic letters.)
For a non-technical guy, Dad adjusted fairly easily to his new computer although I suspect he didn’t stray far from word documents and emails for the duration of his career and into retirement. Closer toward his death, shortly after he stopped publishing his column in the Shipping News, he spent time tracking down favorite singers and performances on YouTube: this simply blew him away. (Maybe from somewhere beyond his essence nods as these days I do the same for Mom.) I teased Dad then because he referred to everything on the computer as YouTube having a difficult time understanding the differences between websites and applications. Once, the polite guy that he was, asked me to help him with something troubling to him on his computer. He had received an email alert from a colleague inviting him to “connect” on LinkedIn. I mistakenly thought he was interested in being active in this new-to-him social media channel. I sat down with him and helped him begin to set up an account, only to have him finally tell me he had no interest in pursuing it, he simply felt bad not to complete the task requested of him by a colleague. About the same time I offered to set up a blog for him to share his maritime stories and knowledge. He teased me about how stupid the word “blog” sounded and let me know in no uncertain terms that he had already written what he intended, no sense in repeating it. Thankfully, he did continue to share his letters to friends and family faithfully, now by computer.
In an earlier blog I imagine how different the labor of a writer must have been prior to the typewriter, handwriting an entire manuscript prior to 1883 when Mark Twain submitted the first one in typescript. Dad chuckled years ago after I told him his then eight-year old granddaughter insisted on using her own savings to buy an electric typewriter for eight dollars at a garage sale. I had tried to tell this sometimes stubborn daughter that she had happily used a computer – in fact she was a keyboarding whiz as the slowness of handwriting challenged the speed of her creative brain as far back as first grade. I held my tongue and let her haul the exciting new appliance to her bedroom, not being surprised when within a couple of weeks its novelty wore off.
Shortly after Dad died as I cleaned out his things, I recovered the ceramic typewriter pill box from the top of his dresser. I had gifted him many years prior. It was one of the first things I took home and today it still perches on my own writing desk. So today, while my own computer’s noise is a far cry from the click-clacks and rings of the typewriters of the past, this little one silently amplifies those delightful sounds and memories.