It was an Underwood. Manual. Gun-metal grey, bulky and probably so heavy that I wouldn’t be able to lift it myself. It had a ribbon still in place, red on top, black on the bottom. The keys were black, and something about the curve of their metal supports just begged me to touch them, to feel the pressure of their motion as they flung letters one-by-one onto a page, to hear the music of words created.
My fingers stretched into position “ASDF-JKL;”. They fit perfectly and soothingly into the smooth bowl-like keys. I was transported to the basement of the Business Building at my high school where Mrs. Burchell set her timer and paced the front of the room as she tested us for speed and accuracy.
I pressed the small lever on the top right that slid the carriage left. The bell sounded, a satisfying tinkle that signalled progress. My left hand reached out and swung the silver handle that moved the paper up one line, and I was in a room with twenty other young adults, all at manual typewriters, mine always an Underwood. We frantically moved our fingers to another timer in another basement — journalism school where we’d pound the keys madly to meet imaginary news deadlines and end the day with tired shoulders and aching forearms.
I looked fondly at the antiquated machine, ran my right hand along its solid cold surface, remembering the places a typewriter took me. Would anyone ever feel this longing to touch a computer keyboard? To let one’s fingers rest on those keys? Feel that urge to press them? To hear the clatter and “bing” of words created?
My husband walked into the room where the typewriter was tipped on a water bed and practically discarded at an estate sale.
“I learned to type on one of these,” I said, palm up as I displayed this curiosity from a century past. “It’s the same kind we had in journalism school, too.”
“It even still has a ribbon,” he said. He peered at it, but his hands weren’t compelled to caress its surface, to reach for the keys. “Why don’t you get it?”
“I don’t need it. Besides, what would I do with it? It would just be another piece of junk cluttering my life.”
“You should ask anyway. Just find out how much.”
“Nah,” I said. “I don’t want it, but I liked all the memories it brought back, things I‘d forgotten about, or pushed back.”
We climbed the basement steps, pulling on our shoes, ready to leave. “So, how much do you want for that old typewriter in the basement?” he asked. I shook my head and smirked; he was still tempting me.
I breathed again. I wouldn’t even consider parting with forty dollars for such a weighty memory.
“Not really,” he said. “We were just wondering. My wife was kind of looking at it.”
“We’re not serious,” I explained. “Forty dollars is too much. I just thought if it was really cheap, maybe…We’re not collectors or anything. Just curious.” I smiled, turned to leave. “Thanks, anyway.”
“How cheap? How much would you pay?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, shaking my head, not wanting to hurt her feelings, not sure why I was negotiating for something I didn’t want. “Maybe twenty dollars.”
“Twenty would be fine,” she said, smiling broadly, happy to have the interest, happy to have a sale.
“I learned to type on one of these,” I confessed as my husband fished a twenty from his wallet, and her sister fetched the typewriter from the basement.
“She still used it, you know. My mother. Right up until the end. It works perfectly.” We both smiled, her memories and mine, different, but now linked.
My husband hefted the typewriter across the street and into the trunk of our car. “This thing is heavy. Weighs a ton,” he said. “What are you going to do with it?”
“I have absolutely no idea. There’s a story to it now; maybe I’ll write a story. Maybe I’ll just look at it. Maybe I’ll type something for old time’s sake. Probably, though, it’ll end up in the basement.”
© 2012 Sue Farrell Holler