“Honey, I remember life before computers, so imagining my life without one isn’t much of a stretch,” I wink at my 12-year-old niece, Manda, who simply stares at me in disbelief. Of course, her generation has practically been raised by computer, so imagining a world without one would be a challenge.
“So, what was it like?” she asks, tentatively while gnawing on a homemade oatmeal cookie, part of a batch we made this morning.
“Well, life was simpler in a more complicated kind of way.”
Manda gives me the wooly eyeball. “What does that mean?”
I set my tea cup back in its saucer on the table and look past her through the window to the snow-covered garden. Cardinals are flitting back and forth from tree branch to tree branch, enjoying the sunny respite from what has turned into a frigidly cold winter. I feel old even thinking about the way things were before computers, so I stick to thinking about what it would be like to live without a computer now.
“Well, as a writer it means that I’d be doing my work on a typewriter, which is far more arduous, but in some ways,” I muse, “it’s more connected to the page. You make typos and learn to let them fly or risk interrupting your train of thought. With a computer you can back track and correct ad nauseum, which is great, of course, but it’s just not the same. There’s something rather grounding about using a typewriter. And perhaps this just makes me a nostalgic, old fool, but so be it.”
I gather by the look in Manda’s eye that something hasn’t registered.
“What’s the matter, sweetie?”
She hesitates. Takes another bite of her cookie and a sip of tea ~ such a sophisticated young lady for her age, full of curiosity and honest to a fault.
“C’mon, dear. Don’t be shy. I know you want to ask me something.”
Manda sets down her cookie and leans back in her chair. The kitchen table wobbles as she bumps the leg. The tension breaks with a giggle.
“I really must get that fixed,” I smile and nudge her calf with my foot. She smiles. There’s my girl.
“Go on then,” I prod, “what do you want to ask?”
“Well,” she looks at me with resolve, “what’s a typewriter?”
Of course, I didn’t see that one coming. Why would she know what a typewriter is? Still, I laugh.
“Hey, don’t make fun!” she squeals, “I can’t help it if I don’t know what it is.”
“You’re right, sweetie, and I don’t mean to make fun. It’s just when you say things like that I realize just how old I really am, and how much has happened in my life time. I laugh more at myself than I do at your naiveté.”
Manda turns her smile upside down and waits for some action on my part that will turn it right side up again.
“Here,” I stand up from the table and walk around to where she is sitting.
“What?” she snarls. I deserve it.
“I want to show you something.” I take her hand, which she allows with some reluctance, and together we journey up the stairs to my writing hide-out.
“Where are we?” she asks.
“This is where I write.” I tell her. “I haven’t brought you here before because I didn’t think you were ready. But since you’ve asked such an important question I wanted to show, rather than tell you, what a typewriter is and looks like.
As we enter the sun beams in gently from the southwest window which overlooks a mature forest of maples and firs. Book shelves line the walls, filled with the works of my favourite and inspiring authors, interrupted only by the occasional large, framed photograph of a favoured spot on our property. I lead Manda past the Apple to a corner of the room where sits an old oak writing desk. Upon it a lumpy form covered in a dust cloth, which I gradually pull back to reveal a vintage black Remington Rand manual typewriter, complete with ribbon. Beside it, a stack of paper.
Manda looks at it, the little laugh at her expense forgotten as her eyes wander its curves and crevices. She takes a step closer to the Remington and then turns to me. “May I touch it, Aunt Sally?”
“Of course, but be gentle with her. She is old.”
Manda lightly touches the keys and runs her hand across the top toward the cylinder.
“Mind the ribbon, though sweetie. It’s full of ink.”
“It still works?”
“Yes, except when the keys get stuck, or I run out of ribbon. But yes, it works wonderfully.”
“Do you ever write with it?”
“Occasionally, when I need to slow down my process. Sometimes my fingers get whipping on that computer over there and the magic doesn’t feel the same.”
“May I try?”
Without answering I reach for a piece of paper from the stack and feed it into the cylinder, rolling it to the perfect start location about two inches down from the top of the page. I show her the space bar and the carriage return. With a look of intense concentration she pushes down the letter I. There’s a chirp of glee as she experiences the mechanisms click into gear and the letter lands on the page. She types another letter, and then another, searching as she goes; frustrated a couple of times, until she’s typed I love my aunty Sal. I beam with pride.
“Oh, aunty, this is amazing! May I keep going?”
“Yes, Manda, of course. I’ll leave you to it.” I smile and give her shoulder a gentle pinch as I turn to leave.
Another writer in the family. She, like me, would be fine without a computer.
©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016