The Way It Used To Be – Martha Williams’ last column

Outdated? Well, at least I can type

Reprinted from April 2000 

The first typewriter I ever had was an Underwood. It was a mechanical affair with a full keyboard in a semi circle, and each striker arm held a letter or symbol. Back in those days, to own a typewriter was out of the question because of the cost.

Eventually, however, I did buy a portable, which was a manual. It was a Hermes, I think, that had script type on the standard strikers. I was in high cotton, and I did all my statements using that typewriter.

Some time after that, I was able to purchase an electric Smith-Corona. Now this was the ultimate! Effortlessly, I could push through work and not even have to shift. Faster typing, however, produced more errors and they came out with a cartridge, which replaced the ribbon cartridge enabling you to retype the error so you could correct it. This was the ultimate. 

There was no way I could afford this. The Selectric had a little hollow ball with all the characters on it that swung around at a rapid speed making the impression. The Wheelwriter had a plastic disc, which was easily removed for various styles of type. The original asking price for the Wheelwriter as more than $1000 and I knew it was out of the question.

Years went by and I saw an IBM Selectric. The one I saw was red. They were evidently made to accent various businesses, and were available in vivid colors or brown. I recall responding to an ad in the newspaper and buying a new Selectric from a woman who worked for an attorney. It was a bargain and I felt like I’d gotten a real good deal.

Somewhere in the next couple of years, I saw another IBM. It was a Wheelwriter.

Then down the line, one day this typewriter repairman, disgusted with the Selectric’s lack of performance, offered me a deal: that old Selectric of mine plus $300 for a Wheelwriter. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! I placed it proudly up front in back of the counters where I sometimes do book work while keeping an eye on customers and so on.

As months and years have passed, we have continued to display repaired watches on a timing board and want to buy watches from customers. Likewise, they’d watch me typing and say, “What a novelty, such a lovely old typewriter and someone who can still actually type.”

This did not make me feel important. They were making fun of my beautiful Wheelwriter as if it were an antique – my splendid new machine!

Then my son came to visit and he spotted my new machine and lovingly ran his hand over it. I thought to myself, “Now he knows a good machine when he sees one.” After inspecting it thoroughly, he said, “Wow, think of this, a typewriter without a spell check.” He might as well have been talking about a ’39 Dodge.

I did purchase a word processor. I couldn’t figure out how to use it but had an employee who was an expert. I asked her to show me, and she spent about three hours pointing out this and that, and the next day I asked her to show me again. She replied, “I showed you once and I am not going to show you again.”

So after I replaced her, I found out the new girl was a computer illiterate. Finally, I gave the word processor to my son. 

I suppose the next step is to buy a computer, but this seems so difficult to me. I even have a customer who’s willing to teach me in my spare time; assuming this would be somewhere between 11:45 p.m. and 4:30 a.m.

Yesterday, a woman was at the counter and she was obviously watching what I was doing. Finally, between breaks in conversation with Chip, she addressed me, “I see you know how to type. I taught typing for years and years in high school classes.”

She went on to say that most people today use a computer keyboard by utilizing the hunt and peck system. I felt a surge of renewed confidence, except I had to consider that just because I can type, it hasn’t enhanced my income any, but the computer wizards out there who hunt and peck are worth millions.

Anyway, I think the next type of machine I get will have a spell check. To add insult to injury, my son advised me the processor I gave him is too outdated so he bought a laptop computer.

When I hear what an old model machine I have, I have to believe they figure I am also outdated. I’d get my feelings hurt, but have to admit that maybe I am indeed a bit dated. I started out with a slate!