Meandering around Facebook a few weeks ago, I came across a photo of an ancient item for sale at Barner Books. It was a Smith Corona electric typewriter, newly refurbished and ready to go. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but I immediately remembered the one I’d gone away to college with, a hand-me-down from my Aunt Renee’. As a child I’d hunted and pecked on hers, sending typewritten letters to my parents fifteen minutes away. I then used it for the first couple of years for the usual papers, and eventually poems, before it was stolen along with a few other select items when our apartment was broken into in the mid-80s.
It was a frightening experience, being violated like that, but it did enable me to move on to the gorgeous IBM Selectrics that were available for student use at the college library. Each was housed in a tiny room, and typing away on those gave you the illusion of having a Room Of Your Own. Which I manifested soon enough. When I did, I took with me a more modern typewriter, a Christmas gift from my ex that did the trick as well. And honestly, those Selectrics have reigned supreme in my memory as the instrument of choice, long after typewriters became obsolete. I finally adapted to the lighter touch of a laptop keyboard. The electronic whack of those old machines became a distant memory.
Until I saw this Smith Corona. It was a bit more than I could justify paying by myself, though not an unreasonable price. I conned my Beloved into splitting the cost with me as an early Christmas present. Since he often stresses about what to get me for Christmas, this was a sort of relief for him, too. I called the shop, paid in advance, and made arrangements to pick it up on a Saturday morning.
The bookstore is located on a side street in New Paltz, the very town I attended college in and where I worked in a bookstore for three years myself. Parking is always a challenge there, but I found a free spot nearby and made my way across the back lot of P&Gs, and up Church Street. I claimed my property by just giving my name. Such is the nature of bookstore purchases, in my experience. There had been immediate interest in the machine, but I made first contact and payment. The prize was mine.
I wasn’t far away, but the typewriter was heavy, heavier than I remembered. Some things are better left buried in memory. Although billed as a portable, much like my mother’s old Kenmore sewing machine, this wasn’t meant to be carried from here to there on a daily basis. It was so heavy, in fact, that although I made it to the car, I waited for my Beloved to get home for him to bring it into the house.
It was an impulsive buy, but I’ve made all kinds of rationalizations for it. I knew I could use it for typing up master copies of chapbooks of my own poems that I print up at home from time to time. Although every font ever created is available online somewhere, there’s something about actual typewriter print that is difficult to reproduce. That faint shadow beside each letter, that haze of ink from older ribbons, the corrections that never quite erase your error—they all might lend an aura of quaint nostalgia to a future collection.
My gut reaction to the typewriter the moment I saw it online had nothing to do with practicality. No one has a real daily need for these lovely beasts, not if words are their priority. I painstakingly made my way from typewriters through various computers and laptops, each with their own systems, until like the dinosaur I am, I forced myself to compose in the electric void, thus saving myself hours of time retyping handwritten first drafts. Poems are still written by hand most times however because they are much shorter, and the head/hand connection still provides a flow that is somewhat impeded for me on any keyboard.
My first reaction to that Smith Corona was one of loss. It was a hole in my creative heart I never knew was there. I thought I had long ago gotten over that violation, and of what was stolen I can only name one or two items now, thirty-five years later. But that typewriter and its departure was somehow imprinted on my psyche. When it happened, my mother was insistent that I not tell Aunt Renee’, as if having my apartment broken into was a sign of carelessness or disregard, as if I had done something wrong. I still haven’t told her. I was made to feel guilty when there was no guilt to be assigned. Much like their tears when dropping me off for college, instead of encouragement to pursue my destiny, I have carried their fears and grief all this time.
Maybe it was that same typewriter that was stolen all those years ago. Why not? It was New Paltz, and how far could a typewriter get? But when I picked it up, I knew right away it was not. The case is black, and I think the case for mine was the same color as the body of the machine, a ‘60s teal that is immediately recognizable. It’s a ’64 model, about the correct age mine would have been, keys faded to dim ivory. Or at least that’s what it looks like in the picture posted by the bookstore. I have yet to open it, or try it out.
It is the holiday season. My time has been spent preparing for that, planning a menu for my Beloved and me, a couple of fishes for Christmas Eve, mini-Beef Wellingstons for the day itself. I’ve had some time off, true, vacation days I had either to use or lose. I’ve cleaned out my main kitchen cabinets, steamed some Christmas pudding, explored some self-publishing options for a serious collection I have no time to shop around. But I have not had the inclination to open that black case, set up the typewriter, feed in a sheet of paper, and feel my way around the powerful letters. It actually might not be a place I’m ready to go back to. Not until the new year begins.
I am happy with my new laptop, new since Memorial Day weekend when I drowned the old one in a single cup of coffee. I am exploring my options for the holidays as a middle-aged adult without small children to directly please (grands the exception, and the pleasure). I am seeking my own celebration, and dipping back into such heavy nostalgia might not be something to include in that. It is there, waiting for me, safe in its black casket. It will keep.