Tales of COVID-19: Just My Type

In one quarantined household, unearthing an old typewriter is just what the doctor ordered

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“Hey, Dad,” I said, “do you happen to have your old typewriter?”

My Dad looked at me with surprise. We were sitting in my parents’ living room in Vermont. We were still nursing our morning coffee. Beyond the windows, the surrounding forest was sunny and still.

“I believe,” he said, “it’s still in the garage. But – why do you ask?”

“I know it sounds crazy,” I replied, “but I’ve had a hankering to have one.”

We had planned to visit my parents anyway, but COVID-19 had lengthened our stay. Alone, I could weather self-quarantine just fine. Work from home? Watch more Netflix? Work out on the stationary bike? All that sounded luxurious. But as the parents of a rambunctious kindergartner, my wife and I decided to escape to the backwoods of Vermont, where I grew up. We spent a long weekend hiking local trails, pillow-fighting in my childhood bedroom, and watching my Dad boil maple syrup.

Then I remembered the typewriter. As more and more knickknacks flow from my parents’ garage to my own, I have started to remember long-dormant artifacts. I had no “need” for a manual typewriter; most of my working life is spent sifting through Google Docs. But the snap of tiny hammers has always been my siren song. I frequently use a typewriter app to mimic the experience. The staccato pace matches my mental rhythm. To find my inner Hemingway, a Word document falls short.

Then my love blossomed. On a recent afternoon, Alayne White visited our offices at Providence Media. As my colleague Megan Schmit wrote in our November issue, Alayne hosts typewriter-centric events, encouraging participants to slow down and embrace ribbons and carriages. Our staff sat around a conference table, pecking away at candy-colored devices. I suddenly remembered my parents’ forest-green Olympia, which they had still used in my earliest years; but most of our staff had never touched such an instrument. I flooded with yearning. I needed one of my own.

For what? Well, to type things, I supposed. To type anything, really.

Dad dug out the typewriter, which had collected dust for decades. On the kitchen table, he explained the different components, which I had never really learned. We tested every key and lever. I was surprised by its versatility – double-spacing, red print – and was smitten by a special tag: “Manufactured in Western Germany.”

My parents also marveled at my interest. They had suffered through reams of onion-skin paper, and after decades of typing and retyping, the Commodore 64 had rescued them from the drudgery of white-out. “I’m just amazed anyone would want it,” my Dad said.

But my excitement was short-lived: Within seconds, my son had commandeered the typewriter, jabbing at random keys. He spelled his name over and over, insisting on all-capital letters. He filled whole pages, then begged me to pronounce the endless chains of nonsense words.

The Olympia came home with us. My son couldn’t wait to crack open its case. Life may have drawn to a halt, and the future is uncertain. But Coronavirus can’t stop the typing. Sentence by sentence, we’re getting through it.