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James R. Stout

Typing 101

            The first typewriter that I ever used was an IBM monstrosity that my mother had. Mom started typing in high school in the early 40’s and after graduation in 1946 she went to a business school where she sharpened her typing skills as well as she learned to use several secretarial machines such as adding machines and dictation machines. She also became extremely skilled in shorthand. By the time she graduated from the business school she was typing 128 words a minute. This was on manual machines! At some point in time she purchased a used office desk that a large IBM machine attached to it. You could pull up on a handle and the machine would turn upside down and flip down allowing the desk to have the entire desktop for regular usage. When she needed to type, she would flip the top up and the typewriter would appear in place of the center of the desktop. She had this desk until I was grown. But by that time the typewriter was rarely used.

            I took typing as an elective in high school and we learned on IBM electric machines. They were likely made in the late 60’s, but they did the job. I was typing about 80 words a minute after a year of taking the class. I would use Mom’s machine at home for school projects and for my poetry. For Christmas in my senior year my parents gave me a Smith-Corona portable electric typewriter. I put that typewriter to quite a bit of use. I wrote short stories and poetry and used it for schoolwork. I hit on financial hard times in 1980 and that typewriter found a new home at a pawn shop in Garland, Texas. These things happen.

            I started to write my first book in 1984 and I was having to hand write the manuscript. I still have a deformed right middle finger from all that handwritten product! I sold some of my music equipment and used the money to buy a new Smith-Corona portable typewriter. Life kind of got busy though and that first book never got any further than a rough draft. We had our son in April of 1984 and our daughter in August of 1985. It was after they came along that I decided I needed to do something better to provide for my growing family. So, in 1986 I started college. I’ve written about that experience before and won’t delve into it now other than to say that the new typewriter got me through college. Research projects and the like were made easier by having that typewriter.

            Let me veer sideways for a second now. Those typewriters, as great as they were compared to handwriting things, were far from being easy to use. Ribbons had to be changed and mistakes required white-out or the little white tape that you inserted where the mistake was and typed the incorrect characters which caused them to mostly disappear. But for those really important projects for the professors who would count against you for having mistakes that were still visible to the naked eye despite the usage of white-out, the only thing to do was to keep typing the pages over until there were no mistakes. Very time consuming and frustrating it was. Somehow or other I muddled through it and managed a 3.5 G.P.A.

            I graduated from college in 1990 at the age of 35. I still had the yearn to write. As a graduation present, I got a new-fangled thing called a “word-processor”. It was made by a company called “Brother”. It had a 5” monochrome screen (amber, not green), used 5” floppy discs, and had a keyboard. Frankly, I think it contributed to my vision going south! It didn’t take long for me to decide that I liked word-processing, but not the 5” screen. So, for my 36th birthday in 1991 I got my first PC. It was what we used to call a “clone” which meant that it was a knock-off of the IBM computer. It had what was known as a “286” processor. It had a whopping 40-megabyte hard drive and at the time it just didn’t seem possible that you could fill that hard drive up. Heck, one raw photo file is more than 40 megabytes today! When I bought that computer, I also bought the most popular word-processing program at the time. It was called “WordPerfect”. Of course, I bought a new dot matrix printer to print out all my “stuff”.

            Technology kept progressing at leaps and bounds and Microsoft pretty much blew away the competition such as WordPerfect. In the 28 years since that first computer, I have owned about 10 different desktop computers. Each one had more bells and whistles than the one before and words like gigabytes and terabytes and Pentium became common. I tried a Mac once too, but it was not to my liking. It was such a beast. That thing must have weighed as much as a VW Beetle. I hated having to move it. Today I own two desktops and two laptops. The funny thing is I don’t see me needing anything faster or bigger or better than what I have now. Oh, they’ll likely crash and burn one day, and a new computer will be necessary, but Microsoft Word is all I need to write these days.

            In 2013 one of my uncles passed away at the age of 90. After his funeral my aunt told me that she had some things that Uncle Paul had wanted me to have. There was an old wooden box that he had made in high school wood shop that had always held my grandmother’s photos, the last pocket watch that my grandfather had owned, an antique wooden duck call, a bunch of old photos, his dog tags from WW2, a pocket knife that had been my grandfather’s, and then the biggest item was his 1938 Royal manual portable typewriter. I have it on display on an old typing desk at my home. Uncle Paul had gotten that typewriter when he was a senior in high school in the 1938/1939 school year. He used it when he took classes at Sam Houston University in the early 40’s. Besides being a keepsake and an antique, that typewriter  probably saved my uncle’s life during WW2. When he joined the army in 1942, he expected to be in the thick of the fighting. But those typing skills convinced the army that Uncle Paul could be put to better use as a clerk.

            He went through boot camp and was most definitely a soldier, but he ended up being a clerk for the most part. I remember him telling me stories of hearing the shells pounding the Germans just a few miles away as he typed reports that were required. He carried a rifle in one hand and his typewriter in the other. He said that they didn’t know what would happen next and it was always possible that the Germans could push back and overrun the soldiers on the front. That would have brought them to where my uncle and the rifle would take over in place of the typewriter. Fortunately, that never happened.

            I’m telling you this story because I wanted to point out that you just never know what skill or skills that you learn along the way in life that can become very important to you. Typing hasn’t saved my life like it did for my uncle, but I had no idea 48 years ago that learning how to type was going to get me through college. Perhaps more importantly is the fact that my ability to type has given me a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of writing a book. I’m retired from the career that I was in for 25 years. I am not rich, and I doubt that I ever will be, but through perseverance and frugal living I now maintain a decent income and way of life. Instead of greeting customers at Walmart or bussing tables in a café to make ends meet, I am able to spend time with my grandchildren, travel, and write. I am able to communicate with others in a way that just wouldn’t be possible without being able to type.

            If you’re young and going to high school or college and you take some class that you just don’t see any good reason to have to take other than it is required, then keep in mind that you just might learn something in those classes that will change your life for the better somewhere down the road. Embrace learning. Spend a summer working somewhere doing something that teaches you something you don’t know how to do. You just never know when your life’s calling may be found in the most unlikely place.

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