Tuesday, January 19, 2010
January 19, 2010 typewriter
Before the computer became a fixture in every comfortably civilized household, the typical American home had a typewriter. Dave’s house had one. I can still hear the whack, whack, whack of thin metal arms rising up and slamming against a sheet of paper on top of a hard rubber roller. His mom, Helen, is in the small study at the front of the house, chipping away at a pile of recipes. She inserts index cards in the back of the rubber bar and rolls them toward the front, shifting and shimmying until the thin blue line at the top of the card is set directly under where the keys will hit. Her recipes are all tidy and readable and uniform in size. That was the Connors’ house.
But we were the Hansen’s. I guess our house was not typical. Anyway, after Dad left we didn’t have a house. And we never did have a typewriter that I know of. We moved to the apartment on East Bruceton Road and Mom went to work so we could have cupboards full of Campbell’s Soup. It makes me pause now, thinking about those years when canned soup filled our teenage bellies, because Mom was such a great cook. She could feed all the little hungry mouths hunkered around her table with a sack of Idaho potatoes and a block of butter. And if she had real time and real money to buy other things, she could whip up the yummiest feast my vivid imagination could ever conjure! Gingerbread, and toffee squares for treats. Crispy Fried Chicken. Tender roast beef that fell apart in strings, smothered in delicious hot gravy beside chunks of golden roasted spuds and strips of pumpkin-orange carrots with deep dark edges that had been steeped in beef juices in the oven while we were at church. Mmmm, yesss-irrr-eee. Smell it now, walking in the front door of our old house on Old Clairton Road. Run up the stairs and shimmy out of our Sunday dresses, flipping our shoes off our feet and into the closet, pulling on some pants and a tee shirt and running downstairs hoping Mom had not yet opened the oven to check on the progress. If you happened to be there when she leaned over the open oven door and lifted the lid off the old iron pot, you might get a sampling of a strand of beef and the second half of a chunk of carrot. That smell, on a Fast Sunday, was heavenly torture. Once I covered my nose with a dishtowel so I wouldn’t suffer the aroma of temptation. We changed our clothes and set the table extra fast the first Sunday of every month, Fast Sunday, and there was an unspoken agreement among us kids that whoever said the blessing prayer made it short and sweet. There had been a handful of years in my childhood when Mom was at home and we had these kinds of meals regularly. I call this the sweet spot of my youth, and I am grateful to have had it. I knew the softness of the skin of the woman who bore me, and I knew the sound of her voice after school. When she had to go to work to support us (this was in the days before they could garnish a man’s wages and make sure his children were fed) I knew who she was, and I knew she loved us, and that made Campbell’s Soup sufficient.
When it came time for us to turn in our Term Papers in high school, we had a bit of a problem at the Hansen household. There was no typewriter. Even if there had been a typewriter I would have been in trouble, because I didn’t know how to type. Libby took a typing class, and so did Ann Marie, but for some reason it slipped out of my class schedule. To this day I have to look at the keys on the computer to see what I am typing, and the backspace key is the most often used key on my keyboard. By the time I was a senior teachers required a typed term paper, at least 10 pages long. Through my whole primary schooling I had been permitted to hand write all my papers, so it was a real blow for me to have to figure out where and how to find a typewriter and then figure out how to type my paper on it. This was more of a struggle emotionally than most people will allow themselves to imagine. It slapped as a reminder that I was different. My circumstances were different, and my talents were inferior, and it sealed in my mind that I did not fit in. Seriously, how sad is that, that I should let the lack of a typewriter and typing skills lower my sense of self? And yet it was the case.
My angels must have known about this struggle, because one day, sitting at my desk in English class, I heard TeriLynn Green mention that she had already completed her paper and it went super fast because her dad had an electric typewriter in his office that had a ball head with all the keys on it that spun around as she typed. Having learned by that point that sometimes you just needed to jump in and do something scary instead of thinking about it, I asked her if maybe I could hire her to type my term paper. She suggested that if I read it to her she could just type it and she would not charge me anything. To this day I think of Teri Green as a good and kind Christian. She had no idea what a struggle this issue had been for me. No one did. Heck, I don’t even know where Libby or Ann Marie typed their papers, and I don’t know why we didn’t talk about it. But I do know that Teri Greene was a kind and gentle reminder that the world is not always meant to be a hard place. I took my stack of index cards with my quotes on it and I randomly wrote my term paper on the fly. I was in a funky place that year. They have given it a definition now days, and treat it with anti-depressants. But back then it was just my own funk.
I did not get an A on that paper. Nor a B, C, or D. Mrs. Emmerling wrote a great big red F on the top of my paper, along with a paragraph about how ill prepared I was and how it was obvious I had not read the book (she was right) and how disgraceful it was that a supposedly “good Mormon girl” lacked the integrity to do the work and be honest about it, and she had expected so much more of me blah, blah, blah. She never talked to me again. She never called on me. Her husband, who was the Student Council Advisor, and I was student council president, refused to meet with me. They were Born Again Christians. I was one of those cult Mormons.
I’ll tell you what, when I think Christian I think about that term paper. It was graded by the advisor to the Morning Prayer Group at TJ High, who hated me. But by golly, it sure looked good if you squinted your eyes. All those block letters lined up beside each other. Footnotes sitting at the bottom of the page like front door steps. God bless TeriLynn Green for her kindness.
Sunday I made one of Mom Connors’ recipes. I dug it out of the red cookbook Ann Marie made for us for Christmas years ago. I had made copies of all those note card recipes after Mom Connors had died. Jilly got the cookbook, but I have my copies. I look at the tidy list of ingredients and the instructions following it and I imagine her short Roy-daughter fingers jumping across the keyboard of that old typewriter in the study on Rolling Green Drive in Bethel Park PA. There’s a pot of beans baking in the oven, and a Pirates game on the TV in the living room. The drumming of the typewriter keys ticks away the time and we are all home and we are all safe and all is right with the world.