“A, S, D, F, J, K, L, semicolon.”
If you chimed in during that little mantra you are probably of sufficient age to have taken Typing in high school. Not Keyboarding, which replaced Typing in the curriculum. Or BCIS, which is a current offering; don’t ask me what the letters stand for.
I’m talking about Typing, where you sat down to big machines as heavy as boat anchors that were either electric, if you were in a prosperous school district, or manual, if you weren’t.
The first thing we had to do in Typing, before being allowed to touch an actual typewriter, was memorize those eight characters, called the home keys, and be able to rattle them off to the teacher on request. And it was requested pretty frequently.
There was a big chart in the typing room that had all the keys on it that the teacher pointed to when leading us through the strange geography of the keyboard, then she flapped it up like a venetian blind when we took quizzes or timed writings.
That was because the typewriters in that room didn’t have letters or numbers on the keys, just blank buttons. Which meant, of course, that we had to actually know which character would slap unto the paper when we depressed the key. So we couldn’t, to use an often employed phrase from a bygone era, “hunt and peck.”
I learned enough in that class to pass, several years later, a timed test in the army which qualified me as a clerk typist, a 71B10 in military jargon. But I have to admit the number of words I had to type in the amount of time allotted for me to do it was ridiculously easy. I could have, in fact, hunted and pecked my way to success that day. As I suspect some of the fellows around me did.
It was a good thing those typewriters – which were olive drab, the color of everything in the army from boxer shorts to vehicles – did have numbers and letters printed on the keys. Because I never learned, in that high school class, which fingers to use for numbers. To this day I can fairly fly across the keyboard when conjuring words, but I have to stop and look at the keys when a numeral is required. In the current frenzy of everybody suing everybody else, I should sue the Oakwood school for that blatant deficiency in my education.
In that red brick school building, where first graders presented themselves at one end and emerged a dozen years later as graduated seniors at the other, the plinking sound of students tapping away in the typing room reverberated through the entire place all day long. That incessant Morris Code gone amuck found its way into the plumbing, the walls, and the window panes. We didn’t have air conditioning, just plenty of tall windows kept open except in midwinter and during blowing rainstorms, so people out on the street could probably hear the typing too. Like the heart of the school beating frantically.
I ended up with one of those big manual typewriters – don’t ask how; I honestly don’t remember – on top of a file cabinet in the classroom where I teach. Every year my new students ogle it closely and touch the keys and look, unsuccessfully, for a monitor and an electrical cord. They seem amazed that I actually once used it, and I’m sure it serves as proof positive that I am directly linked to a past as remote, to them, as the Jurassic era.
Truth be told, and all nostalgic business aside, I’m awfully glad that old contraption gave way to word processing programs on computers. I remember how we used to have to use a pencil, or enough fingers and toes, to do a little arithmetic calculation when centering a title in the middle of a page. And footnotes, which have been relegated to the trash heap along with buggy whips and slide rules, were so difficult to fit into the bottoms of pages that aspirin tablets were kept close at hand.
Now computers do all the math and all the measuring, and let me move words or whole paragraphs around at will. Something Mr. Shakespeare’s quill pen didn’t allow for. I’ll bet he would have loved word processors.
I know I do. But I like having that heavy old typewriter close by. Sometimes when I look at it I can almost hear the ghost of a typing class tapping away down the hall.
And that, in its own strange way, is a comfort.