The other day I came across a magazine article that advised readers to slow the pace of modern life by handwriting a letter – on stationery – and putting some pretty stamps on the envelope. What a novel idea! And what a way to make us seniors feel old, telling people how to enjoy an old custom that used to be a common practice. As a high school student in the 1960s I had a dozen pen pals – several in different states, and others in England, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. We loved filling each other’s mail boxes with the letters we decorated with a variety of stamps, because stamp collecting was part of the fun of receiving mail. Our letters were handwritten, because very few kids knew how to type in those days. Typewriters weren’t used for personal letters anyway. They were used for school papers and business letters, if at all.
I learned to type during the summer of 1969, between my sophomore and junior years in high school, because typing was not part of the regular curriculum for college-bound students. When I started college in the fall of 1971, my parents gave me a manual typewriter that I would use to type papers for my classes. I have to wonder why typing was not included in the college prep curriculum since it was an essential skill for a college student. Some of my peers had to pay a typist to do what they had never learned to do themselves!
I was still using the old manual in graduate school and beyond, to bang out the stories I submitted for publication by obscure periodicals. The term “bang out” applies to manuals because the keys have to be hit pretty hard to make a mark on a sheet of paper. The carriage had to be returned manually at the end of every line. Errors had to be repaired with correcting or liquid paper, and sometimes a page looked so patched up it had to be re-typed. No wonder we preferred to handwrite letters – and pretty stationery was always a welcome gift.
After college and graduate school, I held several office jobs where I learned to use an electric typewriter that didn’t require as much muscle as the manual. In my job as an editorial assistant I used an IBM Selectric – a new-fangled machine that used a typing element or “type ball” instead of individual typebars. Wow, did that thing go fast! But I would have been happy to have a regular electric typewriter to type the stories that I wrote when I got home from work. I planned to buy one when my husband graduated from the surgeon’s assistant program at UAB and got a job. Little did I know that Mark was selling his blood to the plasmapheresis bank in order to surprise me with an electric Smith Corona for Christmas in 1979!
That Smith Corona served me well for nearly twenty years. Then the “Q” typebar malfunctioned, and I had to ink in a ‘q’ every time I wrote about a queen, a quilt, or a quintet. In 1999 I broke down and took a computer class at the Utica School of Commerce in Oneonta. I realized I would have to learn to use a computer if I was to be a part of the twenty-first century working world. A computer keyboard has so many keys that aren’t found on a typewriter! Crazy things happened to my manuscript when I hit the wrong key: entire paragraphs would disappear in a millisecond. Sometimes I cried and called a computer-savvy friend, who came over on her lunch break to rescue me from despair.
The first position where I had to use my new-found computer skills was as administrative assistant for the local Girl Scout office. I thought I was doing fine until a Girl Scout leader called to find out why I wasn’t answering the email messages she was sending. Email? What was that? So, I learned about email and eventually set up my own email account.
These days I check my email about once an hour. I receive messages from family and friends, as well as clients. My business, Custom Ceremonies, would not exist without access to the internet. My clients, mainly prospective brides and grooms, find me online, and their personalized ceremonies are created on the computer and sent to them for approval via email. But I still check my mailbox every day – the one on the front porch – because I occasionally receive a letter from one of my friends who likes to write letters the old-fashioned way. And I answer their letters in handwritten prose, affixing a pretty stamp to the envelopes, because I know my friends will enjoy receiving them as much as I enjoy receiving theirs.