Friday, January 9, 2009

Flies instead of Chocolate Chips

About a decade ago, I would occasionally go to an estate sale. Since I'm not much of a collector, I don't really know why I would go. I think I was hoping for some Arts and Crafts era treasure because, surely no other shopper had the same idea in mind. My estate sale days ended abruptly one day when I went to one that left me feeling depressed. I was unable to make any sense of this until I told PJ about it, in the following conversation:
Me: I feel really down after an estate sale I went to today. I actually saw some things I would have liked to buy, but I didn't really want to.
PJ: What was it like?
Me: The person who died was an old woman. Her grown children were selling all her things. She had been a schoolteacher and she must have liked the outdoors because there was some camping equipment and she liked to sew, too.
PJ: I know why you're feeling that way.
Me: Why?
PJ: She was you.

Typing this out, I realize how obvious this was, but I couldn't see it until it was pointed out to me. I've done this a few times (at least, I hope only a few times), and sometimes the correlation with my life is so clear, it's embarrassing.

On Tuesdays, I start my classes with Tuesday Twenty Questions, where I have my classes try and figure out something that I'm thinking of, often a scientist or an invention. I wrote Henry Mill, 1714, on the board and asked my students to figure out Mr. Mill's invention. After asking if the invention was a rocket or a computer or a mill, they finally narrowed it down to a typewriter. I explained how Mr. Mill was awarded the first typewriter patent. Then all the questions came.

"Is it true that they had no delete key?"
"How did they work?"
"Why don't people use them anymore?"

This last question was easy to answer. They don't use them anymore because they were replaced with something much better. I explained how one little mistake meant starting all over again. The last time I used one was about five years ago, when you occasionally would have to print out applications and type to fill in the blanks. Now, pretty much every form can be filled out on the computer and sent to where it needs to go.

As I was telling my kids about typewriters, I realized how long it had been since I had seen one. About twenty years ago, most homes had one and every office had several. But now, they're gone, almost completely. And even though they've been replaced by something better, I found myself feeling sorry for the typewriter.

At least this time, I understand why.


Libby Fife said...

I worked in a bank for many years and when I first started working every branch had a typewriter. We needed it for filling out forms and gads, even typing on checks! I can remember using correction fluid and my mom's old typewriter where you could see the "arms" that supported each key. Not that long ago I asked a coworker for liquid paper because I had made an error. She looked at me funny and asked what liquid paper was.

As time marches on I find that my only defense against such conversations is to a) try and keep up and b) try to remember.

CMB said...

Perhaps you are forgetting that there is a typewriter in your very household. At least I hope it is still there…I won’t be very happy if you got rid of my earliest engineering toy. I remember sitting there pressing the same key over and over watching all the levers work. Last time I saw it, it was in the closet of the lime green room.

P.S. I had a very similar realization this very week. I wrote about it in my blog...before reading yours...creepy.

vicmarcam said...

LLF and CMB: you both share a fascination with the keys that you could see working. I suppose that one problem with our electronic world is that the inner workings of things become less and less transparent to us, and tinkering with things becomes less and less something that a child can do. That's a shame.

Funny story about Liquid Paper. My students do know what that is. It still is in use, even in a non-typewriter world.

Don't worry, Cam. I have not gotten rid of your earliest engineering toy. I'm charmed that you put it that way. I can't quite bring myself to part with it, and my sixth graders were so fascinated with the fact that I own one of these things they've seen in old movies and on E-bay that I'll probably bring it in to work one day. When I said that I hadn't seen one in years, I meant it. I know it's there, but there's been absolutely no reason to take it out.