Typing in Brimley, Sault Ste. Marie, and Detroit

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By Sharon M. Kennedy

Today’s kids have no idea what it’s like to pound the keys of a manual typewriter. They’ve never heard the sharp ding announcing the approach of the right margin, and they’ve certainly never gotten their fingers black or red while untangling a wayward ribbon. They know nothing about jamming keys or carbon paper. A platen is as foreign to them as a bail arm, a carriage return, or a paper guide.

At 12 years old, I taught myself to type on my sister’s portable Remington typewriter. She was 16 and had received this marvelous piece of machinery as a birthday present. I was allowed to touch it by promising I would help her with the barn chores. I much preferred housework, but the temptation of that beautiful typewriter was more than I could bear. I made a promise we both knew I would never keep.

Someone had given us a red typing manual that stood up instead of lying flat on the table and from that book I honed my skill. The summer of 1959 found me pounding the keys from the time I got up until late into the evening. I’m sure I took breaks for picking strawberries and blueberries and doing my chores, but not much else could lure me away from that wonderful machine and the many exercises the manual offered.

By summer’s end, Jude threatened to lock her typewriter in its case and hide the key. I had driven everyone in our house nuts except Gram because she was hard of hearing. My typing cooled down when school started, but every weekend and every summer I was back at my post, banging away on the Remington. My efforts paid off. By the time I took a typing class in high school, I was probably as proficient as the teacher.

Sharon (at left) and Jude (circa 1959)

When I was young, as far as I knew four career choices were available to girls. We could become a nurse, a nun, a teacher, or a secretary. One by one I narrowed the field. I wanted to be a nurse but sick people made me sick. My nun phase lasted until I fell in love with the boy who sat at my table in first grade. I gave up dreaming of the teaching profession in 1968 when a young, unenlightened college counselor informed me English teachers had no future. Nothing was left but secretarial work.

Although I never mastered shorthand, at 57 words a minute I was a fast and accurate typist when placed in front of a manual machine. I knew I would excel at any office job thanks to my attention to detail and meticulous working habits. In the summer of 1966, I approached my first real position with all the confidence of a well-trained athlete. I would be typing for Professor Stephen Youngs at what is now Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie.

I remember the morning of my first day at work. I awakened full of hope, convinced I would astound those around me. My incredible speed and accuracy were sure to make me the star of the office. I would be applauded and envied by everyone. My freshman year of college was successfully behind me with only one “D” in biology on my transcript. I no longer had to work during the summer as a waitress. I finally had my driver’s license. Dad trusted me with our Chevy station wagon. Life was good.

Sharon at Tahquamenon Falls restaurant (1964)

My joy was short-lived. When I arrived on campus and uncovered my machine, feelings of horror and dismay shot through me. Instead of the lovely manual Royal, Remington, or Adler typewriter I was expecting, an IBM electric monster was hiding beneath the dust cover. I had never faced such an adversary and had no idea where to begin. That machine had a mind of its own. If I as much as breathed, it took off like a dog chasing a rabbit. If I typed fast, all the words ran together. The slightest touch of the keyboard sent the keys flying. What a disaster.

My beautiful typing skills didn’t amount to a pinch of salt pitted against that electric fiend, but that wasn’t the worst of it. When I applied for the job, no one informed me about the Dictaphone. Trying to type on that terrifying piece of artillery while listening to Prof. Youngs’ voice through the earphones, was impossible. I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home. Facing those two machines, I was as lost as a shipwrecked sailor. By lunch time, I was ready to call it quits. I drove to my sister’s house and told her my troubles. She listened sympathetically, handed me a Kleenex, and reminded me of the Princess Cake. She said my first attempt at baking that cake wasn’t perfect, but with practice it improved. She advised me to stick it out for at least one week.

And she was right. My boss was kind and patient. Coworkers helped me through the day and encouraged me throughout the week. By week two, I was more comfortable, and by summer’s end I had conquered the IBM and the dreaded Dictaphone.

Not a Remington but my old Alder

Over the years, I worked at a variety of dead-end jobs, most revolving around an office. When I applied for a job as a legal secretary at a Detroit law firm, my speed of 115 words per minute shocked the secretaries as well as the attorneys. I made three mistakes or the word count would have been higher. It never occurred to me I should have been deciding on a career instead of making do with boring-beyond-tears employment. Typing at amazing speeds was fine, but that’s all it was. It took me years to discover that putting words together and creating a newspaper column or a short story was much more rewarding.

Women today have career choices unheard of when I was young. The irony is that many of them still center around a keyboard. I find it remarkable that the skill I taught myself on Jude’s portable Remington all those years ago is still required in the workplaces of 2022.

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. In order to make a decision on a gun you have to know something about them. Which you do not. I have 9 years in the military during Viet Nam. I have owned and competed in many different types of gun contests.. I do not hunt as I do not like killing animals. I target practice and have home and self Protection. I am licensed to carry a weapon in 42 states. I have attended a dozen safety courses and I feel I am very competent to own a weapon. Other than in the military I have never had a desire to own an assault rifle or an automatic weapon. Automatic weapons are illegal and outlawed but many criminals have them. I recall a shootout in LA a few years back where the police were wipped up pretty badly because the criminals had better and faster weapons. Also it isnt just the gun that makes the power, it is also they type of ammunition. Now back to your lack of knowledge. What is legal is a single shot single pull SEMI automatic. Semi meaning after firing a cartridge a new one is chambered automatically and you have to pull the trigger again. Back in the old western days the cowboys with their six shooters could shoot s rounds as fast if not faster than an AR 15. I use to have a 30 -06 which most people use for deer hunting. I sold it as it seemed too powerful for me as well as costly ammo. The AR 15 has a much smaller bullet, way less powerful. It will fire a single shot with each pull like any other rifle and shotgun. It looks scary so people without knowledge automatically hide in fear. The 410 you choose to shoot the porcupines with is pretty dangerous. First a shotgun sprays pellets and can hit what you are shooting with as well as other things around it, like your family dog barking at the porcupines. You lack full control with a shotgun. You dont have to be a good shot to hit something with a shotgun and it expands to a wide area. A 410 can kill people pretty easily and you dont have to be a good shot. I owned a 410 that would shoot a magazine of 16 shells one after another with each pull. no reloading just pull the trigger 16 times and you have 16 kills or mamings. The problems with gun control is that besides taking away the 2nd amendment rights of Americans but you also put the homeowner and his family at a disadvantage when a criminal breaks into their house and kills the entire family which happens daily. Done tell me a shotgun is the way to go, which it might be for you since you cannot shoot straight but if I ever have to shoot someone in my house I do not want to hit a family member or a pet. A shooter in a school shooting can actually shoot more people with a shotgun. you get 20 kids in a classroom and even one blast will hit multiple kids. Now with all this said, I am a firm believer in background checks, mental health checks, more severe penalties with the use of a fire arm in a crime. I also dont think that certain ammo is needed readily available. In my home protection ammo I use a bullet with an open end (hollow point) and not a full metal jacket. Although they may do more damage to the person hit ( if they are in my home to kill me and my family I cant care about that), if there is a miss it will not go through the walls and end up going into my neighbors house. I am sure you have heard this but going after gun control ONLY controls the good guys guns. The criminals will never comply and guns can be gotten all over the world. AR 15 stands for Arma Lite 15 a name of a company. It does not stand for assault rifle. Assault rifles are automatic and used by the military including 18 year old kids that can shoot and die for their country but will not be able to own one for personal protection.. Please do more research before you write your articles. I enjoyed your writing even if I didnt agree with your ending statement. Oh one other thing, I think a good idea is for a person who would be buying a gun for the first time, be required to attend a gun safety class. That way if a person is hell bent on shooting someone and the background checks dont show anything, he would be delayed and with a good instructor , may see some mental issues or aggressive behavior before he is given the gun. There is no way to stop everything. There was a knife attack in Japan that killed over 30 people. Bombings , hammers etc,, more people are killed in auto accidents because I thing driving should go to age 18 and a person should be required to show more skills and also speeding and reclass tickets should cost more. But that is just me.

  2. My question is what about self defense from a tyrannical government or just plain self defense and the right to bear arms

  3. Ma’am you must not believe in the constitution, cause we do have the right to bear arms. And we should be able to bear any kind of our liking.

  4. You truly have no clue what the real world is ?? Come down here to north Tulsa and tell me I have no reason to own that firearm ? The neighborhood where Tulsa p.d. doesn’t respond unless it’s multiple shots fired. Get real lady, I bet you’ve never feared a home invasion or ever faced multiple men in your drive way wanting what’s in your garage and AGAIN THE POLICE DONT RESPOND FOR AN HOUR OR MORE !!!! Why? Because even they know 1 man and a pistol isn’t enough. I’m glad you’ve lived a life of suburban dreams but unfortunately not all of us do. What a one sided day dream approach to your opinion and honestly a lazy writing in general. Good luck 🤞 stick to the foodies and martha Stewart stuff, you belong there not in the firearms ring you have no life lessons or situations to even compare the need of a gun. Lazy and sarcastic liberal laced nonsense.

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