A Dyslectic’s Love of Typewriters

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Disclaimer: I was never property diagnosed with Dyslexia. Some bright person at my grammar school saw the difficulty I was having learning to read and write, and told my mother that I was dyslexic. I wouldn’t be surprised if the popular media at that year was awash with stories on Dyslexia, and blaming that for the fact that Cobb County, GA, had a pretty bad school system.

Even though I did not suffer from Dyslexia, I was labeled, and no one bothered to try to help me get over my problems until an old teacher, who didn’t believe in learning disabilities took me in hand. She believed that it was up to the teacher figure out how to teach each student in her charge. Of course in those days the teachers didn’t have to teach to the test. She was able to get me reading well, but try as she might, she wasn’t able to get me past my problem with spelling.

When I was in graduate school and applied for help proofreading papers, the school put the through hours of testing. As it turned out I did have a learning disability called Ordering Disorder. It is nowhere as bad as Dyslexia. It freed me up from having to learn how to spell, since that wasn’t going to happen, and concentrate on writing and worry about corrections later.


As long as I could remember there was a typewriter in our house. I assume it was the same typewriter for a very long time. After all, those things were meant to last. I seem to remember that it was a Remington. I can still remember the smell of the machine oil that kept its typebars moving freely. It smelled like mother’s sewing machine, which was another piece of early tech I loved. As a child I loved to hunt and peck on the typewriter, though I had to wait until I got older to learn to sew. When our parents weren’t looking my brother and I played a game of hitting the keys so fast that the type bars would jam together. The point of the game was to see how many keys you could get to stick together at once.

I think it was after the family moved to Texas that the venerable old machine was replaced by pretty blue Brother portable typewriter. Compared to today’s laptops, Luggable would have been a better description. I got into the habit of handwriting my letters to my old friends in Georgia, who I missed terribly, and correct them with mother’s help. Once the letters were corrected, I would sit and type them out with two fingers. Mom and Dad, always encouraged me to write letters.

In highschool while most everyone else was learning to type, I was told that since I could not spell, there was no point in taking a typing class. In college I borrowed typewriters from other students, and sometimes borrowed the other students ability to type. The guy I spent most of my time with, typed my papers, owned a car, and was good-looking; a real trifecta.

19971108-1979-1980 TMA Me Hospital room306

Senior Cadet Pirtle, hunting and pecking on a term paper.

19971110-1979-80 TMA Wayne in my room20

Junior Cadet Farthing, taking over, so that it would get done before we both starved to death.

Once I was out of college and shipping out, I found that not being able to type was a benefit, as each ship I went on my captains tried to load me with the typing duties. (I didn’t make coffee either!) That was until I joined the tanker S/T Overseas Joyce. On that vessel the junior third mate had to type up the cargo logs. The logs were huge and were typed in a special typewriter with a very long carriage. I hated typing the logs, but it was a lot of overtime pay.


Not the exact machine, but pretty close. Years later when I served aboard the car carrier M/V Green Point and had to write the cargo logs out by hand, I wish I had that machine. Photo: Dr. Shordzi

All the time I was trying to avoid typing for pay, I was writing short stories, sure that if I could just learn to type, I would be able to write that novel I dreamed of. Thanks to those people at my high school, I knew that I would never learn to type because I couldn’t spell. My mother saw an ad for a typewriter, which had a LCD screen, and showed you what you had written. You could correct what was on the screen before pushing the button to print. She bought it for my birthday. It was great and helped with my letter writing quite a lot. I was still a two finger typist, so the novel remained unwritten.

Most ships I was on, I was able to avoid having to type, in those early, pre-computer years. When shipping got tough, and people as low down in the ranks of the Union as me, were not getting work, I join the Coast Guard. The nice thing about the Coast Guard was that there were specific ratings, whose job it was to type, and they didn’t like anyone stepping into their bailiwick.

That changed when I got to First District Headquarters, to work with the Aids to Navigation team. The team had a mainframe and many of us were working on putting the Aids To Navigation (buoys, lights, daymarks) into D-Base. Working with mainframe and listening to the other workers talking about their home computers, made me really want to have one. I bought a PC and started writing Basic programs. That christmas my mother gave me the text-based computer game, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Typing Tutor 4.

I loved the Hitchhiker’s books, so I was glad to get the game. At work we played a few text-based adventure games, so I was excited to play Hitchhiker’s. The typing program I was unsure of, but it was a present, so I felt that I had to at least try it. As it turned out, I quickly became bored with the adventure game, but loved working with Typing Tutor.

There were normal lessons, where the computer taught each of your fingers what motions to make. I remember one of the first lessons was to type F and J over and over. There were tests, and the program zeroed in on where you were weak and drilled you on those areas. I favorite part was the games. When my brain couldn’t take any more study, I would play Letter Invaders. It was pretty much a rip off of the arcade game Space Invaders. (I don’t even want to think of how many quarters I pumped into the Space Invaders games at the arcades.)

With Letter Invaders, letters and words dropped from the top of the screen and if you typed them before they reached the bottom, you scored. If you didn’t part of your cityscape would be destroyed. When the whole cityscape was destroyed, the game was over. The longer the word you were able to type the higher the score you got. The program also monitored the games, to spot where you were weak at.

Working two hours a day (not counting playing Letter Invaders) for two weeks, I went from not being able to type to typing 42 words a minute including characters and numbers. It really made the guys at the office happy that I was able to touch type and get more done on the database. I didn’t mind typing in the office, since it wasn’t something that only the women did.

A few years later, I decided to get out of the Guard and go to graduate school; something I had never thought I could do because of my spelling. With my PC taking the place of my typewriter, I was able to type as fast as I could think, I figured that I was not only ready, but able to handle the writing demands of graduate school. I was right. The only problem I had, was using wrong words, which were spelt right, since my word processor corrected spelling but didn’t help with definitions. I leaned heavily on my electronic dictionary and human proofreaders to get by.

Everything was going swimmingly until I joined a study abroad program. The professor brought one old-fashioned luggable typewriter with him. Had I known that we were expected to submit our papers typed, I would have dumped half of the things out of my duffel bag and taken my own portable typewriter. Even though I never used it for anything but filling out forms, I still had it.


My cat Munshadow trying to keep me from going to Italy for my study abroad, by camping out on my duffel bag.

Surprisingly, the students were able to share the sole typewriter, without much strife. I was carrying my electronic dictionary, so I resorted to the manner I wrote letters as a teen. I wrote longhand, corrected, then typed them out. Things were fine for a while, until someone dropped the typewriter. I bought a small typewriter for myself, but was back to hunting and pecking since the keyboard was not QWERTY.

For years I kept the european typewriter and the american one, even though I never used them. I left them behind with my ex-husband when I moved to Hawaii. I think of them fondly, but laptop and iPad completely fill my needs now.





Categories: Childhood Memories, Coast Guard Years, Europe, History, Talking Story, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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