The Glory Days of A Real Typewriter

FOUNDED long since by Vrest Orton, the Vermont Country Store is now operated by his son Lyman, and Lyman has just sent me his catalog. The healthy traditions of the father seem safe in the hands of the son, because on the back cover is a notable offer. You can buy a portable manual typewriter, and Lyman admits, ``We don't anticipate selling many of these.'' However, he points out the salient advantages, ``You don't have to program it, set any switches, or even plug it in. There are no electronic parts to fail or malfunction.'' I affirm that this is honest advertising. I am still pecking at a real typewriter after all these years, and have resisted every effort by well-meaning people to turn me to a whatcha-callit. I have a dashboard on my automobile which the salesman assured me is thinking 10 times a second. I've had the vehicle three years and still haven't found out how to turn on the overhead lamp. At my age I have no intention of tangling with anything else that thinks faster than I do. It puts me in mind of the Deane Prize.

Aside from a C-minus in the Greek lyric poets, the Deane Prize was my highest scholastic honor, and the year was 1928. A fund had been set up in the early days of my college by somebody named Deane, and the income was to be awarded annually to a deserving student who showed proficiency in English composition.

As time ran along, the amount of income seemed to become smaller and smaller, so it was still an honor to receive the Deane Prize but hardly a financial bonanza. Accordingly, the college withheld it until the accumulation was noticeable, and to make this skip reasonable the pretense was offered that it wasn't every year that a student was both deserving and proficient. I chanced along in the right year, and my instructor sent up to the awards committee a little thing I had done on how to make 36 lamp chimneys from 24 old ketchup bottles. Since I was the only candidate, I won handily, and I got the Deane Prize. My check was for $50.

In the village an elderly man named Fields kept a store that offered many things, and he also repaired watches, clocks, and bicycles, lent money, cut hair, performed marriages, made passport pictures, and did compass corrections. In his window there had been a low-profile Royal typewriter for several years with a small sign that said ``reasonable.'' Those Royals were not of a style we call ``portable,'' but they were slung fore-and-aft so they were a half a typewriter high and two typewriters long. I stepped in and Mr. Fields got up from stringing a tennis racket to ask if I meant to buy or if I were just browsing. I said I would like to know the price of the typewriter in the window.

This resulted in a conversational contretemps that was characteristic of Mr. Fields, and was meant to delay anything straightforward until he found out if I had any money, and if so, how much. I was well learn-ed in the black art of a Down-East cow-trade from my expert grandfather long before I got to college, so Mr. Fields was met better than halfway and soon gave over his efforts. Reluctantly, on the grounds that he hated to part from a longtime friend for sentimental reasons, and because - with a tear in his eye - he doubted that I would give the Royal a good home, he smothered his emotions and said he would take $10 just because it was me.

I told Mr. Fields that I respected his feelings, and would keep them in mind, but that an investment of this consequence called for caution, and I would take a time to consult with my financial adviser and the loan officer at the bank.

I then tried all the other places in town, including the people who sold new typewriters, and concluded that Mr. Fields should be revisited. I put $5 on his counter and although he cried like a man with a horse standing on his foot he said he was proud to help a young man eager for a cultural career, and he wished me luck. He turned to pick up a magnifying glass and look closely at my $5 bill.

I used that bung-down Royal antique through college, and in my early days as the logical successor to Herbert Bayard Swope, and through two or three books that are now, fortunately, out of print. I didn't have to program it, flip any switches, or plug it in. One of the early editors on this newspaper used to send me a new ribbon when my copy would grow faint. He said it was cheaper than new spectacles. When I became affluent enough to seek something better, I gave that elongated Royal to my retired father, who had said that with nothing better to do he thought he'd write a book. He did, and it, too, is out of print. Talk about word processing!

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