I discover a new use for my 'manual printer'

I've bought a fast new laptop, and I'm amazed at all it can do. When I push the wrong button, the computer chides me in a Russian accent. When a friend sends me a .jpg file, it shows me the goofy picture right away instead of whirring for 10 minutes and then crashing. When I want to pause midsentence to look something up on the Internet, my computer doesn't chortle at my impossible wish.

This new machine has transformed my work life. So it was only a matter of time before I got the question.

"Mom, can I type my homework on your computer?" my daughter asked.

My mind flashed to the time she and her little sister locked up my previous computer so hard it took an hour to get it working again. Let her use my brand-new computer? With all my work stored on it?

Request denied. Then I got an idea.

"Why don't you get out my typewriter?"

My father gave me the Olivetti manual back in 1973, and I used it through high school and college. Eventually I set it aside for an electric typewriter that could hold an entire page in its memory. But technology marched on, and soon I joined the computer age. Since then my old Olivetti has been sitting in a cupboard.

Delighted to rescue the typewriter from storage, my daughter hunted and pecked her way through her homework story. I showed her all my old tricks: how to create an exclamation point out of an apostrophe and a period; how to use a lower case L for the numeral one; how to X-out mistakes.

"Can I change how the letters look?" she asked.

"No," I answered, pointing to the backward metal letters - the types - nestled under the cover. "What you see is what you get."

Soon my younger daughter wanted a turn. First she tried out all the letters and numbers, in order, inserting spaces in between. Then she wrote a story: "i wus playing outside win i so a snak iwussuprised i jumped i was sckrd."

"I can't make big letters," she said, "and I can't find the period." But that didn't slow her down.

As I watched my daughters' stories take form on the page, I could have been watching over the shoulder of my younger self. The faint, slightly crooked letters took me back to a time before I began using an ink-jet printer and the ubiquitous Times New Roman font. Then, everything I wrote - every short story, term paper, and letter home - was tapped out on those black keys.

I am happy my old typewriter is back in use. It's a good, dependable machine, a true portable that requires neither battery nor power cord. All the instructions you need are printed on a single page. You never have to call customer service. When it locks up, you just reach back and unjam the keys.

Better yet, it entertains the kids while my new laptop is entertaining me.

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