Today’s lesson, boys and girls, is about typewriters. I know you don’t know what those are, but you’re here to learn.

Louisiana Tech, 1952. I was part of Flight 22 of the United States Air Force preparing to enter Mrs. Golson’s typing class, where we would be forced to learn how to type. The class would take four weeks. No excuses.

If you flunked this class, we were warned, you would be sent to cook school in Biloxi, Mississippi, sleep with crocodiles and peel potatoes.

Every time I’ve had a lousy dinner anywhere, I think: “This guy must have gone to Biloxi.”

I remember Mrs. Golson and her room as if it were yesterday. It was filled with row after row of large, black Underwood typewriters. It was like a morgue for dead Underwoods.

I had to look the name up in Google’s typewriter section, and sure enough, there they were, as though it was only yesterday.


Typewriter names? Yes, they had names — like cars, kids and pets.

There was, I remember one, called a “Hammond” like the chaplin on the USS Buckner that took us to Japan. That was easy, because I had dated a girl with that name in Cleveland, whose father was in prison for forgery.

I recall instantly the “Remington,” because it sounded like a rifle in a Western movie. Isn’t that fun? When you reach a certain age, remembering anything is fun, don’t you think?

All of these typewriters required maintenance, like changing the ribbon. A typewriter ribbon resembles a long, black, wet, dead snake.

Nobody in life ever made ribbon changing a job, when it became clear that no employer anywhere was hiring ribbon changers.

I remember the feeling in my stomach that first morning in class. The place smelled like a prison library, with essence of chalk, furniture polish, eraser dust and pencil shavings.


I have always had the genes of a fast learner, and only two weeks later, I was typing military correspondence like a pro and had escaped the crocodiles of Biloxi.

In Japan, I was welcomed with open arms. You would be shocked to know how many officers who graduated from Yale, Harvard, Notre Dame and Colby didn’t know how to type or change a ribbon. Surprised?

It seems that Mrs. Golson’s Underwoods and Olympias had been phased out to more colorful, smaller models like Remingtons and Smith Coronas. Yes, I had to look those up so you didn’t have to.

All typewriters still had ribbons to change, and were still being used in the offices of Japanese newspapers.

Why am I writing this?

I recently came about an article on Tom Hanks, the famous movie star and typewriter devotee.


It told us that Hanks received his first typewriter when he was 19, and as he continued collecting them, his passion only grew.

“They’re brilliant combinations of art and engineering,” he told The New York Times. “Every machine is as individual as a set of fingerprints.”

Well, I don’t know about that, but I also learned that Tom has invented an app that makes our laptops sound like typewriters when you hit the keys.

I checked it out, and found that it’s too expensive just to hear my laptop make sounds like an Underwood in Mrs. Golson’s classroom.

Did you learn anything today? Good. No Biloxi for you.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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