Rediscovering an old friend

I received an unusual request from a friend last week, that sent me down memory lane. He wanted to know if I had a portable typewriter he could use for some government forms he needed to complete.

Deep in the closet, after moving some boxes aside, there is was, the black case with the leather handle resting quietly in the corner as if anticipating that someday its moment would come again, and sure enough it had.

Lifting it out, I opened the case and just like the day it was put away, sat the Remington Rand 5, ready for work.

The keys clunked with an authority and resonance that took me back to my childhood. The typewriter was my father’s and I was often lulled to sleep by the sound of the keys hitting the platen as he sat at the kitchen table typing business letters.

It was post war. In addition to his day job, he had taken on a second, at home job, to help pay the bills. Most people type today because that is how one communicates with a computer. But he bought the Remington Rand 5 to open an at-home business. The thought was: if you were in business, your correspondence had to be typed … and so the steady clickety-clack of the keys and the ding of the bell marking the end of a line, echoed through the house most nights.

Fast forward through several decades: I inherited the typewriter and wrote my university essays on it; took it to my first newspaper job in Cochrane (I recall madly typing away into the night, trying to meet a looming deadline while my wife attempted to sleep); and then brought it to Minden when I purchased The Times.

Many an article, editorial and column passed under that ribbon as I wrote for the weekly.

Then suddenly, a computer arrived on my desk and the trusty Remington Rand 5 was slipped into its case and tucked in the corner where it slowly gathered dust. That is, until that recent call from a friend.

I was surprised by the good shape the typewriter was in, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. Proudly Canadian-made, likely in the 1930s, the Remington Rand 5 was all steel. I felt the weight when I picked it up … it was built to last; almost indestructible.

Not surprisingly, the red and black ribbon had mostly dried out, but it still retained enough ink to make some readable impressions on the paper I slid into the carriage. Basically, it was ready to go back to work.

Then came the second surprise: I Googled ‘typewriter ribbon’ and the office supply chain, Staples headed the list. Clicking through, there it was, two spools of typing ribbon that looked like they would fit my machine. The ribbon was all black, a minor shortcoming, considering that I expected to find typewriter ribbons in the buggy whip department.

Alas, my friend called to advise that he didn’t need a typewriter after all. The government agency had forms that could be filled in online. And so, I slowly closed the case and shuffled the Remington Rand 5 back into the closet … along with decades of memories.

Upon reflection, it would be appropriate to have written this column on that 80-year-old typewriter. I thought about that for a while and quickly realized the nostalgia in doing so would complete the circle. But ironically, had I done so, I would just have had to type it all over again, into the computer, so I could send it to the editor.

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