A Lost Object

Today's post is less about place than the place of objects in cultural memory. It seems, my friends, that the object depicted on my T-shirt has been lost to the winds of time. What is it?

© Darcy Kitching 2014

When I first donned this shirt at home, little O pointed at it and said, "Helicopter!" It took me a moment to understand what he could possibly mean, but then, when I looked in the mirror, I realized that the not-so-ancient typewriter pictured on my chest resembled a kind of massive, military-type aircraft of some sort. If I squinted.

But again today, when we walked into a friend's house, her son (like O, a year and a half old) pointed at my shirt and said, "Airplane!"

Now, to me, it's truly noteworthy that our tiny boys, with their limited exposure to aircraft, were able to take such an abstract leap from those experiences and fit this picture of a Royal portable typewriter into the aircraft category in their minds. They have never seen a real typewriter. They have never heard that distinctive clacking of keys and slapping of type bars on paper that filled my childhood and early adolescence. And it's likely they never will. To the boys, this machine might as well be a helicopter. I'm sure a fair number of them were thrown out of windows in their time.

Though computers entered my life fairly early - my dad is a true technophile who owned one of the first Tandy or IBM type machines, and there were computers for learning basic skills on in my elementary school - I learned to type on an electric typewriter in junior high, and my mother used one until around the year 2000, when she could no longer buy new ribbons for it.

I remember riding along with her on trips to the typewriter repair store in Lakewood, Colorado, as a kid. It was just off Colfax near the Westminster Mall. It was a store packed with machines and parts of machines and small boxes of typewriter ribbons of many colors. It might even have been the same store where mom took the vacuum cleaner to be repaired. Her motto, which I have displayed in a cross-stitch sampler above my desk, was, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." And she did.

The artist who made my T-shirt chose his design with irony in mind. The word "LAPTOP" is written on the piece of paper sticking out of the top of the typewriter. As someone who loved typewriters for their retro utility but was herself an early computer adopter (my first laptop computer was one I had to insert a floppy disk into to boot it up, since it had no hard drive), I found it funny. I'm not shy about revealing how many years I've been around (clearly, since I'm hosting the Fabulous 42 Formal), so I also wear this shirt as a badge of middle-aged pride.

That's not a helicopter, little one - it's a machine mommy used to write on years ago!