Slide Rules and Typewriters: A Memoir of Christmas Presents Past

Career Counseling

SlideRuleMy cousin taught high school math. At Christmas, he gave me complicated puzzles. One year he gave me a slide rule. I kept it a long time. It seemed like something I should be able to make work. It looked inviting with its ruler-like lines and numbers and the cool middle slide that I could move back and forth. My cousin said it could multiply and divide and find square roots and algorithms, whatever they were. Every once in a while, I’d take it out and try to perform some simple calculation—two times two, for instance—but I could never get anything to compute. I’m sure some other boy, more mathematically inclined, could have had more luck, but he’d never have the chance. I held onto that slide rule just to spite the boy my cousin must have thought I was when he gave it to me.

Career Counseling (Take 2)

I took my first typing class when I was a sophomore in high school. I needed to learn to type, Smith_Corona_Portablemy teacher told me if I intended to go to college. My parents told me that was what I indeed intended, so I set about learning to touch type, relying on muscle memory to locate the keys without looking at them. To help me practice at home, my parents bought me a portable typewriter—a Smith-Corona Galaxie Deluxe. It came in a hard plastic carrying case, gray, and it had a ribbon that was black on the top half and red on the bottom half. I could push a lever on the upper right side of the keyboard to change the color. The keyboard was cream-white, its metal casing sky blue. I loved the feel of my fingers pressing down on the keys, the clacking noise they made, and the bell that rang to tell me it was time to return the carriage. I’d seen Dick Van Dyke, as Rob Petrie, use a typewriter to write television scripts on The Allen Brady Show, and I thought the life he had seemed like a fine life—high jinks with his writing partners, Buddy and Sally; the glamor of the entertainment business; a fine wife and son in a fine home in the suburbs. I lived in a town of a thousand people in southeastern Illinois. Our house was a modest frame house with clapboard siding. I was an only child and through books I’d discovered the pleasure of a life lived inside the imagination. I had no idea what I wanted to do with that life, but I somehow sensed that typing was the way to find out. So I practiced. I typed the exercise my teacher taught me. I typed it again and again, ink pressed to paper:

             Now is the time. . . .

            Now is the time. . . .

            Now is the time. . . .






  1. Ruth Ann on December 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    And My cousin Deana Brashear taught the higher math classes~~Lol
    I never mastered that ‘stuff.’

  2. Lee Martin on December 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Ruth Ann, I remember Deana being very smart and very good at math. It was always about words and stories for me.

  3. Nita Sweeney on December 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    I knew the typewriter was my future shortly after my 4th grade teacher gave my paper a failing grade, not for its content, but because she couldn’t read my handwriting. My resourceful mother gave me Evelyn Wood’s manual and her Smith Corona, a hefty thing of iron and set me at the kitchen table. “We’ll show her,” she said. I can still feel my mother’s hands as she guided my fingers, hear the ringing bell of that machine, and see the stunned expression on my teacher’s face.

    • Nita Sweeney on December 24, 2012 at 2:55 pm

      Oops. Evelyn Wood was the speed reading guru my father tried to get me to learn from. Wasn’t Wood also a typing instruction manual? Memory is fragile. I wish I still had that old typing instruction book. I could use a refresher from time to time as my fingers still periodically miss the symbols above the numerals.

      • Lee Martin on December 25, 2012 at 1:09 pm

        Nita, I love the story about your mother and the typing. I’m not sure about Evelyn Wood, but a quick Google search doesn’t turn up anything but the speed reading courses.

  4. Rebe Huntman on December 25, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Lee, this is beautiful 🙂

    • Lee Martin on December 25, 2012 at 1:09 pm

      Thank you, Rebe.

  5. Bent Mathiesen on April 8, 2013 at 7:27 am

    I remember that in public school (7-9), in the math class there was a huge slide ruler on the wall. No one ever introduced it – too bad. For me math was/in in my blood, and I have done math all kind of ways, ever since I was 2 years old. I have done times in binary, roman, 10, hex, ruler, etc – most since kid even before anyone taught me how to – and of course a number of other calculations as well. In fact, I was the only one not using a calculator the first year at University – did in my head.

    In the same public school I learned type writing. It was a bit boring. I can type 10 fingers on a pc now, but at University I counted 20 different keyboard layouts during a single day of work.

    It has hardly improved, but I try to keep 1 keyboard layout at home.

    • Lee Martin on April 8, 2013 at 10:00 am

      Bent, isn’t it interesting how we all have our own natural talents? Math was something that was often challenging for me, but language always made perfect sense. What matters most, as your story points out, is finding out what we’re good at and being able to pursue it. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

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