Daniel, one of my four sons-in-law, slid the large, square, and obviously heavy unwrapped box in from of me as our extended family sat exchanging our Christmas gifts.
What on earth?! I wondered. With our crazy family, one never knows. It's a given that no present is ever what is pictured on the box in which it is packaged. A beautiful necklace or a much-coveted tool might be hidden in a cereal box, a greeting card box, or even a used paper towel tube. Even the sons-in-law have by now come to expect the unexpected when it comes to Peterson family gift packaging.
But this particular gift was housed in a nondescript, unmarked cardboard box. No picture. No printing. No indication whatsoever of what it might conceal.
I lifted the lid carefully, half expeting to find a furry, hyperactive puppy amid a pile of soiled newspapers. The girls have often threatened me with such a "gift." After all, all four of the girls' families have one or more canines. Why shouldn't Mom and Dad have one, too?
But the lifted lid revealed no such gift. Instead of finding a boisterous bouncing puppy, I stared down into the box at a massive antique typewriter.
My first thought was, How ironic! Stacy, the daughter who is always badgering me to "get with it, Dad!" by venturing into the ever-changing world of high-tech 21st-century gadgetry is now trying to push me back into the neanderthal era of printing machines!
Before I could voice my thoughts, however, Stacy announced, "As soon as I saw this at the Children's Home sale, I said, 'That's Dad!'"
My wife, apparently in on the scheme from the start, quickly added, "She's spent hours cleaning it up and getting it ready for you." I immediately sensed her emphasis on the time and effort expended.
"And hours researching its history," Daniel said. I detected a hint of what I interpreted as a little jealous resentment of time that justly might have been devoted to him.
As if to lend visual credibility to the testimony of mother and husband, the daughter submitted, "I've emailed you before-and-after photos and a link to a website that lists the serial numbers of old typewriters so you can research it. The best I can figure, yours was made between 1928 and 1930."
I tried to lift the machine from the box so I could get a better look. Its weight, however, was too much for my arthritic wrists, and I let it slip from my hands and settle back into the box.
Where am I going to put this monster? I began thinking.
By the time we got home several days later, I'd figured out a place for it. I rearranged my office a bit and set the machine on another antique--a sturdy child's school desk, the kind with a hole for an ink bottle. I stood back and looked at it.
Suddenly, impulsively, I reached forward and placed the fingers of both my hands on the home keys. My digits seemed strangely crowded on the keys. My computer keyboard seems commodious by contrast.
I lifted my right index finger from its place atop the J key and attempted to reach the U above it. My fingernail struck the targeted key just about where the nail enters the cuticle. I hadn't realized just how high each row of keys was set above the one below.
How on earth did typists keep their fingers on the home keys when they had to reach so high to hit the next row's letters? I wondered.
I stepped back and pondered the monster before me. As I examined its numerous mechanical features and tried them to see if they worked as originally designed, I marveled at the ingenuity of the engineers at Remington.
No doubt because of the amount of research I've done recently on aspects of World War II, my mind soon wandered to the history of the company and how it had retooled during that conflict to make weapons of war.
Remington Typewriter Company began in 1886 and quickly became famous as a manufacturer of quality business machines, such as adding machines. In 1927, it merged with Rand Kardex Corporation to become Remington Rand and began making products other than business machines, including electric razors.
During World War II, the government awarded Remington a military contract to help produce the now-legendary M1911A1 Colt .45 semiautomatic pistol. The company made approximately 20,000 of the pistols, which was "perhaps the most successful semiautomatic pistol design in history" (nramuseum.org). Original WWII-era Remington 1911s regularly bring more than $2,000 in today's market.
But I digress.
The same daughter who gifted me this old typewriter also several years earlier gave me a framed black-and-white photo of an old, delapidated typewriter that doubless had typed many a story. Beneath the photo is this challenge: "Write your own life story." From that gift came both a book (Look Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East Tennessee, 2017) and an article ("The Beloved Country," The Writer, April 2016, https://www.writermag.com/writing-inspiration/essays-about-writing/dennis-l-peterson/).
As I contemplate the old typewriter on the school desk in front of me, I can only imagine what stories that machine is hiding. Perhaps it, too, is silently crying out to me, "Write some more of that story!"
Who knows? Maybe in 2022 I will do a little more writing of that story. Or maybe that old typewriter will whisper several ideas of a different sort.