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My Grandfather’s Typewriter



Friday, May 09, 2014
This is my grandfather’s typewriter.

It’s a portable manual Corona, which he must have used for at least some of his time as the federal immigration judge for New England, deciding cases throughout the region in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, until his retirement in 1976.

Fresh off a long vacation visiting family in Massachusetts, I picked it up from a cleaning and ribbon change yesterday. When I brought it into the newsroom and clunked it down on my editor’s desk to show him, I was instantly surrounded by about half a dozen members of our not-quite-senior-citizens club, each quizzing my knowledge of outdated pop culture references (limited) and my ability to use a typewriter (none), and trying to guess my year of birth (not that long ago).

My grandfather — my father’s father — was named Eugene Charles Cassidy, but to me, he was Papa. He stood 6-foot-4, and in an obituary written by The Boston Globe after his death at age 91 in 2005, my dad “recalled how the judge and a government attorney, who also topped 6 feet, made a comic pair tooling around in the other man’s Volkswagen Beetle.”

Several judges now work together to do the job that Papa once did alone. My dad is quoted in the obituary describing the nature of the cases Papa heard: They either granted legal status in the United States or ordered deportation, and ranged “from those seeking asylum from repressive political regimes, to noncitizens charged with felonies, to hearings regarding immigrants whose citizenship was in dispute through allegations of criminal conduct.”

I bet this typewriter was in the trunk of that Beetle, and I bet he used it to compose some of those decisions. (My dad says that must be so, because he can’t recall ever seeing Papa using it.)

Papa died when I was still in high school, but I inherited this typewriter only recently. After his wife, Helen (my grandmother, Grandma), died in 2009, their house was sold and its contents emptied, important treasures dispersed and shuffled from holding spot to holding spot. I’m not sure of the exact path that it took, but a few months ago, my mother asked if this little red typewriter collecting mold in the basement might find a better home with me.

That’s where Twin State Typewriter comes in. The downtown White River Junction business, where I dropped off my Corona for its cleaning before vacation, has been around for 40 years, owner Wanda Nalette told me when I picked up the typewriter yesterday. She started working there more than 20 years ago, bought the business 13 years ago, and in the past year alone has seen demand for typewriters like mine — old cling-clanging manuals, as opposed to the sleeker electric versions — increase dramatically.

About three-quarters of customers who come in to buy a typewriter, she said, are looking for something manual.

“And they’re not just older people,” she said. “Sometimes they’re 13, 14 years old.”

In the age of iThis, iThat and the iOther, why are so many millennials — those who The New York Times described in a 2011 article as “too young to be nostalgic for spooled ribbons, ink-smudged fingers and corrective fluid” — clamoring for these clunkers?

I think there are probably many factors. The Times took a stab at it, and came up with some answers: their sturdiness, their simplicity, and a sort of “analog renaissance” (that phrase borrowed from my colleague Alex Hanson) that includes the likes of vinyl records and Polaroid film.

Nalette points out another driving factor, at least in her experience: There is a 1930s-themed American Girl Doll named Kit, apparently, whose accessories include a typewriter. Although the company offers some highly rated $22 toy typewriters (if you’re looking for one, sorry, the online site is currently sold out), it seems that many young Kit fans want the real deal.

“It’s a trend that’s starting back up,” Nalette said.

Surrounded by the editorial elders yesterday afternoon, someone helped me load a piece of paper into my grandfather’s typewriter, and I knocked out my first two words — “Maggie” and “Cassidy.” I won’t be using it to file any articles or publish any blog posts, but I’m happy to have it, and I’m sure I’ll be fooling around with it more in the weeks to come.

Whatever everybody else’s reasons are for their revived interest in typewriters, mine comes back to Papa: I like having it around because of who had it before me.

What about you? Have you inherited something recently with a neat story behind it? Email me at mcassidy@vnews.com.

■Posted to the Upper Valley Dispatch blog Wednesday at 11:45 a.m.