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Another Day in the Country

10-minute warning

© Another Day in the Country

When I turned 15, my parents enrolled me in a Christian boarding academy on the outskirts of Loveland, Colorado.

Mom and Dad had just moved our family from Kansas City, Kansas, to Greeley, Colorado. I didn’t really know a soul in Colorado, and my first day of school also meant my first day living away from what I called home.

Home was an ambiguous place that fall because we had just moved a couple of weeks before. My heart and real home still were back in Kansas. 

Most of the classes were prescribed — math, English, Bible — but there was an elective to choose. I chose typing.

There was a dozen of us in the class, sitting in front of 12 black shiny Royal typewriters.

These were manual typewriters — demanding little beasts insisting on accuracy. We soon built up strength in our fingers that we had never imagined needing.

Once we got the fingering down — and this took a while — we had to learn accuracy and speed.

The teacher gave us “timings” — different lengths, a variety of tasks. Ten-minute timings are the ones that I remember most. I never knew that 10 minutes could last so long.

My roommate at the school was a year behind me, a freshman, but she’d managed to get into the same class.

We sat side by side, and whenever we’d screw up during one of those 10-minute timings, we’d just stop what we were supposed to be copying and start talking to each other via the typewriter.

At the end of the timing the teacher, Mrs. Nesmeth (I still remember her name after all these years), would say, “Exchange papers and check for accuracy.”

My roommate, Janet, and I got immense glee out of reading what the other person had written during the timing.

We’d dutifully mark the errors and hand the paper back, grinning.

It took Mrs. Nesmeth quite a while to figure out why we enjoyed 10-minute timings so much, and she promptly put the kibosh on our fun.

As I look back at what I learned during my high school years, typing was by far the most useful skill. I’ve been grateful my whole life that I learned that discipline.

We’ve come a long way from those old Royal manual typewriters. I rejoiced with every new invention, and here I sit still typing away on a keyboard that talks to my computer, that is so smart that it corrects my spelling errors and alerts me when something is wrong in either syntax or spelling.

Obviously, my computer isn’t familiar with Mrs. Nesmeth — a short, pudgy, smiling fussbudget in a black print dress — because there’s a red line under her name every time it appears.

When I was in California earlier this summer, I resorted to composing my column on my iPhone. That was a trick with a tiny keyboard, one inch by two inches, and a crazy fanatic spell-check.

My daughter, Jana, had offered me the use of a tablet with a flat, shiny, 8-by-10-inch keyboard, but it was so sensitive, constantly throwing me into other programs if I brushed certain keys accidentally, that I just threw up my hands — “Nope, this won’t work!” — and went back to my phone.

My grandson, Dagfinnr, just started high school this past week. He texted me a list of his classes. There seemed to be no electives. It was all pretty standard fare.

I told him the typing story and how Janet and I had become acquainted writing notes to each other during those 10-minute timings.

“I don’t think typing is part of the curriculum anymore,” he texted me back. “Isn’t that funny, when we’re in an era where you find keyboards everywhere, and we don’t learn the effective way to use them?”

He’s right. Keyboards are everywhere, and we’re all trying to figure out how best to poke out a message.

I know that clickers and keyboards are wonderful inventions, but every once in a while we need to put a cover on technology, like we used to put a cover over our black Royal typewriters when we left the classroom. Job done.

I’m convinced that we need to set technology aside more often.

Ignore your gadgets regularly, if you can. Get outside in your garden, is my advice. Leave your phone in the house.

I can hear my daughter saying, “Right, Mom! So that’s why you never answer your phone.”

I, for one, have to remind myself to take a break from keyboards. I can sit down at a computer and start writing something — a letter or a column — and time flies by unnoticed.

I begin telling a story, and thanks to Mrs. Nesmeth, it appears like magic on the screen without my even thinking about where the appropriate keys are or whether my hands are in the correct position.

Our children have just started back to school, and I’m crossing my fingers that it will be a good year.

I’m planning art projects, eager to see their eyes over the top of their masks — hopefully, trying to protect each other as we learn a new set of essential skills on another day in the country.

Last modified Aug. 18, 2021

 

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