My Grandfather Still Gets Typewritten Mail

A short while ago, my grandfather took a spill and wound up in the hospital.

It was touch-and-go for a minute, but he's doing much better and was recently moved from the hospital to a rehab facility to help him get his mobility back. The facility, while local to me, is a couple hundred miles away from his hometown, so he's been getting a lot of mail from the people in his small community.

While getting personal mail is a novelty in itself in 2022, what made these particular letters so interesting was the fact that more than a few of them were typewritten... you know, like with a typewriter. Now, as funny as it would be to say that my grandpa is friends with a bunch of farm town hipsters, the much more heartwarming reality is that he and his peers haven't embraced modern technology with nearly as much vigor as younger generations have; and as a result, still connect on a much more physical and personal level.

I've written about the joy of typewriters before, but when encountering the unironic and honest usage of one in the real world, I can't help but stop and appreciate them. There's something uniquely special about reading a letter that has been written using a typewriter. The boldness of each character. The feel of the impressions the letters leave when they strike the paper. The utterly perfect lack of perfection.

It's a truly beautiful thing.

As I read one of the letters to my grandpa, a particularly long one that used a gorgeous cursive-style typeface, I asked him about the sender. He said that it was from his friend Betty, a friend from his church. As he tells it, Betty doesn't own a computer or a smartphone, but has been maintaining and using the same typewriter for over half-a-century, and her familiarity with the machine was obvious in the letter's formatting.

If you've never used a typewriter before, especially one as old as Betty's, then you may not realize what a pain in the ass it is to get everything just so. In just about every word processor ever made, the software does a lot of the thinking for you. Page width, page length, margins... all of it is either taken care of automagically, or just a few clicks away.

With a typewriter, though... no such luck.

Want to get consistent horizontal margins? Better plan your wording ahead of time, and pay attention to that prototypical "ding" sound (which, if you've set the machine's margin guides right, will give you a heads up that you need to either finish your word or continue it to the next line using a trusty hyphen).

Looking for clean vertical margins? Well, your typewriter has no idea how long your paper is, so you're going to have to do that yourself. Too bad the bottom of the page is hidden by the drum, so by the time you physically see it, it's too late and you've typed all the way to the bottom of the page (pro tip: make a pencil mark on the left side of the page where your bottom margins go, so you know when to stop). There's also no spell check, delete button, or alignment. Even with early electric typewriters, just about all the layout work was as manual as it could get.

These are just a few things you need to think about when using a typewriter, but Betty? Well, Betty is clearly a pro. Her letter fit perfectly within the margins of the paper (which was slightly smaller than a standard A4 sheet, which means she knows how to adjust the settings beyond the defaults). It was nicely spaced, clearly thought out (if you ever want a lesson in deliberate thinking, I suggest you try typing your thoughts up on a typewriter instead of an infinitely editable digital word processor), and contained only 1 typo.

Over the last year or so, I've fallen out of my habit of sending my own typewritten letters, due mostly to the fact that I've run out of people who have the patience to communicate via snail-mail. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it.

I love my typewriter, and I love using it. So I'm going to let myself be inspired by Betty and get back in the habit. If I can't find people my own age to write to, well then maybe I should start getting to know my elders a little better. At the very least, they probably won't text me to let me know they are mailing me a letter.


This is post 019 of #100DaysToOffload


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