My Grandfather’s Typewriter

My eldest daughter has it now, a black, oily hulk of steel and ink — a piece of history, a relic, a machine from a time past, before computers, before Facebook, before digital. Its inner works are entirely mechanical — you press a key and a thin metal rod swings into action, motivated purely by the power of human flesh.

The rod snaps through a ribbon impregnated with powdered ink, thrusting its forged head into billowy, white paper. The black imprint of a character is tattooed on the paper’s pale virgin skin. Repeat, again and again, with other letters, other symbols. New ideas. A novel. An invitation. A good-bye.

At this point, that machine is probably 100 years old, with decades of letter writing, storytelling, news and correspondence all passing through its mechanics and that one, lone ribbon, crinkled with age, as I am.

I examined the ribbon closely before I gave the typewriter to my daughter. There I saw the faint imprint of thousands of impressions in its thin, dark skin, like the scars a slave bears from his prior master’s whippings. It is, in a sense, the typewriter’s memory…a record of its history.

I thought of a conversation I had with a woman, where she asked me not to burden her with the scars I bear from women who came before her. “I am not them,” she said, and I understood. No woman wants to detect the scent of another woman’s perfume on the pillow of the man she loves. She wants the old ribbon removed and replaced.

But her request spun me into a quandary. I am like a rock by the seashore. I have been shaped and sanded down, smoothed over and conformed by every relationship that has ever washed over me, not just romantic ones, but bosses and parents and friends as well. I am like my grandfather’s typewriter — every key ever tapped, every story ever told, or letter written, has left its imprint on me. They feel like an indelible part of my being.

I am a tragic and glorious product of my experiences, every one. They are the sacred ingredients of who I am. The wounds, the victories, the sacrifices, loves, memories, the stories told and not told, the letters written and the letters lost, are all found on that ribbon that is a part of my grandfather’s typewriter, and a part of me too. These things are buried somewhere deep in the machinery of a man’s heart, a collection of his memories, some accurate, others distorted by the shape-shifting psyche, the way a funhouse mirror reflects reality.

Some memories we keep, but others we must let go. The typewriter is not a prisoner of its past. It is not doomed to tell the same story over and over. It can write a new story at the hands of a skilled operator.

So to my beloved, I say: “Please hold two truths in your gentle hands. I would not be who I am without my past, and who I was in the past is not who I am becoming.”

Then I put my hands to the keys of my grandfather’s typewriter and press, one character, then another. A bold new story has begun.

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