The Heart of a Typewriter

by Veronica Kirin

There are two typewriters in my home. I’m a little old-fashioned, so this doesn’t tend to surprise the people who know me well. Sadly, there is no way for me to make use of two typewriters. The minimalist in me wishes to downsize. Yet, each typewriter has an important story. I can’t bring myself to rid myself of one of them; I can’t rid myself of the stories.

My first typewriter was given to me by a former partner. It was a gift that showed he truly saw me. It was my birthday, and I was in the middle of writing my first novel. He gave me this typewriter in order to inspire me to finish it. He knew that having a typewriter, something old-fashioned and regal, would make me feel more motivated. It’s an olive green Olympia, heavy with metal parts, and still in perfect working condition. Sadly, its carrying case is long lost, a casualty of time.

To be seen and known by a partner is one of the great gifts in life, and the physical gesture of gift-giving serves as an indicator of the intimacy of a relationship. I knew that this partner truly saw who I was by the gifts that he would give me, the typewriter being one of the best examples. He would always give gifts that supported what I was trying to achieve in life.

Contrast this to a recent partner who gave me what might seem on the surface a good gift. U2 is my favorite band, and so one Christmas, he gave me The Joshua Tree on vinyl. However, with a single visit to my home, one learns I have an extensive vinyl collection, and my favorite band is naturally at the top of the list of what I collect. I garnered The Joshua Tree long ago, it being their most popular album. It would have been easy for this partner of over a year to take an extra moment to glance at my collection during his regular visits to check if it was an album that I had. His redundant gift showed a disappointing lack of intimacy, an indicator of a withering relationship that I knew had reduced to going through motions.

A more recent partner confided that he is poor at gift-giving. I was a bit surprised to hear this low opinion of himself. This was a man who outwardly prides himself on the ability to see and support others. I thought he of all people would be able to observe those around him and have the patience to plan even small gifts that speak significantly to their lives. For someone who planned this former partner’s birthday gift for five months, this was another indicator of misfit values.

Gift-giving is an intimate way to show one sees another person’s true self, validating their individuality. Before big box stores and mainstream manufacturing, gift-giving often coincided with needs, the highest gifts being those that one wanted but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) afford. It’s not about the act of giving itself, though the patience and care to go out of one’s way for another is important. It’s about having insight into someone for who they truly are; recognition of someone’s lifestyle and personhood. Proficient gift-giving shows the receiver that they are important, and that they are worth more than a cheap purchase from a mainstream store. The cliche saying “it’s the thought that counts” stems from this very intent.

That is why I love gift-giving so much. I typically can surprise someone simply because I listen and watch for what would really support them. At the time of gift-giving, the recipient is pleasantly surprised to find they are so known and appreciated for their unique qualities.

So the Olympia typewriter will stay in my possession, a pleasant reminder that a loved one believed in me.

The second typewriter in my home is from my great-grandparents house. I was equally surprised and honored to receive this typewriter, but for different reasons. It is classic black, and still has its carrying case. The keys are circular, and it is much older than the Olympia my former partner gave me.

This typewriter was found by my dad while we were clearing out my great-grandparents home some months ago. He called for me to come to the dining room from the bedroom I was ransacking because he knew I would be interested.

He knelt on the floor to open the box and showed me the typewriter inside. I looked on in awe, noticing that the ‘one’ key was missing. He told me that this was the typewriter he used to write his papers in grade school. But this wasn’t his parents house; this was the home of his aunt, uncle, cousins, and grandparents. I asked him immediately, “What is it doing here?”

The family houses backed up to each other. His parent’s house shared a back yard with his Aunt and Uncle’s house, the house we were in. His father (my grandfather) helped build the fireplace in that home. The grandparents of both sides lived in both houses, the entire Kirin family living within two properties. He said that they would pass the typewriter back and forth between houses depending on who needed it. He guessed that the last person that needed the typewriter was at his Aunts house, my great-grandparents house, the house that we were cleaning for sale.

This is a wonderful and important insight into the lives that came before my generation. This was a time far before computers and smart phones, when one typewriter sufficed for two homes. Communal sharing was simply a part of the equation for such a machine. I was surprised to find it in a different house than its supposed owner, but my dad had grown up with this kind of sharing, and was not surprised at all. It was a matter fact. It was the way things were done. And now, I get to share in that family history.

Today, we all have our own things, and rarely share. Of course, if my next door neighbor asked to borrow an item like measuring cups, I would offer them, but it would be borrowing, not sharing. I would not be sure I’d get them back, and even while out of my possession they would still belong only to me.

The typewriter isn’t mine — it belongs to my family, just as it always has.

How does one get rid of either of these stories? How does one say I have too many typewriters and declutter? I can’t do it. Yes, I write on the typewriters when I’m writing a book or essay, but that means that I can only write on one at a time, and certainly have a preference between them. Yet, I guarantee that I will keep both. Of course the family heirloom is the one that will be passed on, but having the olive green Olympia without its case sitting atop the family heirloom reminds me of a time when I felt seen, and it is both wonderful and simple to use. Both are heavy, both are unruly, and only the cased one can go with me to coffee shops if I wished to be so obnoxious, but both contain memories and lessons I cannot refuse.

And so I have two typewriters.