In my birth family, Santa Claus brought presents to children through their high school years, but that was it. Because I was the oldest kid in the family, the parameters around childhood experiences developed as I grew up. I’m not sure when the End of Santa rule was determined—if Santa announced it to me in advance, or if I only found out when he no longer left me anything. I seem to recall some discussion leading to a mutual decision between Santa and me.
But in December 1972, the year I was a senior in high school, I knew Santa was still planning to show up for me, as well as for my younger siblings.
I wanted a typewriter that year. An electric typewriter. After all, I would be heading off to college the following September, and a typewriter would be useful—maybe even a necessity.
I’d taken a typing class the summer after I was in the eighth grade, thinking that I’d have to type some papers in high school. I was dreadful at it, but summer school classes didn’t count in my high school GPA. I think the fastest I ever typed that summer was 35 words per minute, and those words were full of mistakes. I didn’t improve through my high school years, though I did type some of my longer assignments.
The only typewriter we had at home was an ancient manual machine my mother had acquired when she was in college. She wasn’t a very good typist either, and my father couldn’t type at all in those days. (Though he took to it after he retired, when he started using computers regularly, and became a pretty good four-fingered typist.)
By contrast, my maternal grandmother, Nanny Winnie, was an excellent typist. She had been to a year of business college (basically, secretarial school) after high school, and she was very fast. She was so fast that she usually typed her personal correspondence with friends and family. Which was a good thing, because her handwriting was barely legible. I remember visiting her when I was quite small, and she clattered away on the keys typing letters while I played on the floor beside her.
By high school, I was too old to sit on Santa’s lap. To let Santa know I wanted a typewriter, I typed most of my papers the fall semester of my senior year. That meant I had to draft them early enough before they were due that I could slowly peck out a final version on my mother’s old typewriter.
“Why are you typing everything?” my mother asked me one evening as I pounded out a term paper. “Is it required?”
“Not really,” I said. “But I think it looks nicer.” I continued to hunt for those elusive keys, hoping Santa would get the hint.
Santa brought me two suitcases like the one pictured above and the soft carry-on, but not the smaller hard-cased carry-on.
On Christmas morning 1972, I followed my usual practice of sneaking from my bedroom to the living room in the wee hours before dawn. Some years, my brother accompanied me, but that year, I spied alone.
There, under the tree, was a set of luggage—two green Samsonite suitcases and a matching carry-on tote bag. Those must be for me, I thought. I’m the only kid going anywhere this year.
And there was a Smith Corona electric typewriter. At 5:00am, I couldn’t take try it out, but I vowed to be up again as soon as the rest of the family began to stir.
A Smith-Corona typewriter, just like the one Santa brought me
When the appointed hour for children to arise came, I was back in the living room with my typewriter. It had a manual return, but electric touch in the keys.
Unfortunately, owning this machine didn’t improve my typing skills. I managed through college and law school on that Smith Corona, but I didn’t improve as a typist until after I began using a personal computer in the mid-1980s and got a lot more practice. Perhaps that will be the topic of another post.
What was your last gift from Santa?