My Mother’s Remington Rand

I’ll be back to the Big Dig on the page here this weekend, but first this fun little story about typewriters.

I got a great idea from Tom Hanks, who collects—and gives away—old typewriters. He said in a biography by Gavin Edwards, The World According to Tom Hanks, which I listened to recently, that it irks him to get an emailed thank you note that took the writer seven seconds to write and send. He types notes on an old manual typewriter and puts a real stamp on the envelope. I thought, what a great idea for thank you notes relating to publication of my book (in October) about my mother, who typed her way through World War II as an ace secretary to Army base administrators. 

I lifted her 1935 Remington Rand off the top of the cabinet in my study to see if it was usable. (It’s so heavy, and it’s a portable!) Of course the ribbon was dry. I thought to check the cupboard in the family room above her “newer” (and much heavier) machine. It was zero surprise that there were ribbons, two of them! One from each of the stationery stores that used to be in Centralia, pre-Staples: Bristers and Brownings. But, sadly, they were for the newer typewriter, which my grandsons, the Littles, like to peck at. (Also, they are pretty dry.)

I reached out on Facebook and a friend of a friend who collects typewriters responded! (Thank you Bonnie Rae and Mary.) Mary told me where to get ribbons. I knew they had them on Amazon, but I would not have known which one to get; plus . . . Amazon. Laine at Ribbons Unlimited, a family-owned business in Maryland, was so helpful. I had several options, including a less expensive one like the ones on Amazon that were plastic reels adapted to fit the spool well and spindle. Or one with the ribbon wrapped on small metal spools like the original. Because the metal spools are becoming hard to find, that option was considerably more expensive.

I only have one spool. My mother must have lost the other and improvised by just threading one end of the ribbon directly onto the spindle. WWII veterans (by which I mean everyone alive then) learned to improvise when all metal went to the war effort. Did she lose it back then, or did the “make do” mentality just stick with her? I could do that and just get the ribbon and wind it myself onto the spool I have, jury-rigging the other end as she did. But would I sabotage my efforts by trying to improvise something I know nothing about? What the heck, in for a dime, in for a dollar. I ordered the real deal, not the plastic adaptation, no DIY. If I’m going to use the machine in homage to her, I will use it as she used it when she was in her twenties. It will be assembled (by hand) and mailed today. 

The bottom of the Ribbons Unlimited order page says this: 

“A typewriter? You still use a manual typewriter? That blows my mind. It’s the 21st century, with Wifi, i-phones, electric cars and air fryers and you are still clicking away on a manual typewriter. And no electricity or batteries required? . . . you mean you can be in the dark and type, or on a beach, or literally sitting anywhere — that’s amazing!! And Ribbons Unlimited still assembles typewriter ribbons and can recycle your old spools with a brand new ribbon — that’s insane!! And wait, there’s more! You can even call us and talk about typewriters — I am now speechless.”

It made me laugh. 

I’ve just requested Tom’s book of short stories, “Uncommon Type,” from the library.  There’s an NPR interview with him about the book and his passion for typewriters. You can find the story here

And then I designed a thank you note, on my Macbook Air; and ordered “LOVE” stamps from the post office, online. Who knows, perhaps one day you will be the recipient of one, typed on my mother’s 1935 Remington Rand.

P.S. As I finished typing this, a message popped into my email: my ribbon is on its way!

16 thoughts on “My Mother’s Remington Rand

  1. Wonderful story. And maybe you’ll stop blogging and do all your writing on a typewriter and your publishers will be astounded at the 20 lb package they receive in the mail!! I love love love your thank you notes! And Tom shall go on my rather long TBR list….

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I used to read all the time. Now I write all the time and can’t seem to fit it in until I collapse into bed at night. Something’s got to give because my TBR list plus “for later” list will take me until I’m 122 years old.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Me too. There are so many other things vying for attention now. Like, taking an afternoon nap when I used to read. Or, I’m ashamed of myself to admit, scrolling FB, news, weather on my phone, looking for connection I suppose. I really need to break that habit of distracting myself. I used to read for an hour in bed, now I fall asleep. Instead of reading in bed in the morning, I get up. And then I do things that are fodder for writing. I’m not on the road as much as I used to be, so fewer recorded books. That said, I did read five books in January and listened to one.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. same same. scrolling, weather, connection, texting. I only read 3 books in January so you’re doing good! I can’t listen to books because I get distracted and lose my place. But really, Nancy, get a grip. Stop checking WordPress!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I can’t listen to just any recorded book (and I only listen in the car), but the right book and the right reader (and the right driving route) I can get enough even when I miss parts.


  2. Absolutely LOVE this post! Could not agree more with Tom Hanks about appreciating getting a real live thank you note in the mail. This year when we had seen so few old friends and friends overseas we decided to snail mail our holiday greetings so they would have something tangible. (Yes, they were done by Shutter fly, but we did write notes on each one!) Let us not lose sight of the importance of that “extra touch”.

    All the best, Ann

    P.S. My fingers are strong to this day because I did 4 years as a newspaper reporter in the 1970s on a manual typewriter!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t wait to get my ribbon and give it a try! One of my mother’s many body complaints was arthritic fingers, and as I observed, I couldn’t help think we should all be so lucky at a century old to have such a low degree of arthritis as to make it completely invisible to anyone looking.


  3. I found my mom’s typewriter stored in my parent’s garage. It is also so heavy. A mouse had died inside on top of the keys. I removed the mouse and brought it home.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have to say, I love everything about this. I’m so glad Mary could help. There’s nothing like the sound and the feel of an old typewriter. I get nostalgic, and in a warm fuzzy way, when I see the type on a page. On my way home from my walk, I finished Ann Patchett’s book and started Tom Hanks. Great minds think alike. So happy to hear of your “thank you note” plans. Your Mom would be so tickled. What a lovely tribute ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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