I learned to type in high school, a number of years before electric typewriters, so you can figure out it was well in advance of word processing and computers. We learned on manual typewriters under the unrelenting gaze of Kathro Williams. Mrs. Williams had taught many of my classmates’ parents so as the insurance commercial says, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.” I’m fairly certain she had dealt with a number of smart-mouthed, sophomoric, recalcitrant teenagers before, but I’m not sure she had encountered so many at one time. Mrs. Williams might have been willing to make learning fun, but we were mostly interested in having fun. Learning was farther down on our list of priorities. What could be more fun than repeatedly hitting your neighbor’s carriage return or hammering his keyboard in the middle of a timed exercise? At that age many of us couldn’t imagine anything funnier.
Mrs. Williams had suffered a stroke a number of years before our class arrived in high school and though it impaired her walk a bit and her speech significantly, she soldiered on. As many teenagers are, we lacked empathy. Rather than admire her will and strength for fighting through her situation, we found great sport in imitating her speech. That she had difficulty in pronouncing her F’s, always produced chortles when she called out the Shift key during our keyboard exercises. We were a sorry lot at that time in our lives.
During the first day of class, she let us sit where we wanted and I picked a place next to Bob Chattin, one of my best friends. We were of like mind…mischievous and willing to do most anything for a laugh. After a couple of classes filled with keyboard chaos and poorly delivered assignments due to sabotage, Kathro had enough and moved us to opposite ends of the row where we sat. Smart move. Things quieted down after that and we got on with the business of learning how to type. I liked learning a new skill and took pride in getting progressively better; eventually reaching 55 words per minute.
Because some of the typewriters were newer than others, Mrs. Williams would move us to another machine every few weeks. As fate would have it, Bob and I ended up next to each other the last week of class and it only took a few minutes for the hijinks to resume. Upon hearing a commotion, Mrs. Williams looked up to see me pulling Bob’s paper out of his typewriter. She walked toward us with a look of deep disappointment and said, “Now, Donnie and Bob…just can’t have you boys sitting together.” Since I was the perpetrator, I got banished to the end of the row again.
Despite my attempts to correct her and the fact that my name was spelled properly in her grade book, Mrs. Williams insisted on calling me Donnie…and it bugged me a lot. Of course, all my buddies would kid me about it. I think Kathro was having a bit of fun with me and she found a soft spot. It would be good to know she is sitting in Heaven with many of my other teachers having a good laugh about it. Of all the practical things I learned in high school, typing is what I have used the most in life.
Thank you, Mrs. Williams. Lord knows I didn’t make it easy for you.