It must have been instinct that told me geometry would get me nowhere growing up female in 1958. I kept hearing typing class was a lot of fun and I had an inkling I was destined to become a secretary anyway. My school counselor had already informed me that test results showed I had skills needed for teaching and nursing. Back then neither of us knew all high school testing was skewed to show that female students scored high in those two categories. Miss Beaton, who was also my P.E. teacher, was of the opinion I wasn’t suited for either occupation. She believed I was ‘too undisciplined to teach”, and ‘too sensitive, emotionally, for nursing”. Hollywood insisted secretarial work was very glamorous and the best way to snag a husband with a good income. Why, who could forget “Three Coins in a Fountain”?
It turned out that typing class wasn’t all that easy. Some of the girls were amazingly adept. I was moderately successful. Always inclined to be tidy, I was good with business letters. However, my brain and hands never coordinated well—still don’t—under heavy scrutiny or pressure. The typing instructor was a colorless woman who never smiled. We girls referred to her as “Gloria” which was, indeed, her first name. She was a spinster and I think everyone called her a prune—only because we didn’t know anything about lesbians in 1958. Her front teeth were slightly crooked and she had a prominent lisp which only fed our immature, insensitive attitude toward her.
I tried hard to please Gloria and felt as though I was fairly successful until one morning when we were doing timed writings. We had three minutes to type a test and see how far we could get before Gloria called “time!” Limp white sheets of typing paper were handed out. Gloria announced we should start typing from the top of page 78 in our typing texts. I sat with feet on the floor, back perfectly straight, elbows tucked in, eyes on my book, never the typewriter. I was ready to fly through the exercise. “Start”, Gloria commanded.
I typed furiously, hesitating only on those few numbers I’m still unable to find without cheating and looking at the keys. “Bing!” went the timer. Did I mention I was sitting in the middle row, right in front of Gloria’s desk? She had been standing over me for the entire timed writing, but my eyes had never left page 78 of my typing book. I heaved a sigh of relief certain I had done a decent job. “Janet,” Gloria announced while wringing her hands, “that is definitely not good for the platen.” Everyone turned to look at me. Wide eyed, I looked at the typewriter roller—in horror. I know my face crumpled , but I didn’t cry. I had managed to type the entire three minute timed writing without any paper in my typewriter. No one laughed. Out of fear the entire class was silent. Gloria walked to the front of the room and leaned her head against the chalk board. “Class dismissed,” she groaned.
That particular day at school felt as rotten as the time I accidently dropped a hot soufflé onto the Home Ec kitchen floor just as my teacher rounded the corner, slipping and falling—not only bruising, but scalding her rear. Clearly the soufflé incident was more egregious than not having typing paper. I hadn’t caused any physical harm, but a year later the local news announced Gloria had committed suicide. She lived alone and it was a few days before anyone found her. Still a teen, her death had a huge impact on me. I worried I had contributed to her unhappiness and felt sorry I had done nothing to brighten even one of her days.
I’ve never forgotten Gloria. I sometimes laugh about that paperless typing test, but I also recognize now how she helped shape my life. I managed to put my husband through two college degrees with my typing skills. I held many jobs that depended on my ability to type. And I still spend an awful lot of time typing—on a computer, of course. Why, if I couldn’t type all these childhood memories what would I do with them? They would just stay bottled up inside my head and I might not experience the joy of sharing them.