Christmas Eight — Royal magic carpet

Christmas EightA new Royal typewriter: for me, a global flying carpet

Have you noticed how often I speak of Pa doing this and Mother doing that, without saying much about how their kids contributed to the family’s well-being? I have. And as I continue with these stories, I think the fact that they’re told from my point of view is responsible.

For instance, Pa got up before dawn to liven up the coals in the stoves and set new fires so the rest of us could get up surrounded by at least a bit of warmth while he then got to snuggle up close to a dozen cows (one at a time: what did you think I meant?).

Before Pa managed to get a milking machine, he did it all by hand. After that, the cow-hugging came when the teat-cups were taken off, installed on the next hay-munching maiden, and Pa returned to the previous one to “strip.” (I guess kids titter [oops] about that if they’re hearing about it only now; but the last drops of milk are “stripped” by hand. That has to do with the method: the teat is squeezed one finger at a time from the top down).

Mother managed a large garden, supplying a year’s supply of vegetables for us as well as a lot of produce for us to take on the bus to school, to be exchanged for noon meal tickets.

We kids all helped both parents a good bit, of course. But I often got to stay at the old library table in the living room, writing. Writing a lot. I self-published, and more importantly was frequently in local and national publications, from junior high school onward.

Our parents had recognized my drive to write, and on my most memorable Christmas, I was gifted with a miracle. The Cramers on the Farm had virtually no disposable income; barter was a way of life. I don’t know how they got a brand new Royal portable typewriter for me, and I’m sure it wasn’t bartered. But they got one.

I loved that machine and lived with it a lot. [This is a good time to say thanks to my siblings whose complaints about Bob getting out of a lot of chores (if there were any such) didn’t reach my ears. My sibs are very neat.]

What would a kid do with a miracle, state of the art, typewriter? For one thing, learn to type properly. We had a good teacher in Copenhagen. I got to practice a lot. For a year or so when the experience was new, I typed a weekly newsletter for the small community of folks who delivered milk daily to the South Champion factory where my grandfather once had been the cheesemaker. I sold two Syracuse Sunday newspapers there, including my little newsletter as a freebie. It contained local chatter; I lost interest before long.

The typewriter had unleashed more than one kind of creativity, however. Publishing is a whole ‘nother discipline from writing.

How to publish? Mother knew about hectographs and soon I had two of them. They accepted purplish backwards images produced in the Royal, and paper pressed on the images produced readable copies. It took a week for the image to sink to the bottom of the hectograph tray, so the trays were alternated – that’s why two. Over the years I developed seat-of- the-pants techniques even when doing national and international communications. Early encouragement is a key reason for my success.

The major work I did at the library table, and on unlimited hall passes at school, was to produce a weekly column for the Carthage Republican Tribune. In my senior year in high school, the newspaper publisher nominated me for a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to the Syracuse University School of Journalism (now the Newhouse School). Long shot.

But on the basis of a full portfolio of work published, I won the prize, establishing a global career. LIFE magazine ran a story on the contest (editor Henry Luce had been a scholarship judge). My tour of LIFE, then the pre-eminent magazine journalism icon, verified my parent’s “Royal” wisdom. My siblings supported it. That should be no miracle. –Uncle Bob.