A flat, round eraser on a wheel, with at one end a brush. I found this when cleaning out my mother’s house before selling it. In the desk drawer where it had been all my life.
I knew what it was: a typewriter eraser, thin so it could remove a single character, the brush to sweep away eraser dust. Worked best on erasable bond or onionskin paper. I use the past tense because no one uses these things anymore, much less typewriters. But my parents did. My parents, more or less, were professional typists, and paid for house, heat, and food with circular erasers. They corrected memos, news stories, letters to relatives and friends long gone, in half-sized, folded envelopes that may still be locked away in trunks somewhere. Letters I’ll never see.
But I kept the typewriter eraser. Tossed it into a box with other things of absolutely no use that I couldn’t let go of. And now, thinking of that eraser, I can see my father’s hands carefully erasing, and that sort of bemused concentration he had while working. He’d catch you watching and flash a smile–not a full smile with teeth, and definitely not a smirk. Just a twitch of the mouth to acknowledge you.
My father was a handsome man, with a passing resemblance to Sean Connery, and he’d take me to James Bond films. I have a romantic notion of him looking like Connery and drinking in North Beach tiki bars when he worked as rewrite for Associated Press in San Francisco during the 1950s. He had no idea the kid looking at him would ever become a writer and would ever be writing this, but years later, when I’d become a newscaster, I learned that he tuned in every afternoon to hear my broadcasts. I wonder what his face looked like then.
How many times did I see that smile? When he was working hard, he’d set his mouth, and his lips would nearly disappear. When he was sawing or drilling wood. I don’t remember seeing him do that when typing. Maybe because you couldn’t take off a finger with a typewriter. You could certainly wound yourself. Wound yourself and others. In the right hands, a typewriter could be a weapon of mass destruction. But my father didn’t have those kinds of hands.
Sometimes I wonder about my own.