A few days ago, I was walking back to my workplace from a lunch event, when I spied an old Royal typewriter in the window of a vintage shop. Seeing it, I caught my breath, for it brought back in vivid detail a time when my family and I were struggling with poverty.
By Theresa Nixon
9 February 2020
For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome.
A few days ago, I was walking back to my workplace from a lunch event celebrating a colleague’s promotion, when I spied an old Royal typewriter in the window of a vintage shop. It was beautifully preserved and looked in mint condition, probably as it had when first constructed. Seeing it, I caught my breath, for it brought back in vivid detail a time when my family and I were struggling with poverty.
I was about fifteen at the time, when my mother and older sister, Mary, and I struggled up Paul Revere Hill in Somerville, Massachusetts, where we had moved from California. It was shortly after my parents had separated. We lugged Mama’s wicker cart that contained the old Royal typewriter she had purchased years before from a second-hand store. It had been Mama’s creative partner since we were little, pounding out many a story from its battered, old keys. But now the old Royal lay silent, its keys long since rusted together from age, the shiny black and chrome carapace telling tales of grander days.
The steep sidewalk was still slick with ice even though spring had melted the snow. Mary and I pulled the wicker cart on one side as Mama pushed from behind. But for every step we made upward we slid two steps downward until I began to crack up, then Mary, and finally Mama dissolved into belly laughs.
“We’re never going to make it,” I chortled; “It’s just too heavy.”
“Come on,” Mama encouraged us, imitating Popeye; “Use yer muskulls.”
We laughed harder. Finally, after much effort and determination, we managed to crest the hill and begin the long trek into the main part of town.
“How much do you think we can get for this piece of junk?” I inquired.
“It is not junk,” Mama replied in mock offense. “It’s an antique.”
“You don’t really want to sell it, do you, Mama?” Mary asked. It was a rhetorical question as we all knew how much the typewriter meant to Mama.
“No, but we need the money.”
We came to a pawn shop and went in. Mary and I cringed, hanging back as Mama offered the typewriter for sale, emphasizing its historical value to the shop’s owner.
“Are you kidding?” the hard-bitten proprietor blatantly interrupted her. “I couldn’t get bupkis for that thing.”
“God, this is so embarrassing,” I said under my breath to Mary.
“Come, girls,” Mama spoke brightly, refusing to allow the rejection to dampen her determination.
The three of us moved on with no luck as we finally neared the end of the main thoroughfare. We came to a shop that sold office machines and supplies.
“Let’s try here.”
“Can we wait outside, please?”
Mary and I dreaded facing yet another humiliating rejection.
“No. We all have to go in.” Mama was emphatic.
“Oh, God!” We whined in unison.
“Come on, now!”
The bell on the door clanged loudly as we entered the shop. Two men lounged behind the counter drinking coffee.
“May I help you?” One of them asked. He had a kind face and listened patiently as Mama launched into her sales pitch about the old Royal.
“H-m-m-m. . .” He quickly assessed the three of us while glancing dubiously at the wicker cart that held the purported treasure.
“Let’s have a look at it.”
He lifted the old Royal out of the cart and onto the counter. The other man winced, seeing what was coming.
“There! That’s a perfect spot for it, eh?”
Mary and I exchanged reddened glances. Mama smiled and nodded beamingly.
“Would you accept a hundred for it?”
The man’s partner choked on his coffee, mid-swig. Mama continued to smile, not certain if her ears had deceived her.
“Is that alright, then?” The kind man asked again.
“Oh, s-sure,” Mama stuttered a quick reply.
The man pulled out his wallet and carefully counted out the money, laying each bill carefully in Mama’s hand.
“Thank you so much. You’re very kind,” she said.
The men watched as we trundled out of the shop with the now empty wicker cart in tow, Mama and Mary ahead of me. I heard the men talking before the door closed.
“John, I think you’ve been robbed.”
“No,” the kind man responded. “I’m richer.”
My name is Theresa Nixon. I was born and raised in San Diego, California, into a large, Catholic family and now reside in the DC area. I began a writing career in the 1980s as a music reviewer for Music Connection magazine and spent over ten years working in the entertainment industry before realizing that my life was disconnected. I realized I needed to return to my Catholic roots and the faith of my childhood. I have a Master’s in Management from The Catholic University of America, and hope to complete my book this year on my memoirs as a child growing up Catholic in a large, working class family.