It was the fall semester of junior high in 1959, a year in which I experienced a traumatic situation that has stayed in the storehouse of my memory, while other events of my early years of schooling have slipped away. My typing teacher, Miss Miller, was hardly five feet tall, but she welded a seven-foot aura of discipline, and we thirteen-year-olds were impressed. This was a time when teachers were not your friends, and if you got in trouble at school you were in double trouble at home. Looking back, I don’t blame Miss Miller for doubting me, but the trauma of being called a liar stayed with me for a long time. I’d like to think I’ve taken this experience and softened its hardest edges into traits and skills I use even now as an adult.
We had been in school for several weeks of the semester. Now it was finally time to take our first timed typing test. You could sense the anxiety hanging heavily in the air. Miss Miller tapped on a bell and the typing commenced. All we could hear was the clickity-clacking of keys as my fellow eighth graders hunched over their typewriters, squinting at the sentences they were supposed to replicate. It was the “touch method,” typing while not looking down at the keys.
The bell dinged again, and everyone stopped. We traded papers with the person sitting next to us, and we counted the number of words and errors. Then Miss Miller called on each of us, and we dutifully repeated the results. Aloud. When she got to the student who had checked mine off, she said, “Sixty words. One error.”
I would like to think everyone gasped, but my memory didn’t record that distinctly. Suddenly, Miss Miller was on her feet, walking back to inspect my work. She plied me with questions about whether I’d secreted this paper in my notebook and replaced the actual test with this result. When I replied that I hadn’t cheated, she said, “We’ll see.” Then, she had me repeat the test all by myself while twenty-five students silently watched. I don’t think I replicated the timed test exactly, but it was close. The bell rang, the others left, but I had to stay and explain.
Our conversation has melted from my memory, but I know Miss Miller was finally satisfied by my answers. You see, the past summer I was bored, and because I could only read so many books over so many hours a day, I decided to teach myself how to type. I bought a book that taught me in endless steps, how to type by touch. Every day I practiced and practiced. It was the most amazing thing, as if you were taking a class on your own at your own speed. I’d never done anything like this before, but I was determined to apply myself and finish it before school began again.
And I did.
Little did I know decades later computer keyboards would come into my life, and because I could type quickly and accurately, they’d be a cinch to learn. Little did I know I’d become a teacher myself and remember what not to do when I doubted a student’s word. Little did I know that my motivation in taking that typing course would translate to my perseverance in writing a three-hundred-page mystery manuscript. Little did I know that I’d create mysteries with heroes who were known for their sense of justice and their anger at their honesty being questioned.
Even now, as I type a blog post for Writers Who Kill, I can see her face and smile because the memory of that day has translated in my head to traits that have helped me over a lifetime.
Bless you, Miss Miller.