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Letters to Abuelita

Aitana Dudley-Gervilla '23

I bought a second-hand typewriter and lugged it home and looked at it. “Such a pretty shade of blue,” I thought running my finger along the cool, smooth metal of its profile. It was an aquamarine Royale Parade portable typewriter that immediately appealed to my nostalgia for midcentury design. The lady at Griffin’s Antiques even threw in a whole ream of paper she found with the typewriter at some estate sale. It too was tactile and had a luxurious feel with a smell that evoked . . . contemplation. There was a faint stylized watermark: Esleeck Clearerase 25% COTTON, in the lower right corner of each sheet.


The Royale Parade found a place near my computer with its functional beauty juxtaposed against the sleek silver design of my Mac Air Pro. The gentle flash of blue often caught my attention as I did homework on the computer that was my lifeline to all academics during the quarantine of 2021. Zoom classes, reports, research and many chats with teachers and friends all flowed from the LED back lit screen. Yet, my pretty blue Royale Parade sat patiently nearby offering no real purpose other than aesthetic.


In between Pre Calc and French, I stretched across to hit a few keys on the Royale. It was therapeutic. Taking a piece of the old paper, I fed it into the platen, which uttered tiny little clicks as I turn its feeder knob. It was curiously pleasing and urged me on. Stoking its manual keys, I pounded out with a satisfying clackety clack:


                         the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog


The special elite font was tentative with rough edges and black ink that felt somehow more real than the glowing monitor of my computer where ephemeral 0s and 1s queued up text in any of the 50 or so perfect fonts available in MS Word.


I spent intermittent moments typing throughout the day, mostly nonsense, but it felt right. Soon, however, the lack of meaning vexed me. I tore out the page without releasing the platen, which screamed its objection. Another sheet was taken from the ream and introduced with the same pleasing feel and sound of subtle clicking. Not knowing what to type but compelled to do so, I started to hunt and peck: D-e-a-r A-b-u-e-l-i-t-a. This is how it began.


The QWERTY keyboard was naturally familiar, but there was a learning curve for the manual typing. In the event of a typo, I would simply back space and type over the error, leaving a somewhat incomprehensible word of superimposed letters. Typing on my old Royale Parade became a periodic ritual. It would start with the salutation: Dear Abuelita, as a matter of routine and simply recount things that weren’t always important but rather simple, personal thoughts. It became a diary of sorts.


With the end of term, homework was over and my regular trip to Europe imminent. Packing was an enjoyable task, as it was a fulsome process towards the month or so at the family home in the south of Spain. Consequently, my bags were ready for days in advance and stacked neatly next to the desk in my room. Something, though, seemed off, not quite right. Upon reflection, it occurred to me that the pale blue Royale Parade typewriter sat overlooking the luggage almost pleading with puppy dog eyes not to be left behind. “Ok, alright,” I said out loud like it wasn’t somehow an inanimate object. “You are portable after all,” half expecting a joyful response from the typewriter, which remained silent and stationary.


It also occurred to me that I had become rather dependent on my occasional letter to Abuelita, my diary entry where little thoughts were tapped out with a hearty clack-clack-clack. So, it came along on my trip in the fiberglass travel case made to look like straw weave. The original case still contained an old replacement ribbon and instruction booklet yellowed with age. The airport security officer thumbed its dated pages and punched down on a few keys as part of his inspection, but I rather suspect he too was drawn by its invitation of physical expression.


Spain was a childhood embrace. From a young age, I spent summers swimming in the sea, playing on the beach and enjoying a carefree life attended to by doting family. So, I sat blissfully at the concrete table by the Playa San Juan surrounded by balmy air heavy with salty moisture and saturated with the rich light of a Mediterranean sun. My computer was closed, the aquamarine Royale Parade directly in front of me. I laced my fingers and popped all knuckles with a gratifying pop, pop, pop fully intent on another letter to Abuelita.


The already finished letters to Abuelita that had amassed over time as part of my typing therapy were heaped on the table. I picked up the pile, straightened them by smacking them edgewise with a quick crack on the solid concrete before returning the now orderly pages gingerly next to the typewriter. I rolled one of the few remaining pages of my old stock paper into the machine, expertly pushed the return lever and typed: D-e-a-r A-b-u-e-l-i-ta.


A warm gust of wind from the North abruptly buffeted the patio as it found its way to open water. With its blundering haste, the breeze lifted my recently ordered stack of letters upward into a squall of cotton bonded paper. I watched with only a little melancholy as they scatter out to sea on the wind posted with my love.



In loving Memory of my Abuelita Elvira Barbero Gervilla, who was born to hardship in Spain, Granada, and whose ashes were laid to rest in Alicante, on the Mediterranean Sea that was her solace

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