I Don’t Get Out Much


Saturday morning, I waded–and I do mean waded–through a foot of snow down the driveway. I just can’t get over the snow this winter. I’ve never seen anything like it. This is my fifth winter in West Virginia. It has never snowed this much before. I was excited one time at the old farmhouse when there was like five inches of snow. And that was ONE TIME. Oh, it snowed regularly. But just several inches at a time. And NOT A FOOT. We’ve had a foot of snow here three times this winter. And just as soon as one foot melts away, here comes another one.

It’s March. Let’s hope there’s not yet another one on the way. I think I’m ready to move on. I’m still amazed by it, though. It’s magical, frustrating, sometimes terrifying (if I’m driving), and always….just plain bizarre to me. I didn’t grow up around snow.

I haven’t been out of the house much lately. I only go out between snows. We weren’t between snows on Saturday, but luckily I didn’t have to do the driving. I hopped in with my escort at the bottom of the driveway, but while being escorted has its benefits (like, not having to drive on the snowy road yourself), it also means you have to go where they want to go, too. Which is how I ended up at the county clerk’s office on Saturday when I had no business there whatsoever.

Slightly (or exceedingly) bored while some paperwork was being processed that had nothing to do with me, I chatted up the very nice Roane County clerk, Charlie White. There is nothing quite like small town courthouses and small town county clerks. They know everything and everybody. And they even remember you personally. Because they remember everything and everybody.

I’ve actually been in the county clerk’s office quite a few times, digging out old deed books and looking at old wills. My family goes back in this county over 200 years. I love looking at old documents. They wrote so pretty back then. Somehow, we got to talking about the deterioration in handwriting (seriously, when you have nothing to talk about, the conversation can end up anywhere) and making guesses about when handwriting went downhill in America. We decided, with absolutely no scientific studies to back us up, that handwriting deteriorated after the invention of the typewriter and was then completely destroyed by the computer, which prompted Charlie to tell me that he had a really old manual typewriter in the back.

Oh my! Now you’re talking. Something for me to inspect. I leaped out of my seat, whipped my camera out of my purse, and headed toward the back, which left Charlie with no real option but to come with me. (I don’t think he minded.)

I haven’t seen an old manual typewriter in a long time. This is the kind of typewriter my father had. I can remember typing up little stories on it. I had a dollhouse and tons of those little glass animals. They lived in the dollhouse instead of people. They had very complicated, soap opera-ish lives. I wrote stories and stories and stories about my little glass animals. The king was a little glass bear. The queen was a cat. The cat, by the way, was bigger than the bear. (I can’t explain that, don’t make me.) I had this bizarre urge to hug this typewriter. It brought back all sorts of warm, fuzzy memories.

And I really wanted to dust it.

And then I wondered–would kids today know what to do with this typewriter? They’ve never even heard of a carriage return.

This particular typewriter, by the way, had an extremely wide carriage, made for the big documents that would come through a courthouse.

And then I said, “I must see the pretty handwriting!” Not that I hadn’t seen it before, but I was inspired to gaze upon it again. To marvel at the elegant hand-scripting of our forebears, who would have been as confounded as teenagers today by that gorgeous old manual typewriter.

They didn’t need no stinkin’ typewriter. They knew how to write. Life was slower and people took their time. Charlie pulled out one of the oldest books in the courthouse for me.

He pointed out how they used every bit of the paper back then, right up to the edges.

The frugality of our ancestors, in every little way, is a constant wonder when looking back at them from today’s world.

Encouraged by my enthusiasm for the precious old books, Charlie showed me his favorite oddity. West Virginia–in case you don’t know–was originally part of the state of Virginia. In 1863, West Virginia seceded from Virginia and became its own state, joining the Union in the Civil War. (Bit of trivia: West Virginia is the only state that was formed because of the Civil War.) There were never very many slaves in this area (compared to other parts of the South). This isn’t really plantation country, and much of what became West Virginia was populated by poor farmers trying to scratch out a living in the mountains. There were individuals, however, who could afford slaves. This bill of sale, from 1857, documents the transfer of two slaves in what was then Roane County, Virginia.

One was a 22-year-old man.

His name was Ben. There was also a girl, “say nine months” as the bill of sale reads.

They were sold together for $1000. That was a lot of money in 1857.

There’s something quite surreal about touching the original, ink-drawn pages of a transaction in human beings.

Ben and that baby girl weren’t slaves for long. They soon found themselves living in a free state. I’d love to know what became of that little girl. But courthouse records never tell the whole story, only parts. Glimpses of lives that are difficult to imagine today.

And then we went across the street to the thrift store, where I bought nothing but enjoyed looking around at the cast-off excess of our not-so-frugal modern society, and on to my outing’s destination (the tax man). Eventually I waded my way back up our snowy driveway home. To my little farm. Where I belong.

And I wondered if I really want the roads to dry up and spring to come, after all. The world–old and new–can be a very strange place.

P.S. I did not say that! SPRING, PLEASE COME!


  1. Laney says:

    I LOVE antique typewriters. In fact I have two of my very own (and there is a third I covet at the local antique mall that is sitting there waiting for me to come buy it… perhaps when my husband is employed once again but I digress…)!
    I have never seen a large format typewriter like the one in your photographs. Absolutely wonderful!
    As for the old county books, your photographs tell such a wonderful story even if they only show little clips of the lives of whom ever wrote to the edge of the pages.
    There is something I love about old handwriting. What I find interesting is the old farm registers I have collected from other antique stores have that VERY same handwriting in them. Same tilt, same loops on the letters and it seems like the same pen and ink was used.
    It just seems like everything was done better back then.

  2. Thunja says:

    ya know what? I too collected those small glass animals as a child. I bought the bulk of them in Charleston @ Sunrise Museum gift shop. I still have them and keep them in a small glass front cabinet. It is really an old medicine cabinet that has a new glass door on it. I had a doll house too. Which by the way my single favorite childhood toy. My parents purchased it @ a toy store in South Hills. Thanks for the memories

  3. carsek says:

    I just love that old handwriting. I do a lot of research into geneology and I tell you, some of those old documents are just about impossible to read there are so many curly q’s and such. But it is a lot of fun to try and figure out. Don’t you remeber when we were in school how we practiced writing our name over and over filling the whole cover of a note book? What fun, thanks for the great memories.

  4. Jill says:

    Oh Suzanne, I too have a love for old hand writing!!! that was a fabulous post!! My mother had an autograph book where they wrote little ditties and I wish I had it today to cherish, but I dont know what happened to it….but I remember crawling up in the attic and looking at it (back then there were such good treasures to dig through in our attic!!). It sure was nice that he let you see the books and photograph them for your blog!! and thank you for the little history lesson.

  5. Mim says:

    I need to take a trip to Roane county courthouse…My grandfather & grandmother were from Roane County. My dad was born there also.. I too think the handwriting back then is amazing. :pawprint: :pawprint:

  6. Karen Anne says:

    My money is on destruction due to (a) the computer, and (b) the decline and fall of educational and other standards. Typewriters have been around for a very long time (I just looked it up – the 1860s-1870s for common use.)

    My mother and her sister and other contemporaries whose handwriting I know had beautiful handwriting, despite the two former having worked as secretaries where they used typewriters for years.

    I grew up in the 1940s and had minimal penmanship training in school and my handwriting sucks.

  7. Diane says:

    That was a neat day you had. Our kids today do not know how to write. It is sad. I remember how we had to hand write our reports, homework and everything. Now the kids use the computer. I work in the cafteria at our highschool and kids have to fill out deposit slips to put money into their accounts. Most of them are hard to read, and kids can not hold a pencil the correct way.Times have changed from that pretty writting you saw.

  8. NorthCountryGirl says:

    You’re right about the handwriting. I look at recipes my mother wrote out and her handwriting was beautiful. So was my grandmother’s. I can remember writing for what seemed like hours on end in our handwriting books in grade school. That was required back in the 50s. Today it’s hard to even read the writing with all the use of short terms like “lol” used on the internet. They are finding their way into everyday writing now. Maybe it’s good to go back to the old ways. I, for one, would like that.

  9. Kelly Walker says:

    Thanks again for sharing such interesting information. I was a history major and share your love of old books and courthouse back offices. It’s especially fun when you find an enthusiastic employee there to share hidden secrets.

  10. KentuckyFarmGirl says:

    What an interesting post! Love the old handwriting and typewriter. My mother has a genealogy book with copies of bills of sales for slaves. It always amazed (and saddened me) to read these.

  11. Johanna says:

    I remember how much strength you needed in your hands to use a manual typewriter. And you could express emotion by typing HARD or lightly — can’t do that on a computer. I played piano back then and always thought that the muscle training my fingers got on one really helped with the other.

    Remember carbon paper?!

  12. Runningtrails says:

    Very interesting story! I had one of those old manual typewriters as a young adult. Mine was little and did not have a carraige return like that one!

    The most striking thing about this story is that you were in a thrift store and left empty handed! How can you do that?

  13. jane says:

    I have gone to the county court house in Marshall, Texas, looking for the deed to some cemetery property in my family and had to read through those big books – amazing. I wonder if they are on computer though bec of a fire – could be lost.

    At a craft fair once a lady made bracelets out of the old keys from typewriters. I have letters my grandparents wrote each other from 1900 to 1910 when they eloped. Took me all summer to read them once I got them out of my grandmother’s attic. They were hard to read bec of the printing and language. they called eachother Mr and Miss for a long time. There is a lot of history in them too. some had wax seals on them and the paper was very thick and folded twice. One whole letter was an apology for using a pencil because my grandfather’s ink bottle was out of ink. Some of the letters were hand delivered.

  14. connie says:

    The Courthouse in Roane County is open on Saturday? THAT is unusual!
    hugs from PA

  15. wvhomecanner says:

    Great post Suzanne! Mim, my paternal grandparents were also from Roane County. My grandmother was born in 1897. I have many letters, postcards, and “calling cards” that were things she kept and they are fascinating to see and read. True glimpse of the early 1900’s social time. I also love the old documents and the handwriting and the history within them.


  16. Christine says:

    I was the County Clerk here in the 90s. And we actually still used typewriters at that time. Not the old-style like what you’ve shown, but typewriters none the less. It wasn’t until the late 90s that we started using any computers at all. I loved looking through all those old records. The wills were always the most interesting to me. Fun to see what people had and wanted to pass down. Life sure is different and not necessarily in a good way.

  17. Susan at Charm of the Carolines says:

    What beautiful handwriting they had in the 1800s. I guess if typewriters and computers and printers and copiers and scanners weren’t an option, handwriting became it’s own art.

    Suzanne, I love old typewriters, too. Thanks for sharing!


  18. CindyP says:

    Dad brought an old manual typewriter home from an auction when I was about 9, with the carriage return and everything. I used to play I was Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote….that’s the typewriter I had! LOL! But I learned to type on that using my older brother’s typing book from the 60’s. Then when I had typing class in high school, it was soooo hard to use the electric. RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! LOL!

    I love old handwriting. I also think one of the things that changed the way we learned to write is how we make our letters. I learned cursive in the late 70’s. My r, t, f (that I can think of) are different than my parent’s. And we were allowed to have straight up and down letters, they didn’t have to slant.

    Thank you, Suzanne, for a wonderful post and history lesson!

  19. Phyllis says:

    This post reminds me of a little ditty I’ve heard about a college student home for a week-end. Complaining about a long report she had to have done by Monday morning. She dreaded getting started on it so she put it off til the last minute. But by Sunday afternoon their power went out (must have been winter time in W.V.). Therefore, she couldn’t use the computer for her report. Her dad went to the attic and brought down a type-writer. He said, You type on this just like a computer key board”. The next morning her dad asked if she had finished her report. “Yes”, she said, I typed just about all night and I finally got it finished. There’s just one problem though. You didn’t show me where the PRINT button is”.

  20. Dianna McBride says:

    WONDERFUL post, Suzanne! I LOVED it…especially the old typewriter. I do actually remember typewriters like that because I used one, too!

  21. Sally says:

    Must have been an odd, sad kind of feeling to be gazing upon the actual record of the sale of two human beings. Was he her daddy? Uncle? Were they related at all? What happened to the baby’s mama? I can only imagine the horror of a world where ones baby is sold away from you. An interesting thought provoking post. Thanks

  22. Lish says:

    Wow. That has to be one of the first county record books. Roane County was formed in 1856 so that would be some of the first tidbits!! I need to go out there and do some family research. Things like this always spark my genealogy bug.

    Mim and wvhomecanner: My father was born in Roane County as well. As were my grandparents and some great-grandparents. I’d have to pull my genealogy to see where the ones before that were born. Most of my family was in the Gandeeville area.

  23. Euni Moore says:

    This is a fantastic post today. I had forgotten about WV’s civil war history. My grandmother had an old typewriter which had belonged to her mother (born in 1858). I used it in high school to type my reports and we had manual typewriters in high school! Oops, giving away my age here. I remember penmanship classes in grade school and the Palmer method; all those excercise of circles, slanted lines. My grandchildren can’t write legibly at all. One granddaughter in South Carolina goes to a parochial school and they do have penmanship classes. She still can’t write! Thanks for the wonderful post this morning.

    Euni :fairy:

  24. Betty Ireland says:

    Charlie White is a prince of a guy, and a really good county clerk. My regards to him the next time you see him, please.

  25. wvhomecanner says:

    Lish – I am going to start a Roane County Roots topic over in the forums. Seems like we all need to compare notes :yes:


  26. Mary says:

    I love the old typewriters too…all in tact. The young people now make and sell jewelry from those old typewriter keys.

  27. Erin D. says:

    I feel the pull of those old times, too, and I sooo envy you your farm nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the “real world.” It’s so funny… looking at that old typewriter, my fingers remember what it was like to type on them, way back in the day. Thanks for showing us the treasures you found!

  28. Cate says:

    When I started doing genealogy research, I found the best part was digging through the old, dusty record books at the county seat. And, I actually learned to type on one of those old manual typewriters. Type type type type type – ding! Return. When they came out with correcting Selectrics, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

  29. Carol, too says:

    In my first job I had a very fancy new electric typewriter that had enough memory to hold one, and only one, address. My mom, who had been a secretary before she became a teacher, was AMAZED that I didn’t have to type my company’s address over and over.

  30. MMHONEY says:


  31. Julie Wriston says:

    Love old typewriters! I’ve seen lots at Flea Markts here in Germany and I’m tempted to get one. Not sure my husband would like that. I love seeing the beautiful cursive writing, but I do hate trying to get my kids to write in cursive ~ we’ll my boys anyway. 😕

    I worked as a journalist nearly 20 years ago in Alabama, and I enjoyed going thru the old papers in our “archives”. Every place has an interesting history if only we go an search it out!!! Enjoyed this post!!

  32. Chic says:

    I love old handwriting…you’re right Suzanne writing was beautiful in those days…an art form. I remember a teacher I had back in the early 60’s who was very particular about what our handwriting looked like and would encourage us to go slow and care about how we moved our pens and the end result. It’s sad that we don’t take as much pride in our handwriting as they did back then. I had a beautiful old typewriter years ago…sold it at a garage sale. Go ahead..kick me! I hope you have a wonderful day. Maura

  33. Maureen Child says:

    My sympathies on the visit to the Tax Man! I call this time of year, the Annual Dissolution of Our Marriage–listening to the dh while he tallies everything is just…never mind.

    Handwriting really is a lost art, spelling too, thanks to internet shortcuts!! But, since I was taught by nuns…the penmanship is still with me! (though I do still have nightmares about that Gregg shorthand class!)

    And hey, I wrote my first book on an old Olympia manual! LOL…use what you have, I guess. My first computer, the best thing about it was that Backspace key!! No more white out!

  34. Colin says:

    I am a teenager. I sadly must say I have never seen a manual typewriter. We own, and I use occasionally in the summer, an electric typewriter. My pen(pencil)manship isn’t that great, except when I write slowly, which I don’t often have time for in school. Com pew tears are too easy (and they have spell check :-).

  35. Mia says:

    oh – VERY cool. I love looking at old stuff like that and very interesting the note about them using the whole page 🙂

    as for me – I actually learned on one of those manuals – was wayyy thrilled at my first job that had a selectric electric typewriter… hehehe – and now we’re tweeting and facebooking and I can NOT read my own freaking handwriting.

    Just sayin.

  36. DonnaTN says:

    How cool to see documents from 1857! Wow, if those pages could talk, what stories they could tell!

  37. Shirley Corwin says:

    I was also fascinated by the old black typewriters that looked like this. I would always bid on them at the auctions we went to for our antique shop. I should’ve kept one! My grandparents had beautiful handwriting. I think it was computers and email that ruined everyone’s ability to write in cursive like that. I don’t know anyone with pretty handwriting anymore! The old page in the county records was really something to see I’ll bet. It showed a dark part of our history and I too wonder what happened to the child’s mother . . . what the whole story was.

  38. kerri says:

    I did the Gregg shorthand too 🙂
    Sounds like a very interesting time spent with Charlie looking at the old typewriter and documents.
    Hard to imagine people buying and selling people, isn’t it? How devoid of compassion would you have to be? Completely, I guess. That poor mother to have her baby taken away. And that young man looking at his future as a slave…unimaginable. Thank heavens that freedom came to them soon afterward and that people were willing to fight for their right to freedom.
    The old handwriting is beautiful.
    Thanks for sharing your visit.

  39. Dana Lou says:

    When I was in the 5th and 6th grades in the late 60’s, we had a penmanship class every day. I am left handed and it was natural for me to write straight up and down. The teacher gave me B’s and C’s for this. I felt silly getting those grades in a writing class so I taught myself to slant my letters…then I go A’s. My boys went to the same school, but they didn’t have writing class and my youngest son’s writing is terrible. I tried to teach him to turn his paper slightly sideways and how to hold his pen. It didn’t work. I really tried to encourage him to try harder when he was writing papers, but since the teachers didn’t stress good handwriting…he didn’t care. I would have sent the paper back home and told him to write it over…lol…I bet he was glad I wasn’t the teacher.
    I make grungy tags with different words written on them…such as “rag doll” or “raggedy ann”or “sugar cookie mix”…I love to do this by hand and use the curly q’s.
    I love the “older” ways.

  40. Barbee' says:

    Suzanne, this is off the subject; it is about a chicken. Here is the link to a cute little post (true story) about one of Tasha Tudor’s chickens. I think you and others will enjoy it.

  41. Diane says:

    I love that story. I have an old, old manual typewriter too. I learned how to type on a manual back in Lexington, SC during 1969-1971 (Lexington High School). Back then we had to type 60 WPM on a manual just to pass with a C (if you were majoring in becoming a secretary, that is).

    What I am really impressed with is that your Courthouse was open on a Saturday. My county here in Northeast Florida (Baker County) has about 30,000 people and I swaneee they would die if they had to work on Saturday. I however, in the small rural library, work on Saturdays ~ go figure.

    My husband is from WV (West By God, according to him) and his family split during the Civil War because of the slavery issue. Unfortunately for him the money side of the family ended up in Virginia (Craddock family). Such is life.

    I really enjoy your blog ~ thanks for sharing with us.

    The Library Lady
    “Take surprise and delight in the little things”

  42. Mary says:

    :purpleflower: What a fun adventure that turned out to be!! I adore old handwriting too, any handwriting really. How interesting!! :happyflower:

  43. Lynn says:

    The word “forever” written on those pages made me feel so sad…….

  44. Becki says:

    I guess you’ve heard that some of WV’s deepest snows come in March. :devil2: Not to worry -generally they melt quickly.

    I also love the beautiful old handwriting. Nowadays, schools don’t care about nice cursive writing as it’s becoming part of the past. Today it’s about keying and texting. What a shame, but time marches on….

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