The Rabun Gap Nacoochee School in rural Georgia sounds like such an interesting place.
First, it’s a boarding school, which makes me think of Holden Caulfield, the fictional boarding school student in “The Catcher in the Rye.” Second, Rabun Gap Nacoochee School has students from more than 50 countries around the world. Tuition for international students is more than $60,000 per year
And third, they have Derek Demmler.
He was on vacation in Nashville recently when he saw my column in the newspaper. I’ve launched Project 88, named after the number of characters produced by my Smith-Corona 88 typewriter. I’ve asked people to write about the monumental moments in their lives, their long lost loves, people they’ve lost or anything else that is really interesting and isn’t politics or an angry rant.
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Derek wrote me a letter on a typewriter with a cursive font on thin parchment.
Derek is a teacher of U.S. History. But his teaching doesn’t stop there. He also sponsors the school’s creative writing club, and he teaches an elective creative writing class. He has been known to wear a bowtie in class.
His creative writing students use typewriters.
You read that right. In the age of smart phones and streaming and iPads and whatever-the-next-thing-is, Derek has gone back to get to the future.
“I wanted them (his students) to have to think and be intentional with their words, to break them away from computers,” Derek wrote in a letter to me. “I know that I could have asked them to handwrite this assignment, but I thought it would be fun to hear the clacking of the keys.”
I’m a true believer in typewriter-inspired education. When I was in 6th grade in 1973, my crazy wonderful teacher (Robert Mitchell, R.I.P) encouraged us to sit anywhere we would like in his class. Some students sat on rugs on the floor, some sat on the countertops. I chose to sit behind the classroom’s lone typewriter.
I became fascinated with the machine. It was a teaching typewriter, which means its keys weren’t labeled with letters. So I had to learn the keyboard to use the thing.
That’s where my love for typewriters began.
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When Derek Demmler needed typewriters, he put out the call to friends, family and co-workers. He was able to collect 10.
One of them was a red, portable 1932 Royal typewriter with a vogue font. It was such a cool machine, Derek wrote, one of his students cooked up a plan to steal it and take it home with her to Eastern Europe.
“Unfortunately for her, COVID kept her from carrying out her plan,” Derek wrote.
The typewriters have become so popular with the Rabun Gap Nacoochee students that Derek has placed a couple of them in the dining hall “so students could type poems or notes around Valentine’s Day for something a little different.”
“It is always a fun experience for me and for them,” he wrote.
Imagine a world in which students loudly typed love poems in the lunch room.
Fire flies or lightning bugs?
I got a terrific letter from Alex Jahangir, the chair of the Nashville COVID task force and a surgeon at Vanderbilt. I had written to him to explain I’m a newcomer to Middle Tennessee, asking if he had any tips about my new home.
His response was a bit funny because he explained he was confused when he received my letter.
“I did not understand why someone from The Tennessean was writing me such a kind letter with a typewriter,” he wrote.
Alex explained that Nashville’s secret is that most of the people have a desire to make the place better. He wrote about people saying hello on the street and collecting food for victims of disasters.
Alex has a dog named “Scout,” which is cool, considering I have a dog named “Boo.” Both are names from one of my favorite books of all time, Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
In my letter, I told him my 11-year-old son was having fun chasing fire flies. The good doctor informed me that those bugs, in Middle Tennessee, are not fire flies. They are called lightning bugs.
I will not make that mistake again.
I was going to reserve this spot in each column to list all the people who have written to me. But the response has been so great, there are too many to list.
I can say this. In the last week, I’ve averaged receiving more than 10 letters per day. They’ve come from 11 states: Tennessee, California, Arkansas, South Dakota, Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Georgia, New Mexico, Indiana, Minnesota, Alabama and New York.
The most popular city for my correspondents (7 letters) is Franklin.
Remember, I type and mail one response per day. So I might never catch up to my growing list. But I will try.
If you would like to write me a letter, here’s my mailing address:
1801 West End
Nashville TN 37203
I’ll try to respond to as many letters as I can. I’ll choose the most heartfelt and well-written letters as the topics of future columns.
Reach Keith Sharon at 615-406-1594 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KeithSharonTN.