Ashes to Water

My Mother Designed Business Forms In 1980

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Before today, this machine didn’t mean anything to me. I’d never heard of Vari-Typers, I didn’t know what my mother actually did for her first office job, and for a long while I hadn’t even thought to ask.

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Recently, I mentioned to my mother that I’d soon head to Denver for a brand journalism conference and that I was excited for both the conference and to take a trip in general. She knows I’ve always enjoyed the charm in flying alone. She tends to get more excited than me over these types of things, things that maybe she only got a chance to do once, I’ve gotten to do several times or on a regular basis. She was sent to a conference once many years ago by her first employer. It was a three-day conference in Canada, the first time she’d ever flown on a plane. It was 1980, one year before she had her first child, my older brother Lee.


The Vari-Typer, which made its debut in 1937, was a kind of pre-digital era word processor or desktop publishing tool that, unlike typical typewriters, let you choose from a range of typesets in various sizes and even special characters to create documents anew, many of which were used as master copies for offset printing.

My mother used the machine to design business forms when she worked at Elliott Group, a manufacturing company based out of Jeannette, Pennsylvania. Jeannette, which is situated about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, was nicknamed “The American Workshop” and the “Glass City” after the glass manufacturing plant the city was founded on in the late 1800s. Today, it’s like any other former-gloried rust belt city with its lesser-used railroad, worn-down warehouses, and surprisingly prideful main street after all these years.

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Monday through Friday, my father would drop my mother off at work on his way to his own job in Greensburg. Between his college degree and collegiate baseball career, he’d had plenty to talk about when looking to land his first job.

My mother, despite her straight-A grades in high school, felt lucky to have landed a job this good without a college education. An older woman who had been promoted trained her how to use the Vari-Typer and thankfully still worked in the same office where my mother could continue to ask her questions even after her initial training was complete.

This was what my mother dressed like for her job circa 1980: gold earrings, collared blouses, and ruched anything.

1978 Women

She wore glasses like this too, clear plastic frames in curved-square shapes.


This isn’t my mother (above). I don’t have many pictures of her during this time because she doesn’t either. At that time, my father who took all of their pictures was only into photographing scenery from their cross-country trips: Yosemite, Northern Arizona, and even the trees lining the perimeter of their own backyard.

This is a photo of them a few years before she had started that first job. They were newlyweds in a home of their own a 45-minute drive into the country from their parents’ homes in Pittsburgh.


I like to think that these early days of my mother’s career gave her some of the same types of satisfaction I feel today after a workday gone well. She wouldn’t work all of her life. She would have my brother, then 4 years later have me before her and my father would eventually divorce. She would have to head back to work again. But I don’t find solace in examining what came thereafter. All of the good-things nostalgia I feel comes from thinking of them way back when.

An excerpt from my some-day book about my parents, my brother, and the islands between us.

© Laura Vrcek


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