Very Truly Your's


It was 1977, the summer Elvis died. I was working in the steno pool at Chevron where my job consisted of typing letters to people who'd complained about dirty bathrooms. Once in a while a racy stolen credit card incident would cross my desk, but mostly it was just the dirty bathrooms.

We were on the cutting edge of 1977 technology at Chevron. I was using an IBM Selectric/Mag Card typewriter with memory which meant I didn't have to redo everything in order to change just one word. I used a different mag card for each typed letter and kept each card until the letter had been mailed. Not only that, we could change fonts by changing the little type balls that spun around inside while we typed.  

Steno pool girl with mag card typewriter.

Steno pool girl with mag card typewriter.

One day I typed up a letter from a superior who had clearly made a careless error.

"Very truly your's, Martin Johnson, Customer Satisfaction Representative

I knew Mr. Johnson would appreciate my correcting the error in his latest letter responding to the condition of bathrooms at a service station. (Dirty.) I typed it up and returned it to him for his signature.

Immediately, it came back with an indignant red box around the word "Yours" and "Your's" written next to it in heavy red letters. 

very truly yours.jpg

I went straight to my supervisor, Marla, who was at her desk smoking. Her hairdo involved an immense barrette and a great deal of backcombing. Her duties seemed to be comprised of making sure the typists had enough work and operating the FAX machine. It was an old-fashioned fax machine and Marla had to take the phone receiver and put it directly onto the machine in order to send or receive a FAX. 

"Marla," I blurted,  "Mr. Johnson just sent back a letter for me to retype so I could put an error back IN . He wants me to put an apostrophe in yours. The word yours doesn't HAVE an apostrophe."

Marla looked up. Barely.

"Put it back in," she said, unimpressed.

 "What?" I shot back. "You want me to put an error BACK IN the letter I just typed correctly? That's ridiculous. I'm going straight to his office to explain to him that he's sending out letters with mistakes every time he writes a letter!"

She took a long drag on her Virginia Slim, letting smoke escape slowly.

"Put it back in," she repeated.

"I won't do it," I said righteously. "I will not knowingly send out a letter with an error just because this guy is so stupid that he doesn't even know how to spell."

 "OK," she said. "I'll just give it to Pearl to retype."  Pearl sat at the desk directly in front of me in the steno pool, chain smoking all day. Except when she was on a cigarette break. She had a rich future ahead in the steno pool. She had no problem with errors, hers or anyone else's.

A week later they tried to hire me as a full-time employee, not realizing I would continue to cause trouble for them as I corrected "to" to "too" too many times. I declined the job.

Now I can see that Mr. Johnson helped me. I left him and the dirty bathrooms and stolen credit cards and Marla and Pearl behind. For all I know, Mr. Johnson is still sitting in his office at Chevron, patiently circling the apostrophe he still thinks is missing in the word "yours."