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Many happy returns: Tom Hanks gives typewriter to Massachusetts family

This Christmas, thank you notes from the de Peyster family of Wellesley, Massachusetts, will be one of a kind....

Posted: Dec 20, 2017 9:06 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2017 9:06 AM

This Christmas, thank you notes from the de Peyster family of Wellesley, Massachusetts, will be one of a kind.

They'll be typed in a serif font. The ink will be a bit uneven. And a bold "X" or two might appear over any typo before the paper is pulled from the platen (cylinder) of a late '60s Olympia De Luxe, a gift from actor, director and typewriter aficionado Tom Hanks.

Family asked Tom Hanks for a vintage typewriter, and he obliged

Gift comes with a few fun conditions

"He said don't change the ribbon," Julia de Peyster, 53, told CNN on Tuesday, explaining: "It adds character."

The de Peysters have never met Hanks. But the writing machine -- well-oiled and in its original box -- arrived on their New England doorstep last Saturday after Julia's husband, Nick, wrote the actor, unprompted, to ask for one.

The de Peysters, along with their 12- and 16-year-old sons, had just gone to see "California Typewriter," a documentary about artists and writers who continue to work with the largely obsolete machines.

In the film, Hanks estimates that he owns some 250 typewriters and that "90 percent of them are in perfect working order."

At another point, Hanks laments giving typewriters to friends only to find them later collecting dust.

Nick de Peyster promised that, should Hanks oblige, he would keep it maintained, and that his family would be sure to use it.

"We usually do a project every year for Lent," said Julia de Peyster, "[my husband] said, 'I think we should write more notes.'"

It came down to gratitude, she said.

"He and I were both raised by grandparents who expected thank you notes."

The letter to Hanks, she said, explained that "we would really use this typewriter to try to inculcate this value of communication specifically around gratitude."

The de Peysters also promised to pass the favor along, and send another typewriter to another family.

Nearly three months after reaching out to Hanks, they figured their note had been lost in the chaos of the actor's busy life.

Then it arrived.

"Damned if Saturday morning it doesn't show up on our doorstep," de Peyster laughed.

Inside was the solidly built Olympia, with Hanks' autograph in marker on the top plate.

Along with it, a signed and typewritten page entitled, "Eleven reasons to use a typewriter."

Number 5: No one chucks anything typewritten into the trash.

Number 10: You really want to bother the other customers at the coffee place.

De Peyster said she had a deeper reason.

"I had to concentrate really, really hard on formulating sentences in my head, and then type it on paper," she said of her experience at the typewriter.

That, plus the fact that typos are indelible yet inevitable, she said, made typewritten communication more personal.

The de Peysters bought small, post card-sized stock for the first batch of thank you notes.

When her youngest son typed his first one, he likened it to a Facebook post.

"He immediately saw it was a vehicle to tell a short story, make somebody's day, and move on."

The focus on gratitude is about more than good manners. De Peyster said she hoped it would teach her sons to "look around your life for good things happening, and acknowledge the people behind them."

De Peyster mailed her family's first 13 thank you notes on Tuesday.

"The typewriter, I think, will always sit out in our house," she said.

Representatives of Tom Hanks did not return requests for confirmation, much the same as earlier this year, when Hanks was silent after reportedly sending a new high-end coffee machine, along with words of encouragement, to the journalists of the White House press corps.

De Peyster was effusive.

"It's going to change the way we see things," she said of the gift. "I think that's what great artists want to do. It doesn't have to be Apollo 13" -- in which Hanks stars as heroic astronaut Jim Lovell -- "it can be as small as sending somebody a typewriter."

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