A couple of years ago, my sister, Patti, visited and brought me items she and her twin Maureen had found while clearing out more than 50 years of stuff from our late parents’ home.
I now possess my dad’s World War II dog tags.
I also have the nickel-size-gold-colored pin my mom received when she was in elementary school.
She earned it “For Merit” in “Palmer Method Writing,” the system of teaching cursive introduced in Austin Palmer’s 1894 book “Palmer’s Guide to Business Writing.” It emphasized rhythmic, muscle motion in writing.
The result is pretty, and I admire Palmer-ish script when I see it. My own penmanship never has come close to pretty.
Mom was proud of that award and mentioned it many times, usually when telling her children that she hated to write.
Her handwriting embarrassed her. It was “chicken scratchy,” a far cry from the fluid, uniform letters that had earned her the precious golden pin.
So what happened?
In third grade, post-Palmer prize, the left-handed child who grew up to be my mother was forced to write with her right hand. Thus the chicken scratch.
I don’t know if the changeover was a Palmer method requirement. Although I doubt that the term “self- esteem” was in wide use in the 1920s, my mother attributed some of her lifelong self-consciousness to that change.
I cannot understand why it was compulsory. Perhaps the Latin word for “left” had something to do with it: “Sinister” in English means giving the impression that something harmful or evil is happening or will happen, according to my online dictionary.
Can you imagine how hard — how huge — that would be for a little kid?
I don’t have to imagine. I was 38 when I broke my right wrist while skating at Starland Roller Rink. (For the record, I didn’t fall on my own. Somebody poked me in the back.) Confined to a cast for six weeks, I tried to write with my left hand. Results were ridiculous.
Cursive is in the news.
The April 30 New York Times Opinion Pages “Room for Debate” online discussion forum posed the question “Is Cursive Dead?” It reported, “The new Common Core State Standards, a set of national benchmarks for American public schools, do not require students to learn cursive. As a result, states and districts are grappling with whether to teach this skill.”
The world has changed since the days of the really-rigid writing regime.
Technology has brought many welcome advances. With my diminishing manual dexterity, I am grateful for my laptop’s responsive keyboard and voice-recognition feature.
Keyboarding for kids is efficient and fun, but I’m pretty sure that I don’t want cursive to die. I recall feeling like a “big girl” when I crossed the bridge to cursive. It was a rite of passage.
No email or electronic greeting card can stand up to a hand-written letter or note. I’m happy that I’ve saved many. I often can recognize the senders by their penmanship before looking at the return address.
I think the jury is still out.
The handwriting is not on the wall.
Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.