Daily Archives: February 13, 2021


I’m taking a break from the news, so today’s blog is about a long time ago.

Long ago in a grade school far, far away, normally sane people decided that it would be a good thing to educate me. They succeeded in most regards; the one exception was my penmanship. Even though the good Dominican nuns kept me in at recess to spend one-on-one time helping me, it came to naught. Note: as the shortest kid in my grade, not having to go out at recess and be the last one picked for every sport was a minor blessing.

It was a different world in the late 1050s and early 1960s. The desks we used in school had a circular hole in the upper right corner, which was left over from the use of inkwells. The only alphanumeric keyboards were on typewriters, most of which were manual.

We were required to use fountain pens, with allowance for cartridge pens. In any case, it had to have a nib, rather than a ballpoint. We had to turn our papers about 30 degrees counterclockwise so that the characters would be at a slant. The combination of the paper position and the ink meant that the left-handed kids wrapped their arm so that after they wrote a line, their arm dragged across it, sometimes smearing the ink.

In the Palmer Method of cursive writing, many of the letters are quite different than how they look in typeface. The capital “F” looks like a “T” with an extra line. The only place I see the cursive “G” today is in the General Mills logo. The “Q” looks exactly like a “2” to me, and no one will convince me otherwise.

As if that weren’t complicated enough, several lower case letters had different forms. If a word ended in “t,” there was a variation; the character was not crossed, but the last pen stroke looked like an upside down Nike swoop, although Nike did not yet exist. Similarly, there was a lower case “s” that looked more like a cursive “f.” Fortunately, these were optional so no one, except a few of the girls, used them. Girls’ hand muscles mature sooner than boys, so their overall penmanship was already near-perfect, not to mention that most grade-school boys were too impatient and not in the least inspired by cursive.

I could wax poetic about what a wonderful time it was back then–Black and White television, three or four channels, asbestos covered plumbing in the school hallways and restrooms, school uniforms– but I won’t.