Column: Rest in peace, cursive writing

I can still see her standing there at the blackboard. She was tall, thin, and as straight-backed as a Shaker chair. In her hand was a piece of dusty chalk with which she was making rows of letters — all of them done with a flourishing motion and in a precise forward slant. Our second grade teacher, Mrs. Kennedy, was showing us how to write using the Palmer Method. I don’t think we knew it then, but we were entering a brand new world known as cursive writing.

Next, she would pass out papers on which were printed two horizontal lines — one above the other — where we would practice those letters until they matched her expectations. Each one had to touch both upper and lower lines and have a uniform appearance. “Don’t just use the wrist, boys and girls,” she’d say, “but use your whole forearm as you make those letters!” Then, round and round we’d go forming perfect letter o’s for what seemed an eternity. The recess bell couldn’t come soon enough for me when it was Palmer Method time.

Back then, handwriting was vital to our daily lives. Those were the days when people corresponded via real mail — handwritten mail. We began with letters to Santa, then progressed to thank-you notes to our grandparents, and eventually on to the love letters to sweethearts. In attics around the world there are still dusty boxes containing examples of these keepsakes, including the most nostalgic of all — the letters sent home from the world’s far-flung battlefields.

Somewhere along the way, handwriting analysts even came into fashion. One night one of these experts was hired to entertain at our church couples club. My writing sample was last, and after the expert finished studying it he turned to the audience and asked, “Is Joann’s husband here?” Once my husband owned up to the fact that he was, our expert said, “Well sir,” you’d better watch your family finances because I can see by the large lower loops on your wife’s letter ‘g’s that she has a tendency to be a big spender.” This brought laughter to the group since my husband was the pastor, and the chances of my affording anything beyond an occasional tube of lipstick were mighty slim.

Don’t look now, but cursive writing as we knew it seems to be heading for extinction. Many of today’s schools are discontinuing teaching it altogether. They have thrown up their collective hands and surrendered to the laptops, iPhones and iPads of today’s world. Cursive is out and texting and keyboards are in.

But what about our signatures, you ask. Well, what about them? We still need them, but evidently legibility has even gone out the window as far as banks are concerned. These days almost any kind of signature will do as long as you are consistent in the way you do it.

Speaking of signatures, have you seen the signature of Jack Lew, our newly appointed U.S. Secretary of the Treasury? Look him up sometime and you will find a photo of what looks like a long string of ‘o’s. or loops. That’s the sum total of his signature. Evidently he has been using that one for years, but now he will probably have to change it since his signature will be appearing on our folding money someday soon.

My own handwriting is nothing short of atrocious these days. Even those large loops under my ‘g’s have bitten the dust. Gone are the days when I’d create an entire column with a pen in my hand because Bill Gates and his computer wizards have pretty much wooed me over to their side.

It is sad to see the art of cursive writing fading away. Computers and email are fine, but they take the personal touch out of corresponding. Often in handwritten mail we could make out how the writer was feeling just by the slant of the letters or the energy in the dashes and exclamation marks. How many computers can do that?

Thanks anyway, Mrs. Kennedy. Rest in peace, cursive writing.

Joann Snow Duncanson, former Peterborough resident now living in Greenland, is the author of “Who Gets the Yellow Bananas?,” co-author of “Breakfast in the Bathtub” and author of her latest book, “Eight Crayons - Poems and Stories by an Almost Sane Woman.” She can be reached via her website www.jsnowduncanson. com or email ourbooks@ worldpath.net.

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