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Handwriting - A Tribute to My Dad

A page from Daddy's journal


Last month my brother gave me my father's journal. Oh, my, did it take me back. Daddy's handwriting, printed or cursive, was an engineer's dream and a visual treat. My son stayed up late reading it because, he said, "The handwriting jumps from the page to your brain."

Handwriting changed a lot between my dad's time and my son's. Actually, cursive handwriting all but disappeared. Both my sons PRINT what little hand-written communicating they do. (Rob says, "when I have to write the letter 'q' in cursive, I can't remember how it goes.") I met a business professor who told me, back in 2000, that she could not teach shorthand because its basis is cursive penmanship, a skill which schools no longer have time or inclination to teach. Roughly one hundred years earlier, my grandfather got his job at a bank in Brooklyn, New York, based on his mastery of beautiful and wonderfully legible Spencerian script. My own generation is not so schooled--my husband says his handwriting "resembles a symptom of a rare nervous disorder."

This is similar to my grandfather's penmanship.

Back in high school my friends and I subscribed to the theory that handwriting revealed personality: extroverts' writing sloped forward, introverts' backward, stable personalities' remained vertical. This theory hit the rocks with my sons' generation: no one's writing seemed to have any slant at all. Nor was the study of hand-writing much emphasized. (One of their friends, coming back from day one of seventh grade, announced to his mom "No Penmanship in junior high. That's one 'C' off my report card!")

The less said about my mother's handwriting, the better. It was her life-long sadness and frustration, and it resembled unhappy worms clinging to a high-wire. But last week I bought a 1935 Underwood typewriter and thought of my mom. The machine looks like it's smiling at me; it sounds like a marching band in between tunes. It is a late-arrival soldier in an army that changed the world's relationship with words on paper. My mother could type 100 words per minute on a machine like it. Back then, a typewriter cost a small fortune and put written communication on a fast track. Mom had her own gift for putting words on paper.

1935 Underwood 6 Typewriter

I've made an avocation of my own writing, honing letter shapes, practicing in spare moments, approaching every grocery list and return address like it's art. It's my hobby. I still don't have my dad's consistency, but I keep trying because I believe marks on paper matter.

One of my handwriting exercises

I hope I never forget that the ability to put thoughts into words and the words onto paper is a minor miracle. Primitive people thought the newly-arrived Europeans possessed some sort of magic: they could make marks on paper and transport their thoughts to the other side of the village without traveling. Human history would be stuck back at the wheel without our ability to transmit ideas to those coming after us. And it wasn't to be taken for granted--after all, hand-written documents would have been on vellum or papyrus. The printed word began in hand-carved wood by Gutenberg, then was set in lead, then typed by folks like my mom. It took effort, and it wasn't easy to make corrections. The effort it took to produce it, from the time of the ten commandments on, gave the words weight.

Another of my handwriting exercises

To write beautifully, even elegantly, honors the privilege we have of stewarding the written word. The effort my dad put into his journal makes it compelling. He picked the paper and the fountain pen, and exercised a life-long discipline when he wrote. The effort is visible thirty years after his death, and it still has value. I'm setting this down as a tribute to him, and other devotees of good writing.


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Lovely, Mary.

            - Debbie

Loved this one.

            - Kerr

Mary your writing today reminded me of the following essay I wrote some years ago in a Creative Writing class:

The Power of the Written Word By Frank Manasseri

The wake up alarm sounds, and you are up and out of bed. Half asleep you find your way to the front door and retrieve the morning paper. Rubbing your eyes you catch a quick glance at the front page and you realize something's missing! There is no headline, and there are no written words. Turning the page, you find only graphics and pictures, but again no written words. You think to yourself, "This is strange."

Shuffling into the kitchen you fill a cup full of steaming hot coffee and step towards the computer only to find a similar thing has occurred as all written words are missing. The screen is full of graphics and photos. As you scratch your head and ponder this, the phone rings. It is a friend who is having the same weird experience. While you are dressing for the day, the phone keeps on ringing with caller after caller expressing the same bewilderment. "What happened to the words?"

As you drive to work, you now discover all the traffic and street signs are missing their written words. Even the billboards along the highway are displaying only graphics and pictures as all the words are gone. Imagine what life would be like if humans did not have the ability to communicate via the written word? Surely it would not take long to realize how limited the world would be in the daily routine of life.

Without the written word, I would never have been able to learn from the many books I have read. I would have never known the powerful impact that simple words have upon individuals. One of the first books I recall reading is the book entitled, "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck. It left a vivid impression on my young mind as Buck tells the story of life in China in the early nineteen hundreds with the Red Communists brutal take-over of China in the early Twentieth Century.

One of the first things the Communists accomplished was to murder all teachers and destroy all the printing presses they could find. At a young age I learned from this terrible assault on the Chinese people and how their forced indoctrination into Communism has had an enduring and powerful impact upon that country and even the entire world. I realized the Communists knew how important is was for them to control the written word in order to program their countrymen with their communist policies and change life as they knew it in China. The results were devastating as families were broken up and others were forced to bow to the policies that changed their society.

From the beginnings of human's scrawling on the walls of caves, to the invention by Guttenberg of the printing press, and up until our present High Tech lifestyles, written symbols and words have influenced mankind in dramatic ways.

Written words in the fields of religion, philosophy, ethics, politics, medicine, and history along with many other disciplines, have formed and shaped societies and cultures over the centuries. The countless influential writers throughout the centuries would never have impacted mankind without the power of the written word.

Even today with the ever improving technologies of our present day, the written word has and continues to play a vital role in the shaping of the way humanity thinks and acts.

I learned long ago what a powerful instrument for good or evil the written word is. This one area has been paramount in influencing, inspiring, and given me the desire to learn to be a writwer with the ability to communicate thoughts, emotions, concepts, and ideas for the betterment of society. I believe in accomplishing this goal, I will be able to write stories that will have a lasting positive impact on the world through the power of the written word.

            - Frank

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