Checking out my groceries the other day, I got into a chat with the woman ringing up my order, about a sore topic among us older folks. Penmanship. And of course, right behind that is spelling.
Somewhere along the way, when my kids were in grammar school, an educational theory emerged that content was more important than style. Students were encouraged to express themselves creatively and not worry about the tools. I’m sure it worked to some degree, but at the same time the fine art of penmanship was lost along the way. My own children, brilliant and beautiful geniuses that they are, have a legibility problem. I can barely decipher what they write some times. Two of them (the girls) have mastered the art of calligraphy which comes in real handy when addressing wedding invitations but slows you down when creating a grocery list.
Remember the Palmer Method? We spent hours seeking the perfect slant and uniformity. Being left handed was briefly a problem for me, but then my first-grade teacher, a recovering left-hander, let me slant my letters backward, a frivolity frowned upon in those days. My other lefty pals where forced to curve the writing hand into an awkward position in order to achieve the required slant.
The joke in those days was “Oh, your handwriting is so bad, you should be a doctor.” Doctors, people who are held in high esteem because they save lives and make you feel better, were allowed, even encouraged, to have sloppy handwriting.
Today, if we have to write anything longer than 20 words, we turn to the computer keyboard. The only exception that I see to banging out one’s thoughts on the computer is when one is writing a sympathy note. There again, the computer can help you out by giving suggestions for content if you just Google “sympathy note” “or condolences.”
Thank-you notes should be written by hand, depending on the size and value of the gift. The thank you for candlesticks from Tiffany’s should be written by hand. The computer will do just fine when expressing gratitude to the guy who feeds your cat while you’re on vacation.
RSVPs to a Bon Voyage party on the Queen Mary II need to be hand-written on engraved stationary. Accepting an invitation to a cookout down the street may be e-mailed.
I’m grateful that the Palmer Method was around during various periods of my life. I have beautifully written letters from various grandparents. I have a recipe for bread that my mother wrote in her lovely flowing script.
I have letters from my younger siblings written when I was living far away and expecting my first baby. They sent me suggestion for names and made drawings of the baby’s progress.
How I enjoy the notes from readers of this column. It is such a thrill to know they take the time to let me know the give a hoot about what I have to say.
I have a big box of letters in the attic written by my brand new husband as he sailed off to Europe on a troop ship. (Probably should put those in the fireplace one of these days.)