Forward Living: For words from the heart, penmanship beats the printer

01/01/2012 10:16 AM |

The following three things happened in such quick succession that I had to sit up and take notice:

1. I received a call from a friend who said, “Ceil, if I didn’t see your return address on the envelope, I wouldn’t know who sent the Christmas card.”

2. I wrote myself a note that I couldn’t decipher.

3. I’ve kept journals since my late teens and often reread them. It’s fun (and sometimes not so fun) to examine my thoughts and revisit my glaring inconsistencies. That being said, over the last five years, my handwriting has gotten so bad that only through guesswork can I make sense of what I was thinking or doing — and maybe that’s a good thing!

The blame for my descent from beautiful script to illegible scrawl certainly does not belong to my grade school teacher Sister Josephine. She spent many hours teaching us the nuances of fine penmanship. A standout memory is that of Sister teaching us to make circles. Clearly, practicing circles was an exercise in penmanship although, back then, I thought it was an exercise in stupid.

I place the blame for my lousy handwriting squarely on technology. With the increased use of and dependence on computers, contemporary thinking calls into question the relevance of learning penmanship at all. Currently, kids in grade school are taught block letters through second grade; they move on to cursive in third grade. Instead of teaching penmanship, the emphasis is teaching technology, typing skills and program familiarity.

Nowadays, most correspondence is generated by computers, including some signatures. Although computerized medical records have been around for some time, it’s only recently that they’ve become the norm. When I was gainfully employed, we had to chart our notes; clear and concise handwriting was essential. (Thanks, Sister Josephine.) I know, I know. Some physicians’ handwritten prescriptions tell a different story.

Stationery was once the gold standard of gifts. I used to order my favorite notepaper from a catalogue: cream colored with my initials engraved in gold. Before the big bang of technology, folks actually wrote to each other. (The U.S. Postal Service was in the black, too!)

My computer is my BFF (best friend forever) and ranks up there with my other gal pals. Sometimes I use her to send online greeting cards. I simply select my card, compose my message and the recipient immediately receives a legible greeting in their inbox. Oh dear! I suppose that I’m adding to the U.S. Postal Service shortfall.

After Mom’s death in October, my siblings and I had the heartrending job of dismantling her home. It felt like we dismantled her life. I found cards, written in perfect Sister Josephine penmanship, that I’d given to my parents. A lump formed in my throat as I read, “Dear Mommy and Daddy … ”

Later that day, my brother called from the garage: “Come out here; look what I’ve found.”

We gathered around an old truck. My brother reached in and gingerly pulled out a bundle tied together with a faded ribbon. When my brother untied the ribbon, we found a treasure trove of handwritten love letters that our parents exchanged, dating back some 70 years.

We had mixed feelings about reading them; however, curiosity got the better of us. Written with pen and ink, the handwriting was legible and somewhat ornamental. Our parents’ endearments: “Darling Nancy” and “My dear husband, Charlie” touched us all. By the time shadows fell on the now empty rooms, tears were unabashedly running down our cheeks. Who says grown men don’t cry?

I’m a fan of progress, but I wonder if computer-generated love letters or online greeting cards could produce such vivid memories or strong emotions. Perhaps something beautiful and personal has been irrevocably lost. Then again, I suppose one can print them out and tie them with a ribbon, or save them to our hard drives.

But still …

Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.