Hanging on to the lost art of penmanship

Carolyn Murphy is guest columnist

In Catholic grade school in the 1960s, “penmanship” was a subject all its own and it also counted when teachers graded papers for other subjects. If your penmanship was not perfect in your English or history assignment, points were taken off. It didn’t matter how great the work was.

We learned to print in first and second grade. By third or fourth grade, we learned cursive and were never allowed to use block letters or “print” ever again. For me, that meant that I never developed my own style of “printing.”

Everyone, though, eventually developed their own style of cursive, whether it was classic, very slanted, backhanded, etc. There were lots of options to embellish, making it yours.

During those times, we also used cartridge ink pens. The pens required the replacement of plastic ink cartridges about the size of a AAA battery.

And what a mess it was to replace it without getting ink everywhere, including on my green plaid jumper uniform, which was washed when there was a holiday break, along with those of my three younger sisters. The uniforms would be hung on the clothesline from the smallest size to largest, which was mine.

At some point, in the later 1960s, we switched to ballpoint pens. But there never was the flow and ease that you got from the ink pens, at least until their points got bent. Getting a new cartridge pen, picking out the color of the pen itself, was better than getting a new box of crayons.

After eight years of Catholic school, I went to public school starting in the ninth grade. We Catholic school students, especially the girls, could not deny who we were because our handwriting gave us away. People would say, “You must be from St. Matthews. I can tell by your handwriting.” I was actually proud of that.

Today, I write maybe two checks per month (that don’t accept online payment) and, being old fashioned, hate to give up traditions. I send birthday cards in the mail and still write Christmas cards. For a few Christmas cards, I write a note, maybe two paragraphs. Even with my background, writing feels awkward and I don’t feel like I have a style anymore.

There is talk about eliminating the teaching of cursive, longhand script in the public schools. I think this would be a tragedy.

I have some very old writings, diaries and letters from my ancestors. They are written with such care and style, just beautiful. I wonder, will my grandchildren and their children be able to read them? Will they need to have them transcribed?

And maybe I need to start “handwriting” more.

Carolyn Murphy of Mount Pleasant is a retiree after working for a delivery company for 25 years. She is a fan of Southern novels.