My Pathetic Penmanship

Mrs. Haddad would be disappointed in me.

She was the teacher who introduced my third grade class at Rankin Elementary School in Akron, Ohio to the wonders of cursive writing.  On the first day of school, she called our attention to the white shapes on green rectangles that appeared in a row above the blackboard, A to Z.  They were cursive letters, she explained, and this year we would learn to make them perfectly.  The message was clear:  we were leaving childish block printing behind and through our writing would be moving onto the road to adulthood.

Mrs. Haddad said that good penmanship was the mark of a well-educated person.  We believed her.  None of us wanted to be seen as ill-educated chumps.  We spent part of each day with pads of coarse gray paper with wide blue lines, tongues sticking out of the corners of our mouths and faces screwed up with effort, trying with shaky hands and thick pencils to make the loops and whirls and curves on that devilish capital G look like the perfection above the chalkboard.  Mrs. Haddad walked the aisles between our desks, glancing at our pads, shaking her head sadly, and pointing out where our efforts were falling short.

My handwriting was never great, and third grade may have been its high point.  It’s deteriorated considerably since then, to the point where it’s not much more than a scrawl that combines elements of printing, cursive writing, doodling, and hieroglyphics.  There’s no longer even an attempt to make that capital G or capital F, and the pathetic results are decipherable only by my long-suffering secretary and, occasionally, me.  I attribute the decline to trying to write as quickly as possible while taking notes during college and law school classes and hurried telephone conversations at work.  There’s also undoubtedly been a decline in fine motor skills and loss of nerve endings that is attributable to advancing age.

Yesterday I looked at the scribbles on my legal pad and thought once more of Mrs. Hadded, tsk-tsking and shaking her head.  How could I do, I wondered, if I had that pad of cheap, wide-lined gray paper in front of me and Mrs. Haddad at my elbow as I tried to make that ridiculous capital G?