Letters From Dad

Dad was never a big letter writer.

Then later in life, after he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and had a few serious illnesses, Dad realized he didn’t have a lot of time left. He began to “get his affairs in order” as they say. He made sure everything was in good standing for Mom. He sorted through his belongings, finished projects, made things for grandkids.

And he wrote letters. Lots and lots of letters.

He wrote to cousins he hadn’t seen since he was a kid, he wrote to his brothers and their wives, his nieces and nephews. He even wrote letters to his grown children who lived in the same city as he did. It wasn’t at all unusual that when you visited and it was time to go, he’d put a envelope in your hands, your name written in a shaky script on the front. It would be another letter telling some bit of family history, or a chart showing our ancestry, some copies of black-and-white photos of our grim-looking relatives.

My recent post on handwriting led me to read them again. Below is one of those letters. 

First, a note: As I was typing, I realized I was editing and somehow that seemed dishonest. In the end, I decided to keep things pretty much as they were, grammatical errors and all. The only thing I changed was to break up his paragraphs a bit, as his thoughts occasionally jump from one story to the next, then back again.
One other note: When he says they provided all the milk for Bruce — that’s a small town in South Dakota.

Dad with siblings
My dad is on the bottom step next to his little sister, Margaret. His oldest brother, John, is in between the twins. Dad was born in ’23, so I’m guessing this photo was taken around 1928.
A Letter From My Dad…

This letter is about things that happened over 80 years ago.

Mother was having a hard time raising her twin boys. She said she prayed every nite for help. Then Mother found she was pregnant again. She thought the Lord was going to punish her with this new baby. The twins would be 2 in August and I came along the 1st of May. The twins were still in diapers. The conditions were rather primitive on the farm back then, no running water, you did things the hard way.

Mother told me when I was an older kid what a good baby I was. At the time I never wanted to hear about it, it made me sound like a sissy. Mother said I never cryed only whimpered when something was wrong. The relatives said something is wrong with that baby, that baby don’t cry – all babys cry. Mother said I was ok and a happy kid and was an answer to the prayers to the Lord. She also said she could sit me down any place & I would be ok.

Then one day when I learned to crawl Mother heard a loud cry & found the twins stomping on my fingers & were proud of them selfs that they got me to cry. Mother thought they had ruined me & I would cry all the time, but I went back to the way I was.

The good that come from it was the twins were better behaved & watched over me & never let any thing bad happen to me. This has been true all our lives. They have always protected me. We never had any fights with them, altho they were always fighting with each other.

*****

Roger & Rolf were always very fair & kind with me except when work was involved. They would divide the jobs in 3 equal parts, they was kind enough to give me the choice of the jobs, that went along quite well. Now the milking of the cows was another thing.

We always had 20 or so cows to milk. The cows were divide in 3 parts of 7 or so cows. I again got to choose the bunch I wanted. This was the evening milking in the summer as Dad & John could stay out in the field until dark. I was never very fast with the milking. I would have 2 or so left to milk when they were done. The fact that I was 10 years old & they were 12 had nothing to do with it so they would watch me finish. The reason we had so many cows was that we had to furnish most of Bruce with milk.

*****

Bro. John was always to blame if any thing went wrong. When I was about 3 I was breaking the ice in the stock tank & fell in. I was in quite a long time when John found me floating under the ice, he was blamed for me falling in & not (praised?) for pulling me out.

Another time when I was about 3 Dad came home from town & found me layed out on the township road. He brought me to the house & looked for bruises. Then I woke up, I was just sleeping in the middle of the road. Bro. John was blamed for letting me sleep on the road.

*****

They got a very good whipping for stomping on my fingers. I wound up with a deformed finger nail & at the time it got infected and got a swelling under my arm. I was brought to a Doctor & he lanced it. This did cause me trouble later in life.

Merry Christmas
Love, Dad

Dad with brothers
Left to right, Dad, John, Roger and Rolf. We could always tell our twin uncles apart because Rolf was the one who glowered. You might think they’re all glowering, but Rolf glowered best. By the way, they were all extremely kind, gentle men. But yeah… glowering.

Dad passed away 12 years ago. I often think of the stories he told, and the way he told them. He was great storyteller.

Thanks for the letters, Dad.

Cursive Schmursive: If It’s Legible, Who Cares?

If I were looking for a new job — I’m not, you know, but if I was — there’s a new skill I can add to my resume: Handwriting Translator.

Reason being, throughout the day students approach my desk and show me a yellow slip of paper. They ask in meek tone, one befitting Oliver Twist: “Please, ma’am, I don’t know what this says.”

Well, maybe not that Oliver Twistish. But you get my point.

The yellow slip is our school’s “student request pass”. The student’s name will be there, usually written clearly, we hope written clearly, the rest… well, the rest is a crapshoot. It might be written clearly. It might be like a doctor’s scribbling.

I do my best to decipher the note. Usually it’s from our Attendance department, sometimes the Nurse’s office. Back in my greenhorn days, I used to follow up with a polite email, suggesting the scribbler fill out the passes more carefully or give up cursive altogether. After all, most of our kids don’t read cursive.

I no longer do that. Reason being, it usually triggers a rant:

How come they don’t teach cursive anymore?!

Why in my day…

Everyone is so lazy nowadays!

Cursive handwriting is the hallmark of civilized society!

I usually enjoy seeing people on their high horse. It can be quite entertaining and worthy of a blog post or two. But after the fourth or fifth time around the track, even I grow tired of their raging.

Pity they don’t feel the same.

In any case, I’ve come to realize that people of a certain age, the age being somewhere on the far side of 40, tend to feel strongly about this issue.

Well, at least women do. I’ve not witnessed any men going off the deep end regarding cursive. Maybe they do. I’ve not seen it.

In any case, I’ve noticed the arguments for returning cursive to the curriculum range from the ridiculous:

“You’re more creative when you use cursive writing instead of a keyboard”

(Oh, if only Hemingway, Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, et. al., not insisted on using their typewriters! How much greater their works might have been!)

To the nostalgic:

“Remember those lined workbooks with the letters to trace? I loved those!”

I didn’t. As much as I tried to replicate the letters and follow their lines, my clumsy little hand would not cooperate.

And having to make such BIG letters too. The capitals absolutely insisted on touching both top and bottom lines. Not to be undone, several of the lower case demanded it too.

Cheeky little devils that they were.

Cursive alphabet

My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. McCullough, was not a patient woman. She rarely approved of my feeble attempts.

Ms. McCullough and me

It wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the fact several letters are battling identity issues.

The letter A, regretting her cross line and open bottom, caring little she represents my favorite article of apparel (A-line skirt), chucks it all away to look like an abnormal apple:

Cursive A

So too is S, no longer content with his smooth, sloping shape, chooses instead to shroud his silhouette.

Secretive little sneak:

Cursive S

G, ever the garrulous gent, decides he can’t give ground. He follows S’s guide and makes a point of it:

Cursive G

And what are we to make of Q? It’s shameless, really. Q, in her printed state, is round with a little tail; the cousin of O with a quirky flair.

Yet in script, she opts for something different, an queer and querulous affair:

Cursive Q

Yet none of that comes close to Z, that zany zealot who zigzags his way in print.

For cursive… well, at first he seems to copy Q. He zips onto the page, zeroes in toward the bottom and… what’s this? He zooms below the line, where he has no business being!

Cursive Z

Breaking all zoning laws!

You know what I think? I think Q and Z got together and hatched this devious plot!

“Why won’t they use us more in their writing?” Q queried. “I say we make them quiver and quake, every time they pick up their quill!”

“Zounds, Q, that’s zelicious!” And with that, Z zapped and zipped his shape in a most zesty fashion.

Q looked at him quizzically, but remained quiet.

For most of my early schooling, I disliked my handwriting. No, more than disliked. I actively despised my cursive skills. No matter how I tried, Mrs. McCullough’s elegant swoops and flourishes would never be mine.

Then sometime in high school, I was looking through old records and came across Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years.”

Ignoring the cheesy mustache, I latched onto the words at the top.

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 2.38.09 PM

Look at those S’s folks! Sure, Z still gets down and dirty, but capital S remains true to form!

Only then did it occur to me how adults (as they do in so many things) throw out the rules and do what they want. I decided right then and there, Mrs. McCullough be damned, I’d write however I wanted.

Which is how I finally embraced my own version of handwriting (more like smushed together printing) and never looked back.

 

WP_20171106_20_23_04_Pro

All this is a long way of saying, I don’t think it’s a big deal students aren’t being taught cursive. Maybe you disagree with me. If you’re anything like the women I work with, I know you do.

I still say it’s not a big deal. If our youth want to learn cursive, they’ll figure it out just like my kids did. On their own, with no Mrs. McCullough breathing down their neck. There’s no age limit to acquiring it, and there are plenty of sites offering free lessons.

And of course, they can always make up their own rules.

As for the argument that it teaches them fine motor skills and helps brain development, art lessons and playing a musical instrument do that too. And I’d argue do a much better job of it.

Now as for students not being taught how to properly diagram a sentence?

My God people! When will the madness end?!

Diagram