I Have Been Told

A column by Anne M. Dunn

The Cursive Challenge

One of my utmost treasures is an old silver fountain pen that my maternal grandmother gave to me when I was about fifteen years old. I wrote many school assignments, poems, journals, essays, short stories and letters to family and friends with that old pen. Then it happened that the rubber bladder that held the ink ruptured. So the pen was retired and languished many years in the bottom of my box of broken treasures.

My grandmother had received the pen from her foster family when she graduated from the Carlisle (PA) Industrial School for Indian children. Since her reservation family did not have the money to buy her a train ticket back to Minnesota, she had been taken from the school every summer for the “outing program”. She spent that time with the Holmes, a Quaker family in Baltimore, MD.

She held that family in high esteem all her life and exchanged letters with them for many years. One of the Holmes children, Caroline, was allowed to travel to the reservation for visits. She was entrusted into the care of my grandmother. We used to have B/W photographs of a white-haired child hanging in with Grandmother and her black-haired children. In one of the photos I am a toddler seated on a blanket with Caroline and my mother.

One day I was talking to my friend, Bruce Martin, about the broken pen. I was astonished when he suddenly said, “I can fix it!”

“No! Really?” I asked.

“Yes. Restoring antique pens is my hobby!”

Immediately I found the pen and laid it in his gracious hand. He carried it away and after several months it returned in the mail. I had been lovingly restored and now I am using it again.

I like the fountain pen for writing cursive because you can slip along through a word without raising the nib or pen point from the paper. It let’s your idea rise and fall like a dragonfly skimming over the water. But, of course, I wasn’t always cursively proficient. Like many who grew up in the ‘40s I studied the swirls and curves and loops and twirls of Austin Norman Palmer, the cursive king.

Prior to Palmer there was Niccolo Niccoli, a 15th century Italian who gave us Italic. Then there was Platt Rogers Spencer who gave us Spencerian. Then there was Palmer and then the D’Nealian method was invented by Donald Neal Thurber. This method came on the scene in the late 1970s.

Now cursive has lost its luster and penmanship has fallen into disgrace. But I go on connecting my letters with all the swirling and twirling my arthritic knuckles can tolerate.

At this time electronic forms of communication may have rendered cursive an outdated skill. However, there are many warriors of the written word engaged in a civil battle to restore the nearly lost and ancient art.

Linden Bateman, a 72-year-old state representative from Idaho says cursive conveys intelligence and grace, engages creativity and builds brain cells. “Modern research indicates that more areas of the human brain are engaged when children use cursive handwriting then when they keyboard,” he said. “We’re not thinking this through. It’s beyond belief to me that states have allowed cursive to slip from the standards.”

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