I’ve bought some dumb stuff in my life, but one item, superlatively dumb, is also rather wonderful. It’s a printing plate of Goethe’s handwriting. What makes it dumb is 1) I can’t read German very well, 2) it’s in cursive, and 3) the handwriting is backwards.
But it’s Goethe’s handwriting! And through the miracle of modern science, I could flip it around.
There are relics, artifacts, greeting cards, inscriptions in books and letters I’ve semi-unconsciously stowed away in random places so I could be surprised by them during erratic sprees of cleaning and sorting. My Grandma Beall’s dedication in the front of the pocket-sized new testament. There’s a letter from my Grandfather Beall to his nephews expressing his condolences and giving his thoughts on the death of their father, his brother. My dad’s scrawling barely legible message on the flyleaf of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam he gave me the last Christmas he was alive.
Sometimes I stumble upon the handwriting of my Grandmother Kennedy who wrote me letters even though she was essentially blind. There are all of my Aunt Jo’s little notes with their humor and always the message, “We still like you.” There are the letters sent by my brother, full of news and humor, lettered rather than “written” (he was a cartoonist) — ending up asking for money (always).
There has been so much debate in recent years about whether cursive handwriting should still be taught to children in this, the age of digital electronics. Of course, I believe it SHOULD be taught if only because it’s a skill that helps kids develop the small muscles in their hands and could make them better painters, scientists and, un, coders. But I also think that handwriting, as it evolves in a person’s lifetime, is a sign of life, a memento slightly less ephemeral than breath.