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Treasures scribed on paper

Feb 21, 2013 - By Betty Starks Case

"When I was your age, I had to write in a style called 'cursive,'" says a mother to her two small children in a newspaper cartoon.

The children study their handheld devices. One child responds with, "WTH is mom saying?" The other: "IDK."

I'm not too swift with this communication method, but my guess is that you read it something like this, "W(hat) T(he) H(ell) is mom saying?" And "I D(on't) K(now)."

Literary progress, 2013?

I've been reading news suggestions that schools may discontinue teaching cursive writing, more commonly known as "handwriting," where language symbols are joined in flowing movement, applied to paper made from trees.

Recently, I found in National Geographic Magazine an awesome pull-out photograph of a 3,200-year-old Giant Sequoia. At 247 feet tall, the tree is majestic, its human explorers resembling tiny colorful birds as they attempt to climb the great branches.

I hung the 30-inch high poster on our living room door to remind me how long some trees can live and what valuable happenings they may record in the process.

I know these are not the trees used for making paper. But maybe their very size can speak for the less obvious trees that helped us preserve historic, hand-written documents like our U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. On a more personal level, there are treasured letters, memories of family and friends, and yes, my own first poetry at age 8.

Don't I love my computer and all it does for me? Indeed I do. But I also know that electronic files can mysteriously disappear, as can e-mail letters from loved ones. It's just not the same as when they are written in script on paper and tucked away in a box tied with ribbon to be recycled through our memories on a lonely day.

Granted, a keyboard can kick out the words faster than we can scribe them by hand. But the message does not carry the personality traits that handwriting brings to remind the reader of a writer's special ways.

I'm remembering the time my mate came in from the garage and handed me a large box saying, "I know I shouldn't ask, but do you want to check this stuff before I take it to the dump?"

I lifted the lid.

Like a flock of homing pigeons, treasured messages lit in my lap; letters from family and friends, many now gone from this life.

"My dear son and daughter," began the letters in words my mate's father could never express except in writing.

There were notes from my "other mom," knowing I'd always respond.

I found caring words sent to me by my loved sister-in-law before her brother and I married, she sadly lost to an auto accident at age 34.

There were letters from our college-age son, a disarming and deeply missed 19-year-old, sometimes concerned for his grades, yet ever lightened by a mischievous view, as in describing the venison his grandpa Steve had provided to help with college expenses.

"We doctor it up so it doesn't taste like venison," he wrote. "Sometimes it doesn't even taste like meat."

I found letters from my little sister, who later died of Alzheimer's. I was reminded of her bravery as her loved husband lay dying of heart disease at age 45, a reminder that she was once intelligent and strong, filled with resolve to see her husband through while raising their three teen-age children alone.

There was a World War I letter from Luxembourg from my future father to his fiancÚ, dated November 11, 1918, and letters from both parents after more than 60 years shared.

These treasured messages and more emerged through a fog of years to light the trail of our lives.

I'm not ready to give them up for an abbreviation that can fly away at the flick of a finger.

I hadn't realized how near extinction the practice of cursive writing actually was until this morning. While perusing online sites I discovered one called Enchanted Learning.

"Notice:" I read, "Software developers are needed to teach cursive writing."

Now electronics can teach us what we once knew and practiced for hundreds of years.

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