Saturday, June 29, 2013

Greater Tragedies Than This

Here's a link to an article about the death of cursive writing in America...

It caught my attention because cursive writing reminds me of my grandfather. My biological maternal grandfather, that is -- a man who was born sometime around 1890, and about whom little was known but the name he claimed was his -- Joseph Doyle. I never met him; he died several years before I was born. I grew up knowing my step-grandfather, Jack Haskins -- who, for all intents and purposes, was my "real" grandfather, a patriot who served his country in the Pacific fighting against the Japanese, and who later turned me on to history and science-fiction.

Mom always suspected Joe Doyle wound up here in Virginia because he was "on the lam", guilty of a crime in another state that motivated him to change his name and hit the road. He had claimed to have been born in Baton Rouge, LA, but Mom never could locate his birth certificate. He simply appeared one day in Hopewell, VA, where my grandmother Sarah lived as a young, working-class woman. They met. They married. They had my mom. They divorced. All in the space of four years. Joe Doyle was alcoholic and abusive, but Sarah was not your stereotypical "victim." She wasn't afraid to get into a fistfight with him, and finally she just tossed him out on his keister.

For a while, Joe Doyle lingered in the Hopewell area, where he organized the labor force of one of the largest chemical companies in Hopewell. The corporation, which had maintained employment throughout the Great Depression, threatened to shut down if the workers voted for a union. The union was voted in, and the corporation fulfilled its threat. Among his other contributions, Joe Doyle once beat my great-grandfather nearly to death.

Having caused enough trouble in Hopewell, Joe Doyle then moved on to Washington, D.C. where he became a barber and married a Russian woman named Anna. He and Sarah split custody of my mom, so Mom lived in Hopewell and Washington in alternating school years. Joe Doyle would get back at Sarah by abusing my mom. He did things to her that would earn him a lengthy prison sentence today -- but in those days, teachers would see the bruises on her face and the striped-red-raw flesh of her beaten arms and legs (he would use a razor strop, a tool of the barber's trade), and not say a word to anyone. Finally, at the age of twelve, she begged Sarah not to send her back to the Doyle house. Mom never saw him again after that. He died of cirrhosis when she was in nurse's training in the late Forties. She heard from someone that, when the priest approached him on his deathbed, Joe Doyle snarled, "I'll die as I've lived." I trust that he did.

All that, to say, this... Whenever I read articles about cursive writing, Joe Doyle comes to my mind. He was a literate man, and possessed an IQ measured at 160. He wrote poetry, and was blessed with the best penmanship I've ever seen. That was all that was left of him -- that, and one grainy photograph from about 1926, standing alongside Sarah. His handwriting was stunningly beautiful. I don't know how good his poetry is, but visually, each written word is a work of art.

How far the apple has fallen from the grand-tree! I never had the dexterity or patience to learn how to write legibly, let alone beautifully. My second-grade teacher, Miss Smith, announced one day to the whole class that I'd never amount to anything because of my poor penmanship. My cursive writing skills eventually deteriorated to the point where I gave up on them altogether in high school, writing all of my assignments in standard print. Sometime during my college years, even my printing became illegible. Fortunately, the Lord in His mercy invented keyboards, and I was no longer doomed to a life of written incoherence.

There are those who will rage at the dying of the cursive write. For me, it's like watching the book close on Joe Doyle, one last time. The world has known greater tragedies.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Cursive writing - the only class I ever flunked.