I’m a compulsive, obsessive newspaper reader. I read all the obits, the police log and even in the winter when garage doors are sealed, I look for garage sale ads.

This particular morning one item caught my eye and kicked open my memory box.

I read that Republican House member Heidi Sampson, from Alfred, recently introduced a bill that would require all Maine students in third through fifth grade to be taught cursive handwriting. Cursive?

Just reading the word brought back old memories and made my hand shake. It’s 2019. I’ve spent a fortune on laptops and iPhones, learned how to download fun emojis, and how to remember my passwords, and now Republicans are trying to drag us all back to writing with pencil and paper?

Closing my eyes, I was suddenly thrust back to a winter morning of 1942. I had taken my red wagon to Haag’s Market over on Michigan Avenue, to give Herman Haag a handwritten note from my mother.

Howard and Harold Dean Haag were the owners, but they were on vacation, so I gave it to a new lady clerk. Failing to understand that for years we had had a standing account in Haag’s store, she handed it back and said, “Tell your mama we don’t give credit anymore.”

Then she paused, and said, “But tell your mama she sure does have a nice hand.”


This came up again when I handed Peter Vogt, the scoutmaster, a note from her that allowed me to go on a trip with the troop.

“ Your mother went to school with the Sisters, didn’t she?” Mr. Vogt asked me, adding, “ You don’t see handwriting like that anymore.”

Then one day in my father’s desk, I found some correspondence between him and my brother Matt Jr., his firstborn son. It was like reading letters between Jefferson and Hamilton, so perfectly drawn was each word in cursive script.

Oh, yes. I can remember practicing my letters with tongue clenched between my lips, while Sister Rosanna stood over me and patted the top of my head in praise. “Very nice, Jerry, ” she whispered, as she moved away. “Very nice” from Sister Rossana was like having the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee handing you the prize and patting you on the head while saying, “Very nice.” It was that big.

I already knew that Alan Powers and Paddy Carr, who were Episcopalians, couldn’t even write their names; so maybe I thought it was a Catholic thing like confession, holy communion and not touching Rosemary De Branco anywhere but on her simple strand of pearls. Rosemary, by the way, who signed my valentines for three years, had among other wonderful attributes, a “nice hand.”
But then, my friend Bernie Goldman had the best handwriting I’d ever seen, and I’m sure he didn’t have the Sisters.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? It’s about cursive script, the art of writing beautifully in longhand with all those swirls and dips, with the letters holding hands up and down the page, and how once upon a time, that was a pretty big deal.

I hesitate to tell Ms. Sampson, but kids in the third and fifth grade all have iPhones and write with their thumbs; I’ve seen them do it. They’re incredible. I’ve haven’t seen thumbs move that fast since Herman Haag put one of his on the scale along with the salami.

It would probably surprise students who may be reading Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward Angel” to discover that Wolfe wrote the entire book in pencil, for crying out loud, and cursive script, or a rough version thereof.

Wolfe’s book was so long that the manuscript was delivered to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, at Scribner’s in New York, in an open delivery truck. Now, that is a heap o’ cursive.

No girl I ever wrote love notes to in middle school ever complained about my handwriting, so I guess I pass.

But then my life with cursive ended when the Air Force taught me to type; I now autograph copies of my book in big, illegible scrawls. My regrets to those who bought them. Stop me in the wine aisle in the market, and I’ll have my wife re-sign them.

To see how I’ve progressed over the years, I wrote the first two paragraphs of this column with pencil in longhand on legal paper. Not even the best people in the CIA could make it out. That’s how far I’ve fallen.

Meanwhile, I’m looking to hire a third-grader to teach me how to thumb-type before Ms. Samson gets hold of him. Go with the flow, I always say.


J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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