Thursday, September 3, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
What’s that ‘nugget of wisdom’ say?
I have many things to feel inferior about, but one in particular is penmanship. This goes back to the F in writing which came home on my initial report card in first grade. What a way to launch an academic career! I knew enough about school to feel that this was a terrible thing, and I confess that I always greeted school grade reports with a good deal of anxiety.
For many years I worked hard to form my letters neatly, but in recent years age or carelessness have just about rendered my handwriting illegible. You might think I was an M.D.
I do almost all of my communicating via typewriter. In fact, I would almost say that the most valuable course I ever got in school was Mrs. Evelyn Drown’s course in typing in the eighth grade at Margaret Green Junior High in Cleveland. We received our instruction on those great big cast iron manual typewriters. No peeking at the keys, no erasures or white-out allowed. (In fact, I don’t think they even had white-out then.) Now, we have spell-check and automatic correction on the computer, although I sometimes argue with the automatic correction, as it does not know many biblical and religious terms.
My father never took typing, but he could go as fast as I do now using the “hunt and peck” method. I always loved the way he could total up checks on his old-fashioned adding machine, entering numbers with his left hand, pulling the crank with his right, and never looking at the keypad as he worked. I have never had that sort of hand-eye coordination.
Miss Manners says that lack of legibility does not matter; all formal correspondence must be by handwritten letters or notes. This includes thank-you notes, letters of condolence, and the like. So sometimes I have to get out my writing paper and black ink and make my attempt at propriety. The result is always disappointing.
The worst is when I make a handwritten note to myself for use in the pulpit. When I get up to preach, I almost never know what “nugget” of wisdom I had in mind when I scribbled that note! One wag said that Presbyterian ministers are known for their complex doctrinal sermons, while Episcopal priests are famous for beautiful penmanship. I doubt I will ever be recognized for either.
If Moses had had a word-processor, perhaps there would not be so many arguments over biblical interpretation, or would there be more?
Still, because God chose to entrust divine revelation to us in written form, I think reading and writing are very important.
I think I inherited my own obscure penmanship from Aunt Mayrene. She was a nurse, and would write long, newsy letters to my family late at night. None of the adults in my family could figure out what she had written and would put the letters aside in frustration. Enjoying a puzzle, I would take them in hand and try to decipher them. I got pretty good at it and eventually would be given my aunt’s letters to read out loud to everybody else.
All of that proved useful training for what I now do as a hobby/semi-paid occupation as historian for the Presbyterians of North Mississippi. I have been given the task of transcribing lots of wonderful, hand-written records from pioneer days. These have not been looked at for over a hundred years, and in them are names and stories of many of our region’s ancestral families. I think that genealogical groups, in particular, will enjoy getting this material in digital form, so that searching for names will be a snap.
The old clerks who kept these records were often chosen on the basis of venerability and age, not their ability to write beautifully, though some did. But many letters were formed differently in the long ago, and it takes a fair amount of skill to make out what is being said, what with faded ink, yellowed paper and all.
In the meantime, I am sending this article to Linda Jones at The South Reporter via the e-mail, in clear, typewritten form. That way, all my mistakes and errors will be clear and easily recognized. With the old handwriting of yore, some of those things could be hidden under a blot, a squiggle, or a flourish, and guessing was part of the fun.
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