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Learning to turn circles into words

A painful memory was rekindled when I noticed a headline proclaiming “Study: Girls better writers than boys.”

The story claimed girls can state things on paper better than boys. I thought it was referring to the theory that girls are better in penmanship than boys. (Remember penmanship?)

You see, back when I was in elementary school, there was printing and there was writing. Printing meant slowly etching out each letter one at a time; writing referred to the art of creating an entire word in one continuous motion. (We didn’t use fancy terms like “cursive” back then.)

The painful memory to which I refer came about because of this printing and writing stuff.

It all started the summer before going into third grade. The word was out that we had to learn to write or we’d be stuck in third grade the rest of our lives. I had enough problems printing, so learning to write seemed impossible.

Some older guys (fourth- or-fifth graders) warned us about how tough writin’ is: “it’s sort of like tying a hangman’s knot, only harder.”

I don’t know about your childhood, but back when I was growing up, tying a hangman’s knot was about the toughest thing to master (outside of learning to whistle between your teeth.)

So all summer I worried about learning to write. Not that it kept me from climbing trees, seining minnows and other important activities, but the worry was still there.

Slick was lucky. Stuff like that never seemed to bother him. He was too busy selling pigeons, catching crawdaddies and raising rabbits. He said writing wasn’t going to do him any good anyway.

Finally school began.

Our teacher, Mrs. Vroman, seemed like a nice enough lady, but the fact that my entire future rested in her hands bothered me. I looked at her as sort of a friendly witch.

Our penmanship class turned out to be a lot easier than I had expected. Instead of learning to write, Mrs. Vroman had us drawing circles … rows and rows of circles.

For what seemed to be weeks, our teacher kept us drawing those circles. She kept stressing “a smooth, flowing motion.” I thought I was doing pretty good until I caught a glance at Karen Hokel’s little circles. Her’s actually looked like circles, whereas mine resembled lopsided eggs.

Mrs. Vroman would walk up and down the aisles, her hands clasped behind her back, and look over our shoulders as we pressed pencil to paper.

“Don’t be so stiff,” she’d say as she watched me attempting a row of circles. “You’re pressing down too hard.”

Well, from the circles we slowly worked into writing. My a’s, p’s and s’s didn’t look much better than my circles. In fact, they all looked pretty much the same.

Most of the other boys had the same problem. While we were pressing hard enough to make impressions in our desk tops, the girls were gliding along like they were skating on ice.

This was the ultimate in frustration. Not only was I super bad at writing, all the girls were super good. For the first time in my life, I realized that girls could do some things much better than boys.

And to make matters even worse, they acted like it was no big deal. This didn’t help. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t making fun of us; after all, they wouldn’t have heard the last of it if we were the ones who were doing so good.

Now here it is over 60 years later and I still feel a pang of pain when I think about it. I guess the fact that Slick writes better than me doesn’t help.

(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)

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