This week I have been practicing my cursive in an attempt to live like my Great-Grandmothers. I also began my research on my maternal-maternal Great-Grandmother (my mom’s mom’s mom … there’s really just no elegant way to say that).
Last Saturday, after posting my introduction, I sat down with my stationary and began researching the materials I would need to write a truly authentic GG letter. I found a detailed article on the origins of the ball point pen and its impact on handwriting and down the rabbit hole I went.
The ballpoint pen was patented in 1888 by John Loud, so at first I thought I was free to write with whatever pen I had lying around the house. But then, as I read, it became evidence that the ballpoint pen was not perfected until World War II, given that it needed thicker ink than was typically used for the standard fountain pen (leading to leaky, leaky ballpoint pens). Hungarian journalist and tasteless accent-abuser László Bíró was the first person to actually make something of the ballpoint pen. He and his chemist brother, György, made thicker, quick-drying ink that solved the leaking problem. Fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe, László patented his design in Argentina in 1943 and it became a great success with the British Air Force, whose servicemen could now write while aloft without making a massive mess.
All that research left me with no implement with which to write my letter. I could use a pencil but my stationary was too pretty for that. So I tore my art supplies apart and found the calligrapher’s pen that I used briefly in high school to ink comic art and the dried out jar of ink. After a potentially explosive experiment involving shaking the jar vigorously with water inside, I managed to recover the ink.
Materials prepared, I moved on to my next phase. While reading the article about ballpoint pens, it came to my attention that there were different styles of script. This had never occurred to me, even though I am history teacher with daily interaction with primary source letters scrawled in unfamiliar script styles. Script forms had only ever been an obstacle to me – now I realized that there was a method to the madness. So now the questions was: Spencerian script or Palmer?
Spencerian script had its hey-day in the mid-nineteenth century and it was immediately recognizable from the nineteenth century document set I have from the Minnesota Historical Society. Pretty as it was, it fell out of fashion around the turn of the century in favor of the Palmer style, which was touted as the simplified, faster version of Spencerian. Given the period I’ve chosen for this project, I decided to use the Palmer style. The decision had nothing to do with the fact that the style I learned in elementary school was Palmer. Nothing at all.
I practiced my script and penned my letter, begging Grandma for information about GG Loney.
I was impressed with the calligrapher’s pen. It made my sloppy script look elegant and beautiful. Even as I fumbled and hesitated, changing my “r” and “s” on the fly, it didn’t look terrible at all! In fact, by the time I finished, I was rather proud of myself. And with only minimal ink stains on my hands! I confidently began addressing the envelope and in all my haste, managed to promptly misspell “grandma”…
Since Saturday, I’ve been practicing my script daily. The capital letters are especially hard because I never use them but the lowercase is okay, because I’ve adopted a more fluid style of writing since becoming a teacher (saves time). I’ve even practiced in class. I was impressed with how many students said they could read it. Apparently, lots of foreign countries still emphasize learning script. One student, from South America, claimed that he learned cursive writing first and only later in his education learned print. Meanwhile, I told my friends I was learning script and they stared at me confused until I said “cursive”.
I thought that it seemed really unlikely that people were actually dipping pen in ink after the turn of the century – it seems so archaic – so I went on Amazon and ordered an inexpensive fountain pen. It is my new favorite toy. Writing F’s on papers is so much more fun when there’s a flourish at the end.
Today, I talked to Grandma on the phone about my letter (a part of me was hoping I might get a written response in my mailbox, but a phone call was definitely more efficient). The bootlegger story about Great Grandpa Loney is in contention. Grandma said she never heard that but Mom says that GG Loney told her so. GG Loney grew up in Duluth and was thick as thieves with her sister, Edna, who I actually remember meeting when I was four or so. They went to school in Duluth together and Grandma remembers that for some reason, they had to move to Superior to finish up. Grandma also told me that she was using pen and ink like the one I used to write the letter when she was in school. I had no idea that people were dipping their pen nibs up until World War II!
This next week, I’m going to focus on my research a little bit more effort-fully. Maybe compose some questions to ask my mom, aunts, and grandma and dig deep. Because to tell the totally honest truth, I don’t even know GG Loney’s first name and I think they probably assume that I do. I’m a terrible Great Granddaughter. I’d better stop being embarrassed, though, and do something about that. Till next week!