Beverly Cleary is a big deal around here. She wrote children’s books about a little girl named Ramona Quimby, and she spent a goodly chunk of her own childhood within about a mile of our house. There’s a whole Beverly Cleary walking tour of the neighborhood featuring Klickitat Street, where Ramona Quimby fictionally lived, and various locales where fictional puddle-stomping happened, and so on. There’s a Quimby Street also but it’s across the river and you can’t make people walk that far. The Ramona Quimby books are beloved and even I feel sort of cozy and proprietary about the whole connection, even though I’ve never read any of her books.
Beverly Cleary was a sweet-faced woman who only recently got around to dying about three weeks before her 105th birthday, unfairly reported as 104. Most people assumed she’d been gone a long time already and so interest in her literary sainthood was rekindled. Hence it was a big deal when a time capsule was dug up at Roseway Heights Middle School after 100 years, and word got around that the loopy “Beverly” signature on the third-grade roster was probably Cleary’s. Her son thinks so. The school is pretty excited about it. After all, it’s a relic. It’s not Beverly’s childhood puddle-stomping boots, but it’s still a relic. A nicer one than some of the ick the Catholics lug around.
The signature includes curly E’s. Beverly said she was burdened by curly E’s in her cursive her whole life. I can relate. One of the teachers in my elementary school wrote with curly E’s—like the capital E but smaller—and I was smitten. I took my perfectly serviceable Palmer Method handwriting and jammed complicated E’s in it, and then other capital letters, none of which played nicely with the other letters, until eventually no one could read my handwriting, including myself. I always blamed that teacher, because it beats taking personal responsibility. But it turns out that teacher probably picked up her curly E’s from learning a different cursive from the Palmer method: the Wesco method. That’s what Beverly Cleary learned, and she said she had as much trouble with it as I do.
Wesco cursive was taught in Portland Public Schools for decades. John Wesco was a remarkable calligrapher himself and didn’t generally throw in the weird E in his own work. Mr. Wesco was, in fact, elected, in 1914, the Supervisor of Penmanship in Portland Public Schools. I am charmed that there once was a supervisor of penmanship. I don’t know how much supervising he needed to do on a day-to-day basis but he was also a forensic handwriting expert and a restorer of fine violins. Good handwriting really sets you apart as a classy individual. Learning it is associated with strong neural connections featuring meaty, muscular neurons, increased retention of material without excess bloating, and self-discipline, and I believe it must be true, because I don’t have any of those things.
Evidently the fine motor skills involved in carefully shaping each letter sear the language into your brain in a way one-tap keyboarding does not. So I’m glad I learned cursive when my brain was young and spongy. Them letters is damn near cauterized in there now but I don’t have to ink them anymore. I get to fling them around with a word processor like a boss.
Apparently there is a strenuously Christian Republican Congressman in the Indiana House of Representatives named Timothy Wesco and I do not know if he is related to the late Supervisor of Penmanship, but he did sponsor a bill requiring the teaching of cursive in Indiana schools, and also one outlawing abortions in all circumstances including rape. His neural pathways are probably rock-hard. No word yet on whether he’ll let Ramona Quimby stay in the school library.