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Never out of print

SOMEBODY retold about the little boy who came home from his first day at school and told his mother he didn't get the present. He said Teacher told him to sit in the front seat for the present ... ``and then she didn't give me a present.'' In much the same way, I never went to Mrs. Proctor's party. It was a bitter disappointment. Mrs. Proctor administered my academics in the third and fourth grades, but I started school in quite another town and had some few proficiencies before I met the lady. The school I did start with was ``experimental,'' and I was one of the guinea pigs as experts stood about with clipboards and evaluated our progress.

One of the new ideas I got stuck with was ``script.'' I never learned to write. Somebody thought there was merit in ``printing,'' which was clearer to read, and when mastered took no more time than eliding the letters into connected words. Most of us had already learned the alphabet by the time we went to school, and I had already sold a small item to the children's page of The Youth's Companion. So there was some hassle as our teacher made us forget all that and learn to print. Other good little tots in other schools in other places were being prepped for the Palmer Method, and some of our parents did ask why we weren't being taught to write.

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On my seventh birthday somebody gave me $10, so Saturday morning my mother took me to the savings bank to open my first account. She signed the card where it said ``parent or guardian'' and then the banker said, ``And now, young man, I'll need your signature, right here.'' Proud of my $10, and eager with my new penmanship, I wrote:

The banker shook his head. ``I'm sorry, but I can't accept that - you'll have to write your name.''

My mother was not at all happy to have a seven-year-old who couldn't sign his name, particularly one who was already well-to-do, so she told the banker we'd be back and she hustled me home to a chair by the kitchen table. Right up to my bedtime she hovered and made me write my name.

That's the only thing I know how to write. Mother did have a talk with the teacher about this, and she said she didn't know because she just did what the principal told her to do, but she understood that printed signatures were just as different, one to another, as written signatures, and both were much like fingerprints. She said that in time printed signatures would be accepted, and anything new always had a bit of trouble at first. We went back to the bank and I signed my name. The banker said, ``That's more like it!''

The fun began when we moved, and Mrs. Proctor came into my cultured life. She was aghast that I couldn't write and said she'd soon take care of that! She made a project of redeeming me, and I bore up bravely. But it was no use. She'd wander up and down the aisles during writing class and singsong, ``Around and round and round we go - touch the lines above, below.'' She'd interrupt herself with, ``That's good, Alice,'' or, ``Doing better, Fred!'' but all I ever got was, ``Stop wiggling your thumb joint!'' In the Palmer Method one balanced on his fingers and the ball of the hand, and the wrist did the work. ``Push-pull, push-pull, push-pull,'' and we'd all saw away at the ups and downs, and I could do the exercises all right, but when she told us to write some letters, I always reverted and left out the connectors. ``I guess you'll never learn to write,'' she told me. And when I kept wiggling my thumb she'd say, ``I'm not going to invite you to my party!'' I did, indeed, suppose she was about to give a party. I told my mother that Mrs. Proctor wasn't going to invite me to her party. I told her Frank Small wasn't going, either, because he kept wiggling his thumb joint, too.

I had a letter just the other day from Frank Small, and his octogenarian handwriting made me think of Mrs. Proctor. Frank asked if I remember how Judge Peter Cochrane used to walk to his law office every morning, and on his way past a pay telephone he'd juggle the thing to see if a nickel would come out of the return slot. I'm happy that Frank can write so well because I never learned. I don't make a pest of myself - where the form or the blank says, ``Write, do not print...'' I conform and tediously write my name. But when I get a form that asks for my occupation, I put down ``writer,'' and then I always explain to the clerk, ``You see, I have to print my name - I never learned....'' It causes a pleasant moment sufficient to gladden me, and I always print my signature and add, ``...actually, I'm a calligraphist.''

I get away with that. Most clerks know that a calligraphist prints when he writes.