Elizabeth Bailey, my third-grade teacher, passed on Christmas Day at the age of 92. I remember her as a tall, impeccably dressed woman with exceptionally high standards. And I credit her with my penmanship.
At the age of eight, I wanted nothing more in the world than to write like Mrs. Bailey. Her black ink pen moved with such grace across the page, leaving even, elegant loops and perfectly crossed t’s. I sense now that I saw in her measured script the coming together of creativity and control—a value I’ve worked to develop over the years.
But let’s get back to that Promise City elementary classroom, with its noisy radiators, steamy windows and mandatory portrait of a stoic George Washington. These were the days of the Palmer Method www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfiC8c-f9wk
—when small children with still-developing fine-motor skills were tortured with hours of painstaking practice, repeating a single letter again and again until the specially-lined page was filled. Something tells me no one in 1958 saw a future filled with keyboards and thumb-fired text messaging.
About 40 years after those lessons, my mom gave me my report cards from grade school. And there were the ones completed and signed by Elizabeth Bailey. What surprised me was to see how the penmanship I once had viewed as perfect was so dissimilar to my own. In the course of living my life, the model had been transformed into something distinctively mine.
The insight? Ultimately, each of us must live a signature life.
Just before the holidays, I had the chance to interview several of the retired Sisters of St. Francis at the Motherhouse in Colorado Springs. Usually, I take notes on my laptop…but that day, I’d consciously decided to slow the pace and use a pen. One of the older Sisters—a former teacher—complimented me on my penmanship.
So I told her about Mrs. Bailey.