The Lefty

Old-time writing paper from the 1920s, creases from being folded to take home. A traced star at the top, neatly colored yellow. Her name in the upper left, in cursive writing: Doris Wilson.

I see the stars in the sky./ They twinkle twinkle in the night./ Once a bright shining stars [sic] was seen/ It led the wis [sic] men to the stable./ They found the little Christ Child./ This was our first Christmas.


This reminds me of one of my mother’s stories. The first graders in the Dexter, Iowa, school learned to write in their letters in cursive right away. The teacher asked whether anyone in the class could show them how to make the letter S. Doris raised her hand. “Yes, Doris. You have an “s” in your name. Please come up and write it on the blackboard.”

Doris nervously walked to the front and picked up the chalk–with her left hand. As soon as she started to write, several children in the class began to snicker. Was it was because she’d used the “wrong” hand? She was the only left-handed student in the class.

In those days, and even for several decades, schools tried to get left-handed students to change to using their right hands. Or they taught them to write with their left hand curved above the writing so that slant of their letters would match that in the penmanship books. Children were graded on their writing, which made for lots of beautiful and readable papers and letters.

Beautifully written papers were even posted in the classroom. My mother remembered one of hers honored that way, with a note added by Miss Overton, “Left handed.”

At home, the kids took turns working a hand grinder–maybe to grind meat or to make piccalilli from vegetables at the end of the garden growing season. Doris took a turn, starting out cranking with her right hand like the others. She soon switched to her left, announcing that she worked better when she used her “father hand.”

I never thought about left-handedness being different until Mom helped me with a 4-H project. Each year we had to give a talk to our local club, and also a demonstration. Leaflets gave ideas of topics, and one year I decided to give a demonstration on how to make slipper socks out of a pair of men’s Rockford socks, with the red heel and toe. You were to cut sturdy cardboard to fit in the socks, then stitch it in as a sole. (I never asked how you were supposed to launder them!)  I needed one pair to show the completed project, and another to demonstrate with.

I quickly learned how difficult it was to cut cardboard with scissors. Mom offered to help, but when she finished, he left hand was numb because scissors were built for right-handers. Later we found her left-handed scissors, the first she’d ever had.

Ironing wasn’t much of a problem. We just turned the ironing board around, or stood on the opposite side. It wasn’t until I got married that I discovered that I hung my clothes left-handed,  just like we did at home.

Being left-handed was an asset for my mother when she was in high school. She made the basketball team as a freshman. Why? Because she shot baskets with her older brothers.

And because, she admitted in her later years, “I was a lefty.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.