August 13 is coming up and it is a special day, one that I was more likely to bring cake into the office than my birthday.
When I started elementary school, on the first day of classes, “The Voice” would come over the intercom speaker in my classroom asking that “Timmy be sent to the front office.” My classmates would turn and stare at me because how bad was little Timmy Lundeen that he had to report to the office on the first day of school.
When I would get to the office, one of the secretaries would lean over the counter and hand me a new, cellophane-wrapped pair of green-handled scissors. She would tell me that I was to keep those scissors in my desk and that I did not need to share them with anyone else, because they were special left-handed scissors.
Whenever we had a project that required cutting, I would pull out my green-handled (sharp) scissors and get to work while my classmates would pass around the rack of shared, dull regular scissors.
Left-handedness runs through my mother’s family. Mom’s mother was born left-handed back in 1908 when being left-handed was not allowed. In school, the teachers would tie her left hand in her apron strings and force her to use her right hand for writing. While she used her right hand, her writing was always very difficult to read.
One of her sons, Mom’s brother, was also left-handed, but when he attended school in the late 1930s and early 1940s, he was allowed to use his left hand, but he developed the characteristic “hook hand” while writing as he was taught to move his pencil like a right-handed person would.
When my oldest sister and I got to school, teaching penmanship to left-handed students had evolved. I remember being in Mrs. Pratt’s class in second grade when learning to write, and she would say, “Everyone but Tim follow these instructions,” and then would come over and show me individually how to hold my pencil and position my paper. Now, when I’m writing, people often don’t realize I’m using my left hand.
There were indeed challenges, though, to being left-handed in the right-handed school world. Spiral bound notebooks were difficult to use, unless you had a extremely wide margin. Left-handed desks, especially those that folded up in auditoriums, were rare. And then there was gym class and sports. I remember playing a lot of floor hockey and baseball/softball, but it was rare that there was the correct equipment — in proper working condition — for left-handed students. And when we would switch sides, everyone else would be swapping and sharing their hockey sticks and ball gloves, but I needed to hold onto mine because I couldn’t use anyone else’s.
Being left-handed in today’s world is easier than it once was, but there are still times when someone hands over a paper to be signed to my right side, even though I’m holding a pen in my left hand. Or door knobs that turn the wrong way (for me). Most knives are sharpened for right-handed use, while electronics and power tools generally have the important switches and buttons on the right-hand side. Mostly, though, I just adapt and adjust on the fly.
A couple of years ago, I posted about Aug. 13 on my employer’s intranet site, noting how things have improved for left-handers and that there was more awareness of left-handed issues compared to my grandmother’s era, or even my uncle’s. Another employee, based in one of the corporate offices in India, responded how her young son had been displaying a tendency to use his left hand to reach and grasp and she and her husband were questioning if they should encourage his use of his left-hand or train him to be right-handed. She said while they were considering what to do, the son went back to using his right hand, to her relief.
It shouldn’t be that way. Having left-hand dominance is a natural phenomenon. Trying to make a left-hand dominant person right-handed is taking away part of their inherent identity.
I don’t remember what ever happened to the green-handled scissors I was given the first day of school when I was in first through fourth grade. I didn’t bring them home, and I don’t remember giving them back. But they represented badges of honor to my being left-handed.
And have some cake on Friday. Aug. 13 is a special day, International Left-Handers Day. Raise Awareness, Embrace the smudge.