(A quick note to the Company Girls: All three segments of “Sparks” are posted; you can find them by searching for Sparks to the right.)
October, early 1960s: The Perfectionist. Five-year-old Janice regards the big sheet of paper taped to the chalkboard, and clutches her black crayon tightly. Weeks of drawing flags, balls and houses in kindergarten have led up to Today. Today we are learning to Write.
Janice steals one more look at the “little a” in the colorful alphabet strip pinned up above the chalkboard. A round circle, with a straight up-and-down line that just touches its right-hand edge. Taking a deep breath, Janice begins. Within eight or ten seconds, she has made a fairly passable circle about six inches across.
Now for the up-and-down line. It needs to be as tall as the circle; but where do you start it so it just touches the edge? She squints at the vast white space and picks a spot at the upper right. Janice draws the line, more or less straight down. It gets closer to the circle… and misses the edge by a good half inch.
Brows puckered with all the concentration of an engineer designing the Golden Gate Bridge, Janice draws another circle. This time she traces an imaginary line with her finger, up from the edge, to find a better starting point for the up-and-down line. Straight down, aaaand… oh, no! Too close! This line crosses through the edge of the circle! Blowing out her cheeks in frustration, Janice looks up at the perfect “little a” in the alphabet strip. How, she wonders, does anyone ever manage to write a whole book?
Fast-forward 40 years: Mom is checking 14-year-old Greg’s Algebra homework. “Hey Greg, what is this capital ‘L’ for in your answer to Problem 3?” she asks. “‘L’ isn’t one of the variables.”
“That’s not an ‘L’, it’s a ‘2’!”
“Well, it looks like a capital ‘L’ because the top doesn’t curve over. See? If you make your 2s curved at the top, people will know they’re 2s and not Ls.”
“It’s in a math problem. Anyone can figure out it’s a number, not a letter.”
“But why make people guess? Just curve the top of the 2 over, and they can read it.”
“That’s how I make 2s.”
“But it isn’t a 2 unless the top is curved over!”
Summer, the following year: Mom smiles approvingly at Greg’s older brother Eric, who has finally got busy addressing thank-you cards for his high school graduation gifts. She picks up an envelope and a puzzled look crosses her face. “Eric, there’s an “S” in the middle of this ZIP Code.”
“That’s not an “S” — it’s a 5…”
It’s a wonder we even recognize our children, looking at them from clear across the gene pool like that.
Thanks for reading!