As Granny said, mind your ascenders and descenders

“Kehheth” had some problems with his ascenders when learning to write as a child, leaving evidence on the wall.

Anyone who has ever worked in a printing shop, or who has helped teach a youngster learn how to print the alphabet, knows the importance of minding your Ps and Qs. And your Bs and Ds, for that matter. Those descenders and ascenders can cause a load of grief to the inattentive.

I know this from painful personal experience. The first spanking I remember receiving (back in those antediluvian days before corporal punishment was banished from the parental bag of disciplinary tricks), involved just such inattention to detail. Memory tells me it was a Saturday morning in 1949, the year I turned six years old.

The walls in our rectory kitchen were painted a pleasant apple green. The oil-based paint was unnecessarily glossy, but it offered would-be graffiti artists an excellent surface for self-expression.

It seemed particularly suited to darker colours, such the prussian blue in the 48-piece set of “drawing crayons” the good folks at Crayola introduced that year. (That inky colour has since been renamed the less-inspired midnight blue.)

It all began when Mom came downstairs early to prepare her daily infliction of porridge on the seven ravenous members of the clan. There, slightly above and to the left of the stove top, was irrefutable evidence of a criminal act. A name. My name. Boldly printed in prussian blue on the shiny, apple- green surface.

The presumed miscreant was swiftly roused from his bed, summarily judged guilty, and duly punished by a few hearty smacks from a wooden spoon that should, by rights, have been otherwise occupied stirring oatmeal.

It’s a rebuke that still stings 70 years later. Not on my butt, but in my mind.

What stings most is not the long-ago tanning of my nether region, but the gross injustice it entailed. I had been charged, tried and condemned for a crime of someone else’s doing. I made no tearful confession. There were no eye-witnesses. The entire case hinged on circumstantial evidence alone.

Yes, I was learning how to print at the time, and eager to practice doing so on every possible occasion. Even then, it seems, I harboured ambitions of becoming a writer and leaving my mark on the world.
But I was not the author of this heinous deed.

Even now, I remain convinced that one of my three older siblings framed me, with diabolical effect, by capitalizing on a quirk in my printing style at the time. What swayed the jury was the incontrovertible fact that my name in prussian blue on that apple-green wall included slight ascenders on the middle two letters.

Instead of ‘Kenneth’, it read ‘Kehheth’. Ouch.

To this day, I always mind my Ps and Qs. But I especially mind my Ns.

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