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The Jenkins Group released these survey results recently.

-33% of high school graduates never read a book after graduation
-42% of college graduates never read a book after graduation
-80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year
-70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years
-57% of new books are not read to the last page

Yet, 80% of American adults want to write a book.

The math doesn’t add up.

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TALK TO YOUR FINGERS

“Talk to your fingers,” was Mrs. Van Der Veer’s credo. She said it with such passion it became a catch phrase outside the classroom.  But she embraced her subject like a symphony. Frieda Van Der Veer taught typing. Like a orchestra conductor she strode around the room pumping her hands, wrists straight, with fingers doing a dance on an imaginary keyboard as we tried to keep up with her rhythm. Staccato, even strokes would grow from painfully slow into allegro with practice we were assured. Sometimes I’d get ahead of myself and work my fingers into a crescendo, a crescendo of miss-hit keys, knocking 5 words per minute off my score for each one.   

Her sweetness and innocence were disarming and the few boys in class weren’t sure how to handle her.  Most of the boys took typing hoping for an easy A.  They were not serious about getting to the head of the typing pool and sometimes got bored. On one such day, Johnny thrust his arm in the air and said, “Mrs. Van Der Veer, can Mac and Joe and I go over to Buncy’s and kill weeds?” We all laughed at that. All except Mrs. Van Der Veer.

“How sweet of you, ” she said, smiling her beatific smile, “Poor old Mr. Buncy works hard keeping his store open to sell you pencils, paper and candy, but he’s too old to pull weeds.” The room became quiet and I cut my eyes to non-verbally ask Pat, in the next desk if the teacher was putting us on. Mrs. Van Der Veer toddled back to her desk and began writing.

“Well, come on!” she waved the passes in the air while the stunned boys scooted sheepishly to the front of the classroom.  I’m not sure what they did with their free time, but I would guess they did “kill weeds” over at Mr. Buncy’s. I can only hope the bitter taste turned them off tobacco for good.

But back to what Mrs. Van Der Veer did best, make typists of us. Academic competitions were coming up and the best typists would get to go out of town to measure their skills against students from all over South Texas. I hoped I had a shot at it, and worked hard in our trials. My best scores topped out at over 100 wpm, and averaged in the 90’s.  I must interject here that we were using manual typewriters, old Underwoods like the ones you see in historic displays. Several of us hit that peak. The teacher was elated. So, we went on the bus, had a glorious day, got to hobnob with top science and math students and began to feel a little inferior. But when the time came, Mrs. Van Der Veer gave us her proud smile and reminded us to “talk to our fingers” and we would do just fine. The timing bell went off and we began to attack the strange material. My fingers wouldn’t listen, they began to crecsendo, hit all the wrong notes just to be beating out a rhythm. No other fingers listened either. We came in dead last. Our speed was incredible, but with 5 wpm deducted for each mistake, we looked bad. Mrs. Van Der Veer deserved more.

 So where ever you are, Mrs. Van Der Veer, you should know that I sit here fifty-four years later talking to my fingers on a computer keyboard and the strokes are even and mostly accurate and speedy, very speedy. They are something else, too; they fly at the speed of the Internet and now people all over the world  listen when I talk to my fingers. I hope that compensates in some way for us letting you down.

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