The Left-Handers Guide to Getting Behind

This is Discover Prompts #6 for April 6 on the word Hands. Something about needing and then getting a root canal slowed me down. But I’m on the mend now.

I’m a left-hander. My brother was a left-hander. My paternal grandmother was a left-hander. I know that my grandmother bowled left-handed in Ohio. She was a good bowler, and bowling is practically the national pastime in Ohio, or was back in the day. My brother was a pure left-hander as well. And I, proudly, carry the left-handed trait forward. However, my left-handedness was interrupted by an uninformed though well-meaning grandmother who believed in a right-handed world.

My teachers all tried to get me to write with a pencil like a right-hander, with the pencil eraser pointing over my shoulder. That doesn’t quite work for left-handers. We turn our hand around and point the pencil eraser away from us so we can actually see what we are writing rather than have our hand cover up the words while we are writing them. I’m sure you’ve seen a left-hander with the page turned diagonally and his or her arm twisted around, elbow flung out, just to write. And then the edge of the hand that sits on the desk runs over our writing, so we get pencil smear or pen glop all over the side of our hand and smear the writing on the page, too.

My grandmother wanted me to adjust well to life and was a constant companion early. So she taught me how to use scissors with my right hand (“it’s a right-handed world!”). Turns out scissors can be right or left-handed, depending on the edge of the blade and the angle of holding them. Also, she taught me how to throw a ball, with my right hand. Now in my head, I was processing everything left-handed, so it seemed weird to throw with my right hand. But that was my formative experience. In baseball, I can bat left or right handed, but I can only throw right handed and catch left-handed. Turns out, with ball sports where I must throw, and in soccer where I kick the ball, I do so right-handed (or footed).

But racket sports I play left-handed – golf, ping-pong, tennis, racquetball – I play all left-handed. I started learning to bowl left-handed, when I was in a league as a young junior high schooler. Being left-handed in bowling is an advantage because the lanes aren’t worn down as much on the left side because there are more right handed bowlers. But I punched a neighbor kid at school. As I flung at him with my left-hand, he was running away and he turned his back and I caught him on the scapula with the pinky of my left hand. The punch snapped the bone in my hand cleanly in two. By that evening, my hand swelled up and I could move only the tip of my finger – “No, Dad, I’m fine. See? I can move my finger!”

Well, the next day I went to an orthopedist and got a cast that I wore for 6-8 weeks, one of those new-fangled fiberglass casts that could get wet. As I was taking a bath one day, since baths were easier than showers with a cast, I forgot and saw my arm floating in the water. Sure, you could get the fiberglass cast wet, but it soaked into the inner lining and took 3 hours to blow dry. To leave it wet would have destroyed the skin inside. Obviously, I didn’t swm for the next 6-8 weeks either. But the point is, now with a cast on my left hand, I had to relearn to bowl right handed. I still do a pretty good job bowling, but I miss bowling left-handed. I bowl left-handed in my head, but I’m uncoordinated with my footing to actually bowl that way.

I was also in Pony league baseball at the time, and with a cast on my arm, came up to bat. The opposing manager, who used to be my next door neighbor until they moved away, appealed the game saying I shouldn’t be used in the game (we would have lost due to not enough players if I didn’t play). His son (my former friend) was pitched. Kenny was headed for the Majors and I was a lousy player but loved the game. He threw a wicked curve ball that sent me bailing into the dirt every time (I got hit with the ball so many times that standing at the plate was a lesson in terror for me.) But this time, with my cast on my arm, I actually fouled the ball off for the first time all season and ultimately drew a walk.

I still write and eat with my left-hand, and while I consider myself left-handed, my right hand and arm are stronger. I do consider myself more ambidextrous than just mono-handed.

I don’t think righties actually give much thought to their handedness like lefties do. We’re a persecuted minority, of about 10% of the population, with a high degree of genius status. The word “sinister” (defined: “giving the impression that something harmful or evil is happening or will happen”) comes into English through Old French “sinistre” and ultimately from Latin, from the word Latin word “sinister” meaning “left.”

There is nothing sinister about being a genius left-hander in a right-handed world. And I’m proud of my left-handed roots.

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