Left-handers have tough life

Sunday, March 20, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:31 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Editor’s note: This is one of Sharon’s favorite columns from the archives.

When my parents discovered that I — their first-born daughter — was left-handed, they were aghast. (I’ve always wanted to use that word.) There had never been a left-hander on either side of the family for as far back as anyone could remember.

My mother, a nurse, sought counsel by reading everything she could on this family anomaly. She found her answer in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

When I was much older she let me read the article. The bottom line (once I waded through all the medical jargon) was that my penchant for using the wrong hand was the result of brain damage at birth.

She tried to make me feel better by naming several famous people who were also left-handed. Big deal, I thought; it’s not like I could call them to ask how they dealt with everyday life.

Mom attempted to teach me the ways of a young woman, but I threaded the needle with the wrong hand and pointed the handles of the pots the wrong way. So I was relegated to the ironing board. Never mind that I set the iron on the pointed end of the board — she didn’t care about that as long as there were 20 items pressed by the end of the day.

The nuns weren’t as kind. I think in nun school they were taught that only right-handed people make it to heaven. Sister Inez Marie always murmured something about saving my eternal soul as she whacked my knuckles with a ruler. (And you thought that was a myth.) All their efforts failed (I never made above a C in penmanship). But at least I don’t write upside down or slanted to the left.

Once I got to high school, the first course I wanted to take was typing. I figured that because typing is a skill requiring both hands, I’d be on a level playing field with my right-handed classmates. Wrong! The typing table had a fold-down extension where we placed our typing manuals. It was on the right side. When I tried to move the typewriter over so I could put the book on the left side, my teacher said I was destroying public property. I dropped the class.

I have taken two learn-to-sew classes. You may think a sewing machine is ambidextrous, but for some illogical reason, I keep the lever in reverse. I put all the material in front of the machine and sew toward me. My sewing instructors didn’t applaud my creativity. Both times I flunked the course.

And whoever invented the spiral notebook was not only right-handed, but also had a vendetta against lefties. At least with a three-ring binder I can remove the paper when I need to write. With the spiral I have a choice: begin each sentence in the middle of the page or turn the notebook upside down and take notes beginning with the last page.

The simple chore of peeling potatoes is no easy task for the left-handed minority. I have to peel toward my body for the darn thing to work. Oh, they make what is called a universal peeler, but the metal stripper leans to the right. So I spend most of the time fiddling with the head of the peeler. I’ve tried using a paring knife, but there’s not much left of the vegetable when I’m finished.

You right-handed people take little things such as scissors for granted. If I use the device the way it is manufactured, I literally chew through the paper. I have to turn the scissors upside down for the blade to cut properly. That means my thumb is stuck in the hole meant for the first finger.

All instructions for crocheting are written for right-handed people. As an afterthought, most instructions read “Left-handers should place the crochet hook in their left hand and do the opposite of what the instructions say.” HUH?

I learned to play softball using a right-handed glove. I didn’t know at the time they made gloves for the left hand. But it really didn’t make any difference; I still throw like a girl. And I’m a switch hitter. Yep, I can stand on either side of the plate and still not hit the ball.

I never believed all that stuff about brain damage at birth. I even produced my own little left-hander (he was a breach baby). The good news is he has someone who has learned the ropes in this right-handed world, and though he doesn’t know it, his life has been a little easier.

If you have comments or know of a catalog for lefties, please e-mail me at

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