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Home arrow Features arrow Living Well arrow The secrets of shorthand

The secrets of shorthand

By LISA BRITTON

Baker City Herald

Vera Bond stacks Steno books on the couch, then picks one up and flips the cover open to one of the 80 pages.

It's filled with nonsensical scribbles — at least to the untrained eye.

"It's kind of fun to do something no one else can read," she says.

The swoops and swirls are shorthand, a skill that seems to be lost in today's world of mini-recorders, computers and voice recognition software.

Bond, 91, learned shorthand when she was a sophomore at Haines High School. She first saw the strange symbols on a chalkboard because a shorthand class preceded her period of English.

Mrs. Romig taught shorthand.

"She could write it so beautifully," Bond says.

Shorthand uses symbols for the sounds of words.

"You don't spell it, you sound it," Bond says.

Bond took to shorthand right away, and found it was a perfect way to keep a diary no one could read.

She didn't anticipate, years later, that her children would learn the technique.

"I thought I was safe, then my girls learned shorthand and got a hold of it," Bond laughs.

She graduated from Haines High in 1933, and married Herb Bond that same year.

"I moved away. I moved to Baker," she says with a smile.

Her notebooks and pens came too — she never has liked pencils very much — and she kept practicing shorthand whenever she could.

"I bet I've written my name ten thousand million times, and I used to write down lyrics," she says.

She prefers the songs of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby to the tunes of today.

"Now I can't understand what they're saying," she says. "I guess they don't want us old folks to know what they're saying."

Over the years, Bond has used her shorthand skills to take minutes for meetings at Baker United Methodist Church. After about 20 years, though, she has now given up the job of recording the discussions of the church board and the United Methodist Women.

"I finally decided I'd let someone else take over," Bond says.

She still, however, records meetings of her circle — a small group of women who perform various church duties. Each circle has monthly responsibilities within the workings of the church.

Her daily religious devotionals also give her another way to practice shorthand. Each morning, Bond reads a page of the "The Upper Room," which has a Bible verse, a short writing, then a prayer and a thought for the day.

Bond copies this devotion word for word into her Steno notebook. It takes her about three months to fill every single page.

"I kill two birds with one stone — practice my religion and practice my shorthand at the same time," she says.

To demonstrate, she picks up a notebook and traces a finger along a line of symbols.

She reads: "Life is like a tree planted by steams of water."

Then she skips a line: "God gave me a gift."

She pauses, and frowns a little.

"It's easier right after you write it," she says.

Bond didn't really use shorthand for work — then again, she was 50 before she took a job with the Bureau of Reclamation.

"I was sitting here eating soda crackers and watching soap operas. I thought, ‘Holy cow, I have a few years left.'"

She'd attended Baker Business College prior to that, and had taken a civil service exam that described her as clerk steno.

For her, that's about all the college was helped her with.

"I knew how to type, I knew my English and my arithmetic," she says. "But they did give me the civil service exam."

She worked for the Bureau during the construction of Mason Dam.

"I always say I typed the dam," she says with a smile.

After the dam project, Bond went to work for the Forest Service. She retired in 1981 at the age of 65.

"We started out with a Smith typewriter and ended up with computers," she says.

Those computers, though, didn't much resemble those of today.

"They had a computer room and disks — great big disks," she says.

The printers also left much to be desired.

"Every once in a while they'd flare up and ink would go every place," she says.

She never really used shorthand for work, though she'd have preferred it over transcribing from the Dictaphones.

"They'd talk and talk and talk and then you'd have to type it," she says.

She practices shorthand every morning for some mental exercises.

"It's just a hobby, really," she says. "I've done it so long, it's like ordinary writing."

Sometimes she even slips into the symbolic script while writing actual words.

"Every once in a while when I'm writing I got into shorthand without thinking about it."

The shorthand keeps her busy, as do the many, many baby blankets she crochets.

"If you don't keep accomplishing something, you might as well die," she says with a shrug and a smile.

That's why it took her three years and 10 days to finish crocheting a king-sized bedspread.

"I started and wondered if I'd live long enough to finish it. Then I was afraid to finish it — I was afraid I'd die," she says with a laugh.

She needn't have worried.

"It's been done two years now," she smiles.

 
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