Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Secret Life of a Fountain Pen Aficionado - Part One

Few of my friends and acquaintances know about my penchant for fountain pens.  I don't bore them with the knowledge since most people today have no interest in fountain pens.  Young people don't know what they are.  But my memories of fountain pens go way back.

According to the dictionary, "a man of letters" is one who is devoted to literary  activities.  By this definition, my mother was definitely "a woman of letters."  She was an avid reader and always preferred big, thick novels about families and old houses.  She had a beautiful handwriting and was a gifted writer.  She kept a journal all of her life until a stroke took away her ability to write.  She persisted for a while after the stroke, but eventually stopped.  Her last poignant journal entry is an unrecognizable scrawl that trails off in mid-sentence, never to be resumed.  My mother died eleven years ago, and I still can't look at that last journal entry without weeping.

When I was a child, my parents' gift to most high school graduates who sent them an announcement was an Esterbrook desk fountain pen exactly like the one Mama used.  I was usually with her when she made her annual trip to the office supply in downtown Panama City, Florida, to purchase these gifts.  The pen base was formed in a rounded shape.  It was heavy and shiny black.  The pen was black except for the end opposite the writing nib.  This end was tapered to a point and made of clear plastic.  It looked like crystal, or so I thought at the time.

An Esterbrook desk pen symbolized adulthood to me.  I understood perfectly that children did not use fountain pens.  My mother firmly believed that one person should not use another person's fountain pen.  She thought that in time, a fountain pen adjusts itself to the angle at which the writer holds it.  A different writer, holding the pen at a different angle, might spoil the pen for its owner.  Mama thought it was bad manners to ask to borrow someone's fountain pen.

Mama's desk pen always held Sheaffer's "Peacock Blue" ink.  It was her trademark.  It's a turquoise blue, or maybe "aqua" describes it better.  It may have reminded Mama of the gorgeous aqua color of the Gulf of Mexico - an appropriate ink color for the many letters dispatched from Panama City to relatives in the mountains of West Virginia.

By the time I was a teenager, the annual pilgrimages to the office supply had stopped.  I didn't think much about it at the time.  Like most teenagers, my attention was focused on my own affairs, and I had ceased to accompany my mother on her errands.  I have learned since that Esterbrook stopped making fountain pens sometime during the 1950s.  And that, of course, explains why I did not receive an Esterbrook desk pen when I graduated from high school in 1964.

to be continued . . .

No comments: