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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Fountain Pen

 People often ask me why I write. I suppose the simplest and most honest answer now is ... because I need to. This piece is a little long. It was the first thing  that I wrote a couple years past when the writing all started up again.  I'll post on the topic over the next few weeks.
  Why we write is like the "first rung on the ladder." Come "climb up on the roof "with me.



 Long ago when I was a child, in a middle class, pleasant, southern neighborhood called Chantilly, I sat impatiently waiting on the front steps of my home. Crew cut and inquisitive I had discovered a box top offer on the back of some Sugar Smacks for a "fountain pen." (yes ... I am aware today that it was actually a "cartridge pen") New technology it was. You inserted small cylinders of ink into the pen. A probe drew the ink into the sharp, pointed tip.

   It reminded me of the quills the Founding Fathers used to pen our beliefs. It represented history tied to new ideas like a buckboard wagon with a gas motor attached to it. There was this wonderful blending. I was going to save the world with that pen you see. There were ideas and truths that must be told in order for mankind to move forward.

  Grown ups needed to heed the thoughts of our fresh and knowing young minds. They were messin’ things up somethin’ awful. I knew there were war and bad guys. The black and white television exploded with the harsh news of death and destruction. The daily newspaper, that infuriated my father, carried reams of murder, pestilence, disease and horror. Sirens sometimes wailed in the night. Evil lurked in the hearts of men and they needed to be reminded of a higher place. They needed to listen to a child’s comic book heroes. Do good deeds. Save the poor damsel in distress. Feed the hungry like Jesus did. Love your neighbor and be kind to the world.

I had told my mother that summer morning, “Momma, I’m gonna save up and get this fountain pen.”

“ Ok Honey. You do that. Though I can’t for the life of me see why a seven year old would want a fountain pen! Wouldn’t you rather save for a toy truck or something you could play with? ”

“No Momma. I NEED this pen!”

“ Ok Honey. You save those box tops and I’ll help with the mailing.”

 Somehow I felt that she didn’t think I would really follow through. Kids can be a little flighty you know. One day it’s this. The next day it’s something else. What she doesn’t understand is that George Washington and Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson all knew the real truth. “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

 Look what the Declaration of Independence had done. It had tumbled a world power like a line of dominoes on the Formica kitchen table. It had created a country like God made the universe. Like a chicken lays an egg. That pen had extolled the virtues of mankind and brought a king to his knees, not unlike a boxer knocking out his opponent, in the form of a few rag tag believers and by golly I was going to show the world how it was done. “Government by the people for the people.” I was going to pen my way into the hearts of America. I would write tomes to truth. I would tap dance my way into the hearts of mankind. Toot the horn of progress. Tiptoe through the remorse of the lonely. Tell the world in real time what the answer was til they were dancing on the rooftops!

 When I was done I would be famous and they would make me president because I was so smart. Then I would save the Indians., rub salve on the souls of the poor starving children, sing the praises of honor and duty, sign great treaties search the world for the deepest thinkers. I would shout to one and all that there is a path that we can all travel together. I yearned for the love of all mankind. I needed to believe that we could mesh our souls in a way that created a utopia of feelings. “Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!” “Hi Ho Silver … AWAY!”

 Well I want you to know I spotted that mailman way up the street striding down the Nessman’s driveway. They had three boys Tommy, Tony and Tyler. We all played together. “Today’s the day I just know it!” My heart began to palpitate more and more as that blue clad public servant grew in my vision until he was a giant “Jungle Jim” hard hat and a pair of high black stocking socks on huge, hairy legs and he was holding out a rectangular, white box to ME, a little boy mind you. I was receiving my first piece of mail and it had to be the fountain pen. I thought I would explode with glee.

 That darn box was a “booger’ to get open though. I don’t remember the mailman leaving. All I could see was that box as I worried it open. Then at last there it was! Just like they showed it on the box. Two inky cylinders and that beautiful brown and clear lacquered epistolary tool of the scribes. “Hot diggity dog!” I held it for a moment just feeling it in my little hand. It was smooth and elongated, orb like.

 Finally I had my very own fountain pen, my vehicle into the world! My uncles would sometimes pay me quarters to stop talking for fifteen minutes. I bet they’ll pay attention when I write a book. I just bet you when I’m famous they won’t be grinning that grown up “oh ain’t he funny” grin.

Well I want you to know that I just sat there on the white washed concrete steps in the shady front yard of Kingsbury Dr. admiring my new fountain pen. I could smell fresh mowed grass and the wet earth. Pine trees wafted like gooey cinnamon up my nose. I could hear the whippoorwills call happily. The steps felt cool under me in contrast to the warm, humid air until I was jolted back to reality as I heard a car door slam!

  I looked up from my reverie and there comes my Dad! Now I need to tell you just a little about my Dad. He was sort of a cross between Johnny Cash and John Wayne. When he walked into a room all the air just sucked right out of it. He could grin and everybody melted, frown and they froze. He was sort of good looking you see and had a booming voice. He always wore starched shirts and pressed pants. He stomped when he walked. If you were in the house it would cause all Momma’s little knick- knacks to tinkle and shake.

  I loved my Daddy but he could be plain mean sometimes so I generally tried to steer clear. Especially when he was just coming back in from a work trip, which is exactly what he was doing this day. He didn’t look any too happy either. “Hey Beau … how’s my little buddy doin’?’’ he drawled with that lazy grin.

 “Great Dad! Look at this fountain pen I got in the mail! I saved box tops and ordered it myself! “Ain’t it great?”

“Well Beau, (he always called me Beau you see) it certainly is a fine pen but I don’t think it’s such a good idea for such a little fella to have this kind of pen. You need a ballpoint I think. This thing breaks and you’ve got a mess that’ll never clean up. You’re liable to have an accident in the house and ruin the carpet or God only knows what.”

“But Dad that’s why I wanted it. It’s a grown up pen. I’ll be careful. I promise.”

“I don’t know son. I can’t believe your Momma would let you have such a thing … nothing but an accident waiting to happen. You let me have it for now. I’ll talk to your mother and we’ll see.”

 He reached out his great big ole hand and I couldn’t do a thing but hand over that pen. I want you to know that in that moment my heart broke right down the middle. He wasn’t just taking a pen he was punching me in the gut just like he had drawn back in meanness and let me have it.
  He stomped away that day around the house and out of sight and I sat there on those white washed concrete steps and felt the hot tears stream down my red, flushed and freckled face. My blood rose to a fever pitch as it pounded in my temples and I hated him like a bull hates red, like a tiger hates fire, like a preacher hates sin. My heart raced and my knees went weak. I changed a little in that moment. I never saw that pen again and I never forgot how easily dreams could be taken away.

I’ve got twin boys now. They are truly a gift from God. Sometimes I can be real grouchy and say things in a way I wish I had just kept quiet. I try to remember though that a little boy’s dreams are just as deep and just as intertwined in their hearts as our grown up dreams are. I try to remember to say I’m sorry and admit promptly when I'm wrong.

 I hope I’m doing ok. I hope and pray that I've never taken away their dream. My Dad is gone now. He died a few years ago. I loved him and sometimes I miss him bad … but he should have never taken away that pen.

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