“None of us can have as many virtues as the fountain-pen, or half its cussedness; but we can try” – Mark Twain
There was a small article on fountain pens on page 194 of the September 2006 issue of Oprah Magazine. I saved it because it reminded me of my late husband. Will loved pens. In general he hated shopping unless it was for a new pen or Pittsburgh Steelers paraphernalia. He would tease me about my Target addiction and only reluctantly would he actually accompany me, but he rarely left there without a new pen.
He didn’t write much in his line of work. Mainly he took orders and filled out inventory files, but he insisted on having a good pen with which to do these things. Before his illness took its vicious hold of him, he had printer perfect block letter penmanship, and his cursive was small and impossibly neat. He would leave yellow post-it notes for me on the kitchen table with short utilitarian messages and “I Love You’s” whenever he left the house and knew I would get home before he could get back.
But he did write once upon a time. There are three or four pieces of lined notebook paper with poems he wrote when he was just starting college that I have saved. They reflect a rough time in his life. A good friend of his had just committed suicide and the younger brother of one of his close friends had killed himself around the same time as well. The poems are dark and painful. He shared them with me one day not long after we were married. He had been to his mom’s to clean out his old room and discovered them in an notebook. He had wanted to throw them away. He didn’t think they were very good, and they reminded him of the day when he had almost committed suicide himself. I convinced him to save them. I am not yet sure if I am glad I did. I don’t know much about that time of his life beyond what he told me. But right now I am not able to throw away anything I come across that he wrote.
I even saved a letter that former girlfriend wrote him a few months before we were married. She was a foreign exchange student he met in high school and their correspondence spanned about 7 or eight years. He stopped writing to her after we became a couple. Not because I asked him to but because he considered her a chapter in his life that was closed. She wrote a few more times before she reappeared about two months before our wedding expecting him to be free to pick up their on/off more romantic on his side than hers relationship. I think something about seeing she and I together made him finally realize that he had been used. I don’t know what she thought. The letter represents another time in his life I don’t know much about either. I realize now that there were a lot of things about him I didn’t know.
Periodically Will would initiate a shopping trip strictly for the purpose of acquiring new pens. He would normally purchase several at a time because as a route salesman he knew that they would eventually be left at a stop, lost in the seat of the truck, or drop from his pocket as he loaded and unloaded his cube van. I still have his favorite one. It’s maroon and black and though it doesn’t work very well anymore, I can’t throw it away. Like the poems and that stupid letter from the spoiled little Dutch girl.
Our daughter seems to have inherited his love of writing utensils though she loves mechanical pencils just as much as she loves pens. Will didn’t like pencils at all. He even balanced his checkbook in ink. We are forever collecting pencils and pens now. Her favorites tend to be girly with sparkles and feathers. It never ceases to amaze me how much she is like him when she never really knew the man that I fell in love with. He was long gone by the time she was born. She only ever knew her father as a sick man. Confused. Frail. And then wheelchair and bed-bound. Finally unable to talk, see, feed himself. “Daddy never talks to me,” she would say when I asked her if she would like to visit him in the nursing home where he spent over a year of the last fifteen months of his life.
The pen I saved is one she uses sometimes though often she will decline to use it because “that’s Daddy’s.” It’s funny the little things that pull up memories you forgot you even remembered. Articles in Oprah, god would he have laughed about that, and fountain pens.