Just now an old post by a friend made me think once again about my first fountain pen. I always envy those with vivid memories of the past; it’s something I’ve never had. Those people in my imagination have a mental scrap book with strong, saturated vignettes of their lives which they can flicker on some inner projection screen at will. In my case I have jerky, gauzy images that have to be willed to come to the forefront of my consciousness.
This is my grandfather’s house through a child’s eyes and a man’s sieve like recollections: Sheer curtains in the front room which channeled light into shafts that made suspended particles do a slow, delicate dance. Doilies, seemingly on every flat surface, yellowing as if that was a side effect of purposelessness. Velveteen armrests with the pile worn down to the backing like a taupe crew cut. Incandescent fixtures that somehow gave off less light than made sense. White enamel appliances that glowered at me with beady black knob eyes. A smell of oddly pleasant mustiness. A dark hall, its woodwork lightly coated with grease that had floated there from the kitchen. It was the physical manifestation of old to me when I’d scrape it off with my fingernails. And the big desk with an amazing sheen and smoothness that I loved to run my hand across over and over creating little banks of dust on either side of my finger’s path.
It was that big desk at the house on Cornwall Ave. that first made me think about fountain pens. On it was a glass inkwell and pen rest which made me wonder where the items were it was designed to support. Their absence created a void I wanted to fill and so on the next visit an inquiry was planned. I waited with the question as my grandfather slowly made his way to his favorite chair. He used a walker at the time and that journey was always an eternity to an impatient young boy. When he was finally settled I rushed up to him and simply asked the logical question “Grandpa, do you have any old fountain pens around?” This kind of pen was known to me since I had already asked the purpose of inkwells and had marveled how something could be so different from a ballpoint pen. I expected an affirmative answer from him, after all there was a huge pile of old junk around. Grandpa had always seemed to be the primary source of unfathomably odd ancient items accumulated in his work. Even in old age he continued to be a typewriter repairman, a job which seemed to be as palpably antique as the curio cabinet filled with dusty Dresden figurines in their crinoline finery. I was surprised when he told me, after a few seconds to take in the unexpectedness of the question, “Sorry, Tommy, I don’t have any of those now.” My certainty turned to confusion and resentment at that answer. The general discomfort children seem to harbor when faced with geriatric adults and their environs was within me and I felt my hopes for a pen to keep me occupied for the visit had just evaporated.
A week or two later my father came to me with a box. My Grandfather had kindly purchase me a blue Parker 45 fountain pen. It was what I had wanted but I wasn’t happy. In the interim I had visited a stationer and fell in love with a Parker 45 Flighter in stainless steel. Much like a magpie I was entranced by a shiny object. The subject of my displeasure was broached and action was taken to make the spoiled only child happy. Soon the blue pen was returned and I found myself in possession of my first fountain pen, all brushed stainless.
Eventually my Grandfather had a stroke and we bought a house in the suburbs where he could live with us. The big lacquered desk was moved to my room where I enjoyed sitting in it and pretending to be a businessman with my cards, files, and fountain pen, of course. That pen was eventually lost, although I don’t remember when or how, but the ink well and pen rest from my Grandfather’s still sits on a desk here fully populated. Years after that loss on a wedding anniversary my wife surprised me with another Parker 45 Flighter to replace the from my youth. Older and at least appearing wiser I don’t plan on this pen inadvertently leaving me again.