Thursday, October 02, 2008

Through their eyes: Name your poison (er...) pen

Fountain Pens vs. the Parker T-Ball Jotter

If you've listened to Ol' Myrt's podcasts or read my blog for years, you'll note that frequently I'm prone to say something like "looking at a typical
day-in-the-life of our ancestor is jaded by our 21st century mindset."
Then I usually joke about how my grandchildren don't know what life is like without color TV, microwaves, cell phones and computers.

Well, today I had a conversation about India Ink with my youngest daughter that hit me square between the eyes. (She is the mother of two of my precious grandchildren.) Ol' Myrt here realizes there indeed is a generation gap between us, despite all our best intentions.

Carrie just simply didn't know what on earth India Ink is, or why I should even be discussing it. She knows I've visited about 12 overseas countries, but to her knowledge India isn't one of them. Though I used India Ink in art class to create illuminated manuscripts, my father used it in some of his early course work in the elementary grades -- another sign of a generation gap, eh?

Carrie had only HEARD of fountain pens, but had never seen one in real life. She simply couldn't believe my 5th and 6th grade Laurelhurst Elementary School (in Seattle, Washington) teachers wouldn't allow us to use those new-fangled "ball point pens." (How I loved being "allowed" to use the then hi-tech Parker T-Ball Jotter similar to the 1959 version, pictured at right, when I moved to Rockville, Maryland and attended Fernwood Elementary for the remainder of 6th grade.) But I digress.

Carrie and I laughed that this old time pen discussion made it sound like I'd grown up in the dark ages.

Things have changed since the initial blue or black & silver T-Ball Jotters were offered to my generation for $1.95 in the late 1950s. I don't know much about the pen's history before that, though I am sure Google would provide some interesting points of reference. Nowadays, you can buy a snazzy, supped up, 2008 version of the T-Ball Jotter, in chartreuse no less, for only $6.15 plus shipping.

Back to the story about fountain pens. Seizing every opportunity for history and genealogy lessons, Ol' Myrt here explained to my daughter that we young students, in the olden days, were forced to walk up hill both ways to school through blinding snows and sheets of rain. When we were finally allowed to use anything more powerful than a #2 pencil, it HAD to be a "fountain" and not a "cartridge" pen.

Our teachers were VERY clear on the matter. We had to manage a bottle of fountain pen ink (not as thick as India Ink) and learn to maneuver the little lever on the side of our fountain pens to draw the ink up through the gills on the reverse side of the pen point to fill the reservoir. When writing compositions, things could get tricky whenever our fountain pens ran out of ink.

You could tell the upper classmen at our elementary school not just by their sheer size, but by the ink stains on their fingers from hours of writing with said fountain pens.

My 4th grade teacher, Miss Hagen explained that good penmanship wasn't
just about forming letters in a readable format, but about not leaving smears of ink on the page. She graded us accordingly.

With the arrival of ink cartridges for our pens, life as good penmanship students got easier. We merely had to remove one empty plastic cartridge, and insert a new one. Our pens were ready to write another few thousand words before the next refill cartridge was required. OK, so I admit all those discarded plastic ink cartridges are in fact the literal foundation of our world's land-fill issues.

What sorts of memories can you share with the youngsters in your life about how things were different when you were young? Like how we didn't lock our doors, in case someone needed to borrow a cup of sugar while we were away on vacation.

Or how about that bell on the ice cream man's truck? It could be heard 22.5 miles away by any kid worth his salt in the late 1950s. In my case, that heads-up bell ringing left plenty of time for wearing mom down for an extra dime or two so my brother Mike and I could make a refreshing purchase by the time the truck arrived on our corner. He liked red Popsicles, but I preferred those orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream "Dixie Cups" with the little wooden spoons.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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© 2008 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved. This and previous blog entries are fully searchable by going to Myrt welcomes queries and research challenges, but regrets she is unable to answer each personally.