Fountain pens, I do not miss

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Flipping through the channels searching for something to watch, (why I feel a need to search for something rather then turning off the television is another column) I stumbled onto a rerun of “The Waltons,” a show I watched when it was on network television. So walking onto memory lane, I put down the remote and revisited the clan on Walton’s mountain.

The episode opened with John Boy waiting while his teacher read something he’d written. She told him it was a wonderful piece of writing and encouraged him to submit it to a magazine for publication. He took her suggestion and in the next scene, he was meticulously copying the story.

That is when the storyline sent me off on a storyline of my own because to recopy his story John Boy used a fountain pen, and that stirred up a bunch of memories.

“Remember learning to write with a fountain pen,” I asked my husband who nodded. “I wonder if kids still learn that in school.”

I think I was in seventh grade when I had my fountain pen experience. That was one of the things on our supply list that year, along with plastic ink cartridges. I wonder if they still sell those.

Thank goodness, the pen used cartridges and was not the kind you filled with ink from a bottle. I had enough of a challenge without adding learning to suck ink into the pen. More than a few times, I ended up with inky fingers and dots splattered on the front of my shirt when I changed cartridges.

After carefully fitting the cartridge into the pen, it was time to write or to attempt to make letters that didn’t look like blots that dared you to guess what they were supposed to be. It took talent to find the proper pressure to exert on the writing tip to get the correct flow onto the page.

Push too hard and the dot above a lower case “I” dotted several letters on either side. Not enough pressure and you needed a magnifying class to find the dot. Press down too much and the period at the end of a sentence soaked through to the paper underneath.

It was a delicate dance to find the sweet spot that produced readable writing, much less what our teacher, Mrs. Baker, called good penmanship. And just when you found it and letters flowed gracefully onto the page, the ink ran out and you were back to square one.

The entire process from inserting the cartridge to placing the final period required patience and focus, which was probably as much a part of the lesson as making correctly shaped letters.

My mind shifted back to Walton’s mountain as John Boy read a letter from the magazine stating they did not accept handwritten submissions. So the rest of the show was about him borrowing and then losing the Baldwin sisters’ prize typewriter that once belonged to their papa.

It ended with another letter in response to his typed submission. No, it wasn’t accepted, but it wasn’t completely rejected either — just labeled as “not right at this time.” John Boy declared he’d continue to write and as always, the show ended with the usual rounds of goodnights.

Later I thought about the changes since days when a typewriter was a luxury and writers struggled through with a fountain pen. I’m happy those days are gone.

Still, I think learning to focus and to slow down in order to produce desired results was good. I’m thankful for the gift of that experience. However, I am as happy as the Baldwin sisters sipping a glass of Papa’s recipe on a clear Walton’s mountain day that I have a computer and not a fountain pen with which to write this column.