My Father’s 1930s Schaeffer Pen
This is a bit off-topic for the Sexual Immigrant theme, but as Braden is magnificently busy and there is no progress to report on our project, I thought I might share some unrelated thoughts.
Of late, I have been slow to rise in the mornings and having trouble accomplishing any but the most necessary of tasks. I could give any number of influences in this my somewhat dismal mood: the season of the year, the anniversary of trigger events related to my depression, election results; but I think a good part of it has been my brothers and I going through the last of my Mother’s things, the final half-dozen boxes packed with of pieces of her life.
Much of it was the impersonal day-to-day stuff – paperclips, pads of paper; much was part of her vast collection of tchotchkes – cute keychain fobs, ceramic cats, bits of costume jewelry pins and necklaces she seldom wore; there were two boxes of VHS tapes, some commercial, some which she’d used to record (with mixed success) shows on TV. The vast majority of this “stuff” was examined and added to the give-away pile. There were a few choice bits that evoked memories or were the occasion for a joke (a pocket pack of tissues with only one tissue left), and these we divided among ourselves as we shared stories or in-family references.
Most of the “important” items had been distributed when my sister was here after Mom’s death – wedding rings, a five-dollar gold piece she’d received from her father – so there was little left that carried truly strong emotional memories. That is, until we found a small cache of our Father’s special possessions – Masonic pins, his lifetime NRA membership pin, and more. I passed on most of the items, deferring to my brothers’ interests, until my Father’s old Schaeffer fountain pen rose to our attention. The pen is probably a decade or more older than me, a beautiful brown and black iridescent body and cap. I remembered using it to write reports for school, letters to friends, and my early attempts at stories and poetry. I had thought the pen had been lost in the nearly three decades since Dad’s death and had given it little thought until it reappeared that Saturday afternoon. I immediately laid claim to it. The writer in me had found a truly appropriate memento. I doubt that the ancient rubber bladder can be replaced to make the pen functional again, but it now lies in the warm light of my desk lamp, a connection to my Father, to my childhood, and to the florid outpourings of my teenage mind.
Of my single box of Dr. Seuss books, VHS tapes, cat knick-knacks, and some office supplies, Dad’s pen was the prized item. Holding it, I suddenly felt a heavy sadness filling my heart. When I die, the meaning of this piece of vintage plastic from the 1930s will likely die with me. It will be just a pretty pen that doesn’t work, and likely find itself in the trash – my memories along with it.
I know that we should not be attached to things, or animals, or each other, but we must make connections if we are to be alive, to love, to believe that we have had some value and purpose in our existence. There are billions of us human beings, the vast majority of whom live unassuming, quiet, unseen lives. We keep objects that evoke for us memories of those we have lost to death, dispute, or distance. I have a plastic red rose that I’ve managed to keep since 1967, a token of my role as Juliet in a high school talent show farce, and a reminder of my dear friend Jim Booth who played the rose vendor. To anyone else, it is a cheap piece of plastic. To me it speaks of my first public experience being the female I’d longed to be, my bold announcement to the world that this is who I am. It reminds me, too, of how I was only safe to do so in the context of a silly skit, that only in a joke was I able to share my true self. It was the best I could do, and I felt quite brave and triumphant in having been able to reveal myself, even if in such a closeted way. When someone goes through my “stuff” when I am dead, the rose I’ve kept for fifty years will have lost all its meaning, its power.
And that is what has made me feel sad. Those who remember my parents’ stories are fewer, and before too long, Dad’s pen will no longer be alive with the loving connections with which our family has imbued it. No one will take note of my rose as it makes its final arc into the trash bag. That is a tragic loss of infinitesimal proportions, repeated countless times each day for all the ordinary and quiet individuals on our planet. Most of us create little that will be remembered or valued, except by those whom we love and who love us. And when Dad’s pen becomes just a pen, the stories and the lives end.