Friday, July 25, 2014


     Before there was digital social networking––YouTube, Skype, Facebook, or Instagram there was vintage social networking––Brownie Kodak moments, letters, and postcards. I arrive at this as I finished the scrapbook of treasured memories from our Colorado River Rafting trip through the Cataract Canyon last year about this time. In the bag of ticket stubs, photos, clipped local headlines, and other talismans of that stupendous experience (please see Pot o'Gold), I included a small bag of postcards gathered up from a lunch experience. The out-of-the-way food spot sold delicious food, but also an array of local vintage "stuff." After riffling through a collection of utilitarian finds, I found two deep (length) boxes with postcards. Postcards rubber-banded to distinguish one cache from another. Postcards from separate families, all written upon and stamped. All addressed to various Moab, UT, addresses. Postcards containing familial, and not-familial news. Postcards that measured the passage of lives and time (from the 1960s through the 1970s). 
     I scooped up four collections, glad for the richness that had fallen like golden apples into my lap. I would have to dissect the cards after the afternoon hike, and stuffed them into my backpack.
     Later that night in the hotel room after a shower. I retrieved and pored over them. The postcards gave me a window into someone else's life––or lives. Their postage rates  ranged from 4c to an astronomical 13c. All cards were written in cursive penmanship. Several held a continued story.
Y. P. Renfro
     I remembered a short story, "Splendid, Silent Sun," by Yelizaveta P. Renfro published in Glimmer Train Stories, the summer of 2010. The story is told through a slew of postcards––tight, offbeat, compelling, and as written the story is told through the medium of a series of postcards, a tad longer than would have fit on a standard postcard. But it works nicely––nicely enough that I haven't been able to dislodge this featured story from my reading memory.
     Around the same time that I read the above, I also read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It's a novel and not a short story, and as such uses the medium of letters to propel the tale of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, and of a society on the island that copes in a decidedly different way with its predicament.
     While moving through my days, I'm thinking what I can do with a collection of postcards from Utah from various people who have longed passed, but who have left snippets of their lives in my hands. I'm working on it. I'm working on it. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fountain Pen Show

Miami Pen Show
     I was once asked by a blind date, "If your house was on fire, what would you save from it?" I wasn't sure where he intended to go with this, and after a few more Rorschach-type questions, I decided an early evening was in order.
     At times, that date's question surfaced in my mind. As you can imagine, my "go-in-and-get" list varied over the years. It's a mark of maturity (some would say values!) how this list has evolved, which brings me to a constant on that list––fountain pens.

     Fountain pens were the de rigueur instruments for writing in my elementary-school years, and considered vital for mastering the loops and slants of the Palmer Handwriting Method. In penmanship class, I was taught to copy and perfect a slanted style of cursive writing with rhythmic motions focusing on shoulder and arm movement.
     Ballpoint pens soon became the rage, and fountain pens were passé. They were perceived as old-fashioned, inconvenient, and non-disposable.
     Unlike a ballpoint, however, a fountain pen can have a life of more than one hundred years (you read that right!), adapting itself to one's personal writing style. In fact, they should never be given to another person to write with because a high-quality nib (the pen point that releases contained ink)
can be compromised. This is even more important if the person borrowing the pen writes with the opposite hand.

     Memory and sentiment were pinched one afternoon while shopping in a stationery store. I stood in front of a glass case containing more than a dozen fountain pens from Sheaffer, Parker, Waterman, and Pelikan––makers of the pens I used in elementary school. I was transfixed as the newsreel of former cursive-writing days flashed before me. Clips of the expressive penmanship of older relatives accompanied this as did the the feeling of comfort from the barrel resting between my fingers, the effortless writing (a fountain pen trains one to write with a light pressure, and is much less tiring than a ballpoint, rollerball, or pencil). There is a personalness that enters your life with owning a fountain pen that cannot be found in any other pen type.
     Loose lips might sink ships, but for me it was a bonanza. I spoke to friends of my find and we shared our fascination with this writing instrument. Lo and behold––that Christmas I received a Parker 75. I was ecstatic. I began to carry and use it everywhere. I loved its weight, the fluid movement caused by the flow of ink across paper, and was convinced that's all I needed for my life's happiness. That is until fountain-pen collecting took hold of my senses.
     Different pens began to capture my imagination. I married and soon converted my husband into a fountain-pen user. We began to attend pen shows, or seek out pen stores in cities we visited. Fountain pen barrels have become an art form, objects of human-crafted beauty (although I await the day when, like mana from heaven, one will fall into fingers formed to receive it.
     However, along life's highway, I found different uses for my pens––some were better for card or note writing, others for journaling, or for calendar entries. I own fountain pens in a range of colors––some solid, others multi-hued or marbled. I own pens of various weights and textures. Some new. Some vintage.

     Last weekend (July 11-13) the Miami Pen Showwas held at the Marriott Dadeland Hotel, minutes away from South Miami Beach. Last year we missed this annual event because we were busy navigating the Colorado River through the Cataract Canyon (please see Pot o' Gold). This year left the weekend open, and we scurried there for one full day. One full day of swelling our coffers.
     We returned home to fill our new additions, to exchange them between each other for prolonged ooh's and aah's, and comment on their weight, nib, and feel––and, not the least of it, increase the size of our "go-in-and-get"list.
    It's always a pleasure, this annual ritual. May we have many more.
Thank you for reading these words today, alas, not penned in a fountain pen. Do you write with a fountain pen? Have you ever?