Decades later he kept advertising ball-point pens in a jar and often commented that his father, called “Poppa,” would never believe how easy writing would be.
“Poppa,” he said, used a “dip pen,” a steel nib stuck into the end of a wooden stick. Dip pens were the most used writing instrument but before metal nibs there was the quill.
A quill is a writing instrument made of a feather. Most of the founding documents establishing the United States were written with quills.
People kept geese for eggs, meat and for security. Geese are territorial and raise a fuss when a stranger invades. They also moult, lose feathers, which were collected for quills.
My grandmother, as I might have told you, carried a small knife in her apron pocket. She inherited it from her grandmother, Margaret McWilliams McClure, born June 8, 1813, in Antrim Northern Ireland and wore a small white cap throughout her life.
This was her grandmother's pen knife, used to dress a quill. My grandmother didn't use a quill but she carried the knife throughout her life. I hope one of the cousins has it.
The quill is still around, sometimes used in calligraphy.
In the first few grades my school desk contained a seat for the student in front of me and there was a hole in the upper right corner of my desk. It was for an ink well. The wells disappeared long before my first day of school but the little holes were there so long as the desks were used.
My father filled his Parker pen from a jar that contained an ink well. By tipping the jar the well was filled. He inserted the tip of his pen into the shallow well and pressed a plunger, which evacuated air from the barrel and the barrel slowly filled with ink.
My father was a letter writer. He used a typewriter for correspondence in later years but his personal letters were written by hand.
On his desk stood a jar of ink, coarse paper for a “blotter,” and a cloth tube that covered his white shirt from the cuff to his elbow, a cuff protector.
Dad kept the dark “Parker 51” in his shirt pocket with a small book. He always carried one of those little books in which he kept appointments and notes. They evolved into a serial journal, recording miles driven, expenses, meetings, people met. I have a box full of them yet to be studied.
In the third grade the idea of emulating my father was no longer endurable. I offered to swap as much of my weekly allowance (then a dime) as necessary to have a fountain pen and notebook like him.
After school one day I found a pen and note book on my bed.
I kept the pen as a souvenir but it leaked, the steel nib was thin and broken.
On a trip to the office supply store I was distracted by a display of fountain pens. These instruments use ink cartridges and are made of plastic. I don't know if you can still buy a pen with a reservoir in the barrel.
There are still fountain pens made for gifts, some with gold or silver inlay and to some people the use of a fountain pen is a status symbol.
The older I get the more like my father I grow, just like I wanted as a kid.
I bought a blue fountain pen.
Joe Phillips writes his “Dear me” columns for several small newspapers. He has many connections to Walker County, including his grandfather, former superintendent Waymond Morgan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.