There is something so timeless about watching a movie in an old-fashioned movie theatre that I jump at the chance to see as many movies as I can at the Princeton Garden Theatre. Whenever I step through the door, I am reminded of the Lyric Theater in southwestern Virginia, which I would visit in my childhood. Recently, I went to see “Mr. Holmes” at the Garden. I wasn’t even sure I was going to like the film because I was not all that crazy about the book on which it is based, “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullen.
Not to take anything away from the plot of the movie or the fine performance by Ian McKellen, what captivated me the most were the scenes where Mr. Holmes was seated at his desk, writing with a fountain pen. I know it sounds odd, but it was watching this simple old-fashioned writing implement in action that had my unwavering attention. Every time Mr. Holmes got out his pen to continue writing his story, whether it was the one that got dipped in the inkwell or the post-war version with the pre-filled cartridges, I would hear the sound of the scritch, scritch, scritch of the metal nib against the paper and think of my father.
To say that my father was a huge fan of the fountain pen would be an understatement. The fountain pen was his pen of choice for all of his writing needs, particularly during my childhood. With it he graded his students’ chemistry papers, wrote simples notes and letters and most incredibly, worked the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, with no mistakes! Always on the lookout for new pens to try, he accumulated quite an extensive collection, from expensive ones found in fancy art stores to simple ones found on drugstore shelves through diligent searching combined with happenstance.
I must say I get a happy little jolt every time I find something with my dad’s handwriting on it, whether it is a scrap of paper with a book recommendation on it or something more consequential such as a letter. It’s even more exciting if it’s something I had forgotten even existed. Recently, I hit the jackpot. Buried deep in my filing cabinet, in a folder marked Family History that I haven’t looked at in years, I found the speech that my father gave at my grandfather’s funeral 25 years ago, written in longhand on a legal pad, with a fountain pen. As I read his words, my mind’s eye could easily picture the scene on the night he wrote it. He would have been sitting in his favorite chair, in the wee hours when the house was finally quiet, with a grumpy, elderly dachshund wedged between his thigh and the arm of the chair, a cup of strong black coffee close at hand, fountain pen flying across the page of the legal pad balanced on his knee. Thank goodness this was before the age of computers because now I have, forever more, this tangible record of the words spoken and the pages my father actually held in his hands because unfortunately, I have no real memory of the actual event.
It takes commitment and practice to learn to write well with a fountain pen. Patience, too. It can be especially challenging if you are left-handed as I am; success depends so much on how you place the paper and angle your wrist. When writing, you need to sit calmly and truly think about what you want to say before putting pen to paper because there are no second chances. No back space. No cut and paste. No delete. Once that ink is on the page, it is there to stay. You need to keep your hand moving in a fluid manner because if the point lingers too long on the surface of the page, you will get an unsightly blotch. If you don’t hold the pen at the right angle, the ink won’t flow but instead will skip leaving letters unformed.
My father often gave his favorite “pen of the moment” as a Christmas gift. My husband was able to find his but try as I might, despite tearing through numerous hiding places, I could not lay my hands on any of mine. I haven’t been shopping for a pen in years so out I went to find one that would be worthy of my dad’s memory. In a university bookstore display, I found a good candidate that is supposed to be good for left or right-handed people and supposedly has erasable ink. So, I’m giving it a try.
Photo courtesy of the author.
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