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You Got a Pencil?

“I’ll keep score. You got a pencil?” my friend said as four of us sat down to play Canasta.  I handed her the pencil that lay on my kitchen desk.  A gray mechanical pencil.  She looked at it carefully, raised her eyebrows, and then looked at me.  I knew her question.

            I chuckled and said, “Don’t you have your name on your favorite pencil?”  My friend shook her head slowly.  “That’s from my teaching days.  I taped RAY (in red, no less) on it so when I misplaced it, I hoped someone would find it and give it back.”

            I retired from teaching eleven years ago and this pencil goes back as least twenty years.  It’s a perfect pencil. A Pentel Quicker Clicker with 0.5 mm lead. (I know these details because I recently lost one like it that I kept in my purse and I bought two new ones for $8.00.)  It fits my hand perfectly and is always sharp.  A quick click with my thumb advances the lead and I continue writing, not even stopping to lift it from paper, nor do I lose my train of thought.  It’s written lesson plans in two-inch square plan books, to-do lists, grocery lists, column first drafts, and worked a few Sudoku puzzles.

            Even as a kid, I had a favorite pencil. Yellow, a number two, and hexagon shape, never a round pencil that would roll off my desk.  A yellow, #2 was all I knew so when my dad asked for a #1 pencil, I questioned him.  A #1 writes darker and he could see the letters he wrote in the newspaper crossword puzzle better. 

            Through the years, I mainly used traditional yellow pencils. But when I taught elementary students, I stocked a classroom pencil holder with all sorts of pencils, including round ones with holiday décor, and a classroom student chore was to sharpen those pencils every morning.  If a bright red round pencil encouraged a kid to write, so be it.

            How did pencils come to be?  We say a pencil has a lead core, but it doesn’t.  An ancient Roman writing instrument, called a stylus, was made from a lead rod and the word lead stuck.  Pencil cores are non-toxic graphite rods.  Graphite was first used in the mid-1500s in England because it left a darker mark than lead.  Graphite rods were initially wrapped in string and later inserted in hollowed-out wooden sticks, and the first wooden pencils were created.  In the mid-1600s, the first mass-produced pencils were made in Germany.

            A patent for mechanical pencils was granted in 1822, but the push button mechanism wasn’t developed until fifty years later.  Eventually, metal and wood casings gave way to plastic and a holder for an eraser was added.            

For the past six weeks, while I wore a cast or splint following thumb surgery, I missed grabbing my pencil and making a quick note.  It feels good, almost a comfort, to hold this simple instrument between my thumb and index finger and write a grocery list.  


2 Responses

  1. And your friend now loves a good pencil too. Love you Susan

    Kat Rust Bobkatsr@gmail.com



  2. I’m a pencil person too! I always make sure i am using one that is designed for the current season or holiday…


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