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In Other Words / Fountain pen lust and ink-stained memories

Published 4:47 am, Thursday, September 19, 2013
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Why do writers write? For one thing, we can't help it. The opportunity is always there, luring us in. Choose your favorite "mode of transportation:" the paper and pencil, the computer. Deposit me among leather-bound journals, and I practically swoon. And don't get me started on my fountain-pen obsession. Put me in the presence of a fountain pen, and I'm in good company.

It began as soon as I could hold a black and white composition notebook in my hands. My father and I took weekend walks to the local candy store, which sold everything that could delight a child's curiosity: miniature wax Coke bottles filled with sickeningly sweet syrup, stationery, notebooks, candy bars, and magazines that appealed to every interest. Add to that an array of comic books that occupied an entire wall, and kept kids riveted on Saturday afternoons until we were chased away by Mr. Hyman, telling us to either buy one or scram.

There were the ice cream sundaes topped with freshly whipped cream and a cherry on the top. I can still visualize the cracked red-leather swivel stools that lined the marble counter where I devoured the best tuna fish sandwiches of my youth, served by a girl named Nan with strawberry blonde hair and a smile that drew men in. Nan became my role model for all that I aspired to become at a time when I was still rattling around as a gawky adolescent struggling to cultivate an identity.

But my favorite spot was toward the back of the store where boxes of Esterbrook fountain pens lay in their faux-marble splendor next to bottles of India ink. These pens so enticed me that I would constantly coax my father into taking a walk into town -- "walk" being code for requesting a chance to sneak a peek at those writing instruments.

Occasionally, I was offered a treat of my choosing. There were little porcelain dolls of all nations dressed in their indigenous attire. Pink Spaldeen rubber balls that bounced to the sky, jump ropes with wooden handles, B-B guns that could poke out an eye -- off limits to me -- and Dick Tracy decoder rings, which all the boys scrambled to buy.

But I was willing to bypass them all, and headed straight for the pens. If it were a special occasion like a birthday or the first day of school, I was invited to choose one. And sometimes there needn't have been an occasion at all. If my dad was in a generous mood, he would bestow upon me the gift of a pen for no other reason other than he saw a budding writer in the making.

The pens came in a variety of colors including one in metallic gold, which shimmered in the sunlight. The marbling that ran through each one made them look more expensive than they actually were. The selection took time. Most often I settled on green (my favorite color) but occasionally chose the red or blue, depending on my mood of the moment. If my dad was feeling particularly benevolent, a notebook was also included as part of the deal. After all, you can't own a pen without a place in which to scribble.

And scribble I did. On rainy afternoons, I wrote my heart out. On damp green summer mornings under a weeping willow tree, I invented little stories. I wrote a skit in my parents' car on our way to visit relatives, and when I was down with chickenpox, I composed what I believed was the all-American novel that guaranteed my future success as an author.

I never knew then how important those early days were, or how much they would impact my life, but recalling them now with nostalgic precision, they helped pave the way to what my career path would ultimately become. Little did I know that when I stood eyeing those pens that I was embarking on a journey that would endure with a passion that remains palpably resonant.

Sometimes I regret not having pursued a career in medicine, a serious consideration during my college years. But, I turned my attention to the arts, and became a writer, a decision that has held me in good stead and proved personally gratifying and professionally rewarding.

So, what happened to those pens that stimulated my childhood longings? They vanished along with my earlier writings, my gold charm bracelet and a stuffed bear named Willy, though the memories of each are still indelibly written in my mind.

On occasion, I imagine myself as the doctor I might have been, a fountain pen secured inside my white coat pocket with which I penned prescriptions. But more often, I envision myself holding an Esterbrook pen and a notebook, the ones my father bought me when we walked from our home en route to Hyman's candy store where so many of my future fantasies took flight.

Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com