Ancestors One Day: Notes with a Old Fountain Pen

I made notes for this thought for the day using a fountain pen. I started using fountain pens more than 20 years ago when a former professor of mine told me they worked best for exams, helping prevent your hand from getting tired. He was right. What he didn’t say though was that when you have a blank sheet of quality paper, and a favourite pen, it’s just a beautiful thing to do. To fill that blankness ……with something.

The one I used for these notes is no ordinary one however. It was  made by an American pen company no longer in existence and was first used to make marks on paper in the mid to late 1920s. And so as I wrote this I wondered about what this pen has seen. How many hands have held it? How many gallons of ink has it expended? What words have flowed from the point of this nib? Words of love? of anger or hurt? how many long boring lists? How many times has it been held in sweaty palms in hot exam halls? or what aspiring writers have reached for it to record their ideas?

And what history has it seen? Many wars. the Great Depression. Moon landings. the mapping of the genome. the end of apartheid. the digital revolution. And all through it this pen has written the musings of its owners.

I use this pen mostly to write in a journal I keep. Just random scribbles mostly. But I sometimes wonder about when I’m gone, when this pen has moved on to someone else and into it’s second century, what will become of the notebooks I have filled.

Poet and playwright Pat Schneider says “We ourselves will be ancestors one day.” I like the plain wisdom of that.

She suggests that if we some day uncovered the daily remembering of ancestors from, say, two generations ago, written down in logbooks, or notebooks or journals—the happenings on the farm, the price of eggs, the argument with a neighbour— with the benefit of years these daily details would be a treasure to us.

We would delight in them, the strange familiarity of life from the past. The daily doings of everyday life transformed….into treasure. That takes quite a degree of faith to believe though doesn’t it that the ordinariness of my life or yours today, written down, could enchant a future descendent.

A version of this was broadcast on Monday, 3 Sept 2018 as a Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme. The audio is found HERE.

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