Living alone, a I do now, I have no one to blame if I misplace my keys or even worse, my partial plate or hearing aids. When she was living, Lee could always find whatever it was I had put down carelessly in the wrong place. She was patient and orderly, of course, whereas I am impulsive and messy. I wrote the following story for my Senior Center Creative Writing Class this week about lost objects, in this case through no fault of my own. .
The Lost Objects
It was only on Sundays I missed the slender engraved pen and pencil set making a barely perceptible bulge under his business suit jacket. They appeared pristine and polished, though he had them as many years as I could remember. They were of slick design, the background color of pussy-willows, interspersed with a darker grey variegated stripe. When one pulled off the cap of either instrument the fit was so accurate it made a little sucking noise. I think they were made by Schaeffer .
Why did I covet them? Partly because they were visually and kinesthetically lovely; partly because they were off limts to me.
Sunday was the day my dad skipped shaving, wore khakis and rocked in his mahogany rocker, reading the Sunday papers, Time and Fortune. From Monday through Saturday he performed a ritual. A single parent, he fixed me Ovaltine, toast and a soft-boiled egg before donning a dark grey serge three-piece business suit, blue tie, and laundry starched white shirt. Lastly he clipped the fountain pen and pencil inside his left vest pocket, lined up like toy soldiers. He wore a gold ring and watch as well, but these were of little interest to me.
It had been established that I was not allowed to play with the pen and pencil for these were an extension of his work. All day he sat at a large desk in a private office and wrote mathematical figures on thin lined legal pads using the fine pointed pen with the slender gold nib. Any notes were in tiny backhand. Sometimes when not in school I hung out there, though I had to act adult and be very well behaved. I remember the pencil was always loaded with extra thin black lead and I would marvel that the eraser hidden under the cap was virtually unused. From time to time he would walk to the large room across the hall where his secretary and aides worked, handing out notes and assignments.
He died instantly, head slumped over his desk, a massive stroke. A day or so later one of his secretaries called me to come down. I located Mr. Chitwood in the big room across from the closed door of Daddy’s office. He found a place for us to be alone and there he presented me with my father’s gold ring, explaining he had removed it from his finger “before they took him away”. His instructions were serious: “Put this on and never remove it.” I thought the gesture was well intended, but creepy.
What I wanted most was to go into Daddy’s private office but the door was closed tightly. I wanted to sit in his swivel chair and feel his presence. I wanted his pen and pencil set. Where were they? Probably the pen was in his hand as he died. Were they to be buried with him? I could not bring myself to ask, and I would never know.
I swallowed, saying nothing. Later I had a jeweler make the ring smaller and I wore it for about ten years. I think it might have been his Masonic ring. Perhaps it was some comfort but it always felt awkward and difficult to explain. It gathers dust in an old case in my closet sixty plus years later.
Today the pen and pencil set would bring good money at an antique collector’s meet, but of course I would not part with them, any more than I would part with the memory of their significance in his life and mine.