Do you remember when you got your first pencil? I do. I remember getting a brand new thick wooden pencil with a pad of writing paper and a box of crayons on the first day of school. What a present! My young mind joyously believed that this meant I could draw as much as I wanted…until Mrs. Davis kindly informed me that I was supposed to use the paper for practicing letters!
For most of my life, yellow #2 pencils have been ubiquitous. I’ve taken them for granted because there’s always been one lying around waiting for the moment when a grocery list or a phone number needs jotted down. For years, I could find one in the glove box of the car or under the sofa, in the junk drawer in the kitchen or in various other miscellaneous storage places in the house.
My desk drawer never seemed to lack a dozen of these pencils. At one time it could’ve been the National Pencil Rescue Center because it had so many of them, ancient little nibs with no erasers and barrels gnarled with toothy imprints or other marks of terrible pencil abuse. The worst, of course, was the pencil that looked like it was normal until you tried to use it. You’d quickly discover that the eraser was so hard it left a red streak across the paper and the core only grudgingly relinquished some of its graphite. Then it was hastily tossed back into the dark depths of the drawer until some other sucker came along!
However…something happened over the years. Just last week I went to my desk to get a pencil and I couldn’t find one. I searched through all the drawers and checked all the usual pencil abodes and eventually found a cheap plastic mechanical pencil. But no wood-encased pencil turned up.
I asked my sons if they had a pencil I could borrow. Neither of them had as much as a mechanical pencil, which surprised me since they are both attending college!
I checked the kitchen drawer and the glove box of the car. Notta. I even looked under the sofa. I found lots of homeless ink pens, but not a single #2 pencil.
Apparently, #2 pencils are extinct in my house. I’m not sure when this happened. Perhaps the pen has become the favored writing instrument in modern times, or perhaps no one feels the need for any writing tool now that we all carry personal computers around with us.
It was a sad, sad day for me.
I feel like the pencil needs a swan song. So I’ve composed a poem, a tribute to my little wooden friend, The Pencil.
I remember when you brought me joy
Your gift was like a brand new toy
I couldn’t wait to play with
Your perfect lead encased in wood
A pink eraser on which you stood
Perfect form regal and lithe
Painted cedar pert and sunny
Graphite hard and sharp and pointy
My constant pocket gesith
Delightful hours of verse and prose
Poems, novels and performance shows
Worthy forge of a wordsmith
Hours doodling line and form
Black, white and gray became the norm
Fine art at it’s zenith
I will miss your shiny scratches
No technology yet matches
Marks that you make herewith
Calloused finger prominently
Helps me remember fondly
Days of scribbling so bonny
‘Fore you wrote your epitaph!
When I told my eldest son about my tribute, he laughed and shared with me a story about a recent encounter he had in one of his college classes. Apparently another student was using a #2 pencil until the lead broke. The class then learned that there is another ancient stationary item even more endangered than the #2 pencil: