During one of my recent marathons to organize the garage so I wouldn't have to clean the house, I decided to hang a dry erase board near the stairs so John and I can leave messages for one another. Mac 'n cheese in the fridge. Suzi out for an hour. That sort of thing. The small spot right at the end of the shelf that holds laundry supplies looked like the perfect place. Except for one thing. The pencil sharpener.
I don't know when my father put up that old fashioned thing with a hand crank that ate as many #2 yellow pencils as it ever sharpened. I do know it looks like something Thomas Jefferson might have used to sharpen his quills while writing the Declaration of Independence. I don't know the last time the thing was emptied of all its shavings, but something could have fossilized in there. Let's just say, conservatively, it's been there since the JFK was President.
I hung the board and tied a pen to it even though the pencil sharpener makes writing on half of it difficult. I might have taken it down except I didn't want to interrupt my momentum by fussing with a screwdriver. Seriously, folks, I'm screw driver challenged. Even with a magnetized tip, I have trouble keeping the dang driver in the slot. [Don't go there.] I did, however, mention to Johnson I wanted to take it down. Who needs a pencil sharpener anymore anyway? Who uses pencils anymore? What's wrong with a mechanical pencil? Or a pen?
Imagine my surprise when Johnson expressed great dismay about me tossing away a family heirloom. He informed me that he uses the relic on a regular basis. Huh? His attitude towards the ugly old thing startled me. It's not that big a deal, however, so I left it. It's been there for 50 years, what's it gonna hurt to leave it up for 50 more?
Today I noticed the sharpener was missing. The unpainted hexagon left on the wood the only sign that it ever hung there. It took two glances to actually register. When my mind accepted the blank space, I felt a sucker punch of sadness. Over a pencil sharpener? Really?
"John," I said later, "I think I miss the pencil sharpener."
"I'm going to put it back," he assured me. "And I'm going to clean it up, oil it."
We all need that, don't we. To have a place we belong, even if we get in the way sometimes. To explore new places to hang out. To be cleaned up, so we feel better and look better. To be remembered. To remind someone else of a time when things were easier. A time when the smell of a freshly sharpened pencil meant something new was about to begin. A story maybe, or a letter, or math homework, or a mark on the wall that said someone had grown another inch.
Maybe we should all turn off our computers. Put down our tablets. Close our cell phones. Grab a pencil and some lined notebook paper and write a love letter to another time.