#atozchallenge: Ink

I have an oldie to share: from my first A to Z Challenge in 2012, this story about ink and penmanship.

My godmother was an artist, and she dealt in all sorts of media, including pen-and-ink, so she always had bottles of India ink around when I was a kid. I was never permitted to get close to the ink bottle when I was young. To state it in mathematical terms:

India ink + carpet = a permanent mess

Fortunately, the ballpoint pen, like the Bic stick, had pretty much replaced the fountain pen for daily use by the early Sixties, obviating the need for bottles that could be knocked over and ink that could be spilled on clothes, furniture, carpets, pets, younger siblings, etc.

Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus about this modern miracle, and when it came time to learn to write with a pen in third grade, we were told that we would have to go out and buy a cartridge pen before we would be allowed to attempt the Palmer Method in anything but pencil. We didn’t question what the nuns told us; being eight years old, we just said, “Yes, Sister,” went home and hit up our parents for the money to buy a cartridge pen.

When I told my mother what I needed and asked her for the money, her reaction was to snap, “Oh, for God’s sake” and call the principal, who had taught her twenty years earlier, to argue the case for the ballpoint. After a half hour of contentious conversation with Reverend Mother, she hung up, handed me a five-dollar bill and told me to go buy a cartridge pen.

A pen not unlike my first. Courtesy jackbergsales.com

I was able to find one at the corner drug store, and it came with several “washable blue” ink cartridges, as required by the nuns. I learned later that the reason for washable blue ink was not so that our mothers could wash out the ink that would inevitably be spilled on our clothes; it was so that ink that was inevitably spilled in the classroom wouldn’t cause permanent damage to the furniture.

Armed with our pens, we began the painful process of learning to write with pen and ink. The results were mixed: the girls took to it like swans to water, while the boys … not so much. We boys were more interested in swinging our pens at our friends and splattering them with ink.

By the time fifth grade rolled around for us, we had a new principal who decided that making us write with pen and ink was asinine. We were ordered to part company with our cartridge pens and never use them at school again, and to use ballpoint pens from then on. None of us complained, our parents were happy, and the quality of our penmanship didn’t decline that much. Furthermore, left-handed kids like my brother no longer had to try and write right-handed. Everyone was a winner.

32 thoughts on “#atozchallenge: Ink

  1. The good old style ink which I did not grow up with. This is when penmanship was treated as something needed. Now no one is taught cursive which is dumb. When I gear the word ink now I think of my card making.


    1. Pretty soon they’re going to treat handwriting like hieroglyphics or cuneiform. I guess it’s up to parents to teach handwriting these days…


  2. Wow! I can’t imagine the mess those pens made. I do remember how boys were able to turn an innocuous ballpoint pen into a weapon of mass destruction when the teachers weren’t looking… and the girls followed suit 🙂

    Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge My Languishing TBR: K


    1. When I was in high school, they made us take typing and thereafter required all our papers to be typed. Still, there were quizzes and tests that required writing. I would print because my handwriting was so bad I couldn’t even read it. Eventually cursive writing will be like a secret code or hieroglyphics, which is a shame, because the best way to take notes is by hand. Oh well, life goes on…

      I worked at Harris Bank in Chicago, and banking regs said that all the ledgers had to be kept, even the handwritten ones. I can only imagine what the reaction would be if a Millennial had to read one of those…


  3. I was in public school, but in 4th grade, we were required to use a cartridge style fountain pen.I still have a fountain pen, and I use it now and then.


    1. Fountain pens came back into style a few years ago. I think Mont Blanc has one, and it’s quite a status symbol. I don’t know if they still make the old Sheaffer/Scripto cartridge pens that we used back in the day. There’s a girl on YouTube named Feli From Germany, and she said they still use the cartridge pens. So they ain’t dead yet…

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Did you ever have the ever-popular Cross pen and pencil set? The gift that says “I couldn’t think of anything else”? They have a felt-tip pen as well, and now they have a fountain pen…

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I wonder how many ink-spill incidents I had as a kid. It must have been in the hundreds. You mentioned the Palmer Method. At least we were taught a method that you could actually read. I remember about 30 years ago I taught a Marketing course at a local community college. I gave the class an essay test. I was stunned when I tried to read the results!. What an experience. I could read, maybe, one out of three papers. Never gave another essay test. Of course, now everything is typewritten. Times change, don’t they.


    1. Now you know why the Jesuits taught you typing in freshman year (at least they did for me, don’t know what your experience was at the Academy).


  5. You took me back to my childhood days. How I loved those pens but filling the ink felt so tedious. Didn’t even realize when the transition happened… Totally loved reading this post.

    Hope you check out my A-Z challenge posts in which I am trying to have every sentence of the story (one chapter a day) start with the letter of the day https://momandideas.com/


  6. My grandparents owned a laundry service back in the 1930’s, I believe. According to my grandmother, Ink stains were the number one reason people took their soiled garments to them.


    1. I was never so happy as to get away from the cartridge pens. I used it at school; after that, it was ballpoint all the way. I’d even do my homework in ballpoint. The nun could never tell…

      Liked by 1 person

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