Dad’s Pen – SOL Day 4


New Notebook.  Same brand, same model.

…because I’m a creature of habit when something seems to be working for me.

Since mid-summer 2016, I hadn’t written consistently in my Notebook. Stacks and stacks of completed notebooks I possessed.  That summer, it just stopped.  My mother moved into a nursing home — that made 2 parents now, institutionalized 350 miles away, a situation I had no say in as the youngest child — extended family members were squabbling, lawyers were summoned, and.. my writing just stopped.  Dried up like a rusty faucet.

One day late in February, my National Writing Project mentor visited our campus to lead a workshop for our department.  She was just the person to undo the spell, the plumber with a monkey wrench to get my mojo going.  I’ve been writing ever since, daily, dedicatedly, devotedly.  It’s all coming back to me now, my “bad” year a blur.  I’m now teaching mini-lessons directly from entries in my notebook, we are finding time to write every other day in our classroom, and we are becoming a writing community, even though it’s past mid-year. We just have a lot of catching up to do, that’s all.

Never will I forget the look on my children’s faces when the spell broke — where have you been all year?  I. Will. Keep. This. the front of my mind for the rest of the year when I am tempted to abandon the practice we have ALL (every last 140 one of us) fallen in love with, for the sake of “one more thing to do!”  Never again (please!).  I pray I can keep it for the rest of my writerly life, with my students or without.

New Notebook… Same pen.

This one is an older model Pilot — a “Precise V5” that’s been around for years and years and years. I know because my Dad would grade his Chemistry papers with these same pens during the 80s and early 90s.  Blue — Red — Green.  Exactly what they’re still selling in stores now.

Never once did I pick up one of these pens — when I’d find them in his suitcase as I rifled for stuff for him, when I’d see them lying around the kitchen counter or on the counter in his lab.  Never during his grading fury, which usually came toward the end of the six weeks.

This was when final exams would pile onto student work from the week and he’d have only a day to return report cards to his students.  This was the era before retesting for a 70.

It was my job to help him with the averaging the night before grades were due.

Dad discovered my talent for the 10-key the night of one of his grading binges that usually started around 11 o’clock on a Sunday night.  I was up to say good night to him and he very innocently asked me to average the grades for one kid for him.

“Oooh… you did that very fast. Here, do these grades, too.”

…5 x 5 desk calculator, the kind you can still find at Office Depot, like so many other things the world hasn’t outgrown..

Before long, it became my duty all throughout high school to take care of the averaging.

Every six weeks, 140+ kids, until I left for college and then some.  I’d handle the 10-key for him as soon a his grades were ready.

Which meant:  sometimes his sending me to bed early at 7, 8 o’clock so I could be ready to average for him at 3, 4 in the morning when he’d be done with his Precise V5 grading.   He’d wake me with a little shake of the shoulder, a little cafecito, a little “Mijita..”

Me and him, sitting quietly through the night with his ranchero music playing softly in the background, the smell of coffee beckoning us to stay awake through the night.  These moments were among the most peaceful of my life, my father and I like Cistercian Monks praying over a silent meditation of numbers and averages.

Once I’d enter the final grade, he’d hand-write them onto his carbon-copy report cards for his students.

Looking back, I know it wasn’t ideal — but I cherish the memory it gives me, the help I could give my father.  In generations past, there were the children of bakers, farmers, shoemakers who helped their parents.  I can see how these children had no choice in the work they did, the help they gave their family.  This was just what I did with my father.  As a child born to older parents, fun things were few and far between.  What we could bond on was work-centric.  Maybe this was just a product of his generation, his culture at the time.. work was what he always did.

Idfff these are the only memories I could have with my father, I’ll gladly take them.




7 thoughts on “Dad’s Pen – SOL Day 4

  1. I love the way you describe your work. I feel as if I’m there with you and your father experiencing the rise of pride as you wake up to help him.
    This is a lovely story and I’m glad you found your way out of your rut.


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