Pencils – Caitlin Benson Hartford, daughter

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I last saw you in October and you were still feathering your new nest. A single-story house that would be much easier on your knees and in a great neighborhood – if it weren’t for the knees – within walking distance to your favorite places in Fairhaven. Unpacked boxes still stuffed the garage and an outbuilding or two, but parts of the house were already taking on your flavor: the kitchen, dining and living rooms, and of course, your office. A corner nook off the main entry with a wrap-around desk and plenty of shelving, your snug mission control. A collection of yellow pads, post-its, printed emails, recipes, and personal cards tumbled in minor disarray across the desktop as if to say, “We’ve only just arrived, but already there are lovely and important things to remember and keep within eyeshot.”

The mail brought excitement one day in the form of a new electric pencil sharpener in a medium-sized box. After unpacking it, you wanted to try it out immediately. I thought it a bit silly, with so much need to reduce possessions, what would make you spend money on an electric pencil sharpener of all things?  But then I remembered the marmalade jars of fat, soft-lead pencils you strategically placed where one might need to write. Two jars sat on your desk to the left of the computer and another by the kitchen phone for transcribing messages and taking careful notes from phone conversations with your daughters so facts could later correctly be recounted to Herman or others. The special pencils, you explained, were too wide to fit into regular sharpeners and the electric sharpener you had for years had just quit working. With optimism for the unquestioned need to keep sharp pencils at hand, there was no doubting the equal need for another good sharpener. And so there it was, shiny, plugged in and ready to assist. 

When I returned the following March, a week after you were already gone, I noticed you had sharpened all the pencils to equal points and distributed them tip up among the marmalade jars. 

One must always be ready to write.