The Yellow Stick of Terror (ms)

It was akin to a Sword of Satan that would drive me from this world to another and it would not be a kinder, gentler place. At least that’s how I viewed the pencil given out to me in the first grade. Come to think of it I might add a tablet to that whole Satan thing for without the paper the pencil would not be needed. But, I digress .

It was a common number 2 medium, lead loaded and painted a bright yellow. I reasoned the paint job was so that a teacher could see whether you were actually working by looking for the semaphore-like signal from the pencil as it moved over the paper. The eraser was equally common but was frequently proven defective by students trying to erase errant marks. The erasures were never perfect, not even good. A trained teacher could spot an attempt to get rid of a mistake at ten feet.

This unremarkable device later became the most lost item in a students book bag. In the beginning though, the first day of school, it was a treasured item, a device carried with reverence. It was, we were told, something which would carry us to new heights of learning for it would allow us to write, to communicate, to record. We were told nothing about the suffering involved in reaching those heights.

On the second day of school we were told to pull from our desks the wonderful new writing tool we had been issued the day before. The tablet came out as well. Someone in each row was assigned the duty of Chief Pencil Sharpener. It was that persons task to collect all the pencils in the row, stroll over to the single manually operated sharpener in the room and bring each to a fine point, ready for the days work.

That day we were introduced to cursive, an ancient form of writing as old as that found in the Egyptian pyramids. Our teacher proceeded to again explain that learning how to write in the ancient form would allow us to communicate more easily with those around us. Most of us could not fathom writing out a request for a PB and J sandwich with a milk chaser but teachers frequently knew better.

Our exercises were long and arduous and lasting through at least two grades if not into the third year. Judging by the handwriting of some of my peers today I’m thinking they took a lot of time off. But we each struggled with the yellow stick making somewhat legible marks in our tablets and slowly becoming at least mildly proficient writers of the alphabet and the words that could come from combining those twenty-six letters. I still do much the same thing today but now I write on a machine.

Pencils have made a comeback with me though. I carry one and a small tablet so I can take notes as I go along through my day. I find I enjoy the silky scraping of the pencil along the paper as I write, the way the paper gets all crinkly and sounds like old parchment when I’ve finished a page. I no longer view my pencil as the Sword of Satan, it’s just another tool. Too bad I didn’t realize it back in the first grade. It also really hurt that I was never Chief Pencil Sharpener for my row.

–Mike Stevens

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~ by admin on February 11, 2011.

One Response to “The Yellow Stick of Terror (ms)”

  1. This one hit close to home. I remember those days…. the pencil sharpener days…Very heartwarming story….as always… Thank you for letting your writing be our bedtime stories! Even 64 year olds and 60 year olds can use a bedtime story… and we love yours~

    Bob says : “Especially one we can relate to!”

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