Archived Story

Remembering pencil tablets and inkwells

Published 3:34pm Wednesday, April 25, 2012

When I started to Tryon Graded School in 1936, I went into Mrs. Kittrell’s First Grade. There was no kindergarten or other public “pre-school.” Mrs. Kittrell had gray hair, glasses and wrinkles, like your grandmother, and was just as friendly and loving. But she had rules and required quiet and attention.
Do you remember learning to ‘print’ on a coarse paper ‘tablet’ with a pencil? A soft No. 2 pencil made a black mark that was hard to erase. A cheap pencil with a harder lead made a lighter mark, but was also difficult to erase! We learned to stick the end of the pencil into our mouth and wet the hard lead so it would make a darker mark. That was even harder to erase! Best not to make a mistake; neatness counted.
I think we learned capital letters first, then numbers and finally “small” (lowercase) letters. In those days the books were all set in Century Schoolbook font with serifs. We were not putting serifs on our letters, so they did not look like the ones in our books. I think that may be why some kids found it so hard to learn to read.
Then along about third grade we had to learn how to connect letters with a continuous line, called ‘writing.’ There was a long poster across the top of the blackboards with all the letters correctly drawn for us to try to copy when we ‘wrote.’ We had to practice certain ‘strokes’ and moving the whole arm to write, but most of us could write better by just moving our fingers. Many of us have a lump on the side of our middle finger developed by pressing the pencil against the knuckle.
There was a round hole in our desktop for a glass “inkwell.” When it was time to learn to write with a pen, inkwells were placed in those holes and we were given pen staffs and steel pen points that slid into them. Another new ball game! The pens would dig in if pushed and spread out if pressed too hard when pulling them. They required a delicate touch mastered by very few.

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