Friday, July 5, 2013

The Bullet Collection I Never Inherited

My grandfather had a large, unruly collection of bullet pencils in boxes in the basement workshop. He came from a coal mining family in the Rhondda Valley of South Wales.  I think he delighted in getting a free pencil each and every time.  He was once a deputy sheriff, actually owned a .45 revolver with a shoulder holster, and had a fondness for anything Western.  He always wore a genuine Stetson hat.  I'm sure just the name "bullet pencil" had great appeal.  Plus he loved to sharpen things.  Even his screwdrivers had knife blade edges!

Bullet pencils were a staple of life in Iowa homes in my childhood.  The ladies who hung out their wash religiously on Monday morning (if possible, an hour earlier than their neighbors, which was a real coup) loved these because the graphite was covered up and didn't make marks on the menfolks' shirt and pants pockets. I'd bet money there is a farm outbuilding somewhere in the state that has the biggest display of bullet pencils you could ever hope to see.  I saw the key-chain one once.  Lots of Iowans have quirky collections, it's not just me!

My grandfather's collection was probably tossed out by either my mother or my grandmother or both.  Mom was telling me that they had a big clear-out of the basement one time when my grandfather had a broken leg after a car accident.  He couldn't get up without help, and he certainly couldn't get down the basement steps. They conspired to clear out and clean up, and he was helpless to stop them, although he banged his crutches on the floor and shouted questions at them.  To them the pencils were clutter and junk, but I'd love to have them now.  I do have Granddad's tea tin full of marbles that somehow made a miraculous escape.  Still, it's good to know that I came by my pencil preoccupation honestly.

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