didn't make it easy for me. From the first time I met him,
he was asking me difficult questions and challenging me to
think about things I'd put out of mind because thinking about
them was just too hard.
I'd started collecting old pens, fountain pens and dip pens,
when I was twelve. I used to work with some of my relatives
at local flea markets. Aunt Lily and mom ran a concession
stand and my uncles and dad sold junk they'd picked up as
part of their hauling and dumping business. Collecting pens
started out as a way to get drawing implements without having
to spend much money. At first I used fountain pens as if they
were dip pens, but then a customer showed me how they filled.
Of course, most of mine didn't fill. So the next time I saw
him, I asked him if he knew how to fix them, and he pointed
out someone who was a member of the pen club. That was how
I joined the pen club and got started repairing pens. I still
use them mostly to draw. I do a lot of drawing and I always
have. At school we used to have art classes, and I loved them.
I was pretty upset when the board of education cut them off
because there was just no money to hire an art teacher.
Not long after I got to know Jason at the pen club, he told
me about an art class offered in town. "It's pretty inexpensive,"
he said, "and the teacher is an old guy whose stuff used
to hang in a couple of galleries in Chicago. He's a bit of
a grump but a good teacher from what I've heard."
I told him I'd think about taking the class, but I knew that
with school, chores, and my part-time jobs, I just wouldn't
be able to fit it in. And anyway, cheap is not free, and I
had no money to spare for art lessons.
"But Lisa," he protested, "you're good. With
training you could be very good. And you really love to draw."
I just shrugged and changed the subject. He didn't want to
let it go though. Finally I had to tell him that I'd just
leave if he didn't let up about the damned art class. I did
that a lot.
The same thing happened when he found out that I'd studied
karate when I was in grade school. The lessons were free,
and I enjoyed the precision of the martial arts.
"Wow! You got a brown belt by the time you were ten?"
Jason was impressed. "Why don't you take it up again?
You could get a black belt for sure."
It wasn't that Jason was unaware of how little money I had
or couldn't understand what it meant to have to scrimp and
save. His mom is a freelance cartoonist and makes next to
nothing a week. Sometimes Jason used to bag at the supermarket
in town for extra money, but his earnings were his own and
he could do with them what he wanted. Within reason, of course.
My earnings went to my family. But the big difference between
us wasn't our financial situation so much as how we dealt
with it. Jason was stubborn. If he wanted to do something,
he did it. Mostly he didn't have to push too hard because
his mom was open to his doing what he wanted. He told me that
he'd spent most of his life since he was ten in a funk because
of his grandfather's death and barely did anything except
run. But that had changed, he said, mainly due to Miss Carswell.
I knew the story of how he and Miss Carswell got to know each
other, of course. The whole pen club did. In fact, Jason was
sort of a celebrity in town when I first met him, famous really,
or at least as famous as a high school senior could be without
having killed someone. I don't really know what I expected
when I was introduced to him, but it wasn't a shy, smart,
funny guy who'd never even dated anyone.
"Hey," he told me when I made some comment about
his reputation, "I'm not the hero of the story. Miss
Carswell is. Or maybe both Miss Carswell and my grandfather's
poor, deceased Esterbrook, may it rest in peace." We'd
laughed then, but I didn't really take in how much Jason liked
Miss Carswell until I'd seen them together at pen club meetings
for a few months. He acted as if he both really enjoyed her
company and revered her. I used to tell him he thought she
could do no wrong. He didn't disagree. And after he and I
started to see each other outside of pen club meetings, I
even got a little jealous. It seemed unbelievable to me that
a high school senior, especially a male high school senior,
would choose to spend so much of his spare time hanging out
with an eighty year old woman. But unbelievable or not, it
Jason and I didn't start dating until we'd known each other
for a while. In fact, the first time we did anything together
besides the pen club was after I showed him how to resac a
lever-filler. I'd been resacking pens for a couple of years,
and lever-fillers are the easiest. Jason had a real junker
of a pen that needed a new sac, and I did it for him in a
"Hey, thanks," he said. "Can I pay you or something?"
Since the sac was one that Miss Carswell had given him, I
couldn't see my way to charging him for the repair. Instead
I went out for coffee with him the next time we were both
in town and had a free half-hour. It was fun, surprisingly
much fun. I mean, I was used to listening to Roger Healy and
Mike McLaren talk about themselves whenever I was out with
a guy. Jason started out by asking me how I'd learned to resac
fountain pens and what got me started using them. Soon we
were talking about which pens we wanted and couldn't afford.
The next time I saw Jason, he just happened to wander into
the bank where I worked on Friday evening and Saturday. That's
what he told me anyway. It was a warm Saturday afternoon,
and I'd planned to do some sketching after work while waiting
for the bus out of town, so I had brought a drawing pad to
work with a few of my sketches in it. Jason came in about
fifteen minutes before I got off, so he waited around and
we went to the little park behind the Unitarian Church. I
wanted to ask Jason if I could sketch him, but instead we
ended up talking about our families. That time Jason mostly
talked and I listened. He started it by telling me how his
grandmother called the Unitarian Church a "heathen hellhole,"
which he found funny. I didn't find it that funny at first,
but when he started doing an imitation of her denouncing Everett
Bard, the Unitarian minister, I cracked up.
"She didn't really do that, did she?" I asked, trying
to control myself.
"She sure did," he replied. "In full view of
the assembled customers of Greene's market. The poor guy thought
she was having a seizure at first. It was only when he asked
if she was okay and offered to call the EMTs and she yelled,
"Get thee behind me, Satan!" at him that he realized
what she was up to and left the store."
"That's awful, Jason," I said. I meant it, even
though I was still giggling because his imitation of his grandmother
was so funny.
"Yeah, well, at least he doesn't have to listen to her
every other day the way I do. Ted Albert, the minister of
her church, apologized to Mr. Bard when he heard about her
outburst. Grandma Lore Harnisch was beside herself with fury
and threatened to leave the church. But she got over it when
the Reverend Ted told her to go right ahead."
After he finished this story, Jason grinned at me. "Okay,
that's my funny family story for the day. Your turn."
I didn't have any funny family stories, I told him. So instead
he picked up my sketch book before I could stop him and started
to look through it, telling me all the while about his late
grandfather's marriage to his grandmother and his mother's
divorce from his father, whom he hadn't seen in years. The
stories weren't really happy, but he made them seem humorous
Having him look at my sketches made me a little nervous. But
I knew he liked them because he said so. Though I'm pretty
modest, I don't pretend not to recognize when I've done something
well, so his appreciation didn't make me uncomfortable.
"You really ought to come meet my mom," he said
after staring at them for a while. "She'd love your work."
I knew his mom did cartoons. Everyone in the county knew that.
My parents didn't think much of them, though they were impressed
that she got paid for them.
"There's sucker born every minute," my dad used
to say whenever he came across one in the newspaper. My folks
are very conservative politically and used to call Jason's
mom a "pinko." What makes my dad maddest is that
she's a pacifist.
"I don't know," I told Jason. "My sketches
are pretty mild."
"Mild?" he repeated.
"No political message at all," I explained. "I
don't have any politics."
He looked at me with a quizzical expression for a few seconds.
"You're not a political cartoonist," he said, as
if I didn't know. "My mom likes good drawings, and these
"Thank you," I replied. "I'd like to meet your
mother some time."
"How about tomorrow?"
I laughed. "I have to go to church tomorrow."
"What about after church?"
I shook my head. "My father's relatives come over after
church for Sunday dinner. I have to be there."
"Your father's relatives come over after church on Sunday
every week and you claim not to have any funny family stories?"
he teased me.
"They're not funny people," I said firmly.
"Everyone is funny," he insisted.
I shook my head. "I need to get home, Jason. This was
":Yeah, right," he said. "So much fun that
you can't wait to get away." He stood up. "I'm really
not being inquisitive," he said. "I just want to
get to know you." He reached out his hand to help me
up. "So when can I see you again?" he asked, once
I was on my feet with my sketchbook under my arm.
"I don't know," I answered, adding before he could
feel rejected, "I'd really like to see you again, and
I did have a good time. I loved your story about your grandmother.
It's just that I have an incredibly tight schedule."
"Aw, come on, Lisa, You're a high school senior. How
tight can your schedule be?" he complained.
"Okay, you really want to know?" I challenged him.
"Yeah, I really want to know," he replied, sitting
down once again under the tree where we'd spent the last hour.
"All right," I began. "My folks are poor farmers.
I wake up before dawn to help with farm chores, like feeding
chickens and milking. We only have two cows, but one is balky
and hard to milk. Then I make breakfast for Donald, dad, and
me since my mom works night shift at the children's home to
bring in a little extra cash. Once I clean up the breakfast
dishes, I have to go to school, which starts at twenty to
eight. I usually walk to the four corners and catch the school
bus, but sometimes I borrow Donald's bike, if he's feeling
friendly. Once school is out, I either catch the bus or bike
back home and then walk to the old mill to catch the bus into
town so I can get to work. I stock shelves at Hightower's
Drugs Monday through Thursday afternoon and work at the bank
on Friday and Saturday. When I finish work at half past five,
I either catch the bus back to the old mill and then walk
home to help mom with supper or, if I'm lucky, Jeremy Hightower
gives me a lift home in his delivery truck. After supper I
do dishes and then homework. Sunday is family day. I still
have to get up to milk and feed the chickens, but then I get
to go back to bed for an hour before breakfast and church.
Then mom and I start cooking for the relatives, who show up
around three and usually stay until ten or eleven at night.
Then the work week starts over again." I looked over
at Jason. "Any questions?"
He grinned at me. "Just one really. What does your brother
Donald do while you're being so all-fired busy helping your
I stared at him uncomprehending. "Well, he helps dad
on the farm. And he has a rural paper delivery route. But
he's really too young to hold a job in town. Besides, he's
kind of wild."
Jason shook his head. "Well, maybe you need to be a little
wilder yourself. Now when are you going to come visit my mom
I shook my head but had to laugh. "You're really incorrigible,
"And you're really exploited by that family of yours,"
he replied, "but you don't know. You haven't got a clue,
"I do what I need to do, Jason," I replied softly.
"That's all any of us can do. As for visiting your mom,
how about next Saturday? I don't think I can find a free minute
He sighed. "You could, you know."
"I could what?"
"Find a free minute," he replied. "You find
time for pen club one Sunday a month."
I nodded. "And that's a big concession by my folks. My
dad was really against it, but mom prevailed for once. I don't
think I can push the envelope any further."
He nodded. "Okay, next Saturday then. I'll come get you
at the bank."
I agreed and raced off to catch the bus, looking forward to
seeing Jason again but also wondering how I was going to get
home next week.