Dearly Departed

CLINTON, NY- The bullet pencil affectionately known as “Mr. Bear,” passed on to the eternal desk drawer on September 11, 2019.  Though approximately 80 years of age, Mr. Bear was still living life to the fullest at the time of his passing, with no thought of retirement. Created as a souvenir for Crawford Notch State Park in New Hampshire, Mr. Bear enjoyed life with a variety of owners and worked tirelessly without complaint. Eventually worn to a nub by this fierce work ethic, Mr. Bear was lovingly restored to full vitality by the expert hands of bullet pencil aficionado Randy Ragan. Most recently adopted by Mary Collis, Mr. Bear was happiest knocking around in a pocket, always ready to jot down a note, write out a grocery list, or to sketch out an impromptu idea. In his spare time, Mr. Bear was fond of solving Cryptogram word puzzles, where his beefy eraser came in particularly handy. He was so proud of that eraser. Whether attending a departmental meeting, logging workout details into a pocket notebook, or balancing a checkbook, Mr. Bear gave and gave without any thought of himself—never fearing the uncomfortable grind of the pencil sharpener. If there is any consolation in his passing, it is that the end came quickly. Crushed by a maintenance van after being accidentally dropped, Mr. Bear never knew what hit him, and that brings a bit of peace to his heartbroken survivors.

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Warning: Graphic injuries!

“If there ever comes a day where we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.” —From Winnie the Pooh (a favorite book of Mr. Bear’s, for obvious reasons)

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In happier times, with other pocket friends.

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A Pocketful Of Bullet Pencils

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From pens to pencils to bullet pencils, this is yet another example of how one thing leads to another and suddenly you’re sitting on a healthy little collection. It’s like decluttering in reverse. I seem to be exceptionally good at that. The anti-Kondo method. Maybe I’ll write a book.

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I’ll call it Why Have One When Eight Will Do?

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There are plenty of practical reasons to use bullet pencils. They give new life to those too-short-on-their-own pencil nubbins. They make pencils pocketable while preserving a perfect point and protecting your legs from graphite stabbage. I have one of Randy Ragan’s expertly restored bullet pencils tucked into a pocket all day every day, and use them often for jotting down notes, working on a brain-teaser puzzle, or capturing an idea for a poem that pops into my head during my lunchtime walk in the woods.

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But if I’m honest, a lot of the appeal of bullet pencils is not practical at all—it’s all about those vintage graphics. The colors. The fonts. The attractions. All of the bullet pencils I own represent places I’ve been—most of them as a child. Okay, I’ve never been to the Bennett Stock Yards—that would be a weird vacation—but I have been to St. Paul, Minnesota where they’re located and I especially like that pencil’s purpley-blue color. They remind me of the those childhood vacations that didn’t require even a moment of work. No planning. No packing. No mapping out routes. No cursing about traffic. You just showed up with your pillow, settled into the back seat, shoved the seat belt out of the way (we weren’t particularly safety conscious back then) and off you went. I’m not sure I appreciated how great that feeling was but I sure do now.

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Travel today is such a mixture of preparation, stress, and rushing that’s it’s easy to forget the fun parts. Using a bullet pencil as I navigate through unfamiliar airports and crowded security checkpoints always makes me feel better by reminding me of those simpler times—when I wasn’t carrying so much mental weight. It’s the perfect tool to jot down a gate or seat number, but also a little reminder to lighten up and enjoy the journey.

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Bullet pencils—a vintage souvenir and the perfect stress eraser. Pun intended.

All of the bullet pencils pictured here were purchased from Randy Ragan who can be found in the Erasable Podcast Facebook group. Episode 101 of the Erasable Podcast features an interview with Randy. Very much worth a listen.