This is a story about a church pew, long-lost friends, and a pen.
Carl shared my St. Joseph School years in the red brick, eight-grade schoolhouse that was part of our Catholic parish. Together we marched over to church for Mass each morning before classes began. We made our First Communion together in the first grade–even
shared proximity in an old photo from that special day–and we faced the bishop together in the fifth grade to be confirmed.
Undoubtedly we faced each other in spell downs and multiplication races at the blackboard, too. We exchanged Valentines and shared hot lunches in the school basement, then went our separate ways at recess when the girls gathered for jump rope and the boys did whatever boys do in the dusty back lot.
We went our separate ways when it was time for high school, too. I went on to the Catholic school, Carl to one of the many public schools around town, and that was the last I saw of him, except for one time, at the movies, when I discovered he was an usher.
While I lost track of Carl and a lot of other classmates over the years, I also “lost” that entire grade-school campus. The school was closed, then the church was closed, and eventually everything was razed–church, school, convent and rectory. For a few years, the entire block remained empty. Now, I’m told–although I moved away long ago and can’t see for myself–that multiple-unit family dwellings have gone up. The space has been recycled, with only a little pocket park, named for St. Joseph, remaining as a reminder of what once was.
From far away, I had hoped for a piece of that church, built by German families in the late 1800s, when I heard it was being torn down. Some people, I was told, were lucky enough to acquire bricks, or pew parts, or other bits and pieces that weren’t sold. I wasn’t one of those lucky ones.
Then along came Facebook. My high school class put up a page just for us, and the inevitable “whatever happened to…?” questions started to be answered. As more people joined the page, we began to “friend” each other, shooting messages back and forth and catching up on the many, many intervening years since graduation, back in 1966.
Facebook also has a memories page for those of us who grew up in my hometown. It was a comment I left there that got noticed by Carl, who did a search, found me on Facebook, and sent a message–right about the same time that Bill, another St. Joseph grad, made contact with both of us. Three old friends, all in that same First Communion photo, back in touch after more than 50 years.
One of the first things we shared, of course, were memories of those parish school years, commiserating over the loss brought about by changing times. Were any of us lucky enough to glean a memento? Apparently not.
But then, things began to happen. “Be watching for something in the mail,” Carl told me–and, as I learned later, told Bill that, too.
When the package came, I was astonished. Carl and I had talked about our Palmer Method penmanship classes, bemoaning the fact that cursive writing is all but a lost art among young people today and that handwritten notes are as rare as fountain pens.
But Carl, who now operates a handcrafted pen business since his retirement, found someone willing to part with a weathered piece of pew from our old church, polished and shaped a portion of it, and produced an extremely limited edition fountain pen, with a cross-shaped clip. Each time I pick it up, I’m holding not just a pen, but a handful of memories, too, preserved by an old school friend who is one of those memories.
The pen was just the start. Shortly after, Bill also promised a package in the mail. It turns out that Bill had a St. Joseph brick, which he divided into thirds, labeled appropriately, and shared with me and Carl. Another little piece of my youth has come to rest in my home.
How can I top that? I can’t. But I can write a tribute in this blog to two old friends, refound after many years, held dear for all the years to come, sharers in something no one else in all the towns I’ve lived in can share with me. My roots.