The Pen

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


Bill on the left, Carl on the right, and I’m in the upper right.

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 fountain pentalked 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.

St. Joe's brickThe 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.


About Monica Sawyn

I'm a retired newspaper reporter/columnist, and although I still freelance, I miss the weekly column I used to write. I still "see columns" in everyday life and need a place to put them after they're written--thus, this blog. I'm Catholic, have been a Benedictine oblate since 1977, and live with my husband and our beagle in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When I'm not writing, I'm probably reading, sewing, taking photos or walking the dog.
This entry was posted in Catholic, Catholic life, friendship, getting older, History, Memories and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Pen

  1. Betty Cuti says:

    (I’m ‘riding the rails’ as I type this.. returning from Chicago by AMTRAK)

    Monica…..this was such a lovely tribute to Carl and Bill! I KNOW they’re both feeling so special by now.

    Donna is with me and enjoyed the article as well. And, guess what?! Our kind, classmate, Carl sent me a pen for her and Suzanne, too, so I could play SANTA! (Carl’s words) Of course, only mine and yours are of the Very Special Edition category. Suzanne also received a stitch ripper. Her lovely pen has the rollerball point…and writes so smoothly. Donna’s is a twist down ballpoint. …both the gorgeous wood from pew 32. Well, this 4-night quilt weekend was really a nice time with sisters. We enjoyed our classes. I’m looking forward to working on some newly learned skills. It’s the first quilt show I had actually participated in. More about that sometime. For now, M, you should know, I think you’re one the ‘really good ones’ the rest of us are just allowed to know. Hugs. See on FB. Betty

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Monica Sawyn says:

      I knew Carl had made a pen for you, and I think you told me about Suzanne’s. I didn’t mention that, or the seam rippers, because that would have cluttered up the article too much. As far as I know, they haven’t read it yet. Hope they like it! I think we’re ALL “good ones.” It’s why we’ve all gravitated to each other!

      • Linda McLaughlin says:

        Thank you for the beautiful article! I’m so happy you recognized Carl’s generosity and thoughtfulness! I received my pen last week and as I told Carl it is truly a cherished gift.
        So happy we have all reconnected through Facebook!

      • Monica Sawyn says:

        Oh, you got one, too! I wasn’t sure who had and who hadn’t, and was hoping writing about mine wouldn’t create a problem. Wasn’t this just the nicest thing he did for us? What a guy! I use my fountain pen a lot, especially for handwritten thank-you notes.

  2. Linda McLaughlin says:

    Such a lovely article! I enjoyed reading it and reminiscing the special days and classmates of St. Joe’s. I’m so happy you recognized Carl’s generosity and thoughtfulness to his grade school
    friends and classmates! I received my pen last week and as I told Carl will cherish it always! We had a very nice group over our 8 years at St. Joe’s and as you mentioned it is wonderful to have reconnected through Facebook!

  3. blb1 says:

    Enjoyed this post. I have a hymnal from my old childhood church, but nothing from school days. I also have two pew porcelain numbers from the church pews my husband was baptized in.

    • Monica Sawyn says:

      How special! I hope you have the numbers displayed some way, and the hymnal, too. Maybe someday they could be donated to the church archives, or to some historical center that would appreciate them.

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