BERRY: Our weird fascinations make wonderful memories

Jun 7, 2012


I've been collecting pencils since I got a Jay's Potato Chips pencil off the side of a bag of chips when I was a kid. I still have it, and it's never been sharpened.

I now have many pencils from all of the places I've been: the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, Spring Lake District Library and Great Harvest Bread Company. I don't go many places.

I have pencils of all 28 NFL football teams. There are 32 now.

I have pencils of the United States presidents all the way through Jimmy Carter. I have a pencil that my grownup kids brought me from Cedar Point that's so long it would be impractical to use even if I wanted to. I have one that's made from a tree branch, and the only way I'd ever be able to sharpen it is with a knife.

I have friends who have brought me pencils from exotic, faraway places like Texas, Arizona and Pittsburgh. The one from Arizona is bent into the shape of a cactus. I'd never be able to use the eraser even if I wanted to.

I got one at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but it got stolen when I sat on the steps to watch Frank Gifford ride by on a golf cart.

My children, Evien and Maggie, are well aware of my pencil fascination. They've seen me purchase Christmas pencils, Halloween pencils and pirate pencils at the dollar store. They know I like my pencils unsharpened with an unmolested eraser.

Whenever they receive a pencil at church, school, a field trip or birthday party, they always offer it to me.

"Here, Dad — I got a pencil for you from Country Dairy."

"No, thank you," I say, wringing my hands and nibbling on my bottom lip. "That's your pencil."

"But, Dad, I really want you to have it."

"Tell you what, I'll trade a SpongeBob Square Pants pencil for it."


One day at suppertime, Evien said: "Dad, a boy in my class brought a brand new pencil to class from Disney World. I so wanted to grab it for you, but I didn't."

My heart swelled with pride that my little girl thought about me when she saw an unsharpened pencil. And I was a little bit proud that she didn't resort to a life of crime to please me.

"Dad," Evien said. "Whenever I see an unsharpened pencil, I always think of you."

"And you probably will your whole life." I said.

That conversation made me think about all the things my children will remember about me.

Otters. I love otters. If I could be any animal, I'd be an otter. Otters always seem to have fun. They crack open shellfish with a rock, so they must be smart. Otter is seldom served at restaurants, and you hardly ever see one dead on the side of the road. And otters are the cutest animal on the planet. But I wouldn't want one for a pet because, according to the movie "We Bought A Zoo," an otter will bite your finger off.

Whenever Evien and Maggie see a toy otter at the department store, they always point it out to me. If they find an otter in a coloring book, they color it for me. I have pictures of otters hanging on my bedroom mirror.

There is a wonderful painting of an otter at the Spring Lake District Library. Since my children know that I have an affection for otters, maybe they'll swipe it for me someday.

Woody wagons. I love woody wagons. I like all makes and models from the '40s through the '90s. Whenever we see a woody wagon, the girls will shout out, "Woody wagon!" Sometimes it's a woody van and I have to set them straight that a woody van doesn't count. There's nothing cool about a woody van. My apologies to those who own a woody van: both of you.

Toy airplanes. I love toy airplanes. Balsa wood, cardboard, Styrofoam — it doesn't matter. Evien and Maggie and I have launched and crashed many high-flying trickster airplanes. We've held some planes together with toothpicks, paper clips, Elmer's glue and duct tape. We've parted some out for use on other planes, but they always end up in the scrap heap.

Parachute guys. I love those toy parachute guys. But I can never seem to pitch them in the air high enough for their chutes to open more than a millisecond before impact. I've thrown my shoulder out trying to get enough elevation for a smooth decent — and by the time I obtain a good tossing technique, the strings are all tangled. But forever, when my girls see one of those parachute guys, they'll think of me.

Memories are funny. They can sit dormant for a long time until a small object, sound or smell can bring them back in waves to the forefront of our minds.

Whenever I hear a loud, sharp whistle — the kind that could stop a cab on a busy city street — I think of my dad. As long as I can remember, I was called like a dog by that whistle.

And whenever I smell machine oil, I remember my dad coming home from the factory in his flannel shirt, unlacing his black work shoes and tossing them on the shoe mat.

And whenever I hear the song "Wildwood Flower," I remember dad because he used to play that song over and over on his guitar. Probably still does.

I've given my kids plenty to remember me by. Someday they'll be in their room and look down at an unsharpened pencil that reads, "Shady Brook Retirement Community" and they'll think, "My dad sure would have loved this pencil."

— By Grant Berry, Tribune community columnist


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