My kingdom (if I had one) for a pencil
by Dale Short
Mar 28, 2013 | 535 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dale Short
Dale Short
Editor’s note: This column first appeared in the Daily Mountain Eagle in 2011.

I had a dream, and it wasn't a good one.

I dreamed a father and his young daughter were walking through a museum of old-fashioned technology, and the girl lingered at one glass case with a puzzled expression. “What's that, Daddy?” she asked.

“That's a pencil, honey,” he told her. “People used to write and draw with them.”

True, that scene is a bit farther down the road, but pencils have been on my mind lately.

Not too long ago I was meeting with a print client in a designer's studio, and the client was having a hard time explaining what he wanted the cover of his publication to look like. “Give me a pencil,” he said to the artist. “I'll sketch it out for you.”

There wasn't one. Several thousand dollars worth of computer graphics equipment, but not a pencil to be found. An ink pen? None of us had one of those, either. I sheepishly went down the hall to borrow one from a lawyer's office.

Since then, trying to do my part to keep the faithful pencil manufacturers in business, I buy a box of pencils whenever I have to replace my printer cartridges. Something old, something new, etc.

One time, I found a display of Ticonderoga brand pencils, and remembered how exotic the name sounded when I was in grammar school. The ultimate pencil, I remembered, was a Ticonderoga with a good, soft No. 1 lead, so that you could make a really black mark without having to press so hard you tore the paper.

The store didn't stock them. Just No. 2. I tried another store, and another. No luck.

The Internet, to the rescue. My box of Ticonderoga No. 1 arrived in the mailbox this week, and it was like connecting with an old friend. Well, an old friend that's yellow and smells like wood, but still.

The writing aspect is just one facet of my enjoyment. I had forgotten how many tactile and olfactory pleasures a simple pencil contains. I was a very nervous kid, and no matter how much I was admonished not to chew on my pencils because...well, just because...they were a great stress reliever. And still are.

Even though I've been writing all my stuff on computer screens for a couple of decades now, I have never learned the skill of editing and proofreading onscreen. For some weird reason, typos just hide themselves on the monitor, whistling coyly, and don't pop out and become obvious until I print them.

So I print the rough draft of each manuscript, and edit by marking it up with a pen. Or now, a blessed Ticonderoga. I do my best editing lying on my stomach, which used to be problematic in newsrooms, obviously. But our cats don't mind. Our most literary cat, Lucky, even catches a typo or two on her own, occasionally, whose presence she notes by rolling her eyes when my pencil passes over it.

I would say that life is just about perfect right now, except that an old newspaper colleague tells me that I will be forever spoiled off of Ticonderogas if I try a No. 1 pencil from Sanford named the Mirado Black Warrior. My batch should arrive one day this week.

Sounds a little neurotic, true, but I figure a pencil addiction is by far the cheapest and most legal I could succumb to. Especially since I've gotten too old for most others.

If you'll pencil me in for next Thursday, I'll let you know which brand wins.

Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos, and radio features are available on his website, His weekly radio program "Music from Home" airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM, streams live online at, and is archived afterward on his website.)