Get to The Point

A Child's Water Cooler (photo Dominic Giuliani)

A Child’s Water Cooler (photo Dominic Giuliani)

To say the hand-cranked mechanical pencil sharpener was the Cadillac of pencil sharpeners would be a huge understatement.  During my school days, the painted metal sharpener was ever present, usually bolted into a long counter in the classroom, always with a line of kids behind it.

I was one of those kids.  I can remember the handle on the crank and how it had a propensity to pinch my small fingers.  It was worth the risk, to feel the spiral of blades churn, eat wood, and sharpen lead was a discovery with each and every turn.  Like a freshly cut Christmas tree, the shortened pencils filled the air with a dusting of red cedar and graphite.   Oh, and there was that ridged wheel, the one that would adjust the width of the mouth, that always took a spin, even if we all used the same number 2 pencils.

Most of all, I can remember when the basket was full of shavings and had to be emptied into the trash.  It was secured by a metal clip, under a push button, and always required careful removal.  It was like a trophy that grew with the envy of everyone else in the class, especially the other kids in line.  Maybe that one was just me, but I loved that, like it was a monumental task that had to be accomplished or all the pencils in the world would go dull.

I suppose this is simply nostalgia, the same sharpeners are still around.  I happened to see one last weekend while I was at a writing workshop, and it pinged at memories of a more innocent time.  That mechanical pencil sharpener, I thought, was our water cooler.  It was our fountain of knowledge, since we already had our youth.  With the pencils we sharpened, we learned to draw, write, and add and subtract.  But we also learned, or at least I did, that if we wanted another turn at the crank, all we had to do was press the sharp point of our pencils hard into our wooden desks and get in line.

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Categories: Life, Observation, Stream of Conscious

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. I love this. I have two boys and we have burned through several electric pencil sharpeners instead of buying the hand cranked expensive one first. Which, we ultimately purchased and hangs in our garage. I spend quite a bit of time volunteering in their school and I always love it when a kid asks me to sharpen their pencil…I run over and turn that crank!

  2. I could see the classroom of my 3rd grade year. Your description was, indeed, vivid.

  3. Great imagery in this post! 🙂

    They still have those old pencil sharpeners in most of the schools I work in, but kids don’t seem to have the knack to use them properly, anymore. I guess they’ve just gotten used to the electric models. I’m usually the one who has to empty the basket because the kids these days have no idea how to align it so it fits back on the sharpener! 🙂

    • Awesome, thank you!

      Darn kids these days… 🙂

      I do remember it being a challenge to reattach the basket after emptying. It’s strange, some of the details we remember – or are reminded of – after all these years. I hadn’t seen a sharpener like that in a very long time, it was such a pleasant reminder for me!

      Thanks again for dropping a comment and for your kind words – really appreciate it!

  4. I remember back in Primary School we had an electric pencil sharpener that was attached to the wall. Everyone would try to make their the “pointy-est”. Sometimes this would go too far and we’d end up breaking the pencil, having to start again. I was always freaked out about accidentally sticking my fingers into the hole though.

  5. And the smell of the pencil wood and lead! A lovely recollection thanks.

  6. Another great line: “It was our fountain of knowledge, since we already had our youth.”

    I was never as fond as that of the pencil sharpener. Maybe I was of a slightly different era, but I always hankered for a pen, since that never had to be sharpened. I didn’t like going up to the front of the classroom, exposing myself for all to see.

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