Anyway, I don't aim to turn this into memoirs (I will write a book some time about it and share it then), but let me give brief background before talking about the school desks. My father was born very shortly after WWII ended, in a tiny village in Germany called Alsfeld. I know the town relatively well since we went to visit that half of my family every year until I went off to college. It won an award in the 1970s for being the most well-preserved medieval city in the world.
Anyway, I was reading blogs on my rare free time last week, and came across this post on Swiss Miss.
It's a children's desk from the 1950s with a built-in ink pot. I instantly thought of my father and asked him if his desk was like that in school. His response:
for me you didn't go back far enough ... this thing is MODERN compared to what we had ... we had long desks, slightly slanted for the writing surface, seating at least 4 in a row with fixed seats that folded back ... a carved out a long groove for pencils and quills (metal) and fixed built-in inkpots ... imagine the mess we made in first and second grade !!
I probed further and then got this:
forgot to say that in the first year we had to practice writing on a stone tablet with a "Griffel" ... not sure how you would translate that but it was a pencil looking thing made of stone, so you basically scratched your letter onto the tablet ... the writing "Griffel" was made of a softer stone, so it did not scratch the surface too badly, you could wipe it clean with a damp cloth ... yes, "those were the times" (and the tablets and "Griffel" were handed down from year to year until they couldn't be used any longer ... compare that to today!
in the second year we got promoted to incredibly rough recycled lined paper, pencils for which we had to buy extensions (you put the ever shorter getting pencil into it so that you extended the length of pencil stump) ... we used the pencils until nothing was left of the wood/lead. (and pencil sharpeners were a rarity ... we used pocket knifes to sharpen the pencils)
Then in the 3rd year we were promoted to the inkpots and quills ... I think I had my first fountain pen in 4th grade ... we were not allowed to use ballpoint pens which were new and "untried" then (and expensive) ...
Isn't that INTERESTING?? Maybe I'm the only that who is fascinated by it, but I love hearing stories about this kind of thing. Sometimes I miss the pre-Internet days. Until 7th grade, it was handwritten homework for me too. Remember those desks where the top lifted up and you had all this room to put your stuff in? My best friend (who was also born in Germany and lived there for ten years) and I reminisce about things like this, talking about wanting to carry our books around tied together with a brown leather belt. I talked a little about this stuff in this entry.
In the tiniest nutshell around (and I might be getting details wrong)... at around age 20 my father left Alsfeld, hitchhiked around Europe for a while and ended up in Frankfurt working for Citibank. They figured out that he was really good at a specific thing, and started sending him all over the world to different branches to do it. I can't even believe the places he's been. I asked him about a t-shirt he was wearing in an old photo once, and he launched into this back story about being on a boat in Bali. I bet I don't even know half of his story and I plan to find it all out. Here's a photo from 1975:
This originally was just supposed to be about school desks, but I wanted to give the German back story and I expanded. Soon I'll have to talk about my mother. She deserves an entry too for sure. Oh, I know just the thing to write about! To be continued :)
EDIT | In an e-mail from my Dad: "just a little correction about Alsfeld: it was named for the top spot in Europe, not the world ... but then again, where else do they have medieval towns in the world??"