Tall Tales: The Pen Man
Ballpoint pens, fountain pens, cheap and expensive pens—Henry loved them all. He had a collection of thousands. He was often asked where this obsession came from, and he’d tell the story of his past as a poor immigrant. Henry ate food donated by his church, and wore his father’s hand-me-downs.
During particularly difficult times Henry’s mother would pull out her most prized possession—a solid gold fountain pen that glimmered like sunbeams. It had been a gift her grandmother had received for being the first woman to graduate as a medical doctor. Her initials “VL” were engraved on it. That pen cheered the family because it reminded everyone that prosperity was not that far off. Henry figured this is where his love for pens began.
Henry’s mother and father had died years ago. The pen had been lost. But Henry and his sister, Susan, had started their own families. Henry had become successful and had two little girls. One Christmas, his sister persuaded him to fly to his home town to visit her. As typical with holiday plans, this one was frenzied. He was to celebrate an early Christmas with his sister, and fly back on December 24 to celebrate with his own family.
On his flight, Henry opened a magazine and an article entitled “The Pen Man” caught his eye. The story told of a homeless man who happened to live in Henry’s home town. The man was a welcome part of the community; he would go into local banks, real-estate offices, and other businesses and offer to distribute the give-away pens. On the street corner, he held a sign that said “Working Pens.” He would test each pen to make sure it wrote perfectly, and anyone who’d drop a few coins would get a pen. He also offered a guarantee. “If you lose that pen, or it stops, come back and I’ll give you a replacement. Free!”
With the money he made he could afford to shower and wear clean clothes. His smile and friendly nature made the biggest difference. He was a pleasure to be around. Even the businesses liked him because he brought then attention and new customers.
Henry wished he could find the time on this trip to track down and share his passion for pens with the Pen Man, but his schedule was too tight.
Henry enjoyed his time visiting his sister and his twoyear-old nephew, but he was ready to get home. He had just enough time to pack his things and get the last airport shuttle to get him to his flight. He plunked down his bag on the sidewalk at the shuttle stop and took a deep breath. He felt eyes were upon him, and turned to see an old man with a wide smile and sparking eyes staring at him. The man held in his hands a dented tin cup and a cardboard sign that read “Working Pens.”
Henry couldn’t believe his luck! Here was the Pen Man. He glanced at his watch. The shuttle was to arrive any minute so he nearly ran over to the man who looked exactly like he did in the magazine photo. “I love pens too!” Henry said.
“Yes, son. I know,” the Pen Man responded, smiling. “Why else would you risk missing your shuttle just to talk to an old homeless man?”
That made sense to Henry; so he said, “It’s funny, pens always been a symbol of hope for me.”
“They are full of hope. A person can write a novel with a pen, or a love note. A person can even sign a first million dollar contact with a cheap little pen.”
Henry was amazed how well spoken the Pen Man was, and how wise. Before he could pose his next questions he was interrupted by the airport shuttle. “There’s so much more I have to say,” Henry said, as he reached into his wallet and dropped a crisp twenty dollar bill in the old man’s tin cup.
The shuttle driver began honking. Henry turned toward the shuttle when the Pen Man shouted, “Wait! You forgot your Christmas present!” Henry froze in his tracks. Christmas present?
The Pen Man got up on creaky legs and walked to Henry. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a pen and handed it to him. It was a gold fountain pen that glimmered like sunbeams. Engraved letters spelled out the initials “VL.” Henry was stunned. A tear streamed down his cheek. “But… how?” Henry stuttered.
The shuttle driver honked his horn impatiently.
“Don’t you believe in Christmas Miracles, son? You’ve grown up into quite the man, Henry.”
“Sir! I’m going to have to leave you!” shouted the shuttle driver.
Henry glanced one last time into the homeless man’s sparkling eyes. He turned and ran to the shuttle.
Henry wiped away tears, holding the golden pen in his hand. Who was the Pen Man? It couldn’t have been his father who had died so long ago. But how else could he have had Henry’s mother’s beloved pen? Even though he searched every day for months, he never saw another mention of the Pen Man. All he had was a sweet, warm feeling inside, his grandmother’s golden fountain pen, a million unanswered questions, and the knowledge that he’d experienced a real-life Christmas miracle.