Tag Archives: #covid19

A Very Parker Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from the Gold Star Memorial Bridge in Groton, Conn.

Thanksgiving hasn’t been this chaotic and stressful for everyone in America since at least World War II…possibly since the 1919 Spanish Influenza pandemic. There’s the Covid-19 pandemic, political turmoil, recession, open-rampant-growing racism, civil unrest and climate disaster for many recovering from wildfires and hurricanes.

It feels more important than ever to take a day to recognize all of the things we are grateful for in our lives. Me, I’m thankful for my fiancé, her mother and I all being healthy and well together in our new home. I’m thankful my parents, sister and her family are healthy and safe. And I’m thankful for all of my friends, whether we know each other from before ThePenMarket.com or because of it.

So many customers became friends who beautifully color my life. In Chicago, I have a Civil-War studying, vintage-camera-loving buddy with fantastic wit and a social-working, philosophizing friend who convinced me to not give up on my novel. There’s the salsa-dancing police detective who specializes in tracking down child abusers in Arizona. A Heinlein-loving pen collector in Virginia. A virologist who is working on the Covid-19 vaccine. A certain retired urologist in Connecticut. A retired sailor in Virginia Beach. A school teacher in Germany. A Waterman-loving Oklahoman. The nursing home nurse in Texas. Several great paramedics in Washington and Colorado. I have a 3-fingered brother from another mother down in Texas, as well as a wonderful roommate and travel buddy who loves cars as much as pens. I’d have never guessed I’d have as many additional new and wonderful friends from the Deep South as I do. I am a Yankee city boy, after all. And, of course, there are many, many other pen friends whom I delight in getting to know through the site. 

The newest friend I think you’ll enjoy meeting is Camy Matthay. Camy reached out to me after reading my series of stories about the pens that ended World War II. Most of those pens were Parker pens, and she is reconnecting with her late father by doing the deepest dive into Parker pens I’ve seen in years.

Frank Matthay in his passport issued 1959. Matthay was the leader of Parker exports from 1928 through 1966.

Who was her father? No. Not George or Kenneth Parker. Her father was the unassuming sounding Frank Matthay…the man responsible for making Parker a global brand!

Her story is equally captivating as her father’s. Camy came along late in Frank’s life. And, unfortunately, he died of early-onset Alzheimer’s in the mid-1970s when she was a teen. His memories were robbed of him by the disease, just as she was coming of age and really interested in getting to know her father as a person more than just Dad. Life moves quickly in one’s teens and twenties, and a little later in adulthood Camy decided to reconnect with her late father when she uncovered a treasure trove of boxes filled with his papers, passports, photos and other personal effects.

Frank, as it turns out, lived the adventure of a lifetime. Not only did he live well at a time when most of the world lived in crushing poverty, he saw the world before it lost much of its mystery. He met presidents and Nazis—generals and actual Amazonian headhunters. He helped give birth to the Parker Vacumatic, 51, 61 and 75!

Thankfully, Camy has shared her discoveries with me and is happy to share them with you, too. The following is my summary of her father’s biography with her full approval.

Frank Matthay (far left) with George Parker (white haired guy, founder of Parker Pens) circa 1929.

Frank Matthay was born May 10, 1904, in Beyenberg, Germany. Too young to fight in World War I, he was a talented student in what now would be considered a college-prep high school. Here he specialized in studying the classics, including the languages Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and his native German. Along the line, he also picked up English.

At the tender age of 19, he immigrated to the United States in 1923. He was sponsored by his uncle. Germany, at the time, was struggling desperately with the national economic collapse of post-WWI reparations and more. He moved to Chicago, where he was supposed to work in his uncle’s grocery store. However, it seems he never worked for his uncle, taking a job initially as a soda jerk and taking night classes at a YMCA. 

It is unclear when and where he mastered English, as well as Spanish, Portuguese and some Mandarin Chinese. Yet, his early training in the German school system likely made it very easy for him to learn any other language put in front of him.

Also unclear is how he joined the Parker Pen Company in January 1928, at the age of 23. His mastery of languages was what got him a job in the export department, and he was soon working closely with George and Kenneth Parker.

By all accounts, Frank was the life of any party with a natural gift of gab and always armed with a joke and amusing stories. He was tall and lean with a broad, easy smile and a glimmer of mirth in his eyes, plus he had a meticulously Teutonic attention to detail. All important traits for setting up a global distribution and sales network in Central America, South America, Europe, Asia and South Africa!

After a year with the company, Frank was sent on his first assignment to Cuba on the two-year-old airline known as PanAmerican. His career would actually parallel the rise of PanAm. He rode on every glamorous (and not-so-glamorous) float plane they had including the very early Sikorsky S-38, Consolidated Commodore and the extremely lux Sikorsky S-40 “Caribbean Clipper,” which was the first of PanAm’s famous “Clipper” airliners.

Frank took this photo of a Sikorsky 38 float plane taxiing to the dock.

On the success of his Cuba trip, in 1930 he was sent to Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, France, Mexico and Cuba, once again. During his trip to Europe on the SS Bremen, he witnessed one of the first, if not the first, aircraft launched from a ship at sea. It was a mail plane launched from a catapult to speed the delivery of the mail the ship was carrying. In 1931, he spent 6 months “on the road” building Parker’s network in Australia and Southeast Asia!

Herbert Hoover’s motorcade drives through Port au Prince, Haiti.

An avid photographer, Frank took pictures of all of his travels. He has images of President Herbert Hoover’s 2-car motorcade in Port au Prince, Haiti. He loved exploring volcanos. On one of his trips to Peru or Ecuador he met and photographed a tribe of headhunters. He even bought a shrunken head from them for $25 (about $330 in our current money). The images look as if they could have been in National Geographic.

Frank took this photo of a tribe of headhunters in Peru or Ecuador. He bought a shrunken head from them for $25.

If you remember my stories about Kenneth Parker befriending Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in the Philippines, Frank was with them!

Fans of the Parker 51 will love knowing that Frank was the architect of the 1939 and ’40 release of the preliminary Parker 51s in South America and the Caribbean! His itinerary in 1939 was packed with extended trips south of the border. His itinerary on PanAmerican Airlines alone cost nearly $27,000 in today’s money. That doesn’t count his hotels, meals, etc. Yet, it also laid the ground work for the sale of tens of millions of Parker 51s both abroad and at home.

Here is Frank’s copy of the PanAm route map from 1931. Odds are really good that he flew every leg of that route.

Financially speaking, Frank was very well paid for his efforts. At the end of the Great Depression in 1939, he was making $5,000 a year. That is just shy of $100,000 a year in today’s money. And that doesn’t count for his luxury travel and adventures paid for by the company. According to records from Janesville that Camy found, he was making more than local doctors. Parker’s famous nib grinders of 1939 made $2,400 a year. A typist at Parker would make $1,000 a year. (Other cool details she uncovered.)

Frank’s passports are works of art, colorfully illustrated with visas to scores of nations. More impressive than the stamps of many colors are the notes from customs officials. Chilling are the notes by Nazis and Italian fascists telling him where he can and cannot go. It also seemed to him at times that the Nazis had him under surveillance. As a former German citizen who became a naturalized American, he was suspicious to them.

As it turns out, they had good reasons to suspect him. He was very anti-fascism. After the outbreak of World War II, he worked with friends and family in Belgium to funnel money to the resistance fighting Nazi-occupation.

His post-war years were just as busy, as he rebuilt Parker’s global networks from the rubble of Europe’s and much of Asia’s destruction.

Check out the stamps from China to Nazi Germany on this heavily inked page from his 1937 passport.

Unfortunately, a life of travel and corporate empire building was rough at home. His first marriage, in which he had 3 children, ended in divorce. Later in life he remarried and had three more children, including Camy. Yet, that was difficult, too. He traveled around the world so much, a very, very young Camy thought he was one of America’s first astronauts for a little while.

In 1960, Parker opened a sales office in Paris, and Frank and his family were moved there to run the office until 1962.

By the mid-1960s, Frank’s memory started to fail. Very little was known about neurological diseases such as Alzheimers back then, and doctors actually thought his medical problems stemmed from diseases he might have picked up on his travels or from eating exotic native foods, such as, apparently, a still beating snake heart in Vietnam.

Frank retired as a vice president at Parker in 1966, after 38 years of dedicated service. He continued his hobby of collecting stamps and learning Russian and Sandskrit until his Alzheimers made it impossible. He passed away in 1974.

Frank is on the far right posing with the famed Parker 51 airplane. Among his many other hobbies, Frank was a licensed pilot, though I do not know if he flew the “51.”

Honestly, there are so many more adventures in Frank’s life, but I just couldn’t fit them all into this post without simply writing a book. I am so thankful for Camy’s reaching out to me and sharing her stories and research. I hope you enjoy learning a little more about Parker’s international growth and its star salesman and leader.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season. No matter how bad this pandemic gets, remember we are going to get through it. A vaccine is on its way. And one day, this pandemic will be nothing more than a bad memory. Thank you for visiting and supporting ThePenMarket.com. We can’t do it with out you, and we are so grateful for you. Stay strong and keep writing.

Decameron 2020: From Zoom to Eternity

From Zoom to Eternity
By Art Cerf

What type of mushroom is this? We found it growing in a Connecticut forest. It has nothing to do with the story. We just like catching your eye with pictures we like.

In olden days, Henry Prichard might have been a traveling engineer or linguist. But now, he was a much-in-demand computer wiz.

He fell in love twice while majoring in computer science at Purdue. First to a gal named Sally, whom he met in an introduction to programming course. And then with programming. Some people are born to be great singers or great doctors. Some easily take to French or another language. Henry took to Java, Python, JavaScript, C, C# and SQL.

He married Sally and had three children that he adored. But he was seldom home. Henry didn’t sell computer systems, he custom made Fortune-500 and governmental computer programs tailored to his client’s needs and was on call for people all around the world. So he’d travel from Denver to Dubai, come home for some fresh clothing, kiss the wife and hug the kids and then it was off to San Francisco and Singapore.

As you might imagine, Henry became very prosperous only his marriage was falling apart. Too many missed birthdays, anniversaries and the like. But the final straw was when he was called out of town on Christmas Eve to remedy some problem in Berlin.

Sally filed for divorce and took the kids with her to her hometown of Lebanon, Ohio.

Every night, Henry would Zoom them to catch up on their school days, their new friends and interests but he saw less and less of Sally who apparently was dating the manager of a local supermarket and who was home every night.

Then came the pandemic. No more traveling for Henry…not even to his office. But he was able to still work from his home and through Zoom, able to circle the world to fix problems remotely.

The trouble of course was calls came in 24 hours a day…each more urgent than the last. He took to sleeping on the couch to be available whenever needed. That often meant three hours sleep here, an hour there.

And there was the problem of his eating. He ordered out most nights and made one run a week, Sunday mornings, to the grocery to pick up lunch meat, snacks, desserts and Diet Coke.

From March to September, he gained 40 pounds and looked as pale as a ghost. No time or interest in exercising.

He heard from the office once a week but one week, no one answered their call. They tried again the next day and the next.

Nada. So finally, they sent someone out to see him and through the window, they saw him slumped over his computer. An ambulance was called, but it was at least two days too late.

Officially, the coroner’s report gave a heart attack as the cause of death. In truth, the pandemic had racked up another casualty.

Decameron 2020: Gladys & Cora

Gladys & Cora
By Art Cerf

Just a great spring photo to share. It has nothing to do with the story, it is just. an evil ploy to attract your attention.

Gladys and Cora were best friends. Note the emphasis on were.

They grew up together, trading dolls, clothing and their deepest secrets.

And as they became adults, they both fell in love with Charlie. He chose Gladys and soon they were engaged. Cora swallowed her sorrow and tried very hard to be happy for her friend.

Then, just days before the wedding, Gladys on a whim or perhaps after a minor tiff with Charlie, called the whole thing off.

A year passed and Charlie called up Cora one day and asked her out to a movie. Things progressed and soon, Charlie and Cora were engaged and Gladys was enraged.

“How could you,” Gladys screamed. “You know I still love him.”

“But you dropped him, remember? Over a year ago.”

“Well, I was just waiting for him to call me back and he would have if you hadn’t stabbed me in the back!”

Gladys turned and said she never wanted to see Cora again. And then she went on Facebook and called her ex-friend all kinds of nasty names. Cora knew she should just let it pass…but she couldn’t and replied in kind.

Charlie said he was sick of it. And then he was sick of something else…a high fever, a barking, dry cough and trouble breathing.

Within a week, he passed away.

Cora was there for a graveyard service. With social distancing, so was Gladys. When everyone else had left, only Cora and Gladys remained. And social distancing be damned, hugged each other.

Decameron 2020: Elementary Human Nature

Nope, again this has nothing to do with the story, but it is a beautiful swampy nature preserve in Wisconsin.

Mrs. Peebles loved her first-grade class. Each of her 20 students was a clever little sponge soaking in knowledge, exploring and learning in their own ways. High-energy and mostly adorable, she wished she could protect each one from all of the dangers in the world.

To help keep them safe, near the end of the school year, she’d have a special class to warn them about the dangers lurking within their own homes. She explained how bleach and ammonia could be wonderful cleaners for their homes, but they could also be deadly poisons if drunk. Just getting the chemicals on their skin could hurt them, if they didn’t wash them off quickly. She let the kids come up and give a quick little sniff of each chemical to make sure they knew what they smelled like and should avoid.

Next she warned them of other dangers, such as hot stoves and space heaters.

She would wrap up the discussion with a dire warning never to stick anything other than an electric plug into a light socket. Electricity was vital to powering their lights, TV and computers, but it also was deadly when touched directly. She explained how a shock could stop their hearts or burn them.

After answering the children’s questions and reassuring them that all of these dangerous things could be very safe if only used properly, she began to put away her sample chemicals in a locking cabinet behind her desk.

At the very second she knelt down, there was a loud pop in the classroom and the lights flickered.

She stood up and screamed when she saw little Johnny Whozit lying unconscious next to an electric outlet on the other side of the room, a small pair of scissors clenched in his hand.

***

Dear Friends,

It is easy for us, as adults, to see that Johnny had a severe lapse in judgement when he was just told that the very thing he was about to do could kill him. The vast majority of us don’t need to stick things in an outlet to know it is an insanely terrible idea. The overwhelming majority of us have never stuck anything other than proper plugs in an outlet.

While quarantine totally blows goats, for the life of me I cannot understand why grown adults think it is suddenly a good idea to drink bleach, break quarantine and stop wearing masks in public, in close proximity to other people.

With increasing repetition, I’m hearing all manner of virus conspiracy theories, as if Covid-19 has ideological intentions.

It doesn’t. The virus isn’t liberal, conservative or even political. It is a mindless microscopic thing that isn’t even a complete single-cell structure that scientists define as only being on the “edge of life.” It isn’t living in the traditional sense that we understand living to be…but it isn’t quite not-alive, either. No wonder it is difficult to treat. It only has two goals: quasi-live & replicate. It sickens and kills everybody equally, regardless of politics, race, religion or wealth.

I am blessed to count many EMTs, nurses, doctors and police officers among my friends and customers. Many of them have told me how insanely contagious this disease is. Most of them have seen people die of the disease…many people, in some cases.

Many of the best scientific minds in the country are working on cures and vaccines to save the rest of us from this plague. At the moment, we have no known, proven cure. We’re mostly keeping our fingers crossed that it doesn’t kill us. True, for as many people who get it, only a small percentage of them die. Who wants to take that risk when a cure or vaccine might be just around the corner?

Yes, the economy is in rough shape. Absolutely, people need money to continue on. All of us would love to gather with friends and family once again. We all want life to return to normal as soon as possible…and I hope with as little suffering and death as possible. OMG! Warm weather and a beautiful springtime make it even harder to stay indoors. I get it.

But these are extraordinary times, and they call for extreme measures to protect our family, friends and neighbors as much as humanly possible.

One of the most dangerous parts about Covid-19 is that you can get it and never know it. You can also get it and spread it for up to 14 days before coming down with symptoms. Why put yourself at risk? Why put your family and friends at risk? Why pass it on to some friendly elderly person you accidentally bump into at the grocery store? Who knows how many people someone you might infect can then turn around and infect?

Until we have a cure or vaccine, the only thing we can do for ourselves and everyone else is stay home…and wear a mask if you have to go out for supplies. It totally sucks, but it is the only way to stay safe…minimize the spread of the disease…and buy the many doctors and scientists working around the clock to find a better way to kill, cure and prevent this disease a little more time.

Regardless of politics, for the health and lives of our families and friends, we need to unite as a nation and a planet. At no other time in human history has it been easier to be a hero that helps save humanity. All you have to do is continue to shelter in place.

With great love, health and respect,
Nathaniel

Decameron 2020: A Joke

A Joke
By Art Cerf

Three ghosts drift into a bar.

The ghostly bartender says “What will you have?”

The first ghost says, “A Corona.”

The second ghost says, “Me too.”

The bartender looks at the third ghost and says, “A corona?”

The third ghost says, “No thanks, I already had it.”

Decameron 2020: July 2021

July 2021
By Art Cerf

Sunset Behind the Wisconsin River. Wausau, Wis. April 2020. By Nathaniel Cerf

By now, billions of people, indeed, half the world’s population had succumbed to Covid-19a.

A year ago, people got tired of sheltering in place and ignored all the scientific warnings to stay in place and keep social distancing, much to the virus’s delight (if viruses can feel delight.).

Then in the fall, the virus mutated once again and became ten-twenty times more deadly and masks and PPE no longer worked.

Billions died…economies collapsed…governments fell. And of course, half of all the doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and scientists perished, too. There was no vaccine, and it looked like there wouldn’t be one.

On the other hand, skies hadn’t been this clean since farmlands in the 19th century. Rivers ran pollution-free. Animals on the endangered species list made a strong comeback. It was as if Mother Nature was cleansing the planet…of humans.

I walked back to my car, marveling at how I now could see the stars at night and how the earth had changed so.  If we survived this plague, would we learn any lessons about protecting the planet? I truly hoped so.

I was headed home and hoped to find an open gas station on the way. So many had closed. Still I only had less than a quarter of a tank full on my Hummer.

Decameron 2020: Mr. Hobbs

MR. HOBBS
By Art Cerf

This is a story about Mr. Hobbs.  Not Roy Hobbs, the baseball phenom played by Robert Redford in “The Natural.” And not Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Hobbs in “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation.”  Robert Redford is handsome. Jimmy Stewart was charming. Our Mr. Hobbs was neither.

He was a solitary man, an only child who lived his entire life with his mom and after she passed away, he continued living in their home.

Hobbs was a teller at the local bank for 37 years until a bank merger forced him into an unwanted retirement. Still, he had his Social Security, a small pension, his mother’s house and a small amount of money that she had willed to him. Altogether, it wasn’t much but it was enough for his needs.

Hobbs would sleep in late and go to bed early. During his waking hours, he would watch the news and old movies, thumb through about a hundred books in the house although he had read each multiple times. And he would pick up and hold his mother’s possessions.  Some of them were probably worth some money but it never crossed his mind to sell them.

He seldom went outside and then, only late at night, so he could roam the neighborhood without running into neighbors.

And then, the pandemic.

It started in Washington state, then New York. Soon it spread to Chicago, Los Angeles and New Orleans. And then tendrils of the virus reached out around the heartland.

Finally, it arrived in Pennyville. He saw that Sue and Walter Borowicz had died. They had been regular bank customers for decades.  A few days later, Harvey Ingle succumbed.  While they weren’t friends, Harvey had been in grade school with him.

But Hobbs had not fear of the virus. For one thing, he was socially distanced from everyone. And second, he had been dead for seven  years. And ghosts seldom get viruses.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For those of you who wonder where I get my macabre sense of humor, this story by my father might be a good clue. And to her credit, my mom can get pretty dark, too.

Decameron 2020: The Pangolin’s Lament (or, The Birth of Covid-19)

Author’s Note: A.) I’ve always enjoyed short-story contests of 50 words or fewer. B.) As of this writing, pangolins are one of the animals most suspected of giving humans this strain of coronavirus.

The pangolin hunter smiled, looking at his wriggling snare.

“Listen,” the defiant pangolin said. “I’ll make you a deal: Let me go, and I’ll let you live.”

The hunter said nothing, reaching to strangle the little anteater.

“Okay,” the pangolin resigned, blowing a juicy sneeze in the hunter’s face.

Arkansas Pen Show Cheats Covid-19

Have you ever lived through a hurricane? I was visiting my grandmother in Cocoa Beach, Florida, in 1995 when Hurricane Erin struck. It was a minor, catagory 1 hurricane, but it was impressive for this Midwestern boy to witness and experience.

Whereas hurricanes strike a much smaller location than a global pandemic, hurricanes were all I could think of as I drove from Wausau, Wis., to Little Rock, Ark., and back.

Keeping busy with friends at the Arkansas Pen Show in 2020. It was a great show in spite of the pending pandemic.

There was a nervous tension and anxiousness in the air. Everybody knew what was coming, but nobody knew exactly what, where or how. Panic buying. Cautious interactions between strangers bracing for the worst and some remarkably kind and gracious interactions between others. And, yet, a hollow sense of dread and waiting persisted in the quiet moments or as people listened to or watched broadcasts of the latest news.

The pending pandemic of coronavirus felt a lot like waiting for Hurricane Erin to strike that coastal community 25 years ago.

And like before, during and after that hurricane, the folks at the Arkansas Pen Show rallied for one heck of an experience. Tim Joiner and the other folks who helped at the Arkansas Pen Club kept a steady hand on the tiller for a smooth operating show that was a lot of fun. The vendors and attendees pushed past their concerns about the pending pandemic to enjoy the passion for pens that brings us together through thick and thin.

Lisa and Mike Vanness, of Vanness Pen Shop, hosted an incredible after-party Friday. Taking much stricter health precautions into account, they still delivered great food and drink for a genuinely joyous evening dedicated to pens and, especially, ink.

Good friends from as far as San Francisco, Houston and Memphis stopped by to say hello and/or share a drink.

Little Rock, itself, was greening up beautifully. The temperature upon arrival was 70-degrees Fahrenheit. The grass was green. Flowers were blooming, and trees were blossoming. After a cold winter with up to 5-feet of snow on the ground, Little Rock was enchanting.

As Covid-19 now sweeps the country, it looks as if the Arkansas Pen Show might very well be the final pen show of the season. While we hate to see the other shows go dark for the year, we appreciate the courage of the show owners for making the wise decision to keep their vendors and patrons safe, and we can’t wait to return when the disease has run its course. In the meantime, I want to thank every single person who made the Arkansas Pen Show such a fun show to slip in ahead of the pandemic.