Point to Paper – What happened to Monte Rosa and the Victorian underwear that belongen to my great grandmother?

Point to Paper – What happened to Monte Rosa and the Victorian underwear that belongen to my great grandmother?

I think many of you will recognize todays story. It is partly fiction and partly true. This is often the case with family history. We remember a little bit here and a little bit there. The stories change and develop as time goes by. The history of my family is similar. I have family both in North America and in Norway. Many of my ancestors left Norway with a dream of a better life in the US. Keeping track of them all is impossible. Keeping the story straight, even for the ones that stayed behind, is hard enough.

There is something extra special about a family heirloom. It has its own magic. It is both true and real in itself. That does not necessarily mean that the stories we tell about them are more accurate. We might know that the item once belonged to someone in the family. We might have a clear idea about who that was. We might even know fragments of the memories connected to the heirloom. Preserving the whole story is like trying to stop sand slipping between your fingers. So many relatives. So many heirlooms.

Hardanger embroidery barely saved from my grandfather’s hunt for polishing rags.

Sometimes we barely manage to salvage pityful little fragments of what we hope is part of the story. In some cases we just have to make up the rest. I have experienced that an old story I believed to be true became very different when it was told by someone in the family closer to the person that once owned it. It can be very confusing and frustrating. What is for sure is that the thruth often becomes more and more slippery as time goes by. The stories we tell are seldom a deliberate lie. They are just expressions of our love for the family history and our desperate wish to preserve it. Sadly, the information we wish we had is often lost as a consequence of not caring enough about it when it was still possible to salvage.

We all need some kind of family history to tell and we just have to live with the impossiblity of getting all the facts in order. Here is one of those stories. A lot of todays story is true. My grandmother Margot would have laughed out loud in recognition. I can hear her voice and see her smile. She loved a good story about the family. She could have confirmed that both the stories about the handmade family garments, and the discription of my grandfathers personlity, is spot on.

My wonderful grandmother Margot was a living history book for the family. She died in 2011 in her 99th year on this earth. We squandered away her vast memory from a bygone century. We lived with the naive illusion that both she and her stories would live forever. Neither survived this world, although I am sure she is ancious to fill in the missing parts from her eternal spot in heaven. We are stuck with the little pieces we have managed to preserve. Sorry grandma, we should have done a better job when you were here.

The bloomers that received asylum in my mothers house and that just fit two skinny boys at a carneval – one in each leg.

I am confident that this story is actually more true than many others told in my family. My grandfather Konrad was a used car salesman. He had his own shop. He went a little crazy every time he had sold a car. The underwear mentioned is real and belonged to my great grandmother Signe. She was a powerful woman and a plus-size. I am not sure she would have laughed if she knew that my brother and me once went to a carneval wearing her underwear together. One skinny boy fit nicely in each leg of her Victorian bloomers (Victorian womens underwear). My grandmother (her daughter) actually did hear about it and thought it was great fun. She was not sure either that her mother would have thought the same.

My mother Liv received and collected many thing from my grandmother on my fathers side. My grandmother would send old garments as refugies to my mother for safe keeping. In this way many pieces of ancient family garments were saved. Among them were beautiful Hardanger embroidery items, antique linen night gowns and Victorian bloomers edged with broderie anglaise. They were saved from my grandfather’s constant hunting for old rags to polish used cars. Antique garments meant nothing to him apart for the function of making it possible to make an old car shiny. The pen in the story is also real, but it never belonged to my grandfather. He did have a pen. The way I here claim he treated it, was just like him. Here is the story.

What happened to you Monte Rosa? When I found you, you didn’t look good. If only you could talk. Now you can’t even write. I won’t bother you with my grief, but my eyes went moist when I discovered you. Who had done this to you? Why did someone feel the need to destroy you like this? You probably had a lot more to give. I don’t understand what kind of accident you were in? I will devote my time to try to figure it out. There is not much to go on, but there are some clues worth exploring.

The beautiful pen body

Monte Rosa is a fountain pen that was produced in the 1950s. She lies badly damaged in a box on my desk. Her full name is Montblanc Monte Rosa 042. In her time, she was a relatively common pen. If she was bought with a steel nib she was called 022, and if she was bought with a gold nib she was called 042. My Monte Rosa has a gold nib. She was a pretty nice pen for every day use.

The reason she ended up on my desk was because I had been to an auction. There I had succumbed to the temptation to buying a box of pen parts. That is rarely a good idea. Imagination always surpasses reality. In the box, of course, there were no forgotten valuable fountain pens. The previous owner had used what could be used and put the rest in a box. This was just a box of pen waste with a few usable parts. I had overpaid. I don’t know if you have been to an auction? Like many others present, I thought this was the smartest purchase of the evening. I lasted the longest in the bidding round. I thought I had been very lucky.

Here is what was left.

When I got home I was full of anticipation. It looked promising – from a distance. I opened the box and the dream was instantly shattered. I should have known better. When I got over the initial disappointment, I discovered something that caught my attention. In the box lay a beautiful pen body with a badly damaged nib. It was a Montblanc Monte Rosa 042. Monte Rosa didn’t look good, poor thing. She lay there stunned. She was even missing her cap. It was like a fine lady without her precious hat.

But how had she become like this? It is one thing to lose or destroy a cap of a fountain pen. I can imagine that it might happen. Mayby it had just been a careless or indifferent pen owner just accidentally loosing his cap. Bad things happen all the time. Alternatively, I can imagine a deeply concentrated writer. He is engrossed in his writing. In a moment of excitement, throughs out his arms and he pushes the pen cap down from the desk. He hears it crack as it hits the floor. That might have happened. What was worse to understand was the extreme damage to the nib. I simply cannot imagine a writing activity that harmonizes with the injuries on the picture below. Sherlock would agree with me. The explanation had to be very different.

What kind of writing activity might have led to this?

I looked at the evidence. How could the pen have become like this? Associations and speculations sparked my imagination. Perhaps the owner was an unfaithful husband who often spoke warmly of his fountain pen. It was perhaps his dearest possession. It had been his most faithful friend throughout his studies. Together they had written thousands of well-formed and articulate words. He never talked about his wife in that way. One day she had enough. She took the pen and wanted to step on it. She thought about it and felt that it was not enough. She wanted a proper revenge for the injustice that had been committed against her. She first took off the cap and crushed it with her shoe. She then took the gold nib and scraped it heavily across the brick wall behind the stove in the living room. It felt good. Monte Rosa was never to write again.

The explanation had to be another …

There was still something wrong with this explanation. The injuries indicated a more brutal force than just vengeful scraping against a brick wall. An alternative incident, which could explain the injury to the nib better, was perhaps a boy sitting and building model airplanes. He was almost done. All that remained was to paint the black rubber on the landing wheels. Anyone who has built model airplanes knows that the little paint cans can be a pain to open. His short fingernails were useless for such a thing. There was a fountain pen in the drawer of the desk where he was sitting. He had never seen anyone use it. It was perfect – he thought. Monte Rosa was never to be the same again. The wheels remained unpainted …

One lace shirt that was saved.

Would a boy really dare to do such a thing? I don’t think so. I have one last explanation. That’s the explanation I like best. That’s the one that would make my grandmother laught with recognition. I think Monte Rosa may have been the fountain pen of a used car salesman. I think he may have been a bit like my grandfather Konrad. He sold used cars most of his adult life. He had a car dealership in the village of Espeland just outside Bergen. Grandma Margot could tell horror stories from that period. There was specially a lot of tension in the air when the time came to deliver a car he had just sold. The car had to be shiny and nice on delivery. Nothing would be allowed to spoil a good deal. On days like this, the excitement and stress lay like a heavy fog over the used car dealership.

The Hardanger embroidery that came to a better place.

My grandfather’s house was built on top of the shop. He thought it was very practical that way. For the old heirloms of the house this was a disaster. In the rush of running a car dealership, things could sometimes go wild. Grandfather always needed a clean piece of cloth. There was a constant lack of those. Crisis! If grandma wasn’t at home, grandpa could go on a fanatical hunt around the house for something to polish with. He was not sentimental in such situations. The cars for sale had to shine like bullets (his words). The raindrops should be able to bead on the hood of the cars . Nothing was more important than a deal that was almost done.

If you have ever worked in sales you might be smiling now. Grandma would experience that antique lace shirts, hardanger embroidered cloths and fancy Victorian bloomers could be among the accidental victims. Grandma always tried to hide the most beautiful textiles. It wasn’t easy when there was always a frantic used car dealer on a desperate hunt for a clean rag. The garments and tablecloths that survived were sent into exile to my mother’s house in the nearby town of Indre Arna.

That’s exactly how I think it happened. A used car dealer, with a Montblanc Monte Rosa in his shirt pocket. He was on his way to close a deal. He just wanted to deliver a freshly polished car to a customer. It was a great deal. The used car dealer had managed to get a good price. On the way to delivery, things happened that shouldn’t happen. The windscreen wipers failed in the rain. Disaster! He stopped the car at the nearest gas station. He opened the hood. He looked desperately around the engine room. Where was the error? The wiring to the wiper motor looked fine. He opened the fuse box. There he sees the culprit. Fortunately, it was only a fuse. He recalled seeing extra fuses in the glove compartment. He remembered correctly.

His troubles weren’t over. The broken fuse was stuck. The big man’s fingers weren’t small enough to get the broken thing out of its socket. The car dealer felt panic creeping up his spine. He was meeting the buyer in fifteen minutes. There’s no use delivering a car in rainy weather if the windscreen wipers don’t work. Now there was little consolation in the fact that the raindrops did bead beautifully on the hood. He couldn’t find anything in the car that had a tip that might fit the socket. He felt his pockets. The fountain pen! That’s just what he needed. The nib fit nicely between the fuse and the holder. Pry, pry. The fuse came out perfectly. The pen nib did not. The sale was saved. The nib was past salvation forever. That’s probably how it was. I am sure. I can hear grandma laughing.

Doesn’t this damage look like it came from the edge of a fuse box?

Dear Monte Rosa, I am happy for everything you wrote. The letters you shaped helped provide the car saleman with a living. Out of respect for your untimely passing, I hope the writing utensil that took over your place was not a promotional ballpoint pen …

All photos in this column were taken by Kjartan Skogly Kversøy.

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