PENCILS, PAPER OUTSHINE

COMPUTERS

         The November meeting of my coffee club group got into a rather heated discussion, almost as hot as the steam rising from our cups of spiced coffee.  The topic was just how accurate our electronic devices were in keeping data and what the results would be if errors were made.  This debate took alternate routes as well, delving into the past and reference being made to the hundreds of years past prior to the advent of computers when records & documents were kept the old fashioned way…..with pencils, pen and paper.

        When those comments were made I told the fellows to hold their thoughts while I went to my study to find some articles pursuant to our topic.  I returned with several articles to defend my comments that even with our advanced technological age, pencils, pen and paper still held a significant place in today’s world in keeping records and notations regardless what the greater population believes.

        One article, dated Nov. 16, 1997, from the Dallas Morning News, was titled, “Life without No. 2 pencil would be pointless.”  It went on to detail the advent of the pencil and what a unique tool we have had in documenting life’s events if we didn’t know we were doing it.  The article ended with the comment, “Like the moon, rain and sun, the No. 2 pencil has been our faithful companion and helper on life’s journey.”

        Another related article I had laid inside my copy of Henry Petroski’s book, “The Pencil – A History of Design and Circumstance”, was from The New York Times dated July 31, 2011 and titled, “A Paper Calendar?  It’s 2011”, was an in-depth look at how, even with the advancement and almost total dependence on our hand held devices and laptop computers, the paper calendar along with either a trusty pen or pencil, despite non-believers, still holds a commanding sway among die-hard folks who would never think of committing any of their thoughts, ideas or dates to anything but a paper calendar.

       And then, just last month on December 30, 2016, there appeared in the New York Times another related story with the caption, “Mark it Down, Paper Calendars Endure in Digital Age.”  Columnist Christopher Mele stated that sales of appointment books and planners grew 10 percent from 2014-2016 to $342.7 million while decorative and other calendar themed planners increased 8 percent to $65 million as reported by the NPD Group, a research firm.

        While several fellows in the group seemed surprised over my findings, I was not.  I have been a faithful proponent of the paper calendar, journal and planner dating way back to the 6th grade.  When the late R. L. Nowell, Jr. and Harry Ray went into the insurance business together, they began passing out to the Monroe community a yearly date book, with the name of their insurance business prominently on the front cover. When Mr. Ray died Bob Nowell worked with the late A. B. Preston and then enlisted the late Felker Lewis as his partner in the business. Those year-books continued to be a welcomed gift in downtown businesses along with copies given to each of the firm’s customers. These little books were given to every teacher in the Monroe School System, so they could keep whatever type of notes needed in keeping their day to day activities organized.  I still have several of these books which belonged to my father from the 1940’s & 50’s which gives an interesting depiction of his cotton business, the people he knew, the meetings he attended and the days he took off to go fishing.  These little books are like a time capsule in showing life in our town back in the day.

       Remembering this brought to mind another Monroe businessman who kept detailed records on a similar type calendar during his tenure on Broad Street.  In June of 1989 Tribune Staff Writer David York wrote a column reflecting on how Lewis Whitley’s calendar was a unique look back at Monroe’s history.

        Lewis Whitley spent 62 years as a Broad Street merchant, beginning his career in 1928 with the late John T. Aycock in the dry goods division of Aycock’s Department Store until the store’s tragic fire in 1960.  In 1961 he and Louis Studdard, Sr. started Lewis & Louis, Inc., a clothing enterprise and in 1966 Mr. Whitley purchased Mr. Studdard’s interest in the store and the business was renamed “Lewis and Lewis.” Later on Mr. Whitley’s son, Frank, joined the firm assisting his father until February, 1990 when the store closed its doors.

        In the December 12, 1986 issue of The Walton Tribune, staff writer Frances King wrote an interesting article about Lewis Whitley’s memories of the booming business days in Monroe during the 30’s, 40’s & 50’s, recalling the days when a three-piece wool suit sold for $7.95 and a pair of shoes which in the 80’s sold for $25 could be had “back then” for $1.99.  He recalled a time when he and his wife went to Atlanta to buy a dress for his wife to wear to social functions.  They went into a store and stood around for a while during which the saleslady never acknowledged them or asked if she could be of help. Returning to Monroe, Lewis remarked, “When I worked for John Aycock years ago, he would have fired me if I ignored a customer that way.”

        Along with memories such as this, Lewis began in 1971 of keeping a daily community diary on his desk calendar, usually annotated with remarks and comments in pencil or pen which continued until the store closed. If anything significant occurred in Monroe during those years, it was captured on Lewis’ calendar, such as the tornado that hit Monroe in 1973, a snowstorm or ice storm or the passing of a prominent citizen or business associate.

        When asked why he began keeping track of events on his calendar, he said, “I don’t know, it just started one day and it is one of those things you get used to doing.”

        Lewis recounted the time when there used to be what was referred to as “east gales” which blew in from the east and staying for two or three days.

        Lewis Whitley, his wife Mary and son Frank were recognized in April of 1990 by the Monroe Downtown Business Association where they received a gold tray in appreciation for their many years serving the Monroe community, keeping a lot of folks in nice clothes and shoes along with the historical data recorded on those old desk calendars.

        After giving the coffee group my history about the importance paper, pencils and pens are in keeping track of whatever is deemed important, even in today’s world of cyberspace, I asked how they recorded their day to day life…..on computer or paper. Four said “on my computer”, while me and one other proudly exclaimed “on paper in a journal or datebook!”  I then showed the group one of my old date books from several years ago where I had notated a year’s worth of information and ended the conversation with a quote from Mae West, who said about keeping a journal, “Keep a journal and one day it will keep you!”