Monday, September 14, 2009

Invisible Ink

One of the great pleasures of my childhood was writing something in "invisible ink." Our preferred medium was milk, and we never let it stay invisible for long. Generally, the whole point was to create some sort of pirate treasure map, so once we'd written our invisible message, we held the paper over a flame until it appeared - in a nice, brownish color that looked ye olde. The edges of the paper crisped up quite nicely, too, for an ultra pirate treasure look and feel.

The idea was to leave the pirate map around so some gullible younger kid could find it. (As one of the older kids in our family and in our neighborhood, there was no dearth of gullible younger kids around.)

In order for the pirate map to look really authentic, we had to make sure that we used plain white paper.

Surprisingly, that wasn't that easy to come by in our house.

That's because our scrap and coloring paper was provided to us courtesy of my father's old friend Chuck Favreault, who worked at Melville Shoe.

He also had a wonderful baritone, and was a member of the Our Lady of the Angels choir. One of the prime auditory recalls of my childhood is hearing Mr. Favreault sing the Agnus Dei - especially moving when sung at funerals. We were entwined with the Favreaults in other ways. Mrs. F. was the Avon Lady, and I made many runs up the back stairs of the Favreaults three-decker on Henshaw Street to pick up my mother's order of hand cream or whatever. Helen Favreault was a little older than my mother. Like my mother, she always had an apron on. Unlike my mother, I seem to remember that she wore black lace up "nun-shoes" that were more like what grandmothers than mothers wore

The Favreaults had a couple of kids roughly my age, but they also had "big boys", one of whom attended the Brussels World's Fair when he was stationed in Europe while in the service. One evening, the Favreaults came over to run through the slide show that their son had made of his trip to the World's Fair. Who said slide show's are boring? I was riveted watching those slides, and derivatively thrilled by knowing someone whose brother had been to the World's Fair. In Brussels. In Belgium. (I was similarly thrilled when my friend Susan and her sister Mary Ann got to fly to San Francisco to visit their newly-married cousin Marcia and her husband. Just knowing someone who'd flown cross-country on an airplane. Wow-eee! Talk about a kinder, gentler time. I feel absolutely Little House just thinking about it.)

Once a year or so, Mr. Favreault would show up with a couple of cartons of jumbo yellow and white pads. The front was printed with some type of inventory or ordering form, but the back sides were blank. Perfect for drawing on - especially the white pads, which we fought over, as they were outnumbered by the less desirable yellow pads by a factor of about 3 to 1.

While the Melville Shoe pads were good for coloring (and for my mother to solve her diagramless crossword puzzles on), they weren't much good for pirate treasure map.

Anyway, given my vast experience with invisible ink, I was delighted to read in this week's Economist about a form of invisible ink that's the opposite an pirate-map-milk. Rather than turn visible, this modern, more refined and high-tech incarnation goes invisible after a while. 

Based on nano-technology, this form of invisible ink - which is really more appropriately called self-erasing paper -  is the brainchild of Northwestern University's Bartosz Grzybowski and his team.

Though this is not the first time that self-erasing paper has been made (in 2006 Xerox demonstrated a light-sensitive paper that self-erased after 16-24 hours) Dr Grzybowski’s method is more deployable. The writing can last longer, and the paper can be reused hundreds of times without loss of quality.

And that paper being reused is the part I really like.

Just as I was back in the day of the Melville Shoe pads, I remain a heavy user of paper.

No, I no longer read newspapers, other than on line. I don't print out a lot of versions of my work. And I try not to print out stuff that can be just as easily consumed on line. But I do subscribe to magazines (including The Economist), I do buy books, and I do use up an inordinate amount of scrap paper making lists, taking notes, and jotting reminders to myself.

Yellow pads of all sizes, post-it notes, swag pads - forget tee shirts, pads are much my preferred corporate giveaway...

Of course, I'm trying to be less wasteful and at least pale-green, so I'm starting to use "side two" rather than toss all that scrap away.

Still, from a forest primeval, from a pulp/paper/pollution standpoint, I'll be happy to make most of my notes on self-erasing paper.

All it will have to do  is last a day or so - just until I transfer whatever's left on yesterday's to-do list to tomorrow's.

Sorry, Staples, but I can see the day when I'll only need to buy one or two yellow pads per annum.

Until then, I will continue my eco-conscious use of both sides of the pad, and will see if I can find a magic slate somewhere. I'll try not to press down too hard with the stylus. Don't want to gunk up the waxy-pad underneath the nifty peel up plasticky page...


Xerox 8400 ink said...

The self erasing ink really sounds like cool stuff. i bet that is the reason why there is no drop in Xerox stock. I am getting impressed by their colorqube technology and now the soon to come erasable paper. nanotechnology is some really cool stuff.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the lovely remembrance of my grandparents. (My parents came across your blog through google.) I think of my grandfather whenever I hear Schubert's "Ave Maria."

Best of luck with your book.

Michelle F. said...

sniifle sniffle..Heard of this post from the other Favreault's and delighted to read your words of my grandparents and and my dad (one of the big boys!).

I don't know how old I was when I found out that paper could have TWO blank sides, and am one who now wears the "trotters" that Gram wore so sensibly with her stylish aprons! Glad to find your blog and memories from Henshaw Street.

Amy Benoit said...

Thank you for your heartfelt memories of Henshaw Street and growing up post depression era when things such as paper were a treat. My grandparents lived simply and set good the good example: use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. I, too, recall coloring and writing on the yellow and white pads of order paper from Melville Shoe during the early 70s. Most recently I had the pleasure of finding some of my scribbles (Aunt Barbara so lovingly saved them for me).
Chuck and Helen Favreault were the best grandparents a kid could've had! My memories include the old neighborhood,buying candy at Sol's Drug Store, waiting for the Saturday morning Avon deliveries, and watching Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights with my grandparents.
I am grateful for your post, for my grandparents...and for invisible ink!

Maureen Rogers said...

How wonderful to hear from the Favreault grandkids. Your aunt Barbara was 3 years ahead of me at OLA; your uncle Eddie was a year behind.

What I didn't mention in my post was what really nice and kind people Chuck and Helen were. (Of course, I would have referred to them as "Mr. and Mrs. Favreault.")