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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Summer Road

There's a road I've seen that rests between
the earth and the shade of trees,
and there he talks with the young corn stalks
that sway in the summer's breeze.

It's a lazy road who's made abode
of the hills o'r which he was laid
and stretches his spine of a white dotted line
in a cool spotted blanked of shade.

Near the end of the day when there's nothing to say
he hums to the song sparrow's tune

and watches the sun till the day is done
and then says "Good night" to the moon.

Happy Birthday, Dave and Aimee
© Copyright 1985, TK, Patterns of Ink

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Past Tents

My daughter got back from her youth group's mission trip to the Upper Peninsula last night. It was a great experience. The kids and sponsors were exhausted, and as I was helping them unload a trailer full of gear, I was struck by how compact the tent bundles were. As I carried an “8-man” nylon tent (light enough to strap on the back of a bike), I remembered that a few posts back I mentioned sharing some thoughts from my own "tenting" days.

The canvas tents of my generation were massive wads of dead weight so heavy they were used in “World’s Strongest Man” contests. He-men from around the globe gathered to see how many times they could heft a 6-man canvas tent in and out of the back of a VW bus in 60 seconds. The record was seven times, but the moose who set it had to drop out of the competition with a hernia. You’ve probably never seen this brutal event on TV because it has since been replaced with the less-grueling Atlas Stones and “semi-tractor-trailer pull”— both child’s play compared to the canvas tent lift.

The tent my family had was so cumbersome Dad built a special crate with handles on each end so we could help him haul it. This custom-built box was designed to replace the center bench seat of our VW bus. We had to take turns perching on the box as we vaulted down the road at 50 MPH—top speed for a fully loaded VW. Mom helped pass the hours by teaching us songs never heard on the radio (e.g."When Patty Put the Paper on the Wall," “Eggbert the Easter Egg," "Ahuya-huya-huyaya, Swiftly Tumbling Waters").

I didn't mind sitting on the crate, even on bumpy roads. Years of vicious "teeter-totter drops" during school recess had prepared my butt for bouncing on wood. Who says those kiddy catapults weren't good for something? They were later banned from playgrounds for safety reasons.

(I don't think safety was discovered until the Seventies. For instance, it goes without saying that Dad’s "box seat" had no seat belts—but since we hadn’t yet heard of seat belts, we never felt at risk.)

Dad's tent crate is still in my mom’s walk-up attic. Whenever I see it, I open the lid just to breathe in the memories and the enchanting smell of the old family tent. All of my childhood vacations began with that smell, and the sound of aluminum poles clanging from their bag, and hard thwacks of a mallet sinking stakes into sandy soil. It's all still there in that magic box. Other than the lid being opened now and then, it's been undisturbed for over thirty years.

Pitching the Tent

I know I tend to put a soft focus on my childhood memories, but that's really how the slide show plays in my mind. Not everything was picture-perfect, but the snapshots make me smile.

Camping was a family adventure—not because we were up close to the great outdoors but because we were up close with Mom and Dad, which always produced dramatic tension (the kind you might see in a film starring Lucile Ball and say... Harrison Ford).

The tent box (in the above post), for instance, epitomized Dad's mantra: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” He was always methodical—but never more than when he was pitching our tent. The steps were not routine; they were ritual— passed on from an ancient cult of cryptic campers.

The smell of the tent wafted from the open tent box like an incense offering to the pines, and Mom assumed her supportive priestess role. She knew not to laugh even if she stood tangled in rope, comically draped under canvas like a statue waiting to be unveiled. She understood that the tent-raising ritual was not to be mocked—lest the wrath of the gods be raised before the tent was.

We kids understood, too, but sometimes forgot the meaning of basic ritual commands like: “Hold this.” And sometimes... things fell down. On good days in the sun, the gods would laugh, but when the ceremony took place at night or in the rain, it was much more important to remember the meaning of ritual commands and for Mom to be as quiet as a statue.

After we finally had the visqueen down–tent up–awning pulled–ropes taut–and the last stake driven into the heart of the earth…the ritual was over, and the worrisome drums in our head quieted. Only then it seems would Dad smile again, and Mom could laugh and joke, and we kids could relax and watch the happier steps of “setting up camp.”

Dad always found clever solutions to whatever “problems” the wilderness threw our way. He was a backwoods engineer at heart. I’m not talking about Rube Goldberg appliances like those in Swiss Family Robinson. Dad kept things simple and his designs and systems maximized his minimalist bent.

Sometimes his creations were worthy of a patent, but more often they were announced with little fanfare:

“Okay, everyone, from now on this hook I just carved out of a branch and lashed to this pole with 'catgut' is where the fly swatter goes.” The next day, another invention would be revealed for hanging damp dishtowels or the Coleman lantern. There was always something to improve upon. Dad was about function; Mom was about feeling.

She added her touches to tenting by making us feel at home away from home. We kids would be inside the tent arranging our flat foam-rubber pillows and other gear, and Mom would duck into the tent with a broom and a giggle, "Isn't this homey?" It was. We all felt safe and sound—even when we camped up in "bear country."

At night, Dad would drive us to the trash dump near the campgrounds and shine the headlights on the black bears pilfering through the garbage for a midnight snack. They didn't seem to mind the limelight or the audience. When they had their fill of rubbish, they slipped back into the woods.

Back at our dark campsite, with nothing but a veil of green canvas between us and the bears outside, we'd say our "good nights," and Mom would add, "Isn't this cozy?" The six of us snuggled down in our flannel sleeping bags, Paul on one outside edge and Mom and Dad on the other like bookends.... I never felt more secure in my life.

I'm not sure which of our camping trips was the last one in that tent...probably Killbear Point at the Provincial Park on Parry Sound, up near Tobermory, Ontario.
There's great SCUBA diving up there in Georgian Bay, and that was a big part of our life for many years.

When I was much older, Dad finally caved to the echoes of our summer chants (and Mom's patient desire to sleep above the ground) and bought a used pop-up trailer. It was an old dull green-and-gray Apache—a steal at $400. Sure it was a fixer-upper, but that made it all the more fun for our backwoods engineer. That frumpy camper was the oldest thing on wheels wherever it popped up, a fact that made Mom sigh... Dad smile... and both laugh. Their ability to see the humor in their unshared perspectives brought a unique balance to our lives.

The trailer was rightly rolled off a few years ago, but the tent...ah, the tent...is still there in that magic box in the attic.

A Place Called Killbear

Next time I'm home I'm going to scrounge around for some old snapshots from our trips to Killbear Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada. They’ll add a more believable touch to these unbelievable shots by Robert Williams.

The seascapes at Killbear usually have a world of granite in the foreground and blue water in the distance. That was where we spent our days, running barefoot on those prehistoric hillsides where the granite meets the bay.

The water was about twenty feet deep at the cliffs and we imagined ourselves to be the famous La Quebrada Cliff Divers of Acapulco.
The only difference was we didn’t speak Spanish and the water at Georgian Bay is freezing cold. (Okay, I confess, there was also a slight difference in the height of our dives, but in our minds this was us on the right doing swan dives.)

Of all our camping memories, the years we went to Georgian Bay fill chapters all to themselves. If I find the pictures, I'll add some narrative.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Crop Circles

What if writing
of the kind I do
is but a form of madness,
senility not yet curbed

by an arthritic hand?
What if being lost in thought
is merely
wandering in a maze
of corn or waist-high rye

until all my
sterile stomping there
in search of sky or light or just
a path to where I am...
shows only where I've trod

in patterns
that do not mean
a thing to man…
and little more when seen
by birds...and God?

.© Copyright 2006, TK, Patterns of Ink

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Gone Fishin"

On our way home from Traverse City, we did some “antiquing” in Manistee. I picked up an old fishing creel to add another touch of that “north woods / nautical” look to our family room. It's a perfect souvenir for this weekend even though we didn't go fishing.

I’m sure Hemingway would disagree, but to me the need to be “gone fishin" has nothing to do with fish—it's all about the sign on the door. It’s a Mayberry thing—the longing to whistle down a road with someone you love at your side (with or without a pole on your shoulder). It's the hope of some shade beside a stream with the sun spangling down on your face; it's the splash of
cool water on your feet. It doesn't much matter where you're going... what matters is—you're gone.

Last weekend's get-away had the feel of a spontaneous, surrender to summer. We’ve never really done it before. We usually keep plugging away until we put the previous school year to bed. I'm often still in the office shortly before departure of a "big vacation."

If I'm not packing in a panic, I'm reviewing in my head as the car rolls down the driveway—"Do I have what I need for ten days? What have I forgotten?" It’s work to be gone long from home, and if you’re not careful, long vacations can fall short of expectations or funds (or both). Worse yet, they can drag you home more exhausted than when you left.

Mini-vacations eliminate all that. If you keep them simple, they spend just enough energy to fully recharge your system. Throw some clothes in a small suitcase and some extra food and water in the dog’s bowls, and hit the road. Take the scenic route.

Oh, we'll still take long vacations when we want to... and our long-distance visits with extended family are always great. But I'm convinced the mini-vacation is good medicine. We're hooked.
Being gone fishin' has a new allure—and none of us has a pole.
We actually had a friend check in on our dog, but the extra food plan works for an overnight trip.

Raise a Mug to A&W

Leaving Manistee, we stopped by one of the few surviving A&W’s still in its original location. This was the perfect end to this family get-away. I remember stopping late at night at the A&W drive-in near the Blue Water Bridge as we came home from camping at Georgian Bay, Ontario. This was before we’d ever heard of McDonald’s. (Yes, students, there really was a time in the early sixties when A&W’s outnumbered McDonalds about 4-to-1. I was probably ten before I saw my first Golden Arches. Anyway…)

We’d be traveling home, tired from vacation, like that family in Norman Rockwell's familiar before-and-after print. This was several years before our cars had "air," and the wind of the open-window held our sleepy heads in place. Somewhere in a dream, I felt the car stop and bright lights on my face. “Time to eat," Dad would say, "Tell Mom what you want.”
My eyes adjusted to the glare, and there we were at the old A&W.

The hamburger choices back then were based on size alone: Baby Burger, Teen Burger, Mama Burger, and Papa Burger, etc.—right out of The Three Bears. We were allowed to get Teen Burgers before we were teens—it felt so cool.

But having a frosty mug of A&W root beer was the real treat— it still is. Sitting there in Manistee sipping through those suds with my kids brought back magic memories and a longing to talk to my Dad (as I sometimes do in dreams).

My mom still tells the greatest stories about our vacations. I’ll share them sometime. Until then, I’ll just say this: They were nothing like this past weekend. For one thing, we never stayed in a motel—not once. All of my childhood vacations began with the smell of our unfolded canvas tent, the dull clanging of aluminum poles slipping from their bag to the ground, and the metallic thwack of a mallet sinking stakes into sandy soil.

The camping trips began that way, but the ones to Canada ended with a sip of civilization at that old A&W.
Mom, I know you'll be reading this. Thanks for all the great memories, and for letting us have Teen Burgers before our time.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Lazy Two-Hearted River

We're on a mini-vacation in the north-west fingertip of Michigan’s mitten. (We're missing our second daughter who is on a missions trip to the U.P. with the youth group.) Monday will be our second and third daughters' birthday—they were both born on June 19th (eight years apart). This will be the first time in eleven years that they have not been together to celebrate. Life's getting more an more like that, which is one of the reasons we took this mini-vacation while our oldest daughter could join us.

This area of Michigan is great for road trips. Every few miles or so, there's a scenic, post-card lake, nestled in the rolling hills and wreathed in towering white pines that stretch to the sky like masted steeples. The biggest one we saw yesterday was Walloon Lake.

These little lake towns thrive in the summer and “hunker down” through the winter (when they host hunters, skiers, and snow-mobilers) This contrast in clientele is evident in all restaurant décor—a blend of “north woods” and nautical: canoe paddles and snow shoes, water skis and snow skis side by side. It all makes sense up here.

Not all of the towns are small. Gaylord, where we spent last night, is pretty big, and to the north or west, there are three great bayside towns along the shoreline: Petoskey, Charlevoix, and Traverse City.

We spent Saturday in Petoskey. We've spent time in nearly all of Michigan's famous shoreline towns from Saugatuck to Mackinac, but we had only passed through Petoskey six years ago. As we drove by the Victorian homes and cottages of the Bayside district, we vowed to return for a better look. They're perfectly maintained "gingerbread" houses situated on a hill overlooking Little Traverse Bay like Julie's ceramic collectibles on our mantle at Christmas.

Little did I know Petoskey held an even more intriguing claim to fame. We decided to have lunch in The Gaslight District downtown and just happened upon a historic place called "The City Park Grill," a favorite eatery in the 1920's of none other than Earnest Hemingway. I knew nothing about it until my astute oldest daughter read the menu aloud to me. (She just asked me to credit her for that.)

I knew that some of Hemingway's stories were set in Michigan—Big, Two-Hearted River, for instance, takes place in the Upper Peninsula—but I never knew that the Hemingway summer home was on Walloon Lake (which we saw yesterday). It was there that he recuperated from a serious WWI leg wound before making the trip to the U.P. in 1919, which was the basis of the story he wrote six years later. Hemmingway spent countless summer days in these parts. (A true Hemingway fan would have known these facts without the help of a lunch menu.)

The atmosphere in this little restaurant did seem like “Hemingway” —old brick construction, lots of masculine, dark woodwork over the bar and mantles, paneled walls, gilded tin ceilings...and great food. That was yesterday.

Today we're in Traverse City, trying to capture Hemingway’s feel for wilderness living at Great Wolf Lodge. (If you’ve ever been to Great Wolf, you’ll know I’m kidding.) It’s part of my youngest daughter’s birthday present. My fingertips are "pruny" as I type after spending over six hours in an indoor water-theme park. It was fun. The best part is trying to keep up with an eleven-year-old's energy and enthusiasm for every slide and dowsing device.

Like most water parks, there is one venue that’s preferred by relaxing adults called “The Lazy River.” This afternoon, I was taking a breather in that meandering stream while Nat flew some flumes on her own. Lying on my back staring up at the huge overhead timbers, I got thinking about Hemingway again. I wondered if he would have ever spent time floating in a man-made, indoor stream of chlorinated water, adrift in a big yellow inner tube, trying hard to avoid little splashing kids. I doubt it.

I’m pretty sure the man who penned Big, Two-Hearted River and The Old Man and the Sea would find this setting less than inspiring.
I, on the other hand, got the idea for this post just after bumping my head on a fake boulder. I couldn’t wait to dry off, come up to the room, and write. But in spite of our divergent sources of inspiration and worldviews, based on looks alone (if one's eyes are fuzzy from chlorine) , it's possible that some fellow floaters thought I was "the old man" himself in that yellow inner tube, coming back to his old haunts in northern Michigan. What else could explain the strange looks I got as I went around the Lazy River for the tenth time?

P.S. The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953. (I memorized portions of it in college.) On October 28, 1954 Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the years thereafter, however, he began living out his own denouement. On the morning of July 2, 1961, after four marriages, years of abusive alcoholism, and debilitating electro shock therapy for depression, Hemingway took his own life two weeks before his 62nd birthday. It's clear from most of his writing that the Creator of the outdoors he loved had no place in his troubled, talented life.

Friday, June 16, 2006

A Front Porch Frame of Mind

There was a time when more folks
had a “front porch” frame of mind,
and they’d sit out hot nights sippin’ tea—
makin’ most of a melon rind.
They knew the beckon of a breeze
that made ‘em lean back with a sigh
and say, “Maybe five more minutes…”
to some silhouettes passing by.
“Just out for a walk,” a voice responds,
“Till the house cools down a bit.”
And by and by, more friends were there
than there were places to sit.
It was natural as a cricket’s chirp
or the smell of a new-mowed lawn
to gather there like window moths
(when an inside lamp’s left on).
Just neighbors visiting neighbors
in the kindness of the night…
where differences are dimly lit
and love needs little light.

June 28, 1995
© Copyright 1995, Patterns of Ink

I realize this poem is a bit old fashioned with a hint of Guest or Riley , but my mother loves it because it reminds her of summer nights on her front porch as a kid. It should—that’s the porch I was thinking of when I wrote it. Grandma’s front porch was nothing fancy but big enough for a glider (that sat three adults or maybe five kids) and a few chairs. Everyone else sat on the steps or sturdy railing.

In that old turn-of-the century neighborhood, sidewalks were only about six feet from the front porches. So people passing by (on the way to Palmer Park or the little corner store) couldn't help but stop and talk. In that regard Gramma's porch was far more nostalgic and picturesque than the concrete slab porches of the little suburban ranches in Roseville, but Mom found ways to turn our front porch into the same kind of gathering place she had known.

In 1986, when my wife and I bought our first house, my parents came to share in the delight. The front porch was a tiny square (barely big enough for guests to stand aside as the door opened) enclosed by a white wrought-iron railing. One evening, Mom and I sat together on the top step with the iron hand rails at our elbows. "That's the one thing I wish this house had,” I said, “a bigger front porch." She smiled and said, "You don't have to have a front porch to have a front porch frame of mind." She had no idea those words would germinate in my thoughts for years... they're still taking root after all this time.

Think about this with me. I've never read or heard anything about it. * The "selling features" of houses (and neighborhoods) say a lot about human relationships and social attitudes during the time of construction. At the beginning of the 20th Century, front porches were a prominent part of houses. Porches say, “Our house is your house. Sit a while and visit.”

By the end of the 20th Century, cars became part of the family. Now homeowners are more likely to be seen standing in the open door of an attached garage than sitting on a front porch. Social space has been relocated to rear decks and patios (often with privacy fences). I confess, we enjoy our back patio and fire pit, and because we have no fences we do have “drop ins” on occasion, but I still think there’s a difference between gatherings in a back yard...and the spontaneous welcome offered to passers by on a front porch. "Good times” heard but not seen are less inviting than the irresistible neighborly greeting, gathering, and conversation on a front porch near a sidewalk.

Now factor in the unintended consequence of air conditioning. My grandma’s house had no AC; my house in Roseville had no AC; the house we built on the property was built without AC. Before air conditioning, hot nights drove people outdoors for walks or to their front porches to sit and hope for a breeze. There they were… outside where the night air is a slight improvement over the still air inside… sipping a glass of iced tea, slurping a slice of watermelon, etc. when someone from down the street strolls by and strikes up a conversation. The porch was a place to get acquainted (or “caught up”), to introduce the kids (and grandkids), and to share life—no invitation needed—all because it was a hot night and no one had AC. Once "air" came along, our front doors shut, the screen windows closed, and a part of us closed off to each other.

When I was a kid spending time at my gramma’s in the summer, I actually slept through the night out on the glider on the front porch—until the night I woke up and some strange dark shadow of a man was standing on the sidewalk looking at me. It was about 1:00 or 2:00AM “You okay?” he mumbled. I sat up rubbing my eyes. “Yea, I’m fine. I’m just out here because it’s hot inside.” "You got that right; it’s a hot night.” he slurred, and he staggered on his way. From then on, I slept inside with a cool damp washcloth on my forehead.

Other than experiences like that (or with persistent salesmen or proselytizers), front porches are a place for wonderful interaction. (Case in point: I dare say more innocent “first kisses” (the kind that say, “I like you” not “I want you”) have happened on a front porch than anywhere else. In fact, that’s not a bad rule-of-thumb for young dating couples who want to implement the simple rule I’ve given young people about affection: right person, right place; right reason; right time; All four “rights” have to be clear or the affection will have little meaning, and meaningless affection is a recipe for regret. That’s a little side note, but it does tie in to our front porch discussion—sort of.)

But continue to think with me about front porches just a moment longer. Are you more of a back deck, privacy-fence kind of person? Or do you have a front porch frame of mind? It’s not a "right or wrong" answer. We all need a balance of both, but knowing how you lean socially may help sweep off your “front porch,” figuratively speaking. How about your family? How about your church or “small group” (a concept large churches are inclined to use these days)? Are passers by welcome or do they need the courage to knock on the gate of a privacy fence? Think about it.

I'm partial, but I think outside observers to the school I oversee would say, there’s an atmosphere that’s inviting and social. The front guest counter is a hub of neighborly chatter; my office door is wide open whenever possible, and drop-ins are frequent; teachers are accessible; volunteers feel at home; the front rotunda is a gathering place for talking parents who lose track of the time (and the fact that they are illegally parked in the fire lane). The front sidewalk is full of smiles and waves.

We have a "closed campus” for practical reasons, but the tone of our school is welcoming and inviting. People comment on this all the time. What’s your secret? Why does the UPS man smile as he waits in line for a signature? Why do parents who no longer have kids in the school still stop by to purchase SCRIP? Why do our students' friends from other schools want to visit for lunch? Why do our professionall counterparts from other schools enjoy dropping by, teaching here, or availing us of their resources? There may be many reasons, but I’ll let you in on the main one… It's not a secret... It’s a front porch frame of mind.
*UPDATE: My mom made her poignant comment in the late 80's, and I first jotted the thoughts for the essay and poem in the early 90's. I mention this because while re-reading the post today I thought about the fact that I have never heard or read anything on what I consider a significant topic. So this afternoon, June18, I did a Google search with the words "front porch / community" and found three related articles I had never read. This one, provides the history, cultural significance, decline, and reappearance of American from porches--there's amazing agreement in our thoughts. (He tends to give more credit to the arrival of cars and television to the decline of the front porch. I still hold that AC is the biggest factor. We had cars and TV, but without AC, we spent evenings out on the porch and front lawn playing C.A.R.) This second article is shorter, but strongly underscores this post. It begins with this quote from a Tracy Lawrence song: "If the world had a front porch like we did back then, we'd still have our problems, but we'd all be friends." Get this... the author describes "Neo-traditional" communities that are going back to front porches: "The streets are designed to encourage walking and socializing among the neighbors. ...The neo-traditional neighborhoods have sidewalks and trees lining the streets for pedestrians. Front yards are shallow so that neighbors converse easily between the sidewalks and the front porches....The porch is a symbol of community, offering an invitation with its front steps reaching out and meeting the sidewalk, drawing passers-by to the comfortable chair or swing. The porch encourages family and neighborly communication." The third article is geared to senior citizens--I felt bad about that--but it's noteworthy just the same. So there you have it, I'm not the only one who believes a "A Front Porch Frame of Mind" can still work in the 21st Century. These timely links should encourage any readers who think Patterns is simply the nostalgic musings of a weekend writer--No, Sir! This is a cutting-edge blog! ;)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Kathy, Minda, and Sharon

Have you ever had a song
come from nowhere in your head?
Not a song you’ve heard on the radio—
one of those earworms that won’t let go
and haunts your consciousness for days…
not one of those...
I mean a tune or chorus that makes you say,
“I haven’t heard that since I don’t know when.”
And there’s a risk you’ll soon forget it again.
That happened to me today
with a song from the sixties that I dare say
few people in general heard at the time
(and fewer will likely remember). But I'm
pretty sure my sister still knows it by heart
and may even be able to sing her part
if Minda and Sharon would do the same.
They were a trio, but I forget its name.

Imagine three uniquely beautiful girls,
best friends they were
who had not long ago lived for
sleep-overs (before cable or VCRs)
planned around televised “beach movies”
(with Frankie Avalon and Annette)
or “Tammy Falls in Love” or “Gidget”
but who had now moved on
to real-life romance of their own
with slightly “bouffant hair”
perfectly pampered in place
for fancy church banquets with dates
(if you can call them that)
with boys who had been their friends
in youth group or school and who
would soon return to that brotherly role.
Imagine these same three girls
as they take the church platform on cue
and stand poised at the pulpit
with smiles of intense innocence.
The pastor’s wife at the piano to their right
gives a note for the harmonic intro
then begins the crisp staccato pace
as the agile smiles articulate these words:

“There’s a melody of gladness
that is ringing in my heart
since I met the blessed Christ of Calvary…
[I'm humming here... because I forgot this part
and then comes the bright chorus …]
“In my heart a melody is ringing
with a joy that never shall depart
and an angel’s song could not be sweeter
than the song that’s ringing in my heart.”
[There were other verses,
and the chorus repeats, but at the end
the three smiling cherubs chime:]
“Ringing…ringing…ringing…in my heart.”

This beginning and end was reminiscent of Shelley Fabares' repeated harmonies at the beginning of “Johnny Angel,” but other than that, this song picked up where "Happiness is the Lord" left off and galloped on with caffeinated joy. I’d link to the lyrics, but so far I’ve not found them in cyberspace. Perhaps someone can provide them by way of a comment.

That was not the only song Kathy, Minda, and Sharon sang in church. They borrowed the entire repertoire of “The Peterson Trio.” I searched and searched the internet and finally found this album photo. Otherwise all memory of The Peterson Trio seems to have fallen off the face of the flat earth of vinyl records, the needle-drop world we once enjoyed before cassettes and CDs and MP3s changed the tactile nature of holding and hearing recorded music. In that day, the album jacket was studied over and over as we listened to our music. My brother Paul liked one of the Peterson girls on the cover. He never met her, of course, but he did, in fact, date a girl at church who bore a striking resemblance to the girl in the lower right.

I don’t know what brought the “Melody of Gladness” from some cerebral corner of my mind after more than thirty years. It just came back to me and I saw my sister and her two best friends singing it in the church of my childhood, a place that occupies the same corner of my mind.

I know such songs were mostly “fluff,” and will not likely come to me in times of trouble the way the great hymns of faith do (e.g. “It is Well With My Soul” or “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”). But in the same way that the “duwap” classics of the Fifties and Sixties captured the upbeat joy of the times, so did many of the choruses introduced to "the church" during the Sixties. Criticizing them for lack of "content" would be like dissing "Leave it to Beaver" or Mayberry for depicting sugar-coated idealism (as if post-modern cynicism and TV's airing of life's dirty laundry has produced better trends for American families).

The father of the Peterson Trio was none other than John W. Peterson, the "dean of modern hymnwriters," (as this link has dubbed him). He and his contemporaries cranked out the choruses we sang in "Young Peoples" (the catchy name we called our Sunday evening youth service). Most of Peterson’s music is no longer in print, but one of his grandsons (I suspect he’s the son of the daughter Paul liked in the trio) has released a CD called "Legacy" of some of his grandfather’s "classics." (Speaking of legacies, if you look closely at the Peterson Trio album cover, you'll notice the accompanist is Harold DeCou. I now work with his son who is our minister of music.) [Update: When I asked J.D. about this, he told me the Peterson girls used to be his babysitters when his family traveled with them. "Who didn't have a crush on them?" he laughed. ]

I’m not predicting a come back of “church oldies” from the Sixties; I'm not saying I think our church should try to revive them for the "contemporary service." (Though they were contemporary in the Sixties, some boomerangs don't come back.) But I can say if I got an invitation to a "Singspiration" with the folks who first learned those songs with me, I'd be there. After each song we'd lean to one another and say, “I haven’t heard that since I don’t know when." To cap it off, Kathy, Minda, and Sharon could make a surprise appearance to sing "A Melody of Gladness."

Since such a gathering is not likely to happen on earth, next time we're home, I'll pull out some old "Favorites" from my mother's overflowing piano bench and we'll have a singspiration of our own. (Because of Mom’s health, my youngest daughter may have to play piano for us, but the singing will be sweet.) I can only imagine the songs that will be sung in heaven. I think they'll be new songs--at least, new to us.... which reminds me of another song I haven't heard since I don't know when: "There's a New Song in My Heart."

Saturday, June 10, 2006

“He is Zabo
and other Unsung Songs
From Since I Don't Know When

I found an interesting site as I closed the post above. http://www.lifefebc.com/resources/midirhc.htm
It provides midi accompaniment to hundreds of hymns and chorus. Great hymns are there, full of doctrine and worthy to be discussed at length and remembered by the "the church." But the following are not selected on merit. If that were the case, there are scores of songs at the website that would rank far above these.

No, these songs below are here because I learned them at Calvary of Roseville and I simply haven't heard them "since I don't know when." There are dozens of choruses I remember from the 60's that aren't at this site. One of the more obscure titles is "Spread a Little Sunshine as You Go Along" (which Pastor Elmore, our choir director, used to parody with a verse about spreading peanut butter.)

Listen to the simple piano chords at the links below and see if every word doesn’t come right back to you after all these years…

His Name is wonderful: click here
The Lily of the Valley: click here
He Keeps me Singing: click here (This is not "He Keeps Me Singing a Happy Song." I wish I could find a link to that one.)
In My Heart There Rings a Melody: click here
Things are Different Now: click here
He's Able: click here

When my mom taught this last one to our young Catholic friends across the street, they thought we were singing "He is Zabo," as if worshipping some mysterious Greek god named Zabo. Every time they sang with us on our front porch or in our car, they'd smile and chime in. It took months for us to realize we had nearly converted them to Zaboism. (The fact that it was commonplace for my mom to have a porch-full of kids singing songs is another story in and of itself, which I hope to share here soon.)

A Place to Play

(My daughter wrote this for her English Class a year and a half ago. Wednesday's post reminded me of it.)

Children need a place to play,
a place where troubles fade away,
a place where night can turn to day,
in the twinkling of an eye.

It may be in a favorite tree*
where branches serve as chairs for tea
and trunks as masts set out to sea,
as sails go by.

It may be in an attic room
where a maiden meets her groom
and stories from a magic loom
are woven into dreams.

Or, perhaps, on summer lawns
where games give way to tired yawns
and clouds are fish, or fowl, or fawns,
or so it seems.

Childhood, you see, is not a stage
or photos pasted on a page
of time let go at a certain age
or on a certain day.

Childhood is a state of mind,
the innocence we leave behind,
the day we can no longer find
a place to play.

By: Kim K. January 30,2005
(In memory of our little blue house with the *tri-colored beech in which the girls spent hours. This house was on Berkshire Rd. in Waterloo, Iowa, where the girls lived most of their lives. Click photo to enlarge.)

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Meaning of Mr. Ellis's Smile.

The last day of school at Burton Junior High in Roseville, Michigan, was the most festive mayhem I had ever experienced. This was back in the late 60's, when riots and protests had re-defined the tolerance levels of acceptable student behavior. So much so that after turning in our books, all the students were allowed to pull the contents of their lockers out onto the tile floors. To a kid like me, this felt inherently wrong—sort of like scraping the peanut shells onto the floor at Logan’s—but then as now, I soon got the hang of reckless abandon.

The thought of locker-lined corridors spewing forth bushels of trash and the thrill of parading through the knee-deep debris entertained us until Mr. Ellis, who had been the head custodian for decades, performed his coup de grâce. He took his widest dust mop and pushed the length of each hall into piles to be bagged and hauled away. Seeing his bright smile as we passed was the ultimate “blessing” on this otherwise unruly rite.

Taking that last lap of the halls, I could never resist picking up unused packs of perfectly good notebook paper, pens, pencils, etc. I’ve always been a gatherer of sorts, finding use for cast-off things. There are readers who can relate to this hunter-gatherer instinct and those who can’t. (My wife tends to be in the latter group.) I can only say that walking home with an armful of “finds” added immeasurable pleasure to the event—far more than I ever derived from “back-to-school” shopping for the same items in late August.

It's hard to describe the jubilation kids feel on the last day of school. In our building, we clean out lockers in an orderly fashion, but last Friday I enjoyed observing that "school's out" celebration as our students exited the building. To a certain extent teachers share the joy and relief of that moment. They well deserve it. I enjoy a sense of closure, too, but I must confess I haven't actually had that "school's out" feeling for a long, long time. School's in year-round, it seems, for those who stay in the building... but just the same, I've come to fully understand... the meaning of Mr. Ellis's smile.
I wish I could tell you more about Mr. Ellis. I wish I could recreate some memorable conversation we'd shared, but I don't recall his voice. In those three junior-high years, we exchanged countless quiet waves and smiles but few words beyond vague greetings. I do remember that his children attended Burton with us, and his older son was a track star. I'd never been to their house, but I had ridden my bike to their neighborhood. Virtually all of my black friends at Burton lived there in that clearly-defined neighborhood behind the Spartan’s on Frazho Road. That's just the way it was in Roseville back then. Their neighborhood bordered East Detroit (which was between 10 Mile Road and 8 Mile Road—made famous by controversial rapper Eminem.) I mention this detail here only because it would be unfair to my memory of Mr. Ellis not to. He was respected at Burton—by the office, teachers, and students. He was friendly by nature but firm if need be. During the most racially charged decade of the 20th Century, he transcended the tensions of the day and was “color blind” to all students in the building under his custody…just as his title implied. I hope he sensed the same from me.

I sometimes returned to Burton to visit teachers and wave "hi" to Mr. Ellis, but shortly after I graduated from high school, Burton was demolished--completely razed to make way for a strip mall and interstate I-696 (the Walter P. Reuther Freeway). One day when I was home from college I drove by and it was gone. The entrance to a home improvement store stood roughly where my last locker had been.

To My Brother Dave
Who Knew the Meaning of a Day

There was a time in childhood
(when school was out)
and each new day was an open book
and all we did is wake and breathe
and laugh and play
and write our stories there.
And in that time
we faced the days with little care
save those imposed by people looking down
who punctuated precious time
with church and chores and all such things
that marked the page before we wrote.
But I thank the God who gave us church
and the folks who gave us chores
that there were also days
that dawned deliciously blank
when we ventured out
with the courage to live the day in a tree
or to treasure hunt at sunrise on trash day
or retrieve refrigerator boxes from the bin
for forts and tanks and slipper slides…
or discover the world within 10-speed range
or play ball till the street lights came on
or C-A-R till mom’s silhouette
called from our distant porch.
We wrote our endless books of days...
till the last screen door slammed “the end”
unaware that in time
the same 24 hours would not fill a book,
not even a page...
but only a small numbered square
on a calendar.
January 24, 2004

Summer Street-light Nights
and a Game Called C-A-R

Since the lines above make reference to a neighborhood game called C-A-R, and since this game has not likely been played anywhere on earth for nearly forty years, (and since it was created by and exists only in the minds of a few now-grown men and may well be lost if not recorded here), I shall do my best to explain this rigorous, dramatic game of romp and risk to this generation whose imagination and energy have been thwarted by video games.

First of all, this is a city/suburb game. It requires a “tightly woven” neighborhood with patch-pocket yards and lots of side streets. If you look at the “game board” of our neighborhood in Roseville at this link, our street was Buckhannon that runs parallel to the bottom edge of the picture. That was the “track” street. The “flank” streets are those that run perpendicular to the track (they’re the vertical lines in the picture.)

1. C-A-R must be played at night after the street lights are on. (We tried it once in the daytime, and it was a complete flop.)
2. There must be at least four participants, but the more the better.
3. The game begins at the gool yard. (I’m pretty sure this word was supposed to be “goal,” but for some reason, the kids in our neighborhood pronounced it “gool” (as in ghoul). Our yard was usually gool.
4. Divide all participants into two even teams.
5. The object of the game is to walk as far from the gool yard as possible, BUT you must be in the gool yard when a CAR passes you on the “track” street. If a car passes you before you return to gool, you must “end zone dive” onto the nearest lawn as if struck by said car, roll as if from the impact, and lay dead until the next round of the game.
6. Both teams must begin walking in opposite directions down the “track” street (Buckhannon in our case). If any participant sees the headlights of a car approaching, they must turn toward the gool yard, cup their hands and yell "C-A-R. . .C-A-R" at the top of their lungs.

The thrill was in wandering far from gool and “pushing your luck.” The challenge was in gauging your distance from gool and your ability to outrun the car and arrive safely before it passed your point on the sidewalk. If the headlights were coming from either direction on the track, it was easier to gauge, but sometimes there was more than one car and sometimes we were simply outflanked.

For instance: our gool yard was between Marlene and Linwood. If I was bold enough to venture as far as say Barbara Street, and then a “scout” behind me yelled C-A-R for a pair of headlights coming down Hoffmeyer, I had to “haul” to beat that car back to gool, and if the car turned toward me before I passed Hoffmeyer, I was a dead duck.

Sometimes cars would come with little warning down Linwood or Marlene and outflank all of us—that was a massacre, and we were all obliged to die dramatic deaths on the dark damp lawn of an unfamiliar yard. We’d then return to gool for the next round. Since dying was half the fun, there was really no way to lose at C-A-R.

This explanation falls short of the drama and adrenalin the game could produce night after night summer after summer for the boys in our neighborhood. It was all part of the magic of summer street-light nights when parents allowed us to stay up and out hours later than usual. It was that time in life, when we dreaded a mom's call from a distant porch, because all moms were in cahoots (to use one of my mother's words)—as soon as one called their kids in, the others followed suit.

And then we fleet-footed renegades were marched into the bright light of the bathroom, forced to scrub the grass stains off our knees (usually saving full baths till Saturday night), and sent off to bed. I remember lying in the dark, still “cooling down” with nothing but a sheet draped over a leg. Every screen window in the house was open (I knew of no home in our game board neighborhood that had air conditioning), and we'd lie there thinking of what the next day held until the drone of the fan in the window lulled us to sleep... and our thinking turned to dreams.

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