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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

Monday, October 30, 2006

When Mom Walks Through
the TV Room
the Week Before Halloween

Turn it. This is scary.
I can tell by the music.
Why do you even watch these things?
Turn it. There’s got to be something else on.
Where’s that girl going? Oh, right.
She’s alone and opens a squeaky door.
Turn it. I don’t like this spooky music.
Watch. She’s going to get killed.
The dumb girl always does.
Turn it. Is she an extra or a star?
If she’s an extra, she’s dead.
What normal girl would even be there?
Turn it. You girls will never sleep.
She’s going down the stairs
to a basement with no light. Right.
Turn it or you’ll be up all night.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Little Lessons Learned

Back in the ‘90s (when we were living in Iowa), there used to be a line of very tiny dolls called Polly Pockets. Mattel still makes a 3-inch version, but they originally stood only one inch tall, and several of them “lived” inside a hinged doll-house case about the size of a bagel.

Our second daughter Kimberly (then five years old) had two different cases and ten of the little one-inch plastic dolls. One day, she was playing with them in the girls' upstairs room and then moved on to something else, leaving one of the houses open with five little figures inside.

Our little dog Corky found the open "house," chewed the little dolls, and spit them out on her bedspread. They weren’t completely destroyed—but close to it. They looked like tiny little extras from a model set for Night of the Living Dead.

When Kim found them, she cried and scolded her pup, but we assured her that Corky was just doing what dogs do and warned that she would simply have to be more careful to put her Polly Pockets away when she was finished with them.

A few weeks later, my mom and dad came from Michigan for Thanksgiving. Both sets of grandparents lived far away, so these visits were very special because the grandparents slept upstairs in the girls’ dormer room, and the two girls got to sleep on the hide-a-bed in the living room.

When my mother heard about “the attack of Corky,” she bought Kimberly a set of five little Polly Pockets to replace the five zombies. Kim and her grandmother played with them in the upstairs bedroom for quite a while until Grandma excused herself to help Julie with dinner. When dinner was served, Kim came downstairs to the dining room as Grandma went upstairs to freshen up.

Returning to the table, Grandma whispered something in Kim’s ear. Her eyes got big, and she whispered a weighty "Thank you," which prompted me to ask, “What’s all that about.”

My mom declined to say, but Kim explained with unguarded gratitude.

"I accidentally left my Polly Pockets out on the bed, but Grandma put 'em away before Corky chewed 'em up."

Sensing Mom’s desire to downplay the matter, I began a short "reminder" speech in the rote parental tones I’d learned so well from my folks: “Kim, what did we tell you about leaving those little Polly Pockets out?”

“Not to.” Her smile faded.

“That’s right. You know what happened last time... so you’d better just count your blessings.”

Her face looked more confused than contrite, so I repeated, “You’d better count your blessings and be thankful Grandma was looking out for you.”

The second time she seemed to get my point. Her smile returned, and Grandpa changed the subject by offering to say grace.

As we waited for dessert, Kim excused herself from the table with little notice. We were chatting over our cake and ice cream, when she climbed back in her chair.

“Good news,” She announced. We all stopped, forks frozen in midair. She was beaming from ear to ear.

“I counted my blessings, and they were all there!”

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Our First Dog, Corky

When our second daughter was officially out of diapers, we bought a puppy and began the whole potty training thing all over again. We named him Corky because he was the burnt-black of cork and half Yorkie and half toy poodle. A Yorkapoo the ad in the paper called it, but the name was cuter than this unsold runt that was five months old when we first saw him. (The rest of the litter was long gone.) This poor little guy had the least marketable features of both his tiny parents. His hair lacked the length and markings of a Yorkie, and his pointed ears flopped down like a poodle's. We bought him anyway.

Fully grown, Corky never weighed more than eight pounds and pretty much jittered his way through life. His toenails clicked incessantly on the hardwood floors like a tap-dancin’ Vaudevillian, a canine incarnation of Sammy Davis Jr. We kept hoping he would turn cute (because when you’re that small it’s the only adjective left to hope for), but he just stayed scrawny and got more jittery with time. To our girls, he was their adorable puppy who never turned into a dog.

All day you could find him wherever the girls were, and at bedtime, he watched 'til their bedroom light went out, then scampered to his own woven-wicker bed under the bookcase in the hall. They loved to play outside in sunshine or snow. We didn’t have a fenced-in yard at the little blue house, but Corky never left their sight. In fact, in his six high-strung years, Corky went AWOL from the boundaries of our small world only once between 1989 and April of 1995.

I’ll never forget the Saturday night when I pulled in the driveway after shooting a late wedding. As I unloaded the trunk, Julie met me there in the dark with the sad news that Corky was missing. They’d searched for hours to no avail. The thought of seeing the little guy dead along the road on the way to church prompted me to drive the streets for hours. Eventually I was a mile away on what would have been a busy road were it not the dead of night.

There in front of me I saw him, a little tangled mass of black fur and blood. I pressed the break and inched forward, aiming some light on the dreadful task at hand. “God, help me,” I exhaled in true need of strength. There was no traffic in sight from either direction. I walked toward our little pup who’d been hurt beyond recognition. I am not a casual user of the Lord’s name, but I kept sighing “Oh, God. Oh, God,” in genuine grief that I had not prepared myself to feel.

I used a stick and the flap of a cardboard box like a spade to lift the little creature from the pavement. It was an awful chore. I could barely tell it was Corky, but I finally rolled him onto the improvised bier and held it directly in the bright light. “What do I do with you now?” I thought. “How do I tell the girls, Corky? They can’t see you like this. God, help me,” I sighed once more.

Kneeling there, I looked closer at the black fur through the blood. There was something white mixed in the mire. Or was it a damp reflection in the glair? I lowered it from the beam and with the stick, I rubbed the fur in the opposite direction. It was definitely white….it was a patch of white fur covered in clotted blood—all the rest of the fur was black. Corky had not one strand of white in his coat.

As my blurry eyes finally focused on the facts, I dropped the soggy cardboard. This wasn’t Corky—it was a dead skunk! I examined it further with less attachment—this was for sure a very dead skunk! I leaned down and sniffed at it. There was not one hint of “skunk smell” (which I cannot explain to this day), but the fact that we picked up Corky, alive and well, the next day at the Humane Society happily confirmed that I had not picked him up the night before.

That’s how scrawny our first dog was.

That night was the only time Corky ran away in all his years with us until that first week of April in 1995, when we were unexpectedly called back to Michigan for my father’s funeral. Again I had come home late after shooting a Saturday wedding. Around midnight, the phone rang, and I learned my Dad was gone. The rest of the house was asleep, I sat alone for hours before waking Julie to tell her. Even now, after all these years, my throat hurts as I think about it, but this post is not about that week. It’s about the fact that while we were gone, our dear friends took care of Corky at their house a block away.

Sometime during that long week, through no fault of our friends, Corky went missing for a day. They looked and looked and the next day finally found him at the back door of our little blue house, sitting like a statue, staring up at the doorknob, waiting for it to turn. Our friends described the sight when we returned home.

It's an image that has stayed with me. For six years, he had learned the pattern: human opens back breezeway door; dog gets fresh air and takes care of business; dog stares at doorknob; doorknob turns; human says "Good boy!"; dog goes inside and feels like part of a family again. It had worked that way about 6,000 times in a row. Why would it not work this time? It would. It must. And so he sat there through the night and morning hours. It's a sad but beautiful picture of watching and waiting with unquestioning faith.

After that forlorn experience, Corky was not the same. Sure he had learned to wait when he was alone (and wanted back in), but before getting to that place he had also learned to wander. He now knew he could leave the security of his small world and return at the time of his choosing.

A few weeks later, Corky traipsed off again, and I began a search very much like the time I was “up close and personal” with a dead skunk. This time, however, my search ended the next morning in the shadow of the water tower a few blocks from our house. A little black dog appeared to be sleeping quietly on a neatly trimmed lawn beside the curb. It was unmistakably Corky.

I waited for a pausing school bus full of children to continue on its way, took Corky's woven- wicker bed from the back seat, and placed his still body on the plaid cushion. That was how the girls last saw him. We buried Corky in the Hostas along the path behind our house. So soon after my father's interment at Lakeside Cemetery, the simple re-enactment was surprisingly hard to do.

The next day was Saturday. I was sweeping the back patio when I saw my seven-year-old daughter beside the path by herself, kneeling down to put flowers on the grave. She was smiling and talking, unaware that anyone was watching. The next morning, I wrote the following:

Tender To The Ground

There’s a patch of ground beside the path
...that runs between the trees,
...and yesterday my little girl
...was there down on her knees.
Her hands held clumps of lilac,
...both lavender and white,
...and she carefully arranged them
...on the stones that marked the site.
The day before, at twilight,
...we laid our dog to rest.
She tried to whisper something
...but fell sobbing on my chest.
Yet on this second visit
...no tear had traced her face,
...and her eyes showed calm contentment
...for having touched the place.

There’s a plot of earth just off the road
...that runs down to the shore
...where one by one, we’ll all be drawn
...by some endearing chore.
We may kneel to leave a single rose
...or brush back autumn leaves,
...and we’ll ask how hands find comfort
...so near a heart that grieves.
But the same heart will remind us:
...such acts aren’t for the dead—
...they are "rather for us" the living,
...as Lincoln aptly said.

Whether seventy or seven,
...wherever love is found,
...in time, all those who watch and wait
...are tender to the ground.

© Copyright 1995, TK, Patterns of Ink

A few weeks after my father's funeral, our little family dog was killed and buried at the back of our property. Lakeside Cemetery, where my father and many other relatives are laid to rest, is on the shore of Lake Huron in my home town.

Friday, October 27, 2006

No Joy in Mudville

Hats Off to the Cards! They deserved to win. As I type, David Eckstein is getting the MPV Corvette. Standing only five-and-a-half-feet tall, he redefines shortstop, but in games 4 and 5, he was incredible at the plate (batting .727 in those two games). Here's to little guys who play like giants! Speaking of giants... Here's to Sean Casey who got the last homerun and hit (a stand-up double) of the 2006 season.

I was so glad Casey was not in Inge's shoes, the last at-bat who struck out to end the final game 4 to 2. If that had been Casey it would have been literary déjà vu. Here's how the famous poem by E.L. Thayer entitled "Casey at the Bat" begins and ends...

"The outlook wasn't brilliant
for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two,
with but one inning more to play..."

[Then the hero Casey, big man-- big hitter,
steps up to the plate with two men on
and the chance to win the game with a home run.
Sound familiar? He swings at the final pitch and ...]

"Oh, somewhere in this favoured land
the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere,
and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing,
and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—
mighty Casey has struck out."

Unlike Thayer's Casey, Sean Casey brought his bat to St. Louis and ended the season very well, batting .529 in all five games, but he alone couldn't offset the PFP jitters of Detroit's young pitching staff. Those spasmodic moments led directly to the unearned runs that glopped across the plate like cold mashed potatoes. Their home-game sweep wasn't pretty, but the Cardinal's are chowing down just the same.

Thanks for your patient reading of my Tiger nostalgia in recent weeks. It was a great season. I'm done writing about it, but there's always next year.
Good night.
(Links added next morning :)

Game Five. Stayin’ Alive?

I know I haven’t been writing much lately—just been busy. I’m also a little tired from staying up late watching the Tigers struggle in St. Louis. (Funny thing: When they win, I wake up refreshed; when they lose, I wake up dragging my feet.) By the way, the low TV ratings this series is getting is in part because both teams are in "fly-over" country (rather than LA or NYC) but also because there aren't enough insomniacs willing to stay up past the 7th-inning stretch!

Tonight determines if my late-night sofa vegetating is over for the season. When I was a kid, the World Series was televised in the afternoon. The only year I actually watched was 1968. (I wrote about it here back in July.) Just in case you don’t know much about that last match-up between the Tigers and Cardinals, I'll let you in on some sports trivia: The Tigers won the last three out of seven games.

If the Tigers win tonight, the win-loss pattern of the first five games is identical to ‘68, and Detroit can return home to attempt a déjà vu end to the series from 38 years ago.

If they lose tonight, my hat will be off to the Cardinals, I’ll thank the Tigers for some great memories and good baseball, and I’ll get to bed earlier Saturday night.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Life is Just

So this is what
we're to believe:
That BANG! the box of BB's spilled
with no purpose, no design,
and nothing unfulfilled.
That WE ARE trumps I AM;
and PERCHANCE trumps what's WILLED.
They say
we must put our trust
in rocks and dust since
life is just
a box of BB's spilled.
© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink
If you wonder what I really think, turn up your volume and click the word BANG .

Saturday, October 21, 2006

That Call and Calvary

The most wonderful things that are true of my life can be traced back to phone call and the fact that Given the right subject, women know no strangers. I’m not talking about the O.J. wrong number I wrote about a few weeks ago that my wife Julie received in 1993... that was just a funny "female" thing. I'm talking about an "accidental" phone call my mom made in 1964 when she talked to a perfect stranger for an hour. By the time she hung up, some dominoes began to fall that only God could have put in place... and they're still toppling across His boundless tabletop.

The story actually starts years before the phone call. My family had been going to a steepled church on the corner every Sunday since forever. In Port Huron, it was St. Johns on 10th and Lapeer. In Detroit, it was Peace United Church of Christ on Gratiot and 8 Mile Road. We were faithful members and very involved…but something was missing.

As always, God was up to something. He placed people in my family's life who began preparing soil and watering seeds as if in some divine conspiracy. It was the Easter season, and as a family we had just seen Barabbas at one of the big theaters in Detroit. My sister had met a new friend, Brenda Brown, whose father was a pastor. For months, they had been walking to school together and talked about the Bible. This friend’s mother “did hair” in the parsonage basement, and my mom became a regular customer. Every time Mom got her hair done, the two ladies talked about the Bible and listened to something called Southern gospel music. Mom borrowed her albums by Naomi and the Segos whose hits included "Sorry I Never Knew You."* We wore the grooves out of that one. At the end of this post is another one Mom liked.

Meanwhile, my father and a handful of Bell Telephone guys, spent their lunch breaks at the “Y” gym, where a gray-haired man at the equipment window (a retired pastor) was always quoting Bible verses. The verses led to conversations, and surprisingly Dad was all ears.

That’s how the three ranking members of my family were gently exposed to the gospel for several months. Finally, Dad and Mom realized we’d only been going through the motions of church like shadow puppets gathering round a dim bulb. Though they were not yet sure what the “real light” was, they knew it wasn’t shining at our church. They were hungry for the Bible and it simply wasn't on the menu there. And so the search began.

We started popping in on various Protestant churches: Lutheran, Methodist—we even visited the little full-gospel church where Kathy’s friend’s dad was pastor. That was a new experience. The singing was rambunctious and no one was staying put. It was as if the teacher had left the room and the whole class was acting up. The only thing not moving in the room was my family. I started waiving my hands just a little to fit in, but Dad put his hand on my shoulder and we sat out the rest of service. The folks were friendly and all—I’m not knocking it—but that church was a much faster horse than we were used to riding.

A few days later, Mom let her fingers do the walking in the Yellow Pages to see where we’d go to church the next Sunday. Somewhere in the “Bs and Cs” her finger tripped and she was suddenly dialing a number she had not intended to call. A secretary named Jan Johnson picked up on the other end. She and Mom hit it off, and they talked for an hour. (If you know my mom, you know that’s a conservative estimate.)

“Now what was the name of your church?” Mom asked.
“Calvary” said her new friend.

The rest is a completely different life story. Nearly all of the most important details of my life can be traced back to that “wrong number” and two women who could make friends with a stranger.

Now add this to that Providential point in time. My mom's social nature made our front porch a magnet for “seeking” kids of all ages during those wonderful Calvary years.

If we could somehow create a gathering like that great scene at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) realizes how much his life changed the lives of others, here are just some of the neighborhood “kids” whose changed life began on our front porch: Pam C. (missionary to Nova Scotia), Carlos G. (pastor), Steve L. (missionary to the Philippines) Janet and Quitta H. (Quitta is a missionary in Turkey). Others include Peggy M., Chris B., Bob S., Jeff R., Don E., Kim K. and Minda M. There are more I’m sure, and they all could tell how their own stories go back to Mom’s front porch, which was just like any other porch on the street until…
that call and Calvary.

* Naomi and the Segos [hear her story here] was not what typically played in our home in the decades to follow that phone call, but in the beginning, because these albums had been loned to us by a friend who was also praying for our family, they played a part in our understanding what it meant to follow Christ.

Another Naomi and the Segos song is a bit slow but it does reflect my parents' feeling about life. I was born to serve the Lord.

By today’s standards, “Sorry I Never Knew You” is a sappy, eschatological ballad about a family standing at the Final Judgment. They have to sing goodbye to their father who must “go and serve the one that he served down on earth.” His little girls sings, “Daddy, we can’t go with you. We must dwell in the joys of the Lord. Sorry, for we still love you, but you'll never be our daddy anymore.” Fortunately for the dad, the song was only an evangelistic dream. We sat on the hall floor outside Mom and Dad's bedroom and played that record over and over. As a family, in time we grew in faith and learned the really great hymns, and solid Bible teaching continued (and continues) to balance our lives. But at that point in time, the desire to keep our family together was very real, and that song primed the pump for the night our new pastor came and led my father to the Lord. One by one, in about a week's time, we each responded to the gospel and trusted Christ, and all six of us were baptized on the same Sunday there at our new church.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Ode to Today!

One week later.
down went a Gator
up went the Wolverines
in some hard-hitting scenes
against a Nittany Cat,
Best of all, before all that,
the Tigers swept the Oakland A’s...
Wonderful day in many ways!

(Sorry 'bout the doggerel, but after a surreal week when it SNOWED most of Thursday and we had a busy in-service at school Friday...a Michigander couldn't really ask for a better Saturday evening on both fields.)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Visqueen and Champagne

Less than a week ago, the Detroit Tiger’s meteoric regular season ended not with a roar but a whimper when their old-time rivals from the ‘80’s (the Kansas City Royals) came to Motown and swept the last home stand, depriving them of the single victory needed to claim the division title. Fortunately, Leyland's boys had already secured the wild card slot, but that consolation meant they had to go to New York and face the greatest offensive lineup ever amassed by two-hundred-million dollars (that’s $200-million-plus).

The Yankees are not only all stars—they are virtually all All-stars. Some sports writers warned that the short series would look like a Varsity vs. JV scrimmage. They were right, but there's a difference between "best line-up" and "best team." I’ll not review the stats and amazing moments that tell how the Tigers knocked the straw out of the Yanks, but I will say that all the boxed Visqueen and champagne at Comerica Park left unused from last Sunday is being put to good waste even as I type!

Thank you, KC, for this match-up. I said it in July: "Baseball is a game of streaks, quirks, team chemistry, and—dare I use the word?—luck (i.e. oxymoronic, serendipitous Providence that governs how leather-bound orbs bounce at 100 mph)." No matter what else the post season holds, this has been a great week to talk with brothers and root for the home team.
I read this aritcle a few days later. Detroit made many people beyond Michigan very happy.

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