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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, November 26, 2006

Part Three: When All Doubt Was Gone
(Caution: If you are a very young reader and still know the Santa story to be true, there is no need to read Part Three.)

When we got home from Husdon’s, Kathy called a “gift meeting” in her room. She was the only person in the house with her own room. The “boys’ room” had three beds and three dressers but no place for more than three people to stand… so “gift meetings” were always in Kathy’s room. If it weren’t for our well-organized oldest sister, my parents may never have gotten anything from us kids. I for one assumed Santa took care of them, but Kathy explained that Santa mostly brought children's gifts—we kids had to help with parents and grandparents. She knew what Mom and Dad liked (or perhaps had on “lay-away”) and how much we each needed to chip in from our allowance.

I paid my share into Kathy’s plan but also wanted to get something on my own. Hand-made gifts from school had seen me through since kindergarten, but this year I wanted to give something store-bought, so I rode my bike to my favorite store at Eastgate, Kresge’s, and got two flashlight batteries for Dad and a pair of clip-on earrings for Mom. (At that time in my life, I had never seen a woman or girl of any age with pierced ears.) These were smooth beige disks about the size of Mom’s coat buttons. Mission accomplished, I went back home to wrap my finds.

When a child wraps a present it is not to make it more beautiful; it’s to conceal the wonderful surprise inside. I had secretly taken two squares of refolded wrapping paper and recycled stick-on bows (that no longer stuck) from a bag in the high wall-compartment in Kathy’s room. I hid the two gifts and wrapping supplies under my pillow and went after some scotch tape.

Mom was in the kitchen making supper (a task that had occupied her afternoons for fifteen years and would for nearly thirty more). The phone was clamped between her left shoulder and her tilted head, and the ten-foot spiral phone cord followed her from sink to counter to stove to refrigerator as she talked and worked. The phone cord was mostly white but through the years it had become encrusted with the various foods it had inadvertently dabbled in—a spot of gravy here, some pancake batter there, a splash of egg yolk, spaghetti sauce, dried ice cream… I’m pretty sure all the food groups were represented.

“Mom, where’s the scotch tape?” I mouthed, not wanting to interrupt.
“In the drawer.” She mouthed back.
“What drawer?”
“Next to my bed.” She mouthed again.

When we bought the house in Roseville, it was completely furnished. Even the pictures on the walls were left behind. Dad always considered the address “temporary” until he found some land and built a house like the one we had sold in Port Huron. So the fact that it was furnished was just fine. Their bedroom outfit was included in the deal. My parent’s headboard had sliding compartments for books, etc. and the matching night stands had drawers where Mom and Dad kept their special things.

My Dad’s nightstand had neatly filed bills and papers, his coin collection, and other keepsakes he would sometimes show us. Mom’s nightstand was packed with pens, photos, post cards some loose Lifesavers, prickly hair rollers, a wad of darning floss, handkerchiefs, a manicure case with empty loops but no clippers, and that was just the top layer. Somewhere in there, according to her latest update, was the scotch tape, but there was no sign of it.

I pulled the drawer all the way out and put it on the bed. Still no tape, but there in the back corner on the right hand side, bound in string, were some letters of various sizes. They had no stamps. At first I thought they were love letters from Dad, but then I saw the address scrawled in pencil: “Santa Clause / North Pole.”

Plopping down on the bed with the small bundle in my lap, I did not have to think about what this meant. I was not confused. I did not “make up” explanations in my head. I just sat there thumbing through years of letters to Santa. I knew I had played a part in this story, a part some of my friends no longer played. I knew I had chosen to ignore the facts and to consider "impossibilities" to be part of the magic. I wanted the stories to be true. I wanted the U.P. to be next to the North Pole. I did not want to see these letters in my lap, but there they were.

I walked back to the kitchen with them. Mom was still on the phone.

“Did you find the tape?” She mouthed, looking only at my face.
“No, but I found these.” My voice cracked a little.
“I’ll call you back, Kay.” Mom said before hanging up on our neighbor. “I’m sorry, Tom, that’s not the drawer I meant. I meant the dresser drawer. I’m so sorry…”
“You said, ‘Next to the bed.’”
“Not right next to the bed. Why would I have tape in that drawer? I’m sorry…”
“Mom, there’s all kinds of stuff in that drawer—why not tape?—why these letters?”
“I’m sorry, Tom.”

We sat on the teal green sofa in the front room. She took the letters in her hand and explained how they were as special to her as the gifts they'd prompted had been to us, and how someday I’d understand why things like this were her dearest treasures.

“Do the others know? Do they know the letters don’t go to the North Pole?”
“Yes, we’ve talked about it, and I almost did with you this year.”
“But why do they write the letters if they know it’s not true?”
“They just want to. It’s a tradition, and it helps your dad and me shop."
“Dad shops?” I asked.
“Sure. He likes playing Santa, too. Jupiter, one Christmas Eve on Lapeer Avenue your dad was up painting a bike he had bought from the boy next door. He got it all fixed up and set it beside the tree. Next morning Paul runs out to the tree and says, 'Oh, Boy, Santa brought me Marty's bike!' After all your dad's work, Paul recognized it right away but was still thrilled that Santa brought it to him."

I couldn't help but smile as I stared at the empty floor under our tree.

“But how do all the presents just appear on Christmas morning. How do you do that?” “Christmas if full of surprises—don’t ever forget that, and don’t let curiosity kill the cat. I'll go get that tape for you.”

Mom went back to her room with the letters which I never saw again as a child, and came back with the tape.

“What do you need tape for anyway.”
“Huh? What?” I stammered, still staring at the tree.
“What do you need the scotch tape for?”
I didn't want to lie, but I couldn't quite tell the whole truth—it was the first time I faced the delicate dilemma of being Santa.
“Don't let curiosity kill the cat…” I quoted back to her with a smile.

Christmas morning came, and among other things, Dave and I got the Pinocchio String Puppets. Mom acted surprised when we opened them.

“I guess Santa remembered where you said he could find those.”

I stopped opening the box and looked at her, slightly puzzled, wondering for whose benefit she had said it since now I knew. But she had been giving Santa credit for years and clearly had no intention of stopping now. I didn’t mind.

On the far side of the tree, Kathy unwrapped a present and held it up as Mom snapped a picture. It was a something she had thought long about and specifically requested. Only Mom and Kathy knew its importance that morning, but I've seen the picture many times since, and her eyes seem to know this would be her last Christmas doll.

It's those who see change coming first who treasure most what was.

Some things remained the same for years: We still gave Dad our "North Pole" lists before he left for the Upper Peninsula. (I began adding more details, like “Federals, aisle 2, bottom-left shelf, blue box”); Mom kept baking and singing and pinching us on cue; and Kathy continued to read her stories on early Christmas morns.

But beyond our walls, the world was reshaping itself in ways that would uniquely frame the Christmas of 1964. It was a "last" and "first" for me—a time when fantasy faded without giving way to cynicism, a time when the facts could lie in my lap without hitting me in the face, a time when doubt came slowly and trust took root in things that mattered most.

To Be Continued…
Part Four : "Some Forever Not For Better"

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Part Two: When Doubt Faded into Fantasy

Not far from that Federals parking lot, you could look south on Gratiot Avenue and, on a clear day, see the skyscrapers of Detroit about ten miles away.

Downtown Detroit had been a distant but integral part of my family’s life ever since 1960 when my father took a job and an apartment in the city while Mom and her four stair-step kids stayed 90 minutes away in Port Huron, living in the unfinished “dream house” Dad was diligently building on weekends. The next year we sold that beautiful house on its large wooded lot and moved to the tightly-woven world of Detroit’s east-side suburbs. Dad often took us downtown to “Friday Family Swim Night” at the old YMCA building. Having lived there alone those months and worked there now for four years,he knew downtown Detroit like the back of his hand.

Mom was less familiar with Detroit and reluctant to venture there without Dad. The last time she did we took a wrong turn on a one-way street and drove a few blocks against the flow. She wondered what all the honking was about but figured it out before bringing the Motor City to a screeching halt. In fairness to Mom, it took courage that Saturday to load up the car with four kids and give it another shot, but Hudson’s Department Store was worth the risk.

The mid-Sixties was the peak of the J.L.Hudson story. I say story and not “store” because when it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Hudson's was not only the world’s tallest retail building—it was a winter wonderland among city sidewalks and silver bells. The windowed wall on Woodward Avenue was decked to the sky with 72,000 lights in the shape of a tree, and inside all 25 floors were tastefully festooned.

This store had five basements, 51 passenger elevators, 706 fitting rooms and 2 million square feet. But most remarkable of all were the display windows that wreathed the building. Each was a holiday scene with life-like animatronics interacting with the merchandise available inside. Kids from 1 to 92, were mesmerized at each stop. I remember one showed a family singing at the piano with the family dog lying on the floor. I laughed when I saw that the furry sides moving in and out. “Mom, that dog is breathing!”

There were little details like that at every turn. It took a good hour to weave in and out of the gawking shoppers that circled the building, and then we went up to the 12th floor to see the Midwest’s largest toy department. It, too, was alive with mechanical elves, costumed clerks, and thematic characters directing the endless lines of kids who had come to see Santa. [Click here to find a link to rare footage of Hudson's Santaland.] It was commonly held that while the suburb stores were assigned Santa’s helpers—the Hudson’s Santa was St. Nicholas himself who had come in for the Thanksgiving Day Parade and stayed.

There was one item on my list that we could not find at Federals or any other store in our area, but there it was on the 12th floor of Hudson’s: a Pinocchio string puppet. (It was actually my brother Dave's idea--We’d seen that Disney classic the year before and were big fans of the Saturday supermarionation shows like Diver Dan and Supercar [“Varm up shupacah."]. So we both wanted one.)

“Well, be sure to tell Santa that they have them here at Hudson’s.” That was Mom’s way of the maintaining the mystery. We never saw her purchase a gift—and when we opened them on Christmas morning, she acted just as surprised as we did that Santa had come through. My brothers and sister were not in line to see Santa, but Kathy stood with me as Mom disappeared for about a half an hour. Finally, it was my turn.

Compared to my most recent experience with the Federals “Santa,” the Hudson’s Santa was the best I’d ever seen. He responded favorably to everything on my list and appreciated my telling him where each item could be purchased for the best price.

“You have been a good boy—and a good shopper," he laughed. His "Ho-Hos" were mixed with a regular laugh that sounded quite genuine.

I was happy to see Mom and everyone at the Santa room exit. Sometimes I got lost in big stores and it wasn't a good feeling. In fact, I think being lost in a store is beyond a doubt the most desperately forlorn feeling a child can know. [Years later, I learned it’s also the worst feeling a parent can have.] But there they stood, waving me toward them.

"So how was Santa?" everybody asked.
"Great!" I smiled around a candy cane, as if the fear of not seeing them there had not just stumbled in slow motion through brain, like in a dream when you can’t run away from the bad man.

I spared them from my more accurate review of the Hudson Santa. Secretly I was disappointed that he was so clearly not the real Santa. His fine flowing beard was clearly not his own and his patent-leather boots and belt showed no signs of use or ware, but I was certain that he was a very high-ranking “helper.” I did not tell anyone of my doubts; and I deliberately asked no questions about the bags Mom and Kathy carried to the car.

(Continued above)

Friday, November 24, 2006

When Doubt Came Slowly
Part One:

Like most adults my age, my work-week is full of deadlines and stacks of things to do.

But when we were kids, our local schools had tossed out the concept of homework and my elementary years were pretty much deadline-free. My siblings and I did have one important assignment (though it didn't come from school) due every year on the Friday before Thanksgiving. This must-do task required weeks of forethought and field work, and we knew it was almost due when Dad started packing for deer hunting.

My dad, his brothers, and a few friends traditionally took the week of Thanksgiving off to hunt in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. They left and returned on Saturday, missing the big day itself, which we spent with our cousins on Mom's side. It was a pattern of life that made sense at the time.

Like all parents’ at the time, my mom and dad’s roles were securely fixed in a yet-unchallenged gender-based genetic code passed on since the beginning of time. The week of Dad's departure was full of hunter-gatherer ritual: cleaning rifles, laying out gear, and talking of meat for the family. Mom spent the same days happily in the kitchen baking banana bread and her famous date-filled oatmeal cookies and gently packing them into shoe boxes for the trip. [She later made the same “care packages” for us at college.]

By the time this week came, my mother became as giddy as a schoolgirl. Without warning, she would blurt out—“It’s beginning to look a lot like Chrits-muts…” The last word chirped out and was her cue to pinch whoever was within reach. This went on for weeks.

Just outside the kitchen, in the corner of the “someday dining room” where a “someday table” would someday go, the floor was strewn with Christmas albums like "Sing Along With Mitch" and “Christmas with the Chipmunks” (which my brother Dave had gotten the year before). The large vinyl records spun beyond the edge of the portable player and the music spread to the far corners of the house.

Mom would be up to her elbows in flour with Kathy at her side helping. To keep Paul and Dave and me out of the way she'd remind us of our Friday deadline.

"Have you finished your letters to Santa?"

There were two reasons this delightful deadline coincided with Dad’s trip: the real reason and the story we were told each year. What we were told was that Dad would take our letters to the North Pole since it was right next to the Upper Peninsula. True, the U.P. is typically a snow-covered wilderness throughout the winter, but since it’s another 2,000 miles to the North Pole, I guess they meant “right next to” in the same sense that Ann Arbor is right next to Pasadena. Just a couple of homework assignments in geography would have undone their scheme, but in our ignorance we bought the story for years.

The real reason the letters were due that week was so Mom could begin her Christmas shopping. It never struck me as odd that our Letter to Santa was to include a local store's price of the item and a running total. It looked more like an invoice than a letter. It was as if one part of me knew full well that every gift depended on telling Mom where to get it and keeping the total cost of my list within our family's budget, but another part of me actually believed that Dad took the letters to the North Pole on his way to the U.P. and that Santa would get to work right away on my requests.

The year was 1964. Still clinging to the Santa story when I was nearly nine took little effort. I was the youngest of four kids in a house full of Christmas romance.

My brother Paul studied the TV Guide and scheduled family nights around the specials. Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and young Natalie Wood's The Miracle of 34th Street, and Alastair Sim's 1951 A Christmas Carol, were always on the list. [Many years later, "It's a Wonderful Life," became our family's favorite, but most of my generation never saw that film until the year after a less impressive made-for-TV remake starring Marlo Thomas aired in 1977. Ironically, public rejection of the now-forgotten remake created the loyal following the original 1946 Jimmy Stewart version has enjoyed ever since.]

This particular year debuted a milestone in holiday specials. Burl Ives narrated a stop-action animation classic that has aired every year since). It was produced in color, but since most homes still only had black-and-white TVs, our family saw it like this for years. (Click here to see "Holly Jolly" and here for other songs.)

Our most enchanting experience was one our parents never saw. Every Christmas morning when we woke up before the appointed time to open presents, my sister Kathy snuck us into her room and passed the hour by reading The Story of Holly and Ivy from cover to cover.. She was twelve at the time. Like all teachers-in-waiting, she loved to read aloud, and her voice had the rhythm of care and characters that pulled us forward as we listened. (That memory is still as warm as the baker's shed on page 36 where Ivy, the orphan in the story, spent Christmas Eve lost and alone.)

Imagine three brothers sitting on their sister's chenille bedspread enthralled by a story about a Christmas doll. It's a wonder we turned out at all.

That story involves some "window shopping," which, of course, is the first step in making the Christmas list for Santa's letter.

Since it was just a few-blocks walk away, we'd walk to Federals Department Store at Eastgate Center in Roseville. (This was before Kresge's became K-Mart.) Mom would shop the Ladies Department, put something on "lay-away," and then come back to the Toy Department at the rear of the store where I was doing research for my letter. I'd give a brief report on whether inventories were going down and prices were holding steady—I was like a commodities broker for toys. [The sign at Eastgate reflected the space age in the early 60's. Notice S.S. Kresge 5&10 in the background--that store's namesake became the "K" in K-mart.]

A few days after Thanksgiving we were at Federals and saw a Santa set up outside the toy department. Like most kids, I'd been told that "store Santas" were only his helpers. Even so, I held that a kid should only talk to one Santa a year, and it should be the best one possible. Mom knew I was holding out to see the Santa at Hudson's in downtown Detroit, but as we approached this Santa, Mom whispered, "Look Tom, There's no line."

There’s only one thing worse than standing in a long line to see Santa…and that’s seeing a Santa so pathetic looking that he has no line at all. This one at Federals just slouched back in a big chair that had been spray-painted gold. His suit was too small for him; his beard looked like one I made once by gluing cotton balls on a half paper plate that hooked over my ears. As we walked closer, I could see his glassy eyes which, but for a missing smile, may have looked merry.

“Come here, little boy, and sit on Santa’s lap,” he mumbled.

“We may stop another time,” Mom said politely, pulling me past him, “but thank you for asking.”

We browsed the Toy Department for a few minutes—just long enough for me to point out the priorities on my list for the umpteenth time—and then slipped out the back service door that opened to where the dumpsters were.

Sitting on a bail of flattened boxes was the same Santa on his fifteen minute break. His fake beard was pulled from his face, showing the stubble of more than a day. In his left hand was a smoldering cigarette butt and in his right was a crumpled paper bag showing only the neck of a bottle, which he pressed to his lips and leaned back to swig. I stopped for an instant as the cold slush of reality began seeping into my shoes.

It was then he saw us but only shook his head as if to say, "Now's not a good time, kid." Mom grabbed my hand and pulled me along before any words were exchanged. I looked back again and saw him mid-swig.

"Why did you have to pick this door to come out, Ma?”

I was understandably upset, but looking back on it now, I find it odd that I blamed my mother for her choice of exits rather than “Santa” for failing to tell Federals the true cause of his red nose.

“I’m sorry you saw that, Tom. That man should not be a ‘Santa’s helper.’ You know what? I think we should go downtown Saturday to see Santa at Hudson’s and forget all about this.”

Drunk Santa? What drunk Santa? I don’t see a drunk Santa.…
All was well. We were going to Hudsons.

[But in truth, neither of us ever forgot. Years later we’d smile at the pathetic irony of that moment. Sometimes I didn’t smile. Sometimes I actually felt bad for the man who had obviously misplaced himself…long before he put on that Santa suit.]

(Continued above)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

At Grace

it’s the little things
like putting in the extra leaf
and keeping window watch;
then taking covered dishes at the door;
and hugging through coats
that bring in winter’s air.
Staring fondly at the face
come furthest home;
laughing with the funny uncle
in the kitchen;
holding hands once large and small—
but ever more alike—
around the laden table;
and smiling at the changeless gaze
(framed on the far mantle)
of one not there to pray.
It’s the little things
that make Thanksgiving.
The tastes and smells
and long-awaited feast
at best are just
the garnish of the day.
It’s the enormity
of little things
providentially in place
that lumps our throats
and lifts our thoughts
…at grace.
© Copyright 2006, TK, Patterns of Ink
Wishing you and yours a wonderful sharing of thankful hearts in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Monumental Match-up

Make no Mistake. For the Moment, on paper, Saturday's Match-up between #1 and #2 has cast the Most-revered rivalry in college football in Monumental proportions. It's not yet set in stone, but one Might predict that what is now Mystery May well be history in the Making. M Go Blue!

News Flash (Next day, Friday noon): Just when this game couldn't get any bigger...this sad news hit the day before:College Coaching Icon Bo Shembechler Dies

I met Bo Shembechler at a book-signing event two years ago. I purchased a signed copy for my brother Paul and another for myself. He was a surprisingly conversational guy as we chatted there at his tabel at Barnes and Noble. Until today, I didn't know he was the same age as my father (who died in 1995). It is hard to know whether this will become a "Win one more for the Gipper" moment for the Wolverines. I genuinely hope so...

...especially after learning of a concert tonight in Columbus, Ohio, featureing a local punk band named "The
Dead Schembechlers." In fairness to the crude waste of electricity and air this punk band represents, they named themselves before today's tragic news. The Freep just posted this story of how OSU fans are showing a rarely-seen touch of class, but they have not yet canceled the concert for tonight. [Sincere apologies for the vulgar anti-Michigan content of the last link to that punk band. ]

Update Early Saturday morning: The Freep article at the link was changed Friday afternoon and now tells a different story of how the punk band will never perform again under that title. Outside the music hall, they took down the words "Dead Schembechlers" on the marquee.They substituted the words, "God Bless Bo." Likewise the link to the Dead Shembechlers web page has been neutered. May it never function again! Some will no doubt call this a "classy move" by the band, but if you had seen their obscenely hateful webpage and read the lyrics of thier songs, you might question whether the band was capable of "class" or fearful that their woeful lack of it would have forever tarnished OSU's reputation before the watching eyes of the world on gameday. Either way, it's a win for Bo.
Saturday evening...
I realize blogs are supposed to "stack" in reverse chronological order, and had Michigan won, this would not doubt have been a new post on the top, but I guess I'll just keep ammending this thread. It was a good game. Michigan came up a field goal short. The chance for this to be a "win one for the Gipper" game the day after Bo Schembechler's death has passed, but perhaps redemption awaits in a rematch or a Rosebowl win for the "Victors Valiant."

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Or family watched this clip for years in black and white. America's transition from black-and-white TV sets to color took at least 15 years, and our house was one of the last on the block to get one. (Similar thoughts continued below in "Oz is On.")

Oz is On
Thoughts on Community, Color TV, and Cultural Context

“Who rang that bell?” As I write we’re all sitting in the family room watching the Wizard of Oz on TBS. They just arrived at the Emerald City. This is only noteworthy in that we did the same thing last night. (I guess it’s been on every night this weekend.) But last night we were flipping back and forth between the Wizard and the Kansas State football game against #4 Texas. My wife is from Kansas; our nephew Alex is a student at K-State, and my mother-in-law is here from Kansas for the weekend. So as the Wildcats began to rustle the one-loss Longhorns in what would prove to be the fifth upset of a top-ten ranked team of the weekend, we stopped flipping back to the Wizard, which prompted our eleven-year-old daughter to go to bed.

(Not counting the year Bob Dole was running for president ('96), we'd go months without seeing anything about Kansas on TV, and then in one night we faced this difficult choice—what are the odds?)

So we’re watching the Wizard of Oz again tonight. The strange thing is... we own this movie on both videotape and DVD. We could pop it in and watch it anytime…but we don’t. Does this ever happen with videos you own? I wonder if there are studies on it. I’ve never read or heard anything about it. Maybe it would be called the Nielsen Syndrome—the desire to count and be counted.

I think it would be a fascinating thesis. Does it reflect our need for community? Do we enjoy things more when we know hundreds, thousands—perhaps millions—are enjoying them at the same time? A related question: Did the advent of the home VCR end the movie theater industry? Not really. Americans are still willing to pay top dollar for two movie tickets to see a movie with a group that in a few months they will be able to own for less money. What does this say about our need to be "collective," on the same page with those around us? What does it imply about the individual in the context of large gatherings (e.g. corporate worship)?

Will TiVo and DVRs change society's desire to be on the same page? Cable TV brought many more "pages," but I think there will always be a desire for some commonality in TV viewing—especially around the holidays when shows like this are typically aired. The same thing happens when The Sound of Music or some other “classic” like It's a Wonderful Life are on TV. Millions of people who own the video drop what they're doing and sit down and watch it WITH commercial interruptions. Is it because we're still programmed to enjoy programming or that we feel connected to something larger when we do it? I'm just thinking out loud (in type), and I can speak only for myself (and perhaps my generation). Here goes...

When I was a kid—way before there was any way to record or play “video” on TV, and way before we ever heard of “cable.” All families in America pretty much had three channels of black-and-white TV (ABC, CBS, and NBC). [Because we lived across the river from Canada, we also got CBC, but we hardly ever watched it.] There were a couple other UHF channels, depending on how good your “rabbit ears” were. Back then, the networks would compete for market-share during prime time by promoting great shows for weeks.

The Wizard of Oz was made in 1939, the same year Gone with the Wind hit the theaters—these were the first two full-length movies in color. For the next twenty-five years, the only place to see these or any movie in color was at the theater. Then RCA developed a new product and a commercial I can still sing from memory. “Wow! I got a color TV. The most sensational color TV. The most sensational color— Wow! I got a color TV.”

(My brothers and I sang that song whenver we saw it on our black-and-white TV. It would be over ten years before we "got a color TV." My brother Paul bought it with his own money as a gift for my parents.)

The first color TV I ever saw was at my Grandma Spencer’s next-door neighbor’s house. We all called her “Jonesie.” (I never knew her real name.) We’d sometimes watch Bonanza at her house on Sunday night. That show starred, Lorne Green, and his face was in fact green on her TV. The first color TVs were not very good and the color was constantly out of whack, but Jonesie would not let anyone touch her color TV so we just got used to a it. If we were really fortunate, we’d also get to watch Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color.” But this was very rare indeed, because both these shows were on Sunday night, and we were always at Sunday evening church. It was only when we were an hour away at Grandma's in Port Huron for the day that we were exposed to this unforgettable treat.

It was when color TVs were slowly making their way into homes that NBC adopted a new logo--the NBC Peacock we still see today. Back then it only preceded “color” shows. A voice would say, “The following program is brought to you in living color,” and then the peacock would spread its tail feathers. Red Skelton had a weekly one-hour comedy show on CBS that we always watched—but it was still black-and-white. As a spoof to the rival network's peacock, he showed a zebra at the beginning of his show and said, “The following program is brought to you in black-and-white.” It was not until 1966 that NBC became the first network to boast 100% color broadcasting. Evenso, many homes (such as ours) were years away from owning a color TV.

What’s all this color TV talk got to do with the Wizard of Oz? Well, you see it was about this same time that this film made its first television debut. Everyone was talking about it. The only problem for kids who grew up in churches like mine was that the Wizard of Oz ALWAYS aired on Sunday night when we were in church. It wasn’t until sometime in the Seventies that I saw it for the first time—and even then it was on our black-and-white TV. I didn’t know that the land of Oz part of the movie was in color until the late Seventies. I’ll never forget the first time I saw those colorful scenes (cheesy by today’s standards). They were magical and still are.

So you see, for millions of adults this film is more than "a kid's movie." It represents the peak of market-share ("community") family television in the Sixties and Seventies. It takes a generation back to the days when school children talked about a coming “TV special” for weeks before it aired, a time when parents collectively allowed their kids to stay up past bedtime to see the end of the show, a time when nearly all the kids at school (except me and my friends who were at church) talked of flying monkeys and chanted "Oh-ee-oh" while marching on the playground. My generation of adults is very fortunate to have children who enjoy this movie, because I suspect we would sit and watch it with or without them.

Dorothy just clicked the heels of her ruby slippers… now we’re back to the soft sepia hues of Kansas. (The beginning and end scenes of this film are not truly black-and-white.) Thanks for watching this great film with my family and me. Sorry I’ve rambled on so. I’ve been saying lines out loud as I type, but I spared you those details. (This is probably the most unintentionally “memorized” script of all time.)

I'd enjoy reading your thoughts on why you watch movies you own when they come on TV—and which movies are most likely to "grab you" in this way. If you have a friend who would enjoy this discussion, please direct them to this post.

Gotta go. Dorothy is about to say her best line:

"Oh, but anyway, Toto, we're home! Home! And this is my room -- and you're all here! And I'm not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all! And...Oh, Auntie Em... There’s no place like home.”

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Wonderful World of Disney Bumper

This Disney "bumper" was the saddest 7 seconds in television. It meant it was time to leave Grandma Spencer's house and head back to Roseville, and worse yet...we knew we would not be able to watch the next week's show because of Sunday night church. (See post above for further understanding.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sock Theory

I live in a house full of females—except for our dog (and you can’t count him…he's 100% dog but slightly less than 100% male). Because I'm the only man in the house, you would think that I could keep a reliable inventory of men's dress socks. But no matter how many I buy, I can never lay my hands on more than two or three pair of “new socks” in my sock drawer. My daughters sort the laundry while watching TV and then they take up the piles to the appropriate person’s drawer.

I appreciate the service, but over the years, my sock drawer has become a hangout for no-match socks, perfectly good socks with just enough of a pattern in them to set them apart from any other single sock in the drawer. It’s cruel really.

There ought to be an e-harmony dot com website where men post sock profiles of all their no-match socks, a place where perfect strangers compare sock pictures, pairing them up as best they can and bartering deals on-line. I don’t suppose it would be worth the time or postage. And then there’s that whole “wearing someone else’s sock” thing. I think in a pinch, I’d rather wear two socks that don’t match from my own drawer than a good match involving a sock from a strange foot. So much for that idea.

I thought I solved this problem a year ago when I swore off buying anything but black socks. I don’t care if my pants are brown, blue, or green. From now on the socks are black. Solid black—with no pattern. No specks, no spades, no stripes, no “Star Bellies”—nothing to cause one sock to discriminate against the other.

So I went to Sam’s Club and bought a two-pound bail of black socks. I think there was a dozen pair in the bail. These were nice “Gold Toe” brand socks. They could not possibly get mixed in with the girls' socks, and since my new socks were in sort of a group marriage, whoever was sorting laundry wouldn't have to worry about "matching" specific pairs.

But about six months ago, I was again down to two or three pairs floating on top of the sea of no-match socks. So I went back to Sam’s Club and bought another bail. By all rights, I should have a drawer full of twenty pairs of “like new” black socks, but I don’t. What is going on? Tonight at dinner,* I asked the girls if they’d seen any of my black socks.

“Dad, Why would we take your socks?” they asked as if being accused of taking the ”emergency use only” dental floss I keep wrapped around the AAA card in my wallet.

So if my girls aren’t taking my socks, where are they going?

I have a theory. I can’t prove it, but I’m thinking DuPont or 3M or some other chemical company has developed a new fiber for making socks. They look and feel like any other sock, BUT they eventually dissolve in the wash. These socks survive a few wash cycles, but then some of them just dissolve at predetermined intervals like time-release capsules. Poof! They're gone, without a trace. Twelve go into the wash; three dissolve; nine come out. Next time eight go in. (The odd sock remains in the drawer.) One dissolves; seven come out. Odd sock now has a mate. Eight go into the wash three dissolve, and so on—until it’s back to Sam’s Club for another bail of socks.

It's an insidious form of designed obsolescence. These time-release socks could be part of a global conspiracy launched by the world's largest chemical company, BASF.

“At BASF, we don’t make the socks;
we make the socks you wear disappear.”

* It was a very late dinner since the school was open for Parent-Teacher conferences until 8:00PM. By the time I got home, I mostly just sat and nibbled and visited with our company: my mother-in-law who's visiting from Kansas and my future son-in-law who was visiting from down the road. =) It's been a long day, which may explain my sensibilities at the moment.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Resurrected Patterns of Ink

I realize Patterns of Ink is different than most blogs, which tend to be day-to-day journals. My days are interesting enough—no complaints there—but I try not to write about current “happenings” from school or home. As the title poem of this site explains, this is a place for sharing original drafts of personal stories, verse, essays, etc. Most of it reflects current writing, but I sometimes resurrect old pieces that have not been looked at in decades.

Years ago, when I wrote on paper (with actual ink), I kept files and piles of manuscripts and drafts. I’m finished with some and “through with” others. A few have been published elsewhere, but most have yet to be seen and are being read here for the first time as I dust them off for family and friends (and a readership of new acquaintances).

Several weeks ago, I found the notes for a poem I started after our first daughter Emily was born. It's been 21 years since I jotted the lines down, but with her wedding less than eight months away, these days at home are becoming pretty sentimental, so I thought I'd post it today.

I hope I don't embarrass her. She has never seen it—but I'm pleased to say she followed the advice I whispered as we napped. She has grown slowly into a beautiful girl who will soon be a fine wife.

I’ve always been protective of our girls, and bless their hearts—they've been pretty patient with their dad. I admit I was pretty old-fashioned about nail polish, high heels, pierced ears, make-up, dating, etc. (and still am for Natalie =) Those "grown up" things are all fine in their time, and the world is the wonderful context of God's Kingdom, but it's also a fallen place bent on a pace for its own purposes. Those were my thoughts one Sunday afternoon in 1985 as my daughter slept on my chest. (All three of the girls took naps that way when they were babies.)

Reading it now, I remember wanting the piece to start out lyrically (as children’s verse often does) then shift to a harsher meter with uninviting images as I warned about the world. The lines never quite "jelled" and were left unfinished all these years. So I tweaked a few phrases, but rather than adding new thoughts after all this time, I used the opening stanza as a reprise.

The draft I found was entitled “To Emily,” but since our two other precious daughters followed her (in ''87 and '95), and since I felt the same about all three in this regard, I’ve posted it below with a first-line title "Grow Slowly, Girl."

Grow Slowly, Girl

Grow slowly, Girl.
... I’ll try to bring what’s best
... and let you pass the dappled day
... asleep upon my chest.
Dream gently, Babe,
... in whimsy whispered rhyme.
... Wake when you wish. Grow slowly, Girl.
The world has a way with time.

The world, little girl,
... has a bus to catch,
... a west-bound bus to the sun
... that makes the young wish to be old
... and the old wish to be young.
The world, little girl,
... is a clatter of heels
... a stumble down cluttered halls,
... a rush toward the flicker of neon
... and florescent painted walls.
The world knows all the short cuts,
... broad ways of a narrow sort,
... all the black-brick, back alley short cuts
... to things too soon cut short.
Yes, the world, little girl,
... has a bus to catch.
... It hasn’t the time to stay.
... It doesn't know where it’s going
... but finds the fastest way.

Grow slowly, Girl.
... I’ll try to bring what’s best
... and let you pass the dappled day
... asleep upon my chest.
Dream gently, Babe,
... in whimsy whispered rhyme.
... Wake when you wish. Grow slowly, Girl,
... The world has a way with time.
© Copyright 1985, TK, Patterns of Ink
Originally entitled: "To Emily" 1985
Some thoughts I recall from the notes of this poem: The word "dappled" is usually used to describe something showing both light and darkness like the way sun shines on a picnic blanket under a shade tree. I also used it because of its subliminal association (at least in my mind) with "The 59th Street Bridge Song," [“I’ve got no place to go; no promises to keep; I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep.”] The line "black-brick back alley short cuts" was an image from my memories of when my father took us at night to the YMCA in old downtown Detroit. (It was torn down to build Ford Field.) The dark alley between the parking lot and the "Y" was very scary to me. And lastly, the tone of this piece was influenced by some work by Lew Sarett, a seldom-cited poet I studied in college. The final line, "The world has a way with time" was inspired by a line in a Sarett poem about sad eyes. I'm also found of Sarett's his bittersweet Four Little Foxes and "Let Me Go Down to Dust."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Third Person

The weekend at the beach house
was more than just an autumn getaway;
it was a purging of sorts
and out-of-sorts
and a full embrace of last resorts
for just the two of them.

Saturday was good
but went as the mother knew it would
and as the daughter needed to endure.
Sunday brought a pouring rain
and silent solace to the house
as one stood staring through the pain
with hope's warm cup in both her hands
and love still sleeping in the other room.

By the time her daughter woke,
the sun had broken through the gray
and begged them both to stay and stroll
the boardwalk's damp and puddled planks
to funnel cakes and food stands in a row
and photo booths
where curtains shut out time
and funny faces are forever young;
then further on to a little shop
where something stopped them,
something small
that draped across her open palm
and dripped like sorrow down:
a cross it was for her to wear
(unlike the one she'd have to bear
through what the days ahead would hold).

She clasped it round her daughter’s neck,
and forehead to forehead paused
with blurring eyes that spoke for both of them.
Then turning back and walking close,
their heads at subtle angles to the wind,
arm in arm they walked and talked
until they saw the distant door.

Too soon to let the day be done
and knowing that the setting sun
in truth would bring a difficult dawn,
the notion came to try
the kite they’d planned to fly.
And so the daughter did
there in the cool sand
while mother watched her little girl
(grown up too soon and long ago)
against a scape of sky and sea
and innocence,
laughing at a kite that (just as she)
seemed tethered to this earth by more than string
and wanting more than life itself to soar
and please
and dance upon the breeze
and leave at last the breaking waves
and broken heart below.
© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink

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