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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

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Epilogue

How Things Turned Out

"Romance is hope in story form...the thread that darns the gap between what is and what we dreamt would be." T.K.

When Duncan Phyfe was making his furniture in the early 19th Century, embroidery was a craft enjoyed by women who lived in homes suited for his style of furniture. This etching suggests a life of leisurely homemaking and the fact that somewhere beyond this room, there were servants doing the harder work.
There was another type of needle craft practiced (but perhaps not enjoyed) by women of that day: darning socks. Very few people darn socks anymore. Even back in 1951 my mom had never darned a sock in her life... until she married Dad. "Why throw out a whole sock when only the heel has a hole," he'd say. So Mom, of course, learned to darn socks in her "spare time" as one, two, three, four, and eventually five children were added to her life of leisurely homemaking.
[Dad would have considered sock darning more practical than embroidery, but there's a place for both in life. By the way, if my mom had taken up embroidery, like the lady in the picture above, Dad would not have sat and watched (and he most surely would not have crossed his legs like that).]
When I was a kid, Mom still darned our socks, and though I now appreciate that labor of love, back then I hated wearing those darned socks. I could always feel the mend down there in my shoe. But Mom did another kind of darning--a kind done so skillfully I didn't know it at the time--she filled all sorts of gaps in our lives through the years.
Eventually, Mom quit darning socks, but the other sort of darning never stopped. She kept our home happy whenever life "wore through." Call it hope; call it romance; but Mom made us feel blessed to be exactly where we were in time and space even when times were hard and space was cramped. She knew enough about darning to know that the secret is not pulling the gap shut--it's filling it in with newly woven threads. Romance is hope in story form... the thread that darns the gap between what is and what we dreamt would be.
Like any good story, family life is rich in character, setting, theme, and, yes, conflict—both seen and unseen.
My Mom is a romantic—I got a double portion from her. My Dad was more of a realist (and a bit of a pragmatist when it came to problem solving)—I have plenty of that in me, too. Being a blend of both has made life interesting, and for that I am forever indebted to them both. I think it has been easier to be a blend of Mom and Dad’s traits than it was for them to manage the purer traits alone. Until recently, I never thought of my parents' marriage as an endearing and enduring clash of romance and realism. Take the Duncan Phyfe for example.
Mom wanted the table in hopes of bringing a hint of the romantic past to her home. If not the long past of the 19th Century… then the near past (and security) of her childhood home. She knew the feeling she wanted the table to bring to their apartment but did not give much thought to the actual task of getting it there. Dad, on the other hand, wanted to make Mom happy, but was immediately faced with reality. To him, the table did not represent a feeling. It was an object. It had weight and dimensions that were in conflict with both their small apartment and the trunk of his car. From the start, the table presented a problem to be solved, and solving such problems was very satisfying to Dad. Problems are challenges—dragons if you will—and slaying dragons is what husbands do (even those so romantically challenged that they would never phrase it in such terms).
This Duncan Phyfe tale was the story of my parents’ life before my siblings and I became a part of it. Having said that, I’ll briefly tell about the days and years that followed with us and the Duncan Phyfe, because to whatever extent this felt like a story, those reading it may wish to know how things turned out.
Before I proceed with this epilogue, however, we must look closely at the above print of the embroidering. If we could look at the bottom of the lady's tapestry, we’d see the shapes and colors roughly in place. We’d probably “get the picture,” but we’d also see the awkward knots and frustrated tangles and a hundred loose ends.
When it comes time to frame and display the finished work, we tend to put the good side out. Is that hypocritical? No more than combing your hair in the morning. Need I say that this story of my parents’ first year has been something like that? I’ve spun the yarn and chosen which side of the fabric to show, but I know—we all know—life is far from perfect, my parents’ marriage was far from perfect, our home was far from perfect—and the same is true for all their descendents. It hasn't always been a pretty picture. Sometimes it was more darned than decorative, but the fabric held together. There's something to be said for that.
It’s good sometimes to look at the back of the embroidery, to remember all the work and imperfections and knots and loose ends that are just below the surface of our better days. But it’s also good to cherish those better days and to smile upon the picture as it was meant to be seen from above.

And now on to those loose ends...

Part I: Flipping Houses to get a Home

Virg Palmer and my Dad were more than friends. They became business partners. They were both hard-working, hands-on, can-do home builders in disguise as telephone repairmen. One day over lunch came up this idea:
“I’ll help you build your house. You help me build mine. Agreed? Deal.” Handshake.
Virg owned a vacant neighborhood lot. Dad had been “saving up” for a dream and had a few thousand dollars at the credit union. Pooling their cash and collateral, the two men built a spec-house together and sold it—each more than doubled their investment in a year’s time. They worked well together, and purchased two “fixer-upper” houses to “flip. That’s how Dad got enough money to buy the house on Lapeer Avenue, which had an upstairs apartment that they rented out. In no time at all Mom and Dad went from being tenants to being landlords. But Lapeer was just a house to live in while Dad built their “dream house.”
Dad and Virg each bought an acre lot on Atkins Road outside the city limits. Together, they built the Palmer’s house first, and then began ours in 1959. This was the dream house Dad was “saving up” for, and with the help of his friend it was within reach. We lived for one year in that unfinished house. [It was this house on Atkins where the boy woke in "Kept."]
Part II: The Duncan Phyfe in Roseville, Michigan
Our family's journey took a dramatic turn in 1961 when Dad took a promotion at Bell that relocated us to the suburbs of Detroit. Roseville to be exact (just a few blocks from Gratiot Avenue). This was to be a temporary address until Dad could find some land on which to build “Dream House II,” but in fact we lived there 14 years.
(I wrote about some of these years in a story called "Mixed Milk.") Mom loved the burbs. There were lots of neighbors to talk to over the back yard-fence or on the porch. A borrowed cup of sugar or loaf of bread was just a few steps away. It was very much like Forest and Riverview. Dad, however, felt fenced in and never took his eye from their once-shared dream of raising the five of us in the country. In 1968 he bought 14 acres on 23 Mile Road [a few miles east of Gratiot Avenue]. We called it “the property,” it took several years to develop before we could build the home of our final move.)
During those fourteen years in Roseville, we ate at the Formica table in the kitchen. The Duncan Phyfe was down in the rec-room basement just outside the laundry room. It stayed in that spot for over ten years. When we had Thanksgiving at our house, the cousins ate there, but the rest of the time it was used to sort laundry, or cleared off to play board games or make large puzzles. We built science and art projects on it through the years.
But the most fun thing we did with the Duncan Phyfe was making "tents." Sometimes my brothers and I (Kathy may have joined in, too) along with some of the neighborhood boys would get that crazy urge to build a huge tent in the basement. None of the other moms would allow it to happen in their house, but our mom was always cool about spontaneous creative "bubBENtures." [She always called our childhood adventures "bubBENtures" because that's the way my brother Paul used to say the word when he was little.]
We'd open both of the drop-leafs of the Duncan Phyfe, drape blankets all around it, and then add all the other card tables and blankets we could find until it was a sprawling Bedouin labyrinth. It was while spending hours under the Duncan Phyfe, that I became familiar with the unique design of the pedestal and characteristic wooden "banana peel" legs. They were not ideal for the "tent" because they took up the center of the biggest "room," but we worked around them as best we could. Then we'd drag in our sleeping bags to spend the night in our home within our home. Mom would come downstairs and crawl in one end until she found us. Then she'd embarrass us by chirping, "Isn't this cozy!"
Cozy is exactly what it was of course, but no boy would be caught dead using the word cozy-- at least not in front of his friends. Cozy is a Mom word. In fact, I believe that the feeling of coziness stems from our pre-natal state. It is a remnant of fetal feng shui. Mom was the Queen of Cozy. She could make anything cozy--a blanket on the beach, an umbrella on a rainy day, a camping tent in the woods, the whole family on the couch during a scary movie. Things became officially cozy by proclamation of Mom. When she said it, it was true, and with her help it was true of every place we ever called home.
Part III: How Things Turned Out for the Duncan Phyfe
Eventually the Duncan Phyfe was marred and scratched and scrolled on by us kids, but the most interesting scar was a large water stain that we did not make. Mom heard that if she kept her Christmas poinsettia in a dark basement until the following winter, it would bloom again. All she had to do was keep it watered. So for a few months Mom kept watering the thing down in the basement.
The quietest demands of life are sometimes forgotten, and it’s easy to forget a poinsettia in June. One summer day, Mom saw the leafless dried poinsettia wrapped in bright red foil behind a pile of dirty clothes. She felt bad to have abandoned it and worse when she lifted the lifeless pot and saw the white blotch tattooed into the mahogany. Twenty years before, she may have cried, but now forty-something she sighed and shrugged it off, having learned long ago that elegance is over-rated, and life is far more life-like than our dreams.
No matter really. By then the Duncan Phyfe was little more than a horizontal surface. One day soon after, in fact, the weight of all the piled up board games and puzzles and laundry was just too much. No one remembers exactly how it happened… but the table was found toppled with one of the wooden banana peel legs broken right off.
Dad put the broken table in the back of the old utility van we used as a truck and hauled it to the barn out at “the property.” You may recall from other pages that we built the barn from logs we cleared from that land. It was a cabin of sorts with room for the tractor and tools inside. We sometimes over-nighted there just for fun as we spent weekends improving the land, bridging the creek, digging the well, and building the house.
Just as it had done in 1951, the Duncan Phyfe presented Dad with a problem to be solved. He knew the pedestal table, as designed, would never bear much weight, so he did what any inventive, realistic, pragmatic back-woodsman-carpenter would do: he amputated the entire pedestal and bolted 2-by-6 boards to each corner. It looked awful, but is was very sturdy. The barn needed a functional table that didn’t take up much space, one that could be opened up to eat a quick lunch or to sharpen the chain saw blades. This was perfect.
The funny thing is… our family ate more meals at that Duncan Phyfe in the barn than in all our other homes put together. We’d be working hard on some project with Dad, and then about an hour after noon, Mom would show up with a hot meal in a picnic basket. Dad would take a rag and wipe off the saw dust, or the chain saw oil, or metal shavings or whatever debris was left behind from the last odd job on the table. Mom would spread a table cloth—she liked to make things homey…as much as Dad liked to make them sturdy—and we’d sit down, say grace, and dig in.
There we were among the ladders and axes and wheelbarrows, sitting around the very same table that Dad carted home behind the ’39 Ford back in 1951. In all those eat-and-get-back-to-work meals, I don’t remember the story of the table ever coming up, and I never brought it up. I’d heard the story by then, but the significance of such things had not settled in. There’s a huge difference between knowing something happened and fully understanding the story, the human part, the part that reminds us how it feels to live as life plays out, the part that foreshadows how circumstances come full circle.
Some may find it sad that after all the table went through it ended up in a barn looking so hard-used, but it makes me smile. The table had served its original purpose—it gave Mom hope when she wondered if she could ever make a house a home. Then after twenty years it was finally in a setting that didn’t require matching chairs.
The table is a living testament to the romance and reality we call marriage. With or without a table, we're all of us "bringing home the Duncan Phyfe." We're bringing it home each time we see a longing in our loved one's eyes and do our best to meet it; each time we strive to keep the windows of communication open; each time we learn to smile at what frustrates us; each time we make room for things kept beyond their need; each time we salvage what we can from what's been broken. We're bringing home the Duncan Phyfe each time we look back and see that life, perhaps, has not turned out the way we thought it would... but we can embrace the good and bad, the pain and pleasure, the regret and hope... and find joy in living with the way things stand in the end. .

Post Script: How Things Turned Out For Us
Still against the idea of a mortgage, and with three kids in college at the same time, Dad had his hands full finishing that last dream house, but we built it ourselves from the foundation to the chimney, learning all the trades from Dad as we went: masonry, electrical, plumbing, roofing—everything. Finally the house was done enough to live in. During the first semester of my sophomore year in college, my family moved in. When I came home for Christmas in 1975, it was to that new house, where Mom still lives today. It was not yet finished. It would not be truly finished for years, but Mom had added her touches, and stepping through the door that cold December night with my suitcase in hand… it already felt like home.
All through those growing-up years, these places remained an integral part of our lives... my grandma's house, Palmer Park, the beach we walked to under the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, Blue Water Bridge, and Pine Grove Park. Grandma moved out of the house on Forest and Riverview (just a block from Gratiot) after Grandpa Spencer died in 1975. (My Great Grandfather had died a couple years before.) But Grandma Spencer, my mom's mom, celebrated her 97th birthday last July. We had a big party at Pine Grove Park. It was like old times.
I can never go there without staring out at the cold blue water of the St. Clair and remembering all the times we swam there and how my father used to swim across and back, and how Mom would meet him downstream. The huge oaks under which they shared summer lunches in ’51 are still there with their spangled shade. They're bigger I suppose by more than 50 rings, Trees are always bigger than before, but with oaks… it’s hard to tell.
I said at the beginning that on February 10, 1951, my folks began "...the longest journey of their lives. This is the case every time a bride and groom drive away from the place where whispered vows and steeple bells ring true." Marriage itself is not a journey--life is the journey--marriage is the commitment to travel it together 'til death do us part.
That's Mom and Dad at Pine Grove Park in the summer of 1994, four years after their 40th Wedding Anniversary. He wore that crew cut all his life. That's the Blue Water Bridge spanning the St. Clair River to Canada in the background. (A second bridge was added in 1996.)
Mom and Dad enjoyed skating and dancing together through the years. On April 1, 1995, they went out for dinner and a dance at the VFW. They both looked as fit as they do in this picture. After an enjoyable evening and one last dance, Dad experienced a heart attack and was gone. A few days later we laid him to rest at Lakeside Cemetery in Port Huron a block from Gratiot Avenue. [Now do you see why I called that avenue they drove their wedding night "the byway of their life"?] From that quiet spot, it's just a short walk to the cold blue water of Lake Huron at the mouth of the St. Clair.
In 1998, my mom went to the Class of '48's 50th reunion. She had no date so my Uncle Bob, dad's married brother, escorted her for the evening. (He's a year younger but went to the same school and new many of the people there.) That night, Mom met an old friend from the days before this Duncan Phyfe story began. A few years later they married. If you want to read a story about the funny providential twists life sometimes takes, read their story here. Bob is a retired photographer. He helped me with some of the pictures for this story. [For more go here and scroll down to "Visiting Home" April 1, 2006.]
.......... “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
.......... Is just to love and be loved in return…”



Blogger the walking man said...

Not in the political sense of the Creedence Cleerwater song Tom but of a truth; you most certainly are a fortunate son.



29/12/07 5:09 AM  
Anonymous Jerry Merna said...

Very beautiful, interesting and enjoyable story. My wife and I were also married on Feb. 10, 1951 and were in a HS Class of 1948. If you send your email I'll answer it with a couple of pictures.
Gerald F. Merna, 1stLt US Marine Corps (Retired)

29/12/07 4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before I settle in and "really" read the epilogue..wanted to post a comment. My mom darned socks, though I did not. I remember the lightbulb she used inside to make the sock smooth. I too always thought it a waste of time and never have done it in my 40+ years of wedded-bliss. :-)
As for your 'word-picture' on tapestry's underneath...I wanted to mention a book by Francis Schaeffer's wife, that indeed is called "Tapestry". It might be out of print but available somewhere. It is very good...telling about LIFE being like a tapestry of knots etc. but God has the whole (beautiful) picture which we won't see unless we go to be with Him.
BTW...this is the "sandwich" person! :-) Now to go and finish!

29/12/07 7:28 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

I truly enjoyed the story. Now on to the book.

29/12/07 7:29 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I thought of you tonight. I'm over on your side of the state and we took Mom and Bob out to "Izzies" on Harper between 8 and 9 Mile Roads (at Harper and California). That's not far from you. Have you ever eaten there? Excellent food and fabulous cakes!
Sitting there with my mom, I thought about what you said and even told her that I read it this morning before we hit the road. She smiled. Thanks.

Welcome to POI. What are the odds? How did you find this story? I will try to follow up on your request. I'm on my brother-in-laws computer at the moment. I would be very interested in knowing how this story hits the mark since you lived through the very same days.
I'll write soon.

Wisconsin Sandwich Lady, =)
It just occurred to me that you may not be female, but I think you are. =)

Darning took forever. I even did it a couple times. It reminded me of making hot pads at camp over the whole in the heal, but they always felt so strange--more uncomfortable than the hole was!
Sorry this epilogue was so long. I was wrapping it all up to give to my Mom tomorrow. She does not read things on a computer so she'll enjoy reading it a page at a time from the beginning. I "tightened it up" compared to the posts.
I am familiar with Francis Schaeffer but not his wife's work. (I do remember Carol King's Tapestry album.) My wife used to cross stitch, and I remember what the back looked like. I wanted to include that metaphor because it is so true of all of our lives. My mom's life was not easy. I don't know how she did it. She lived through some knotty years but always helped us see the "hopeful" side of the cloth.

By the way, substituting a wooden "darn" with a lightbulb is a practical "whatever works" solution that Dad would have smiled at. =)

Dr. John,
I wish I had kept the address from that Hippo you sent me, I'd send you a copy of this "book" as a thank you for sticking with it. =)

If I don't write again before Monday night. Happy New Year!

30/12/07 7:44 AM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Ah, what an epic story but worth reading...every word. The story of the Duncan Phyfe allowed us to appreciate the love your parents had for each other. I noted that the Duncan Phyfe became important for your dad only because it was important for your mom and I think it was important for your mom as she was preparing to make her home ready to raise a family. Their love, their journey, their purpose is reflected in the family they have raised in love. I have learnt a lot about marriage from this story and am a better person for it. May you and your mom have a wonderful 2008.

30/12/07 10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all... as for being the "Sandwich in WI"...I "am" female! :-) Loved that you all of a sudden thought 'maybe not!' Being anonymous, is kind of limiting! Maybe that will be my new name from now on, here...or WSL for short.

As for the "making do.." my mom did alot of that having come up through the depression years as a young married. I was born after that BUT some of it still stuck up until she passed away in the '70's. She could make a dime stretch and what wonderful meals she could make out of what seemed like nothing. She was also an excellant seamstress and the list could go on and on. Alot of it (the meals) now would be considered "comfort food" and maybe not so healthy according to the food pyramid etc.

But I did enjoy your epilogue and what a gift you have, both for writing and also the heritage you also have. Your mother is indeed blessed to have you for her son!

30/12/07 11:52 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Great Job Tom! I loved every word and I am kinda sad that it is over. What's next?

You are rich indeed with a loving family and a talent for writing that you share with others. You are a blessing to me and I am sure you are to others- especially your MOM!

30/12/07 6:59 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Still away from home on a borrowed computer...

Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words. I'll share them with Mom. I, too, have learned a lot from this process. I'm not sure if it shows yet, but I do think it has made me a better husband to finally (after all these years) read between the lines of the stories we heard growing up (and to visit with Mom about them).

With a name like Wisconsin Sandwich Lady you could run a great deli!
Comfort food... what a great phrase. We had lunch at Cracker Barrel today. Comfort food is their specialty. You may want to read the link to "Mixed Milk" in that Roseville part of the epilogue.
It's been a pleasure getting to know you and don't worry about the anonymous comments. I understand completely.

I gave Mom her hard copy tonight. She held it in her lap the rest of the evening and thanked me for the note I wrote on the flyleaf. Tomorrow we're going up in the attic to look at old pictures and "digitize" them. I'm sure I'll be writing stories in the future (as I have in the archives) based on this foundation.
Thanks for all the encouragement. You are a blessing to so many here in cyberspace.

Happy New Year!

30/12/07 9:15 PM  
Blogger heiresschild said...

hi Tom, i'm still reading this post, so i'll wait until i finish to leave further comments; however, i do remember darning socks. had forgotten about it until you mentioned it. we had to do it growing up, but i'm so glad now to throw them out and simply go buy a new pair. lol


31/12/07 8:09 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

What a happy note to read on this the last morning of 2007!
I'm on a borrowed computer and don't have all my "bookmarked" blogging friends withing a "click" to do what you have done, but thank you and Happy New Year!

31/12/07 11:45 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

Just wanted to say thank you for all your blogs during the past year. You brought many a smile to my face and many a memory of my own parents from the stories you told. Thank you.Now I want to wish you a happy and blessed New Year.

31/12/07 5:45 PM  
Blogger Donnetta Lee said...

Mark is right: you are a fortunate son. But, your parents are fortunate to have you as a son. I'm sure your dad is reading over your shoulder! To love and be loved. No greater gift than that. I enjoy your writing so much. Have a Happy New Year.

31/12/07 9:06 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John and Donnetta,
One hour until the ball drops. My daughter is in NYC (though they decided not to go to Time Square when they saw the crowd this afternoon). But the rest of my family and Mom, too, is gathered here at my sister Kathy's house. (She is the one who was born that April in 1952.)
Happy New Year!

31/12/07 10:58 PM  
Blogger heiresschild said...

officially HAPPY NEW YEAR TOM!!! thank you for your kind comments on my blog. it's been a pleasure getting to know you also, and getting to know a little about your family thru your wonderful writing.

1/1/08 3:27 AM  
Blogger Cris said...

This truly was a wonderful story Tom. I think all of us felt that we were right there throughout the whole thing at one point or another. You did a really great job at writing it.

Happy New Year!

1/1/08 4:14 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

I also just want to say thanks for taking the time to share this story with us. You certainly didn't have to, but I am so, so glad you did. It really brings out such great memories of stories my grandparents had told. Also, so many of the underlying life lessons are wonderful. I remember a couple years ago my Emily (she was in kindergarten at the time) said to me "Mom, someday I think I am going to marry Jacob" as I started to show my surprise (because they didn't really always get along that well) She stopped me and said "don't worry I know he doesn't really like me, but that's okay, he'll get used to me!" Isn't that just the truth. Even when when you marry someone you have known and loved for quite sometime living with that person day in and day out takes some getting used to. Obviously, your parents really got "used" to each other and made it last. Too, bad more couples today don't take that time and make that effort.

Thanks again for so many great reads through-out this year. Hope you had a Blessed Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Julie in MI

2/1/08 12:09 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

By the way, I am glad you got the Thank You from Emily. You made her day! I love the way you take the time to let kids know they are special to you. You and Julie are so great at that! Thanks, truly form the bottom of my heart.

By the way a new family Pic has been taken and will be posted soon. It seems hard to find the extra time these days. Plus, now that we have Webkinz, I have to share my computer!

Thanks again,
Julie in MI

2/1/08 12:13 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks again, HC.

It was my pleasure. Did you guys get any of this deep snow? We had to drive home through it last night. Whew! Our drive too Kansas for Christmas was through a blizzard and our drive home from New Years was through a blizzard, but the faithful 1997 Astro with all-wheel drive got us through them both. =)

Julie in MI,
Thanks for this note. My mom will be here for a week at the end of January. I hope you can meet her. You both have much in common. Thank you, too, for sharing that astute observation from your Emily and your application of it to this story. It is very true. There is a lot of "getting used to" in marriages. I'm not sure if the old adage "opposites attract" is true, but sometimes people look for someone who "completes" them, someone whose strengths bolster weaknesses. It takes a while for those different "notes" to sound like harmony in a marriage. Sometimes they never do, but like your Em said, we get used to it. -)

It is encouraging to hear people refer to Julie and me together "at work." Do you realize we have taught/administered in the same school building all our career? (Except the four years when our Emily and Kim were toddlers.) That's about 25 years. We were talking about that just the other day. It does present some unique challenges, and I would not recommend it for everyone, but for us it has been as natural as breathing (with only the occasional gasp for air =)

Happy New Year!

2/1/08 9:11 AM  
Blogger Cris said...


This was a really weird snowfall. We barely got an inch while my MIL who lives maybe 11 miles away got a good 5 inches. Glad to hear that all of you made it through all of that snow safely.

2/1/08 1:33 PM  

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