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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

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 2

On the evening of February 10, 1951, the narrow streets around Gratiot Park Methodist were lined with parked cars. It had no parking lot. Like every other old church of that time, it was built before there were cars, back when all of the essential stops of life were just a walk away. People walked to church; children walked to school; moms walked to corner markets. It was all this walking and crossing of paths that kept the warp and woof of neighborhoods drawn tight.

Fifty years before, at the turn of the 20th Century, cars rolled on the scene, and the need for parking lots and garages soon followed. At first, many people simply built small sheds behind their houses, but as cars became part of the family, the garage became part of the home. By the end of the century, the most prominent feature of a house was not a front porch but a huge garage door that open and closed automatically behind the driver. There came many unintended consequences with automobiles.

In 21st Century suburbia, the essential stops of life are larger, less personal, and further from home. We can now motor from point A to point B without having to walk or talk with those who live around us, but this is not the way it always was.

The little church where my mom and dad were married on that mid-winter night in 1951 was three blocks from the house on Forest and Riverview where Mom was born and raised. I've walked to this church by my grandma's house and stood on the walk between the door and the curb where a young couple posed for this picture in the back seat of the best man's convertible, and drove off to begin 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, but for Mom and Dad it was also literally the longest journey of their lives, a road trip to Washington D.C.

Like most young adults at that time, their roots went deep but did not spread far from the family tree. Neither of them had ever been more than a Sunday drive from home. Dad was twenty-one and Mom was twenty. They were children of the Great Depression and young teens through the war. Cars had been under-produced, gas and tires had been rationed, Truman had just defeated Dewey a few years before, and Eisenhower's dream of interstates was a long way down the road.

After this picture was taken, my Uncle Jack (the best man) drove them to where Dad had hidden his '39 Ford (safe from his fun-loving buddies). It was packed and ready to go. First stop Aunt Edith's house. Now doesn't that sound like the ideal place to spend a wedding night? Don't worry... Aunt Edith wasn't home.

11 Comments:

Blogger Nancy said...

I am enjoying the love story of your parents. Gee.. they sure were young and looked even younger. One thing that stands out in the photo is how happy they are! This must have been a very exciting time for them. I am really enjoying going back in time with you, thinking about how "cars" have changed our lives. I doubt the inventor ever envisioned the possiblities.

I have a similar picture of my two newlyweds looking out of the limo with beaming smiles that radiate their love for each other. I hope to post it soon.

Glad you are back!

1/8/07 12:42 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

Two things.
1. I still have no idea what a Duncan Phyfe is
2. A blue hippo still needs your address.
send to either
linnajohn@sbcglobal.net
or jlinna@new.rr.com
Please act soon you are throwing my procrastination schedule off.

1/8/07 12:43 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

I think your folks began their life in the golden age of modern America. Yes Korea was in conflict, but the depression and the rationing had made everyone pull together to survive.

I miss being able to walk to places like I used to be able to do. Even as a kid the walk to school always held something to stop and be fascinated by, and from 21 to 26 yrs of age I walked and saw and met so many people, all neighbors with a slightly cynical edge to them, no matter what part of the country, I think it was because of the earlier fuel shortages from the Arab oil embargo and the distinctly poor way we extricated from Viet-Nam, but there was still kindness left for strangers, eye contact and a hello at the least.

Today, my walking is very physically limited but I still try to make eye contact and give a "waz up?" But most of the time their head is pointed to the ground in a gesture that reminds me of defeat.

It is always a thrill for me now to be somewhere and get into a discussion with a stranger, looking for common ground to stand on.

To me the loss of interpersonal interaction is the worst thing Henry Ford (Nancy he almost singlehandedly put the world on wheels) is culpable for.

Peace

mark

Duncan Phyfe was the greatest bag pipe player the world has ever known...or the name of Toms oldest sibling that stayed hidden in the closet because of the moniker his inexperienced parents hung on him/her

1/8/07 5:20 PM  
Blogger Cris said...

They look so happy together. :)

It's a shame that most neighborhoods today don't have that close of a relationship. I have great neighbors and I am grateful for where I live. But it seems like there are a lot of people that I have met, who have never even stopped to talk to their neighbors or can't even stand them. Truly sad.

1/8/07 6:13 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Nancy,
You'll get a kick out of this as it unfolds. I'll try to post at least once a week until I finish. I'll keep an eye out for those pictures.

Dr.John,
I actually thought of you when I ended this post (knowing you have been waiting for that answer). I do not mean to keep you in suspense, and hope I'm able to keep you engaged in the story until we get to that Duncan Phyfe.

Make no mistake, I do want the hippo prise and did send you the info, but something must have happened to the email. I'll send it again. Don't give away my prize!

TWM,
You may recall that about a month ago I went to Port Huron to celebrate my grandma's 96th birthday. She never had a drivers license (as our friend Josie has confessed) and consequently she walked all over town most of her life. I honestly believe it has something to do with her long, happy life. BTW, it was this grandma who lived three blocks from the church where my mom and dad got married.

Chris,
They were happy as nearly all newlyweds are. Happiness could be compared to sugar in the cake of a marriage, but good cakes are not all sugar, and the story of the Duncan Phyfe, if I can tell it as I hope to, is a story of how marriages of that era tended to last "until death do us part" through thick and thin.

1/8/07 9:19 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

At one time Chicago like many other established cities in the U.S. was a network of neighborhoods before they ripped out so many of the sidewalks to widen the streets. You did not live in Chicago back then when there were still plenty of sidewalks. You lived at 75th and Halstead (fictitious intersection). That was your neighborhood home.

I remember reading an article some years back written by a woman who used to live in one of those neighborhoods. She was grieving over the disappearance of the sidewalks. She wrote about what happened to the neighborhoods when the sidewalks disappeared in order to make way for bigger and better streets. When the sidewalks were still around, people walked to the local grocery store or meat market even if they had cars. Sometimes they would stop and chat with folks along the way who might be sitting on their front porches. But when the sidewalks were ripped out, the social structure which the sidewalks supported began to collapse.

Chicago still has some of its neighborhoods though, ethnic ones with sidewalks. With their little stores and quaint corner diners, they are like villages tucked away and hidden from the madding crowd of the city.

Our neighborhood, which was established in the late 1980's, is isolated enough from the rest of the town so that we are able to retain that sense of neighborhood where you stop and talk to each other. We have a lot of walkers in our neighborhood. This makes it possible for those conversations to take place.

At least Aunt Edith was not at home when your parents (sweet photo of them) honeymooned at her place. My Aunt Autra was at home when my husband and I spent that one night with her while we were on our honeymoon. We also spent some of our honeymoon with his brother and his brother's wife. They gave up their bedroom to us while they bunked out in some little structure away from the main house. I don't even think it was heated and it was fall with a chill in the air. That tells you how much money my husband and I had to our name when we got married. Things have improved vastly since those days, thank God.

I know what Duncan Phyfe is, but I do not know what kind of Duncan Phyfe it must have been that has the power to keep us coming back to your blog for the next installment. When will we find out?

I see we have crossed paths here tonight. From what you said just before I came in with my comment, this is about the Duncan Phyfe that comes to all marriages sooner or later.

1/8/07 9:28 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You're right. I was re-sending that info to Dr.John and saw your new comment in pop up in the inbox.
It sounds like you will be able to relate very well to this road trip story and my parent's first apartment. By today's standards, honeymoons may not have been fancy for some folks back then, but the glue stuck. Things seem more complicated for couples nowadays and part of it is the disconnectedness and distance that is an unintended consequence of more cars and fewer sidewalks. You may enjoy that link to the post about front porches.

I've been really bogged down in writing this story, but these comments tonight have inspired me to keep plugging away on it.

1/8/07 9:48 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

The people of that era now look at life then as the good old days. I was just thinking about today' houses. We used to play in the back yard. Try to find one now. You've told a lovely story.

3/8/07 10:20 AM  
Blogger Josie said...

What a sweet story. I'm very fortunate to live in a city that has kept its neighborhoods. I have never owned, or even driven, a car. I walk everywhere. The further we go out towards to suburbs, the more car oriented it is, but Greater Vancouver is all connected by neighborhoods, seawall walks, bicycle routes, bridges, pathways, sidewalks. We even have a huge community garden in the middle of the city, with a path through it that looks just like a country lane.

Cars and highways really ruined communities, didn't they?

Your Mom and Dad are adorable...!

3/8/07 10:33 PM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

This is a very timely piece, considering that the Gratiot Cruise will be this Sunday. As for Duncan Phyfe, I saw his two weeks ago at the Armada Flea Market.

4/8/07 6:28 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Jill,
What you've said about our use of the phrase "good ol' days" is true. It does seem we are prone to think that the past and future shine brighter than the present, but I mean only to point out that with each "gain" there is an unforeseen "loss."
Thanks for dropping in from Texas.

Josie,
I love hearing about Vancouver and hope to take a trip there sometime with my family. My nephew Ben lives in Seattle. I knew that you did not drive (from your 8 random things meme). That in itself is fascinating. My grandmother (alive and well at 96) also never drove a car.

JRT,
Before reading this comment I was writing (not blogging) and attempted to explain the pronunciation of "Gratiot Avenue." This is a mystery that only people in the Port Huron-Detroit corridor understand. It's anglicized French and is not pronounced Gra-T-ot but "grasshut" (in fact it is more typically pronounced like a warning sign on the lawn of a petting zoo) but this is hard to explain without sounding vulgar. I checked dozens of google sites about Gratiot, Charles Gratiot, Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, etc. and found no phonetic explanation to help instruct to our non-Detroiter friends. In that search I found plenty of sites about the Gratiot Cruise. I’ve never been to it, but it looks like a huge event for the Motor City area.

The next chapter begins by explaining that my folks drove Gratiot Avenue from Port Huron to Detroit on their wedding night. (I-94 did not exist at the time.)

4/8/07 8:25 AM  

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