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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

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 4

Home Thoughts on the Road

In 1951 BI, Before Interstates, traveling across country was a game of connect-the-dots with hamlets and highways, hillsides and Main Streets. All of which gave more meaning to the word hometown and the phrase “just passing through.” In those days, it took travelers longer to get where they were going, but they were more likely to know where they had been.

In a small town in eastern Ohio, Dad pulled into a filling station for gas, took a small memo pad from the glove box, and wrote down the miles from the odometer. He stared at the pad until a quiet "Huh" came from somewhere in his mind.

"Huh what?" Mom asked.
"What huh?" Dad replied.
"Just now you said 'huh' like something was wrong."
"I did?" Dad asked, not recalling any sound at all.
"Yeah. Just a quiet little 'huh'...like that."
"Well, nothing's wrong. I was just logging our miles."
Mom paused then whispered, "Are you glad you married me?"
"Of course, I am,” he smiled, “It was just a 'huh.’"
.
She smiled back, but Dad was looking again at the pad and remembered what he was thinking when the inadvertent "huh" slipped out. It had occurred to him that this was the farthest he'd ever been from home. He was not surprised by the fact—he knew it would happen on this trip—but he wondered why it felt strange. For over a year, all they could think of was getting married and starting a home of their own. Now they were married, but he suddenly wondered when two people begin to feel at home by themselves. It was not so much a place but that feeling that seemed far away. All this was hidden in that mumbled "huh," and he knew in fairness to his bride he must learn not to utter such a sound again.
.
"Regular or Ethyl?" the man asked through the window.
"Regular," Dad replied, "I'll check the oil myself," he added, stepping out and propping up the heavy hood.
.
From inside the car, Mom smiled and studied the street of the umpteenth town they'd seen that day. In April, she would turn twenty-one, but until the night before at Aunt Edith's she had never been away from home or family—not to camp, not to a slumber party, not to college. Nowhere.
.
She turned on the radio, and the empty static reminded her that it did not work, but Dad was sure he could fix it once he found the right tubes. Looking at the people passing by, she wondered if she knew someone who knew someone there. The idea made her smile. "It really is a small world," she thought, "if you just talk long enough. I'll bet if I could visit with that woman coming up the walk that in no time we'd find something in common, and later on, when I meet someone else from Ohio, I could say I have a friend in..." It was then Mom remembered she did not know the name of this town much less the lady on the sidewalk, and her smile dropped ever so slightly.
.
Pulling out the oil dipstick with confidence, Dad smiled at his wife who was watching. He had forgotten to get a rag from the trunk, but not wanting to miss a beat in this manly ritual, he pulled out his back-pocket handkerchief and wiped the tip clean. He'd never used his handkerchief for this before, but this he knew was his oldest one. He was saving his good handkerchiefs for their days in D.C. Just as the dark oil stained the white cotton, the lady on the sidewalk walked by shaking her head.
.
“Your mother is going to wring your neck when she sees that.”
“What? My mother?” Dad stammered.
"Your mom will be fuming when she sees that in the wash."
"I don't live with... I'm a married..." By the time he got out a full sentence..."It's my oldest handkerchief," the woman was far away. Dad let the hood drop with a thud.
.
"Did you hear that lady?" Dad asked, sliding in behind the wheel.
“I saw her talk to you but couldn't hear what she said.”
“Either she thinks you're my mother or we must look like a couple of school kids.”
“Is that what she said?”
“No, but she might as well have.”

The truth is Dad was twenty-one, but looked much younger. Down the road a ways, he told Mom what the lady really said, and they both had a good laugh. The thought would make them laugh again that evening as they parked beneath a flashing VACANCY sign of a hotel near Pittsburgh and walked into the warm lobby together.

20 Comments:

Blogger the walking man said...

Time; time is what most people lack or the sense of it, you can still travel by connecting the dots, all of the old two lanes are still there if you have the time to travel them and stay off the interstate, but most people just feel that when they drive from point A to B they have to get to B as soon as possible.

Personally I prefer the two lanes and small towns just to see them and be in them, but I have time. the wife hates these roads though more as a safety thing and people crossing the yellow line as they drive, than not liking the towns.

So did moms give pops hell for the oil on his handkerchief? personally i would have just run my fingers down it to clean it off before the redip to check the level and the gotten the rag from the trunk but there lies the difference between a neat person and a not so neat one.

11/8/07 7:06 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I remember trips like this when I was young. I was born in 1952 and by the late 50's we would travel to Indiana from NC to visit relatives. I remember the dots on the map, the gas stations with the kind attendants that pumped for you, the bottled coke that quinched our thirst, but mostly I remember getting car sick! My poor parents... why did they even attempt this? I learned a lot from those trips especially ways to keep from getting car sick!

I love the way you tease your readers with... "a little bit" to keep them coming back for the rest of the story. I look forward to more.

11/8/07 1:07 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

TWM,
When I lived in Iowa, it was old Highway 20 that crossed the state. My wife's folks live near old 50 in Kansas. This is back in the era paid tribute in the animated film "Cars" set on old Route 66.
It took Mom and Dad two days to get to DC, but don't worry this story is not a travelogue, we'll get to the point in a post or two.
As for the dirty handkerchief... he wasn't worried so much about that. The fact that a lady thought he was a kid still answering to his momma is what took the wind out of his sails. =)

Nancy,
I used to get car sick, too, but I hated swallowing pills and the taste of Dramamine was horrible if when I chewed it so I learned to tolerate the ride.
I'm very grateful to have reading friends at POI. It probably does seem like I'm teasing with this story, but I'm actually writing as I go and "cutting off" when it seems like a good time for a "commercial break" (if this were a Hallmark movie), but thank you for staying tuned.

All,
There really is a good chapter coming that explains the title. This began a while back as a stand-alone post but it needed some character development to fully understand why the title took on significant meaning that I’ll try to convey at the end.
Here's a hint... the adjustment period of marriage is complicated by two things: getting to know how opposite the opposite sex is...and longing to feel at home while separating somewhat from all you know to be home. If you read between the lines of these posts, that is the common thread. Thanks for your feedback and patience. =)

12/8/07 3:08 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

I remember those two-lane highways well. We still have them here in Illinois. Mostly you take them when you are traveling from east to west or visa-versa across the state. You get to go through all the little hamlets along the way to your destination.

I remember, too, getting car sick as a child, Nancy. I went on a school trip to D.C. when I was a freshman and attending a Catholic school. We took the train. Sister Sebastian held my head during the train ride whenever I was overcome by the urge to throw up which was about every five minutes it seemed. I was miserable.

Tom, have you taken literary license or did the nosey woman really exist who chewed out your father for using his hanky to clean off the dip stick? I remember when I was a young woman thinking that checking the oil in the car was a man's job. So it was not until I was well into my adult years, maybe we could matronly years, before I bothered to find out where that dip stick was located. Now I know where to find it, but I still harbor the opinion that checking the oil is a man's job.

I do not know when it was in our marriage that I finally decided that my husband might be just as good a driver as my father. For a long time I thought my father was the best driver in the world. I always felt safe when he was behind the wheel. This was not always the case with my husband especially early in our marriage. I think this might be why I turned into one of those awful back seat drivers.

Tom, take your time getting to the Duncan Phyfe part. I am enjoying the ride.

12/8/07 6:09 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

SQ,
No literary license. That lady really made Dad feel like a little kid on his honeymoon, but all through my life it was shared as a funny story that even made Dad smile... so he got over it.
That is a good question, though. A good deal of my blogging is biographical, and I try to be as accurate as possible. Sometimes I have to use what I call "compression," that is I sometimes have to take a story that took a week and press it into a day. And I suppose it goes without saying that I have to "create" dialogue and inner monologue, but I've heard the stories often, and know how my folks think and thought through the years, so it's pretty close.
I like when I can hear my parent's voices as I write. That's how I know I'm getting it right. (Lot's more dialogue in the remaining parts.) For instance, words like "fuming" and "wring your neck" aren't used much anymore. (I just noticed that I left off the "w" in wring in this post so I fixed it. You know me and spelling. =)
At this point in the story, my mom doesn't even have a drivers license. Dad teachers her to drive in a chapter or two, which is key to the plot. =)
I think I've mentioned that my mom reads here regularly. I call her and ask for details of setting, etc. and that helps me create atmosphere. Some details she doesn't remember so we have to try to figure it out together. (For instance, my mom can describe the Hotel in the next section very well, but she can't remember where it was so I guessed about half way to DC, near Pittsburgh. This particular story makes for some fun conversation (some of which I'm not sure how to share), but we enjoy it.

12/8/07 11:00 PM  
Blogger Christal said...

I always LOVE checking in on your blog... Lost the link from my favs a while back and found you though a comment on another blog! Yeahhh! Anyway thank you for always giving me things to ponder on! You really have a gift in writting~ Feel free to check out my blog as well.

13/8/07 11:51 AM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Hi, I've been delinquent in visiting blogs. I really enjoyed reading this post about your parents. I will now find some time and read the others in this series.

13/8/07 12:05 PM  
Blogger J_G said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

13/8/07 12:31 PM  
Blogger J_G said...

Sorry for the deletion and repost Tom. The word verification letters appeared at the beginning of my comment somehow when I posted it.

Your mom will be fuming when she sees that in the wash"

Isn't that amazing how a one sentence statement from a complete stranger can completely change the whole present moment and affect many moments to come in the future.

I too remember road trips in the back seat of the family car. We traveled through the entire State of New York to get to Niagra Falls. My Dad went to Navy boot camp in Lake Placid during WWII and that was one of the main destinations on that trip too. My Dad was the mechanic and everything that had to do with the car my Dad took care of. Mom left that completely up to him. That trip was a lot of fun as I remember it.

My Mother was a pretty good driver she had one minor accident that lasted a lifetime though. We were at the cemetary visting my Aunt's grave (Dad's sister), Mom was pretty close to her. My Mom was backing out a narrow driveway and hit the fender on a stone marker they used to designate the location of each driveway. It wasn't a big dent, it was just in front of the wheel opening. I don't know if it was still pain from losing his sister just a few years before or my Mom may have said something or this was the first new car my Father ever owned. I'll never know but my Father was so angry he yelled at my Mom and we scrambled for cover and then something worse went on for a couple of weeks. Silence. Eventually it blew over but it was pretty bad for a while.

Last year after a lot trouble and footwork I located my Aunt's grave that kind of got forgotten somehow over the years. I cleaned it up and took a look around and there was the driveway marker still there, still cocked off to the side a little from when my Mom backed in to it back in late 60's. Me and my Aunt Marylou had a long visit that day.

I posted the complete story about my Aunt on my blog last year Tom but I lost my blog when blogger went beta. I thought I'd share it with you because your story about family cars brought it all back.

13/8/07 12:39 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Christal,
Glad you found POI again. Went to your blog and want to say thank you to you and all the spouses waiting eagerly for their loved ones to return to the grateful hearts of the nation they serve and protect. Do come again. Though this particular story is set 57 years ago, much of these thoughts are similar to things you have written about.

LGS,
Hey, old "twin" friend. Good to hear from you again. I know how easy it is to get behind--especially in the summer. Part of me wants to go camping again before school starts. I had a school board meeting tonight. I work with a great board. We are ready for school, etc., but part of me is not ready for summer to be over. It's been a strange summer.

J_G,
Thanks for telling that little story. Sorry to hear you lost the original post. Isn't it funny (funny strange not funny ha ha) the things that can upset people into "silence." There is some conflict coming up in this story, but the aftermath was less serious than what you've described. So the section marker is still leaning--a bit of history that only you know. I love when secret details and artifacts like that survive the decades.

13/8/07 9:23 PM  
Blogger Cris said...

Well, I'm definitely hooked. My husband and I were both married when we were 19 and I'm sure there were people who thought we were a bit young ourselves so I can relate a little to this part of the story. I am looking forward to reading more. :)

14/8/07 10:16 AM  
Blogger ...Kat said...

I recently found and posted a photo of FIGARO

http://herekittykatkat.blogspot.com/2007/08/figaro.html

14/8/07 12:13 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

I really love the stories that take you back. Even though I wasn't there I feel like I could have been when I read the stories. Funny too that the lady thought your dad was to young to be married, people often thought my husband and I were brother and sister, now that can make for some interesting looks. You could just see the look of relief on their faces when we would say we were married. People also often think MY dad is my husband dad, they really do have some similarities plus they just assume because they are in the same line of work, that they must be father and son. Assumptions can really get you into trouble!

14/8/07 1:10 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Chris,
There was a time that 19-20 was probably the "typical" age to get married. According to Wikipedia, the average age for a first marriage is 30 for men and 27 for women. I find that very hard to believe, but it does say something about our times. I suspect if the experts could look objectively at this fact, they'd find that the number of people who simply live together (with all the perks) before committing to marriage has much to do with the postponed nuptials...and yet the divorce rate has never been higher. I'll resist the temptation to get on a soap box. I'll just continue telling this story how things were in the very center of the 21st Century and let people draw their own conclusions. =)

If I wanted to borrow from Dickens for an opening line, I'd say..."It was the best of times; it was the BEST of times."

Kat,
Thanks for the update. It's been several weeks since you've dropped you've stopped by POI. I'll go look for Figaro in your archives. Hope you're having a great summer.

Julie,
It's funny how some spouses "look so right together" that people think they're related. I think you and I have commented on "crew cuts" before. My dad had one all his adult life. Back then they were very common and Dad was very athletic all his life so he always looked about ten years younger than he was (not that he looked ten in this story... but you know what I mean =).

14/8/07 1:54 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

When do we get to the Duncan Phyfe ? When Betty and I were first married and I was in seminary. I filled ijn at a downstate church and Betty came with me. I went to look for information on the service and a woman saw Betty standing there and asked where her mother was, not seeing her as the wife of the pastor.

14/8/07 4:56 PM  
Blogger ...Kat said...

ty for the visit and the response to my poem
in case you missed my reply.... a kettle is the term used to denote/describe a soaring flock of raptors

15/8/07 9:58 AM  
Blogger EA Monroe said...

Tom, I'm enjoying your Duncan Phyfe posts. Time was different back then. We still have 2-lane blacktops here connecting the small towns. They're like roller coaster rides.

15/8/07 8:42 PM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

I couldn't even imagine marrying that young. I waited until I was twenty-nine. By the way, interesting picture. I drive by a "Pure" logo sign just like that every day.

15/8/07 10:54 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
You're like my former literature students who used to say things like, "So when do we get to where they kill the Mockingbird."
I'm just kidding. You've been more than patient.

Kat,
I hadn't heard that expression.

E.A.M,
It is very easy to forget what change 50 years brings, and in this case we're talking about the exact midway point of the last century, which to me does not seem that long ago. Thanks for reading here.

JRT,
I haven't seen a Pure gas station sign in years. When I saw that picture on flickr.com, I knew it was the one I wanted. It kind of suits the story.
Age 29 is closer to the current average age of first marriage. I was 24.

16/8/07 1:09 AM  
Blogger Tracie said...

We still have a lot of two lane highways in TN also. But even in the smallest of towns, like where my grandparents live, they're building bigger roads to get from here to there faster. I loved the drive that took almost an hour to get to the country to see my grandparents. Now it would take about 20 minutes from where I grew up.

Ok..I'm off to the next chapter!

22/8/07 10:10 PM  

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