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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, September 09, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 9a

The bed Dad bought from his 3rd grade teacher had been stored in a basement, and one of the sideboards was slightly warped, just enough that the center two slats sometimes fell out at the least convenient times. It happened about once a week, and it was always on Mom's warped side of the bed. KERPLUNK! Down would go the center slats like a slide and the bedsprings would droop down to the floor while the other slats usually stayed in place. Notice I said usually.

One night the landlord and his wife (who lived on the main floor below them) had someone staying in the guestroom, which was directly under Mom and Dad's bedroom. They could hear voices coming up through the floor. "That explains the extra car parked out front," Dad whispered as he turned out the light.

Around midnight, Mom rolled over in bed and KERPLUNK! went the slats, dropping the mattress down like a hammock on her side.

"Don. Don. Wake up. The bed's caving in again."

"Just go back to sleep. I'll finish him in round three and fix the bed in the morning," Dad mumbled and slipped back into oblivion.

"That's easy for you to say. You're side's still up. Come over here and see how this feels." But Dad was sound asleep. "Don. Don..."

Mom started bouncing her rear end against the bed to wake Dad up. She knew not to hit him in his sleep.
The summer before they married, he had a successful run at boxing in the Golden Gloves and sometimes dreamt he was in the ring again. His "round three" non sequitur was a hint that this was one of those nights. [That's Dad on the right delivering a left.]

"Don!" She whispered loudly, pulling far arm toward her. He rolled with a groan down into the crater with her, but he was still sound asleep. "Don, I can't wait till the morning!" She bounced in place again. He mumbled something about an uppercut, but was not awake.

"I'll never get to sleep," she thought then blurted out, "Don, I can't go all night like this!"

Frustrated, she now gave the bed one big bounce, and WHAM! the other slats fell with a loud smack. The metal bedsprings slammed the wooden floor. Mom screamed and Dad jumped up in his boxing stance ready to fight. He evidently thought he'd fallen to the canvas, and sprang up to avoid the count.

"That was a slip. Let's keep going!" Dad shouted.

Mom turned on the light and laughed at him standing there in his boxers ready to box beside the collapsed bed.

Dad blinked and looked around the room. His rigid arms went limp. "What happened?"

"Shhhhhh... people are down there," she reminded pointing at the floor. "The bed slats fell out again--this time they all fell out." She didn't bother to mention that she had been bouncing to wake him up.

That night, Dad did what he should have done in the first place and screwed the slats in place, and the bed worked fine after that.

The next morning, as Dad walked out to his Bell truck, a man was getting into the strange car he'd seen the night before. The house guest smiled and gave Dad a thumbs up. Dad waved back slightly puzzled. It wasn't until Dad put the key in the ignition that he realized what the man's gesture implied, and he glanced back red faced, but the man was gone. The young husband looked up at the apartment window and slowly turned the corner of the driveway as a boyish grin turned the corner of his mouth.
......................
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My parents had been married for about two months, but to Mom the apartment still didn't feel like home despite her efforts. It's not that she felt uncomfortable or unwelcome or unloved in the surroundings. She had feathered the nest with enough touches to make it look a little more homey... but when she dusted the things or looked at the rooms before turning out the lights at night... something was missing.
.
A few weeks before, she bought the Sunday paper to read together on the floor. Propped up on their elbows, side by side, they laughed at the funnies and read tidbits of news to each other. For a moment, it felt like a regular Sunday afternoon at home. Mom could almost hear the voices of her parents and grandparents and siblings in the background. When they were done, she deliberately left the paper stacked beside the couch to make the third of three rooms feel like a living room, as if living happened there, as if others may plop down on the couch to catch up on the news. Several days past before she threw the untouched paper away.
.
Today she would try something else. Almost all of the wedding presents were already in use, but still the scant furnishings of the apartment looked forlorn. Mom finally had some ideas that might help. This was her regular day off, and she planned to spend it decorating. The weekend before she bought as many things as she dared without including Dad who ran the household budget. This would all be a surprise to him. It was somewhat of a surprise to her as well, since she had never decorated a thing in her life—not even the bedroom she shared with her sister. The truth is her ideas were less about decorating than disguising, creatively hiding the most unsightly things about the small apartment.
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Let's face it... depending on where a couple starts in life, decorating is more about covering up than showing off. (Sort of like Adam and Eve's first attempt at fashion a la fig leaves.) We've all done it: …placed a throw rug over the warn part of the linoleum or carpet... placed a centerpiece over the stain in the table cloth... hung a picture over a hole we don't take the time to patch... put a doily over the scratch on the end table. Only the first occupants of a new home, have a truly blank slate to work with. To varying degrees, everyone after that is covering something up. It was this pragmatic decorating that my mom was especially good at throughout life, and it all started in their first apartment.

Because the old cast iron tub with the lion claw feet could be seen from the kitchen, she put a shower curtain around it, even though the tub had no shower. It hid the awful rusted feet and stained floor below.

Just when she thought she'd finished that room, she noticed the medicine cabinet was empty and it gave her a strange sense of abandonment.
.
Her parents' medicine cabinet was full of tonics and tubes and boxes and bottles, most of which were rarely used, but there was something very comforting in knowing all those things had been there whenever the grown ups in her life had to make something better. So she walked to the drug store (she did not yet have her driver's license) and bought bottles and tubes of everything she could remember from her parent's cabinet. In a sense she had merely decorated the cabinet. The things inside were not yet needed, and some had no real medicinal value, but they were remedies nonetheless, cure-alls for a greater need: they helped hide a niche of emptiness and made Mom feel more at home.
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The old kitchen sink that was bolted to the wall had been skirted round with what looked like flower sacks that doubled as hand towels. Mom took some blue gingham and sewed a new skirt for the sink, a curtain and valance for the window, and a matching tablecloth. She was done just in time to begin making dinner. It was only hamburger and onions (not hamburgers on a bun, this was more like meatloaf patties). Since she had extra time, she decided to make this ordinary meal as nice as possible to show off that day's handiwork. The table was set perfectly, meal simmering, when Dad came home from climbing telephone poles.

Mom met him at the top of the stairs and made him close his eyes as she walked him to the bathroom. She showed him the shower curtain and the medicine cabinet and the receipt for all the items. He was impressed. "There's more. Wash up and meet me in the kitchen."

The nervous homemaker touched the silverware one more time but didn't move a thing. Dad came in and smiled. "Wow! This looks great. You've been busy today."

Pointing at the sink, Mom announced, "This is a curtain not a towel."

"Then I guess I'll just have to dry my hands off on you." Mom turned to close the window curtains. He kissed her on the back of her neck and pretended to dry his hands in the pleats of her cotton dress.

"One of these day's you're going to leave hand prints back there--and people will think I'm a floozy."

"I promise to never leave hand prints, and there's nothing floozy about it when you're married." Dad laughed. He kissed her softly and punctuated his low embrace with a pat on her rump. The look in his eye had nothing to do with handprints or hamburger.

Mom took his hand and pulled him to the table.

"Let's eat. It's all ready. The only thing missing was you."

To be continued:

16 Comments:

Blogger Cris said...

I really enjoyed reading that. The way you put it, it was almost like watching a movie. I look forward to reading more. :)

10/9/07 10:55 AM  
Blogger Cris said...

Have I mentioned that I am a sucker for love stories. LOL

10/9/07 11:32 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

It just keeps getting better! I like the way she actually bought "stuff" to put in the medicine cabinet just make it feel like home. It made me laugh, because yesterday I was cleaning the bathroom, getting to put our house up for sale, and I went through the medicine cabinet and drawers and threw everything but the necessities. I had a lot stuff she could have used to decorate!

Julie B.

10/9/07 3:02 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

This is a great story. My parents had a medicine chest filled with never used things. I wonder if anybody ever used them?

10/9/07 4:46 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

This continues to be a touching story of the young marriage. I love the medicine cabinet part. I believe I might have done something similar except in the kitchen when I was a bride.

I have to tell you that the collapsing bed part brought back memories for me regarding some married friends my husband and I had when we were young and married ourselves. Their marriage bed kept collasping on them and there was nothing wrong with the bed to begin with.

My husband and I were not having any problem with our bed collapsing. So, it sort of made us feel like maybe we were being too straight-laced in our bedroom. After giving the matter serious thought though, we concluded that our couple friends' problem was that both of them were too big and fat, which they were, for their bed.

By the way, where do you find your photos for your posts? I do searches and keep coming up with photos from Flickr.com that are usually copyrighted.

I have part two up at my blog on the twins' story. I hope you can stop by and read it.

10/9/07 5:29 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Cris,
Thanks for staying tuned.

Julie,
That was a detail I'd never heard until Mom and I were talking about this last weekend. I remember my grandparents medicine cabinet. It never really changed. I have a bottle of "Oil-O-Sol" from that cabinet. It's well over 50 years old. It seems like there was a lot less prescriptions and more "snake oils" back then. I'm glad you're reading here.

Dr. John,
Nowadays there's safety lids and expiration dates on nearly everything, but it seems like back then they kept medicines and powders for decades.

SQ,
What I'm enjoying most about fleshing out this story is that it really happened. I didn't know about the collapsing bed until about two weeks ago. You should hear my mom laugh as she tells it. It was always on her side (and she was small) and Dad usually slept through it. Mom says Dad used to get kinesthetically involved in his dreams whenever they had to do with boxing or sports. The same thing happens to me sometimes. Many of my photos are my own, but Flickr is a great source for obscure photos. I usually photoshop them with warmer or sepia tones to set tone and era. You're right that some there are copy protected and won't cut and paste, but many are just random amateur snapshots. If I ever actually published, I would use all originals. Next time I'm home (that is at my mom's home), I'm going to scan a ton of photos from the time of this story.
I'll be by to get caught up on what happened when the twins disappeared.

10/9/07 9:57 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

What a cute story. I remember decorating like that as well, when we had our first "fixer-upper" house.

My medicine cabinet is still filled with stuff I never use. It just all sits there, in its place, making the cabinet look full.

10/9/07 11:41 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Tom you are a gifted writer and I am sure your mom enjoys the extra talks you are having, while putting this story together. Plus, it gives her the chance to reminesce about your dad and a time in their lives that was so special. Your dad reminds me of my hubby- putting off doing things that could so easily be done... like the screws bolting the bed together. Your mom was probably like me- she had no idea about all of the magic a husband can perform.

11/9/07 12:45 PM  
Blogger beachgirl said...

What a wonderful story of love.
My Mom's parents were like that until the very end.
Nana and Pop always had these very old salt and pepper shakers on the stove. One is a clove garlic smiling and the other an onion frowning. Nana always pointed to them and said "this is Pop when I said yes and Pop when I said no"
My grandparents were always so loving and walking hand and hand. Nana told me that story after I got married and we lost Pop to cancer. She said she missed her sex life and the companionship of her best friend. She was 80 when she told me that.
I always wanted to have a marriage like that. Unfortunatley I didn't get it.
I will have to stop by and read some more.

11/9/07 5:06 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Josie,
There are three places in a home that serve as miniature attics when a house has been lived in for many decades by the same couple: 1st is the "junk drawer." It's likely to have new junk, but back in the far corners are items that can be there for decades. 2nd... The piano bench is often a gathering of sheet music that goes back to previous generations. Piano lesson books from when the kids were small, etc. and 3rd is the medicine cabinet. When my wife's grandfather moved out of his house of 50 years. His medicine cabinet was full of antique products like those in the picture and this was in the late 1980s.

Nancy,
It has been a good on-going conversation. We missed our call this weekend, but she does read here. "Hi, Mom!"
Sorry about that, Nancy, where was I. Oh, yes... my dad was actually quite the handyman. He built two of our family homes from the ground up, but sometimes minor repairs or improvements were less of a priority than bigger projects. I'm kind of like that, too. =)

BG,
Welcome to POI. I don't think we've met. I'm always curious what brings new readers by. I'm sure we have some common neighbors in the cyberhood. Take your time getting caught up on this story. There's usually at least a few days between chapters. My favorite part is yet to come.

11/9/07 9:21 PM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

sigh! - such a beautiful love story. i don't even need a lot of words; you've said it all. i'm enjoying the reading.

12/9/07 9:33 PM  
Blogger leslie said...

Wow, I just love this story! I actually still have my grandmother's Duncan Phyfe table - it's a small one but still...that part about the bed falling apart had me laughing hysterically here all by my lonesome. Wish I had someone to share my bed with sometimes. *sigh* well, it's all in God's hands now. Keep writing. Oh, by the way, BeachGirl aka Carol is a friend from way back. You should check out her photographs at http://carolannphotography.com/

13/9/07 2:13 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

HC,
A month ago I started our writing a single post about the part of the story I haven't even told yet. My mom would be honored to hear it called a love story. The next chapter takes a turn, but I think it's about love just the same.

Leslie,
There is a poem called (I think) The Mustard Field. I can't think of the poet's name at the moment, but it's about a widow looking back on life and the last line is something like "I miss the weight on your side of the bed," which is an interesting way to describe what you've said. I'll be right back. Let me see if I can find that poem on line....
Isn't the internet an incredible tool? I just found it in 30 seconds. The actual title is "Away In Virginia, I See a Mustard Field and Think of You" by Barbara Crooker. You can read it and hear it read here at the writer’s almanac scroll down to FRIDAY, 13 OCTOBER, 2006.
I think that is what you and Carol's Nana were talking about in part. BTW,glad to know "Beachgirl" is a friend of yours. Her photos are great.

13/9/07 10:28 PM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

You've obviously spent considerable time planning and writing this. Such a well thought out, nicely paced, piece. If I could only be half as organized as you, then maybe I could put something worthwile together.

13/9/07 11:47 PM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

alright tom, i'm ready for the next chapter. come out, come out, wherever you are. i'll be back a little later on with a cup of coffee to sip as i read.

16/9/07 4:27 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

JRT,
That was really kind of you to say about the pacing, but HC needs me to pick up the pace on my posting. =)

Sorry. It's been a busy, busy week and weekend. Rest assured part B of this evening in the apartment is in the hopper. I wish I were a speedy writer. Those of you who read here often have no doubt noticed that chapters sometimes get "reworked" after they've been posted. This one did.

16/9/07 6:55 AM  

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