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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

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 7

The staircase wasn't grand in any way--especially not in the way Mom hoped when Dad told her he found a nice upstairs apartment, and she asked, "What's the stairway like?" "The stairway?" Dad had teased, "It goes up--and down, too, depending on which way you walk." Mom leaned her head to the side so he added, "Honey, it's nothing fancy, but the price was right." Those last words, she knew, were spoken of necessity, so she simply smiled and continued the conversation in her head until she shrugged it off by mumbling, "Who cares about the stairs?" but the question did not punctuate her thoughts.

In that town, an upstairs apartment was always in an old house. Sometimes they'd been beautiful homes where the entry way was quartered off and a banister remained to beg an upward glance and give the hand a sense of presence. Even in a house now divvied up to renters, a banister could lift the mind and guide a gentle touch upward with grace.

Such stairs are great for greeting guests, a social exercise that newlyweds are surprisingly eager to do. Unexpected company brings smiles and two-minute tours, as if to say, "We're married now. This is where we sleep and wake and eat and live when we say we're going home." Secretly they hope that if they tell others that it's home often enough, it may very well begin to feel like home even when they don't say the word aloud.

But this upstairs three-room apartment had no such staircase, and the narrow ascent foreshadowed the confined space beyond the door. Mom had seen the place when the lease began a month before their wedding. It seemed small even when empty of all but the things too heavy to move--cast iron all.

The claw foot tub, the kitchen sink that clung to the wall with cotton flour sacks skirted 'round to hide the pipes, and an old stove that stood on legs like the kind her grandmother had before she went electric.

Not yet a bride and even less a homemaker, Mom was overwhelmed at the thought of making the place presentable. She had never set up housekeeping nor had she seen it done. For as long as she could remember her childhood home (shared by both her parents and grandparents since shortly after she was born) had never changed. She had never seen her mother "feather a nest" because the nest was not her own to feather, and her grandparents had kept nearly everything in the same place since the house was built in 1910.

Mom had not given the apartment much thought until they got home from their honeymoon. By then each of the three rooms had at least one piece of furniture: A second cousin had given them a couch. It was fine except for the big spring that came up through the center cushion--not through the fabric like they do in a cartoon, just through the padding so guests felt the hard metal ring unexpectedly. It prompted various facial expressions, from winces to a naughty smiles. It was a real ice breaker.

The kitchen had the sink and stove and a little table they had gotten as a wedding present from Dad's folks. There was no refrigerator, but it was winter and they kept their milk and other things that needed to be cold in a wooden box outside the entrance door. Mom was still working at Star Oil. That fuel company had a little store front that sold "Firestone" brand appliances as a sideline. Their goal was to use Mom's employee discount to buy a refrigerator before the first thaw.

In the bedroom was an old bed Dad bought from his 3rd grade teacher the week before the wedding. He felt funny about that. The last time he'd seen this woman up close he was on the playground at recess, and now here he was thanking her for the bed... the bed of all things. He tried to pretend it didn't matter, but when he stood on old porch and said, "I'm here to pick up the bed," he felt his face get red and couldn't stop smiling. Neither could she.

That's pretty much what waited for them at the top of the stairs as they returned home from their honeymoon.

The place was missing far more than a banister....


Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Sometimes we forget how little our parents had when they first set off in marraige. It is inspiring that they eventually acheived so much. Perhaps when you have less things, you spend more time building the love.

28/8/07 4:31 AM  
Blogger Cris said...

It is certainly a great reminder to be grateful for the things you do have...

28/8/07 4:50 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

The simplicity of it all... I am almost envious! How did our lives get so complicated by "stuff"? Young and in love, with little more than the shirt on your back and your entire life ahead of you- but as we all know... there is more to the story than that. I can't wait for the next chapter.

28/8/07 1:08 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

They don't want to start like that any more. They expect better.

28/8/07 4:31 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

There is no question that "things" sometimes get in the way by masking our true needs and filling the emptiness God intended to be filled by love for Him and love for others.

I talked to my mom Sunday evening and many of these details were new to me. The next chapter is a little less stark, but as Mom describes it... it was a sad little unfurnished place.

That's a good way to put it. Simplicity.
Dad often said he could have lived the life of a hermit. His "things" had more to do with tools. Mom's things were kitchen tools and some things to make it feel like home. All of their wedding presents were put to immediate use. Mom still has her old Hamilton Beach mixer (it weighs a ton) up in the attic, and their nearly 60-year-old Toastmaster toaster still works (though it smells funny when it gets hot so we don't use it). The end of the next chapter brings us to the Duncan Phyfe. There's some good stuff before that.

28/8/07 4:54 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
I just missed you in that last set. I think you're right, but I don't fault the kids. I must admit that my newly married daughter and her husband have a very nice upstairs apartment nothing like the one in this story, but I'll also say that (not counting a few wedding presents) it is furnished with authentic "shabby chic" from garage sales, etc. Just enough old but nicely arranged stuff. As a child, she saw her mother feather a nest or two on similar eked-out budgets. That was the background my mother told me she lacked at this stage in her life, but as we'll see she learned without losing sight of the truly important things. Sorry such a long reply to such a short but noteworthy comment.

28/8/07 4:55 PM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

hi tom,

http://www.gabfest.com/ is where you can record your voice on your blog. they have the instructions on the site. i haven't quite figured it out yet, but that's how josie puts her voice on her blog sometimes. the audio would be an added touch as we read along. josie wrote out her words last time for us to read along too. if you're interested and need help, josie wouldn't mind helping you out.

i just volunteered your services josie.

28/8/07 10:00 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks, HC,
I'll check it out. Things are a bit busy here right now with school about to start. Josie may be busy too it sounds like. Her post today is making kibitzers out of us all. =)
Just kidding. I know she'll help when I get to that part.

28/8/07 10:12 PM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

this story is too cute. the bed and the third grade teacher. the sofa with the spring. but your parents had their own little place. i agree with others about having less 'things' and putting emphasis on family, love, etc.

i've never heard the expression 'feather the nest before.'

28/8/07 10:16 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Does this ever bring back memories of our first attempts to acquire some furniture after we married. For a long time I called our furniture collection Early Attic.

After my husband's time in the Air Force was finished and we moved back home, it was to an upstairs three room apartment. The staircase was nicer than the one you describe, but the bathroom had the same claw tub.

28/8/07 10:51 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Thinking...thinking...thinking...yep except for the bed and the electronic stuff everything that furnishes our house was garbage picked or resale shop purchased.

Of course my tools were all brand new and expensive but those I used to write off on our taxes and pay for the resale shop stuff. (knick knacks, never furniture, that's all garbage picked and repaired stuff.)

My woman feathered the nest with the stuff the crows and pigeons molted.



29/8/07 3:33 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

"Where your treasure is there shall your heart be also." Things are not bad in and of themselves. They can enhance time spent with those who matter and even help us focus on or remember important relationships, but when "things" become the relationship... ah, there is the problem of materialism. "Feathering the nest" I think refers to the final touches. Birds build a twiggy nest that would not be comfortable but the last step is using molted feathers, string, soft fibers, etc, to add comfort to the sturdiness. So it refers to furnishing the comforts and details of a home.

I was on the phone with my mom and it was fun to hear her repeat the details of just how stark the place was and the things she did (in the next chapter) to try to make it feel homey.

In the first decade or so of our married life, Julie and I learned to set up house on next-to-nothing incomes paid by the private we taught in. We, too, have a few "restored" items salvaged from the heap. Our little oak kitchen table was $5 at an auction. I knew it was oak underneath the five layers of paint. After a hard day's work of scraping, etc. it's a beautiful piece. We've sat at it for 20 years. About 2/3s of our house furnishings were used (or damaged new), hand-me-downs, or garage sale (and now Craigslist.com) when we acquired them, but Julie puts it together very nicely.

As you know, regardless of the source or true value of "things" they become too important if they take the place of the horizontal (fellow man) and vertical (God) relationships we are commanded to nurture. Life can't be about bigger, better, and more "things." It's important to strike a balance as we provide the comforts of home and hospitality that meet the basic needs of our family and others.

29/8/07 6:22 AM  
Blogger J_G said...

My parents first place was an apartment in West Philadelphia. It is situated in a neighborhood that now if you went there you had better be wearing body armor and carrying some shootin' irons.

I have a few photographs of the inside but from my Mother's description of the place it wasn't very nice even back then in the 1950's It was one of those apartments located above a store on 52nd street. My Father had a what was considered a good job with railroad but they still didn't have enough money to afford something nicer until 1960. I still have a lot of questions about my parents that can never be answered now but I have pictures.

29/8/07 11:51 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I wish I had pictures of that apartment. I got these from flickr.com. That is an amazing vault of free photos. I just typed in the items I was looking for and selected the ones that fit.

The town of Port Huron is still a pretty sleepy place where softball games are played at Pine Grove Park and people picnic, etc. We love going there. My grandma's house and the place where I came home when I was born are all still there...just older. =)

29/8/07 6:01 PM  
Blogger leslie said...

I should get my daughter #2 to read this as she sets out soon in her own first place. She has a chair and ottoman left to her from her grandma (my Mom) when she died, her bedroom furniture, and a kitchen table and 1 chair from me (the other chair broke). However, she had started to buy little things years ago - glassware, cutlery, baking dishes, etc. so she won't be too hard done by. But it seems that today young people want it all - now! They want a new couch, a new bed, a new this and a new that. They have no idea how it used to be - I remember getting an old couch, TV, bed and dresser, kitchen table and 2 chairs - all hand-me-downs or used. And I was thrilled to out on my own. I love this series! :D

29/8/07 7:39 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I just got in the door from a three-day camping trip. It was great. Gorgeous weather. What a great Labor Day wrap-up to summer. I did do a little writing one quiet morning. I may post soon. Glad the series has struck a chord. By the way, my mom's dad was named Lesley (with the "s" sound...I'm guessing yours has the "z" sound).

2/9/07 5:56 PM  

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