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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, October 03, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 12

Port Huron is a Summer Town
My mom was not a teacher in the professional sense of the word, but when I was a child, she showed a teacher’s disposition in many ways. True, she taught through telling stories, but she also had that "teachery" habit of making events out of minor holidays.
Even before we kids were born, when it was just the two of them, Mom made the most of each month's red-letter day. For instance, it was no accident that their wedding was on the weekend of Valentine’s Day in February. That was a tough act to follow, but in March, she wore green and fixed a corned beef dinner on St. Patrick’s day; she played little jokes on April Fool’s Day; bought a new dress for Easter Sunday; and when May Day came around she made sure to welcome spring with a bouquet of flowers on the little kitchen table.

The pattern of these small festivities brought a splash of color to their passing days and the promise of progress and better things to come. Teachers do that. There was another way that Mom was like a teacher: she found rejuvenating joy in those three magic words: June, July and August................ [Our childhood stomping grounds seen from f.................................the westbound span of the Blue Water Bridge.]

Port Huron, Michigan, is great year round, but it's a summer sort of town. I need to pause here to tell a secret... Forgive me if I’ve mentioned this before... it has nothing to do with anything… but my mom has two unique “mispronunciation” issues: she pronounces wash as warsh—as in…“We’re not going anywhere ‘til you boys warsh the grass stains off your knees. so go get a warsh cloth and start warshin'.” The other mispronunciation is when she drops the "H" in Huron and calls her home town Port Urine. If she wrote you a note, it would say “I spent the day in Port Huron,” but if she told you where she’d spent the day, you might turn up your nose and say, "I thought it was called the Blue Water Bridge." Anyway… as I was saying…
Port Huron is a summer place . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . Revised 10-07-07
where bridges rise and lower

for the boats and trains downtown
or reach like arms outstretched beyond

the narrow hourglass of blue.
A place where sandy beaches

are acrawl with kids and moms
from noon ‘til suppertime,
and where at night the harbor lights

draw shadows to the shore
(those who never left the town
and them that have returned)
to watch the passing ships and current
passing by like time
and stare transfixed

at smooth swells rising from the deep
like ghosts to greet a friend in passing.
Passing... passing.
Everything is passing there.
Fishermen pass the vagrant night
with lines and bells and bobbers
'til the morning light breaks
and wakes to start again
all those who have a part
at work and play, the cast
of boats and ships and trains
and endless traffic going past
bumper to bumper in midair.
Everything is passing there.
Port Huron is that sort of summer town.
© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink

[The first picture is Black River which passes through the heart of Port Huron and spills into the St. Clair River which begins a mile or so upstream at the Blue Water Bridge.]

Though the newlywed’s still kept the same work schedule, they loved the summer, and often spent their lunch hours together at Pine Grove Park not far from the Blue Water Bridge. It was there Dad decided it was time to teach Mom how to drive.

"You know what I'd like to do a couple times a week over our lunch hour?" Dad asked.

"Do I have to say?" Mom moaned.

"I'd like to swim to Canada and back. The fellas and I used to do it all the time. Remember the time I told you about when Jack and Bob and Tobin and I grabbed hold of the ferry line and got pulled across so fast that Tobin's suit came off? "

"Yes, you've told me that one," Mom laughed.

Dad continued anyway... "He couldn't let go of the rope to grab his suit. Bob was behind him on the rope and saw it happen, but he couldn't let go either. The trunks hung around his ankles for a while and then just disappeared. The four of us skimming across like a stringer of trout and Tobin trying to keep his shiny hiney under water. I'll never forget it." Dad's eyes saw it all again and twinkled as he took a bite of his sandwich.

"How did Tobin get back?" Mom asked.

"He swam back naked and stayed in the water under a fishing shack while I rode my bike home to get him some shorts."

"He stayed in that freezing water? I'll bet he was blue all over."

"All over" Dad stressed. They both laughed until the laughter turned to a deep breath drawn in unison, and they stared in silence across the wide river.

Finally Mom patted Dad's hand and sighed, "So that's really what you were thinking about when you asked?"

Dad looked blank. "When I asked what?"

"When you asked me if I knew what you wanted to do over lunch."

"Sure. Wudja think I was thinking?"

"Never mind... but you can't swim to Canada, Don. It’s not safe. What if you get plowed under by a ship?"

"Ships are slow. It's the boats you've got to watch out for. That's why weekdays are a better time for me to swim across. I'd start here by the bridge, and you could pick me up downtown by Black River. I'm sure I could do it in less than an hour. So now you know. That really is what I was thinking about. I want to do it, but first you've got to get your driver's license."

"I don't see why I need a license since I already know how to drive," she insisted, as if licenses were issued only to bad drivers to wear like a warning badge whenever they took the wheel.

"It's a law. You can't drive a car without a license."

"Sure you can. I've done it. Remember when I drove Donna's car?" [Mom had driven her friend Donna's car. Donna later married my Dad's brother Jack, making them my Uncle Jack and Aunt Donna.]

"Not legally, and not a stick. Until you have a license, you can't drive my car."

"Our car," Mom smiled, "and what's a stick?"

"You know what a stick is. Donna's car is an automatic. You didn't have to shift gears. The Ford is manual. You have to manually shift the gears by moving the "stick" on the steering column. You've been watching me do it for two years, and you watched your dad do it all your life."

"Oh, that. I've never paid attention to it, but I have seen you move that thingy and notice that you push the brake at the same time. "

"No... not the brake, the clutch. The brake is on the right. "

"I thought there was a left brake and a right brake—depending on how fast you wanted the car to stop."

Dad's face contorted into a question mark, but he just smiled and said, "Put on your shoes, Bev. We're starting today.... This is going to take longer than I thought. Lesson one will be driving from here to the spot downstream where I want you to pick me up."

"But I don't know how to do the stick thingy, and I still don't think you should you should swim over to Canada."

"Honey, let me worry about the swimming part and you focus on the driving part. Don't worry about shifting today. We'll get to shifting after we master the steering and braking. Today we'll just keep it in first gear. That'll only get you going around five miles per hour and we'll just stay on the back streets 'til you feel comfortable."

"This is going to be fun!" Mom giggled.

Dad handed her the keys and slapped her gently on the rear.


Mom actually felt pretty comfortable behind the wheel of that old Ford, and she was a quick study with the stick shift on the column (aka "thingy") once she got the clutch (aka "the left brake") down pat. She got her license about a week later, and Dad did swim to Canada and back on his lunch break several times that summer. Mom was always there to pick him up and drive him back to his Bell truck. He'd change under a towel as she drove. (A feat many folks in Port Huron have mastered.) To fully appreciate this task... the swim not changing clothes in the car... look at this "river cam" or this slide show.

Not only is it a very far swim (about two-thousand feet there and back if it were a lake), but the
St. Clair River moves so swiftly there that Dad came out more than a mile away from where he went in. I personally would not recommend even an excellent swimmer like Dad doing it alone, but of course, we kids weren't there to join in Mom's warnings.

My brothers and I grew up swimming in that swift cold current. I loved it. Though I never swam across to Canada, I know
those waters well enough to wonder why Dad would leave the picnic blanket and his beautiful bride to cross those chilly waves—and I do mean chilly. No matter what month of summer it is or how hot the air is, there where Lake Huron narrows into the St. Clair River like an hourglass, the water is so deep and so fast that it seeps inside your skin, chills to the bone, and I believe with all my heart... never leaves you.


Blogger SusieQ said...

I love the way you describe how your mom would celebrate things like St. Patrick's Day and make them special even for just your dad and herself.

Seems like we all used to do that kind of thing more when I was growing up. I wonder if we have lost the knack. I remember April Fool's Day and how everyone tried to fool each other. Our neighboring big town newspaper always had some April Fool's photo on the front page, like a ship on Main Street, with an accompanyng outlandish article none of which was true at all. It was fun!

Did I miss how far a swim it was to Canada? I looked for mention of it in your post. I am sure it was a distance. Even though your dad was a good swimmer, I would have been frightened for him I had been your mom.

About your mom learning how to drive and driving without a license. My mother learned how to drive when she was 12 years old (1934). Her parents never did learn how to drive. So, whenever they had access to a car,perhaps an older child's car, Mother did the driving even at that tender age. I wonder when we started issuing driver's licenses.

Oh, and that was such a funny story about Tobin losing his swimming trunks in the swift waters.

Something that just came to my mind....is your father still living?

4/10/07 3:37 PM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

would you believe i can't swim? for the longest time, i say every year i'm going to learn, then i put it off and off until i still can't do it. maybe one day. BIG maybe. i do take baths and showers though, so i'm not totally terrified of the water.

your mom did real good to learn how to work the stick and clutch in a week.

4/10/07 3:54 PM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

tom, i was leaving comments here on your blog while you were leaving comments on mine. thanks for letting me know about LGS's father. i didn't know as i just started making my blog rounds today, and instead of going alphabetically like i mostly do, i went out of sequence.

4/10/07 4:00 PM  
Blogger Cris said...

Sorry, I couldn't help but laugh at the lost swim trunks. I bet that must have been embarrassing. LOL.

4/10/07 4:52 PM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

I used to drive a Ford Bronco with "three on the tree." Now I drive automatics.

Neat slideshow link. My highschool P.E. instructor jumped off the Blue Water Bridge. He left a note in his truck before making the leap to his death.

4/10/07 9:57 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I think if it weren't for teachers and people like my mom the minor holidays would have fallen off the calendar long ago. I must confess: to this day, I don't like corned beef, but the tradition of having it on St. Pat's Day was fun.
You didn't miss the distance. I don't know it, but I will try to look it up. It's far, cold, and frankly not a good idea to do alone. I don't know anyone else who did it for "exercise" over lunch break. When I was a kid, he was still an avid swimmer and SCUBA instructor at the "Y."

Don't feel bad for asking...I would wonder the same thing. Dad died in 1995. It's only recently that I've been able to write about him and Mom without that fact overshadowing the process. Leslie and LGS have just recently lost their fathers. It takes a while...

I love swimming. Grew up in the water. I know folks who don't swim--in fact, we all know someone who doesn't drive... and she's going to Paris in April, so Hey, lots of things await people who can't swim or drive a car. =)

That story really happened and the boys name was Tobin (that was his last name). It really deserves more treatment, but I wanted to include it here.

Whoa. Sorry to hear that. There's no doubt about it. It's not the drop but the sudden stop that kills you. (A few people have suvived that jump, but it wasn't thier intent to do so). Speaking of slide shows. It seems like I remember one of yours from several months ago that were taken fishing at Port Huron.

4/10/07 10:13 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

I almost wish I had not asked about your dad, because now I am sad.

4/10/07 10:44 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Don't feel that way because you asked. My siblings say that when they read here it's sort of "happy-sad" ... I think that's why. I understand why you wrote this little follow up, though, and I appreciate it.

Sometimes I can be right in the middle of a great old movie--you know some old classic--and I can suddenly be struck by the fact that all the iconic faces bringing the story to life are now gone. The same thing is true of literature especially the kind based on real life (like your story about the twins).

It's been fun for my mom and I to interact about these chapters, but I grew up hearing both Mom and Dad telling this unfolding story. I just didn't realize how many good questions I failed to ask as a kid (or remember the answers to), so Mom helps with some of those details. But as you know, writing also requires lots of "filling in the blanks" based on what you know of the times, setting, and characters. I'd tell you more here, but I should probably save it for the last chapter.

This has become an important (though slowly presented) story to me because, (A) I'm comfortable writing it (which would not have been true ten years ago) and (B)I want to start giving copies of it newlyweds I know who may get a kick out of it... because some things never change, and (C) it serves as a reminder that, as I said way back in The Ache of Joy, time "does not pass it gathers; it is not spent but shared" which goes to the heart of that "home" feeling Mom was trying so hard to achieve...and which, by the way, she did a wonderful job creating for us. It's very okay that you asked.

Life is kind of a happy-sad movie.

5/10/07 4:29 AM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Your dad would have been around 65 when he died. I am 67 and I feel like I have many years of life coming to me still. I plan to claim them.

It is just a sad thing that we can't all live to a ripe old age of 100 and then die peacefully one night in our sleep.

My father died a few months after he turned 80. That was in October, 2000. He loved living. He told me shortly before he died that he was not afraid of death, he just didn't want to leave this earth because he loved living. I guess I feel the same way.

Yes, it makes me sad sometimes to watch the old movies and realize that many of those people have died. I miss them.

5/10/07 7:41 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

Tom, your mom reminds me of my mom. She always made a little celebration of every holiday as well. And, believe it or not, she used to pronounce "wash" as "warsh". When I first started school, I did too.

I was going to ask you about the current in that river. I learned how to swim in a river too, and it had a very swift current. You learn to become a strong swimmer very quickly.

6/10/07 12:12 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dad maintained excellent health, weight, active lifestyle (avid swimmer,cyclist, etc.) all his life. It was indeed an untimely death from an earthly perspective. Thank God we have more than one perspective. He had a hereditary heart condition that all his siblings share, which is now treatable with meds.

I remember that you are a swimmer (SQ, too, I think). The current there where the St. Clair begins, is swift but I don't know the "knots". I would compare it to the Mississippi at flood stage, but not like a river during a "flash flood." You have to imagine the volume of the channel that flows south through the upper Great Lakes being squeezed into that comparatively narrow "hourglass." The St. Clair then passes south for about nine miles and opens into the larges freshwater delta in the world at the northern tip of Lake St. Clair.
Hey, Josie, is there any truth to the story I just heard about a sanitation strike and "rodent infestation" in Vancouver, BC?

As sometimes happens when I dabble in "verse" the lines about Port Huron changed significantly since Wednesday night. Hope it makes more sense now. I know folks from PH will understand the images.

6/10/07 9:14 AM  
Blogger EA Monroe said...

Tom, I enjoyed this post very much! I'm sure my mom says warsh, too, and I remember her learning how to drive when we were kids. She and a couple of her friends and once she had her license she was off and going all the time. I would have loved to have grown up in Port Huron.

6/10/07 12:46 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

It was a great place to grow up. We actually moved from Port Huron to a Detroit suburb when I was five, but because my grandparents and cousins lived there, it's where we spent wonderful summer weekends. Sometimes my brother and I spent the last week of summer there, and one year there was a teachers strike that took a whole week to get settled, and Dave and I were in Port Huron the whole time. It was one of the best "ends of summer" I ever had. =)

6/10/07 7:42 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I always learn so many interesting things here. I love the way you add comments to what your readers say. I once said that your story takes on a whole new life once it reaches the comment section. Your comment section is one of my favorite places. You probably noticed that lately I have been doing the same (I hope you don't mind that I "stole" the idea from you!) I just found it a nice way to let the readers know I really appreciate the time they take to comment. I also find it nice that I can answer questions and add extra facts where needed.

Your mom is a teacher at heart. The holiday celebrations add excitement, fun, and tradition to family life. And memories too!

My dad said chimley for chimney and libury for library until the day he died. I remember the very first time that I saw the word chimney in the dictionary... I was shocked to say the least because of course I had said "chimley" up to that point.

Thanks again for sharing this love story. I look forward to more.

6/10/07 9:04 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I blogged for almost two years without comments. I also didn't leave comments. I just really didn't know how it all worked, and I'm a little leary of the internet. I was just writing stuff (some of which I've taken down). It was mostly political, but I didn't like getting into arguments with strangers. It get's ugly fast on the internet, especially from anonymous readers. What's the point?
So I confess comments are very encouraging, and I fear that without knowing somebody cares that I keep writing... I might slip back into a lifelong habit of writing drafts and drafts of things that never get "finished."
Another interesting thing about comments is that they help me in the revision process. Take this one for instance, I added some details and links after some people asked about the St. Clair.

Here's secret "buried" detail that I forgot to include. My youngest daughter's middle name is Clair (without the final "e")after that river. The Port Huron "Times Herald" wrote about it in an interview when they opened the second bridge in 1996. They let Americans and Canadians walk across, and she was a one-year-old in a stroller. =)

7/10/07 6:31 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

Tom, yes, we have had a city-wide strike for ten weeks. It's just awful. Everything, garbage collection, community centers, etc., have been shut down. Rodents? People are adopting them as pets :-)

I deleted my other blog, but have started a new one, and you can link to it through his comment. I am setting up my blogroll again, and have added you.


8/10/07 11:46 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

That sounds horrible. I saw it on MSNBC. Like your new format and title. Mine's been the same old template since I first started. There's still a bunch I don't even know how to do with this simple format. =)

8/10/07 8:00 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

You are a very enjoyable writer. I love the on going story of your parents.

10/10/07 5:47 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
Thank you. Have you ever come down from the U.P. to Port Huron? I'm on the west side of the state now, but PH is my hometown.

11/10/07 9:20 PM  

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