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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 31, 2007

A Melancholy Splendor

A melancholy splendor comes
when autumn chills,
and green begins to bleed,
and red and gold
and russet runs the hills...
when all that grows
is gathered in the fields
and orchard rows
to be busheled up,
pressed and poured out,
or left alone to seep
in the fallen tea of earth...
when gardens go to seed,
and bursting milkweed
begs for second birth
by letting go the withered pod
to haunt
the meadows
and the markers
on the old church lawn
where, but for lonely shadows,
all summer shade is gone
in the melancholy splendor
of the fall.

A few hours ago, our streets heard the last of trick-or-treaters, and October came to an end one porch light at a time. This was the mildest, warmest autumn I recall in my lifetime with average temps in the 70's, which delayed the color fest by a few weeks and muted the typical brilliance of west Michigan landscape. Not until last weekend did leaves began to fall, and the first trees to turn are now bare. As always, the towering oaks around my house will be the last to let go, so we'll still be raking around Thanksgiving.
I know from reading around my favorite blogs that fall is on many people's minds, and I also notice that many of the bloggers I know share a touch of melancholy this time of year. I seem to revel in fall's beauty but wrestle with the finality of all that began in spring.
I've always struggled a little with this. I love the peak of seasons: the deep and drifting snow, the lush green of spring, the splash of waves in the summer, and the colors and crisp cold of fall... but I must deliberately keep my spirits up in the "empty in between" of the seasons, those gray, non-descript days.
Once all the leaves have fallen each year, I eagerly await the snow to come and cover the "blah" of November.
In the next chapter of our story, we'll see that my mother has this same feeling about the fall (which is probably where I get it). She and Dad will be very happy about the news they get from Dr. Licker as summer ends, but more than the season changes as others learn that Mom and Dad will have a baby in April.
Note: Between the lines of " A Melancholy Splendor" are hints of the relationships between life and death, harvest and labor, the garden and weeds (nurture vs. nature), beauty and decay, and hope and despair in the fall (by playing on the word as both a season and a theological term). Since childhood, I've been fascinated by Milkweed. Its life cycle is very dramatic from beginning to end when it seems to "give up its ghosts" to the wind. Its scientific name comes from Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. Milkweed also plays a "life and death" role in the life cycle of monarch butterflies.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 15

Timing is Everything

Some may consider the opening of this chapter "for women only." I am fully aware that men in general have no business discussing this topic. We men concede that we have not "walked in those moccasins," we have no idea what those moccasins feel like, and if we mistakenly compare those moccasins to any male experience, we may get a good swift kick from a moccasined foot.

Speaking of good swift kicks, there is a uniquely "male" experience that can produce intense pain and cramping in the same region, but for some reason that painful experience is treated humorously whenever depicted in film and family video shows. It goes something like this: child swings bat, bat hits dad below the belt, dad doubles over, and about 1/4 of the woman watching think to themselves, "Serves him right. Have that happen every month on schedule and maybe we'll start feeling sorry for you."

Having admitted that the opening thoughts below are (experientially speaking) "for women only," I will nevertheless include them, as Mom did when she used to tell the story to us kids.

Let me see. Where was I? Oh, yes, I remember. Two weeks ago, Mom was reclining on the blanket at Pine Grove Park, and Dad had just begun swimming across the St. Clair River to Canada. Children were singing and playing on the swings across the way...and without thinking, Mom touched her stomach...
As Mom laid on the blanket, she remembered the day about six or seven years before when she sat alone screaming in the upstairs bathroom. Her grandmother heard her from the kitchen and bounded up the stairs shouting, "What's wrong, Beverley?" The door was not locked but stuck a little from some settling in the house. Grandma Collinge put her considerable weight against the door and it opened with such a bang that Mom fell silent mid-scream, holding out the crimson-stained tissue in her hand. Her grandmother stood in silence, huffing from her climb, then said between breaths, "Is that all you were screaming about?"

Mind you, my mother had been given no warning. She had never been told anything about this moment--not from her grandmother, not from her mother, not from a friend, not from a discreetly viewed film at school...nothing. All she knew was what she held in her hand, and she had every reason to believe that something was dreadfully wrong.

"What's wrong? Am I going to die?"

"Heavens no. Nothing's wrong." Then there came the same faint smile that broke when she spoke of loved-ones past. "You're a woman now."

"I've always been a woman."

"No, Dear. Before you were a girl. Now you're a woman."

"I'd rather be a girl," Mom cried. "When will this stop?"

"It'll stop in a day or so, but it will happen again every month."

"Every month? Does it happen to you and Momma?"

"Yes, Dear. It happens to all women. Every month from your age till about my age they tell me. The only time it doesn't happen is... oh, never mind. Your mother can tell you that herself. My lands, I nearly broke my neck running up these steps. Let me go get you some things you'll need. I'll be right back."

Funny thing. Mom vividly recalled that moment with her grandmother, but she doesn't remember either her or her mother ever explaining that the only time it wouldn't happen was when she was pregnant, a fact she picked up along the way and which was the secret cause of her smile there on the blanket. To know for sure, she had to see Dr. Licker [pronounced like the hard stuff], and she had an appointment for that afternoon. He told her if the lab was not too busy, she could know for sure by the end of the next week.

From the beginning of time, woman had to patiently read the secret signs and cycles of their inner universe to know if they were pregnant. Not until well into the 20th Century did the idea of needing "to know for sure" from a doctor become common practice. Today, at-home pregnancy tests about the size of a Q-Tip can let a woman know within minutes. When my first daughter was born in 1984, we used the Fact "lab kit" in this photo. That was considered new technology--and it was compared to what they did in the Fifties.
[Click photo to enlarge.]
Some younger readers may wonder why there is a rabbit in that old advertisement. It's because the most common pregnancy test after World War II was called the rabbit test. Millions of them were performed.

Here's how it worked: A sample of a urine specimen of the tested woman was injected into one of the ear veins of an isolated female lab rabbit. If the woman was pregnant, the injected hormones would cause the rabbit to ovulate (which does not happen in isolated captivity). To give the waiting woman the news within a week, the lab technicians would simply kill the rabbit, dissect her nether region, and determine whether or not ovulation had occurred. For several decades, the expression "The Rabbit Died" meant the test was positive, but in fact ovulation does not cause death in a rabbit any more than it does in the woman being tested. Whether positive or negative, the rabbit was in fact killed in the process of this test.

Though confirmation was a week away, Mom wanted to tell Dad the news. She was a little nervous about his reaction. "I thought we were going to wait a couple years," she could imagine him saying, and she heard herself saying right back, "Well, apparently you dropped your end of the deal. That 'timing' or rhythm method or whatever it's called must not be fool proof." It made her laugh to rehearse such an exchange, but it was merely a cover. Deep down she worried that if he felt anything less than her excitement, she would, in fact, be speechless and suddenly fear all that the months ahead would hold.

These thoughts so occupied her mind that she was suddenly parking the old Ford at their spot downstream with no recollection of having driven there. It startled her to think that she had navigated the streets with some other part of her brain. Had she stopped at intersections? Had she encountered other cars on the street? (I grew up with Mom driving us kids here and there, but by then she had learned to drive without worrying about such things.) She did not remember how she got there, yet there she was, parked between Beers and Bard Street facing the river.
Any minute now, she knew, Don would be climbing up over the bank through the trees that bend over the cold current.

Mom looked around the drab interior of the car. When Dad bought the ’39 Ford, it was ten years old and had already been dragged through one of the roughest decades in American history. Like nearly everything he bought, it needed some fixing up, but the price was right.

Mom turned on the radio and smiled. Until recently, it hadn’t worked, but Dad salvaged some tubes from a junk radio and got it going. So now, whenever they turned it on, it brought a smile of satisfaction just to hear it warm up. She turned the dial and heard frequency hums and squeaks between stations and stopped at the voice of Debbie Reynolds singing Aba Daba Honeymoon. The year before, Mom and Dad had first heard the song in a movie called Two Weeks in Love. Mom started singing along to the song, and nearly jumped out of her skin when Dad blurted through the window blurted, "What's my time?"

"Don, you scared me half to death!"

"What's my time. Check the watch."

Until that moment, Mom had forgotten that Dad specifically asked her to time his swim, and there he stood dripping wet, out of breath, waiting to hear if he had broken his personal record, and Mom had forgotten to keep an eye on his watch. In fact, at that moment, she didn't even know where the watch was.

"Here's your towel, Honey," she said, sliding out the car. As Dad began drying his short crew-cut hair, Mom looked in her purse but saw no watch. She leaned in the back seat and grabbed the blanket that she had wadded up and the watch fell out on the seat.

"Ah...What time was it when you left?" Mom asked innocently.

"You weren't timing me?" His moving hands paused to hold out the towel like a little awning over his disappointed eyes. "The one thing I asked you to do..." He dropped the towel over his face and resumed drying his hair. From under the towel he said, "Well I'm pretty sure I broke my record because I returned much further upstream, but the one thing I asked you to do..."

"Don, I'm pregnant!" she blurted out with a smile. It was not how she planned to say it, but she needed to change the subject quickly. "That's what I've been thinking about since you left--that's why I forgot to time you." Dad's head was still under the motionless towel. "Don?... Don, are you in there? We're going to have a baby."

He slowly raised the towel. His smile showed first. "Are you sure?"

"Well, I see Dr. Licker Monday, but I'm five weeks late."

"Five weeks late or one week past?"

"Five weeks late. It's been two months. I didn't know when to tell you."

"So when can Dr. Licker tell us for sure?"

"He said a week from now we'll know, but I'm pretty sure."

Dad just kept smiling, "When? How?" he said without thinking.

"I'm not sure about the when, but I do know the how." Mom laughed. "I think I'll be due around April."

"April? That's a good month. You were born in April."

Dad was still a little stunned. He quickly finished drying off and walked Mom to her side of the car.

"Here. You get in. I'm driving."

"Don't be silly. You've got to change your clothes. I can drive."

"No. I'll drive. I can change when we get there."

He closed the door behind her and walked around the front of the car smiling through the windshield. As he plopped behind the wheel, Mom slid to the center of the bench seat (a feature now extinct in cars). She hooked her left hand around Dad’s right arm. This was how they often rode when the moment or mood needed no further conversation. Dad was mumbling random things out loud, like "Holy Smoke!" or "Nine months before April. Must have been 4th of July maybe?" but such thoughts hardly qualified as conversation. Mom simply smiled at him in the rearview mirror.
As they drove back to Pine Grove, Mom turned the radio dial and stopped when she heard that year's number-one hit by Nat King Cole.

"I like this one," Dad said.

"Me, too." Mom sighed.
Dad could never resist singing along with Nat King Cole, and though Mom often joined in, that day with that song, she preferred to lean her head on his shoulder and listen..... [Hear Too Young on Youtube. The photomontage is not of my parents.]
They try to tell us we're too young
Too young to really be in love
They say that loves a word
A word weve only heard
But cant begin to know the meaning of,
And yet were not too young to know
This love will last though years may go,
And then some day they may recall
We were not too young at all.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

An Inspiring Story of an Unveiled Gift

Originally posted Sunday, October 21.

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me this video link. Have you seen it?

When I first watched it, my eyes blurred. Okay, I confess. They more than blurred—I even had to blow my nose! This morning, another friend sent it. I watched it again and it had the same effect on me. I do like opera, but it had nothing to do with that.

This is more than a "15 minutes of fame" story. There's nothing like seeing the extraordinary emerge from the cocoon of ordinary life. There's nothing like seeing the faces of prejudice or indifference drop like masks in the glow of a gift.

I'd like to collect the first impressions of others. Please share your thoughts about Paul Potts and the power of this moment.

Cell Phone Salesman Amazes Crowd

Part II, second performance

Part III, Added 10-24-07. The polished performance.
about undiscovered talent:

The comment section has been an interesting exchange of thoughts about talent and courage. LGS directed us to another newly-discovered talent who appeared on the same show as Paul Potts (though not necessarily during the same season) .
This little girl is adorable to watch, and this boy singing the National Anthem is equally gifted. [The girl's second performance is little less impressive, but hey, she's seven.]

I must admit, however, I wince a little when I see children in the spotlight of celebrity and superlative praise. They're cute and confident and brimming with talent to be sure, but where does a little person like that go when the adulation stops and the spotlight fades? Equally troubling: How do their lives change forever if the spotlight does not fade? The thought should give parents pause, and yet some gifts bloom early. It's a tough call.
Learn all the musical instruments you like. Sing in the choir, etc. But when it comes to being a "child star," better to go through school like a normal kid, I say; better to experience life and then sing about it; better to learn from being broke and then get your big break (as Paul Potts did). Develop your gift, know what it's for, where it came from, and how you hope to use it. Fame is fleeting. Wealth is empty. Success demands more success. You can't know that as a child, and learning it ends your childhood.
I have another example that my daughter and I discovered about a month ago. We were watching this link to a performance by a singer named Imogen Heap. She's quite a vocalist, BUT she is not the undiscovered artist I'm talking about below.
While watching that link at Youtube, we came across a young lady who calls herself "Cats Will Rule." She has taken the Youtube slogan "Broadcast Yourself" quite literally.
The young lady below has excellent pitch and a "haunting" voice. [Her posture and breathing suggest she has not yet had training.] I can imagine her someday being "discovered," and if she is, I hope it doesn't ruin her seemingly happy life. Having said that, watch these clips and see if you agree that this "living room talent" has a unique sound. I have no idea who she is (and hope no one else does either), but if Catswillrule is to be "discovered," it may be a blessing in disguise if it isn't soon.

Speeding cars
Fields of Gold
In the Arms of the Angels
Just For Now
Hide and Seek
P.S. I haven't forgotten the Duncan Phyfe story... Please stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 14


Last summer, my daughter came back from a rummage sale with a gift for me: this antique 1940's Philco radio.

"I knew you'd like it, Dad," she smiled, "Even if you can't get it to work, it looks cool."

The parts were all there, but the cord had been yanked out. Before reattaching it, I took the insides out of the old wooden cabinet, tinkered with the tubes, and cleaned out decades of dust. Then I sanded and polished up the outside.

"The truth is, Honey...I don't know much about old radios. If your grandpa were here, he could help. He learned radio repair when he first worked for Bell Telephone. [Before my dad climbed his first pole for Bell Telephone, the company had already instatlled 30,000,000 phones in the United States. But Bell was about more than phones, they were about all forms of electronic communications.] Dad fixed people's radios in his spare time.The ones he couldn't fix he salvaged for parts and tubes. He had a boxes of tubes that looked like miniature modern buildings inside glass domes.

When these old radios were on, you could look through the holes in the back and the rows of tubes lit up like a tiny city at night."

Natalie's brow pressed down with the weight of a slowly forming thought:

"How do the tubes bring music out of the air?"

"I have no idea, Honey. No idea. In this room right now are all the radio waves of all the radio stations you know. They are here all around us all the time with or without a radio to receive them. Someplace far away, radio stations are sending out the signals--radio waves-- from tall antennas. It's been happening non-stop since radios became popular in the Thirties.

"Wait a minute, Dad. Do you mean waves like waves in the water?"

"Sort of, but less like the waves at the beach and more like the ripples in a pond when you throw a rock in the middle. The sending antenna at the radio station is like that rock and the waves go out from it. The "frequency" of the wave refers to how frequently the wavelengths go up and down. The low number radio stations send out waves that go up and down--in the air--less frequently than the high numbered radio stations."

"Is it sort of the same way the low notes on my guitar vibrate slower than the notes on high, tight strings?"

"Yes. Those are sound waves, but it is like that." I nodded, putting the last screw in the back of the radio.

"But if that's true, it seems like the high-numbered radio stations would sound like the Chipmunks."

"I see what you mean. If Grandpa were here, he could explain it better and tell us how those waves go through these tubes and come out this speaker. I don't know how it works. I just listen."

"It sure looks nice, Dad. Are you going to plug it in?"

I held the plug a half-inch from the socket.

"What do you think will happen?" she asked, stepping back.

"Probably nothing," I thought, then said,"Wouldn't it be cool if it started playing old songs and broadcasts from when it was new? Like they've been trapped inside the tubes all these years?"

My twelve-year-old looked at me as if to say, "That couldn't happen, Dad," but in my head I began to hear the Andrews Sisters. I imagined turning the knob and hearing Glen Miller's Moonlight Serenade or In the Mood or, perhaps, President Roosevelt's D-Day Prayer. .....[Take a moment to listen to the links for a hint of what I paused to imagine.]

"Go ahead, Dad. Plug it in."

Her voice brought me back to reality. I pressed the plug into the wall, closed my eyes and stepped back, knowing we'd more likely hear a big bang than a big band, but we heard nothing at all. I opened one eye and carefully looked through the holes in the back cover to see only the faint glow of a few tubes, too weak to resuscitate the dark ones around them. I turned the knobs. Still nothing, nothing but the smell of burning dust. I pulled the plug from the wall.

"If Grandpa were here, I'll bet he could get it to work," Natalie sighed.

"I'll bet he could, Nat. I'll bet he could."

_ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ ._

Forgive me for interrupting the flow of this unfolding story about the Duncan Phyfe with this odd account from 56 years later. I insert it here to reflect a touch of real time that relates indirectly to this tale.

In this type of writing, the present and the past must work together like sun and shadow for contrast as we focus on the things that do not change with time. Gathering thoughts for this story has evoked an interesting mix of memories and emotions, sun and shadow, past and present, all woven together and worn like an old flannel shirt. I'm not sure what it looks like to others, but it has become more comfortable with time.

As mentioned in the previous post, the next chapter picks up with Mom sitting in the '39 Ford, listening to the radio, waiting for Dad to swim back from Canada through the waves of the St. Clair River. The radio in that car was one of the first Dad fixed after taking those classes at Bell.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

An Aside

Some Background that may help Chapter 15

Before beginning Chapter 14 in earnest, I'd like to say that until the early 70's, the auto industry didn't put much thought into "crash safety." Seat belts, air bags, padded steering wheels, soft dashboards--no such thing! From the 30's through the mid-60's, the interior of cars was actually a gauntlet of hard, pointy surfaces ready to make an instant impression on passengers (in more ways than one).

Steering wheels were metal rings encased in plastic that was as hard as pool balls. In fact, sometimes drivers bolted on a knob the size of a cue ball to assist in steering with one hand. Those steering knobs could add an extra eye socket to your face in a crash.

The dashboard itself was hard metal often with fancy vents, the radio and other knobs right at face level so the person sitting in the middle of the front bench seat would have the channel changing buttons imbedded in his forehead in the event of a sudden stop.

Child seats of the day looked like toy folding chairs hooked over the seat. The child was not strapped in this perch. Heavens no. That would be way too restrictive, but don't worry, mothers instinctively backhanded the baby in the chest at each stoplight to make sure he was safe. All across the nation, thousands of cars had a child lounging for hours outstretched on the ledge inside the rear window, waving at the friendly policemen who thought nothing of it. I ought to know--the rear window was my favorite place to stretch out in the car.

The insides of cars have changed in the past three decades. It all started about the time we began hearing the "Buckle up for safety" song on the public service announcements, but I was ten years old before we owned a car that had seat belts. They really hurt when you sat on 'em so we always tucked them into the crack of the seat. Not until twenty years later did it become Michigan law to actually wear them. Now dashboards are smooth with hidden air bags in front of passengers, and we restrain our kids as much as possible.
But I digress. When we return to 1951...

Mom will be sitting in the '39 Ford, listening to the radio, waiting for Dad to swim back from Canada. One of the songs playing on the radio then was a new release in 1951 sung by Debbie Reynolds, called Aba Daba Honeymoon.

[That was a link to the 45. Mom preferred the movie cut. You may recall that this melody was borrowed in the 1970's jingle "Munchabuncha, munchabuncha, munchabuncha, munchabuncha. Fritos go with Lunch" .]

Reynolds had first sung the song in a movie called Two Weeks in Love, which Mom and Dad had seen the year before. To this day, Mom loves the old sing-along movies. She had been a tap dancer in the 30's and 40's, performing in USO shows, etc. Dad liked this playful, animated side of Mom, and even took dance lessons to try to keep up with her, but it was Mom who really got into scenes like this one in the movie from which the hit song sprang. She couldn't help but sing along when she heard them. If she was standing, she'd also do the choreography. (The song had first been a ragtime hit in 1914. It evidently gained some international appeal in the '80s, but it's really a simple silly song.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 13


It was late August, and by then the picnic lunches and Dad's swim to Canada had become a weekly routine. Each time, Dad offered to park his Bell truck downstream before they went to Pine Grove for lunch so Mom didn't have to wait, and each time Mom declined.

"It's bad enough you're swimming to Canada,” she complained, “I wouldn't think of going back to work wonderin' all afternoon if you made it back."

"Made it back? I'm making it back faster every week—I’ve shaved ten minutes off my time since last month."

"Yes, Don. You're a good swimmer," she paused. "Speaking of good little swimmers..." but Dad interrupted.

"Tell you what, Bev, if I cut off another two minutes today, next week we'll just eat and relax. ”

“Don, you talk as if someone is really keeping track of all this."

"I am keeping track of it."

"Well, whether or not you break your record, I do wish you'd quit. Honestly, I don’t know why you do it.”

“I guess it's because... I can; I like it; and it's free. There aren't many things in life we can say that about.” he smiled.

This much was true. In fact, in those early years, that trifecta [I can; I like it; and it's free] was the credo of Dad's recreational budget (not to mention a possible explanation for the Baby Boom itself).

What Dad didn't say, however, was that competing against himself helped suppress an impulse he disliked. It peaked when he boxed in the Golden Gloves. He had competed in football and track in high school, but boxing was different. He felt bad that it felt good to hit and hurt. A body shot to the ribs, a left to the eye, an uppercut to the chin, roundhouse that buckled his opponent’s knees.

Delivering such blows felt great from an arm's length, but he felt like a hypocrite every time he shook hands with a fella he had just clobbered senseless. He wondered sometimes which was more real: the smile he flashed when he said, “Nice match,” or the brutal glare that was in his eyes just moments before. He only knew from the cheer of the crowd that there was something both appealing and appalling about the brawl and the blood and the hand held high. Though it was his hand, he was secretly ashamed that his desire to win, to beat the other guy, felt momentarily like hatred.

He didn't like that feeling, and began avoiding any competitive situation that brought it on, but sometimes they found him anyway. Like the time he and Mom had some of “the boys” and their wives over for a nice quiet evening. One of the guys was a show off who claimed his vice grip could make a grown man cry. As they were saying goodbye for the evening, Dad mistakenly shook the big guy’s hand, and the two were instantly locked in an "Indian" arm wrestle right there in the entry way.

Above the straining groans, the two wives begged their husbands to stop, but Dad’s instincts were kicking in, and he set up an old trick that had worked so often on his older brother. He let the bigger guy bear down on him, then changed his own resistance to a yank, which pulled his friend flat-forward to the floor and face first into the wall—he literally broke through the plaster and came to rest with his head halfway in the hole. Jaws dropped in stone silence until the lummox staggered up, shook the plaster from his hair, and began laughing to save face (which was fortunately still in place). Every0ne started laughing but Mom. [Whenever Mom told the story to us kids, however, she could not hide a smile.]

It was boxing and experiences like putting his friend’s head through a wall, that made Dad want to redirect his competitive drive. Instead of “beating the other guy,” he chose to become the other guy by setting random goals for himself, like swimming to Canada and back over the noon hour. He would sometimes do things just to prove they could be done, and then having done them, he'd set out to do them better or faster. None of this, he knew, would make sense if he said it aloud, so he simply stared out at the river.

"I feel bad eating in front of you." Mom said.

"I'll eat my sandwiches when I get back. Here take my watch and don't forget to time me. I'm just waiting for the wake from that last ship to settle down a little. It's all clear after that," Dad said, and then he began the silly song he always sang when he took off his shoes and shirt before swimming:
......................... I'll try to help you with the melody
“One day I went in swimmin’ ... G.G.G.Gb.G.A.G.
where there were no women ... E.E.Eb.E.F.E.
down by the sea. ........... D.Db.D.A
Seeing no one there.......... Ab. A.B.A.F
I hung my underwear ........ F.E.F.A.G.E
upon a willow tree. .......... D,Db.D.A.Ab.G
I dove into the water .......... G.G.G.Gb.G.A.G.
just like Pharaoh’s daughter ..... E.E.Eb.E.F.E.
dove into the Nile, ............ D.D.Db.D.A
but someone saw me there..... A.Ab.A.B.A.F
and stole my underwear....... F.E.F.A.G.E
and left me with a smile.” ...... E.D.A.B.D.C
....................(That last "B" is the only note below the song's octave.)
"You think you're so funny," Mom said with a bite of her sandwich.

Dad kissed a bit of egg salad from her lip and stood up in his trunks to pull off his T-shirt. “Don't let anyone steal my clothes.”

He trotted down the grassy slope and upstream toward the bridge, then dove into the water, coming up twenty feet out, with the current carrying him downstream as he swam. His smooth, steady strokes and turning head moved with precision and a hint of pride, taking him further and further away until he was half-hidden beyond the swells and waves.
In a few minutes Mom would drive the Ford downstream and watch for his return, but for a little while she propped her arms behind and looked up through the dappled shade and speckles of sun.
[The name Pine Grove Park belies the fact that it is full not of pines but some of the largest oaks in Port Huron.]
Mom could hear the voices of children not far way on the swings, and the shrill to-and-fro squeaking of the chains matched the rhythm to her breath and calmed her anxious heart. Above the drone, the children’s teasing turned to song:
“John and Jenny sittin’ in a tree
first comes love,
then comes marriage,
then comes Jenny with a baby carriage!”
She had heard the childish chant a hundred times before, but never had it struck her as a simple statement of the time-honored expectations of life. For just a moment more, she fully reclined against the cool blanket, gently pressed her hand against her stomach, and smiled up at the sun through the trees.
[For those readers who like to see the real thing, through the magic of Google Maps, I can show you how this setting looks more than 50 years later.Here is Pine Grove Park. Dad actually walked further upstream near the Blue Water Bridge to dive in. This gave him enough distance in the St. Clair River to cross over and reach the narrow peninsula west of Exmouth Street in Sarnia, Ontario.He'd catch his breath there, then swim back and get out between Beers and Bard Street at the path just south of the trees at the end of the gravel road. I know this gravel road because it’s the same place my brothers and I exited the river many years later. If you miss that point, you end up in the downtown riverfront north of the Black River where onlookers think you're crazy for swimming in that swift, cold water. I confess that it's been several years since I have.]

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.

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