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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 10, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 13

Secrets

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
K-I-S-S-I-N-G,
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.]

16 Comments:

Blogger SusieQ said...

I really liked this one about your dad's fight with his basic instinct to compete. It reminds me so much of my husband and how competitive he was as a young man. He was in his thirties the evening he accepted a swimming challenge from a fellow business associate. We had just finished a steak dinner at a weekend business retreat. Wives were invited to it too. Anyway after this big steak dinner in which my husband managed to gorge himself with not only his steak but half of mine too, he raced this business associate across the swimming pool at the hotel where we were staying. Afterwards both men were sick. As I recall, my husband went to our room and threw up.

At the end of your story, were you hinting that your mom was pregnant? Sounds like it.

I am going to miss your stories. I have to take time off from blogging for a while in order to devote my attention to helping our oldest daughter out with her family. She works full time, is single, and has four children one of which is a special needs child with emotional problems. I'll be gone from the blogs for a month or so. But I will return. Keep on writing.

10/10/07 10:58 PM  
Blogger Cris said...

I can't wait to read your dad's response when he finally hears what your mom tried to tell him. :P

11/10/07 9:45 AM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I haven't been around for a bit but I see you are still producing the wonderful stories in this series. I am amazed at your attention to detail. It really makes the tale come to life. Thank you for the glimpse into your parent's life. Swimming to Canada is such a lovely thing to be able to do.

11/10/07 12:33 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Again, somethings never change. Most men still do not get subtle hints and most women still have not learned to just say what they mean. Although, it fun to try to surprise the new father. Love this story, it is amazing how much of the central themes can still be seen in todays relationships. Can't wait to read more!

Julie B.

11/10/07 4:26 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

SQ,
There is something about that competitive nature, I saw it come out in Dad later on in life with Ping Pong, he became very good and we used to go to tournaments. He used to win in his age bracket. Then later on he became a very serious cyclist, setting and breaking personal distance records. I'm a lot less like that.

Here I thought I was being subtle with my foreshadowing, but you ladies picked right up on it.

Sorry you're going to be gone for a while but more important things are calling. Good choice! I will be wrapping this up in the weeks ahead. Don't know what I'll do after that, but the holiday season will be here soon.

Cris,
Back then woman had to go to the doctor to know for sure, and at this point she was eager to make that appointment.

LGS,
So glad you stopped by. Sorry to hear about your loss. Hope you and your family are drawing close and doing well. Since you've been gone for a while, I'll say what I said in some comments a while back. This started out as a single post "short story." I have not even gotten to that chapter yet, but I have my reasons for doing this. It's been fun and somewhat enlightening even for me as I've visited with my mom about it.

Julie B,
We men do miss the obvious. Glad you're up and about.
Hey Everybody, this is Julie B from Michigan. She and her husband just added to their family with this beautiful girl!

11/10/07 9:17 PM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

That fighting pic is quite impressive. Unlike the inmates I see out on the prison yard windmilling, slapping at the air, never connecting.

11/10/07 10:27 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

JRT,
That photo of Dad was in the Port Huron Times Harald a couple years before this story. Dad was a big believer in the jab at close range. This one connected, but was not quite what he was going for. Later on, when my brothers and I were old enough, we all got boxing gloves for Christmas and he taught us each to box--not for competition; he didn't want that--just because Dads back then thought it was important to know how to stick up for yourself when it was the right thing to do. It does give a young man confidence.

12/10/07 6:30 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Your dad's desire to compete, reminds me of my son Ben. Always the athlete and finding creative ways to get all of that out of his system. One morning during his high school years, he walked to school (at least 8 miles or more) to try to "one up" a buddy that rode to school in a wheelbarrow with the help of a "crazy" friend that pushed him the entire way. (I am not sure I will ever understand that desire but I embrace it.)

I can just picture your mom, hearing the childhood chant, and then experiencing a chill of excitement as she visualizes the future. What a special time of their lives together! Thanks for sharing with us. I look forward to more.

PS- It is finally cool in NC- 48degrees this AM. I head to Michigan next Thursday. YEA! I will think of your parents love story during my visit to that neck of the woods.

12/10/07 9:55 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Nancy,
I remember that post about your son hiking for a very long time--was it a year?--in the mountains. That is the kind of thing Dad would do--but not for a year. He and my brother Dave rode their bikes along the shoreline from Port Huron to Mackinac Island and back. It was well over 1,000 miles. I didn't go. I lived in Iowa at the time, and the thought of being away from my family for two weeks (not to mention riding 100 miles a day and sleeping on the ground) didn't trip my trigger at the time.
Funny thing about that childhood chant. It contains some basic assumptions about life that held true for centuries: boy meets girl; boy falls in love with girl/girl falls in love with boy; they get married; start a family; and the girl assumes the most "motherly" role. I'm afraid some special interest groups would not consider it very politically correct anymore--but kids then and now don't worry about such things.
I forgot you were coming to the Great Lake State to see your sister. I am at this moment in the Detroit area. We're over here for a baby shower--actually my brothers and I will be watching the Michigan game while the ladies are at a baby shower (another basic assumption in life... men don't do baby showers or bridal showers, and men don't throw "tool showers" for their friends. Men don't go to showers, we take them. =)
Anyway, post about your journey "up north" and be sure to see some of the sights. Go to an apple orchard or two, and take a ride east to Port Huron or west to Grand Haven. It's worth the trip.

12/10/07 10:31 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

I think it is brave of you to write about your parents' early lives together. Most people don't want to think about their parents at this time in their lives, nor would they want to write about it in detail. =) I think it is sweet, and I hope your Mom is okay with you sharing such intimate details. I hope she supports you, because I am anxious to read more!
By the way, if I had heard this chant in the early weeks of my first pregnancy, I would have burst into tears. It's one of the regrets I have in life...I didn't enjoy those 9 months as I should have.

12/10/07 10:41 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

well told as usual Tom but i don't have any sympathy for your father's reluctance to have felt proud to have beat his opponents in the GG tournaments.

I guess that's because I never fight with gloves on and the 8 broken knuckles, each broken more than once, I've had are now turning slightly arthritic.

I Don't have a clear reason for despising competition so I end it one way or the other as quickly as possible then walk away and think no more on it.

mark

13/10/07 6:21 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Jody,
It has been interesting trying to discreetly write about some of this especially in the earlier chapters (at Aunt Edith's), but the tricky part is not that my mom is uncomfortable with it. She's always been pretty open with us kids. The tricky part is saying “delicate things” in such a way I don't "shock" any of my readership (especially those I know in our real world like you) and yet I don’t want to be completely Victorian either…so I try to write in ways that adults can read between the lines. So far you guys have been catching on pretty good. It's been challenging. My mom is more than okay with it. In fact, this morning she helped me with some of the next chapter. It was fun.

TWM,
Sounds like you have become a much more peaceful man than your former self. You know me...I like the kinder, gentler, "G" rated Mark, and it's much easier on your knuckles. =)

13/10/07 10:04 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

I can hardly wait for your next post. Your Mom and Dad sound adorable. He's the typical male, all blustery, and she's the typical female, sweet and loving. It makes me chuckle.

14/10/07 12:45 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

It seems like men, especially young men, are forever trying to impress their girl. I'm sure there was some of that going on, but even decades later, when we were building the barn or house with Dad, he was a man of goals that sometimes took us late into the night to meet. I confess, we did not always share the goals or the sense of satisfaction when the goal was met. We sometimes ate supper at 10:00PM on Saturday night, but I'm not complaining. We learned much from it.

14/10/07 1:11 AM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

tom, when you said your mom said, "speaking of little swimmers," i thought then she was pregnant, and after reading the comments, i was right. yeaaaaa! i was able to read between the lines. *lol*

i always wonder how people can box and beat each other up like that. just don't understand it--not even for money.

15/10/07 10:00 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

HC,
My mom has always had a way with awkward little hints like that. Sometimes we know what she's talking about sometimes it goes over our heads. Men find it frustrating when women do this... or when they say something backwards or don't finish a sentence, and the other women say "Well, I knew exactly what she meant."
=)

22/10/07 6:57 AM  

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