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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

Friday, December 07, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 21

The Only Catch

The classified ad that Mom had torn from the Times Herald had less than a dozen words and a phone number. “Good condition. Small mahogany Duncan Phyfe drop-leaf dinette table” and then, right in front of the price, was that word that signals a sure bargain: only.

The house was similar in age and size to the house in which their upstairs apartment was about ten eight blocks away. Dad pressed the doorbell twice, but the small button had been painted over many times and seemed stuck in place. Hearing no sound when he pushed it, he opened the screen and gently knocked on the door which immediately opened from inside, though only wide enough for an eye to peer through at him.

“Sorry. I didn’t think the door bell worked.”

“It works. Are you here about the Duncan Phyfe?” asked a voice.

“Yes. I called. I'm only looking for now—can't stay long.” Dad tried to sound half-interested to claim the upper hand as a buyer.

“Please go to the back door. My husband is in the mudroom.”
The closing door punctuated her words with a quiet thud.
“In the Mudroom?” Dad mumbled to himself, walking around back. “That doesn’t sound like a good place for a Duncan Phyfe.”

The back door was held open by a gray-haired man who beckoned Dad in with a smile. But for a few boxes, the mudroom was tidy and long since absent of any brooms and boots and crumpled coats that hinted at its name. There was also no sign of a table.

“It's right through here," the man said, "Don’t mind the mess. We’re in the middle of moving.”

Inside, his wife wove her way toward them through a maze of boxes with flaps woven shut. “Sorry I couldn’t open the door, but as you can see, the front room is stacked full.”

It’s funny how quickly perceptions can change. When Dad thought the lady was rude and the table was in a mudroom, his half-interest was easy to maintain, but seeing the couple standing there with warm smiles made him feel suddenly young and less confident. "Oh..." he stammered quickly taking off his hat, a custom he almost never forgot upon entering someone's home. Seeing the mahogany table, he stood there awkwardly as if waiting to be introduced.

“And here’s the Duncan Phyfe,” the lady sighed, dusting it off with her apron.

“Cute.” Dad said with a cough, almost choking on that little word. It’s not that the table was not cute—it was—but Dad almost never used the word “cute” and he had no idea it was in his mouth just waiting to jump out like that. Worse yet, the slip belied the disinterest he would need for dickering.

“It is a cute table,” the woman agreed, “but we just got a new Formica dinette set.” She pointed through the kitchen door to a small white table with a metal edge and chrome pedestal legs similar to those they had grown accustomed to.

“I've read about those new Formica tables. They can sure take a beating," Dad nodded. "About this one… Is this a real Duncan Phyfe?”

“Why sure it is,” the man insisted, but his wife interrupted.

“Actually... that depends on what you mean by real. If you mean was it made a hundred years ago by Duncan Phyfe himself. No, Dear. That would be in a museum. This is only about twenty years old, but it’s what anybody means when they say Duncan Phyfe. It's a design. The legs and lines and drawer-pulls…”

Dad began looking under the table as she spoke. “It’s nice and solid... dove-tailed drawers. Can I look at the chairs, or are they packed up?”

“Chairs?” the man asked.

"Yes. How many are there?" Dad asked.

“I'm sure the ad said 'table only.'"

Dad pulled the wadded scrap from his pocket. The words “table only" were indeed followed by a period, and then came the price.
“You're right. I thought you were emphasizing the price.”

“If that price included chairs, I'd buy it from myself!” the man joked.

Dad tried to laugh politely, but it was strained through a tight smile. Feeling foolish, he scratched the back of his neck and thought to himself out loud, “So there are no chairs… just a table."

“We had four chairs, but they matched my daughter’s Duncan Phyfe so we left them at her place for when they put the leaves in at Thanksgiving… Sorry.”

“No. I’m sorry. If I'd only read the ad as you wrote it, I would've... Oh, well, thanks anyway.” He stepped toward the door and lightly by the brim flipped his hat back onto his head.

“Look, Son. You can always get some chairs later. You need a table and we need it gone. What if I said take it home today for…” he looked at his wife winked… “five bucks?” The wife nodded.

Dad looked at the table again and took off his hat. “Don't get me wrong. I can pay that right now... but I need to think about the chair situation. Can you hold it for thirty minutes?"

“Go.” the lady swished him out the back door. “Ask the wife. I’d want him to do the same if it were for me. We'll wait for you.”

Like most husbands of that time, Dad was a bit autocratic. It was not a natural thing for him to "ask the wife" about purchases, and in this case Dad wanted the table to be a surprise. He had intended to let Mom think he'd ignored her hint and dismissed the idea for lack of space. But this no-chairs thing changed all that. He envisioned her waking up Christmas morning to see the table with a big red bow. “Surprise! Here’s the Duncan Phyfe you wanted, Honey. Chairs? You didn’t say anything about chairs.” He smiled at the thought then shook his head. Christmas was no time for disappointment.

Mom was just getting pans out for dinner when she heard him coming up the stairs.

“Hi, Don. Don’t worry about being late. I’m running behind, too.” She sniffed a little, trying to hide her face.
"What's wrong, Bev."
"Mr. Kellerman told me I was done at Star Oil on December 21st..." she began to cry.
"I thought you were going to work at least through January."
"I never got to tell them that. He just told me today that they wanted to give me a month's notice."
"You're not due until April."
"I know. Will we have enough saved up?"
He held her in his arms and stroked the back of her head."We'll be fine. It's just a month sooner than we thought. I'll start working nights at the post office. I heard they were hiring for the holidays. We'll be alright, Bev. It may be for the best. You said last week that your dress buttons are catching on your desk."
"They do. I pulled one off today." They laughed. Dad looked at her stomach for the gap. "I already sewed it back on.... That's when it happened. I was on my hands and knees looking for the button, and Mr. Kellerman walked up and found it by the wastebasket. Then he said, 'Won't be long now, Bev—and oh, by the way, we think it's best if you finish up in December... so you can enjoy the holidays and get ready for that baby. Your last day will be Friday, the 21st."
"That's all he said? Was he pleasant like that or upset?"
"No. He just said it matter-of-fact and handed me the button."
She pulled the hanky from her neckline and blew her nose. Dad leaned back without completely letting go of her, and then to change the subject, he took the ad from his pocket and held it in front of her face.
“Does anything sort of jump out at you when you read this?”

“Oh, Don. You remembered! Don’t tell me. I want to be surprised.”

“You’d be surprised alright. Hypothetically speaking. If a person were to hypothetically purchase this table. Would you say it comes with or without chairs …hypothetically.”

“Without. It says right there— ‘Table only.’”

“So you knew when you tore out this ad that this table has no chairs—hypothetically…” he said blankly.

“Don. You said yourself we don’t have room for the table. Where on earth would be put the chairs?”

“Well..." he glanced around, "That's a good question, but what’s the point of having a Duncan Phyfe table if you can’t sit at it?”

“I've always wanted one for when we have company. For now we could use any ol’ chairs..." For an instant her eyes showed the weight of practical thought, but she blinked and shook it off with a gleeful smile. "Did you go look at it? What’s it like. Did you get it?”

“Bev, you can’t in one breath say you want to be surprised and in the next ask if I got it.”

“Forget the surprise part. Did you get it?”

“No…” he said, keeping his five-dollar secret behind a devilish smile, “...but we can go get it right now. He’s holding it for me.”

“Right now? Don’t we need to borrow a trailer or something?”

“There’s no time for that," he said, grabbing her coat from the closet. "These people are moving and want me to take it tonight. It’s only seven or eight blocks away. Button up. I'll need you to drive.”.
To be continued soon...


Blogger Nancy said...

How funny is that? The word "only" does make a difference. I can just feel the excitement as your parents go to get the Duncan Phyfe. I imagine my daughter and her husband felt the same way, as they selected their family room furniture this week, for their new home. What a special time in the lives of newlyweds! Thanks for sharing and have a great weekend.

8/12/07 11:39 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I thought of that when I read about your daughter's new house. Sounds like they're off to a great start.

The next part of this story is true (some details had to be fleshed out). I've heard it told many times. I've told the story aloud before, but writing it has been a challenge. Hope it translates to the "printed page" okay.

8/12/07 11:52 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Why is it that women always read things more closely than their menfolk? I probably would never have seen the word ONLY in there either but seeing the Duncan Phyfe, now I know why my sister negotiated for my mothers end table, when we were splitting up the furniture after her passing. It has the same legs and same drawer.

Not that I mind because our house is furnished with trash picked rehabbed stuff.

Your fathers ways with money sounds like my wifes, O the stares I get when I spend money on nothing with out any viable return. Hey I like watching the little wheels go round when I pull the handle.

Getting there Tom, your getting there. So did Mom ever go pack to work after she birthed baby #1?



9/12/07 5:44 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

And we only have to wait for a little while for the rest of the story.

9/12/07 1:22 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

TWM Mark,
To paraphrase some of the genious in the traditional West Michigan furniture industry: Furniture is where form meets function. So if you have works... can't complain about that.
Yes, I'm getting there. I need a week in a cabin with nothing to do but write, but I'm getting there. The next chapter has been a challenge. Hoping to post it tonight. Thanks for asking about my Mom. Star Oil, December 1951 was her last paycheck in life. I get to that in the dénouement chapters after 22.

Dr. John,
You of all people from the start have been most patient with this story so I hope you enjoy the next chapter.

9/12/07 5:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm "catching up" with the story! I can 'relate' to your mom not being able to work during pregnacy. Even back in the '60's there was still discrimination with that. I even remember being asked what kind of "birth control" I was on as they didn't want to train someone to only have them leave due to being "in the family way".

11/12/07 11:48 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Hi, Anon,

Things have really changed for the better in that department. In my mom's case, they had already decided (along with 99% of all Baby Boom parents) to live on Dad's income, but she was not ready to be told this when she was still over 4 months from her due date. The employers were very nice to her, though. Glad you're getting caught up. I realize that typical "blog" post should be shorter than these have been. =)

11/12/07 5:15 PM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

ahhh, but shorter wouldn't have given us the necessary details to this story Tom. thanx for taking your time to make sure every detail's in place.

my perception changed also about what i thought was rudeness, right along with your Dad's.

i saw the word "only," because you highlighted it in bold writing, which let me know there was a meaning behind that word, only i couldn't figure it out before i read what "only" really meant.

i started from chapter 23, then read chapter 22, and now chapter 21, and back to chapter 22, so i'm all caught up.

17/12/07 6:58 PM  

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