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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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 17

Cause for Joy and Thanksgiving

When some couples find out they're expecting a baby, they just begin blurting it out to everyone they meet. Exciting news is hard to contain. Others pause just long enough to think about who to tell "first" before they start telling everyone. In both my parents' families it was expected for news like this to start at the trunk of the family tree and work out from there. So after work, Mom and Dad stopped by Mom's folks first as if for no reason at all.

They hurried up the wooden steps by the back porch swing, and stepped into the house with a loud "Hello." I have entered my grandma's house many times myself, and it may be helpful if I share the family secret of how to interpret the word "hello."

Whenever we enter a house unannounced "hell-O-o" has an inflection all its own. It becomes three syllables with a slight melodic rise in the middle. It means, “We’re here. We’re making ourselves at home.” If it doesn't evoke a response from the rooms of the house. It's followed by a "Hello?" just two syllables with the rise at the end. The second pronunciation means: "Is anybody here?" If neither “hello” is heard, we repeat steps one and two only louder.

Knowing how to interpret the returned "hello" is even more important. If the replying "hello" has two syllables and begins high and fades low it means "I recognize that voice. Glad you dropped by." If it's coming from the main floor, has two syllables with a rise at the end it means “I'm not sure who you are, but I'm coming to find out.” If the replying "hell-O-o" has three syllables with a slight melodic rise in the middle and it’s shouted from the second floor, it means "Don't come up the stairs. I'm on the toilet, and the door's open."

Fortunately for Mom and Dad, a collective "hello" came from the kitchen table. Grandpa, Grandma, Great Grandpa Collinge and Mom's brother Richert (It's actually Richard, but Mom always puts a "T" at the end) were just sitting down to dinner. Stepping around the corner toward the voices, Mom and Dad tried to act normal, but their eyes gave them away; then their smiles joined their eyes. Mom's shoulders tensed up like she had to go to the bathroom, and she just shouted, "We're gunna have a baby!" "Ofergosh!" her mother gaped. Everyone cheered and laughed and hugged, but there was no time to stay long. More people to tell.

They headed across town to Griswold Street to tell Dad's folks. There, they stood on the front porch, rang the door bell, and waited until the door gently opened. It was always more formal at Grandma K's house, but once the news was shared, the same hugs of joy were shared. From there, they went from house to house, telling siblings, aunts and uncles, and eventually their closest friends. That night at home, they made phone calls to the people they missed.

When sharing this kind of news, it’s important to make each person feel like they’re among the first to know by adding the line, “We’re not telling everyone yet.” Those five magic words insure that the grapevine news will quietly spread as every new informant in turn “doesn’t tell” a soul and tells that person not to tell anyone else since, after all,, “They’re not telling everyone yet.”

Between all the "telling" and “not telling,” the news spreads with joyful urgency, and in a day or two all the right people know. They've either heard it first-hand from the couple or second-hand from a friend so that they think they know something they're not supposed to know. Everyone is happy. This is as it should be whenever big news spreads from the inner to outer circles of life.


It goes without saying that the shift from young married couple to parents-to-be is the most dramatic change of adulthood. Not only because of the lifestyle adjustments that come with children themselves, but because something else begins to happen. At first it's barely perceptible. We may not see the clocks moving faster, but the tempo of life picks up. It starts right after that first calculation of nine months, and it doesn’t slow down until… Come to think of it, I’m not sure that it ever slows back down.

Once we comprehend that “two shall become one” and “bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh” becomes a new living soul, we simply begin to measure time differently. Or perhaps it’s then that time begin to measure us. In either case, the years don't seem to stretch as far ahead. Time pleasantly closes in —our focus closes in—and all that loomed beyond our sight now blurs from just an arm’s length... at the thought of a baby there.

It's when time wraps round us like a blanket, that past and present and things to come seem equally close. This tangle of time confuses the mind. We wonder whether events long past can really be that far away, and in the same breath, we doubt that the present is really here and mumble quiet questions to ourselves, like "Can it be November already?"

That's how it felt for Mom and Dad that first autumn. The spangle of summer sun and shade gave way to falling leaves and shiny horse chestnuts resting in the cracks along the walk. September and October passed, and by Thanksgiving, Mom was mid-term with that motherly glow that even a winter coat can't hide.

Their first Thanksgiving dinner was spent with Mom's folks in the house on the S.E. corner of Forest and Riverview where Mom was born and spent every day of her life until the wedding. They'd been there for other meals since the wedding, but there was something special about stepping into the house that day.

Mom caught herself touching things with quiet affection... grandfather's bedposts where they put their coats, the little bean bag ashtrays on the arm of the couch, the yellowed ivory keys of the piano that was silent since she'd left, the two-button light switch on the stair, the white porcelain knobs on the bathroom. It all felt so good, so familiar, that once again she wondered when it is that someplace else begins to feel like home. With a baby on the way, the question seemed more important than ever.

She helped her mother finish setting the table as Don and her Dad went downstairs to stoke the furnace.

"It's good to be home, Mom." she said, pouring the glasses. “The smell of that bread brings back memories.”

"It's good to have you home. Is everything alright?"

"It's great. Everything is fine." She paused, "Mom, when you and Daddy first got married, did you ever feel homesick to be here?"

"Something terrible. That's normal. But your dad and I had to move back home in '30—just before you came—so I can't tell you if it goes away."

"So you lived in this house your whole life except the first two years you were married?" Mom asked as if it had never occurred to her.

"Yes, and that was what... over twenty years ago."

"And then I lived here from the day I was born in the front bedroom 'til the night before my wedding. No wonder I've got it so bad!" They both laughed and stepped back to look at the table.

"Your new table looks nice, Mom. Maybe that's what Don and I need: a nice dining room table like yours."

[Grandma's mother, my great grandmother, whose house this was, had passed away two years before. Not until then did my grandma have her father's blessing to replace the old dining room table with one of her choice. The Duncan Phyfe style had experienced a revival of sorts after this art show in 1929. Twenty years later, the name was adjective.]

"Bev, I've been in your apartment. You haven't got a dining room. What would you do with a table like this?"

"Oh, it wouldn't have to be this big." She looked under the table at the two "banana peel" Duncan Phyfe legs, "It wouldn't have to be a double pedestal. They make 'em smaller. I saw a used one for sale in the classifieds yesterday. I tore it out, but I haven't shown Don. I know what he'll say."

"It's true that these Duncan Phyfes fold up nice. That's why I chose this style, but I still don't see where you'll put one. You might ought to wait 'til you have a house."

"I just want to look at it. Maybe Saturday. I hope they don't sell it before then."

Grandma carried the turkey in from the kitchen and with a voice far less dignified than the elegant spread before her, she hollered for the men to join them. As they sat down to the table and joined hands to pray, they were unaware of a simple fact that would never again be true. Never again when the family gathered around Grandma's Thanksgiving table would there be no child in the room.
[By the time I was old enough to remember, the children outnumbered the adults.]
Note: This chapter may still need some development, but I wanted to post it today anyway. At this moment our house is full of guests is resting after a fine dinner. Mom's here by the way, she's doing well in spite of her discomfort. My sister and brother-in-law are taking a walk. The TV is is turned to a football game, but I'm not sure anyone is watching.. My little nephews are playing with toys on the floor. Everyone else is looking at some of Emily's wedding pictures. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that it felt like "home" no matter where you were.


Blogger Donnetta Lee said...

Hello, POI! I confess, I just dropped in to say hi and haven't read your post yet. I'm sure it's excellent, as always! I promise to go back and read. Just wanted to thank you for saying Happy Thanksgiving. I am feeling some better. Have been diagnosed with severe vitamin D deficiency. Much to learn about this and have started D therapy. Doc is still watching for autoimmune problems, but so far nothing/all is well. Take care. Happy Thanksgiving. Hope you had a good one, my friend.

23/11/07 4:37 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Donnetta Lee,
Sorry to hear about your set back. I've been out of the loop a little while, too. Take your time and take care of yourself. Have a good weekend.

23/11/07 7:23 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

Tom, what a lovely story. I'm just catching up on my blogging, so I read the last two posts today. Your Mom and Dad sound like such a lovely young couple in these stories. I'm so happy for them. :-)

I love the way you described the various "hellos" and what different means they have. It's so true, isn't it? I hadn't thought of it before.

I'm looking forward to reading more.

24/11/07 4:16 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Thanks for the Thankgsgiving greeting. We did have a very nice day. It was a little sad knowing this is only the beginning of the first holiday season without Dan's dad. He was always so full of love and life he will really be missed. I know the kids especially will miss playing on the floor with all their old and new toys with him. Mom and Dad's anniversary is also soon, Dec. 2 and then Don's birthday was January 3. So we will be getting all the "first times without" over at the same time. I know though each year it will still be hard time.

I love this story, I imagine that although the details would be different, many young couples of that time experienced the same stuff. I think of my grandparents everytime I read this.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Julie B. Muskegon

24/11/07 6:08 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks for stopping by, friend.
That hello discussion was not in the first draft, but I tried to write "hell-O-o" phoneticaly the way my mom always said it when we stepped into Grandmas and there was no shorter way to explain it. I can hear their voices doing it, and yes, I can even hear my Grandma's voice coming down the stairs as a warning for us to stay downstairs. =)

Julie B.
I'm so glad it's "readable" and makes sense to others and that it evokes memories from that era.

All the firsts you described are very hard, but I would suggest that you embrace them, share them, laugh and cry through them together. It is only through exercising the sorrow that the ache deep inside becomes a special kind of joy, but I do know that ache. We'll be praying for you.

24/11/07 6:34 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Here's to a joyful holiday season, POI..it seems we are both enjoying all each day has to bring !! Amy

25/11/07 11:09 AM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

thank you tom for your comments on my blog. i did have a good thanksgiving; it was very peaceful and i thoroughly enjoyed it. sounds like you all had a great time as well.

not only did we have a dining room table with legs like that when i was growing up, but my mom had end tables also. love all the vivid descriptions in the story, and i really like about the reflections of past, present and future, along with the picture. this story is an heirloom of sorts that will be passed down in your family thru generations to come. i'm really enjoying it. have a great weekend.


25/11/07 11:16 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Amy, (AKA A brand new MS English teacher),
We haven't heard from you in ages. That means your first semester is going great, right? Just as you were ready for this Thanksgiving weekend, you will be very ready for your first Christmas Break, but you will also look forward to going back to your students and classroom. So how does teaching compare to practicing law?

HC, Sylvia,
Thanks for reading the details and affirming that they made sense.
When we're young, time seems very linear, like that country road, stretching out for miles ahead. Then kids come and it seems like a crowded minivan.
I wouldn't change a thing. =)
I hadn't thought of this story or any of my writing as a legacy or heirloom, but that is very sobering thought, isn't it? That's true about much of life, but especially true of written thought. Thanks for the good reminder.

25/11/07 5:07 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Hello Tom (and that is with a southern dilect but we usually just say hey)! Another great post and just in time for Thanksgiving. I appreciate your kind comments and the update on your mom. It sounds like Emily enjoyed sharing her wedding photos which was the same at our household for Katherine. Blessings to you and your family- I look forward to chapter 18... this is such a fun adventure.

26/11/07 12:25 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I love Southern dialects, but won't begin to try to write them phonetically. =)
They were only "wedding proofs" but everyone enjoyed them and my brother Jim shares some special ones he took that day.
It was a great day that gave us "pause" as described in Chapter 18.

26/11/07 10:12 PM  

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