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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

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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Blogger Dr.John said...

I love your on going story. I wish I could write like you. You bring the history of your family to life.

30/10/07 7:12 AM  
Anonymous Rhea said...

I'd always heard of the rabbit test but didn't know how it worked exactly. Sounds cruel, actually.

30/10/07 8:49 AM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

The rabbit died, eh? Hadn't heard that expression before. This is a great series that you are doing and of course it was nice to have Nat King Cole at the end.

30/10/07 10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most men would avoid that first topic but I actually laughed about the women only part and thought the grandmother part was touching but scary for your mother. It is interesting to me that you choose pictures to illustrate awkward things. The leaf is not about fall. Am I right.

30/10/07 10:54 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks, Dr. John.
We're only a couple chapters away from the one you've been waiting for (the title chapter =).

The fact that the rabbits were routinely killed does seem like something labs would never get away with these days, but it didn't raise many eyebrows for about 30 years. There was a different method that used a certain breed of male toads. That other method did not kill the toad, but rabbits were more plentiful and they breed like... well...rabbits, so there was no shortage.

Google those three words "the rabbit died" and you'll read much more about it. Like Rhea said, it's hard to imagine now, but that was how they used to do it.

I thought about leaving it out, but it is a very compelling moment in my mom's life. They just didn't talk about things like that back then. Now we probably talk about too much and shorten childhood with information and advertising for dysfunction before kids even know the function.

My next post uses some fall pictures, but you are correct...that picture of the leaf was chosen for that specific paragraph. I try to be subtle about delicate matters.

30/10/07 4:37 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

Oh, that's hysterical...! Am I going to die? I laugh because I seem to have heard that once or twice myself. Heh.

What a lovely story.

I remember hearing the expression "the rabbit died" but I didn't know exactly how it was meant. That's very interesting.

30/10/07 10:59 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Thank you so much for stopping by my site and for your kind words. I can see that I need to go back and pick up the history from the beginning. Very well written. And very brave of you!

Let's keep in touch. I am glad to have a man's perspective!

31/10/07 8:10 AM  
Blogger Cris said...

This was the first time I had heard about the rabbit thing as well and wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. You're right, in this day and age it seems kind of cruel. But I guess that can be applied to a lot of things. Like what Jews had to do for the atonement of sin before Jesus came along. Something like that sounds really cruel, but I doubt they even batted an eye back then.

I also just want to let you know that even though I may not always have a response, I just want to let you know that I really do enjoy reading the story about your parents. You truly have a gift for storytelling.

31/10/07 11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought so. You did something like that at the begiining on the wedding night. I like that you do not come right out and say things.

31/10/07 3:50 PM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

Need I start campaigning to "Save the Rabbit," afterall, time will tell all things.

31/10/07 4:28 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

It would be frightening especially when those who could have prepared her never quite knew how to bring up the subject.
I'm surprised how unfamiliar people were with that expression and bit of medical history.

Other than the disadvantage of reading posts backwards, you may find it a decent read now that it's up to chapter 15.

Thanks for stopping by and reminding me that not all readers comment. I have no "hit" software so I don't know how many people ever stumble by POI, but it's nice to know the story "reads" alright.

Chapter 3 was a challenge so I went with a vague metaphor approach. I think I'm done with the chapters that need subtle treatment.

Can you imagine all the PETA "marchers" outside the pregnancy labs if this was still happening. Ironic, isn't it, that some groups today would protest to save the life of rabbits used in pregnancy tests but not speak out on behalf of the unborn child in the pregnancy. Much has changed in 50 years.

31/10/07 6:45 PM  

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