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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, November 19, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 16

The past few weeks have been busy. Lots of distractions from the Duncan Phyfe, but I've been writing when I can and am determined to continue brushing up my notes for the remaining chapters. Thanks for your patience. At the end of Chapter 15, Mom had just told Dad that she was pretty sure she was expecting. She had to go in for "a rabbit test" that afternoon, and they'd know in a week.

Secret Smiles. Secret Fear

Mom and Dad decided not to tell anyone the news until the doctor told them for sure, but between them their secret prompted smiles out of the blue, followed by a gentle "What?" followed by "Nothing..." and another smile. In front of others, their eyes smiled while their mouths tried not to. Dad was a natural whistler, but when he was especially happy, he almost forgot he was whistling and embellished his tunes with trills. Around the apartment and at work, he'd been whistling "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" like a song bird since Friday.

The last two days of waiting for the rabbit's news were filled with quiet anxiety for Mom. What if she'd miscalculated? What if she wasn't pregnant at all? In her most private moments, behind closed doors, she winced to cast a downward glance for fear that it might break her heart. Strange that the very thing that made her scream that day she stepped from childhood, the thing that brought her grandmother up the stairs, the thing that by then had become a pattern of life, a monthly mask to wear, a private conversation with herself… The thought of it happening now, she knew, was more than she could bear.

Star Oil was not Mom’s first job. My mom had worked at the Dime Store before taking a job as the elevator operator at Sperry’s, the biggest department store in Port Huron. The job paid only 40 cents per hour, but she liked it because she worked with her friend Donna (who would later become my Aunt). Whenever the K__ brothers, Don and Jack, came into Sperry’s Mom would zip up the second floor to tell Donna and then they’d both act surprised to see their boyfriends in the store. Mom obviously had her mind on the job at all times. Unfortunately, she once got so flustered when her high school typing teacher, Miss French, got on the elevator and saw her talking through the closing door to Dad, that she went down instead of up and went past the basement—the one thing she was warned not to do. Somehow the Sperry’s elevator could go three feet past the lowest level, and when it did it got stuck and the maintenance man had to up to the roof to wench the elevator up out of the pit. Mom apologized to her teacher as she was crawling up out of the elevator onto the basement floor, but her boss was standing there with less of a smile than her teacher had. Some time after that, Mom no longer worked at Sperry’s.

She then worked as a long distance operator on the switchboard. Mom thought she would like it because she liked talking to people, but nobody really wants to talk to an operator. One customer was asking for Jeddo, a small town north of Port Huron, but Mom thought the man was saying "Jello." The two had a laugh, and that was the closest thing to a conversation she had while working the board. She never talked much about this job. In fact, I didn't know she and Dad had both worked at Bell together (for a short time) until writing this chapter.

She applied at Star Oil and got called back the same day, but in response to “When can you start?” she said “Mr. Kellerman, you don’t want to hire me for accounts receivable… I flunked bookkeeping. The only thing I remember from the class is that bookkeeping is the one word in the English language with three double letters in a row.” But her new boss assured her that they would teach her everything they expected of her.

She liked this job, and didn’t want to do anything to disappoint Mr. Kellerman, but on this day, she had to bend one of the rules just a little bit.

And so it was when Friday morning came, seven days after her visit to Dr. Licker’s office, at 11:01, mom picked up the phone she had been staring at all morning and called for the results of the pregnancy test.

Personal calls were not permitted during office hours, but Mom was certain Mr. Kellerman would consider this an exception…if he knew its importance...which, of course, he could not know..

Her desk was not far in the corner, so she acted all-business as she dialed the number and was told that the doctor would be with her in a few minutes. She nodded to the silence as if listening to an important customer, nonchalantly doodling on a steno pad for effect. Without thinking, her pencil began sketching the torso and head of an upright rabbit, paws poised as if in prayer..

Suddenly she sat up in her chair, eyes wide, hiding her mouth behind the phone. “Are you sure?” she whispered. Still listening, the pencil finished the face of the rabbit with two straight lines for eyes, and she turned the pad sideways as if to lay the poor creature to rest..

“Thank you, Dr. Licker. So…I’ll see you next when?… a month or so? What do I do 'til then?”

Dr. Licker's voice was calming but the words themselves seemed to fall like buttons from a jar. Whatever else he said, she didn’t hear. If she mumbled a farewell, she did not recall. She sat there in a daze with the mute phone pressed against her ear until a sudden dial tone brought the room back into focus. She took a deep breath, cradled the phone in place, and tried to hide her smile.


A few miles away, Dad was packing his Bell truck at a phone installation. He'd finished the job sooner than usual, and drove along the river to pause at the place mom first told him the news. He would not be swimming today. He knew, in fact, that it would be some time before he'd swim across the river again, and it was that thought that drew him to the spot. He was not disappointed—he was not afraid, but a serious look from somewhere deep behind his eyes peered out at the passing water. He was still happy at the thought of becoming a dad, but there in that moment the playful song of the week changed to a different tune, Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy."

.As he idled down the street toward Pine Grove, the September breeze came in through his rolled-down window. He began whistling the tune that was playing in his mind. He did not recall its name; he did not recall that he'd first heard it a few summers before; he did not know all the words.… he did not know he was whistling at all. He only knew that he was meeting his wife for lunch in ten minutes, and she would know for sure by then. Turning off the truck not far from their picnic spot, the whistling melody faded, and he softly sang the part of the song he knew....

............. “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
............. Is just to love and be loved in return…”


[That last link, Nature Boy, is a song that had been number one the summer after Dad graduated from high school. He still sang and whistled it later in life sometimes when I was working with him on the house. I was hoping to find a Youtube video of someone like Bing Crosby whistling, because that is what Dad sounded like, but I didn't find anything (except this Whistling Jack Smith hit from the Sixties. (My brother Paul bought that 45, and all us boys used to whistle along, but Dad did not act like that guy when he whistled. He just breathed out a tune and went on with whatever else he was doing.]


Blogger the walking man said...

You do realize that you have wonderful novella size true history going here, that is very interesting, and would be widely received by more than just your POI audience, don't you?



19/11/07 7:21 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Mark,You can't imagine how encouraging that is. My first goal is to finish a readable draft for Mom and my siblings to give them for Christmas.
The story has morphed into something beyond my writing experience, but doing it justice has become important to me. Thank you so much for your kind words.

19/11/07 7:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMIGOSH TWM is right!!!! Here we are waiting for each installment (chapter???) and it never occurred to me until now.
Hope the encouragement will gather "wings" or "feet" and help you find a great publisher!!! Even though we've all read it, I'd bet we'd also purchase a copy (or more for gifts).
Have a "Happy Thanksgiving"! :-)
Anonymous #1

19/11/07 9:26 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

Another great chapter. It brings back memories of Betty's first pregnancy.

19/11/07 1:03 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Anon #1,
We all know there is a painful gulf between compiling pages and being "published" (beyond the little publishing I have known), but I may muster up the courage to explore the idea once I have a sense of completion. I am almost too close to this story to look at it objectively, but thank you and TWM for the kind affirmation.

Dr. John,
Thanks for your faithful "visits." I will be dropping in on you soon. Anything besides a turkey being roasted on Thursday up your way? I hear that's your birthday. Hmmmm...
(Remember, Folks, if you know Dr. John (or want in on the fun) Margaret left instructions in the comment section of the post below this one.)

19/11/07 4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend sent me here from her blog. I have some catching up to do. I will go back to the beginning when I have more time to, but I am already curious about this couple and what they have to do with a table. Rabbit test? I am really curious now.

19/11/07 10:53 PM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

wow tom, i can't believe you left us hanging like that! LOL just kidding! i know you're writing by chapters, but the reading is good and the waiting sure seems long. LOL

i really enjoyed the musical act between you and your father on the video. LOL ok, i'm joking; i know it wasn't you all.

the world has come a long way in how long one must wait for the pregnancy test results. now, most people initially go to the store and buy one of those kits where they can know the results in minutes, then they go to the dr.

19/11/07 11:03 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

As HC says below you in the comments, it has been a slow process, but you have time to get caught up. The rabbit test part is in Ch. 15 (October 29)

Not until I typed that last sentence in the above comment did I realize that more than two weeks passed between Ch. 15 and Ch.16, which in a real book would probably be one chapter. I'm not leaving you hanging on purpose...thanks for not leaving.

Better that life gets in the way of writing than for writing to get in the way of life.

It's a layer cake I'm baking. =) The good news is that the delay has made the remaining chapters fit the coming season.

20/11/07 7:05 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Yea! the rabbit died... I just knew it! I love all of the little details and I agree with the others- get this published.
What a thoughtful and meaningful gift for your family- they are all very fortunate to have you as a part of their lives. Happy Thanksgiving Tom!

PS- I don't miss your mixed up letters that I use to have to type in two or three times- not one little bit, thanks from the bottom of my heart

20/11/07 8:55 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

So far dropping the squiggly letters has not brought the strange "spam" comments that I used to get. I don't miss them either.
The next chapter includes Thanksgiving 1951. I do hope to post it soon, but it might be tricky. My mom, Bob, and many of my siblings and my niece are coming Wednesday night through Friday. Can't wait.

20/11/07 11:44 PM  
Blogger Margaret said...

I see I have a lot of catching up to do. What a beautiful writing and memoir.

22/11/07 11:07 AM  

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