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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

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe: Chapter 22

The "Title" Chapter

“Isn’t this fun!” Mom said, turning on the radio and the heater. “At least the car is still warm from me driving it. They’ve started playing Christmas music on some of the stations.”

“Seems kind of early for that,” Dad said.

“It's not all Christmas music. They just started mixing some songs in with the regular ones. I love it!”

"I guess I'll feel more like Christmas music once we get some snow."

"I can't wait for snow and ice skating. It's been cold enough for ice. They’re flooding Palmer Park this week."

"They usually do about now."

Mom turned the dial and stopped when an announcer said, “And here’s that new Meredith Willson hit sung by Perry Como.”

“Oh, Don, have you heard this one? It’s just came out.” She turned it up and began singing along with “It’s beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas.” [Perry released it first, then Bing. The Youtube clip is from a few years after the 1951 recording.]

Mom and Dad’s apartment was at 1427 White Street. The Duncan Phyfe was near Union and 8th Street. By the time the song was over, Dad was backing into the driveway on Union.

“You stay here. This won’t take long.” ........[Dad's '39 Ford was not as nice as the one above.]

“Well, can’t I look at it before we buy it?”
.
“Honey, this was supposed to be a surprise. I only told you about it because of the chairs. Trust me. You’ll like it, but if you get talking with these people, we’ll never get home before dark. Just keep the car running and slide over here to my seat.”

Dad knew that once Mom started visiting with strangers, she'd begin pointing out everybody they knew in common, and stand there forever, chatting like old friends. It happened wherever Mom went. He lacked this gift and loved it about her, but when time was of the essence he kindly kept her at a distance from people.
.
Dad opened the large trunk of the Ford and used his arms to measure its height and depth. “Hmmmm…” he thought, “This is not going to work.” If the table did fit in sideways, the drop leaf would give him nothing to hold. Lengthwise, with the dropped leaves inside the fenders, less than half of the table would fit in.

“We knew you’d be back,” the woman said, opening the door, “Is that the little lady in the car?” She waved at Mom, and Mom waved back.

“She'd get out, but the table’s kind of a surprise.”

The lady held open the back door as the two men carried the table to the waiting trunk.

"I don’t think it’s going to fit in there,” warned the man.

“I knew it wouldn't, but I'm hoping we can rest the front half in, and then I’ll just hold the legs like a wheelbarrow and walk behind." The table clunked against the raised trunk door. The back two pedestal legs had nothing to rest on until Dad grabbed hold of them.

“Are you sure about this?” the man asked.

“Yeah, this is no problem. It’s just a few blocks,” Dad said with his chin resting firmly on the top edge of the table and his arms stretched straight down to the curved legs that fit perfectly in his gloved hands.

“Aren’t we forgetting something,” smiled the man.

“Oh, yeah.” Laughed Dad, “Can you hold these legs while I get my wallet and remind Bev what we're doing?”

They switched positions. Dad put his gloves in his coat pockets, turned his back toward Mom and tried to hand the man a five.

“Just give it to the wife. My hands are full.”

“Oh, yeah, Sorry. Here you go, Ma’am. Thanks so much. She’s going to love it.” He motioned for Mom to roll down the window. “We’re just going to idle down 8th to Chestnut past White Park to 14th. Just take ‘er slow. Don't touch the gas. Just let it idle. Put it in first gear and put your foot on the brake until I say.

"Now?" Mom said nervously.

"Yes. You got it in first? Now keep your foot on the brake until I say. I’ll be walking behind you holding up the table like a wheelbarrow.”

“Tell her we ate at that table for twenty happy years,” interrupted the woman. Mom heard this and turned to thank her.

“It's beautiful! I can already tell!” shouted Mom over her shoulder, “Say do you know the Daltons around the corner on Chestnut?"

“Honey, not now. We’ve got to go.”

“Hell-O-o,” shouted the man with the table, “I’m still back here.”

“Sorry. Here. I’ve got it.” Said Dad, taking his place and resting his chin squarely on top of the table. “Thanks again. Alright, Bev. Take your foot off the brake and let out the clutch nice and slow.”

The car did not move. Mom had rolled the window up and didn’t hear Dad, but the lady motioned for her to go and the car began to roll down the driveway.

“You sure you’re alright?” asked the old man.

“It’s really not that heavy. Just a little awkward,” Dad said with his face turned sideways and the drawer pull pressing into in his cheek. As the Ford turned onto the street, Dad took one last glimpse at the couple. The lady was pinching her lower lip with worry as the man just shook his head and waved. Dad turned his head forward and rested his chin on the table top. This was slightly more comfortable but he could see only the sky, tree limbs, and street lights, which had not yet turned on.
.
He had never calculated it, but it was actually 7/10ths of a mile to their apartment. His breath rose up like smoke in the cold air. “It’s just a few blocks," he reminded himself, "We'll be home in no time." He smiled at his cleverness and began reciting his favorite lines of Edgar A. Guest, which had become his mantra for moments such as these:
Somebody said that it couldn't be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn't," but he would be one
Who wouldn't say so till he'd tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it.
.
The rhythm of the Guest’s poem seemed to match the rhythm of the soles of his shoes slapping left-right-left-right on the pavement. As they turned from 8th onto Chestnut, it occurred to Dad that he had not put his gloves back on and his hands were already cold. "That's not good," he thought but smiled and skipped ahead to some other lines from the poem. This time, conserving his breath, he did not say them out loud.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
.
He turned his head to the side in time to see 9th Street sign passing by. Two blocks down—only six more to go.
.
Inside the car, Mom had a unique disadvantage all her own. Because the trunk was up, she could see nothing out the back window. And with Dad walking in the center of the car, she could see nothing in the side mirror either. She kept her feet flat on the floor, and just idled ahead at a comfortable pace as the radio played in the background.
.
They passed the Dalton's house, and Mom began wondering who else she knew on Chestnut Street and hoped that none of them looked out their windows right now. She would be happy to show off the table once it was in their apartment, but she could only imagine how silly it looked sticking out the back of their clunky old Ford with Don walking behind it. She waved at perfect stranger on the corner of 10th Street to draw attention from the back of the car. The lady did not wave back. She just pointed at the car to make sure her children saw it and they all laughed. Seeing no cross traffic, Mom rolled through the stop sign at 10th Street. So far so good. Hold that thought.
.
There is something I must tell you while we pause to catch our breath in this story: There are no stop signs between 10th and 14th on Chestnut, and while it appears to be perfectly flat, there is in fact a slight change in elevation between 10th and 12th streets. One would never notice this change if simply walking or in a car listening to music, but there is in fact an unperceivable downhill grade.
.
If you reading this on the high-speed internet, [work with me here] read this paragraph and then open a second window to the following link. Don’t watch the clip now--just play the audio as background, because one of Mom's favorite sing-along songs from the Swing Era came on the radio. It is this Andrews Sister classic, “Hold Tight.” Once the song begins, come back and continue reading the story.
.
As I was saying the change in grade between 10th and 12th is barely perceptible from the INSIDE of a car, but if you are OUTSIDE of that car, walking behind it, holding a Duncan Phyfe table in both hands with your arms stretched downward as if glued to a heavy wheelbarrow, and if your chin is resting on the table top with your mouth open for air as if imitating a roasted pig with an apple in its teeth, and if your feet have been slapping the pavement in the same rhythm for three blocks…when the tempo of those slapping feet begins to pick up ever so slightly…YOU DO NOTICE IT.
.
“Bev. Slow down. You’re picking up speed.” Dad yelled into the dusk, but Mom was inside the car singing with the Andrews Sisters.
Hold tight, hold tight, a-hold tight, hold tight
Fododo-de-yacka saki
Want some sea food mama
Shrimps and rice they're very nice
I like oysters, lobsters too,
I like my tasty butter fish, fooo
When I come home late at night
I get my favorite dish, fish
Hold tight, hold tight, a-hold tight, hold tight
Fododo-de-yacka saki
Want some seafood mama.
.
She kept looking in the mirrors but could still see nothing wrong as she smiled as sang out loud:
I want some seafood Mama
Oh won't you give it to me
cause I'm as happy as can be
When the seafood comes to me
La-da-da La-da-da La-da-da
.
The car had been going between 3 and 5 MPH before 1oth Street. She was now going between 6 and 7 MPH. Next time you're driving a car, idle down a street and watch the speedometer. You can barely tell the difference between single-digit speeds from INSIDE the car. But next time you're on a treadmill. Up the speed from 4 to 7 MPH and jog like your pushing a loaded wheelbarrow. The difference is huge.
.
Dad had run track in high school, and as we know, his idea of a picnic was swimming to Canada and back. Dad was in excellent condition, but he was beginning to get out of breath. He couldn’t tell if he was truly winded from walking faster and faster or if he was in an early stage of PANIC knowing that he had absolutely no way of getting his wife’s attention.

“Bev! Bev! Slow down!” he screamed with what breath he had. Dad now fully understood the importance of being able to swing his arms while walking, but his gate was beyond “walking” and approaching a jolting trot. Even if he could let go with one hand, the car itself was out of his reach. There was nothing to pound on.

“You can do this, Don,” he coached himself and tried to remember every foot race he had ever run. “Just keep calm and keep your stride,” he said turning his head to see the 12th Street sign go by in a blur. It was then he heard the faint sound of the Andrews Sisters coming from the inside of the car. “No wonder she can't hear me!” He screamed in his head.
Ho,ho,hold tight won't cha hold tight, Hold tight
Fododododo Yacka sacki
want some seafood Mama
Shrimpers a-hand ri-hice a-hare very nice...
.
Dad was now running as fast as he could behind the open jaws of a ’39 Ford, knowing that at any moment he could miss a beat or lose his grip and fall headlong into a pile of splintered Duncan Phyfe. 13th street passed. “She’ll have to brake to make the turn at 14th,” he thought. And sure enough, the brake lights came on but only to ease the corner. Catching a second wind, he screamed once more.
.
“Bev! Stop the car!” Then between breaths, he shouted each word by itself. “Bev… Stop... Stop!
.
Inside the car, Mom sang the last note with the trio and then faintly heard Dad yelling through the back seat. Instinctively, she stepped on the brake. The car lurched to a halt. Fortunately, Dad’s face was sideways while he was yelling and the soft part of his cheek slammed into drawer, which helped break the impact of his temple against the edge of the table. The pain went unnoticed. He was so happy that his feet had stop running. Still he could not let go of the table. Angry and out of breath, he had no energy to yell another word, which was very fortunate for Mom who came around the trunk lid to see this image for the first time.
.
[I'd like you to imagine this snapshot as I have many times through the years. Mom standing there with her hand on her mouth, her pregnant overcoat bulging, her feet in low boots with fur around the top. Dad holding a table by the legs with his face resting against the drawer, steam rising from his winter jacket. You may agree with me that it is suitable for a Norman Rockwell print or even a porcelain figurine. If I had such a piece of art, it would hold a place of honor in my home.]
.
Finally, Dad had enough breath to ask...
.
"Do you have any idea how fast you were going?"
.
"Don, I did not touch the gas. It was just idling like you said."
.
"Bev, I was running as fast as I could. One more block and it was over."
.
"Now I know I have seen you run way faster than I was going."
.
"Let me explain, Bev. I was not running. My head was not running, my arms were not running, my body was not running--only my legs were running and they were about to fall off." Mom's hand went to her mouth. "It's not funny, Bev."
.
"I'm not laughing," she mumbled. "I'm so sorry, Don. Here let me hold that while you rest."
.
"No. I'll be fine. Just give me another minute and help me put my gloves on."
.
"Oh, Don. Your hands must be freezing."
.
"Actually, I can't feel them." he muttered. "I don't know what I was thinking. I should've brought some rope. I should've had my glove on. I should've had you stop at each corner..."
.
"And I shouldn't have been singing with the radio..."
.
"Yeah--what was that all about? Here I am about to have my own personal train wreck and you're in there singing 'La-da-da, La-da-da.'"
.
"I'm sorry..." she was going to say more, but from the front of the car through the open door, came Gene Autry's classic tune. "Here comes Santa Clause." Mom's hand covered her mouth again. She could see in Don's eyes that he was approaching that fine line men cross when they’re almost ready to admit that their current predicament will someday strike them as funny, but this was clearly not yet the time to laugh. Recognizing “funny someday” moments while they’re fresh is the secret to marital bliss.
.
"I'm sorry, Honey. This isn't funny. I'll go turn it off."
.
"Let it play. I don't care." Dad said on an exhale and no hint of a smile. "I'm ready. Just roll down the window. Keep your foot lightly on the brake and pretend you're strolling along side the car. Go that slow."
.
"Got it. Slow. Like I'm strolling along side the car."
.
"Alright. Let's go. We're almost home."
.
The last two blocks were uneventful. Gene Autry's homespun voice echoed faintly off the passing houses as the strange silhouette of a car and man lumbered down the lane. One by one, the street lights flickered on as they rounded the last corner home.
.
With a steadying hand from Mom, Dad hefted the table upstairs, and put it in the archway between the kitchen and the living room. There was simply no place else to put it. He was standing on the far side and had to turn sideways to inch past it into the kitchen. He was about to say once again that this table was a bad idea, but he was silenced by the incredibly happily look on his wife's face.
.
Mom stood so as not to block the kitchen light that shone down on her Duncan Phyfe and smiled. "Thanks, Don." she whispered.
.
It was not until some time later, when the bedroom light was out and their heads were nestled in the dark, that Dad began to laugh and Mom joined in.
.

15 Comments:

Blogger the walking man said...

That has to be the funniest thing I have read in ...well years. So well is the situation described, the two men in the drive trying to change who's holding the table and getting paid, the car a big wheelbarrow, then your dad working like all get out to not go absolutely crazed when your mom got out of the car finally...but and don't tell anyone this the best part was the Edgar Guest poem.

It was Guest that inspired me to begin writing in the first place, my grandmother used to read his daily articles/poems to me she had saved from the Free Press. sad now hardly anyone knows of that fine craftsman of words and his story.

This was most excellent Tom.

Peace

mark

10/12/07 5:44 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Okay Tom, I'm still laughing and a smile will return to my face everytime I think about this "Duncan Phyfe" saga. What an amazing tale... and I am delighted to be one of your readers. Thanks for sharing- it was worth the wait.

10/12/07 11:14 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

TWM,
So glad you read it and got it. I remember that you are a Guest fan, but I didn't know how it started for you. My Dad used to recite that poem all the time, and it really was his approach to many tasks of life. Thanks, Mark.

Nancy,
I like the thought of hearing "southern drawl" laughing at this story. It took me forever to get to this chapter, but this was originally all I was going to write. I still have some wrapping up chapters to bring closure to the whole thing, but this post will be it for a while... this is a very busy week.

10/12/07 5:13 PM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Mesmerising. You really know how to capture the moment and tell the story. I think all of us males can identify with your dad's enthusiasm and perhaps almost over-confidence that he had found a clever solution. So where is the Duncan Phyfe now? Or is that another post?

11/12/07 4:46 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

LGS,
I'm up early Tuesday checking the weather for school (an icy mix is on the way but it's not bad enough yet to delay or cancel school)

There are a few chapters of dénouement ahead. This chapter gives the litteral meaning of the title; the next chapter wraps up 1951 (my parents had to move before Christmas, etc.) and then the final chapter explains the symbolic nature of the table which does still exist.

11/12/07 6:11 AM  
Blogger Cris said...

Oh that was good. LOL

11/12/07 7:56 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Too funny! I really enjoyed this. I have a few men in my life that continue to come up with what I'll just say are very 'creative twists' to what should be simple tasks. (When you have time, I currently have a slightly different take on the whole male vs. female dynamic on my blog)

Great story.

Julie in Colorado

12/12/07 12:12 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Cris,
Hope you're enjoying these weeks before Christmans!

Julie in Co,
Hey, Congratulations! I'm very happy about your news.
One of the "threads" of this long series of posts has been how differently men and women approach the same situations. Just think... this story happened 56 years ago and yet some things never change! =)

12/12/07 7:23 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

You have a gift for creating images in the mind. By the time the car stopped I was winded that's how good you are.

15/12/07 5:58 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
Thank you. I worry about how this "reads" for others. Is it torture or would it "turn pages" as they say?
I am revising this tale from the first chapter to the yet-to-be-written end to give to my Mom and siblings for Christmas. I'm surprised at how long it is. I know if it were "a book" it would not be long, but I can only hope the whole thing reads something like a book or my siblings will say, "Wow, Tom, that's a lot of paper."
But I wanted to thank you and the others for being encouraging muses in what turned out to be a longer project than this chapter (which is the short story I started to write months ago).

15/12/07 9:17 PM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

my, how lyrics have changed over the years. LOL

bringing home the duncan phyfe--now that's love.

this is definitely a "turn the page" story. you just want to read on and on to see what's happening next. i'm telling you Tom, i see a Hallmark Movie in the making.

17/12/07 12:21 PM  
Blogger HeiressChild said...

i just read chapter 21 and came back to re-read this chapter, and can you imagine $5.00 for a duncan phyfe table? though in those days, $5.00 was like $5,000 i'm sure. it's an antique today.

17/12/07 6:50 PM  
Blogger Christal said...

I could not help but laugh at the visions running through my head, or thinking what others watching this all take place were thinking. I was laughing, gasping and on the edge of my seat!

17/12/07 11:46 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

HC,
For our Mom and her five kids and their kids... it is such a story, but it is fun to think that others are also enjoying it.

As for the table, it does still exist, but you'll have to read the last chapter to understand that its symbolic worth is far greater than the few dollars it would fetch at auction (you'll understand why it would only fetch about $5 even now after all these years)

Christal,
We loved hearing Mom and Dad tell this story. They were both "not at fault." Even a few nights ago, after Mom read this post, she was trying to explain that she was not going fast and how afraid she was to walk around to the back of the car and see Dad's face. He was really mad.
But like I say in the text, just "idle" down a street and you'll see how there is hardly a difference between 4 and 7 MPH from INSIDE the car. Classic example of poor communication on the man's part.
Glad you liked it.

18/12/07 5:51 AM  
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16/1/10 2:26 PM  

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