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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, February 24, 2008

The Wedding Book

In my mother's last year of a long struggle with cancer, her chemo-treatment left her tired. I spent a weekend with her while Bob, her recently-wed second husband, was away on business. This is a conversation-story in which I learned for the first time that Bob was the baker who made my parents' wedding cake more than fifty years before. This story was shared at Mom's funeral in February of 2008.

The Wedding Book
My mother’s living room still knows the meaning of its name,
but it’s a quiet sort of living to be sure.
Gone are the days of horsy-back rides,
our daughters’ song and dance upon the hearth,
and wrapping paper strewn on Christmas morn.
That sort of living in the room has faded like the snapshot
left too long upon the kitchen windowsill.
But rising early and alone with a pad and pen,
I was drawn to the davenport
and I saw that life without us
found ways to gather undisturbed
in corners where the carpet is not worn—
and countless numbers scrawled on torn
scraps and backs of envelopes in the nook
and scribbling in the margin of a book
left waiting on the corner chair,
and photo albums in the shadow of the stair.

And then it was I saw the wedding book
left waiting on the bottom step.
Its pebbled ivory cover took me back the fifteen years
when last it lay upon lap,
the time my girls sat spellbound at my side.
They'd never seen the book before--
a splendid volume of full-page black-and-whites
with details crystallized in time:
You can almost feel the softening varnish
on the blackened pew rails;
and smell the winter on the woolen coats;
and hear the hatted women in the crowd
whispering, “Don’t look at the camera,”
while children gaze bewildered in the lens.

It’s as if the photographer knew
these weren’t just wedding pictures—
especially in the group tableaus—
it’s as if he knew…
this was the cast party
of the unfolding play
that was our life before we lived.
Each shot is in the old historic church that shares its name
with the fort that once stood there
and the old lighthouse still standing
and the avenue that in its day
tied Port Huron to Detroit
and all points in between…
and thus became the byway of our lives.

The Wedding Guests

I rose to put some coffee on,
and when the pot had sputtered its last sigh,
Mom was up to share a cup
and ask me what I had there in my lap.
And so began a conversation
that saw us through to lunch and gave a glimpse
of how life’s yarn is spun and knit…
and how a Providential twist
can turn into the tie that binds.

I opened to the reception picture,
the most intriguing of them all.
There’s a clock on the wall
that says it’s nearly nine, and in that moment
the basement of the churchis filled
with shared contentment.

Mom pointed at the page.
“Doesn’t my dad look handsome there?
Look at Mumma, and your Dad’s mom,
and that’s Aunt Edith beside her.”

“Isn’t she the one who kicked
her underwear off the bridge?” I smiled.

“No. That was Aunt Dean,” she laughed,
turning back a page to point her out
and obliged to tell the story once again.
“Jupiter! She was walking home
across the 10th Street Bridge
in downtown Port Huron—
not Military Street, the other one—
and right in the middle of the bridge,
her elastic snapped and down they dropped
like a parachute 'round her ankles.
Do you remember?” Mom laughed.
(I wasn’t there, of course,
but nodded so as not to break her thought.)

“On the spot she had to choose—
her dignity or her drawers?—
she could not have them both.
The coming traffic forced her call,
and with a flick of her less than dainty foot
she nonchalantly kicked her panties
through the railing on the bridge—
pshhhhew—and let them billow down
to the boats below. Black River’s
busy that time of year, you know.
And then she walked right on home
like nothing happened.”

“Enjoying the cool summer breeze,” I added,
since she’d left out that line.

“Yep. That’s what she said
whenever we made fun.
But you have to remember,
that was during World War II—
there was a shortage of rubber,
and they were chinsin’ on elastic.
My land! we couldn’t even buy stockings—
we had to draw hose seams
on the back of our legs with eyebrow pencil.
Between the air-raid drills and Hitler
and our loose underwear,
we ladies lived in constant fear."

I’d heard the storyand its tie-in to the war
a hundred times before
(as I had the many that followed),
but it was wonderful
to hear Mom’s laugh
and the lilt in her voice again.

The Wedding Cake

Mom turned the page
to the picture of the cake
and told me something
that I’d never heard,
nor was there cause
to hear it until now.
“Did you know Bob made
the wedding cake we served?”
“Your Bob?” I asked,
wanting to hear more.

“My Bob,” she smiled.

“His family owned a bakery
near the corner of 10th and Lapeer—
just five blocks from the bridge.”
“The underwear bridge?” I asked.
“Just a walk from there, and around the corner
from our house on Lapeer Avenue.”

“ Time out, Mom. I’m confused.
You said OUR house on Lapeer?"

“Well, we didn’t live there yet, of course,” she said.
"We didn’t move there ‘til you were born—
Let's see... Kathy in ’52; Paul in ’53;
Dave in ’54;and you in ’56—
So this was five years before.
Those were fun days weren’t they, Tom?
You in droopy diapers riding Duke,
and Dave and Paul wearing pots on their heads
in the sandbox, and Kathy playing dress-up...”

“They were magic years, Mom, but… the cake.
You were telling me about the cake.”

“Oh, yea… Well, Bob and I
were in class together since 7th grade.
He’d come over to talk sometimes
when Barb and Jean and I
were sitting on the back-porch swing.
(She turned back to the reception page.)
That’s Barb there serving cake—
but that wasn’t the cake I’d ordered.
You see what happened was…
an acquaintance of ours had offered
to make a wedding cake,
and she brought it to my house—
you know, Grandma’s house
on Forest Street—the day before.
But the cake was not what I'd described at all,
and soon as she left, I just bawled.
I had no time and no money left to fix it
and then I remembered Bob.
He worked at his folk's bakery on 10th.
So I caught the bus, and...”

“Wait a minute, Mom.” I said. “Why a bus?"

“I didn't have a license; I didn't have a car—
it was your dad who taught me how to drive,
but that was later on;
and Daddy, my dad, was workin' I guess;
and Dad Collinge was probably at the Grotto;
and Mumma never drove—ever...
but we always managed to get around—
just like she still hops a bus to the beauty shop
and she's just shy of 100. Isn't that something?
I used to take the bus every day
from Riverview to Stone Street.
This is when I worked at Star Oil."

"I remember that you worked there—
it was by Pine Grove, but I guess
I never heard about the bus."

"Here's something else
I'll bet I never told you about Star Oil:
I worked in accounts receivable? Imagine that.
Me who flunked bookkeeping—
all I remembered about bookkeeping
was it being the only word
with three double letters in a row,
but they hired me just the same.”

My jaw dropped,“Now that I did not know..."

“What? About the double letters?”

“No that you worked in accounts receivable.”

“Ironic isn’t it, but that’s what I did…
right up ‘til a few months before Kate was born.
That was the only “job” job I ever had.
Then you kids became my job
and your dad, of course…
but he was working that day ‘til five,
climbing poles for Bell,
saving his days-off for the honeymoon…
so he couldn’t take me.”

“Take you where?” I wondered aloud.

“To the bakery to see about a cake.”

“Oh, yea. You got me thinkin' about that picture
of Dad smiling at the top of a telephone pole.
Most of your stories I know by heart,
but this cake one I’ve never heard,
and we keep veering off...
So it’s what time? Noon?
The day before the wedding...
and you still need a cake...
you get to the bakery… and then what?”

“I was afraid it was closed.
The door was stuck, but then
I pushed it, and the bell that hung inside
rang so loud it scared me.
No one was at the counter—
which was fine because I knew
I was about to cry again…
so I just stood there staring
at baked goods behind glass.
I loved the smell of that bakery.
I used to walk you kids
there for doughnuts. Remember?”

“Mom, the cake. I’m like five years
from existing at this point in the story.
If you don’t get this cake,
I may never be born.”

Mom laughed, “You know how I like to tell things—
they're not tangled they're connected.

So… I’m standing there and Bob comes
from the back to the green counter out front.
We’d lost touch since high school—
I’d heard he was married now—
but he was always such a friend.
‘Hello, Bev!’ He says, ‘What can I do for you?’
He said that. ‘Do ya mean it, Bob?
Can you really do something for me?
I think he could tell something was wrong.
‘I’ll sure try. What do you need?’
And then I just bawled.”

“Mom, you just walked into Bob’s bakery…
and started crying? What did he do?
Had he seen you like that before?”

“Oh, probably. Everybody knew I cried easily,
but he just smiled and said:
‘Bev, for you I can do this.’
‘How can you do this by tomorrow?’
(I was so embarrassed to ask.)
‘For you, I’ll bake it this afternoon,
let it cool overnight, frost it in the morning,
and deliver it to the church myself.’
He scribbled the order on a pad,
open and closed the register drawer,
and said, “No charge.” And I cried again.

The cake was there the next day.
It was beautiful with little roses
on each of the sheet cake squares.

That was the last time I saw Bob
until our 50th Class Reunion
seven years ago. You know the rest."
I did know the rest,
but this story brought a smile
that had been missing
from a chapter of our lives.
Some things take time to understand.

Mom went to the kitchen for a bite,
and I turned to the last picture
at the back of the book.
Mom and Dad are sitting cheek-to-cheek
in the back of a borrowed sedan,
smiles beaming with all the love and happiness
they gave to us for forty-some years.

Dad died unexpectedly in ’95,
and Mom lived alone for a while.
Then the Class of ’48 called to see
if she was coming to their reunion.
She was ready.
By stepping briefly into her past
she was able to re-enter the present
and look ahead. Long story short…
Bob was also there and alone that night,
and their friendship was rekindled.
It slowly grew in the forgiving soil
that comes with age until it called for
a gathering of friends and family
about a mile from the other church
(the one in Mom's wedding book).
In a little chapel there
we shared another wedding cake
that as far as I know…Bob didn’t bake
the afternoon before.

Mom was right: Her stories aren't tangled at all...
they're unbelievably connected.

© Copyright 2008

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