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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

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Father Far and Away Part IV

The relationship between man and machine was once rooted in the bond between man and beasts of burden. Since the beginning of recorded history, man has bred and bought and sold and sought the animals best suited to help him in his toil. From sled dog to African elephant, camel to horse, between man and these beasts there was a good-faith trade of sweat for care.

The animal understood that in exchange for the power of its legs, the strength of its back, the lather dripping from the collar or saddle it willingly wore, the man would provide enough food and water for another day. He may even provide shelter for a momentary rest from the endless dominion of plodding his domain.

Then came the Industrial Revolution, when man created machines to replace nearly every working beast. But for quaint exceptions, the snowmobile replaced the dog sled, the tractor replaced the draft horse, and the car replaced the carriage [from which the word "car" comes]. With this latter change, man transferred his care from horses to horsepower. And for much of the machine age, he began caring for steel and gears and belts and bolts as if the relationship were meant to last a lifetime.

But soon this care was reduced to mere maintenance, and in time that maintenance was passed along to others. So much so that today men and women alike know little about how things work and care only that they do.

Make no mistake, America was built on know-how, and there will always be a chosen few who know the how, but more and more consumers know less and less about the things they depend on everyday. They turn the key, push the button, flip the switch and expect to do their will. And when the machine goes kaput, they cast it aside for another. .

Wherever consumers consume, dumpsters, scrap iron yards and acres of junk cars have become testaments to both planned obsolescence and man’s short attention span for the machines in his disposable world. .

I confess that when it comes to cars, I take care of the things I can see and touch, but under the hood my skills are limited to the user-friendly yellow parts that are clearly labeled. Beyond that, I call our friends at "Total Car Care."
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But my father was one of the old-school men who was not a mechanic by trade but of necessity. He did not so much enjoy working on old cars, but he knew it was part of the deal in owning them. Since saving money was the purpose of driving older high-miles cars, it made no sense to pay someone else to keep them running, and the owner of the garage in Berea, Kentucky seemed to understand Dad's plight.
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So there we stood with the rear end of our car still held in the air. Clee was pumping gas for another car, so we climbed in the second seat door and wrestled out the clothes we needed for the motel from our bags in the back. Dave and I had swim suits stuffed in our college clothes. We grabbed them but hid them inside some other things, uncertain of when it would be prudent to let Dad know we'd found the silver lining of this cloud.
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"You all go ahead over to the motel. I'm going to stay here and make a list of the parts I need to get at the junk yard." Dad said, and then he smiled. "Hey, look! A pool. Too bad we don't have our suits."
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"Huh?. Oh that..." Dave and I acted as if we hadn't noticed, but Jim held up a pair of shorts and announced, "I'm in."
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"Good thinking," Dad laughed, and Dave and I held up the suits we'd wadded under our arms.
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"Now you're talkin', he laughed again.

Mom joined in, "Dad and I will just put our feet in."
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"Sounds good, Bev, but go ahead and check in without me. I'll be there in a minute."
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Walking to the motel, something occurred to me for the first time. From the moment the wheel fell off, Dad had not blown his top--not even a hint of anger or frustration toward the costly inconvenience that sidelined us in our journey home.
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There had been times when Dad would not have handled this as well. Like most men, the slightly younger version of Dad, the Dad we’d worked with as young teens, sometimes cursed the obstacles of life. He’d start a day with goals--ambitious goals--which can be a good thing, but he sometimes failed to realize that they were somewhat arbitrary and at times unrealistic.
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I don't know about his weekday goals, but for about ten years we shared Saturdays from before sun rose 'til long after it set, working out at the property.
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Whether it was sharpening all of his chain saw blades before dawn, or felling three tall oaks by noon, or uprooting a half-ton stump by dusk, sometimes the goals Dad set were hindered by things that broke down. The kind of obstacles that say, “You thought you were doing something else today, but I have news for you: your time will now be spent fixing this thing you need to have before you can return to the thing you want to do.” The Dad I knew hated when things broke and tended to be vocal about it until they were fixed, but something had happened in the more recent years he spent with my little brother Jim by his side. Maybe he was just glad the broken axel had not resulted in much worse.
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Either way, we swam in the outdoor pool that night. Had the whole thing to ourselves. Though it was nearly June, the night air was cool which made the unheated water seem almost warm. As we were drying off with the towels from our room, it felt for a moment like the kind of "motel" vacation we had never shared.

Early the next morning, before the gas station opened for business, Clee took my dad to the junk yard five miles up the road in hopes of finding a rear axel for our 1964 Ford Country Squire.
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When we woke up Dad was already at work on the car.
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To be continued...
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[Written and posted from a farm in Kansas, where there are three large Belgian draft horses in the pasture beside the acres of lawn Julie and I mowed this morning. The horses are occasionally put to the quaint task of pulling hay wagons full of campers at the summer camp across the small lake. They are owned by Julie's father who taught me nearly everything I know of the old relationship between a farmer and his team.]
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12 Comments:

Blogger the walking man said...

I am like your father. When things break down, no sense in wasting daylight to get them in order.

The being mad at them breaking down...that is a simple trick to get the adrenalin flowing and to make the machine follow your current will. Not even machines want to mess around with an angry rattle snake, especially one with TOOLS!

1/7/08 2:45 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Good morning, TWM,
My you read late at night! I added the footnote this morning by way of explaining that we're visiting Julie's folks in Kansas, which also explains the musings about draft horses and such that came to me while mowing before the ink of this chapter had dried... so I added them.

As far as I know, you are the only mechanic who reads here. I knew you'd be able to relate! =)

1/7/08 9:10 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

I wish I had met your dad. He sounds a lot like mine.
I don't have the slightest idea of how to fix a car or slaughter a cow both of which my dad could do.
I am reall enjoying your family story.

1/7/08 11:23 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
I bought my first car (a '65 Olds Delta 88) in 1977. Back then I changed the oil and spark plugs myself; tuned it up, etc. Now the motors are too complicated for me, and I don't have the time to get under a car to change the oil.

Dad did all that all his life. He didn't butcher a cow but he did skin and butcher his deer in our garages. )My father-in-law here in Kansas has helped his late father butcher many cows and pigs back on the old farm).

I too wish you could have met him.

1/7/08 8:07 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Learning from two dad's... yours and Julie's- it just doesn't get better than that! My father-in-law died the week after we were married. We had just returned from our honeymoon.

When we were young, the pool water never seemed too cold to get in. Now, my body is not as tolerant! A motel with a pool, in those days, was a blessing indeed and you are fortunate that your dad let you play while he worked!

Enjoy your time with family in Kansas.

1/7/08 10:13 PM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

I could hear the narrative voice of this piece as if I were watching a documentary on the evolution of machines, and then you turn it, you personalize it, with a story of your own. Nice subtle technique. Nice lead in. I'm taking notes. Well done.

1/7/08 10:50 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Nancy,
You are so right. Both of these men knew the Lord and the value of hard work. I spend a few hours yesterday helping Dad (Julie's dad) with chores around the place, including welding a broken bracket on the six-seat surry pulled by one of those draft horses. He does not know what it is to "not work" (except when he is studying for his Sunday sermon). He's been the pastor of a church here for over 40 years, but he's also a "farmer/rancher" at heart.

JRT,
That was a kind way to put the unusual mix of this chapter. I was on a big old "riding mower" Monday morning. Julie's dad has more than one and Julie was on the "good one." He wasn't sure we'd get the old one started. I watched him go through all the maintenance steps, etc. in a small shed that has horse harnesses hanging on every wall. Not decorative antiques. These harnesses he still uses on the draft horses. Anyway, I've watched him care for horses and machines for 30 years and realized that my generation and those that followed stand small in the shadow of these men.

2/7/08 8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father wasn't a mechanic-type, but if something needed fixing around the house he could be pretty proficient. Both of my parents were born in 1900 and 1905 (respectively) and I was a child born to them "later" on in marriage. They along with my "much older" sibs lived through the depression years so I sort of benefited from that type of up-bringing. Both of my parents were hard-working. My dad didn't retire from his electrician job until he was in his 70's...and still he had a parttime job, working for an insurance company calling on farmers (though I don't know what that was about..maybe to see that they were "wired" properly). He lived to be 95 and I can only pray to have his genes! My mom grew up on a farm, so would have been able to relate to this post, somewhat, due to the horses. She was a fantastic cook (from scratch) and could make a silk purse out of a sows ear...as they used to say. I only could wish for her genes on knowing how to stretch a penny etc. Both my folks are gone and I wish I had them to benefit from their wisdom (as you have gotten to). I was young when my mom passed away and just embarking into marriage, parenthood etc.

I was quite fortunate to marry a man who is much like my dad and can fix things "in" the house. The cars have to go to the 'car place' to get their upkeep however.
WSL
Can't wait until the next entry!!!!

2/7/08 2:49 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

WSL,
What a difficult time to have lost your mom--just before marriage. I know what you mean about her being a great "from scratch" cook. My mother-in-law is the same way...grew up on a farm cooking for "help" etc. They worked hard in the field came in for huge meals and then went out to the field and worked them off.
Like your dad and husband, I am much handier around the house than under the hood of a car--I learned all that handy stuff building the barn and house with Dad (then later building sets for high school plays I directed).
I was exchanging some thoughts with a "comment friend" named Tammy just last week she too has a husband that reminds her of her late father--I don't think that is a coincedence.
Thanks for stopping by.

(By the way, when we crossed over the Mississippi coming here, it was still way up over its banks on I-80. There were miles of "lake" before we got to the river.)

2/7/08 5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually my mom didn't pass away until "early" in my marriage...but it was difficult nonetheless.

The flooding "here" is abating. I was south of where I live (Janesville, WI area) about a week or so ago and it was incredible to see what was under water. I can't imagine losing personal items, much less homes in this way. But it's still a reminder what is so temporary (really it all is) and what we hold onto in this life.
WSL

7/7/08 8:25 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

WSL,
True. True. I have received a "viral email" several times since the midwest flooding has occurred. It describes the Iowans response to the flooding and loss to what we heard and have continued to hear about the victims of Katrina in New Orleans two years ago. Not an exact comparison of circumstances, but the contrast in response has been interesting indeed.

7/7/08 8:31 AM  
Anonymous quilly said...

You write beautiful prose, the patterns your words form weave a vibrant tapestry easily viewed.

8/7/08 4:52 PM  

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