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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

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Working Title: "Unsettled" Two

Chapter Two: A House in a Hurry
(Second map added Friday AM)
In 1961, seven years before the picnic and the heron, we’d moved from the country to the city...if you can call Roseville, Michigan, "the city." It was not the kind of place that Dad would choose to live, one of a dozen melded suburbs on the north-east side of Detroit. These were “cities” by name
and cities with names, but as places there was little to tell them apart. They ran together like the thin whites of eggs in a pan that doesn’t sit flat on the stove.
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Unlike the seemingly random sprawl of the suburbs themselves, the streets in our part of Roseville were a grid of tightly-woven streets and patch-pocket yards. By 'tightly woven' I mean 'close knit' without the comfortable give. They were rigidly laid out like giant rulers in a row with driveways at the inch-marks stretching up between the houses that barely had room to open car doors between them. The endless row of small three-bedroom brick ranches had floor plans so identical a blind man could walk them all without a tap of his cane.
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Perhaps the most redeeming feature of the streets was that each yard had, between the sidewalk and the curb, a tall canopy shade tree arching over the street (a consolation that sadly vanished in the years ahead [as seen above] after the scourge of Dutch Elm Disease).
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In time, we'd learn the neighbors were wonderful but the neighborhood itself--compared to the one we were leaving---was not the kind Dad ever thought he’d settle for, and yet he did. In fact, he picked it on his own. The first time Mom and the four of us kids saw 18140 Buckhannon was the night we moved into the house. In fairness to Dad, he needed a house in a hurry.

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Our house in Port Huron (before Roseville) was perfectly situated on an acre of land on a on the south ridge above the Black River. At the end of a long shaded drive, sat our tri-level brick colonial with a cupola on top. The house-in-progress was starkly furnished but held the hope of comforts yet to come. All around were other new homes on their own acres, a good distance apart, with big oaks all around.
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[That's it there on the west (left) corner of Atkins Rd and Charmwood Dr. It's hard to see the house for all the oak trees. We had a tire swing in the tree between the house and the "C" in Charmwood. When Dad was building that house (1960-61), most of the newer streets and developments in the vicinity were not there.]
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Off the record, men will tell other men that the ideal space between houses in the country is no less than what allows him to water the far side of a tree without notice from a neighbor. This act is the fifth freedom that FDR and Norman Rockwell chose not to illustrate in their, Four Freedoms, but in civilized parts of the world, it is perhaps the key distinction between urban and rural living. If asked about it on the record, most men play dumb, "What do you mean? Water a tree? I have no idea what you're talking about." Likewise, just as magicians die with their secrets, I'll not discuss this further here, but I learned of this fifth freedom as a four-year-old on Atkins Road where Dad chose to build Mom's dream house with the help of his friend Virg Palmer. This was the best in "country living."
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Just after the roof went on and the plumbing went in, we moved from Lapeer Ave. to the unfinished house on Atkins. But that same year, 1960, Dad got a promotion at Michigan Bell which took him to Detroit. He accepted the new job on a trial basis, and for several months he lived in a little apartment Bell provided while the four of us kids remained with Mom in Port Huron. The other three kids had started school, and Dad hoped they could finish one year as he settled on whether or not to accept the transfer for good.
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Every Friday afternoon, Dad commuted the three hours home (pre-interstate, he took Gratiot all the way) and spent the weekends working on the house with Mom and us kids clamoring for his attention. We existed this way through the fall, winter, and spring, but as summer approached, Mom was convinced this was no way for a family to live--not even temporarily. One Sunday night, as I lay on my mattress on the floor (we had no beds but knew they were coming after we got carpet) I overheard them talking in the only bedroom with a door (the other doors were coming after paint). Knowing Dad would be leaving again the next morning, Mom's whispering voice grew louder through her tears.

“Don, if this job in Detroit is what you want to do, I’m with ya, but I’ve gotta be with you! The kids need you. I need you. You’re burning the candle at both ends, trying to finish this house, but why? If we keep the house, the job keeps us apart. If you keep the job…we can’t keep living here. We can't keep the job and the house. You've got to choose!”

Rarely had Mom been so settled on a matter. It was not an ultimatum but a statement of fact, and Dad knew she was right. He knew it Mondays when he went away alone; he knew it weeknights as he slept on an inflatable mattress in that little Detroit flat; he knew it weekend evenings when he put away his tools and swept the quiet sawdust of the day. He'd known it for some time, but hoped the choice would somehow go away.

The inside of the Atkins place was far from finished. The floors were bare plywood, the walls had not a lick of paint, but from the road the house had charm and sold before the sign went up, and just as fast we moved into the place in Roseville.

The night we stepped into the city house, the tight quarters were upstaged by more important fact Mom noticed right away: the house was finished and furnished. Every room had hung doors, painted walls, light fixtures and switch plates. There were hardwood floors and tile and carpet and cupboards. Even the basement was finished with tile and knotty pine. As Mom and I passed on the stair, I announced, “Mom, we don’t have to paint a thing!” She, too, was beaming. After ten years of works in progress, “doneness” was a feeling she'd forgotten a house could have.

Now add to this luxury the fact that Dad bought the house furnished--beds and dressers, couches, chairs, all appliances--even the mirrors and paintings on the walls remained. What this means, of course, was that the sellers were "movin' on up" and so ready for change that they left their post-war- modern furnishings behind per Dad's request.
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To many wives such an arrangement would not do at all. The décor was not what Mom would choose, but the fact is, at the age of thirty, after ten years of marriage (with four kids born in the first six), Mom had not yet settled on her taste. She knew her wants in spurts (like the Duncan Phyfe table they’d bought ten years before and lugged from place to place [which indecently went to the basement in Roseville]). And on Atkins, she’d hoped someday to go with “Early American,” but she often joked that her “taste” at the time appeared to fall somewhere between late-Depression and post-partum.
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For these reasons and more, she was willing to accept this pre-feathered nest along with the "doneness" of this home. It was not the perfect place but perfect for the place in life in which her family found itself. As we hurried through the house, Mom was all aglow. “Isn’t this cozy!” she chirped to each of us in passing. She said it again as we all stood in the hub-hall that connected the bedrooms and the bath.
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"It'll do for now," Dad smiled, glad she was pleased, glad we were all happy with his choice, but wanting to remind us that this was only temporary... 'til we found a place to settle someday.
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To be continued...
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Note: In the first map above (Roseville), our house was near the corner of Marlene and Buckhannon (the roof below the "a" in Buckhannon Street). My "grammar school" (as they called them back then) was the building on the right. "Wooden Box" One and Two was set there in the 2nd grade room [then under the gray part of the roof].

10 Comments:

Blogger the walking man said...

Soon enough the feet do itch and the longing to return to that which should be causes the eye to wander to places far from "comfortable."

31/7/08 4:13 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

TWM,
Spoken from a man who has done his share of wandering but returned not far from the place on the map at the bottom of this post. I know you've expressed your feelings about Roseville before. Dad kind of felt the same way. As we will see in future posts. The people there were great, but it was just "too close" for Dad's comfort. Mom on the other hand, being far more social, loved it, and thus the long process of their final move, which is what I hope to get to.

31/7/08 5:22 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

"It was not the kind Dad ever thought he’d settle for, and yet he did"... I'm sure this was an "unsettled" time for your Dad. He must have felt like a fish out of water through some of this but having his family togehter under one roof... in the same town- had to be a blessing indeed.

Looking forward to more.

31/7/08 9:37 AM  
Anonymous quilly said...

You know, me and mine are going through this now. We live in a home we love (mostly finished and furnished) two hours from where OC works. Moving will cost money we don't want to spend just yet. Staying is exhausting OC. To me, he is more important than where I live. Now we just have to get him to that point.

31/7/08 12:54 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

My poor wife spent most of our life living in houses that belonged to the Church. At least you mother and father owned their's, however imperfect.

31/7/08 5:55 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Nancy,
I know I've been unsettled on a title for this series, but as you can see, I switched from "Settling" to "Unsettled" ... for now anyway. =)
As you will soon read, we lived in this "temporary" house for 14 years.

Quilly,
I know quite a few people who actually enjoy the "think-time" of a 40 minute commute, but I can't imagine four hours on the road to work eight. It didn't work for us in 1960.

Dr.John,
True. Parsonages can be nice (or at least unemcumbered) but he downside is no home equity for the pastor. Years later, Dad told us he and Mom bought that furnished house for $14,000. Those homes appreciated about 900% in 45 years. Even in this bad housing market, that's pretty amazing.

1/8/08 12:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I somewhat "relate" to your post this time. While my dad didn't have to commute to work, my parents decided to build a house on the other side of town. We'd been living on an acreage (which they bought when my sibs were younger, and I yet made my appearance to the fam). The acreage was meant to keep the kids busy and provide a good place to grow. I came along some years later and the sibs were growing up and moving on. My parents yearned for a place on the lake and found a lot on which to build. But coming from the depression wouldn't do anything unless by using cash. We first lived in the "walk-out" basement then moved upstairs. With the rooms gradually getting finished as they could be paid for. I think we didn't have a "completed" bathroom until I was in college. I remember brushing my teeth from either the tub OR the kitchen sink! I know it seemed "normal" to me and afforded some "memories" and stories to tell in the years following.
WSL

3/8/08 12:57 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

WSL,
My goodness, you've read ahead in the book! That's exactly (almost) what eventually happens in this case. It wasn't what Dad intended when all the projects began, but the actual "living" on the property he bought (chapter 1)took seven years to get to and even then, they lived in the walk-out basement as they finished the upstairs. I "lived" at our last house through college. When my wife Julie came to visit the first time, we had to hang a door on the room where she was staying a few days before she came.
Like your parents, mine lived through the Depression and Dad built as he paid, never took out a mortgage on the house. Not a bad idea in principle, but it was grand kids rather than their own kids whose memories of the house are "finished."
As you can tell, my writing time is limited lately. I may get out a post or two a week, but what lies ahead are the highlights of the projects that settled what was unsettled. You've been through it yourself and may be able to relate more than most. Thanks for the enlightening comment.

4/8/08 3:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry "if" I gave anything away! :-/ I probably can relate to your family more than most would know. I came along like your "baby" brother did to our family. There is 10 years between me and the next youngest and my sisters were teen-agers when I came along (one was 16 and one 14) so it was like two families for my parents.
I'm still in awe how my mom could eke out groceries (& cooked wonderfully to I might add) PLUS save a few $$ out for herself (unknown to my dad) to purchase "extras" for herself eventually. She was very, very frugal! Somehow though that blessing wasn't passed down to me (probably to my deficit) At any rate I'll be excited to read this story as it unfolds.
WSL

4/8/08 8:01 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

No you didn't give anything away. I was just shocked at how similar your life parallel's my brother's.
By the way, I'd never seen the "oops punctuation face"

:-/

Isn't it amazing how, in context, those punctuation marks reflect human faces. You didn't give anything anyway. I meant it in the sense of that old gospel song, "I've read the end of the book and He won." [or something like that]

5/8/08 4:49 AM  

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