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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, August 24, 2008

Mourning Glory

Sometimes its through mourning
that glory comes to God,
when seeds of fallen sorrow
burst beneath the sod
and roots of grief
press through hardened pain
to the dark and dampened soil
of forgotten rain.
Then drawing strength
and pushing earth apart,
the stem and vine rise up
'til tendrils of the heart
can cling to hope
when the long night is done,
and mourning turns to glory
as the blooms turn t’ward the sun.
© Copyright 8-25-2008, TK, Patterns of Ink
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Psalm 30:11
"You have turned my mourning into dancing, Lord."
This afternoon I began mulling over this use of the words "mourning" and "glory."
Psalm 30: 11 came to mind but even more so the story of Lazarus in John 11 when Mary and Martha were broken hearted, and even Jesus wept, but there was a reason for His timing: "It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
(This foreshadowed His own resurrection. In the Lazarus context, the final word "sun" could be replaced with "Son.") The idea first struck me a few posts back when I wrote about Morning Glories. Mr. Nebola's flowers will come up again in the next chapter of our "Unsettled" story about building the log barn.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Unsettled: Chapter 5

Noah Found Grace in the Eyes of the Lord

We had no fancy stereo in our home. Okay. Time-out! I guess I should explain what a stereo is for readers born after 1970...

A stereo was a large piece of furniture that usually occupied an entire wall of the “living room.” It was longer and lower than a piano but heavy and typically situated for a decade or so without being moved. The cabinetry was fine wood that matched the rest of the home décor. At the right and left were speakers behind fancy grill cloth, the weave of which typically included a tinsel like thread. The top of the stereo had two or three separate lids that raised to reveal the electronic components inside--AM-FM radio, and a three-speed turntable for LP [which stood for “long play”] or stereo records. "Stereo" meant that the left speaker played a separately recorded track than the right speaker. This "split" gave listeners in the room the sense that, for instance, the drummer and bass player were in the left corner of the living room while the lead guitar and vocal were in the right.
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At the peak of the stereo era, people sat in the center of the room amazed at the directional quality of the music being played from a vinyl disc the size of a pizza pan inside the stereo. Dozens of such discs were stored in cardboard sleeves usually organized vertically in the cabinet itself. It was not uncommon for people to read with great interest all the fine print on the cardboard sleeve (also called an "album jacket") while listening to the music that was kept in it.

As electronics and the means of storing recorded music became ever-smaller and more mobile, the huge stereo (as a piece of furniture) gradually faded from the American home. Faded?… who am I kidding… it took two men and a truck to haul the things away. Today all the music and “high fidelity” of a thousand vinyl stereo records can be downloaded, stored and played on one MP3 player the size of your thumb. The downside, of course, is that instead of a family or friends sitting in a room listening to the same music while reading album jackets, music lovers walk through life with ear-bud wires hanging from their lobes, oblivious to human interaction, enraptured in tunes but completely out of tune with reality. Yet another example of how global technology expands communal culture while isolating us each to our own worlds.

Whoa! Sorry about that rabbit trail… where was I? Oh yes... (and this does relate to our "Unsettled" story)...

We had no fancy stereo in our home, but Mom did have a small “Victrola” as my grandmother called it. It was not a true Victrola, of course, but since hers was made by RCA (Radio Corporation of America) and since RCA and the Victor company had merged many years before, somehow portable record players, about the size of a small square suitcase, were still dubbed with the antique name. My mom’s collection of records was not extensive. She had a dozen Christmas albums, everything “Mitch Miller and the Gang” cranked out, some Burl Ives, and an ever-growing collection of Southern Gospel, ranging from little-known groups like Naomi and the Segos to Tennessee Ernie Ford.

On one of Mom's Tennessee Ernie Ford albums there was a song called “Noah Found Grace in the Eyes of the Lord.” [That is a Youtube link to Burl Ives singing the same version of the song, but I prefer the TEF version.] Speaking of records...
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I realize that not all readers of the Old Testament account of Noah and the flood, would consider it a literal matter of record, but just for the record--that is, the much less important record of what I think, not the all-important record of what Scripture says--I find the account of Noah quite credible at many levels. But since it is not my intent to begin a theological or scientific discussion, allow me to simply say that my brothers and I never doubted the story. We could strongly relate to Noah‘s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the unsung heroes of the tale, who faithfully worked along side their father on a project that no one else understood.
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Can you imagine what it would be like if Shem, Ham, and Japheth were in high school today?

“Hey, Shem. Some of us guys are going camping this weekend. You want to go?”

“Ah… well…. Sound’s like fun, but I’d better pass…”

“Oh, come on. It’s going to be great. Bring Ham. He's always good for a laugh, and Jepheth is welcome, too.”

“We appreciate the invite, but we really can’t," says Shem, rubbing a callous on his thumb, "We gotta help Dad with the ark.”

“Oh, yeah… I forgot,” snicker, snicker, “You gotta help your dad with that ark thing he's got going on. When's that going to be done?”
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"We're not sure. It's kinda takin' longer than we thought..."

Paul, Dave, and I sometimes felt like Noah's sons through our high school years. It especially seemed that way the second year of owning the property, when Dad began the “barn,” which is the subject of the next chapter.
In the meantime, click on that link and imagine my brothers and I singing that song around the house and Dad joining in with us sometimes as we worked together out at the property. Sounds corny, but early Saturdays when the sun started shining through the trees, we used to whistle and sing while we worked. Out there in the woods, with nobody listening, who cared what it sounded like? Sort of like singing in the shower (except by the time we got in the shower late Saturday night, we were too tired to sing).
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Friday, August 15, 2008

Unsetteled: Chapter 4

"Up and At'em"

The alarm clock rang with a deep metal clang that would bring Joe Frazier to his feet from the corner stool. But unlike a boxing-ring bell, Dad's Big Ben kept clanging until his finger shot intuitively through the dark to the little steel button on the back. Five to five. Time to wake the boys for breakfast.

But the three of us boys heard the noisy ring. Our beds were side by side a foot apart in the room beside Mom and Dad's, and the alarm, like an audible spatula, had turned us over-easy in bed. Our heads took cover under pillows, but we were awake.

“Up and at‘em, boys!” came the whisper at our door. We did not yet know it, but those five words just after the din of Dad’s alarm would begin the next few hundred Saturdays of our lives.
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The purchase of the property was final--went without a hitch just a few days before, and we were as excited as Dad for this day to come, this first day to work on the land, but the fact is the day had not yet come. Morning was a few hours away, and somewhere in the night our bodies had unharnessed the enthusiasm that kept us awake at bedtime. As we sat with bed-head hair around the kitchen table, rubbing the crusties from our eyes, the anticipation slowly returned.
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I have never been shaken awake before dawn to go fishing, but I think our groggy gleeful whispers that first Saturday morning were akin to those of fishing buddies in a cabin shared with sleeping wives. In our case, the "sleeping wives" were Mom and Kathy and little Jim who, knowing the clanging alarm did not apply to them, were still sound asleep. Later, much later, after they delivered Paul's papers, they would be bringing lunch out to us, but that would be at least another eight hours after the bowled breakfast Dad set before us.

“Eat hardy, boys, this'll have to tide you over ‘til lunch time.”

“What are we doing first?” Paul asked with a mouthful of cereal.

“Well, you know those weed scythes I bought last week? First thing we’re going to do is clear the old drive as far back as we can so we have a place to park the car, but that won’t take long at all. The old two-track is pretty clear for a hundred feet or so. Then it ought to be light enough for us to start surveying and clearing the south lot line.”

"Clearing like clearing a trail?" I asked. "How wide?"

"Not a walking path. Just clear enough to see through the transit."

"What's a transit?" I wondered aloud.

"It's that little telescope thing in that wooden box downstairs," Dave said.

"Yeah, that's it," Dad said, "It's not a telescope, but you've got the right idea."

Paul added, "It goes up on that wooden tripod with the pointed legs."

“How long will it take to survey?” Dave asked.

“Shouldn't take long," Dad said peeling a banana. "Depends on how much brush is in the way, and how many times I have to sharpen the chain saw. My goal is to get half-way to the creek by lunch time and to the creek by dark. Tom, you'll do most of the weed whackin', and Paul you'll be using that new post-hole digger--just push, spread, and pull like I showed you. Dave, you'll back fill the posts--spell off with Paul if he gets tired, and Tom and I will keep moving ahead, cutting posts from the trees in the way, and marking where to put 'em. Shouldn't take long."
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They didn't say anything, but Dave and Paul's eyes met on the second "shouldn't take long." Their eyebrows twitched upward and back into place so slightly that Dad did not see. For the moment he seemed content to watch how effortlessly his knife dropped banana slices on his cereal.

The creek was about two-thirds of the way down the south side of the property, 900 yards, three football fields. We did not make it half-way by lunch time, but we did reach the creek by dark--two Saturdays later! The east line across the back of the land was shorter, and since a developer had already cleared the trees beyond, it was basically a matter of sinking posts.
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Clearing the lot lines was the first project we completed with Dad that fall, and in doing so we soon discovered three things: First, the weed scythes were no match for this land--nor was Dad's first chain saw. He had to upgrade (and in the months ahead he developed an arsenal of saws for trees of all sizes). Second, Dad was the hardest working man we'd ever seen. And third, he was a good man, a good worker--honest as the day is long--but he was lousy at estimating how long "pioneer work" took to do,and each Saturday it seemed we bit off more than a day could chew.
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Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Unsettled" Chapter 3

The Places That We Pick

[Here’s a recap of events so far: My Dad went “squirrel hunting” and spent the day scouting out some unsettled land he wanted to buy as a homestead. He had begun a similar process in Port Huron back in 1960, but then his job at Bell moved us to the Detroit area. Mom and Dad sold their dream house quicker than expected and had to buy a house in a hurry. It was just “for a while,” because Dad had no desire to live in the city, but “whiles” by nature tend to pass when no one’s looking at the clock. Full seven years “whiled by” from the time we moved to Roseville to the time Dad found the land, and it would be another seven years before we lived in the house we built there. This story is about those latter seven years, that unsettled time in our lives when we still resided in the suburbs but spent every weekend, every school break, and nearly all of Dad’s “vacation time” working with him at “the property,” as we called the land until it became our home.]

Why were these unsettling years? What boy doesn‘t dream of having his own “forest“ to run wild in? When asked on a Monday at school “Wudja do this weekend?” what boy would not be proud to say, “We felled some trees to make some logs to build our barn”? This kind of work was so cool to talk about that most of our friends began coming out to work with us, and between all the hours of work with Dad there was equally as much time for play. He made sure of that, for watching us boys from his perch on the tractor seat or high in the log rafters of the barn reminded him that his dream was real, that the decision to live someday in the country, in the woods, had indeed been a good one. We boys loved the place that Dad had picked to build our home. But when I say these years were unsettling, I’m not talking about us boys, I’m speaking more of Mother.

Something happened to Mom in Roseville that Dad had not anticipated. Something happened with each passing year in those narrow streets and yards so close that housewives spending days alone could talk while hanging laundry on the line. Something happened summer afternoons on the cool cement stoop of our porch with the sidewalk just a wave away and where people passing always spoke and where children from blocks around would while away the afternoons with Mrs. K, the lady who always had time to visit… something happened.

Mom fell in love with that neighborhood where nearly everything and everyone was close. She loved that Mr. Nebola picked the place outside her kitchen window to plant his Morning Glories.
Each summer a different color draped the chain link fence between our back yards. Beneath the leaves a thousand spiral fingers wrapped 'round the wire. These clinging vines were his not ours--that is the stems attached to earth on his side of the fence, and it was his care they received--but the blooms themselves were faithful only to the sun and always opened biggest on our side [the east side] of the fence. Mom loved that she could see them from her kitchen window.

She loved that a cup of sugar or a half-a-loaf of bread or two teaspoons of vanilla were just a neighbor away in a pinch or a few blocks away at the grocery store if she planned ahead. Mom was usually in a pinch but the neighbors didn’t mind, and her friends did the same with her.

It was through borrowed pinches of time that the neighbor ladies got to know each other. [Hard as it is to believe today, in the Sixties, in the suburbs, nearly every house had inside a housewife home alone.] Mom loved that when she shook a rug from the front porch, she’d see others doing the same from just a yoo-hoo away. More than any place she’d lived since Forest and Riverview, the house where she was born, the house she'd left the day she married, Mom felt at home in Roseville, and she loved it.

Ironically, it was the nearness of everything that bothered Dad. What he disliked about our neighborhood was not the neighbors but the tight squeeze of unshared space. Lot lines were so precise that “edgers,” bladed wheels at the end of a long wooden handle, served as border patrol, trimming encroaching blades of grass from the concrete lines of “yours and mine.” Back yards were even more distinct with a four-foot chain link fence around a lawn ten-paces square. The very closeness that let Mom visit from her bedroom window to her friend’s kitchen window was the very closeness that frustrated Dad. The more closed-in he felt, the more often he told himself that this was not the kind of place he'd pick to raise his family.

For Mom, the dream they'd shared for all those years had a softer focus before the land was purchased. There had been a time when she wanted to live in the country just a much as Dad did, but something happened in the seven years of neighborhood living. She kept it deep inside.

The thought of a bigger house, made just the way she wanted with kids and someday grandkids running all around--that thought made her smile. But the out-in-the-country part, the not-a-neighbor-in-sight part, the surrounded-by trees part… these thoughts made her fearful. And each time they came to mind her eyes took her someplace far away as her fingers searched for imperfections on her skin. Up and down the back of her arm (or down her leg if she was sitting), whenever she slipped deep in thought, she seemed unaware that her hand was acting on its own.

Then with a shake of her head she’d say as if she were standing beside herself, “Don’t worry about it, Bev, When the time comes, it’ll be fine.” And with a shallow breath of confidence, she’d go about her day not knowing that the place her fingernail had picked was bleeding.
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Monday, August 04, 2008

"Unsettled": Preface Poem?

To give you a better understanding of the timing of this series (and an explanation of why it's taking more time than usual to write), it may help if I mention that this Thursday is the half-year mark since Mom's death. This past weekend all of my siblings came from the Detroit metro area to our house in west Michigan for a three-day get-together (culminating with the best fireworks we've ever seen). Lots of early morning chats over coffee, evening bocci on the lawn, and late-night talks by the campfire. It was a relaxing change of pace for all of us.

I have begun writing these "Unsettled" posts as my siblings and I begin the difficult, sad, reflective business sometimes called "the settling of the estate," which includes the question of when to sell the homestead. We are fortunately not under any particular pressure, but we are realists and know that as soon as is prudent... someone else will be calling our land "home." If so, I want to leave a draft of these chapters on the kitchen counter of the house. If they were to someday need a preface, I might settle for this short piece below that I wrote many years ago.

It would be especially fitting if the title, which I've not settled on, indeed remained "Unsettled," because the storyline makes use of forms of the word "to settle" (or unsettled as the case may be). Set can be an adjective meaning "established" as in "he was set in his ways" or "the date was set." It can mean "equipped to proceed" as in "We were all set to begin." Set can also be a verb (e.g. "the cement began to set"). The verb "settle" can mean "to take care of" as in "to settle an estate." It can mean, to accept something less than what was hoped for as in "he settled for a place in the suburbs."

In this story, settle often uses the meaning: "to make a homestead of unsettled land as the "settlers" did.

And obviously settle can also refer to how things are finally resolved, how they "end up." It is for this latter reason that this short poem with its line "...dust is a kind reminder that some things settle on their own" may be a fitting preface to these unfolding chapters.

Bookmark

Sorting through some attic shelves
(in search of something else)
I came upon a book
I’d left half-read some summer past.
A memoir of a life it was
that evidently held
less interest than my own
once the clock began again.

In truth it seemed not long ago,
and though I do not know
whether I passed time
or time passed me,
dust is a kind reminder
that some things settle on their own.

And as I brushed away the proof,
my finger caught the corner of a bookmark,
a photograph I must have used
to hold my place those many years ago.

How strange to find it there—
a snapshot I’d forgotten
of a memory all but lost
until…
I took the bookmark in my hand
and, happily, it took me back
and made me laugh again.
© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink

Photo Note: That's me in the left side of the tractor bucket (with my friend Bob J. and our BB guns). Dave and his friend Don E. are on the back fenders, and my little brother Jim is in Dad's lap. Mom is taking the picture. The year is 1969. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The next posts hint that, though Mom was taking pictures and excited about the land, she still had some "unsettled" feelings about the eventual changes ahead. After that, we'll come back to these days of tractors and "settling" the land.

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