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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

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Silence in Mom's House

I look around Mom’s living room and eight Emily Dickinson lines I taught for fifteen years in my American Literature class come to mind from memory.

The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth.
The sweeping up the heart
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.
.....Emily Dickinson

This is not the morning after death--unless I were to spell it m-o-u-r-n-i-n-g, and even then I only sense the solemness not the sadness I have some days. I’m sitting to write from Mom's davenport for perhaps the last time. Tomorrow, bright and early, all of my siblings are meeting here at Mom’s house to work--sorting, cleaning, hauling. You know... "the bustle in the house."
My sister and sisters-in-law have already done a great deal of the work, and the house looks somewhat like an estate sale in progress. Most of the horizontal surfaces are full of knick-knacks, framed pictures, and what not. But for the moment, we’re not planning an estate sale. We’re just sorting and organizing so family members can pick keepsakes, donate to charities, etc. When that's done there may still be so much left that we will decide to have a sale. The five of us will talk it over as we work tomorrow.

I missed Picture Day at scnool today to travel here from west Michigan. Maybe I'll just slip last year's picture in the yearbook. Don't you wish not aging was that simple?

My sister Kathy and I worked up in the walk-up attic all afternoon. Our final job was going through Mom’s cedar chest. It was packed to the top, but the strata had no particular chronological order. In a random sort of way, each layer revealed the history of the 20th Century according to Mom. Things in the mix dated from before her birth to the mid ‘90’s. There did not seem to be anything inside from recent years. Maybe she stopped gathering momentos for the cedar chest after Dad died in '95. Or maybe it's because the attic steps became harder for her to climb. Or maybe it's because the chest was buried in seasonal decorations, making it hard to open the lid.

Though neither of us had been in the cedar chest for many years, we remembered what most of the items were and why they meant something to Mom. There were tons of cards and letters from us kids when we were away at college. We sorted items into five piles, according to who they were most connected to. There was a faded envelope with a lock of Jimmy’s hair from his first haircut. The string of tiny pearls Dad gave Mom for their wedding. Mom’s wedding dress (and left-over printed napkins from the reception). An old Bible of Dad's (six others are on the bed downstairs). Paul’s Cub Scout neckerchief. All of our report cards. [I got a D in English in 7th grade! Yikes. Don’t tell anyone.]

The two most surprising treasures I found were: A United States Savings Bond for $25 in my name from July 1974. It was a graduation gift from my Uncle Roy in Pennsylvania. I will scan it, photograph it for nostalgia sake, and take it to the bank. I wonder how much it’s worth. Oh, I forgot… I can probably Google it. I‘ll do that tonight at my sister‘s house. [So I Googled it after writing this and found these two facts. “E Bonds issued December 1965 - June 1980 earn interest for 30 years.” And better yet the semi-annually accrued APR varies from 3.98% to 6%. That means it didn't quit earning interest until 2004. So that $25 graduation gift should be worth .... hmmm... let me think. Did I mention I also got a D in 7th grade math ?]

The other treasure was far more valuable to me: a handwritten scrap of paper that I knew existed because Mom told me about it when we wrote the Duncan Phyfe story last year, but I FOUND IT IN THE CEDAR CHEST. You can't see me, but I'm smiling. What could make me smile that big? Dad’s handwritten expense log of their honeymoon. Do you remember the chapter called “The Hotel’s Name is Long Forgotten.” Well guess what? It was called the Greystone Hotel. Remember how Dad asked Mom to stand back as he “checked in” so he could try to get a deal and then the room was a dump but then the desk clerk gave them the “honeymoon suite” for the same price? Well guess how much the room was… $6.25 in 1951. So just in case any of you thought I was making this stuff up--now you know. I can prove it. Dad kept records of everything. By the way, I'll be bringing home the Duncan Phyfe myself for real this weekend.

I wasn't sure I'd be able to get away from school today so only Kathy knew I might be coming. As it turns out all of my siblings have other engagements tonight. Even Julie and Natalie had engagements that kept them back in west Michigan. So I'm sitting in Mom's living room alone. I’d hoped to spend some personal quiet time here in the house. Not working, or sorting… we do that in pairs, but just writing for a few hours. So this worked out perfectly. I’m sitting at the same davenport where I wrote that piece about the wedding cake two years ago.

The main difference between that morning and this evening is obvious: the house is quiet. The coffee pot is not sputtering. I cannot hear Mom praying through the bedroom door. Funny that I can write about it without feeling sad. There are days, even now seven months since her death, that grief seems to come from nowhere. Yet here I sit, alone in the house we built with Dad all those years ago, the house I came home to in college, the house I left when I married in 1980, the house my children came to visit Grandma and Grandpa for countless Christmas Breaks and summer vacations... here I sit. My eyes are clear, and the only emotion I sense at the moment is a faint but lingering sense of “home.”
I hope to post "Unsettled" Chapter Seven: "The Virtue of Reality" Sunday or Monday night.


Blogger Tammy said...

I am sorry for the loss of your mother. I'm reading it was seven months ago...but though grief takes on different forms as we move through stages, we never stop missing them.
My dad passed away and it's hard for me to believe it's been 20 yrs. I have lived a whole different life since his passing- met my husband, had two children...yet, I can still see his expressions and hear his voice.

The poem you thought of is so perfect...

But isn't it so nice when you find those hidden, long lost treasures...

God bless!

20/9/08 12:28 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks. It's been nearly 20 years (18.5) since my father died. I know what you mean. I'm confident that today be a meanful time of work and remembrance with my siblings.

20/9/08 6:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many thoughts are spreading through my mind from reading this post...and then the comments. I "know" that feeling of going into the house after the loved one has passed away. It's been about 30+ years (I was a young woman at the time, married with small children) since my mom passed away but I still remember the feeling when going into the house the day of her funeral. (My dad was still alive and lived there for a number of years longer). In the bathroom it was just as she left it, when she went to the hospital. Some hair-care items, toiletries etc. It was eerie in a sense, even though it had been a few weeks that she'd actually left the place. What was really strange though, was the next year when my dad was getting ready to marry again (he "just" couldn't stand being alone) and going into the house and having "that" woman making all the changes! It turned out that this wasn't going to be the "most" positive occurance, over-all, to have our dad do...but that's another story. Anyway, the home that I'd grown up in was changing in SO many ways and I was finally seeing my dad as "the individual" and not the relation as I'd known him to be. It's interesting to sort through all these things as an adult!!!!

20/9/08 8:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooooppsss I see some grammer mistakes in my post! My mom had "gone" to the hospital...not "went". I didn't inspect much further, BUT felt I needed to at least corrent that one! My teacher's would be so proud!!! (smile)

20/9/08 8:45 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

What a special time for you and finding so many long lost treasures... especially the honeymoon hotel and amount! I hope you are able to soak in every moment and enjoy every treasure that you find.

I keep my "stuff" in a cedar chest too... where did that come from? I couldn't help but picture my 2 kids on the floor sorting through my things someday. The circle of life... thankfully we will end up together someday in Heaven!

I think this was worth missing picture day for. Just use last years. You haven't aged that much.

Blessings to you my friend. She was a very special lady!

20/9/08 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Ben said...

Uncle Tom,
I'm really grateful that I can spend some time reading the family story through your posts (which are excellent). I was praying for all of the family this week in preparation for the estate 'settling' today. What an opportunity to reflect on the good memories the family has made through the years, and how difficult to know where to put them. How quickly time goes, and how important to cherish the memories.

Mary and I are in a strange 'unsettled' era for our lives right now. Almost daily feeling the pull of Michigan, yet wanting to 'seize the day' while we are here in Washington. The unsettled feeling is all the more apparent with baby on the way. "Someday" is the end of so many conversations between Mary and I. Life is full of awkward times, but I'm seeing how those 'improvisations' that come our way (like moving to Buckhannon, or Seattle--or turning out the lights of Grandpa and Grandma's place) were no improvisation at all, but an instrumental piece of the puzzle God is working to show the picture of His handiwork. Just like Grandpa, God knows where he's parking the tractor before the barn is up. What an amazing blessing to have a Heavenly Father that is always working toward His good plans (which involve us)! And how good to go to bed with warm admiration of His cleverness -- God waits for us to recognize his orchestration and He probably gets a good chuckle when we finally see it all come together.

20/9/08 8:14 PM  
Anonymous quilly said...

I am so amazed and awed by the way you have used your grief and the love you have for your family to craft these incredible stories. Thank you for sharing them. In this way, I get to touch your heart and meet your family and love them, too. In this way, I can also help you grieve, because I, too, become attached to the ones you love.

21/9/08 3:44 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I'm sure you remember the old Steve Green song, "May all who come behind us find us faithful."
It was a day and evening like that. What a blessing, and your kids will do that to... but that will be another 50 years or so, right? =)

Ben, Ben, my boy! (Actually, folks, he's my nephew, my sister Kathy's son who works at Boeing in Seattle.)
I'm so glad you wrote a comment. The day went beautifully. It was so nice to get a lot done, and begin lightening the overall load of the ol' homestead. I'd say it's a few tons lighter (Your dad has hauled away over 100 trash bags to the dump this past month, and we filled another 20 yesterday.) A family can't live in large house with lots of storage areas for over 30 years and not have lots of stuff to throw away and "give away" to Goodwill, etc. You would have been proud of you uncles and Mom. We stayed on task, had a wonderful pot roast there in Grandma's dining room (haven't eaten together there in years), and made lots and lots of progress toward the goal.

I'm so glad you got the bigger metaphor of what I was saying in the last chapter. I try not to be too obvious and I try not to sermonize in my stories, but the truth is we are sometimes the last to realize there was a plan and "the father" knew it all along... yet we are constantly amazed when things "fall into place." You got it! Now I know I'm doing something right! =)

We miss you guys. Soak in Seattle while you can and then come home to Michigan!

21/9/08 4:58 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

What a kind thing to say from a "stranger" all the way out in Hawaii. I do know what you mean, though. It is possible to feel like you know someone and in this case a family somewhere in time.
Thank you so much. More to come.

21/9/08 5:00 PM  
Blogger Donnetta Lee said...

Hi, Tom: My mom is barely hanging on in southwestern Oklahoma. Brother and I are having a terrible time with her growing older. Can't convince her to move but the little house is falling apart along with her little body. She has agoraphobia and hard to get her to do anything anywhere. So, here we are in a holding pattern. I'm crossing my fingers that maybe in the spring we'll be able to coax her into moving closer to us. May have to be insistent and risk her getting angry with us. I miss my momma. D

21/9/08 7:01 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Donnetta Lee,
That is such a difficult time in life. I have a distant cousin who reads here (She became familiar with POI through my Mom's funeral), and she mentioned that her Mom, my mom's 2nd cousin, has the same condition. Surprisingly, it was through my mom's Duncan Phyfe story that they were able to get her to become a little more comfortable with the outside world and her connection to others. Perhaps if you can get her to see her current role in your lives, and how that role would be more active if she were closer, she'd understand. But it is a difficult matter because her present setting is part of her security. I wish I could be of more help. I do know it's a difficult matter for the adult-children watching and missing their mom.

21/9/08 9:07 PM  

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