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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

Monday, December 01, 2008

Unsettled Chapter 9B

There Was A Time

There was a time--
was there a time, O my!--
when days dawned blank
and yawning to the sky
we flung the sheets
and sprung from beds
pulled the blankets "made"
and pushed our waking heads
through wadded shirts
yanked off the night before
did up our trousers
running out the door
and leapt barefoot, impetuous,
from porch shade to the sun
arms outstretched
to wrap around another day begun.
© Copyright ,2008, TK, Patterns of Ink

I didn't know it at the time, but that summer when we dug the well was a turning point in our lives. Until that time, my brother Dave and I had spent our days with pretty much the same carefree approach to life. Even when we worked with Dad on Saturdays, our goal was "being done," creating free time to play. He was a year and ten months older than I, but through elementary and junior high we'd been on the same page when it came to "play." Anything Dave wanted to do, I wanted to do. Any toy Dave got, I wanted one, too. He got a ten-speed. I got a ten-speed. He got a tape recorder; I got one. He took up drawing as an artistic pastime; and I did the same (though with much less a gift).

When all three of us brothers were little, we all three got at least one "same toy" each Christmas, but in more recent years, Paul had moved on from toys to clothes, records, "after shave," and other things Dave and I had no use for. Dave and I continued getting pairs of things under the tree until he moved on to high school. I think the last "same toy" Christmas may have been '67 when we got our Johnny Speed Jaguars by Topper Toys (which first came out in '66). Each year, we'd play with that year's toy through much of the winter, but by summer time, as the above short poem suggests, our adventures went outside, and we woke as if with chalk in hand poised above the same "blank slate."

But when Dave moved up to the high school building and I was still at Burton Junior High, his interest understandably began to change. At the end of his sophomore year, just before the summer we dug the well, he got his driver's license, but with five drivers sharing two family cars, he and I still rode our bikes most places. When he did get permission to drive the Country Squire station wagon, his friends pretended not to mind when I tagged along, but I caught myself feeling more and more like a fifth wheel on an empty wagon.

I did have many friends my own age, and our house tended to be the place where all our friends from church and the neighborhood felt at home. But because our family was so close, and because Dad had always stressed that we siblings ought to be each others best friends, I became a fourteen-year-old boy to enjoy playing with his two-year-0ld brother.

Just as I had given Dave a valid reason to stay in "toy land" for a few extra years, Jimmy gave me an excuse and lots of time to play with toys long after most kids my age moved on to other things. This picture is the two of us that Christmas before the well. That year, I got a bow and arrow set [Dave had found a bow on trash day so I wanted one, too], a new tire for my bike--yes, it was actually on my list--and a new Bible, but what I enjoyed most was playing with my little brother and his toys.

Later that same day, we went to my Uncle Neal and Aunt Jackie's house in Croswell for Christmas dinner. All the cousins on Mom's side of the family were there. That's Jimmy in the front in red overalls, me in the plaid shirt behind him, and Dave behind me in the center. He is oldest by two years in the picture of cousins. Kathy and Paul were not in the picture. They may have been off talking with the "grown ups."

Round the table during dessert, the aunts and uncles and grandparents were talking with Kathy about going off to college the next year. I didn't know it at the time, but it was decided that day that when my parents drove Kathy to South Carolina, Jimmy and I would stay there at Aunt Jackie's for three days. Dave and Paul would stay with my Grandma and Grandpa Spencer's in Port Huron. So already the new pairing of the older two brothers and the younger two brothers, even though we were 12 years apart, had begun.

The next Sunday after the Christmas of '69, Dad took this picture of us in the living room. (I had gotten the sweater two years before, and had only slightly out-grown it. If you look closely I have holes in both socks. And that hat on Mom--Oh, My! Hats were about to give way to "fashion wigs" but that is another chapter.)

I include the picture to help you understand what changes were waiting in the wings come 1970 after this photo was taken. That fall, a few weeks after the well was done, my parents took Kathy to college (I was in charge of Jim for those three days as planned.) The next year Paul (in the center) would join her; the year after that, Dave would join them, leaving just Jimmy and me at home.

There's a point to this background being included in Chapter 9B. Now shift from that Christmas to the following June in Chapter 9A, the morning I woke from the "underwear dream" but didn't have to get up. You can see from the picture why Paul and Dave were the ones Dad took to help him begin the well while I stayed back to do Dave's paper route. The reality of lagging further and further behind in "boyhood" had been evident for about a year, but that morning it seemed official.

I had fallen back to sleep when Dad and Paul and Dave had left at five, and I woke a couple hours later with Jimmy still asleep in the bottom bunk. I stared up at the ceiling just a few inches from my face. "So this is what it will be like in a couple years," I thought. I didn't like the feeling. I didn't like the quiet. Then I thought about Jim. In four years I would be gone to college. What then? He would be six and practically an only child. It made me sad to think about it--and all the more determined to be a good brother for him. He was the new "baby of the family"--a role I gladly passed along--but I also felt somewhat responsible for his well being.

"Are you awake, Jimmy?" I whispered over the edge.

"Yes. Are you?" his little voice whispered back.

"Of course, I'm awake. How else could I be talking? Listen, I've got to do Dave's paper route today, and then when I get back, we're going out to the property to help Dad dig the well. Okay? So you've got to help make sure Mom gets lunch made on time so we can get out there as soon as I get back. Okay? You know she gets sidetracked. So make sure she's ready to go. Okay?"

At a very early age Jimmy learned to accept the realities of our household.

I was never thrilled about begin awakened well before dawn on Saturdays, but neither did I like sleeping in and waking to a sunlit room. It made me feel like the freshest part of the day had been wasted. I felt guilty that Dave and Paul and Dad had already been working on the well for hours, and I was at home in bed. I slid down over the edge of the bunk, careful not to step on Jim.

The Saturday Detroit News was delivered at noon. By the time I got home, Mom had lunch packed in the picnic basket she always used (Jimmy told me he helped), and we were headed off to join the others. It was a 25-minute drive to the Property.

Before reading the next chapter, a brief aside may be worth mentioning: I mentioned I was still at Burton Junior High in Roseville, Michigan. There was a time when Burton stood east of "School Street" in this photo map. We walked there from our house three blocks south on Buckhannon in 5-10 minutes. If you look at that photo map again, you'll see a large parking lot and building north of 11 Mile Road. You'll also notice three small buildings along 11 Mile Rd. between School St. and Gratiot Ave.. Sandwiched in between those buildings was the small drafty Detroit News "Paper Station" where I went to get the papers that day. It was run by a stogie smokin' man we knew only as "Joe." That little station is long gone, hence the gaps between the buildings, and that big building on School St. is not Burton. In the late 70's I-696, was constructed very near the school. By the mid 80's, the baby boom had fizzled and the district had too many buildings. Burton sat on what was now prime commercial land and was sold to a developer. That perfectly good school was torn down and a large home improvement store now stands where all my school memories from 7th through 9 grade were made. If it's any consolation, the well we were about to dig is still there... I promise to get to that in the next chapter.


Note: Some of you caught a sneak preview of this poem when I accidentally posted a draft of it the week before Thanksgiving. I'm still not sure about the syntax and punctuation (or lack thereof). Some may say that impetuous should have "ly," but I prefer the adjective describing us rather than the adverb describing how we jumped. The title is, of course, borrowed from Wordsworth's Ode on similar thoughts. When reading the lines aloud, the run-on tone helps captrue the feeling of those magic summer mornings when we woke with "nothing we had to do," a feeling that fades as "responsibility" gradually outweighs recreation.

8 Comments:

Blogger Dr.John said...

I thought this would be the well digging chapter. You are full of surprises. I did enjoy your sharing the family dynamic.

1/12/08 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It "just" occurred to me...you have a really, really good memory!!! Graphic too! How is that possible??!

Enjoy my voyeourims into your introspectrums!!! :-)
WSL

1/12/08 2:38 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I had a lot of catching up to do. Three posts in a row. How did I miss this much?

I love the underwear adventure. Isn't it amazing how you always wake up at just the right moment?

You seemed to really enjoy your time with your younger brother. My experience was very similar, only with a sister and girl stuff. We were encouraged to be "best friends" too, and we still are today.

I look forward to your next chapter.

I hope you and your family had a great Thanksgiving. It was hectic for me but full of family, food and fun- which is a blessing indeed!

1/12/08 9:12 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
My siblings and our families were together at the house over the Thanksgiving break and that "colored" this chapter.

WSL,
My memory of these things is so vivid its haunting. I also visit with my siblings about the details. Dave helped me remember some of the songs that were playing on the radio as we dug (in upcoming chapters). I did have a small reel-to-reel tape recorder back then, and Dave and I used to pretend we were "reporters," but the fact is detailed dialogue is "based on" recollection and not verbatim, but true to the people and "voices" involved.

Nancy,
It was a great but busy weekend for us, too. My daughter was home from school in Chicago. She had not gone through Mom's house since her death last February so that was very meaningful.

I spent an evening at the nursing home with my grandmother (mom's mom) who is almost 98. We played BINGO in the cafeteria and Euchre (a Michigan card game) in the lounge until after 10:00 pm. She won all games--which was no surprise. She also had gone via city bus to the beauty shop that day to have her hair done. That was a fun night. I had driven our van over there alone the day before Thanksgiving because we were bringing a bed back to my daughter’s house. The family joined me the next day.
Lots of snow here. It's beautiful but no cancelation.

1/12/08 11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your memory is a "treasure" for sure! My husband and I were watching (yeah, we're lame) one of those info-mercials selling cd's of music from back in "our day". His comment was "why is it we can remember the words to ALL of those songs but can't remember anything that happened a week ago??!!" We're not THAT old but it's a factor of aging nonetheless.

What a blessing to still have your grandmother and that she can interact with you!!

Can't wait until the next installment! WSL

2/12/08 2:53 PM  
Blogger Family Man said...

Thanks for sharing your family memories.

4/12/08 4:03 PM  
Blogger Donnetta Lee said...

What wonderful stories, Tom. I love the pictures, too. Memories, memories. Now we can enjoy them, too! D

5/12/08 4:16 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Family Man and Donnetta Lee,
Thanks for dropping by.

The trouble with trying to write a sequential narrative in ones "spare time" is two-fold:

first it takes so long between "chapters" that I'm probably frustrating readers; and second, the chapters get "colored" with the real-life events that happen between the writing of them. In this case, I wrote most of this post the week my siblings and I were working at my Mom's house sorting out the attic, etc.--including old photos and all Mom's Christmas treasures from our childhood. So while this chapter does lead to the next, it is also a bit random chronologically with jumps to the past and back to future which in itself is actually 35 years in the past.

All,
Thanks for sticking with it.

6/12/08 6:58 AM  

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