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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

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Cistern Empty on a Saturday Night

A Brief Demonstration of
the Tangled Tangents in My Mind

We had a powdering of snow this week, and it made me think of Mom. This will be our first Thanksgiving and Christmas without her. The thought of snow brought this fact to mind because of an old family tradition my mom started over 50 years ago. I've written about before. When the first good snow of the year began to fall my mom would run to the phone to call loved one's far and near to ask, "Are the Lights on at Palmer."

When all the calls were done, she'd stand at the big picture window off and on all night, smiling and singing, "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!" She had a nice singing voice, and knew hundreds of songs by heart, but more often than not she'd just chirp out the first line of the song like a gleeful little girl at the news of getting a puppy. Snow made her that happy.
This week's light snow was not enough to trigger the tradition, but we're expecting a good snow this week, and it occurred to me that we won't be able to call Mom. It also brought that song to mind, and then when it came on the radio while I was driving home alone from work, I just had to call my sister on the east side of the state. They, too, had a trace of snow, and she was feeling blue for the same reason.

Did you know "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" was written by Meredith Willson? Yep-- the year my parents were married, 1951. Willson is much better known for The Music Man, which was one of the albums my mom played when it wasn't Christmas. I got to know that musical well. Willson was from Iowa, and in 1982, when Julie and I visited there to be interviewed for teaching positions, I caught myself singing "We ought to give Iowa a try" on the way home. We did, and in fact, we lived there 18 years, during which time I directed the stage production twice.
A few years further back, when I was in college, I did a one-man adaptation of the unsung opening number on the train seen below.

Can you imagine one person doing those lines as a “dramatic reading,“ using different voices for five "characters"? It wasn't that hard actually. I still know it by heart. The steam-driven rhythms and iron-wheel pace of that number have worn a groove in my mind. I fear that if I live long enough to someday drool in a nursing home, I'll be shuffling down a tiled hallway mumbling:

“Why it's the Model T Ford
Made the trouble
Made the people wanna go
Wanna get, wanna get
Wanna get up and go
Seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve,
Fourteen, twenty-two,
Twenty-three miles
To the county seat…”

Visiting guests will look on with pity while the passing nurse whispers, “Don’t pay attention to him or he’ll do the whole show.”
(Stick with me. There's a point to this post...)

Willson’s gift for using words like percussion instruments also shines in Harold Hill’s fast-talkin’, snake-oil song: “Ya Got Trouble,” which provides both the title of this post and a segue to the next:

“And all week long,
your River City youth'll be fritterin' away
I say, your young men'll be fritterin'
Fritterin' away their noontime,
suppertime, choretime, too
Hit the ball in the pocket
Never mind gettin' dandelions pulled
or the screen door patched
or the beefsteak pounded
Never mind pumpin' any water
'til your parents are caught
with a cistern empty on a Saturday night
and that's trouble
Oh, ya got lots and lots o' trouble…”

The line is at 2:20 in this Youtube clip:

Hill knew his conservative River City audience, and “a cistern empty on a Saturday night” meant that someone would have to pump water on Sunday. A hundred years ago that was “trouble” because work of any kind on the Sabbath was to be avoided. A lot has changed since then, but that’s for another post.
I've shared all these thoughts to introduce the word cistern. The next chapter of the "Unsettled" story is all about how we helped Dad dig our cistern well back in 1970. Read on…
You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, Tom… you told us about snow and Palmer Park and your Mom's song and all this Music Man stuff just to talk about the word cistern? Why wait for that nursing home? You're already senile!" I often wonder myself.
Some call it "associative thinking" when one thought leads naturally to another, but my mind is sometimes a tangle of tangents that I alone can sort out. That's one of the reasons it has taken me over a month to get to the chapters about digging the well with dad.
I hope it's worth the wait.


Blogger Dr.John said...

The trouble is I understand that kind of thinking.

15/11/08 6:22 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
That is a relief! I feel better already. =)

15/11/08 7:31 PM  
Anonymous quilly said...

This post was fun. I am not quite certain why you describe it as being Tangled Tangents. To me it was perfectly straight forward and clear.

Oh, and I love this movie!

15/11/08 8:12 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks, I guess there are more people than I realized whose thougts are as randomly connected as mine. =)
Glad it made sense. Nearly every song scene from the movie is at that particular site.

15/11/08 11:05 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

YOU are a mess! It all made sense to me all the way through. When you mentioned it in the post... I wondered why you even mentioned it. This is TOM writing at Patterns of Ink... that's what I've come to expect and would be disappointed if I didn't encounter a TANGLED TANGENT (whatever that is). Sometimes it is more than my pea brain can digest but then I just blame it on my pea brain and make what ever sense I need to out of "IT"! Whatever "IT" happens to be.

16/11/08 7:42 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

This has been an interesting experience for me. I thought because I started with those thoughts about Mom and ended with something so entirely different, that I was stretching the limits of what readers might find "logical" or "readable," come to find out... I'm always like that. =)

Well, the next three parts will be interesting I think. I have found it interesting putting them together.
Next part: about "Cisterns"
Second part: about "digging wells"
Third part: the cistern well we dug.
(If I don't break it up into three parts, it will be way too long.)

16/11/08 8:47 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

Mr. K... keep on with the tangled tangents. That's the beauty of writing... making sense of what otherwise seems like randomness. Nothing is random, really. And you are one of the few who knows that it all connects. Somehow.

18/11/08 10:55 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Emily, (Class of '87)
It was great to hear from you today after 22 years. It was great to hear that your gift of writing turned into a fulfilling career. Thanks for the kind post. There are few rewards greater than hearing from a former student.

18/11/08 7:09 PM  

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