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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, December 24, 2008

Chapter 11: "There is a Kind of Work"

After eating the picnic lunch Mom made, everyone but Dad inadvertently slipped into “picnic” mode and assumed we had some free time. Jimmy wanted to walk down to the creek, and Dave and I started that direction with him.

"Don’t go far, Boys. We need to get digging if we‘re going to sink two crocks. And look out for poison ivy if you wander off the path.”

In all his years at Bell Telephone, Dad had only missed a few days work back in 1961when he had a terrible case of poison ivy that blistered both his arms. Other than that he never missed a day. He was a company man with the kind of work ethic that gradually faded in the generations to follow. To Dad, going to work was a duty wrapped in loyalty. He had begun by climbing poles, but had also climbed the Bell ladder to upper management positions in downtown Detroit. He did not like management--especially when he was managing people who did not share his work ethic, which was happening more and more with each passing year.

Sometimes his work was exciting. In the summer of 1967, during the Detroit Race Riots, military assistance was brought in to gain control, and Dad was called in to set up secure phone lines for a secret visit of President Johnson. “Wait a minute, you may be saying, I don’t recall that LBJ went to Detroit during the riots.” Of course, you don’t. It was secret. Back in a time when secret things could happen without leaking to the press.
[Above is a photo "thumbprint" showing of the kind of emergency communications Dad set up for the "suits" who came to Detroit to help contain the rioting. Dad is not in the picture, but he dressed exactly like these men every day for three decades. Left: "Call in the Army!"]
Lots of stuff was going on that no one talked about. Due to the nature of his work and restrictions of travel, Dad literally lived downtown during the two weeks of rioting. There was a curfew in place at the same time, and the entire Detroit-metro area was not allowed out after dark. Imagine… miles beyond the mayhem, all stores and stations were closed, no one in sight, not a car moving on miles of silent pavement, and somewhere beyond view were scores of armoured vehicles and soldiers on patrole to keep it so.

There in Roseville, several miles north of the rioting, Dave and I climbed the garage trellis to one of our favorite childhood “escapes.” From there on the small shingled roof, we could hear the sirens and gun shots in the distance; we could see the faint glow of far away fires in the night sky. And we knew that somewhere in that direction Dad was working on a special job for Bell. He told us on the phone that he was far from the danger, but he was also far from home--or so it felt as we stared, eyes wide, in the night. Silhouettes on a roof, safe in the ghostly silence of our streets.

About a week later, Dad came home from Detroit in the middle of the afternoon-- he typically arrived like clockwork just after Mom set the table for supper at five. He was all smiles and hugs and full of stories. “It was unbelievable. We were inside Bell buildings most of the time, but when we had to move to other buildings, we had a military escort.”

It was then he told us President Johnson had flown in with some commanders to reconnoiter the situation. Dad had not seen the President (though he had not voted for him, he would have shown him complete respect if they had crossed paths), but he did set up the phones they used in the days following the visit. A few weeks after the riots ended, Dad took us on a tour of the damage. Block after block had been destroyed. That part of Detroit looked like a bombed-out European city in one of those old black-and-white war movies.
The summer after the riots, some lower-level Bell workers went on strike, and all the upper-level men (yes, they were virtually all men at the time) had to cross picket lines to go to work. They weren’t SCABS as such, since they had not been hired to take the place of the strikers, but they were doing their jobs.

Dad and his buddies were working what was left of the vanishing “switchboard” operations (which would soon be mostly automated by computers). One morning they tried to cross the picket line to get to their temporary duties and they were confronted by a handful of men who stopped in front of them while dozens of others kept marching up and down the sidewalk with their signs.

Dad and his other friends in white shirts and narrow neck ties had seen this coming. Each day they entered the building in the door furthest from the picketers only to find the picketers at that entrance walk the next day. This day, there were enough marchers to block the walks at all the doors.

“There’s no work for you in there today.” said the biggest man.

“There’s always work to do and people to do it.”

“Well, not for SCABs,” the tough guy said.

“We‘re not SCABS, and you know it. You work for Bell; we work for Bell. We‘re not taking your jobs--we‘re just serving the customers so you have a job to come back to,” Dad said with a determined smile.

“I don’t care who you are; you’re not getting through this line,” he threatened.

But he misinterpreted Dad’s smile. It wasn’t a sign of weakness; it wasn’t a nervous courtesy; it wasn’t a cocky smirk. It was the first ripple from a reservoir of “fight or flight” adrenaline that Dad had, having grown up with three brothers and having stood his ground many times with them and sometimes against them in street fights and football games. This adrenaline had only once taken the "flight" mode (when his brother Jack insulted a large black man at Pine Grove Park). It more typically took the "fight" path--especially in the ring during his Golden Gloves days. None of these traits were obvious to his peers at Bell, who knew him only as a hard-working shirt-and-tie with a ready smile.

“Come on, Don,” his buddy whispered in his ear. “We’re not getting paid to get busted up to go to work.”

"You can do what you want,” Dad replied to the two men with him, “but I’m going to work today.”

And with that he stepped around the man who pushed not Dad but the other two away while another man jumped on Dad’s back hoping to flatten him to the sidewalk, but Dad merely bent over, keeping his balance and grabbing one of the man’s legs, spinning him in what looked something like a “fireman’s carry.” He then flung the man to the grass with a thud. The man looked up at him, wind knocked from his lungs, with harmless anger in his eyes.

Dad turned to see his buddies still blocked by the line. Since his goal was getting to work, and the others had already expressed a willingness to turn around, he saw no point in waiting to see what else would happen and began toward the door. But the bigger man, who’d told them to go home, bounded after him, putting him in headlock from behind. The picketers were not to leave the sidewalk, which was public property, but this guy had now followed Dad onto Bell property and was getting closer and closer to the building as Dad continued toward the door as if pressing for a first down.
Dad stepped up on the concrete stoop a few feet from the door, and the man’s arm slipped from a head lock and down to a full-arm choke around his neck. This really angered Dad. (It’s all fun and games until you take away a man’s air.) Dad was a boxer not Judo man, but he stepped up on the stoop, spun around toward the walk, grabbed the big guys elbow and flipped him over his shoulder to the pavement.

“And WHAM! He slammed it hard,” Dad always said with a chuckle. “I mean he really hit hard. I was afraid he was hurt. I looked down at him and said, ‘Now you‘ve crossed the line, Buddy! That’s Bell property you‘re layin‘ on, and like I said, I am going inside to do your work.” Too winded for another word, he stood tall (all of 5’ 10”), straightened his tie, and pulled open the heavy glass door.

All of this took less than a minute. His friends did not cross the line, and Dad was glad they didn’t. We wouldn’t have stood a chance if a real brawl had broken out, but this thing everybody just watched to see if the fool with the crew-cut was going to make it to the door. Dad did not cross the line to go home. The Bell bosses over him insisted that he spend the night at that building until the strike was over. So he slept on a couch in the one of the lobbies for a week. There were many others also working in the building who had chosen not to leave the day before, so the company man was in good company.
Dad continued in high-level management at Bell for several years. He'd been with Bell for nearly 20 years (and would not retire from Bell for 20 more). He liked his job but continued disliking "management," which to him felt like daily quibbling with subordinates who wanted to define "late" as 15 minutes after starting time. Things like that and dealing with the union workers in the Bell System made him long for the days of solving problems high atop a telephone pole.
So a few years later when the company asked him and two other men to begin training in Joliet, Illinois, for work in a new division of Bell (a small team of computer engineers in a task force called DATEK), Dad jumped at the chance. Trouble-shooting, problem-solving, fixing things that needed fixing: these were Dad's strengths.

“So, Tom, you’ve done it again. You’re telling a story about digging a well. Your dad bought seven cement crocks, four feet high and wide. That morning he and your brothers Paul and Dave sunk half a crock. You came out to the Property with your mom and Jim to bring lunch. Your brother Jim was two-years-old and stood on the front bench seat between you and your mom the whole way there. You had lunch and your father said ’look out for poison ivy’ and then all this came up about how he never missed a day of work but for poison ivy once. Get on with the well, for Pete’s sake!”

And I will get on with the well, but I include all this to say there are three kinds of work a man must do. There is his job, which gives him his living; there is the maintenance of things required for living (which he cannot afford to hire someone else to do); and there is work a man chooses, that comes from deep within as he personally wrestles his dreams into reality.

It was this latter type of work we did with Dad on Saturdays, but in truth we saw but glimpses of the dream. Mostly we just did as we were told. Only sometimes did we see the picture in his mind, but never were we driven as he was by what was still ahead. So when we stopped for a bite to eat, his thoughts were quickly back at work before the table was cleared.

We boys, on the other hand ,were ready to run the woods. On this first day of the well, for instance, Paul had permission to go home with Mom. He and his friend had a double date with their girlfriends from church, which meant Dave and I would be there digging the well with Dad ‘til who knows when at night. The stopping point would not be determined by the clock or darkness. We would set up a light and work ‘til the second crock was flush with the ground.

There is a Kind of Work

There is a kind of work
that is not forced,
that seeps from bone to sinew
in the dawn,
ever calling for the strength
beyond the marrow of its source
and reaching past its grasp
to test the mettle,
taste the sweat,
smell the dust of saw and wood,
feel the cold steel of chain
or bristle of rope
and sting of pain
in cuts on calloused hands.
This work that comes
from deep within,
it's always doing never done
pausing only briefly for a bite,
not calling it a day 'til night
when weary hand and head
find rest
and settle in the shape
of flesh against a bed.
© Copyright ,2008, TK, Patterns of Ink
Sorry about this non-seasonal post on Christmas Eve. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Chapter 12 "The Women at the Well" coming Tuesday after Christmas. (Having internet/laptop issues that should be solved by then.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

For All Those Dreaming of a White Christmas

Tonight is are Christmas program at school. Tomorrow is the last day before Christmas Break (with all the elementary parties, and festivities in all parts of the building).

One of my duties as administrator is rising early when we're in a storm warning (and we're in a doozy of a storm warning that begins tonight) to determine whether or not we'll have school.

So far this year, we have not cancelled school once. Of all the days to have a snow day--I'm sure there will be kids begging that we not close school because of all those parties, etc. The teachers and staff also have a nice lunchean planned, but you remember what Robert Burns said about "the best laid plans of mice and men..." I wonder what tomorrow holds. Hmm...

If you live in the band shown above, stock up on "stuff" and drive safely if you have to go out. We live just above the "I" in "Ice" in the second picture, and my daughter has to travel home from Chicago (the "&" between "snow & Ice" in 2nd picture) Friday morning right in the middle of the blizzard. I'm going to try to get her home tonight somehow. [Didn't happen...but she's safe as she and a carload of friends wait for the "right time" to make that hairpin treck down and back up around the southern tip of Lake Michigan.]

UPDATE EARLY FRIDAY MORNING: I just got up and canceled school today. It was a no brainer (with lots of company from the other districts to make it even easier). This last image is not a forecast but the actual event. Early this morning at 1:00 the snow had not started, but by 5:00 the forecasts were proven on track.

Update Friday Night: Kim's home from Chicago--safe and sound. Now we can enjoy the snow.

One thing's certain: Looks like we'll have a White Christmas .

See Chapter 10B in post below; Chapter 11 coming...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Unsettled 10B

"Dig a Little Deeper in the Well, Boys"

In Chapter 10A, we left Dad and me standing at the well site which was in a freshly excavated slope of earth that would someday be our basement. Because I was assigned to take over Dave's Detroit News paper route that morning, I'd missed everything that had happened so far and was full of questions.

"So what are these little stones for?" I asked pointing to a large pile that had been delivered that week.

"That's pea gravel," he said picking up a handful. "See it's all the size of green peas. That's why the call it that. It serves two purposes. I'm using it like ball bearings to help slide the crocks into the hole I'm digging, but beyond that, it helps filter the water that will run down to the bottom of the well and come up inside."

I didn't quite follow, and the puzzled look on my face may have prompted further explanation, but Dad was hungry. "You'll see this afternoon," he said. "We've got a whole nuther crock to sink. Let's go eat."
We walked back to the barn. Paul and Dave had set the table just outside the open double doors, where a nice breeze was blowing in the shade of the tall black Cherry trees between the barn and the out-house. As always, Mom covered the old Duncan Phyfe with the red-and-white table cloth and paper plates, weighted down with the old settings of mismatched silverware we kept in the barn. The table cloth was not an attempt to be fancy, for these were always simple meals with little fuss, but she hated the idea of eating on the same surface Dad used to sharpen chainsaw blades or tinker with whatever needed fixin’ for that day’s work.
Paul and Dave had already washed their hands at the pitcher pump in the barn, so it was already primed and ready when Dad worked the handle three times and rinsed his hands. He pumped up some more, cupped his hands beneath the stream and splashed it into his face; pumped up some more and drank from his cupped hands. "Ahhhh... that's good!" he said, reaching for the old towel that hung on a nail in one of the log posts.
(A few years ago, when I finished my "cabin basement," my Mom gave me the old pump from the barn. It had not been primed for nearly twenty years, but it's full of wonderful memories.)
I've not mentioned it here until now, but we had dug a shallow well the summer before right there in the sandy floor by the south wall of the barn. It was only 14 feet deep. Dave and his friend Don did all of the digging in one Saturday. They hit water at about four feet, so it was a combination of digging with shovels and "bailing" out with buckets. Inside the hole, Dad stacked cement drain tile like a chimney, filled the base with pea gravel, back filled in around it, and stuck a 2" PVC pipe down in the narrow well, and attached the hose to the cast iron pump.
Digging it in one day was true yeomen's work (which Paul and I somehow managed to miss out on). It was also an experiment of sorts to see where the water table was, and to make sure the idea of this much bigger well would work. It worked fine, and the end result was this green pump on a wooden stand with a Rubbermaid dish pan for a sink. At the end of each day's work we left water in the pan or a can beside the pump to "prime" the "leathers" the next week.
(A dry pump can't create enough suction to draw water up the pipe, but if you pour the water from the can down the top of the pump while working the handle it starts to gasp and squawk like a drowning beast until the air is out and the pump is primed and each stroke brings a full silent gush of clean, cold water.)
So you see, this little well not only helped Dad clean up from work that day, it gave him the confidence to begin the work that day.
Around the table was an assortment of old folding chairs that had all seen better days, but like the silverware and the table itself, they’d found a second life in the barn. The legs sunk a little in the sandy soil as we took our seats. Dad took deep breath, raised his eyebrows, closed his eyes, bowed his head, and we did the same.

“Our Heavenly Father,
We thank you for this beautiful weather, for today's sunshine and last week's rain; for the healthy bodies that can serve you. We thank you for this land that we will someday call home. We thank you for each other as we work together here. And for water and for this food that Mom has prepared. May all we do with the strength it brings also bring honor to you. And if it be Your will, Lord, we'd ask that we sink that second crock today. We pray these things in Jesus name. Amen.”

It was as natural as a cricket’s chirp to say grace before a meal. [We still do it to this day.] During the week, each kid had an assigned day to ask the blessing. I had Wednesdays. Dad took Saturdays and Sundays. Jim was too young to pray meaningfully at the table, but eventually he took Kathy’s spot in the rotation. It wasn't just some quaint tradition as illustrated by Normal Rockwell (though I must admit it feels like that to this day in public places.)
Saying grace as a family is a constant reminder that we are not alone, that there is an unseen guest at the table--except He’s not “a guest” really... He’s the host. Prayer is not us asking God to enter our world as much as it a reminder that we daily walk in His. Prayers are conversations, and Dad’s were never flowery—no “thees” and “thous.” No memorized lines or repetition.

Memorized prayers are fine and beautiful things. “The Lord’s Prayer,” for instance, turns our hearts to the attributes of God and our dependence on Him for daily bread and forgiveness. It reminds us that the present is but a pause in the path toward things to come. If you’re like me, that prayer has been memorized in King James English, and like all of the well-know church texts, it’s somewhat iconic and lofty and choric, imbued with the resonance of Gregorian chants in a cathedral and the whisper of a country chapel.
There is a place for such prayers and any pattern of words that turn our face to God. But when we said grace around the table, it was simply talking to God about concerns and blessings of that day. Sometimes we forgot to even mention the food.
The meal was simple: chicken salad sandwiches. coleslaw, and potato chips. In winter, Mom would bring out hot dishes--a pot of goulash or Spanish Rice--perfect in the cold barn, but she kept it simple in the summer.

I hesitate to include this next detail but it’s true. Mom threw in two peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for me (made with “crunchy" Velvet peanut butter [a Detroit brand of the time. I had gone on an elementary field trip to the Velvet plant] and Smucker’s strawberry preserves). I now love chicken salad, but at the time, I was in my fourth year of what would be a twelve-year streak of preferring PBJs over any other sandwich. [To this day, I love them. Julie bought herself a Panini maker day after Thanksgiving, and I made PBJ Panini’s—don’t knock it. They’re really good.]

The next chapter includes the details of how the digging process worked. Did we get the second crock sunk that day? I'll tell you in Chapter 11.

In the meantime, enjoy this Oakridge Boys song written by Flatt and Scrugs, who also wrote "I Walked the Line," "The Ballad of Jed Clampet"(which was The Beverly Hillbillies theme), "Detroit City," and "Angel Band" to name just a few. (Being from the North, we did not have southern accents, but whenever Dave and I sang "Angel Band," we harmonized in southern twangs--I'm not sure I could sing it any different to this day.) We didn't know all the words to this song, but the chorus was stuck in our heads that summer of 1970.

To Be Continued...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Overheard at a Burger Joint

When Being Needed
is all that's left of Being Loved

So I’m standing in the line at a hamburger joint around four o'clock tonight near the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles], and ahead of me there's a big bear of a young man (about age 24) with his girlfriend (wife?). While the big guy is waiting for his order, he flips open his cell phone and rattles off the following "message":

“Ah, Hi, Ma. It’s me. We’re going to see that new Keanu Reeves movie at the Grand Haven Nine. We stopped by your house to get the “free popcorn bucket,” but we couldn’t fine it anywhere. We let out Dane, but it was too late. She left a big pile on the living room carpet. Didn’t have time to clean it up. Sorry. If you want to join us, the movie starts in a half hour. Be sure to bring the bucket? Bye.”

He flipped the phone shut, grabbed their order, and rushed off to a table. I held my tongue, but Wow! what a loaded message he sent to dear old “Ma.”

I’m guessing “Ma” was either working late or out shopping for these two adult kids. She gets a message on her phone service…”Come join us for a movie.” What mother would not feel honored? Her son and his significant other want her to join them for an evening out. Or do they?

A. They sure could have invited her with more than 30 minutes to spare.

B. They had time to search all over her house for the “free popcorn bucket,” probably leaving half the cupboard doors open; they had time to stop for a burger; but they did not have time to clean up what sounds like a very large dog’s very large mess. How thoughtful.

C. They couldn’t find the “free popcorn bucket.” My guess is that the free bucket is wherever this lummox left it after the last time he stopped by Ma’s and borrowed it. Just a hunch.

[By the way, this is a great promotional idea one of our local theater has. You buy a gallon bucket of popcorn for $10.00 in January and it’s good for free popcorn the rest of the year. This idea keeps people coming back to the same theater. Some people even decide what movie they want to go see depending on whether it’s showing at their bucket theater. (Trust me. I know. We have one, and we know where it is.)]

D. By ending the message with “Be sure to bring the bucket,” the son added just the right affectionate touch to his hasty "voice mail" invitation, making it unclear as to which they wanted most to join them: the mother or the bucket. I'm sure she melted like butter. Right...

I could be wrong, but I doubt that this single mother, after a long week and a long day at work, after closing all the cupboard doors, after shoveling up Dane’s duty in the living room, after searching for her bucket (and then remembering that her son took it two weeks ago), after scarfing down a couple of Oreos (because she hasn’t the time for a burger)... I doubt she’ll want to race to the theater to catch what’s left of "The Day the Earth Stood Still." She may rather just want to plop down in a chair and be still herself.

I was eaves dropping (he was two feet away and talking loudly) and I don't mean to judge. I heard only a 30-second verbal snapshot of a relationship and two people I know nothing about. This is pure speculation but a great reminder that our casual unguarded words reveal our heart.

A few minutes later, I met Julie at the DMV (which is another story, but let me just say that it is not enough to have your wife sign a car title that is in both your names. She must be present at the DMV to complete the transaction Ugh!)... and when I told her what I'd heard, she said quietly:

“I wouldn't be surprised if the mother shows up at the movie. She'll probably blame herself for the mess on the rug. Apologize to the dog for being late. She’s been pickin' up and runnin' after the dog and the son for so long it doesn’t even register anymore. May have done the same for the father before he disappeared. Probably blames herself for that, too. Now, after all these years, it's all a blur and she figures being walked on beats being alone. Being needed for a popcorn bucket beats not being needed at all.”

Wow! Good insight. Sad if it's true, but good insight.

So here’s a little assignment for the comment section: Do you think the mom showed up at the movie tonight? I know Julie wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. How do you think “Ma” spent her evening? What were her thoughts as she turned out the light in her bedroom tonight? What does it mean when feeling needed is all that's left of feeling loved?
[Added Saturday morning: Not to influence the discussion in the comment section, but the comments thus far have made me appreciate the role of Moms who "serve" without become servants, wonderful women who are loving team managers modeling the T-O-Y principle (Think Outside Yourself) and expecting it of their children. This is called "The Mom Song." It was written and originally performed by Anita Renfroe.]

Please pass this post along to any mom you think will appreciate it.
Next "Unsettled" chapter nearly done and coming soon. This was just on my mind.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Unsettled" Chapter 10A

The Difference Between Safe and Secure

As we drove the Plymouth out to the property to help dig the well that Saturday in June 1970, Jimmy stood on the front bench seat between Mom and me. Sort of like the kid in this ad but without the "safety belt." Things were different then. The year 1965 was the first to see front seat belts as standard equipment in cars. Our '65 Plymouth Fury had them, but like most Americans we tucked those annoying straps and buckles deep down in the crack of the seat (where bobby pins and lost lifesavers and the grit of life collected).

We'd been hearing the song "Buckle up for Safety" on TV for years, but seat belts remained optional until fourteen years later when "Click it or Ticket" became law.

As for a car seat, Jim had outgrown his perch. It was about the size of a shoe box that loosely hooked over the backrest of the front seat. These child seats of the 50's and 60's were not protective in the least, but they did help millions of toddlers see over dashboards (so as not to be outdone by the kid stretched out on the "shelf" of the car's back window). Jimmy didn't mind standing. Like every other kid at the time, he knew he was "safe" because his Mom's hand slapped him in the chest at every sudden stop and sharp turn.

I include these thoughts not because they shed light on the well we were digging but because they help us remember the easily forgotten context of a different time, a time when an entire generation was blinded by both optimism and individual responsibility. Optimism in that they worried less about the "what ifs" of life. Responsibility in that they considered it their personal duty to be a safe as possible and not to blame others when accidents happened. It was a time when people did not always do the "smart thing," but they took responsibility for their own actions and were more likely to accept natural consequences of bad choices.

Today's generation not only passes the buck for their own stupidity... they try to make a buck (in law suits) by blaming the government or corporate America for not preventing life's mishaps and tragedies. Hence, McDonalds gets sued when a Stella Liebeck spills hot coffee in her lap; John Deere gets sued when a man loses his hand while he and his neighbor tried using his lawn mower to trim the top of the hedge between their yards; and Wal-Mart gets sued when thousands of individual human beings care less about the man they're stepping on than the fact that they're stepping up to flat-screen HD TV.

So the fact that my two-year-old brother stood legally beside me on the front seat as we drove to the property, as stupid as that then-common practice was, sums up the difference between being safe and feeling secure. Being loved by unselfish parents who put family ahead of personal bliss is about as secure as any kid could hope to feel.

For all the improvements in safety that have come in the decades since that Saturday in 1970, and for all the millions paid in tort cases, we still live in a fallen, broken world that is as unsafe as ever. As much as man thinks it can control everything from crabgrass to the climate itself, the truth is... theologically speaking, man is not in control at all, nor can it fix what is most broken about us since the fall. Now back to the story...

This photo was taken the fall after the well was finished, but I included it here to show sweet little Jimmy and the two-track entrance to the property that would someday be our home.

Mom put her hand against Jimmy's chest as she stepped on the break to turn into the long winding two-track road that disappeared into our wooded property. Half way to the barn we saw the site of the well, surrounded by six 4-foot cement crocks and one crock that was half way into the earth. There was a pile of pea gravel about five feet from the half crock. Dad was standing inside it, and Paul and Dave stood on the outside with two five-gallon plastic buckets. Dave took the full bucket from Dad's hand while Paul handed him the empty one.

Mom beeped the horn as we idled past. Paul and Dave looked happy to see us but did not wave, a sign they were ready for a break. Dad's back was to us, he glanced over his shoulder, threw a half-wave in the air, and kept digging.

We continued up the bend in the drive to the open barn doors where Mom started setting the table for lunch. Funny thing about that table in the barn. I’ve written about it at length before. It was the Duncan Phyfe that Dad bought second-hand for Mom their first Christmas back in 1951.

They'd lugged that table with them to half a dozen homes, but they never did buy chairs for it, and in Roseville it ended up down in the basement where one day one of the “banana peel” legs snapped off and rather than try to fix the wobbly thing, Dad took it to the barn, pulled off the broken pedestal, and nailed four two-by-eights to the corners for legs. On Saturdays, it doubled as a work bench and a dinner table, but it finally had a family around it.

I ran from the barn to the well site to see how things were going. Dad was just climbing out of the crock when I got there.

“Let’s eat.” He announced. Dave and Paul hurried to the barn.

“How’s it going?” I asked, looking into the crock. “Did it take all morning to get this half in?”

“No. that took only an hour or so. First we had to survey to know exactly where to dig.”

“You mean to know where you’d find water?” I asked.

“No. To know make sure the well will be right under the stairway of the house.” He smiled.

I looked around. We were standing in a clearing we had made the winter before between the barn and a gradual hill. A chunk of that slope had been excavated with the tractor. I did not know it but this lower grade would someday be the basement of our house. In fact, we were standing on sandy soil that would someday be under Mom's laundry room. I still couldn't picture a house there, but Dad saw the whole thing, knew where everything was going to be, and it would all be built around this well.

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.

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