.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

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.)


Blogger Dr.John said...

Good poem . Now I await the text.

23/12/08 7:48 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
Much has happened and a couple feet of snow has fallen since I hoped to have this post done "in a day or two" and now it's Christmas eve (only by a minute or so). I have been writing now and then but it isn't done, and now I'm in a house full of family and in-laws and nephews with barely a place to sit and write... just as the holidays should be. =) Oh, well, first things first...

Thanks for checking in.

24/12/08 12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! I'd really forgotten about the turmoil of the '60's. But had a nearly similar experience in the '50's in my hometown in Southern Minnesota where there was a packing company that went on strike and the militia was called up and families and friends were pitted againest each other. It even made LIFE magazine which was pretty amazing back then. We didn't have burned buildings but we had curfews etc. etc. etc. One wonders..."could ALL that is written here happen today?" I think it could..and worse. But I digress!

I really only popped in to wish you a
VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS and God's richest blessings in 2009!!!

25/12/08 10:00 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

We did have a very nice Christmas with Julie's side of the family. I got to phone all my sibs. We'll be together with them for New Years.

I may add the fact that Dad had a bruise halfway around his neck from that attack from behind. Because it turned out as it did, Dad enjoyed telling the story. But he didn't talk much about work. His mind was on our weekend work almost all the time.

25/12/08 11:04 PM  
Blogger heiresschild said...

hi Tom, wanted to wish you a very Merry Christmas (even though i'm a little late now) and a relaxing and peaceful holiday season.

26/12/08 1:03 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

The poem was great but you do digress a lot.

27/12/08 5:54 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Merry Christmas to you, too. It's been a while since I've been in the blogosphere, but as you know first hand. When life gets in the way of reading or writing blogs--life should always win out.

Dr. John,
I know. The digressing you mention is always in my writing to a certain extent, and sometimes some "background" or "flashback" may be useful and acceptable.
But I agree... I've really been struggling since the chapter about the bridge.

Thank you for being a diligent enough reader to point this out with patience. I should probably not have begun writing about “settling” our homestead during such unsettling times (personally and economically). I may have bitten off more than I could chew. (Did this ever happen to you with a sermon series? =)

If it adds any interest to the reading, it may help to know I've been sorting through many personal things as I write these posts about us digging the well and building the home that now sits empty. Some things about those years, I'm "seeing" (or understanding) for the first time.

The writing has been cathartic as my siblings and I work through our first fall and Christmas since Mom passed, and as we decide what’s best to do with the homestead.

If this were a book you could skip ahead, but blog "chapters" don't allow that luxury, and I'm taking way to long with all this.

It's one thing for a writer to bite off more than he can chew; it's another to chew what's bitten off with his mouth open, and I've probably been doing that here.

Anyway, I do apologize for what must seem like random digressions (some of them have even puzzled me) and I am determine to find the "thread" that began this series and to sew only with it as I wrap up these "Unsettled" matters.

28/12/08 11:46 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I've enjoyed it, just the way you penned it! The extras are like the icing on the cake. I love how you take what life deals you and then weave it into the story or the comments. It gives your readers a glimpse of the real "Tom" which is exactly the way it should be.

"To Dad, going to work was a duty wrapped in loyalty" and you shared with us the integrity, lining that wrapping... what an honorable man!

60 degrees again in the sunny south and still waiting on just a little snow.

Happy New Years, full of BLESSINGS, my friend! Enjoy your family.

29/12/08 12:58 PM  
Blogger Family Man said...

I hope your christmas was both happy and peaceful. Thanks for the excellent post.

29/12/08 2:27 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You are a nice teacher! Thanks for being able to follow my "rabbit trails." (But Dr. John's kind prodding is also helpful.)

I had hopes to write today, but my daughter called and wondered if I could help her and her husband with some projects that got left undone last August when we were doing all that work on their "fixer-upper" house. I must say it has become quite the cozy home for them and their puppy (which I will post some pictures of after I get Chapter 12 posted). So anyway, one project led to another and before we knew it... it was almost 10 PM. But it was fun to wrap up some loose ends for them.

It has occurred to me more than once as I've worked over there that I would not know how to do any of that stuff if it weren't for those years of working with Dad on Saturdays.

Family Man,
And a belated Merry Christmas to you. Thanks for joining us this year!

30/12/08 12:34 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Offshore Jones Act
Offshore Jones Act Counter