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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

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.


Blogger Nancy said...

It's amazing how your dad could picture all of this in his head. My husband builds houses and he can do the same thing... it still amazes me. He can look at the land and know exactly how to turn the house, where to put the driveway, the basement... and even how to landscape around the house. That is a talent for sure. God prewires us with a gift... and that is a blessing indeed! Your dad was a very wise and talented man.

Once our cars had seat belts, dad always made us strap in. He said the car wouldn't start until we did... so we DID!

My little sister flew through the air, to the front seat, out of one of those flimsy car seats, during a wreck one time. Mom's face needed lots of stitches but no one else was hurt. Big sister was asleep in the back car window and I was in the back seat floor board, asleep! GO FIGURE! Those were the days.

Have a great week!

8/12/08 11:44 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Again your post triggers memories from many years ago.

I remember riding in on the ledge behind the back seat - at the rear window. i also remember sliding off that little ledge, hitting the back seat on the way to the floor when my mother hit the brakes hard...we were
really ignorant back then about auto safety. Oh the memories and the injuries...thankfully the injuries were minimum; a few scrapes and bruises.

9/12/08 7:42 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Hi, Nancy,
It sounds like the accident you had taught you all the value of seat belts early on.
We had no accidents, and to this day we never did. This generation is very good with the seat belts.
I was at Dad and Mom's house last week, and I stood there in the laundry room looking at the well. In fact, noticed that the date in the cement said 1970. The early drafts of these chapters said 1971. I had to go back and change some details. I had based the wrong date on a conversation with my brothers, but you can't argue with the date Dad put in the cement at the top of the well. =)

We've come a long way for sure, but never did I feel unsafe with Dad and Mom. She would laugh that I'm saying that because she was an absent minded driver (as we will see in two chapters), but I never felt at risk with her. One of the points of this chapter was that in spite of all the "improvements" because of our fallen human nature (as demonstrated in the Wal-mart stampede and the corrupt greed of the governor of Illinois) we are still unsafe and insecure. There is only one "improvement" for the human condition and it is certainly not "believing in ourselves."

9/12/08 10:55 PM  
Anonymous quilly said...

Interesting. That's where my uncle put his well when he built his house. Who are you, again ....?

10/12/08 4:17 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Hey, Cuz!
Actually, I do have many blond cousins but none in Hawaii that I know of. =)
It's a good place to put a well. Dad put a lid over it so it still functioned as a closet off the laundry room.

10/12/08 4:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Omigosh...you brought back memories of our days with "kid-lets" in the car. They always were in the back seat...standing and sometimes laying on that flat window shelf. We had a carseat that we soon didn't use. It had brackets that fit over the back of the front seat. The baby/toddler would sit and look out. But once they became of a "certain size" you couldn't even lift them into the thing so it was use-less. There was another type...that I'd have rather gotten but my husband forbade it. It had extensions that fit between the back of the seat and the seat it's self. He didn't want it might poke holes in the upholstery. Heaven forbid that the child should be "safe"! We didn't think as parents do now, back then. When the kid-lets were toddlers my husband built a platform for the floor so the seat extended and they could lie down, as on a bed. It worked nicely for traveling and "if" we'd go to an out-door theater for a movie. We never thought about "what-if's" of accidents, I guess. My children hated it later, when I'd "suck air" (you know that sound!!??) or when my arm would go across their fronts if the brakes were applied (I didn't say "slammed on"!!!)

Again, your memory is impeccable! I can't wait for the next installment!!!!! Oh...and I can't even wrap my mind around a person hand-digging a well!!! For us Scandanavian's...that bears an "UFFDA" exclaimation!!!! :-)

10/12/08 11:06 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Two things a teacher loves to hear from a student: "I never thought of that before" and "I've thought that exact thing before."

It's been fun reading here in the comments that many people remember when we were totally unsafe and unstrapped in while driving, but were otherwise "secure."

Uffda! I think one of the first comments we ever shared was about Uffda.

10/12/08 9:50 PM  
Anonymous quilly said...

I grew up -- and my uncle dug his well -- in Northern Idaho. I am a pale-faces Hawaiian transplant known locally as haole.

13/12/08 1:11 AM  

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