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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

Thursday, January 01, 2009

"Unsettled" Chapter 12

"The Bucket and the Blue Sky Above"

Happy New Year! It's early Thursday morning--early if you consider I was up until 2:00 A.M. with my siblings who drove over to the west side of the state to celebrate with us (except Dave who went to PA to be spend New Year's with his wife Jane's family). I know most people will not be reading blogs for the next few days, but I have been so far behind in my writing that I want to post this "draft" that I've been writing the past few early mornings of Christmas Break while the family is still sleeping. It's long, but broken into three parts. So feel free to take it in small doses. I'm sure this draft will be revised in the days ahead (Who knows? I may remove the last part if I come to my senses and decide not to share such a silly "confession.")

Part I: Hard Work and Hunches

As mentioned previously, I’ve never heard-tell of the particular method my father imagined would work in digging our well. Nor did I at the time, realize how many untested assumptions held his idea together. I have seen other wells lined with cement crocks or brick, but those wells were first dug and then lined with the culverts (or with mortared brick or stone) in two separate stages, but Dad‘s idea required simultaneous digging and “lining." Here‘s how.

. (1) Place a single 4’-by-4’ concrete culvert (he called them crocks) exactly in the place you want a well (2) Climb inside the crock and begin digging out the ground from underneath it, allowing gravity to lower the crock perfectly into the ground. (3) Repeat these steps with seven stacked crocks until a well is nearly 30 feet deep (roughly the height of a telephone pole). Sounds simple, right? Dad thought so. [I wish we had family photographs from when we dug the well, but we don't. This photo looks remarkably like our setting in 1970, but our land has much bigger trees.]

To make sure the crocks slipped easily and evenly into the earth, we shoveled pea gravel around the outside edge of the crock which served as ball-bearings to sort of “roll” the crock into its earthen, vertical tunnel. The pea gravel later helped filter the water that would seep into the well. [Dad had a load of pea gravel delivered to the site, uniformly sifted pebbles the size of green peas. While it is true that we sometimes exercised the “fifth freedom” behind that pile of pebbles, the name had nothing to do with that fact and was spelled like the vegetable.]

This sort of work has no instructions, no blueprints, but relies instead on hard work and hunches. Like many of Dad’s projects, he told few people he was doing it. There were no permits, no “perk tests” (now required by law to dig a well for drinking water), and no outside advice. In fact, had Dad tried to get input from others, he would have been told not begin such a crazy idea because “it couldn’t be done.” Such thoughts never deterred Dad from doing something he was convinced would work, which is not to say he didn’t have to make a adjustments along the way.

The first thing Dad noticed was that the handle of his shovel was too long to provide leverage. It hit the side of the crock before the blade turned upward. So he took a cross-cut saw and lopped off a foot of the handle which allowed the full working motion of each cut and scoop of earth. [Strange, but of the all odd things in life I wish we’d kept for in and of themselves they tell a tale, I wish we had kept the lopped-off end of that shovel handle, a smooth foot of Ash with a rounded end and hole drilled through so as to hang from a nail on the barn wall. I’d like to have it on a shelf to hold as I tell this story, but I don’t know what became of it.] From that day on, the sawed-off well shovel simply leaned against the wall inside the barn door.

The second adjustment was building a makeshift scaffold to hold a rope-and-pulley over the well. Dad knew that he would eventually need to dig into a bucket that we boys would pull up, but he soon realized that throwing each shovel-full of dirt over the four-foot wall was a waste of motion, and lifting the 40-some pounds of dirt in the bucket was a waste of his energy. So from the start, he shoveled into a five gallon plastic bucket, which we pulled up with a rope, unhooked from the leash-clip, and dumped a few yards away.

That June day when we began the well (and I arrived after delivering Dave’s Detroit News route), they’d begun digging in the loose, sandy soil common to Michigan. Dad let Paul get in the crock and dig for a while in the morning (since he would be leaving after lunch), and that afternoon he let Dave and I each have a turn inside the crock, just to know what was involved, but most of the time Dad was inside digging. (In the weeks ahead, once a ladder was needed to get in and out of the well, Dad did all of the digging. Just why would not occur to us for a few more weeks.)

Once the first crock was at ground level, we rolled another identical crock to the spot, tipped it on its end atop the one in the ground so the molded top and bottom edges were “seated” together as cups and saucers do.

It was almost 4:00 O’clock. Dad was convinced we could sink another crock before heading home for supper. Time flies when you’re having fun! About five hours later, just after sunset, the second crock was flush to the ground. We covered the hole with a large wooden sign (left over from a building project at our church) and weighted it down with three cinder blocks.

It was not until I closed the log gate at the front entrance of our woods, that hunger occurred to me. Mom had supper waiting for us when we got home.

Part II: Beyond the Second Crock

The second week was the same routine. I stayed home to deliver the paper and joined the others when Mom, Jim, and I brought out lunch.

When they uncovered the well that morning, to Paul and Dave’s surprise (but not Dad‘s), the bottom crock was full of water.

“I knew we hit the water table last week. The dirt was getting wetter and wetter." Dad said with satisfaction, after all, this water was not a problem--it was the reason behind all the digging.

"And the buckets were getting heavier, too," Paul added.

"I'll bet they were. After today, it should fill almost to the top each week. We’ll have to pump it out first thing before we can put the ladder in.”

Dad had purchased a large electric pump for just this purpose, but he’d forgotten to put in in the wheelbarrow full of tools that morning. In the future, each morning began with the same routine: carry out the big extension ladder and "wheel" the pump and tools from the barn to the well in the wheelbarrow; have one of the boys unwind a long extension cord as they went from the barn to the site; pump out the water that filled the incomplete well each week; roll the next crock into place on top of the well; put the latter down the well; let Dad descended into the well; pull out the ladder (otherwise there was no room to work); put the sawed-off shovel in the bucket and tie a "sheep shank" knot around the handle to hold it upright as the bucket and shovel were lowered down to Dad.

From the second week when they sunk the third crock right up to the last week when the 7th crock was in place, that's how the mornings went. But never again would we sink two crocks in one day as we did on day one. In fact, each week brought new challenges of its own. Dad soon dug past the sandy soil and hit clay-- thick, heavy clay that could only be dug a half-a-shovel-full at a time. This clay was not only difficult to dig but also harder to empty from the bucket.
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(As I said, I wish we had family pictures. You can tell this is not my brothers and me because, among other hints, we did not wear hard-hats. =) This picture also shows the form of the cement crocks, allowing them to "seat" as they were stacked.)

When I arrived after noon that second week, I saw that their morning labor had only sunk half of one crock. Because of the thick clay, it would take all afternoon to sink the other half. Sometimes Dad scooped buckets of seeping water up to make the digging easier. Because we were now working with wet dirt each week, Dad began wearing the vinyl "sweat suit" top Dave wore when he was trying to cut weight for a wrestling meet. It smelled like a shower curtain, but kept Dad mostly dry--but for his own sweat--all day long.

When we returned the third week the well was full of water. We pumped it out, rolled the fourth crock in place and began another day of digging. Dad hoped we'd make it through the band of clay and find soil that was easier to dig, but all morning long each bucket brought up only clay. Worse yet, when Dad dug well past the lower rim, leaving nothing to hold up the tons of concrete, they did not slide down into the hole as they had in the past. He kept digging beneath them further and further but they would not drop. This bothered Dad, because he was nearly 15 feet under ground level, and getting out required us lowering the heavy wooden ladder that hooked on the side of the well.
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"Give me the ladder," he hollered up to us, "I'll have to get the tractor and tap the top 'til she drops."

But just when the weight of the ladder -hooks hit the top of the well--SHLUNK!--the whole stack dropped with an earth-shaking wet thud to the bottom of the hole. We all stood in silence for a moment. It was not that we hadn't seen the stacked crocks drop before. We had. That was the how Dad's whole idea worked. We had just never had it drop nearly a foot when we least expected it.

"I guess I don't need the ladder after all," Dad laughed. It took the rest of the day to get the 4th crock to ground level. We left for home an hour sooner than usual, but Dad considered it a good stopping point and knew we would enjoy eating supper early (if you consider 8:00 P.M. early).
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Part III: The Bucket and the Blue Sky Above

The five gallon bucket was the plastic sort with a heavy wire handle--the kind drywall joint compound comes in that is then put to use in a hundred different ways for decades. These buckets are virtually indestructible as we would prove with this single bucket that made thousands of trips up and down the well hung from a hemp rope with a spring loaded “leash clip.”
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The rope threaded through a pulley bolted to the 2-by-6 beam of Dad’s make-shift scaffold that stood like a giant saw-horse over the opening of the well. [It looked something like this drawing, except our well was lined with crocks as we went.]

From Dad's point of view, all he could see of the outside world was the bucket and the blue sky above.

Going down the well, the empty bucket sometimes bumped or scrapped along the smooth cement wall in drum-like thuds. Coming up the well, the bucket was heavy and silent and rose in the rhythm of the left-right pulling of our palms against the taught one-inch hemp.

If we pulled the rope evenly, the bucket ascended straight up the four-foot vertical “tunnel” without hitting the wall. That was the goal, and seeing how many times in a row we could raise the bucket full of dirt (or clay), quickly, smoothly, silently without scraping the wall was a sort of game we played all day. When we failed, if the load bumped Dad’s shoulder in its rise, for instance, and if the rhythm of our pulling hands gave energy to the swaying rope, the bucket would careen from wall to wall like a badly thrown bowling ball when “bumpers” are in the gutters of the lane. The first bump against a wall knocked the, but like the small amount of sand that flicks from the feet of children running past your blanket at the beach… it was an annoyance from which we tried to spare our father who stood vulnerably at the bottom of the well.

Far worse than allowing the full bucket to graze the wall was an event that happened only rarely (when you consider that each boy alternated turns at pulling and we pulled up the bucket hundreds of time each Saturday).

If the bucket happened to graze the wall at the exact moment in passing where the seam of two stacked crocks met, and if the seam had the slightest “lip” like the crack in a sidewalk where an unseen root has raised an edge not high enough to see but just enough to clip the toe of your shoe in its forward swing, just enough to break the rhythm of your stride and nearly trip you as you catch your fall and look back at the crack as you continue on so if anyone was watching they know you are not a clumsy oaf but rather they will know there is a hazard on the sidewalk and that any normal passer-by would trip at that part of the walk. And in case the onlooker is judging your gift of walking much like an Olympic figure skating judge, he will take into consideration that flaw in the sidewalk before holding up a score-card below and “8." With a shake of your head, you mumble not a curse (for the whole charade assumes someone is watching) but some gracious recommendation like, “They ought to fix that crack,” but you continue on your way with a lift of your head and half a smile so anyone watching will know that you are the sort of person not easily perturbed....

If the bucket happened to catch that kind of hidden seam-lip as it rose, it “tripped“ momentarily as the bottom of the bucket continued rising several inches while the top of the bucket negotiated the obstruction for only a split second in which it ceased moving upward, thereby tipping the bucket and spilling the upper inches of dirt down on Dad. This event was more annoying than a flick of beach sand from a passing foot. To Dad, this felt more like a child dumping a small bucket of sand on his head. And since he knew his only audience was the two or three faces of his sons peering over the brink of the upper crock of the well, his reactions were not always predictable. If it was early in the day and his spirits were still good, he’d holler up, “That’s alright. A little dirt never hurt anybody.”

But if were toward the end of a long day, and Dad was tired and cranky and pushing all of us far past a better selves, we never knew what we'd hear. One time as the dirt showered down, Dad's head hunched down in his shoulders, and he'd shouted, “Why do I feel like I’m working with the damn Three Stooges!”

My dad was not a "swearing man," but there is a point to why I did not edit that verbatum quotation. In order for the closing part of this chapter to make any sense at all, you must understand that on rare occasions in our otherwise strictly-Baptist lives, Dad let one or two pet words slip. I’ve never heard from his mouth the Lord's name or vulgar curse words, but when things were going badly, and his desire to be exemplary was wearing thing, the word “damn” or some variation would be put to dramatic use. When it happened, we sons never assumed the same liberty extended to us. We carried on as if we hadn't heard it but took it as a clue to shut up, get the job done, or get out of the way.

Unlike any other work we did with Dad, with each passing week of digging the well, our "boss" was further and further away from us as we “worked together,” and a strange thing began happening. There was a “disconnect” between the faces we showed him over the brink of the well and the faces we showed each other beyond the small circle of sky Dad could see when he looked or shouted up at us. Talking down the well to Dad we showed the respectful, caring faces he was accustomed to working with for years, but one step away from the well and he could not see us at all (nor hear a word we said), and we sometimes shared quite opposite reactions. Such are the sub-plots of life.

One particular late evening when Paul, Dave and I were tired and the unfortunate and rare bucket-lip spill had occurred, as the dirt was pouring down on Dad, he mumbled up some mild variation of his “three stooges” line. I replied with a “Sorry, Dad” down the well, then stepped back from the well and began singing a song to Dave and Paul that I’d been writing in my head for many weeks. It sputtered out with melody as if it were a brilliant spontaneous parody, but I‘d actually rehearsed it in my mind many times and saved if for just such a moment. (One of my unofficial roles as the youngest brother was "entertaining the troops" in times like these.)
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We were a very musical family (and "musicals" were among the unbannished records we could have in the house). I've shared hints of it here, here, and here. To fully appreciate the humor, you may need to listen to the title song from the Camelot. We heard the Richard Burton Broadway rendition hundreds of times on Mom’s Camelot album at home. (It would be years before we saw the Richard Harris film version on TV.)

Only the first 1.5 minutes of the screen below pertains to this post.



Do you have that melody in your head? Okay, hit the pause button on the screen. Here goes…

I stepped away from the well to dump the bucket and began singing in a loud British accent from the scene when King Arthur explains Camelot to Guenevere. My parody was a play on the word Camelot.

It's true! It's true! My father’s made it clear.
His helpers must be perfect all the year.
A law was made a distant moon ago here:
especially in August when it’s hot.
There is a word Dad wishes we not hear:
He says Damalot.

When you‘re pulling up the bucket full of dirt
And it accidentally snags across that spot
He’ll holler he’s not hurt
But brushing off his shirt
He’ll add Damalot!

Damalot! I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But if he says Damalot...Damalot
That's how conditions are.

When you’re working with your father
And you're dumb,
And he hammers at a nail but hits his thumb
He’ll swear that it’s a plot
Stooges for sons he’s got
And if you listen closely
You might just hear… Dam...alot.

And with that I returned with the empty bucket and lowered it back down to Dad who was completely unaware at the levity at ground level above. The truth of the matter is Dad did not say damn a lot but for the sake of the song, I exaggerated.

If “Brevity is the soul of wit,” hyperbole is its shadow. (And since I sometimes seem to be a hopeless combination of the rambling Polonius and the melancholy Hamlet, I’ll end this chapter on that note.)
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12 Comments:

Anonymous quilly said...

Needless to say I immediately raced to the bottom to see what it is you are threatening to remove. Don't you dare! The song is wonderful. I could "hear" it!

I love the story just as it is, though you do have a few typos. I trust the one is a typo anyway because I am certain you didn't make it to Principal without learning the difference between your and you're.

Great story. Keep going. I'm reading each post even though I don't always comment.

1/1/09 11:57 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Hi, Quilly,
Happy New Year! I do know the difference but this will not be the first time I've made that kind of error. Now I will need to "hunt" for it. It was early when I wrote this and then our company "awakened" and I hit "post" later in the day without proof-reading. Okay, I'll keep Part III. I was a silly kid.
Tom

2/1/09 11:31 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

No your weren't a silly kid, your talent was showing even at that early age. I LOVED it... I'm still grinning!

I'm also amazed at this plan of digging the well. That took a lot of work... on everyone's part! I never would have thought the crocks would slide down like that and then I get the "willies" just thinking about being down at the bottom of that small hole-digging! What an exciting adventure! Keep up the great work, enjoy your family, and blessings to all of you.

2/1/09 7:54 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Nancy,
I'm never quite sure how much of our dirty laundry to include in these posts (and some may find it funny that I even consider it dirty laundry--I'm nearly always rated "G" =), but I could think of no better moment to demonstrate the "disconnect" between Dad's understandable frustration toward the end of a grueling day down in the well and the three of us up above who were also tired, wanting to go home, and sometimes a bit "punchy" just beyond his view.

We've had a wonderful time with both sides of our extended family. Hope you did, too.

3/1/09 1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The picture of the crocks...oh, man!!! The whole "act" of digging seems incredible! Don't think that could happen today with the vigilance of people ready to report etc. (you know, the rules that apply???) I cannot imagine this whole thing of settling into "the land"!!!
I add my "great story" with everyone else. Oh...and the clip from Camelot too! Such memories!
WSL

4/1/09 4:44 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

WSL,
You will especially like the next chapter. It has less to do with the well, but it ties in and includes the old chorus "Fill My Cup, Lord."
But the chapter after that gives a good reason NOT to try to dig a well this way.
Tom

4/1/09 8:39 PM  
Blogger Christal said...

I too wanted tosee what you would want to remove... But none the less am ALWAYS intrigues by your writting. http://christalmiles.blogspot.com/

4/1/09 11:00 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Crystal,
I didn't mean for that disclaimer to create such curiosity but I should have known it would. It was not my father's slip in vocabulary I was not sure about but rather the fact that I made up a song about it. (My siblings can confirm that there are more songs of mine where that came from. I once wrote a song called "Where is my Tack" about a time when I lost my special thumb tack.)

5/1/09 7:31 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

That was interesting and a well told story. Sometimes we forget how much things have changed over the years.

6/1/09 4:04 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Seems to me that a well being dug to be in the future basement of a house yet only complete in the mind of the builder shows the power of foresight. That the man with that foresight was not one easily intimidated by thugs who didn't really understand the purpose of a strike nor how to conduct one shows the propensity of his character.

Although my own recollections of '67 are quite different from his or yours Tom, it was the same days and the same time.

The week after the rebellion ended we, my older brother , myself and 6 other kids down to age 7, went on a little bike ride. From Fenkell and Scaheffer down 12th street and winding our way downtown to the river and back again. I have to agree, in my memory the area was and in many ways still, is no better than any bombed out city of WWII.

I think I am fairly up to speed now, thanks for having me back.

7/1/09 6:03 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

TWM,
First of all let me say, Welcome back! We've missed you.
Now I'll just say Wow! I can tell by the details in your comment that you really did get caught up. That took some doing. I'm honored.

I hope you write a post about that '67 bike ride into Detroit. To be honest, I was scared to death driving through those burned-out streets with my Dad. I would have been petrified on a bike.

So glad to see you again.

7/1/09 6:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, my brother!
I wanted to take this time to tell you how much I respect you and admire your gift of writing. From the time that you were very young I have watched with pleasure as you carefully and passionately honed your skills of poetry and prose. I read your reflections appreciatively. They are full of delicious detail! Your love of words, artistic expression, and keen insight into life and people are assets you draw upon instinctively. I have especially enjoyed your creative and vivid memories of our past. They transport me back in time. I find myself smiling, laughing, and crying as your words describe events so strikingly that they create clear images of people and scenarios in my mind...I truly can see and hear them again. Other memories that have laid dormant for a long time were "quickened" as I read your post. Thank you for honoring Mom and Dad as well as so many others with your gift of words and story.
I love you, Kathy

28/1/09 10:21 PM  

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