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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Unsettled" Chapter 15-C

"When Things Become Automatic"

In the early evening of the sixth crock, we paused for a piece of banana cake, which that day was the reason we were late for lunch. It was the perfect snack to tide us over until supper. Better yet, the conversation put to rest the fear that the well would be full of salt water.
As we pushed back from the table, Mom covered what was left of her cake with some tin foil, careful not to let it touch her butter cream frosting.

“I think I’ll walk the creek before we sink the rest of that crock,“ Dad announced, “Anybody want to join me?”

“The mosquitoes are coming out. I'll just stay here and read a little more,” Mom said, “But give me a hand dropping these leafs. I have a hard time reaching those props underneath.”

Dave took one side and I took the other. The two side leafs of the old Duncan Phyfe were bigger than the un-opened tabletop itself. They were held in place with two locking brackets that were hard to reach, and we practically had to get under the table to press them both upward at the same time letting the leaf ease down on our backs.

“Watch your fingers,“ Mom winced. “I’m always afraid I’ll pinch my fingers in those things.”

Dad thanked Mom for bringing lunch and the cake, and kissed her goodbye.

“I’ll see you before I go won‘t I?” Mom asked.

“If you look down the well you will.”

“Don, you’ve been digging all day. Why don‘t you quit?”

“With only a foot to go? Are you kiddin‘?. Then next week we sink the last crock and we’re done. You boys comin’,” Dad said standing in the barn door.

Jim stayed with Mom while Paul and Dave and I joined Dad on his walk. At some point every Saturday, we always walked the creek. Before Dad built the bridge and the road along the water’s edge it was “hard walkin’” (as Dad always called a bad path), but once the road was done, the walk along the creek--especially in the summer--was almost like a stroll in the park. At least, it could have been if Dad were not the park ranger. It was true that Dad enjoyed these little jaunts, but there was always an element of work involved.

Each week it seemed that broken branches would either fall in the creek or be tossed there by kids we never saw on weekends but whom Dad was convinced came when we weren‘t there just to throw things in the creek. One good sized branch in a creek will snag every other twig that idles by and before you know it, the things dammed up, and it‘s a lot more work to clean out. So one walk at a time; one branch at a time, Dad kept “his creek“ clear every week. Creeks and Rivers and such, of course belong to no one. Even if you own the land on either side, as we did, the water itself was public domain for people in a canoe or kayak (or snow-mobile in the winter when it’s frozen). In spite of this fact, Dad considered the creek “his” and cared for it accordingly.
Fish Creek meanders generally to the south downstream where it meets the Salt River about ¾ of a mile from our land. It then continues out to Lake St.Clair. We knew each twist and turn well from having ice skated many times out to the lake and back. At our north lot line, the creek bends west by a meadow (that we did not own), and then bends north again at the foot of the sledding hill. As we approached the foot of the hill, Dad stopped in his tracks.

“Now who would do a stupid thing like that!” he said with his jaw barely moving.

There in the water, just below the surface but already ensnared in other debris was an old tire. This first bend in the creek was a place where all sorts of things gathered over time, things that washed down stream were understandable to Dad, but when tires, or old wagons and such showed up, he knew it was “some kid” who rolled ‘em down the hill just to see them splash, and then they’d just leave their junk there to dam up the creek at this its most shallow spot. Dad grabbed a branch to hook the tire with.

“One of these days,” Dad mumbled through his teeth, “I’m going to see the squirts who do this stuff and make them get jump in and pull it out.”

Oh, how I was glad it was not Dave and I who had rolled the tire into the creek. Had I not grown up with Dad; had we boys not helped him dig out all sorts of wreckage from the silt in that very spot the year before; had I never known how irksome such an act was to the person who had to clean it up… the truth is: I could totally understand the fun of watching a tire roll down the hill, bounce over the rise in the bank, and then splash right in the middle of the creek. Someone‘s pleasure is almost always someone else‘s pain.

Dad hauled the heavy wet tire up the hill, and we took turns rolling it around the ridge road back to the barn, understanding that if we left it anywhere in sight, it would end up in the creek again. As we came down the rise of the hill toward the barn, Dad picked up the muddy tire so it wouldn’t roll down the slight hill. We saw that Jim was asleep on the back seat of the car with the door open for a breeze, and Mom was sitting on the front seat with her legs crossed out the door. She was reading again.

Knowing he looked a sight from the mud and the “treasure” in his hands, he smiled and said, "Hark, hark the dogs do bark,"

“And the beggars have come to town.” Mom laughed. “Don’t come over here. You’ll bring the mosquitoes. What on earth have you got?”

“Well, what’s it look like?” Dad shot back.
[When men and women talk, men tend to take the meaning of a remark quite literally which then begs extra and sometimes unkind banter in daily dialogue. Had mom asked this same question to another women, the hearer would know that she clearly recognized the shape of the object and was actually asking what purpose other than its previous design was still in mind for the tire. By knowing what each other mean to say, two women carry on conversation for hours with very little sarcasm. This is not the case when boy meets girl. Nor was it the case when Mom saw a tire in Dad's hands and asked, "What on earth have you got?"]

“I know it’s a tire, Don, but what are you going to do with it. Is it any good?”

“I don't know if it's any good. Probably not. That's probably why some kid rolled it in the creek."
"Why do we need it?" Mom said with just a hint that Dad sometimes kept things he did not need just in case he might have an idea for it in the future. This was ironic coming from a woman who kept things for the sake of keeping them (which afterall is the pure meaning of keepsake).
Dad took a deep breath then muttered, "We’ll throw it in the pile next time I burn brush.”
And with that he rolled it to the front of the inside of the barn, where it remained for about a year. Then sure enough, we did burn it, which is now against the law and for good reason. The plume of black smoke could be seen for miles.

“I’m just going to read a minute longer while Jimmy sleeps," Mom smiled, "Then I’ll go home and start supper.” She said it as if she were not entitled to some down time. This feeling was heightened whenever we were working and she was not, but there was little she could do to be of help out there in the woods. Bringing lunch, and having a hot supper for us when we came home late at night: this was her primary role on Saturdays for many years.

There was still three or four hours of daylight. We pumped out the water that had gathered since we’d left the well, and pulled up the big hose.

“Here we go again,” Dad joked as he climbed backward down the ladder.

Pulling the heavy wooden ladder out of the well was always harder in the evening because our arms were tired. It took both Dave and Paul to do it. Extension ladders are designed to be pulled up to full height with a rope and locking latches that catch at each rung. This works great when leaning against a tree or a house, but there is no way to “extend” a ladder down into a well. We extended it at ground level and tied the overlapping rungs at the end securely with a rope, and then the whole wobbly thing was lowered into place. The scariest part was pulling the heavy thing out while Dad was down below, and it took all of Paul and Dave’s strength to do it.

As they leaned the ladder against the big oak north of the well, Mom drove slowly by with a wave. Jim was still asleep on the back seat and could not be seen.

Dad convinced us we could drop the last foot in less than two hours, and he dug at a faster-than-usual pace to make sure he was right. He almost always had private goals that drove him in his work, but sometimes he said them out loud to put the pressure on and help promote a team effort. This was not one of those tricks parents do--“Son, take out the trash during the commercial. I’ll time you.”--because he was the one digging away. We were simply pulling buckets up double time in the rotation that by now had become automatic.

Paul lowered the bucket down the well, but Dad did not begin digging. “Anything wrong?” Paul yelled down the hole that was becoming darker with the sun so near to setting.

“Seems like she ought to be dropping,” he hollered up. “I’ve got about a foot cleared out.”

He was referring to the fact that each time we dug out six inches or so from the base of the stacked crocks, the whole “sleeve” of crocks dropped down in place with a loud and slippery sounding thud. The ring of pea gravel around the outside of the top crock also disappeared into the ground with each drop. We then shoveled more pea gravel around the top to keep the “ball bearing” effect working from the top to bottom of the shaft. It was these incremental drops that rewarded us throughout the day and let us know we were doing more than hauling dirt. But for some reason the crocks had not dropped since we began this last shift of digging.

“Put the log across the top and give it a tap.” Dad suggested.

There were two logs--beams really--cut from a tree about five inches around. Each was about six feet long. Sometimes when the crocks did not slip down in place, we put the one of the logs across the top of the well and gave it a firm tap with the other log. Usually a tap or two and “THUNK” down the whole thing went. But this time something else happened.

To help imagine the physics involved, imagine that executive desk toy that has the five suspended balls hanging in a row. You let one ball hit at one end and only one ball bounces off the far end. Let two balls hit at one end and two balls react at the other and so on…. Well, for some reason when we tapped the top crock like we’d done the few other times it needed prodding, instead of the whole stack dropping, only the bottom three crocks dropped down to the bottom, leaving a one foot gap about six feet over Dad’s head. This had never happened before; nor had its consequence occurred to Dad.

An avalanche of pea gravel began pounding down on Dad, and there in the confines of his four foot cement cylinder, and understandable panic swept over him.

“Pull me up!” he screamed, grabbing the dangling rope.
More than twenty feet above him, we, too, were in a panic. And for all the talk we’d heard about super-human strength in frantic times like these, the three of us boys pulling on that rope could not seem to lift him one bit. The scaffolding was strong enough, but the pulley we’d been using was not a block and tackle. There was little mechanical advantage, and the rope was only half-inch hemp--strong enough to hold Dad’s weight but very hard to pull with that much resistance far below.

“Pull!” Dad screamed again. He had begun trying to climb the rope, but its narrowness and inconsistent tension with us tugging above made it impossible. The falling dirt and gravel was now up to his calves, and he kept trying to keep his feet free, knowing he’d be fine if he could somehow keep from being buried by the falling gravel. Just as he pulled his feet up from what was now about knee-deep gravel, the deluge or stones trickled down to a shower and then silence. Only then could he look up. He was now on his hands and knees atop the loose layer of small round stones.

“Are you okay?” Paul shouted down. “We tried to pull you up.” His voice cracked. Dave was shaking. He looked at his palms and a callus that had formed weeks before from a blister was ripped off and bleeding. I was speechless and trying not to cry.

“Well, boys, you gave ’er a tap just like I told you to.” He laughed, and the laugh rose up the well in an echo that broke the silence above, and we all began to laugh with him. “Put down the ladder. Gently! Try not to hit the side of the well. I don’t want it coming down until I’m out of here.”

Dave and Paul carefully inserted the towering wobbly ladder down the center of the well as if playing some giant version of “Operation,” that game that makes you to pull things our of holes without touching the sides with the tweezers. [“Remove funny bone.”]

Once Dad was out of the well, we pulled out the ladder, and he gave the log a couple of very firm taps and down it went. Nearly all of the pea gravel that had lined the way for the upper three crocks had fallen into the well. It took nearly all of the remaining pile of gravel to fill in around the outside again. The upper ring of cement was about two inches above the ground.

“Well, we sunk the sixth crock,” Dad joked.

Looking back on it now, I know it is a natural thing to laugh at near-death experiences once they are clearly past; once the adrenaline has coursed through our body and the nerves endings are no longer flapping in the breeze; once the earth feels firm again. We laugh because to do otherwise may remind us of the thread we dangle from each day we get out of bed and merge into the mercy of God.

“Let’s cover her up and call it a day.”

“What about all that gravel down there.” Dave asked.

“We’ll get it next week. That will be easy to dig out, but we’ll really have to haul to get that out and the last crock sunk. Then just think… we’re done.”

“And off to Georgian Bay,” I added with a smile.

“Yes. That’s right. The next week we’re off to Canada.”

Before we owned the property, we lived for the summer vacations that Dad typically took in August. And Dad himself could think of little else in the weeks leading up to our camping trip at Killbear Point in Ontario. But once our weekends were spent on the land, there was always the pressing “next thing to do” so we could build our house, and vacations almost snuck up on us. They were more needed than ever, but it was harder than ever to get Dad to pull away from work--not his work at Bell in Detroit--he loved getting away from that job. But pulling away from the countless things that “had to be done“ out at the property was very hard indeed.. This was a good moment to think two weeks down the road, when the well would be done, and we’d all be piled into the family tent under aromatic pines.

We had covered the well and put the cement blocks on the lid, and were loading up the wheelbarrow when a pair of headlights turned into the two-track drive and crept toward us. The flashers of the car were also on. It was Mom. She had left about a half hour before. What was she doing back?
This day was far from over.
Chapter 15-C "When Things Become Automatic" to be continued...


Blogger Nancy said...

I really thought this was dangerous from the beginning and anticipated a problem with the crocks dropping. But this fiasco turned out to not be a fiasco at all...sooooooo now what's happened with your mom? You had to leave your reader hanging again Tom! That's what makes it exciting, keeps us coming back for more, and validates the gifted writer that you are. I'll wait patiently, like a student in the classroom, where the teacher reads a chapter aloud each day after lunch. In the meantime....Happy Valentine's Day!

14/2/09 9:14 PM  
Anonymous quilly said...

Whoa! What a place to end! You come back here and finish this right now!

14/2/09 9:39 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

We're on Mid-winter Break (a four-day weekend). I spent most of yesterday and today putting in an indoor-outdoor dog run for my daughter and her husband's little schnorky (Schnowzer/Yorkshir). We got it mostly done. It goes from their bedroom out to the breezeway and then down a ramp and outside to a dog run. We made one like it for our "Kip."

Anyway, I finally had some time to write early this morning. And, yes, Julie and I did have a nice Valentine's Date last night with some more plans for tomorrow. =)

Thanks for the patience and encouragement!

I had to break up this chapter more than I thought. I'll try to post the nexpt part by Monday night.

14/2/09 10:18 PM  
Blogger Donnetta Lee said...

What a cliff hanger! How do you do it, Tom? Wish I could knock out this many words and have it all make sense and be so enjoyable! Hope you had a wonderful Valentine's Day. D

14/2/09 10:43 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Down the well as it filled with gravel, yes sir that would be a forehead slapping moment after wards but then the unexpected is named thus for just that reason.

I am beginning to appreciate how the inanimate Duncan Phyfe is the object that ties this memoir all together.

The scenes change, the jobs change, the homes change, the people grow and change but, that table is always there.

15/2/09 4:44 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Donnetta Lee,
You understand the force of few words at your blog. It's never my intent to go long in a chapter, and I know blogs in particular are not a place for length posts... so thanks for finding it interesting. It was interesting in real life as it happened, but writing about such things almost 40 years later gives it a nearly "omniscient" feel. I once asked for some advice about the "tone" of this and that other story "Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe," and my friend pointed out that it seemed to be written in "First Person" and yet it has as many moments of "3rd person omniscient." How can it be both? That is a good question. The next chapter shows this "viewpoint shift" to the extreme (as we will be in the car with my mom, and I was obviously not at the time). (Sorry for rambling like this, but it's something I hope to write about eventually so this is a first draft of sorts.)

The only explanation I have for why the tone and sometimes shifting point of view happens (and hopefully is not a problem) is that over the years, my siblings and I heard all of the "bio" stories on this blog many, many times. Each time I heard them from someone elses perspective (typically Mom's or Dad's), I became a "3rd person" to events I'd not witnessed first hand. But so vivid were the details and characters, that over time I felt I was there. That whole Duncan Phyfe story from fall of 2007, happened before any of us kids were born, but I wrote it with the help of numerous phone calls to my mom, which again explains the "1st to 3rd person" shifts.

This next chapter is based on Mom's explanation, which none of us "bought" at the time but that I know fully believe and in fact have experienced.

15/2/09 7:08 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks for seeing the thread. It was unintentional at first. Back in the fall of 2007 when I started that story about the table. The only part I was going to write was the part I'd heard a million times about how they brought it home hanging half in and out of the trunk of Dad's '39 Ford with Dad walking behind. When I went to put an "spoken story" on paper, I realized that I didn't have the whole picture. Tons of questions came to mind that I never bothered to ask when hearing the story told. That led to phone calls home and hours and hours of delightful conversations with Mom, but since she is [was] a very "associative thinker" the story had to go back to when Dad taught her to drive the Ford in the first place, which went back to the honeymoon, etc. It was somewhere in those many chapters that the "object" of that table struck me as one of the truest connections to the beginning and continuing story of my life. A table I barely knew was there at the time. I talked to my brother Jim about it on the phone as he would call to comment about chapters. He loved the idea. It was Jim who helped me load that old table into my van when I brought it home from the barn last fall. It's in my basement now. It wouldn't bring $5 at an auction. It now has 2x8 legs (Dad did that when the banana peel pedestal broke and he didn't have heart to throw it out as most would have done). Anyway, you have indeed found a deliberate and very true thread and symbol. It's perfect really... it begins with high hopes and my mother's dreams of a fine home (her mother had a Duncan Phyfe and so she wanted one for their home), but the table never came to use. It had no chairs for one thing. It just came with us every time we moved, getting more and more scratched and ruined with time, until it ended up broken and taken to the barn where Dad gave it legs and for the first time it actually had a family around it nearly every weekend. It then served as Dad's "workbench" for about 20 years and then sat buried under boxes and "stuff" in the barn for another decade or so until I brought it home.

Sorry to ramble. This all has much to do with then next chapter.

15/2/09 7:26 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I was doing my "morning after" reading and caught many mistakes. Thank you for overlooking them. Maybe you've learned by now that I tend to catch them and fix them in the days following the post.

But I thought it funny that I had a sentence about women talking that read "...two women carry on cibversatuib for hours ..." Wow! What a typo. The word I was trying to type was "conversation" but for all I know women can also do cibversatuib very well.

15/2/09 10:24 AM  
Blogger the walking man said...

cibversatuib...Probably the only word you can GOOGLE (c) and get absolutely no hits on...ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ah

15/2/09 7:13 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Ha Ha is right. I just tried googling it and a page came up saying "Did you mean civersatuib?" which dropped only the "b" before the "v" as if that would make a difference. So I said yes. Then it told me there were no matches. Duh!

15/2/09 9:44 PM  

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