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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, February 26, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 16: "Saturday Night"

The ride home the night mom put the automatic transmission in reverse at 50 MPH was the kind of quiet that makes you think twice before speaking. First of all, we were exhausted after all it took to sink the sixth crock. It was in many ways the most fatiguing day since we'd begun digging the well--even harder than the days we dug through clay. Partly because it came so near the end of being done. Projects that take nearly two months to do, and yet on the surface look pretty much the same each week, require a special kind of strength and perseverance, and about the time of the sixth crock this was true.

For me the day had begun with delivering the Detroit News, while Mom baked a banana cake. But from sunrise ‘til sunset, Dad and Paul and Dave had been digging and pulling and turning hundreds of buckets of wet dirt. Then there was that man who came through the woods and scoffed, “Tell your ol’ man he’s wasting his time—salt water’s all he’s gunna get.” Then Mom in the barn with her Bible verses about water. Then Dad pulling that tire from the bend in the creek. Then the avalanche inside the well and Dad screaming for us to pull him out. Dave’s torn and bleeding callus on his palm. Knowing we'd have to pull all that pea gravel out one bucket at a time the next Saturday. And then...after that long day... Mom drove slowly down the drive with the flashers on. Ruined transmission. Dad too exhausted to prolong his anger. Mom’s arms bleeding from her nervous habit of picking...

It had been quite a day and, as I said, the ride home was understandably quiet. A few miles down 23 Mile Road, Mom mumbled, “This is where it happened,” then shrugged as if to say but who wants to talk about it. And no one did.

Supper that night was left-over coleslaw and baked frozen fish sticks. They were crumby—literally crumby. The cookie sheet was covered in orange crumbs that fell from the long limp rectangles of fish-like “bars” that we gobbled up as if they were good. We slicked down the coleslaw, too. It was Grandma Spencer’s recipe and had a shelf life of three or four weeks. Lots of vinegar. Good stuff.

And then, starting with Dad, one by one, we took quick baths and got ready for bed. I’m not sure that I’ve mentioned it before but Dad thought showers were a waste of water. He preferred that we all took baths instead. [Eventually, showers became common and baths a rare treat.]

When we were younger, the three of us boys would get in the tub together, but we had outgrown that years before and begun taking baths--Saturday night baths anyway--in order from oldest to youngest, which meant I was always the last one to get in the tub. By then, the tub had more rings than Saturn and some evidence of Uranus, as I used to tell my brother Dave. [Sorry, Ladies, but "boy humor" is just different than "girl humor."]

The bathtub rings and the fact that the hot water was only warm by the time I was filling the tub were the down side of bathing last, but the upside was I could stay in as long as I wanted.

I was fourteen but still short enough to lie outstretched from head to heel against the bottom of the tub with only my face above the surface of the water. Perfectly still so no ripple would reach my slightly open mouth, I'd sometimes rest like that for ten or fifteen minutes, suspended in time and space, lost in thoughts of who knows what, reliving the day or looking ahead to what the coming week might hold. About the time the water started getting cold, I knew I was clean.

Typically, by the time I got out of the tub, everyone else but Mom was in bed. Mom was usually still rattling around in the kitchen or digging through clothes in the laundry room to make sure we all had something to wear to church the next morning or cleaning the tub to her satisfaction. Seems always when the night was otherwise quiet, Mom was still looking for places to put the loose ends of her day. I don't recall a time when she was not the shadow who turned out the last light and whispered "G'night" at each door.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a way with details. I have been reading here since the beginning of the story about the land. Do not finish it too soon. We had only two chilrden in my family, and we did not dig a well, but your writing makes me feel like I know your family as I remember similar things about mine. . I love your mother. Mine is very much like her. I have begun reading the story about the table once I saw in a comment how it relates to this story. When you make a copy of this book for the house please make one available to us. I would ejoy reading it that way. Just let us know where to buy it.

26/2/09 5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a way with details. I have been reading here since the beginning of the story about the land. Do not finish it too soon. We had only two chilrden in my family, and we did not dig a well, but your writing makes me feel like I know your family as I remember similar things about mine. . I love your mother. Mine is very much like her. I have begun reading the story about the table once I saw in a comment how it relates to this story. When you make a copy of this book for the house please make one available to us. I would ejoy reading it that way. Just let us know where to buy it.

26/2/09 5:41 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Wow! There is an echo in the comment section. Just kidding. Feel free to say it a third time. I'm between basketball games at my school and saw your kind comment(s).
Thank you for mentioning both the details and "do not finishing too soon." That last part is funny. Lately I haven't had time to write (laptop is still down), and I must admit I do wonder if this thing is dragging on. (Somebody out there thinks it is, please be patient like this person =) As far as a copy goes, I wanted to do that with the Duncan Phyfe story but I'm still in the "proof-reading stages." I did get a copy of the manuscript to my mom a few months before she died. I was grateful for that. If I thought there was interest beyond my family members, I suppose I'd run a few extra copies and see what happens. (Or self-publish since I doubt there is a broad market for this sort of book.) But know that you have made my day by just asking.

Back to game two in the gym.

26/2/09 7:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will hit the button only once this time. I do not know anything about publishing a book but I do know I have read books that are not as interesting as what I read here. I do not like to write comments but I did this time. Keep those chapters coming!!!

26/2/09 9:17 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Tom...There would be great interest in this story. I would think that one of the Christian publishing houses would be glad to have a look at it. Personally I would shop it around before I went the self publishing route.

Actually even though it is not finished yet, and anon is right don't finish it too soon, it is far enough along and edited well enough to write query letters (letters describing the theme and tenor of the story to see if there is interest from publishers) and send along a chapter or two.

Another route open to you would be to submit what you think is one of the better stand alone chapters to a Christian oriented magazine.

There is no doubt in my mind that it would not take long to get picked up. This is the type of story that just in the telling inspires hope and determination in people. Your mother and father have become heroes to me.

27/2/09 5:18 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

First Anon makes my day and now you have blurred my eye with your last statement. Mom and Dad are that, of course, to me, but to think that somehow they could do the same for people who are now "getting to know them" after they are gone... that really hit me. Thank you. They and my life were so ordinary to me at the time.

I know you have done what you're talking about and I will look into that. In fact, there are many such publishers over here on the west side of the state.

Ah... the joy of rejection. It's been a while since I've submitted anything. Blogging has sort of filled the gap. It's been great for writing, having a vague sense of "deadline," and getting feedback with very little risk. What you two have said reminds me "risk" is good and worth a shot. In the meantime, I'll take my time and take this where I know it's going.

Sorry it tends to be a weekend thing--sort of like this story itself in that regard.
Thanks again.

27/2/09 6:48 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

OH,what fun it is to relax in the tub and let the water get cold! I still do it as often as I can. Not only is it relaxing, it is tranquil enough to reflect, prioritize or just meditate. I love the Uranus joke...so funny and I needed a smile on my face today! I've long told you publishing would work but it does seem like a world of "who you know" and what do I know? I love the details, the faith, the determination, the characters and the similarities to my childhood and my dad. My mom not so much like yours and I think that is one reason I was so drawn to your mom, out of admiration for the loving mother,Christian and role model that she was. (I'm a picker too and it's not a fun place to exist, I do it and don't realize I'm doing it until it's too late...just like your mom.) My mom is a very different character raised with 11 brothers and sisters, very poor and an absent, alcoholic dad. She is a Christian but not the loving, kind, gentle, role model your mom was. I love her dearly but life has not always been easy, living with her. Looking at her background, has given me peace, understanding and forgiveness.

I look forward to your next chapter. I hope your MIL is doing better and that your computer cord is fixed. Your recliner, laptop, activity all around, is exactly how I do it. When is your senior trip? Have a great weekend!

27/2/09 3:29 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I'm at school between basketball games (two nights in a row but they're good games =) .

Julie's mom is doing much better but it did take some time. Thank you for asking.

My laptop cord is still fried. All my "writing time" is at the home desktop in Kim's room (where my blog bookmarks are not so I haven't been around the blogosphere for a while).

I hardly ever take baths anymore (I do shower once a week whether I need or not). [Glad the humor was not offensive =).] When I take a bath it is specifically for healing a sore body after a long hard day of work. One of the last ones I took was in Thailand after a long week and a hike to a waterfall deep in a jungle.(Ironically, it was in that moment that I called home and found out I had to return for Mom's last days.)

But as kid, when I fit in lengthwise it was great. I've heard there are "spas" with "flotation chamber" for that very sort of relaxation. I'd love it!

Thanks for your encouragement and for "getting to know my mom" through the years. Back when she read the comments it meant a lot to her that perfect strangers took an interest in the ordinary life we led.

There is nothing ordinary about life.

27/2/09 6:06 PM  
Anonymous quilly said...

My mother died when I was three and my father didn't remarry until I was a teen. My grandmother over saw most of my "raising" and she did a marvelous job, but sometimes I really yearn for that special bond I can see that people have with their mother. The ending of this story just left me in that yearning place.

3/3/09 4:41 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Sorry I missed this comment. Thank you so much for sharing this personal tought. I must admit, when I typed that ending, and remembered the sound of that whispered "G'night" (which she said even if we were long asleep) I got that feeling too. It really hit me. I was so blessed to have a mom like her and the dad that balanced things out. They were kind of a denim and flannel combination (strong and soft when you needed either). But I do think about those who may read here and think, "What is he talking about? Life is nothing like that." I've had many students who have not had this life (and in fact have had quite the opposite), but I think it's good to know that common, imperfect, flawed people can "hold together" and make home work.

It means so much to hear you say that you get that feeling just by reading something I wrote. I think it's a good feeling, yearning... what a beautiful word... yearning sometimes helps us remember ideals (even in their absence) Yearning helps us know when life comes close to what it's meant to be. I have to think about this some more. You've tripped some thoughts that are not done in my head.

4/3/09 5:49 PM  
Anonymous quilly said...


I taught 5th grade for 10 years in a place that taught me, no matter how flawed my family, I was dang lucky to have them, because it could have been much worse.

4/3/09 11:49 PM  
Anonymous quilly said...

Tom -- I was just perusing the comments. There is a broad market for this sort of book (memoirs/true experience) and you might want to talk to your Pastor, and get some names of some Christian book publishers.

4/3/09 11:52 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I think that's what has struck me as I've grown older. Family is about holding on... imperfections and all.

As for publishing...I actually know of local publishers that I might try. There are many in the Grand Rapids area. It's just a question of "doing it" and not being afraid of rejection. It takes so much time to get something "ready." But I may do that. Thanks for the suggestion.

5/3/09 7:21 PM  

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