.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

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Unsettled" Chapter 20

Feet-first Through the Milk Chute

No matter where we went on family vacations, the trip for me always ended the same way: being lifted feet-first through the milk chute. You see, for the fourteen years we lived at 18140 Buckhannon Street in Roseville we had no key to our house. I suppose we had one when we first moved there, but it must have gotten lost, and it was a time when houses often went unlocked indefinitely. It's true, for fourteen years, we never locked our house in the normal course of days. At night, we locked our doors from the inside, but whenever we left the house anyone at all could have turned the knob and walked right in.
The only exception to this pattern was when we went on vacation for a week. For long times away, Dad would pull both the front and back doors "locked" just before we pulled out the driveway. And since we had no key, the only way for us to get back in the house upon arriving home was for Dad to lift me, the smallest boy, feet-first through the milk chute.

I suppose I may need to explain what a milk chute is for our younger readers or those who never lived in the suburbs.

I've often used the term "tightly woven streets" to describe my neighborhood as a child. (I think the phrase implies "close knit without the comfortable give".) The hundreds of houses around ours were all built at the same time just after World War II, and from the curb, they pretty much looked alike and came with the same options. One of those standard features was a milk chute, a metal box just big enough for a four half-gallon bottles to sit inside.

For families who could afford "delivered" milk, a Twin Pines truck came twice a week to re-stock the chute. ["Milky the Clown" was the mascot.]

Milk chutes had a door that opened out the back of the rear brick wall (for the milk man to open) and a door that opened on the inside wall just to the left of the kitchen door jamb, above the three steps that went down to the landing of the back door. It was the perfect location for a housewife to reach from the kitchen to get the milk man's delivery and put it in her refrigerator. (In the winter, milk and other items could be kept cold right there in the milk chute--as long as it wasn't too cold or they'd freeze.)

[I've included these next two pictures only because if you look in the background you can see the milk chute. The inside photo is of me hanging from the "chin-up" bar Dad bought for us and hung in the door jamb of the kitchen. Mom would not have approved of my walking on the ceiling.]

I've explained in a previous chapter that in 1970 I was at that awkward age of fourteen, as I was entering 9th grade, I wrestled exhibition matches on my brother Dave's team. I was in the feather-weight class (98 lbs.) and could weigh in fully dressed. By my senior year, I had only grown four more inches and gained fifteen more pounds. I never thought of it as remarkable at the time, but until I went to college, I was able to get through our milk chute.

I even climbed through the milk chute on my own one time. That required going in head first since there was no one to lift me from behind. Going through head first was a very different experience because on the inside of the house you had to sort of crawl down the wall, stand on your hands, and take a controlled roll down those three steps to the landing as your feet popped through the chute.

But how it typically went after vacation was this: It was always late at night. We typically ate our last meal of vacation at A & W (until McDonalds came along). We'd pull the vehicle into the back yard through the open chain-link gate for unpacking in the morning. Dad would hold open the milk chute and hold my back as I "walked up" the brick wall, which always reminded me of the way Batman climbed the walls of Gotham City with his Bat Rope.

I hate to admit it, but Batman was one of my favorite shows at the time, and the many wall-climbing scenes were always a hoot! But Holy milk chute, Batman!-- we'd better get back to the real story about walking up the wall...
While my feet and legs went through the milk chute, I was looking up and Dad pushed me from the shoulders. Then when I got half-way through, I'd rotate to my stomach and wiggle my way through the hole until my feet felt the small shelf inside (at kitchen floor level) that ran along the steps. Then I'd dust the rust off the belly of my shirt (the metal inside of the old chute always came off on my pants and shirt), turn on the stairway light, and greet my family with a smile as if I'd been home alone and was glad to see them.
Okay... I've told of how our family vacation of 1970 began (burying our dog out at the property); I've told of how it ended at the milk chute; now let me take you on a geographical tour of where we went and what we did when we got there.

Some of you have cool widgets on your blogs that tell you where we’re from each time we drop in on your site. I don't know where all of you come from. I assume most of you are familiar with the state of Michigan, but for those who aren’t, let me give a brief primer in the geographical handprint of the state, complete with Google map links. (Note: simply hit “return” button after each link or you will get lost somewhere in the Great Lakes.)

Michigan is perhaps the easiest state to recognize from outer space. It looks like a green mitten dropped in a puddle of blue paint. The rest of the 48 contiguous states (except maybe Florida) just kind of blend in until you add the state lines. One of the nicknames of Michigan is “The Great Lake State,” because it is the only state with access to four of the five Great Lakes. In fact about 80% of all the state’s borders are in the middle of the world’s larges supply of fresh water.

If there was a sixth “Great Lake” it would be that big thing east of Lake Huron, but because it is an appendage to Lake Huron, it’s called a bay, Georgian Bay to be exact (not to be confused with Hudson Bay, which is way further north and salt water not fresh). For several years, the highlight of our summer was our family camping trip to Georgian Bay. We always went to a specific part of the bay called Parry Sound and a specific part of the sound called Killbear Provincial Park:

It truly is a remarkable place, and one of the most unique things about the setting is the miles and miles of rolling granite that mark the shoreline there. Because of that terrain, I know that if I'm ever able to return there--even after forty years--some things about it will not have changed a bit. In that sense it is pristine. I wrote about this place called Killbear e a few years ago. In that post I talked about cliff diving. And tried my best to describe it (resorting to hyperbole involving Acapulco cliff divers). I did not know how to post pictures at the time of that post, so here is one I could have included then.
Since that time, the wonder of Youtube can provide proof that the cliffs we spent our days on are still alive and well and enjoyed by risk takers of all ages.

That video clip was not me or my brothers, of course. We dove in head first, trying to execute perfect swan dives with no splash. The water level of the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay has gone down since the 70’s.

I notice that none of the jumpers in any of these clips actually “dives” in the water. That’s probably smart since the water is only about 10 to 12 feet deep now with the same kind of rocks on the bottom as there are up above. (If you'd like to watch more people enjoying the cliffs of my childhood, there is more footage here and here.) [Me in stripes.]

The sand at Killbear is different than the sand of Michigan beaches and the sandy soil of the property where we were "settling" the land and digging the well. It is a fine sand, with more gray in the grains--from all the granite I suppose. Around our camp sites, the sandy soil was always packed hard enough to sweep away the pine needles that continuously dropped from the towering trees above our tent and picnic table.

We did not do the sweeping. We were off exploring from sunrise to beautiful sunset. We'd disappear for hours and our parents didn't worry a bit (after all, we were only running and jumping over mountainous cliffs and diving into water unsupervised for hours at a time).

No, we kids did not do much of the sweeping. That was typically Dad or Mom. Seems funny to think of it now... sweeping the bare earth around a little place that for one week was "home." Home, that is, until I woke in some strange position crowded in the car with my family, woke in my own back yard, stumbling through the dark, yawning toward the starry night as Dad held my back, and I walked up the wall and disappeared feet-first through the milk chute..

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Clue Number One:

Where in the World are Tom and Julie?

This was posted March 26, but I post-dated it to keep it off the top of the blog.
This is a photo-hint of where Julie and I have been this last full week of March, 2009. (Thanks to a generous invitation from her sister and brother-in-law.) It is deliberately vague--beautiful but vague. Here's another hint: If those cliffs were white, you might think "Dover, England." Wrong direction. Much warmer here. (Though there are some connections between that Isle and this.)
For some more photo from this week placed "out-of date" here at POI, go to March, 2008, in the archives. Right at the top, March 31, I've posted some photos there that were actually taken yesterday.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Unsettled" Chapter 19

The Hardest Kind of Learning Happens in the Night
Our family vacations had been “tenting” trips since my first summer in diapers.

The first tent we had looked like Dad snagged it right off a Civil War movie lot. It was an army-surplus tent that Mom hated because it had no floor and kept nothing out. It had no screens to keep mosquitoes out; the wind (and who knows what else) could come right in under the side walls. Here are two pictures of us camping in that tent on a beach somewhere along Lake Huron. See? No floor. Dad bought a cot for Mom, but she got cold up there. So Dad took the cot and Mom slept cuddled up with us on a tarp that kept most of the sand from getting into our sleeping bags. That's Kathy and I in the top photo. I was 15-months-old and do not remember this, of course, but I can see why my mom was thrilled when Dad pitched that tent and bought a "real" one.

It was brilliant on Dad's part: by breaking Mom in with such a crummy tent (set up on a sandy slope), it made a decent tent on flat ground luxurious accommodations--imagine: screens, zippers, and a sewn-in floor. Each night she'd be the last one in from her flashlight walk to the privy (we always used "primitive" campgrounds which typically had no electricity or bath-house). Mom would zip the door shut behind her and then chirp with girlish glee, "Isn't this cozy?" And it was. To this day, I marvel that a secure enclosure of canvas around a family can generate such a feeling.

The camping trip we were about to take in August of 1970 came on the heels of finishing the well written of in the previous chapters. By then our family was on its third tent. We'd outgrown the second (the "pop-up" behind the VW bus in the 3rd photo above). I've written about this third tent before (here and here), but this chapter is not about the tent or the camping trip; it's about something that happened the night before we left.

To fully understand the context of this event, however, we had to go back to that first army surplus tent in 1957. Look closely in that second photo and you’ll see Mom holding our Springer Spaniel, Duke. In the early days, Duke went camping with us, but as that picture indicates... camping was hard enough work for Mom without dragging the dog along, and once we had a tent with a sewn-in floor (that could be swept) and screens (that could be ripped), not having the dog along was added to the list of luxuries.

In the summer of 1970, Duke had been around as long as I could remember. Dad bought him as a pup in 1956, a couple months after I was born. Imagine, my mom with four kids below the age of five; two still in diapers and drinking from bottles; all six living in a duplex on Lapeer Avenue, and Dad decides to add a hunting dog to the mix. Many women would have put their foot down, but Mom rarely did, and then once Duke came, she had to be even more careful about where she put her foot down.

Fortunately for Mom, Duke was an outside dog. A family's relationship with an outside dog is different than it is with an inside dog. Inside dogs only go outside for one reason, and other than that, they're pretty much treated like a family member. Outside dogs are less connected to the family and more in touch with their canine evolution if you will; they are dogs, content to be dogs, content to do dog things, like dig holes, mark their turf, bark at things that move, sleep where and when they choose, and escape from the yard as if it were Stalag 17.

If you live on a farm, where much of your day is spent outdoors or in a pick-up truck, outside dogs become close companions. The same is true for a hunting dog, if the owner has time to hunt. But we sometimes acquire the accoutrements of a dream before the dream arrives. Duke represented a life Dad thought was just around the corner for us. He hoped someday to build a house out in the country, and within three years he did, but as it turned out, we only lived in that house for one year when Dad’s job at Bell moved us to the suburbs of Detroit.

So Duke, the erstwhile hunting dog, ended up being a cooped up Spaniel--first in the picket-fenced yard on Lapeer Avenue, and then in an even smaller yard in Roseville where he saw life through a chain-linked fence for ten years.

There are many reasons why the fenced-in suburbs are not ideal for an outside dog, but the one that comes first to mind is the fact that our back yard became a mine field of smooshy bombs. Oh, these bombs did not blow a leg off when stepped on but they did make us scream and hop on one leg in much the same way (especially in the bare-foot summertime).

Sad to say, my most vivid interaction with Duke through those years revolved around two functions: The first was feeding time, when I scooped nasty dog food out of a can into his crusty bowl and he chomped it down so fast I could barely thunk it off the spoon. The second involved a shovel. You've heard the expression "It's a dog's life." Well it can be summed up in two words: eat and excrete. The closer the relationship to humans, the more other verbs get added to the list.

One of the first poems I ever wrote was about that dog. It was actually a song. The first verse went like this:

“We had a good ol’ dog,
His name was Duke.
He used to chew on grass
until he’d puke.
Suppertime he’d sit at the door and beg.
Springtime he’d latch on to your...

I don't think I'll finish that last rhyme.
I was young at the time
and prone to detail.
Duke was a male,
suffice to say,
and Dad saw fit to leave him that way.
(This photo is out of sequence. It's of Dad and our second Springer "Prop," taken in the '80's when Dad was in his mid-fifties, but I wanted to include it to show the "crew cut" and good physical condition he maintained throughout his life.)

I hope it doesn't sound like we had no affection for Duke. We did. When he was young (see photo of us kids dressed for the first day of school), he'd run back and forth so fast across the back yard barking at the mailman that he wore a hard path right in the lawn. And sometimes Dad would take Duke and us boys out to the railroad tracks along Vandyke and Duke would run free like the ol' days when Dad took him hunting. He'd come back all full of burrs in the dreadlocks that hung from his ears and legs.

But when he got older, he figured out that there was little point in running at top speed from side fence to side fence, barking at the mailman. The path in the lawn grew in, and Duke pretty much just spent the day in the dog house inside the unattached garage. We had to drag him out just to take this picture with Jimmy in 1969. By then, he’d had a stroke and the left side of his face hung low and his rear legs were no longer coordinated with his front legs. He could walk but it looked kind of like one of those horse costumes when two different people are inside playing the front and rear.
One time my cousin Keith was visiting while our dads cut each other's hair. He had never seen Duke since the stroke. Ol’ Duke hobbled up to him and looked up with that half-smile-half-frown face, and my cousin whispered, “You really should put him down.”

Dave, always the kidder, replied, “Why would we insult him? Making fun of him won't accomplish a thing.”

“Not that insult kind of put down… you know PUT HIM DOWN…have him put to sleep.”

“Oh, that kind of put down.” Dave said, as if he had needed the explanation.

I suppose we joked about it because we didn’t want to think about it. Dad was the same way. As long as Duke’s tail could wag and he didn’t seem to be in any pain, he just didn’t have the heart to make that final decision. Then in August of 1970, the decision imposed itself on Dad.

Friday night, just a few days after the last crock of the well was sunk, we were all packing for our camping trip which was not hard to do.

Years before, Mom bought six sturdy 9x10x17" cardboard boxes from a Detroit brewery. (Yes, she felt very guilty buying anything in a place where she could smell beer in the air, but she had read in one of her magazines that brewery boxes were very durable and perfect for this idea. So she went in and out of the place as quickly as possible and hoped nobody saw.)

She then spray painted the boxes blue to hide their "evil" origins, and then just to fully sanctify the boxes for their new use, she stuck a golden eagle decal on the end. “There. Now no one will ever know,” she smiled as she wrote our names on the box (See it there on the lid? Double-click to enlarge.).

That box was all each child could pack for the trip. “Can I take this?” We’d ask, holding up some item. “You can take whatever you can put in your box” was Dad's simple answer.

[Tom, how in the world did you pack for a week in that 9x10x17" box? Shoot. I could pack in that box and still come home with clean clothes. We lived in our swim suits and when we weren’t swimming we wore practically the same thing every day. That box was no problem. And in case you're wondering how I still have my blue camping box. It has not been treated sentimentally. That magazine article Mom read was right: brewery boxes are practically indestructible. Mom gave me my box back in the 80's and I’ve been using it under my workbench for decades (although I don’t think I could live out of it for a week anymore).]

So we all had our blue boxes packed and Dad was ready to load the tent and the boxes in the trunk and car-top carrier. (You remember we would have taken the Country Squire, but Mom had ruined the transmission just two weeks before).

This last photo is of Jimmy in the summer of 1969. He's sitting just outside the back door of our Roseville house. The garage is at the front of the car in the background. The open gate is just beyond Duke's face. By then, the gates could be left open for hours, but Duke would never leave the yard.

You can barely see Duke in the right side of the frame. Now imagine that same spot in the back yard a year later on a Friday night in August, It's late, past dark, the family will be crammed into that '65 Plymouth Fury early the next morning for an eight hour trip to their favorite camp ground on Georgian Bay, in Ontario, Canada. My sister Kathy is 18--just finished high school-- and will be leaving for college in three weeks. She is out on a date with her "friend" Roger, but in on her bed beside stacks of things already packed for college is her blue box ready to go (by this age she was also allowed to pack some things that did not fit in her blue box). Jimmy is asleep in our room. The Plymouth is out in front of the house. Dad is in the garage, repairing a zipper on the car-top carrier (which he made himself, of course) so he asks Paul to back the car up the driveway so we can load the trunk, put the car-top carrier on the car, and "Hit the hay because we're heading out bright and early!" Paul opens the double gate (as you can barely see in that last picture), and begins slowly backing up the Plymouth between the two houses. Dave and I are standing by paying little attention until...

A painful yelp pierced through the night. The brake lights lit. Paul pulled forward having felt only the slightest rise from the right-rear tire, but the yelp left no doubt what had happened. Dave and I run to the back of the car. Paul steps out and squeezes between the bumper and the fence post. Dad rushes from the garage. Duke is lying on the cement driveway. Oddly, his front legs are at rest in front of him, head erect, as if he has already given up on the idea that the back half of him will move. His back legs are off to the side in an unnatural position. They have been run over but his lower back was spared when Paul pulled forward. He seemed to be paralyzed from the waist back, which may have been a blessing. He was not whimpering and, I suspect, was in little pain.

I wish I could say some tender words of reassurance came from Dad to Paul. I’m sure he wished the same for many years. But he was tired, and he and Paul had had issues especially when it came to the car. So I like to think that Dad’s immediate response stemmed from the times Paul got in trouble for sneaking off in the car BEFORE he had his license, or from any of the other harsh father-son talks Dad and Paul had exchanged when it came to matters of driving.

I'd like to think those things because thinking otherwise means my father was unable to take a breath and see that Paul was already crying when he yelled, “How could you run over the dog, Paul? We’re you watching where you were going? You know the poor guy can barely see—can barely walk. Now look at him!” and he stormed off to the basement.

“It’s okay, Paul,” Dave said. “Duke should have moved out of the way. He always moves in time when we pull the car in forward.”

“You were going very slow,” I added, “We were standing right over there and didn’t see him either. And you pulled forward as soon as you heard him.”

Mom stepped out the back door, but couldn’t come close to the three of us huddled around our dog. “Is he okay?” she asked, holding in panic with a stifled sob.

“No, Mom, he’s not okay.” Paul mumbled.

“Well, where’s your dad?” her voice cracked as she stepped in the back door and went to the basement.

A short time later, Dad came upstairs but did not step out the back door. He went through the house to the front door, stepped around to the car, and put something in the back seat. He then pulled an old blanket from Duke's dog house in the garage. He spread the blanket on the ground in front of Duke, gently lifted him onto the blanket far from the car, then draped the corners over him so that only his head showed through the swaddling. He backed the car up beyond the brick corner of the house so the front passenger door could be opened, and gently put Duke in the center of the front bench seat.

“Come on, Paul. I’ll need you to come with me.”

“Where are we going?” Paul asked, still wiping his nose and eyes.

“To the property.” was all Dad said.

As the car rolled down the driveway, Dave followed as far as the front porch where we sat in silence.

"Did you see what Dad put in the back seat," he asked.

"No. What?"

"One of his rifles," he whispered.

There was really nothing else to say. Dave and I just sat there with our backs against the brick wall and cried. We were suddenly full of sentiment as if the life we shared with Duke was like some classic Disney movie. In reality it was not, but as I said earlier, Duke and I had been born the same year. That made him over 14 years old, which, if what they say about “dog years” is true, made him about 85. He had always been there. It took something like this to help us know when it was his time.

Just then Kathy and her date pulled up to a silent stop at the curb.

“Oh, great,” Dave sniffed, “Now Roger's gunna see us crying.”

I pulled up the collar of my T-shirt and wiped my drippy nose on the inside and blotted my cheeks with the outside. We both sat up a little and tried to look normal. Kathy and Roger stopped at the bottom step. The porch light was not on and they had not seen us until then.

“Hi, Tom and Dave,” Kathy said, clearly in a good mood from her date.

Dave and I did not know Mom was standing at the screen door over our right shoulders, but through it she said, “We have some bad news, Kathy," and turned on the porch light.

“Don’t turn on the light, Mom” Dave whined, hoping the dark would hide our tear-streaked faces. It was too late. Kathy saw but said nothing. Roger just looked puzzled.

“Duke died.” Mom said, which was not quite accurate, but we let it go.

“How did he die?” Kathy asked not yet emotionally affected by the news.

“Come on in and I’ll tell you,”

This left us on the front porch with Roger, who probably did not mean to sound cold when he said, “So looks like you guys have been crying. I never picked up that you were that close to your dog.”

We had only known Roger for a few months, and he had never seen us in the back yard with Duke during that time, but still that hardly qualified him to speak on the subject. Sometimes it’s best just to not say a thing, and though he had not followed that rule, I held my tongue.

Dave, however, was only a year younger than Roger. They had both been on the wrestling team together at school. He had much more pressure on him to speak and tried to explain that it was just kind of sad the way it happened. By then Mom had told Kathy about the accident and she didn’t want to come back outside. She just said good-bye through the screen door, and Roger drove away.

When Dad and Paul got back, we didn't talk about it. We just packed the car and went to bed. We didn't talk about it for years, but in time I wanted to write about it, and had to ask Paul just how it went that night.

By the time Paul was opening the front log-gate of the property, Dad had cooled down, and Paul knew he was not in trouble, but as he put it..."I still felt like crap." It was strange, but in the two years since we'd bought the land—two busy, hard-working years—this was the first time Duke had ever been out there. Duke could hardly walk in our yard much less enjoy a run in the woods, and so it never occurred to us to bring him there.
Dad drove slowly down the winding two-track until the barn door was in the headlights, and he stepped out to begin the shortest task he had ever gone there to do.

"Stay here with Duke" he told Paul. Then he opened both locks and both latches on the barn door, stepped inside and came out with the same shovel he'd been using down in the well. Just a few paces from the north-east corner of the barn, he dug a hole about three feet deep with ample room at the base for Duke to lie comfortably, and went back to the car.

"It's ready. Here, step out and let me get him. You take the front corners of the blanket and I'll take the back." Duke whimpered but only a little. They carried him as if in a hammock to the grave and lowered him down. The glow of the headlights was indirect, but Paul said they could see that he looked comfortable there. They then draped the corners around him again, this time covering even his head. Dad walked back to the car to get his rifle from the back seat. Paul followed him.

"Do you mind if I stay here at the car?" he asked solemnly.

"That would be..." the last word got stuck in Dad's throat. He swallowed. "That would be fine." He said clearly.

Dad walked into the shadows. Paul chose to stare straight ahead instead and listen to the annoying chirps of a million crickets beyond the headlights. He sat with one foot out the door, squinting toward the glair, gladly lost in the incessant chirping...until a click...and then a high-pitched hush before the silence of the night was shattered.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

And Now a Word From Our Sponsors

At the end of Chapter 17-A, I made a joke about that post being brought to you by Smitwitifs, makers of fine calendars. I wish there really were a way to make a little extra change by promoting free enterprise on personal blogs without being assigned random ads over which we have no control.

Chapter 19 should be posted this weekend. In the meantime, allow me to share this brilliant AT&T ad. It's both interesting and indirectly connected to our on-going "Unsettled" story in that, during the time of these chapters, my dad worked for Bell Telephone (which had sprung from a merger between Western Electric and AT&T).

I've always had a fascination with television advertising. Back in the '90s, when my schedule included a journalism class, I deliberately included an advertising unit (so students would never forget the inherent link between journalism and advertising). As ads go, this AT&T spot is a brilliant use of "subtle reinforcement" (which is similar but not quite the same thing as subliminal advertising. If you have never studied the use of subliminal messages in advertising, here is a must see video, and here are some interesting links.) Because the subtle reinforcement in the ad below is so easily pointed out, I don't think it qualifies as subliminal.

When Cingular Wireless merged with AT&T, they continued the "raising the bar" theme with this "more bars" campaign. See how often you notice this stair-step image depicted in objects in each frame of their "Sweet Pea" 30-second spot. I thought it was obvious but my wife and kids had watched the ad many times and never noticed so, hey, maybe it's not so obvious. The answers are below the clip. (Don't peek.)

The reward of creating such interesting ads is that they get free air time when people take interest in them. I do not use AT&T wireless, and yet here we are talking about their great ad. Here are the "bars" I saw:

First are the palm trees behind the business man’s house; then come the sky-scrapers in the background as he crosses the bridge and opens his briefcase; then there are blue pens in the pocket of the briefcase lid; then there are the stacked papers at a newsstand; then the most subtle of the subte is the rows of windows in the building to the right of the Empire State building (I didn't see that one until three days after this post); then there are five loaves of French bread in the bag during the line “Look, Daddy, sent us a picture.” Then there are five “stair-step” sky-scrapers again; then there are five stair-step images behind the picture of the monkey in the phone itself (that’s a quick image); then there are monkey bars and swing frames along the back of the playground when the little girl sees the second picture. Then there are five vases in the far back window of the inside of the home just before they look at the five palm trees that were at the beginning of the commercial (now in picture form on the computer screen). There are at least ten pictorial representations of the “more bars” logo BEFORE the actual logo appears in orange at the end of the commercial. It’s a brilliant ad with a great song, a family-friendly theme, and subliminal reinforcement throughout the 30 second clip. Watch it again and see if you see all eleven. There may be more!.


Monday, March 09, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 18:

It Was a Path that Started Long Ago

When we covered the well on the Saturday of the seventh and final crock, we looked around and nothing much had changed. The well (like the many things we learned in digging it) went deep but there was not much to show for it at the time.

Back when houses stood alone and were not connected to the city by pipes and wires, the well was the first thing dug and the last thing to remain of a homestead. We’d learned this the first year that we bought the land. Perhaps I should have told this part of the story in the earlier chapters, but it seems most relevant now.

You see, we didn’t have to decide where to put the driveway at the front of our land. The same two-track path we used for over forty years had been there for over forty years before--that is... the first fifty yards or so were there. It squeezed between two giant oaks, and just before another oak thirty yards further on the right, it ended at a place where long ago a small house stood in the woods.

We’d not been told about the house; had never seen a picture of it; had never met a person old enough to remember it was ever there. But while Dave and I were walking the woods that first October ('68), the fallen leaves were as high as our green-rubber boots. Walking from the clearing to the front of the land, Dave tripped on what he thought was a root, but the thud against his boot sounded out of place, and pushing back the dry leaves we found a brick and mortar circle about the size of a steel garbage can lid.

“What is it?” I asked nervously.

“A well I think,” Dave said. Always the less timid of us both. He’d already begun pulling leaves from inside the ring. “Give me a hand. Let’s see how far it goes.”

And so we each began digging out leaves and sticks with our gloved hands, further and further with more and more rings of interlaced brick exposed until we were lying, stomachs flat against the ground with nothing within reach remaining in the well. But the last few handfuls began to produce more than leaves. There were old bottles (fortunately not broken) whose odd sizes and shapes spoke of another time. Medicine bottles, a whiskey bottle or two, and milk bottles whose painted brand had faded down to etching in the glass.

I also pulled up something that surely had some value. It was tarnished silver, a heavy little thing about four inches tall and looked like some mythical creature with missing limbs. At the base was what looked like paw.

“Cool. What do you think it is? I asked brushing it off. We were still on our stomachs, face to face and our voices resonated in the mysterious hole below our chins.

Dave took it, studied it a moment and said blandly, “It looks like it was once a leg on some fancy Chinese tea pots from the olden days.”

“What do they call those things? Gargoyles? No, griffins. Is this a griffin? I’ll bet it’s silver—probably worth something.” I guessed. Dave shook his head no.

“Griffins are part eagle part lion. That's not an eagle head. It looks more like a dragon."

"Yeah, I guess it is kind of a dragon with its wings broken off. But still," I said with some excitement, "I'll bet it's worth something."
"Probably not. It’s junk. Why else would they throw it down this well with all this other junk? They were just trying to fill it up.”

There was not a hint of the adventure that such a find would have triggered in Dave just a few years before, but I was not sure if his nonchalance was because I had found the silver dragon and not him. So I took it back from his hand and changed the subject. [The thing looked something like the second image but was in much rougher shape.]

“So you think this was a well? What would a well be doing in the middle of a woods?”

His answer was interrupted by the sound of footsteps tromping through the leaves behind us. Stretched vulnerably out, face down, we felt each step shake the ground, and I for one was startled until twisted toward the sky and I saw Dad’s face hovering over us with a smile.

“What on earth? What is it? A well? Must be.” He asked and answered his own questions as we listened. “Holy Baldy!* I knew there had to be an old homestead here. That explains the two-track that went to nowhere. But Man-a-chevitz!* There's the well. It’s a wonder you didn’t break your leg. Did one of you step in it?

“No. We dug it out like this. It was full of leaves and junk. Look at all these old bottles.”

“And I found this. I think it’s made of silver. What do you think it is?”

“Silver plate probably. Looks like it came off an old server or something. My grandma used to have things like that in her china hutch. Sort of Chinese looking. There’d be three or four of these things around it as legs to hold it off the table.”

"That's what I thought," Dave said, rising to his feet.

"Like Grandma's lion paw bath tub?" I asked, brushing brown leaves from my pants.
"Yeah, sort of like that and about the same time period, too." Dad nodded.

“So the wings are probably still attached to the pot. Do you think it’s worth something?” I asked. Dave rolled his eyes.

“Probably not…think about it. It was in an old cabin or something in the middle of a woods, and when the house or whatever it was got so rotted no one wanted it, they filled in the well with junk. So my guess is it’s just that—junk. But it’s kinda neat junk if you want to keep it.” He smiled that smile of his that sometimes made his front-teeth catch his lower lip.

Dan began assessing the lay of the land around us. “You can see where the old place sat. See here where the ground seems to form a corner. And there are no big trees here. Just these skinny ones, and they’re probably no more than thirty years old. There’s the driveway over there and this is right about where it stopped before we stretched it back to where we park the tractor (the barn had not yet been built). Yep. Somebody lived here, boys. Right here. Right in this spot, and that was their well…”

We stood in silence. It was broad daylight, but standing there with an old well at our feet and the thought that someone had lived and woke up and gone to bed and cooked meals and heard rain on a roof right there in that spot… at first was sort of creepy and then sort of sad. The kind of sad you get when you read a total stranger's grave stone.

“Do you think it was a family or just some guy by himself?” I whispered.

“It’s hard to say. It was a little place. Maybe one or two rooms, but you never know. It might have been a family. People used to live pretty simple. No fireplace, though. If there had been a chimney we’d still see bricks or stones seems like. Remember that one we found along Black River? [On a camping trip and hike a few years before, we had found a standing field-stone chimney in the woods. The cabin was long gone.] But it might have been a hunting cabin, too. It’s hard to say.”

“But a hunting cabin wouldn't have a fancy Chinese pot.” I said, holding up the tarnished dragon-pot-leg. “Can we dig it out some more to see what else we find?” I asked.

“Sure. Go get the post-hole digger and just pinch the stuff and pull it out, but when you’re done. We need to fill it in all the way so bring some shovels, too. Can’t have a thing like that in the middle of the woods. ”

Dad went back to pulling the stump he had been working on, and we went to the trunk of the car to get the tools. We found a few more milk bottles and such down the well but nothing else of interest, and knowing we were only making more work for ourselves, we quit pulling stuff out and filled it in again. In fact, we did such a good job covering it up, that years later whenever we’d go back to the spot, we could never be sure exactly where the old well was.
Many years later, I took my bride-to-be to that spot and years after that my children, and each time the story began with, “It was somewhere right around here.” [And some place in my basement--if I could find it--I have a box of strange things from my youth. In it is that tarnished silver dragon head-griffin-like thing that to this day remains a mystery to me.]

So why now, Tom. Why insert this quirky flashback at this point in the story?
I guess because its significance did not hit me until I began writing this chapter.
First, the old well hints at a truth we sometimes forget: the "house" part of "home" is an earthly, passing thing. I don't like the thought, but it's as true of the house my family built as it was the old place we found remnants of that day in '68. Houses sometimes disappear. The good news is that, conversely, the "home" part of a house can endure long after it’s gone.
Second, that old narrow well was once beside a house that was beside a path that had become our driveway.

That's important because we extended that two-track east another couple hundred yards. It winds between the mighty oaks that stand as strong and tall today as when we cleared the road beside them in 1968. Around the second bend in that road is the barn. But the first bend in the road comes just after where that old well was. There it curved wide around the place Dad knew the house would someday be.
That Saturday of the seventh crock when we covered the well, we boys saw nothing else around it and were simply glad to be done, but Dad could see beyond the well.
He saw the stairway that he knew would someday be above it. He knew that halfway up the stair would be a landing at ground level, with a door that opened to a breezeway, not just a small mud-room, but a nice place to gather and sit and see the view in front of and behind the house he'd yet to build. And on the far side of the breezeway he saw a big two-and-a-half car garage with a walk up work shop where he could do his carpentry and the countless projects that were always a part of his "free time."
It would be another five years before we occupied the house and fifteen years before there was a garage. The breezeway came even later. (You’ll understand why in the chapters to come.) But in order for that garage to be beside that two track driveway, the well, the new well we had just finished, had to be exactly where we put it.
He knew that the house and the breezeway and the garage would sit at an angle so the front porch would greet that first bend in the driveway.
Seeing all that in his head made Dad smile as we packed things up the evening of the Saturday of the last crock.

We boys… we envisioned none of this at the time. To us this was the end of a project--not the beginning. We knew only that we were done digging the well, and the next Saturday we were going camping in Canada, and each day between that and this we did not have to deliver papers anymore. It was a wonderful feeling, and we smiled right back at Dad.
* "Holy Baldy!" and "Man-a-chevitz" were two of Dad's pet exclamations.
The latter is actually a proper name spelled Manischewitz, a popular brand of kosher products. I have no idea when or why Dad began using these two statements to mark astonishment. The evening after I wrote this post, I thought I'd Google "Holy Baldy" to see where the expression comes from. Guess what the top listing was... THIS POST.
I was surprised again, as I was in 2007 when I wrote "The Gallery," that the things we write and read about here are part of some endless search engine. But since, I am evidently one of the top resources on these two expressions, let me say that "Holy Baldy" may stem from the "reverence" we are to show the "hoary head." Proverbs and Leviticus are just a few of the Biblical sources that might suggest an old man's head should be honored. As for Manischewitz: When I was a kid the TV jingle for Manischewitz Wine was "Man Oh Man...o chevitz! What a wine!" So the first syllable and the meter of that proper name are a ready-made exclamation. [My mom's pet exclamations were Jupiter! Booshwa! and CrimaNITly! [a compression of the words "crime in Italy" much like MarZEEdotes is a compression of "mares eat oats."]
In the previous chapter (17), I ended by saying Chapter 18 was about "Packing the Plymouth" and featured my brother Paul. That is now coming in Chapter 19.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Worlds We Do Not Know

I spent this morning in a world I do not know, and before I say just where I was, I want to explain that we all live in our own worlds to a certain extent. Even those of us who hold a "shared value" that it is an important part of who we are and what we believe to try our best to reach beyond our personal worlds . . . even we live in a world surrounded by other worlds that may not share that value. If that makes sense.

But in a far less philosophical sense, there are worlds in which certain things are paramount that matter very little beyond that world. Somewhere right now there is a scrap-booking party going on, and those scrappers are thinking of nothing else. (Bloggers can relate to that.) In Alaska, Governor Sarah Palin's husband is a "snow machine" champion. That race is a highlight of his year. And there are hundreds of others who enjoy it just as much. Me? It's been years since I rode on a snow mobile at 80 MPH. Yes, I've done it, but I just don't live in that world.

There are people who live to collect baseball cards or vinyl records. It's a sub-culture all its own. Somebody somewhere today put the last coat of paint on a refurbished '64 Mustang, and he can't wait for the first of a dozen parades he has paid to drive it in. Somewhere out in New Mexico, a man is refolding his hot-air balloon in which he will race all summer in venues all across the Midwest.

Someplace in this world right now someone is carving something beautiful our of whale bone and his world revolves around bone and blades to shape it with. Scrimshaw they call it. Some parent somewhere today watched their child perform in a piano recital--not a "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" ordeal. No, I mean a recital that would give you goose bumps where judges have to tell one in a hundred performers that he gets to move on to "Nationals." My daughter plays our piano nearly every night. I love it, but we don't live in that competitive piano world. I'm so glad.

All across the world right now there are athletes putting in ten-hour days in hopes of making the cut for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. Everything they do between now and that event will revolve around becoming the best in their particular sport. They will be devastated if they don't make the cut.

I on the other hand, know barely enough to write another sentence about the random "worlds" I just imagined. And likewise I know little about the world I sat in today.

The world in which I was an alien today was a place called competitive cheerleading. We went to cheer on my niece's squad. I know something about regular cheerleading--you know the kind where a bunch of girls along the sidelines root for the team. "Dribble it; pass it; we want a basket" and all that stuff. I've been sitting on the bleacher side of that kind of cheerleading all my life. In fact, my youngest is in our squad at school and she enjoys it very much. I like our world. It suits me fine.

But there is a "world" in which competitive cheerleading is not so much about cheering on the team. In this world the cheerleaders themselves become the team. It's very much like gymnastics competition where the girls get so good at every move, and they're so synchronized in every step, and the skill sets and expectations are so high, that the most competitive squads tend to win or lose more by "mistakes" than by the thousands of things they do perfectly.

My niece Katelyn K. is a "Flyer" for the newly crowned 2009 State Champion squad. In the world of her high school in Rochester, Michigan, competitive cheerleading is so valued that they have been state champions for 16 of the past 20 years.

I'll be the first to admit that cheerleading is not my thing--neither is collecting baseball cards or carving whale bone or bobsledding--but sometimes it's very interesting to step into a world where you know almost nothing and sit elbow to elbow with parents and fans cheering on a collective effort that, I must admit, keeps everyone on the edge of their seat. I was a nervous wreck until the last "mount" came safely back to earth.

To my surprise, when we got back home, the clip below was already on Youtube. I did not shoot it, but my voice (and my wife's and daughter's and sister's and brother's and my brother and sister-in-law's, too) is in the screaming mob behind this hand-held camera.

My niece is the high flyer in the center-rear of the mat ten seconds into the footage.

Last year's Round Three performance at the State Championship

Here is a routine in their home gym. Look at the banners on the back wall. That is all a part of this world that I did not know.

Both the 08 and today's 09 state championships were held at the Delta Plex in Grand Rapids where about 500 Rochester Cheer fans (three hours from home) were surrounded by thousands of fans cheering on the other squads. We all sat enthralled and entertained all morning through three rounds of competition with eight teams.

If you ever feel like "your world is caving in" remember it is only part of a much bigger world of worlds. Each of them are all full of nerves and hopes and expectations and adrenaline rushes and humbling disappointments. Each of them matters. Life matters. Your world matters far beyond the best or worst thing you've ever done.

But sometimes it gives our life more perspective to step into other worlds where things unfamiliar to us matter greatly to others. It's good to see people pull together in some shared goal. It's good sometimes to be the odd man out asking questions all along the way.

Sometimes it's good to look at the scrap book or the whale bone or the '64 Mustang or whatever else you had no previous shared interest in and to say to the person to whom it matters, "well done."

It was time well spent to watch 16 girls putting their lives in each other's hands ... and to whistle and shout out loud for the niece we only get to see a few times a year but never in her world.

I almost didn't go to this event today. We had all met in GR last night for a nice dinner. Returning today meant getting up at 6:30 AM on a Saturday. I was tempted to sleep in. I wanted to write... about family. (Imagine that, missing a chance to drive 45 minutes to be with family from the far side of the state in order to have time to write about family.) That didn't make sense. Making something that matters to someone else matter to you is sometimes what "family" is all about. I wish I'd learned that sooner in life.

Not only did I learn a little bit about the interesting world of competitive cheer.... I got a big hug from the only cheerleader who knew me in that world as I made my way toward her through the crowd. Way to go, Katelyn!


By the way, it's my brother Paul (Katelyn's father) who has a more major role (though he probably wishes it weren't so) in the next "Unsettled" chapter. Coming soon...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Unsettled: Chapter 17-B:

"Crystal Clear and Cold and Good"

The week after the sixth crock was unique in that we had only one car to share between four drivers, but since Dad drove a Bell Company car to work every day (a perk that he lost when Congress broke up Ma Bell in 19--), we managed fine. Dad called around and found a reasonably priced “rebuilt” transmission and made arrangements to have it delivered to the barn the week after our vacation to Canada. That deadline made it all the more important that we finish the well rain or shine the next Saturday, which prompted a change the three of us boys had been begging Dad to let us make for nearly a year. Dad brought the topic up at the supper table.

“Boys, I’ve been thinking about the paper route. Paul, you wanted to sell it when I said you had to give Dave first dibs on it. Dave, you took the route but have not yet paid Paul his asking price for it. Tom, you’ve been delivering it on Saturday for almost the whole summer.” He paused and we leaned in a little, thus far everything he said we already knew. “Paul, is that fella you were going to sell it to still interested?”

“I don’t know. He thinks Dave bought it.” Paul said.

Dave skipped that question and got to the heart of the matter. “You mean we can get rid of it?”

[Dave hated the route. He especially hated "collecting" from people on Fridays and getting up early on Sundays. For years he and Paul did Sundays together, but the for about a year, I helped him with Sunday mornings. The route became a two-man job on Sundays because the papers were so thick it took two bikes with saddle bags to lug the things around. This was especially hard in the winter, in the dark, in the cold.]

“Not 'get rid of it’” Dad corrected. “I’m saying I could use all three of you at the well this week. We’ve got to have what’s-his-name do the route next week while we’re in Canada… I’m thinking this may be a good time to sell it if you think he’s still interested. What were you asking for it?”

“I paid Lee Pechea 50 bucks for it, but we’ve lost a few customers since then.”

“They never paid anyway,” Dave inserted to help deflect the fact that we’d lost some customers on his watch. "They'd pay now and then so we wouldn't drop 'em. Forget that. I dropped 'em anyway."

“It’s true, Dad," I added, "Even back in June they still owed us for three weeks and every time I knocked on their door, the living room curtain moved but they never answered. Only ninety cents and they stiffed us week after week.”

“Well, first of all,” Dad said, “I'm glad you dropped 'em, but I'd still try to politely collect what they owe you. That's not right. You had to pay for those papers. And then I’d start collecting early this week and try to get all squared away before Saturday. Then, Paul, I’d let the route go for 35 or 40 bucks--depending on how much is uncollected--and be done with it. Remind what’s-his-name that he’ll only have to work five months to get the Christmas tip you guys have earned since January. That’s a pretty good deal if you ask me.”

And just like that, we were three days from being done with the Detroit News route we’d been delivering for five years. I helped Dave collect that week so we could say a polite farewell to the customers. We even knocked at the three dead-beat doors and they answered—it had been so long since we stopped delivering to them that they forgot to look out the window before opening the door. Two our surprise, two of the three paid up. One even asked if they could start up again. We passed the word along but also warned ol’ what’s-his-name that he’d grow old standing on that front porches each Friday.

[Why did we keep the route so long if we hated delivering it? Spending money. (And consider "spending" a participle, because it was more an adjective than a verb.) Dad wanted us to earn our own. Looking back on it, it was good experience. Most of what I know and about saving and spending and business and customers I first learned delivering papers. I later owned a Macomb Daily route for a couple years, which I preferred over the Detroit News because I did not have to deliver on weekends.]

Saturday morning of the seventh crock, just before sunrise, Dad’s Big Ben alarm clock went off as always, but unlike every other Saturday since we started the well, I got up with them, had a bowl of cold cereal, plopped in the back seat of Plymouth, and rode half-awake to the property.

Turning into the two-track drive, there was just enough room for the car before Dad stopped at the big log gate that stood on cross-legs on one end and was a pivot post on the other.

“I’ll get it,” I said half thinking there would be a fight for the privilege, but Paul and Dave were not in a hurry to lift the heavy log and walk it like the big hand of a clock to the side of the drive. They just shrugged as if to say “Have at it, Tom.”

This part of the day for me had a newness that had worn off for my brothers back in June. I was eager to load the wheelbarrow, see the water all the way to the top of the well for the first time, and taste it like Dad said they did each week. He was right. It was crystal clear and cold and good.

There was an extra step to the process that morning. Once the well was empty, and the ladder in place, Dad took a load of mortar and a small trowel down the ladder, sealing the joint of each crock. He mixed the mortar with less water than usual. It was more like powdery chunks and crumbs than paste, but he knew the dryer mix would absorb the water seeping in through the cracks and hoped the end result was about right. It was. Even as he pressed the stuff in place and worked it into the crack, it became the right consistency to firmly pack in place.

“Will the mortar dry before the water fills the well again?” I asked.

“Mortar doesn't dry,” Dad said, ”It may look like it dries, but it sets and then it cures over time. It’s a chemical reaction. Mortar is like cement--it’s even harder. This joint here at the top will be setting up by the time I finish the last joint. Then when the well fills with water, it will go right on curing and getting harder and harder for over the next few weeks. I mixed it dry on purpose to compensate for the water seeping in the joints. This is perfect and should help keep the stack from separating like it did last week.”

That was the first time I learned that cement (and mortar) doesn’t “dry” but is a chemical reaction that sets and cures and actually does it even better under very wet conditions. That chemical reaction helped set the cornerstone of civilization as we know it. Dams, sky-scrapers, roads, canals, water works sewers and slab front porches on a million brick ranches from coast to coast...all rest on the hard facts behind cement and mortar. But I'd never thought of it before that day, the day Dad cut open those dusty 40-pound paper bags.
The rest of the day went without a hitch. The pea gravel that had caved in was easy to dig and with all of us in a rotation, it only took a little over an hour to get back to ground zero and start sinking the seventh crock. It was half sunk by noon and another foot deeper by the time Mom came out with lunch. By five o’clock the last crock was flush with the top of the ground. Dad put a smaller two-foot by three-foot cement crock in the very center of the bottom of the well. From up above it looked like a donut. Then he got out of the well and with an extra bucket we poured load after load of pea gravel down in the well until it was about two feet deep at the bottom. He then took four bags of ready-mix cement and poured it around the outside of the two-foot crock in the center but not inside the center crock, which he filled to the brim with pea gravel.

I have no idea how he knew to finish the bottom of the well that way. He explained that with the sides sealed as we had done, the water would always fill only from the bottom, which was now about 30 feet underground. The pea gravel would keep the ground dirt in place and the ready mix would get wet that night and set and cure over time. This meant that the fresh ground water would come mostly through the “chimney” in the middle as he called it, which will add three more feet of pea gravel to act like a filter. In addition to that, we cut the hose off so it never pumped below the last five feet or so. That would help keep any sediment down at the bottom.

I don’t know if Dad knew exactly what he was doing or just “figured” it put as he went. All I know is for nearly forty years and counting it has worked perfectly, and the water is still as crystal clear and cold and good as the day Dad and the three of us boys pulled out the ladder for the last time.

Chapter 18 "Packing the Plymouth" Thoughts about our last family vacation two weeks before Kathy left for college. [Since Kathy is coming to visit this weekend, I may or may not get Chapter 18 done Sunday afternoon.]

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 17-A: "Smitwitifs"

Think hard. Where have you seen those letters before? SMTWTFS.

Maybe it's because I was a very visual learner, but when I was a kid I pronounced those seven letters as if it were some strange German name in need of a vowel: Smitwitifs. I thought it must be the name of the world’s largest calendar company—and they certainly had a corner on the market. Seemed like their name was plastered on nearly every calendar I’d ever seen, and though this company never advertised beyond their own product, I could imagine slogans like, “Smitwitifs: Makers of fine calendars since 1892.” Or “Smitwitifs, the most trusted name in calendars.”

Then one day in Miss White's third grade classroom, I was looking at a huge calendar on the wall and it hit me that SMTWTFS stood for Sunday-Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday. It was one of those “light bulb moments” that teachers live to witness, though Miss White was doing something else at the time.

“Oh, I get it: Smitwitifs isn’t the company name; it’s the first letter of each day of the week.” Face beaming, Smile wide. And for about one second I felt brilliant—like the cartoon light bulb over my head—brilliant until the other kids turned and stared at me like I was the last kid off the short bus.

“What? You didn’t know that before now?" laughed voices around me, "Why else would those letters be there, Tom?”

What do you say in such a moment? What do you do besides smile and shrug—of course...of course I knew that all along....I mean...everybody knows that, right?

But now decades later, safe in the world of adulthood where all things are known (ha ha), I will ask you, when were you taught what SMTWTFS stood for? No teacher that I recall ever covered it in class. If that was also true for you, it means you simply figured it out one day and it was so obvious that you don’t even remember learning it.

In that sense, our heads are full of unregistered “learning.” In fact, most of what we ”know” we can't say when we learned, so remembering the moment when a random fact first made a "thud" in the bottom of your brain is a wonderful thing. Such things are all the more memorable when you learn them a few years after your peers—especially something so obvious that “everybody knows it”--and if you were naive enough to announce the moment as if you had just grasped Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, you might just look back on it with a smile.

Of course, I knew what SMTWTFS was… everybody knows that… from birth.

As a teacher writing to teachers (and you’re all teachers of one sort or another), there is lots more we could say about the significance of “light bulb” moments, but I shared that brief SMTWTFS confession as a segue to this "Unsettled" chapter, which illustrates that the world’s view of the week has changed.

While it is true that calendars and man’s concept of the priority of days were arranged in the SMTWTFS order for centuries, they are not anymore. Oh, the numbered calendar boxes from left to right may still be in that format, but in mindset and value and practice ...a more accurate order of days might be MTWTFSS.

Let's face it, to most people, the week now begins on Monday and ends on Friday (as in TGIF) followed by S and S, which is code for “weekend,” which is now typically translated as “my time and don’t tell me what to do with it.” Followed by: “And for Heaven’s sake—and ,yes, I do mean even for the sake of Heaven—don’t tell me what to do with Sunday.” (Or for the more profane: “For the sake of Christ, don’t tell me how to spend “The Lord’s Day” because it’s my day not His. I gave Him all the hat tip He needs when I said TGIF, so hand me the remote or my boat keys and get out of my way.”)

The thought that Sunday is a day "set aside" from the hubbub, a day of rest, a day to refocus on the things that give meaning to the rest of the week... that thought is shared by fewer and fewer people these days. I'm not judging; I'm pointing out a cultural shift.

There are many ways to "worship" besides singing or giving or listening in a church. Thank Heavens there are all sorts of ways to honor God and keep Him equally important on all seven days of the week. I'm not saying that the act of "going to church" in and of itself impresses God, but in Christ's explanation of what he says are the "key" commandments, we are told to love in both vertical and horizontal relationships (i.e. with God and with people). I have found active participation in a local body of believers a good way to learn how to do that. (Beginning with the first Easter, the early house-churches modeled weekly gatherings throughout the New Testament and they typically happened on "first day," Sunday, rather than on Sabbath, though obviously fellowship, teaching, and worship can take place on any day of the week.)

But my point in including these thoughts about Sunday in this story is to help readers understand the patterns of my family's life as we were "settling" the land. There was an upbeat in the rhythm that came without fail after the heavy downbeat of our hard-working Saturdays. It was called Sunday, the first day of the week, the Lord's Day, a day on which we never did "work," including Dad's countless goals out at the property.

I could tell you what church was like the next day, but that is for another chapter or perhaps another book. Suffice to say, that we went bright and early to both the “Sunday School” hour and the church hour (more like an hour and a half) that followed.

I will say this much here: they used to call it “Sunday School” for people of all ages for nearly a century until late 20th Century research indicated that people preferred terms like “Adult Bible Fellowship” (ABF’s for short) or some of the many other catchy labels other than “Sunday School.”

I'll also say that in the service that followed Sunday School, we’d begin by singing a half dozen great old hymns that underscored and taught the treasured teachings of the church. We typically did not sing songs like “Fill My Cup, Lord.” Newer songs like that were sung in the Sunday evening service, and yes, we went to that service, too, which was preceded by an hour of Teen choir practice and something called “Young Peoples.” Like the term “Sunday School,” the catchy name “Young Peoples” was used for decades for the teen gathering time at 6:00PM Sundays, the hour before Sunday night service. Again, I'm not saying this is the way it should be; I'm merely saying this is the way it was.

You may be thinking, “My goodness, that sounds like over four hours of church on Sunday!”

Actually, it was more like five or six hours if you included all the stand around and “fellowship” time. But it was a good-sized church with about 70-80 kids in our youth group from basically all the schools in Macomb County. These were not our only friends, but they were life-long friends in the making. And all of us had been brought up thinking Sunday was meant for such things.

There were exceptions through our childhood and teen years. In the summer, we'd go up for a swim at Port Huron's Light House Park. Around 5:00PM, Dad would look at his watch say, “Well, we’d better pack it in and head back if we’re going to make it to church.” (On such days, we typically missed choir practice and “Young Peoples.”) I confess feeling torn at such times--who am I kidding, I hated it! I dreaded leaving the beach and driving an hour back to Roseville, changing clothes in a hurry, and feeling the sand I'd missed on my legs as we sat through the evening service.

But we always went from the beach to Grandma and Grandpa Spencer’s house to say good bye. (They lived just up the street from Light House Park). And on rare occasions, Mom's long good-byes paid off. Time would get away from them, and we know there was no way to make it to the service. I have written about those rare and magical Sunday nights before.

The next week my parents would apologize to our church friends for missing the evening service, but looking back on it, those Sunday evenings at Grandma's were a good choice for many reasons. I genuinely thank God for them. My life is richer because of that time in that house on Riverview and Forest St. One of the highlights of those nights was watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color on Grandma Spencer’s black and white TV. To this day, when I hear the opening theme of that old show, a thrill of anticipation sweeps over me. I can still hear the grown-ups talking 'round the table in the dining room (just beyond the furnace grate in the floor and the arch in the wall). Their voices faded in the distance once Walt Disney himself began introducing the show. Imagine... all us kids on the floor, basking in the glow of the television. Even now, I can feel the matted knap of Grandma’s old carpet under my rump.

We dreaded when the show was a continued the next week because odds were we would never get to see it. That was the downside to Sunday night church, but other than that, attending both morning and evening services was just a normal pattern of our lives for decades.

Chapter 17-B will return after a word from our sponsor:

This post has been brought to you by Smitwitifs, makers of fine calendars since 1892. Remember... 'With a name like Smitwitifs, it has to be good.'” Happy first day of March!

Note: In the comments below, a friend and I talk about some of this culture shift and some of the unfortunate attitudes and "teachings" that may have led to it. I refer to a "light bulb" moment far more important than my Smitwitifs story, a "light bulb moment" of a very different nature--the one that happens at that point in the story of the Prodigal Son when he realizes he is lost, squandering his life, and wants to restore a relationship with the Father. Christ's ministry was all about those moments and the new life that follows them. It is such moments that the writers were trying to depict in songs or poems like "Fill My Cup, Lord" and "The Touch of the Master's Hand."

Offshore Jones Act
Offshore Jones Act Counter