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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

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.]


Blogger Nancy said...

I learned about mortar and cement from this chapter just like you did as a lad. This entire process has amazed me and to think it still exits, doing the job it was designed to do is astonishing. Your paper route was a learning experience, just like my scooping ice cream at a dairy bar for years, educated me in many ways. My kids also had their summer jobs, which I hope taught them valuable lessons as well. This was a great chapter and I continue to enjoy each post. Make memories with your sister this weekend and know that your readers will be here when you find the time to post the next chapter. BLESSINGS!

3/3/09 4:53 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Good to hear from you. You would love my sister. I can imagine you two visiting for hours.

It was not deliberate but the past two posts have included things I didn't know until that moment in the story. The drafts of these chapters were in tact before I saw a certain movie that won many Oscars a week ago. It was set in the slums of India, and the plot is based on this very concept: how the main character comes to know certain random facts that end up giving him a chance at fame and fortune. (I'm being vague about the title and plot on purpose, but if you can stomach "raw" reality, it is a worthwhile film to see.)

Have a great first week of March!

3/3/09 7:37 PM  

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