.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

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.


Blogger the walking man said...

I suppose the reason for the intermediary chapter Tom is because it is where it belongs in the tale.

You do so well at bringing us in that nothing is out of place or appears without reason.

Mom and Dad did well in not teaching the kids to swear while still retaining the capacity for exclamatory remarks.

11/3/09 4:40 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Glad it made sense. My brother Dave called me and I missed his call, but I have a feeling it was about this chapter. My siblings very rarely comment here, but they do call and talk about these things. I'm looking forward to calling him back.

As for exclamations and "safe explitives," I think we were more creative in the "G" world we lived in when TV was so strict that Hoss Cartwright used to have to say "Dad Burn it." And Gomer Pile always said "Golly" but never came right out and took the Lord's name. (It was Higgins on Magnum PI who was first allowed to say OMG repeatedly.) That would make an interesting post in and of itself.

Thanks for prodding me along in my writing. These have been busy days. I have reason to believe you'll be moved by the next chapter. I remember a post you wrote once about how your dog died in the RV. This is not quite like that, but I know you're a dog man.

11/3/09 9:26 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Oh no, not a sad dog story in the next chapter...can I take it?

I love to find treasures like this. I save all of mine too and they each have a story.

I'm just now learning about this google stuff, as Joe is getting his website established for his business. He had always been linked on the All American Homes website, which is a national corporation for the system built homes that Joe builds. The NC, All American Homes plant was in Rutherford County, where we live and it closed this week. Joe's business is still good and he can get his homes from the Virginia All American Homes plant. So we need to get the word out through our own Carson Contracting website. A good friend advised me to blog about Joe's business to raise it's google status. I had never heard of this and now your "Holly Baldy" reinforces this philosophy. What's Tom's advice?

13/3/09 8:15 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I am amazed that something I mention in a post (it wasn't even the title) was the top post on Google the very next day.

So I'd go for it. Maybe you can write a positive "sign of the times" post about the NC branch closing but Joe's business still going strong. Maybe include some photos of some of his homes in settings that show their potential. Show Joe looking like one of those likable contractors on Extreme Home Makeover. Continue your "blessings" motif by saying what a blessing hie is and what a joy it would be to have him build your home. Include a link to his new site. It can't hurt.

Joe would get a kick our of how many years it took us to complete our house, but as you will see, we tore down a building to get the materials to build the house. Dad was "Green" before it was cool (Actually, he was frugal and bid the salvage job for $50).

As for the next chapter... I'm afraid it is sad. Hope I haven't said too much.

13/3/09 11:03 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Offshore Jones Act
Offshore Jones Act Counter