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patterns of ink

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

Saturday, 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..


Blogger Nancy said...

Well wherever you and your patient wife are off too, I hope you are blessed with all that you could possibly hope for! ENJOY!

I didn't know about milk chutes and found this very interesting because I learned something new. I wasn't surprised that you climbed through...I've done the same thing many times during my live... only through a small window about adult eye level, when we would get locked out during our high school years. Both parents worked and we were responsible for cooking supper before they got home from work. We would ride the bus home, realize we were locked out and my sister would push me up enough to wiggle the window open and then almost like a contortionist...wiggle through! Kinda like you did...wasn't it fun. The most fun is thinking of how skinny we both were then...98 pounds, those days are gone for both of us! : )

I hesitate to write this here but my fingers are itching to type this story. I'm afraid all the boogie men out there will read this and come get me...but here goes! We never lock our house, never have, and when vacation time comes...it's hard to find a key to lock the house. We even had our doors rekeyed one time, so that we would have a key for when we went on vacation. Are we crazy? Maybe so, but we really live out in the boonies and we are both trusting by nature and nothing has ever happened in 33 years... so that's my story and hope it doesn't change!

I'm loving each chapter even though I sometimes have to read 2 at once. Keep them coming and enjoy your time away!

21/3/09 11:37 AM  
Blogger Donnetta Lee said...

Really enjoyed this installment, Tom. I can just see you in my mind's eye climbing that milk chute. Holy cow, Tom! And you always have something to teach. Learned more about Michigan. Have a great time with your wife. Be safe. D

21/3/09 5:36 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I know the feeling, but I won't tell anyone you don't lock your house. I have temporary access to internet in Chicago. We just dropped off Kim and are not yet "away from civilization as we know it."

You got that right about me not fitting through the milk chute anymore. That would be a great headline if I went back to my childhood home and tried it:
"Gray-haired Man Found Stuck With Legs in Milk Chute"

Donnetta Lee,
Those houses still have the milk chutes but as far as I know the delivery of milk stopped long ago. Glad you found this interesting. Michigan and the Great Lakes are fascinating.

21/3/09 6:55 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Tom either the gaggle of kids are very short or your milk chute was much higher than any I have ever seen. The one in the house I am in now is about waist high. While the chute is still there at some point a previous owner blocked the access on the inside. Probably a wise thing for these new days and times.

Funny I have been to Hudson Bay. Moose factory and Mossinee but never to Parry Sound...seems like we might have to do some investigation and see if we'd like to look at those granite cliffs.

Another good chapter buddy, and good travels to you and the wife.

22/3/09 5:08 AM  
Blogger Jody said...

I can't believe you actually climbed through the milk chute. Several times! We had a milk box outside our door until the 80's. I always thought it was fun to open it and find the milk inside. We did away with that when my parents started getting milk straight from a dairy farmer in our church. We would go out to their farm and bring large Tupperware containers and fill them to the brim. Later on, once the milk had sat a bit, my mom would skim the heavy cream off the top. Most often we would make homemade icecream- by crank- or have a dessert topped with whipped cream. Mmmm. Good memories!
I also find it funny that you had a chin up bar in the doorway. Now we have things like Wii Fit. =)
Hope you're well. I miss our stories/chats in the school hallway this year. I'm looking forward to seeing the next YB. And the next chapter here at POI too!

26/3/09 8:22 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

My brother Dave and I talk about going back to Killbear someday. Here's the funny thing. I know that he and I would still spend hours jumping off the cliffs, but the young people there would probably think we were crazy. There's just not many people in their 50s doing it. I can say that even if you chose not to jump in (the water is freezing by the way) you would find the "hiking" breathtaking (in both senses of the word, speaking for myself as a man who could no longer fit through the milk chute)

We are having a wonderful time. See new post above.

Long time no see. I miss our conversations, too.

We had a dairy farmer friend and he would squirt milk in our mouth as we walked past him and his Holsteins. I hated it because I didn't know it was milk--nuff said about what I thought it was.

You did hear the good news that your cover made it into the "Book of Books" That is a first for us.
I've been away from "civilization as we know it" for days but just got a brief window of internet on a borrowed laptop.

27/3/09 5:16 PM  

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