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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

Sunday, April 26, 2009

It's Laughably Unbelievable But True

Last fall, I mentioned that my siblings and I have been having scheduled "work days" at the old homestead (the one not yet built in this "Unsettled" story). Yesterday was such a day. We hauled a queen sofa hide-a-bed from a bedroom that had become a study (had to take the sofa and the door jamb apart to wrestle it out, a process my brother Dave remembered doing about ten years ago when he put it in there). Did all kinds of other moving an cleaning. Through these days of work and the months in between them, the tasks have somehow moved from the kind of grief that makes you seek a place to be alone and cry for ten minutes to a sort of "sibling fun" in a "whistle while you work" way. I say this because, the last time we met (day before Thanksgiving) there was far less laughter than I heard erupting from attic to garage yesterday. It was a blessing to be together.

Our next gathering is the estate sale.

Some of the laughter in the house yesterday came from "stories" being remembered and shared again. Both Mom and Dad were good biographical story tellers, and as they say, "the acorns don't fall far from the tree." We all enjoy re-living the stories of our shared life, which I pay particular attention to (always searching for additional chapters). It should come as no surprise that sometimes stories I've shared hear come up, and my siblings add detail and perspective that one mind alone cannot store. Sometimes the small details don't quite jibe, but "memory" is a funny thing. Though I do take notice when dates or plotlines seem blurry, I remind myself that mere facts are not the "construct" of a good story. The heart of narrative comes as much from the "squeezed out" telling over time as from the absorption at the time.

That being said, it's also true that facts are the framework of fleshed-out tales, and I do make every effort to be accurate as I recreated these events. Sometimes after remembering details or hearing stories again from those who lived them with me in first person, I go back and revise a chapter--I trust for the better. Sometimes the revised version may seem laughably unbelievable, but I assure you it is true. Here is an example from Chapter 23-B:

You can imagine the mess in our room when that settled down. We didn't have dust bunnies under our beds; we had herds of "dust buffalo" roaming across the hardwood range in search of stray underwear to call home. When Mom dust-mopped the floor, there was no telling what she'd find in the fuzzy blobs that lurked in the dark corners.
Once during an indoor game of "hide and seek," Dave and I made the mistake of hiding under our beds. The good news was no one found us; but the bad news was we came out looking like we'd been tarred-and-feathered (in dust buffalo); good news was we found our wadded bags of forgotten Halloween candy; bad news was it was March and that winter some mice had chewed all the chocolate off the Clark Bars; but the good news was some of the Bit-o-Honeys were still wrapped and tasted fine.

[It was the winter we had mice 'til one by one, following loud "snaps" from the kitchen in the night, they mysteriously disappeared. We had woke once in the night hearing mice under our beds, but Dave threw something under there, and it got quiet, so we went back to sleep. It wasn't until we found the Halloween candy that we realized what had caused that delicate nibbling sound in the night.]

Here's how it read before: "Sometimes during games of "hide and seek," one of us would make the mistake of hiding under our beds and come out looking tarred and feathered and chewing on a piece of lost Halloween candy from who knows when."
This post continued below:

Still There

There are two words that reoccur
in things I think about and share.
Two words, ten letters: "Still there."
They bring continuity to my existence
as if life sometimes needs proof
that it's been lived
for fear it may fade
like the kind of dream
from which you wake
but want again,
and dozing off
you search in vain
for the rabbit hole
that took you where you were.

Knowing some things are still there
makes life feel less like I'm looking
desperately down at dirt
or up from a hole in earth
and seeing only sky.

And so it is
I find myself authenticating life
with these two words:
"still there."
At a story's end,
I may say something like:
It's still there, carved in the tree;
still there--at the bend in the creek;
still there in the corner of the barn;
still there in the telephone nook;
still there in the cellar or attic;
still there, the winding drive that takes me home
and to that vague and fleeting feeling
that life as we knew it is still there.

"Still there" is where my saturated past
is crystallized 'round things
that can be walked to, touched, and smelled
(like a camping tent stored
thirty years in a wooden box).
But how does it feel, I wonder,
when at last the "still theres" are gone,
handed down the family tree
or otherwise carted off
or, worse yet, razed or blown over in the wind,
What happens when all is still... there?

I'll know soon enough it seems,
but in the meantime, I suppose
that that's what dreams
and stories are for.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 23- B: "Three Peas in a Pod"

The Boys' Room from 1961 to 1970

When we moved into the house on Buckhannon, it came fully furnished. Dad had worked that into the sale. Not just the big pieces but small details, pictures on the walls, and a bowl of wax fruit on the cabinet outside the kitchen. When Mom and Dad walked into the "master bedroom," Mom's eyes widened. It was the first time in their ten years of marriage to have a matching bedroom set. Unfortunately, everything in that room had to be moved into the smaller front bedroom so they could put the three boys in the largest room. To Mom's credit, she looked just as happy once their room was set up in the smaller quarters. It was Dad who looked disappointed when he noticed that the room they'd given up was the only one of the three that had a locking door. (He always meant to change the hardware but it never happened.)

Mom was the kind of mother for whom personal sacrifice on behalf her children soon became a sort of joy that made her look through our door and sigh:
"Well if you aren't just three peas in a pod."
Having only seen peas from a can at the time, and not liking them at that, it was an expression I did not fully understand. For the longest time, I thought she was saying, "Three pees in a pot" which would have made as much sense in that it reflected something we did nearly every night and every morning, it was a sort of sword-fighting game we boys enjoyed as a means of saving water between flushes. It was a skill we finally mastered just about the time the three of us could no longer fit simultaneously around the toilet, but I digress and should not talk of such proficiencies in mixed company. Where was I... Oh, yes.... "Three peas in a pod."
Our boys' room would remain unchanged for nine years with three twin beds side by side on the hardwood floor with only the slightest walking room between them. There was a small standing area in front of the closet, between the beds, three dressers against the wall, and the small study desk in front of the door. Nothing in our bedroom "matched" except for the three bedspreads, which for many years was a "Cowboy" theme used well beyond the days when Paul and Dave cared about cowboys.

But for many years we reveled in the Western theme, and we often re-enacted fight scenes from the Saturday shows, Roy Rogers, Rin Tin Tin, and classic old western re-runs. After a few hours of "learning from the masters," we'd go into our room and have a brawl. These were pillow fights of a different sort. Rarely did we ever hit each other with our heavy feather pillows, but we'd go several rounds with our "bad guys" pillows, whose ticking was so leather-tough, we never knocked the stuffing out of them. Between fights, we'd ride pretend horses back and forth across our unmade beds, which were so close we could "jump creeks" by leaping from the first to the third bed and back without touching the middle bed. It was great fun!
We were not supposed to jump on beds, but sometimes we forgot...forgot, that is, until Mom stepped in and we froze in place. With all the jumping and pillow slugging, the room was like a shaken snow globe with dense glittering dust dancing in the window's sunbeam.

You can imagine the mess in our room when that settled down. We didn't have dust bunnies under our beds; we had herds of "dust buffalo" roaming across the hardwood range in search of stray underwear to call home. When Mom dust-mopped the floor, there was no telling what she'd find in the fuzzy blobs that lurked in the dark corners.
Once during an indoor game of "hide and seek," Dave and I made the mistake of hiding under our beds. The good news was no one found us; but the bad news was we came out looking like we'd been tarred-and-feathered (in dust buffalo); good news was we found our wadded bags of forgotten Halloween candy; bad news was it was March and that winter some mice had chewed all the chocolate off the Clark Bars; but the good news was some of the Bit-o-Honeys were still wrapped and tasted fine.
[It was the winter we had mice 'til one by one, following loud "snaps" from the kitchen in the night, they mysteriously disappeared. We had woke once in the night hearing mice under our beds, but Dave threw something under there, and it got quiet, so we went back to sleep. It wasn't until we found the Halloween candy that we realized what had caused that delicate nibbling sound in the night.]
In those early years, on the rare occasion that I slept in on a Saturday (or on a summer day), I'd see that Paul and Dave's beds were already empty and a strange feeling of abandonment would yank me form the covers to the kitchen in hopes that they were there, but sometimes they were long gone, beginning the day without me.
It was my experience that each new summer day was like a play with a set and cast of characters, and once the curtain was drawn and the acts had begun, it was hard to come in late and get a good part. I hated being the "little brother" straggler. It may not have been deliberate, but late comers on a summer day were sometimes treated like "extras" with non-speaking parts in unimportant scenes. (Perhaps this is a feeling best understood by "youngest siblings," the runts of the litter. My little brother Jimmy was born when I was twelve, but it would be years before I was not treated like the "baby of the family.")

That's why I hated waking to an empty room and why my favorite mornings were the ones when we woke up well before or favorite Saturday shows were on TV. I'd turn my head toward Dave's bed and ask:
"Are you awake?"

At first we talked with our eyes closed, voices muffled by our pillows, but eventually we'd roll over, pick the "sleep" from the corner of our eyes, re-fluff our pillows, and begin telling the dreams we'd had in the night. We'd stare up at the blank ceiling as if it were an empty canvas, and there our dream stories would play out in brilliant strokes and colors.

Of the three of us, Dave was the best dream teller. He looked forward to sleeping, because he looked forward to his dreams. Sometimes he'd speak of them when the lights went out in hopes of continuing the same dream from the night before. Even better than Dave's dreams was his ability to retell them. Saturday mornings, when there was no rush to get to school after telling our dreams, we'd draw on backs and guess the picture the other lightly sketched between our shoulder blades. Like his stories, Dave's drawings were so intricate that I could never guess them, but as all who play this game know, the picture is secondary to the relaxation that comes from a gentle back-rub with your face buried deep in a feather pillow.

The older we got the rarer such mornings became, and by that summer of 1970, drawing on backs was a forgotten art form, and the sharing of dreams from the night before almost never happened. The morning after our camping trip to Georgian Bay, we woke with the room fully bright from a long arisen sun. It was nearly ten o'clock, an hour that never saw us in our beds on a beautiful summer day.
Chapter 23-C still to come....

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sometimes life leaves little time for living. It's been "one of those days" for six days in a row. You don't want to hear about it... but thank you for your patience.

I have a draft of Unsettled Chapter 23-B that's been waiting for an hour of my time since Sunday evening, but that hour has been hard to find. Board meeting last night, and I just got home tonight. It's coming soon... really...maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

In Case You Haven't Seen Her Yet...

By now I suppose even Osama Bin Laden in a cave somewhere has seen Susan Boyle on "Britain's Got Talent." I wanted to "embed" the video here but the dozens of clips are all incapable of embedding by request, so if you have not seen the clip you'll have to CLICK HERE to see the long version. And Click here to see a shortened version.

Come back afterwards.

Some observations about this phenomenal story:

First of all this is a live weekly show in the U.K., and so is "American Idol" here in the states. This means that Simon Cowell must fly back and forth each week to do both shows. That is remarkable considering the nine-hour time difference between England and L.A. No wonder he is sometimes a bit cranky when he's in the Pacific Time Zone. But as you saw in the Youtube clip, Simon is never more charming than when he has been truly charmed.

Of the two TV shows, I like the U.K. title far better than ours. I know many people detest these "talent search" shows. but I'm speaking only of the titles. "American Idol" says it all. As a culture, we tend to want and create "idols." We prop them up, worship them, and cast them aside for new idols as our feelings and selfish needs change. Scripture says a lot about this human flaw. [Click here and keep hitting the "next" button at the bottom to see all 172 warnings against idols.]The Bible also tells us the story of the "talents." It was monetary unit back then. We use the word differently now, but our meaning clearly comes from the Biblical story.

My Mom taught us a Sunday School song when we were kids that went like this:

You have a talent. .... [C-A-G-F-C] (Notes in brackets.)
Use it for the Lord. ....[D-F-E-D-C]
If you do not use it, ...[C-C-F-E-E-D]
you will surely lose it. [D-D-G-F-F-E]
You have a talent. .....[C-A-G-F-C]
Use it for the Lord. ....[D-F-E-G-F]

That's why whenever I hear the word "talent" (as in Britain's Got Talent) it implies that whatever talents we may have were given to us to be used. Whereas "American Idol" is audience-driven. Sure it's based on talent, but its title implies that the audience is in the process of propping up its next "idol" to cry out to, to draw near to, to reach up to, to admire and adore, etc. See what I mean? It's an awful lot like worship if you think about it.

Secondly, I must admit I was moved by Susan Boyle's story as it was reflected in this song. She seems content with her simple life of met-needs but unafraid to reach for one really big dream to tuck into her brown paper bag. Such courage and contentment is a gift in itself...her voice is the frosting on the cake.

I was sad to hear that she'd recently lost her mother who also shared this dream for her. Susan Boyle had never heard of "Youtube" last week, and now her Youtube clip has received over 100,000,000 hits (if you add up all the different versions of it) in just a matter of days. She has granted countless TV interviews in the six days since this story broke. Rumor has it that she will be on Oprah soon.

Thirdly, in spite of her skyrocketing stardom, critics have already said that if she hadn't been such a plain woman, her singing would have been deemed quite average. There may be some truth in that. But if you consider "singing" as communicative art, it is her common appearance, her untouched persona, and her confident vocal that makes her so endearing.

So I would disagree with those who say her first performance was a fluke and that she cannot possibly live up to the hype in the weeks to come. First of all, Susan says she "took voice" at Livingston (I'm not sure what that means, but she does.); second, her fellow Scotts speak highly of her singing at previous unrecorded talent shows; and my last bit of evidence is at this link. This is the same Susan Boyle singing "Cry Me a River" in 1999. She has a Linda Ronstadt voice. (Click here to see how Susan's 1999 song was recorded.) If she can sing like that, her talent will continue to surprise and WOW her audience week after week. And I hope the success and fame does not rob her of her frumpy charm. [I'm also guessing that Simon knew some of this before she sung, and he can't wait for her to bloom a little more each week.]

Added May 11: Here is another performance from Susan's past (25 years ago).

This is not the first time this British TV show has captured our hearts. We were won-over by a previous contestant on the show two years ago. I wrote about it here at Patterns of Ink. His name was Paul Potts. His story is different in that he is obviously a trained voice who truly "nails" his song, but this phone salesman struggled with stage fright and then got old enough to say, "Hey, What Have I got to lose" so he stepped out on the stage and here's what happened.

Next chapter coming soon...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 22-A: "The Laundry Chute"

When we moved into the little brick house in Roseville in 1961, I was 5; Dave was 7; Paul was 8; and Kathy was 9. The layout of the house was simple (and nearly identical to all the other houses that lined the rows of streets).

From the front door, we stepped into a small 4'-by-4' landing with a coat closet to the right (behind the open door). Just a few feet ahead was a half-wall (with open shelves going to the ceiling) that separated the landing from 10' square space between the front door and the kitchen doorway. Mom called this area the dining room in hopes of someday having a table to put there, but the truth is it was not separated from the living room and functioned as such during the ten years when we all squeezed around the Formica table in the kitchen.

To the left of the landing, taking a small step up, was the area that was the living room with a big picture window facing the street. At the far end of the small living room was an entrance to a hall, which was actually not a hall but a hub of five doors a few feet apart. The first door on the left was a linen closet; the second was the bathroom; and then completing the hub were the three bedroom doors.

Built into the wall between the first and second bedrooms was the small metal door of a laundry chute, a feature we kids, at least, had never seen before. Every house in our neighborhood had the same little door in the same place for dropping dirty clothes to the basement, but we found all sorts of other uses for that hole in the wall:
It served as a "walkie-talkie" between floors; as an eves-dropping "bug" to listen in on conversations below; as a way to "put toys away" without having to walk to the toy box; and my favorite use of all: the little door was a make-shift guitar of sorts. Just inside, it had a long coil spring that could be strummed with a range of two or three notes (depending on how far I opened the door). The long shaft was a great resonator, allowing the music to be heard throughout the house. Through the years, my devoted practice on this unusual instrument brought hours of personal enjoyment for me and hours of irritation to the rest of my family.

For more years than we'd ever admit, my brothers and I were not very good at judging when our clothes were dirty, so we rarely used the chute for its intended purpose. That was Mom's department. She'd scrounge around under our beds and on our closet floor and shove armfuls of her most-dreaded chore down that little hole. (Kathy, our model sibling, had a little hamper in her room, but we boys pretty much used the “available space” approach.)
Mom hated doing the laundry just about as much as we hated hanging up our clothes, and unfortunately, the chute became a case of "Out of sight; out of mind.” Day after day, she made clothes disappear down the chute without actually facing the pile of work waiting in the basement. (The laundry chute, by the way, was no where near the laundry room itself, which was under the kitchen at the opposite end of the small house. So unless she chose to walk to the far side, she could avoid the pile indefinitely.)

Sometimes in a busy spell, laundry day would be completely forgotten, and the pile of clothes downstairs became so high that my brothers and I could play in it much as we would a hay loft. We thought nothing of the fact that we were romping around in each other dirty things. After all, the stuff wasn't THAT dirty (usually) and there is, in fact, a pleasant lived-in smell from mostly cotton things--towels and sheets and shirts and such--that have been wrapped around a family. For some reason our neighborhood friends found our laundry "hay stack" a far less inviting place to play. At any rate, it was typically after we boys made a fine mess of the pile and clothes were strewn all over the basement, that Mom remembered she was a week or two behind.

Laundry is perhaps a Mom's most thankless job (compared to meals, for instance, which are audibly appreciated). To make matters worse, this was before clothes were "wrinkle free," and doing the laundry also meant ironing most of the items that came out of the dryer (or off the line as Dad preferred). Mom had a pop bottle with a sprinkle-cork full of water that she used to dampen shirts and dresses. She'd first sprinkle, roll, and stack each item in a pyramid on her old Duncan Phyfe, and then she'd spend hours downstairs ironing until one-by-one the rolled things hung crisply overhead on hangers.
Poor Mom. Keeping up with the six of us was sometimes more than she could manage. As kids, we never seemed to mind, but unfortunately (at least when it came to laundry) we also never seemed to help—not until we were teens and started caring about what we wore. So by the time we owned the property and were in the process of building a new home we pretty much did our own laundry as needed, process that usually began with us digging through the pile of clothes under the chute just like when we were little. Only then did we begin to realize how gracious and grueling it was the Mom’s of the world to do their whole family’s laundry week after week.

Sometime after the 1950's, laundry chutes were no longer included in home design. (They were deemed a fire hazard in that they allow a basement blaze quick access to the upper floors, a fact my brother Dave later learned in the summer of 2007.) But growing up, we thought our clothes chute (like the milk chute by the back door) was a marvelous opening to dimensions just beyond our reach.

For nine years, my brothers and I shared the bedroom to the right of the laundry chute, and it is in that room that our story picks up in Chapter 22-B "Three Peas in a Pod."
This chapter was revised late Tuesday night, April 14, 2009.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Fan in the Window

If you dig into the archives here, you'll notice that Patterns of Ink has long been a place for me to post drafts of essays, poems, and such. Only in more recent years did I begin working in "chapters" (whether they work well enough together to ever be "a book" remains to be seen). The problem with "chapters" is that they commit all of us to a certain timeline, which means I rarely "blog" about random things or day-to-day life, which I find much easier to do. One of the advantages to having five years of "archived" stuff is that every now and then something I wrote a while back now has some context that may give it more meaning. Since I will not b able to post the next chapter draft for a day or two, I wanted to pull up this post about the fan that Dad turned on before going to bed that night we came home. Originally posted in July of 2006.


In 1968, two years before the summer we dug the well, our family got its first STORE-BOUGHT electric fan. We had fans from here and there through the years--and a doozy of a fan at the time, but I'm referring to the fan we purchased at E.J.Korvette's department store on the corner of Gratiot Avenue and Twelve Mile in Roseville, Michigan. Much could be said about this store. Local legend had it that it was so named for “Eight Jewish Korean Veterans.” I never doubted its truth. Korvette's was also where my Mom bought her wigs—but that’s another story [which has subsequently been written]. And it was at Korvette's that I made my first successful ascent UP a DOWN escalator.

Why might a boy go UP a Down escalator? The same reason Hillary climbed Everest. Because it is there! At any rate, there at the top of the escalator, as if a reward for my achievement, was the FAN section of the appliance department. Dozens of fans filling two sides of an aisle, each proudly blowing ribbons and streamers in my face. Oh, how I wished we had a fan like one of those.

We did have a fan at home. Dad made it out of a forced-air furnace blower someone was throwing out—one of those huge “hamster wheel” designs [see photo below of one still in a furnace]. It had no switch—just a plug Dad stuck on the end of the old wire. This was Dad's way of keeping us away form the intake as we turned the thing on.

Dad's fan was so powerful it would blow Mom’s area rugs and small furniture across the room. Sometimes it would vibrate out of position in the night, and we’d hear things blowing over in the dark. Dad would get up to check it out, and on his way back to bed he’d say,

“Now that’s a fan!”

It wasn’t so much the wind-tunnel effect of this industrial “blower” that bothered my Mom. After all, it did help cool down the house. Mom pretened to be okay with it most of the time (it was not like she had a choice, so she just smiled and shook her head). But whenever we had company, she was embarrassed by the looks of this thing-- with its huge, grimy motor, exposed belt, pulleys, etc. What could she do to get Dad to see our need for safer fan?

Well, I don’t know if it was a strategy on Mom’s part, but she did present a very good reason for getting rid of that fan. In May of 1968, my little brother Jim was born, and that summer Dad decided it was time to buy a SAFE fan, a real fan—with covers over the blades and everything—one less capable of blowing a crawling baby head over heals (much less the other hazards we wince to imagine).

So when I heard the news that we were getting a fan, I told Dad about the cool display at Korvette's. He appreciated the tip and announced a "family outing"—a purchase of this proportion was right up there with buying the Plymouth Fury II a few years before, which happened to be the car we all piled into to head down Gratiot to Twelve Mile Road.

When we got to the store, I did not go UP the DOWN escalator—doing so would never occur to me while shopping with Dad. He had the strictest store protocol known to retail. His aversion to buying things in general was second only to his fear of buying something we kids broke. On the rare occasions we shopped with him, we walked behind him, arms close to our sides as if passing through a maze of WET PAINT signs.

The second-floor fan display was a gauntlet of flapping streamers just as I’d described. We each stood facing a fan saying "ahhhh" toward Nirvana, as a cheerful salesman approached Dad to explain the features. “Features on a fan?” you might be wondering. Why, yes, features galore. Things we take for granted now used to be demonstrated like new inventions to customers who gathered around in amazement.

"This baby oscillates [If it weren’t for fans, we would not know that word.] This one tilts and oscillates. This one has three speeds forward and one in reverse. It comes in cool aqua or silver ice. Do you want three blades? Four or five? You want a fan that turns-on with a knob or one that turns-on with a row of push buttons? Like this deluxe model. Nice, eh? [We didn't know it then but the word deluxe would soon lose all cachet and fall off the face of the retail planet. Someday this will be true of the word digital.]

“HIGH” mode was the key selling point for Dad. Oh, other features factored in—“I notice this one’s cord is a foot longer than that one. I like that”—but after years with a furnace blower in the living room, it was “HIGH” that would sell Dad on a fan, and the salesman read his mind.

“This one is an inch wider for greater stability in “HIGH” mode? Push that red button, Son, and see what happens."

I looked at Dad. He nodded, and I pushed the red button. It was the first time I had been near a fan when turning it on. From safe behind a metal grill, the gentle breeze ramped up to an authoritative hair-blowing stream, while showing a level of restraint we’d not experienced in a wind machine.

This fan weighed and cost twice as much as the same size fan would today, but Dad bought it. He liked the power. I liked that it was controlled by a row of colored buttons.

Dad rigged the new fan up in the screen window of the dining room. It was not as powerful as his furnace blower, but it was louder—it sounded like a crop duster taking off in the living room. I still have hearing loss in some decibel ranges from standing in front of the fan talking into it so my words sounded all “choppy.” We used to do that for hours when nothing good was on TV.

[Note: Mom called the space at the end of our living room a “dining room” for ten years in hopes of someday having a dining room table to put there. She had once thought her Duncan Phyfe would go there, but she never did get chairs for it, and in the years of waiting, the table had gotten broken in the basement and hauled out to the barn. Mom's "dream" table by then had switched to an Early American set she'd bookmarked in an Ethan Allen catelog. Once Jim grew out of his high chair in 1970, the seven of us could no longer fit around the Formica kitchen table with the chrome legs and matching chairs [that had shiny vinyl seat pads with splits in them and torn corners that scratched our bare legs]. It was then that Mom finally got her maple dining room set. She was thrilled, and we were happy for her, but I was older and recall less about the day the table and chairs arrived than I do of the night we brought home the new fan.]

Nowadays, with air conditioning, fans are less essential for survival, but they’re so cheap most households have several for various reasons. I’ve probably bought more than a dozen fans in my married life—not one was demonstrated by a salesman before purchase. When they give out, we just get a new one. Like so many of our low-cost goods in a "throw-away" world, they're cheaper to replace than to fix.

This was not true of the fan that Dad turned on that night I went feet-first through the milk chute, the night Mom was so glad to be home after a week of camping. Last time I saw that fan, it was up in Mom's attic. After twenty years of steady use and twenty years of occasional use... the things still works fine.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Unsettled; Chapter 21: "It's Good to be Home"

It was late Sunday night when we pulled in from our camping trip to Georgian Bay and Dad pushed me feet-first through the milk chute, but because there was some exhilaration involved in squeezing through that metal square to let my family into the house, I was slightly more awake than my siblings as they filed up the three stairs to the kitchen and headed toward the bathroom.

"You guys will unpack the car in the morning," Dad whispered, careful not to wake the neighbors.

When Mom approached with Jimmy sound asleep in her arms, Dad gently took him from her. His little face peeled away from her moist forearm.

"Look at me. I'm soaked," she said, pulling her blouse away from her damp skin. "I wonder what it is that makes him sweat in his sleep. All you kids did it," she added stepping past me at the door, "Especially when you slept in my arms."

"Twice the body heat," Dad mumbled.

He paused on the first step and tried to turn out the light by dragging Jimmy's bare foot down the switch, but it missed.

"I'll get it," I said, locking the screen door, but just before I turned out the light, something caught my eye outside the door on the ground. It was Duke's old dish near the downspout, and I suddenly felt half-guilty that I had been able to forget what happened the night before we left for vacation. The topic had not come up once while we were away. It had been a factual loss; the sadness we felt the night he died was real; but it was nothing like the kind of grief that's rooted in the heart. (It would have been much different, I suppose, if Duke had been an "inside" dog or if we had shared years of play in the country.)

Dad carried Jimmy to his crib in Kathy's room, and opened the window at the far end of the house where a large fan was secured in place. He turned the fan on high, went into their bedroom without turning on the light, opened their windows, and sprawled out on the bed. (Poor Dad. He actually had to get up early the next morning and go to work, an event the rest of us would all sleep through.)

We let Kathy and Mom be first in the bathroom, a courtesy that had evolved through the years (since she and Mom were the only girls and we boys sometimes forgot "the toilet seat rule"). Paul and Dave were sleep-standing with their foreheads against the door jamb, waiting in the dark hallway for their turn. There was a bathroom at the far end of the basement, but even in our teens not one of us brave enough to use that one alone... especially at such an hour of the night, and besides, we were all basically sleep walking.

You know the feeling: There is a half-asleep state we can deliberately hold when trying not to fully wake, and in that foggy blink of time our bodies perform whatever functions they must in "auto-pilot" mode to ensure the soundest of sleep to follow. The knowledge that a soft bed is a moment away minimizes every move and suppresses all non-essential thought, and any attempt at dialogue is met with a grunt or weak "Shhhh..."

Mom, always the night owl, was the exception to this rule. She had remained awake for most of the trip, and though there was no conversation, every half hour or so she'd blurt out, "Don..." to make sure he wasn't dozing off. He would jump a little, re-grip the wheel, and say, "I'm fine." It was only that last hour or so from the A & W near the Blue Water Bridge to our driveway that Mom had actually fallen asleep, and in that final hour of the trip, Dad managed to retrace the familiar trail home in a minimal state of attention that so quickly turned to sleep that he was snoring by the last toilet flush of us boys.

As I pulled back my bed covers and flopped face-first on the sheets, I could hear the sliding sound of aluminum screens. Mom was opening all the other windows in the house for fresh air, flitting from room to room, enjoying the lack of green tent canvas and the "largeness" of our little house, and asking out loud, "Isn't it good to be home?," but we were all drifting back to sleep. The batteries were nearly dead, and we were tumbling in that state when words may form in the mind, but they can muster only enough power to move the lips, none of the other speech parts budge, and not a sound is uttered.

But, yes, I can say it now... all these years later. It is a wonderful thing to be home after time away. No matter how fantastic the excursion, it's indescribably good to smell that smell a house takes on when it's been shut tight for a week; to step back into a place so familiar that you can find your way around in the dark and half asleep without stubbing your toe; to feel familiar textures underfoot and find doorknobs and light switches right where you expect them to be; to be surrounded by a thousand little things--a cup in the sink, knickknacks on the sill, pictures on the wall, shoes on the closet floor, a bowl in the cupboard, spoon in the drawer--all the little things that remind us where we are in life; to curl up in a familiar bed where days good and bad and in between have settled through the years; and to know you'll wake in a place where you and nearly everything you'll ever need are right where they belong.

"Home" is a hard feeling to describe, but we all know when we feel it, and it's never more powerful than when we've been away or have cause to leave. So yes, I can say it out loud, and wish I had answered Mom just one of the times she said it that night... "It is good to be home."
[Writer's note: For those who have paid full attention to this storyline, you may have noticed that I said Dad carried Jimmy to his crib in Kathy's room, and yet in Chapter 9-A, I described Jim and I waking in a shared bunk bed.

This story is being written in "real time" with input now and then from my siblings. A few weeks ago, Dave and I were talking about the many changes that took place in our lives the summer we dug the well, and we compiled enough "recollection" to determine that it was not until after Kathy left for college that we "split up" the boys' bedroom that Paul, Dave, and I had shared for nine years. In a future chapter, I will explain that change, and I'll go back and ammend Chapter 9-A. It may seem like a minor detail, but it actually bears some significance to the "theme" of this story, so I thought I'd better explain it. (Since Chapter 9-A is more than four months old, I suppose anyone who may nave noticed this discrepancy is to be commended. =) ]

Friday, April 03, 2009

Sometimes a break from life's normal "patterns" is needed and good.

After a brief hiadus far away and a week of "catching up" on important things with the student body, things are almost back to normal. Who knows I might even sleep well tonight (something that hasn't happened since returning to Eastern Standard Time).

I hope to continue the "Unsettled" series this weekend.
Thanks for your patience. Chapter 21 is on the way.

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