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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

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.

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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.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous quilly said...

Your dad would have loved our ceiling fans. I make certain to turn them on "high" at least once a week so I don't have to dust.

9/4/09 1:39 AM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Rough count from memory...

4 ceiling fans purchased and installed by moi

6 floor fans found and taken from others peoples trash by the wife

1 20 year old window air conditioning unit of 11,000 btu's that could cool the whole house but rarely gets turned on due to profusion of fans.

9/4/09 4:47 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Quilly,
Ceiling fans were not yet in wide use (at least on the mainland) in the Sixties. They do work great, though. I never thought of them as "dusters" but I can see how that would work. =)

Mark,
I can relate. Julie and I still sleep with a fan running (year round) because the "hum" helps us sleep. And you are among the few who know there are many sources of fans besides "store bought." That's the same way we got them, but Dad's favorite was the one he made from a furnace blower. It was not too different from the fancy "encased" industrial fans they now sell at home improvement stores.

You live just a few miles from this house on Buckhannon (parallel to Frazho Road). Not one of the people I knew in the neighborhood had AC. We all had the same kind of heat, too. Oil delivered to the back wall of the house and "forced air" heat.

We summers with our windows open and our front porches full of kids and conversation well into the night. You can see why my mom loved it and hated the thought of moving to "the Property."

That chapter is coming...
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9/4/09 10:06 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Your dad's rigged up fan again reminds me of my dad. He could rig up anything... I'm just not sure why we never had a fan like that. I can almost see your mom shaking her head..... to funny!

18/4/09 5:42 PM  

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