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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, May 03, 2009

Unsettled: Chapter 23-C Souvenirs on the Sill

Many thoughts have filled these pages since we finished the well, buried Duke, and went cliff-diving in Georgian Bay. Some may be wondering if the intermittent flashbacks belong in this "Unsettled" series at all, but it's my hope that talk of fans and laundry chutes and the boys room helps give a sense of the cramped but comfortable life we led in the suburbs. It is that life that stands in stark contrast to the stump-pulling, barn-raising, well-digging life we shared with Dad on Saturdays. In spite of all those chapters since my squeeze through the milk chute, it may help to remember that this chapter is only about ten hours after Chapter 20.

We did not know it at the time, but the camping trip to Georgian Bay in August of 1970 would be our last time there as a family. In all the years of going to Killbear Park, we had never tired of the place or talked of not returning. It wasn't a conscious decision on Mom and Dad’s part—in fact, I doubt they themselves yet knew that the changes waiting for our family (e.g. Kathy starting college and us starting the new house) would bring new priorities of Dad's limited vacation time. On the other hand, if they did know it was our last time there, they may have chosen not to tell us. We were (and are) a sentimental lot, and it's a sad enough thing to leave a patch of hard-packed sand and pine needles pressed flat from the family tent; knowing it was the last time to see it would have made the trip home unbearable.

In the early years, Dave and I would sometimes fight over whose foot was the last to touch that sacred Killbear site. One year, after striking camp, I deliberately worked it out to be the last in the car. Pulling the door behind me, I turned to Dave at the other door and smiled. As we meandered through the campground’s dirt roads, Dave opened his door and tapped the ground with his foot. I opened my door and did the same. Then he did it again. This went on back an forth until Dad figured out what all the opening and closing of doors was about. He stopped the car, turned around and said sternly:

“Both of you put a foot out the door. When I say ‘now,’ pull in your foot and shut the doors. Call it a tie and be done with it before the door bumps one of these posts and you lose a leg.”

Looking back on it now, I'm surprised he didn't just yell, “Knock it off!” Such harsh imperatives were commonly drawn from his arsenal of parental reactions. The clarity of that vague demand spoken with an unmoving jaw implied the threat "or I'll wring your necks" without actually uttering the words. But that time, Dad didn't say "Knock it off!" and his frustration seemed tempered by an appreciation of both the foolishness and affection of our game. He may have found it flattering that, at an age when some kids complain about their father's hard-earned vacation choices, he had two boys fighting over who got to touch the place last.

By 1970, we had outgrown the “last touch” game but still kept one other tradition as we began our trip home. Before leaving the area, we always stopped at the same general store near Parry Sound to buy a souvenir from the trip.

On the very first trip, Dad had advised us to buy something small that had some “real value” rather than some cheap thing that may have said Canada on the front but in the fine print on the back it said Hong Kong or Japan. [Today it would say China, but back then all cheap souvenirs and carnival prizes were made in Hong Kong or Japan.] To sweeten his advice, Dad told us he'd chip in half the cost if we bought something worthwhile.
[This "going half" principle was a wise way to teach us the value of things, and it worked with everything from souvenirs to bikes to college tuition. Dad figured "saving up" for half of something helped us understand its cost and its true worth--as in worth-y, worthy of our time, effort, and energy to own. Parents sometimes think they're doing the right thing by their kids to buy them whatever they want when they want it, but at best that teaches only the cost of things while failing to teach a higher value. The "going half" principle served us well, and I have done the same with my own kids. Okay... back to the story...]

"Hey, Boys, here's something worth taking a look at," Dad announced, turning our eyes to a Dinky Toys display on the main counter of the store.

Behind the slanted glass were rows and rows of cars in no particular order. Dinky Toys were known for detail in the die-cast miniature car market. They were larger than Matchbox and were meant for hand-held gentle play. Mattel had not yet launched Hot Wheels, which reflected America's flair for outlandish style and speed.

Dinky Toys ranged in price from 3 to 5 bucks apiece, and without Dad's offer to pay half, we would have turned away. But in his opinion they were a better investment than some "Made in Hong Kong" trinket. (Imagine talking of souvenirs as investments, but that was Dad. He had some cast iron toys from his childhood, and he knew that small durable things have a much better chance of being cared about through the years, which in his mind was the truest test of something's worth.)

I was not yet convinced that a Dinky Toys car qualified as a souvenir.

“They say nothing about Georgian Bay or Killbear Park or even Canada." I whispered to Mom with some concern. Dad heard it.

“But look on the bottom by the drive shaft," Dad said holding up the car Paul had already chosen. "See that: ‘Made in England,’ and Canada is part of England, so that’s practically the same as 'Made in Canada'."

[At that time, Canada was considered part of the British Empire. and was still flying the Union Jack (as you can see in the pendant below). It was not until after 1965 that we were greeted by the red maple leaf flag as we drove across the Blue Water Bridge into Sarnia, Ontario.]

The clerk nodded at Dad from across the display, impressed by Dad's salesmanship, then turned to me and smiled with his hand poised under the glass to grab the car beneath my pointing finger.

"Okay. I'll take that one. It's a dollar cheaper than Paul's. That way I'll have enough money left over to also get one of those Killbear pendants. You don't have to chip in on that, Dad. I'll have enough"

Impressed with my budget management and eager to hit the road, Dad agreed.

In the years to follow, we stopped by that store and bought a different Dinky Toys car, so that by this point in our story, in 1970, both window sills of our room were lined with the cars as if in a parade. There was barely room for one more, so perhaps it was a good thing Paul and Dave had decided not to buy one that last year. They now had their drivers licenses and having one more toy car on the window sill held little interest.

I took the car from the box, stepped gently onto Paul’s bed (the window was over his headboard) and put the newest car at the front of the line.

“What are you doing?” Paul moaned, rolling over in bed.

“Just putting this with the others,” I said, shaking the bed again as I stepped off.

“Well, you picked a fine time. I’m trying to sleep.”

“We have to get up anyway. Dad told us we had to unpack the car. And don't forget he told us to “air out” the tent in the back yard, too. It’ll take all of us to set it up.”

[Because the places we camped were always deep in the woods, and because we typically had some rain on our trips, Dad liked to set up the tent in the back yard for a day of direct sunlight before putting it away for the year. This pattern led to another tradition enjoyed by us boys: camping out in the back yard. Sometimes Kathy would have a "girls night" in the tent, but those had ended a few years before. Typically through the years, we boys would have some friends over to sleep out in the tent for a night or two--sometimes longer--and by the time we took it down there was a big square patch of yellow matted grass where it had been, but in a day or two it turned green again.

I was 14 and still considered it fun to go tenting in the back yard. Paul was now 17 and did not; Dave was 16, but part of him still valued the last remnants of childhood his little brother kept within reach.]

"We don't have to set it all the way up to air it out," Paul moaned still half asleep. "We can just unfold it on the driveway and flip it over now and then."

"What fun is that?" I asked.

Dave's groggy voice joined the discussion, "I think we should set it up."

"Me, too," I said, stepping into my cut-offs. "Don't you guys want to sleep out in it a few nights like we always do?"

"We just did that for a week," Paul moaned. "I want to be right here in this bed tonight."

Dave sat up, grabbed his shirt from the bedpost, and pulled it over his head. "I'll sleep out there if you want, but let's get the work done now. Then we can eat an early lunch and ride bikes to Metro today. I'm taking the long way through Grosse Pointe, then down Jefferson to Lakeshore to 16 mile."

[Metro was "Detroit Metropolitan Park" on 16 Mile Road. We rode our ten speeds there at least once a week, and with nothing but a pocketful of change we could have fun, lay-out, swim in a gigantic pool, eat a hot dog and fries for lunch, and ride back home in time for supper. We typically took the short route, which was only about eight miles. But sometimes, especially after a week away from his bike, Dave would map-out long trips just for the fun of it. Grosse Pointe was only about five miles away but in the opposite direction of Metro Beach. Personally, I preferred the more direct route, but if I wanted to be with Dave, and I did, I knew there was no changing his mind. He was far more independent about his bike riding. To this day, he is an avid cyclist; to this day, I prefer the shorter route.]

So we unpacked the trunk and car-top carrier, set up the tent and threw our gear inside for that night. Kathy's bedroom window looked out on the tent in the back yard. Inside, she and Mom had been talking and crying. The contrast between unpacking camping clothes while resuming her packing for college was more than the two could bear, but we boys knew not to interfere.

As we rolled our ten-speeds from the garage, I yelled toward Kathy's window: "Mom, we're all done out here. We're going to Metro."

By then the sun had past the crest of the roof and was hitting her screen in such a way that we could barely see their ghosted faces leaning toward the screen.

"You can't go without eating," Mom said.

"We already ate lunch," Dave said, still stuffing the second half of a sandwich in his mouth.

"So you guys are riding to Metro?" Kathy asked, trying to sound cheerful and hoping we hadn't heard her crying. "I wish I could go."

[In all our years of riding to Metro, I don't recall Kathy every joining us. It was kind of a guy thing, but she often said she wished she could do this or that with us as a way of saying, 'It's hard being the only sister. Why don't you guys ever do something a girl can join in on?' But on this day two weeks before she left for school, she may have been thinking other things as well.]

"You're always welcome to come," I said.

"No, I have to pack, and besides, you guys go to fast. My bike can't keep up with your ten-speeds."

"Be back in plenty of time for supper," Mom added. "You're dad's going to be pooped. He was up way before any of us this morning, and he's not going to want to wait for dinner."

[Yes, back then lots of people not just my mom said "pooped"--meaning tired--and thought nothing of it, but remember this was also the same era that called flip-flops "thongs."]

"We'll be back in plenty of time," we recited in unison.

Dad wiped his his sandwich crumbs on his shorts, and with that we rolled down the driveway and peddled toward Grosse Pointe, home of the Ford Estate and a thousand other 20th Century mansions that sprang from the white-collar side of the booming auto industry, an industry whose assembly lines and chimney's and smoke and clamor were completely detached from the rolling hills and winding shaded roads of castles on the shore of Lake St. Clair.

[End Note: I say with no regret that my little brother Jim eventually played with all those Dinky Toys cars on the window sill--literally drove the little rubber wheels off of 'em. Jim, if you're reading this. I don't mind a bit. They were meant to be played with, not looked at. I'm glad you had fun with them. Not one of those Dinky Toys cars survived the decades. (If they did, I never found them later on. The photos above are from the internet.) But strange as it would have been to Dad, that cheap felt pendant held up fine for 45 years and counting.]

To Be Continued: Chapter 24: "Oh, Sister, Where Art Thou"



Blogger Nancy said...

I think the main theme of all of your posts is echoed in this statement, "a sentimental lot", and that is a blessing indeed!

3/5/09 5:51 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

And of that "sentimental lot" I'm sometimes the most sentimental of all. Although I'm in good company in that "lot." =)

I agree that it's the good company that is a blessing. =)

The buds are putting some green in the branches up here. We're all ready for it.

3/5/09 8:44 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

That's a first!
Sorry, Charlie (or Charline or whoever you were in the deleted Chinese comment above) but you are not welcome here.

I just deleted a Chinese SPAMMER peddling trash. The nerve!

Please don't make me go back to the squggly letters!

4/5/09 6:02 AM  
Blogger the walking man said...

While the family trips and vacations were good, it was the bicycle that gave a boy freedom back then.

5/5/09 5:26 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You got that right. It was the apex of the Schwinn 10-speed era. I did not yet own my Continental. I had settled on a 10-speed from J.C.Penney, but I eventually saved up enough money for the Schwinn. (Dad went "halves" on our first bikes (when all we had was "allowance" money to save), but the ones we bought in high school (when we had ways to earn our own money) we had to buy on our own.)

6/5/09 5:27 AM  
Blogger Jo said...

What a wonderful post! And it's so good to see the Union Jack again. I'm afraid I have never gotten used to the "Maple Leaf" flag. It represents eastern Canada, but not the west. As always, the folks in the east don't realize we in the west even exist.

My next door neighbor, Billy McLeod, had Dinky Toys, and I could never understand why they were for boy only. I loved them. :-)

6/5/09 11:54 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

It was a time when toys were much more gender specific, but it makes sense that girls who love real cars would also love little replicas.

You know that feeling you have about Western Canada.... Well, that's how the folks in west Michigan feel. We have hundreds of miles of the most beautiful shores and sunsets, thousands of acres orchards and blueberry farms and home to Green Giant and Gerber vegetable processing, etc. but all of the debt and attention is in the east side of the state (Detroit). I didn't realize that you folks in Vancouver felt that way, but I do understand it.

6/5/09 8:59 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Honestly Tom...do you all over there want what we got?

7/5/09 3:37 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Good point, Mark.

I didn't know west Michigan people felt this way until I moved back to the state and now live on the west side after growing up in the Detroit area. All those years in Roseville, I only went to Grand Rapids one time in my life (for a State Wrestling Meet). All those camping trips in the Thumb and Canada, and we never once went three hours west to some of the best camping in the state. For a century the entire state has been identified with Detroit and the auto industry, but geographically we are about 90% rural and agricultural. It really is a beautiful place, and maybe these economic hard times will help people see there is a lot more to Michigan than "The Big Three" or the indictment of the Detroit mayor.

Having said all that, I'm still a Tigers fan; I'm hoping the Red Wings regain the lead; and I do root for U of M in the fall even though most folks over here are for State. =)

7/5/09 5:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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1/12/09 5:31 AM  
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please don't spam here

4/12/09 9:08 AM  
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