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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

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Chapter 27 "The Empty Spot at the Table"

Dad never told me about how he felt when he and Mom dropped Kathy off at college and began the 700-mile trip to Michigan… but Mom told me how it went. They drove in silence for over an hour. Mom would occasionally try to speak, but each time she had to grab another crumpled hanky from her purse. Then somewhere around Knoxville, before getting on I-75 north, Dad pulled off to the side of the road and just started bawling.

Mom always said she’d never seen him cry like that. I’m trying to think of a time when I saw Dad cry. I’m not saying he never did cry, just saying that I can’t recall a time when he cried openly in front of us kids. (Later on in life he’d get teary eyed when he talked about God and Christ and his faith or when we’d sing “The Old Rugged Cross.” I remember that.) So it was no stretch for Mom to say she’d never seen him cry like that time on the side of the road.

He just pulled out his handkerchief and wept. By then, Mom had two or three wet hankies wadded up in her hands. (This was not before the invention of Kleenex, but it was a time when Dad still considered Kleenex a waste of money. After all, handkerchiefs were reusable, and Kleenex were only good for one blow. For as long as I can remember, Dad had a folded handkerchief in his back pocket and mom had half a dozen crumpled hankies in her purse.)

After that good cry in the car, Mom says Dad didn’t cry again all the way home.

So there you have it: my brother Dave’s account of his tears in the classroom; my story of Jim and I crying under his blanket; and now Mom and Dad crying on the side of a road somewhere in Tennessee. (Who knows, maybe I’ll get Paul and Kathy to tell us their version sometime. I can assure you that both share the soft hearts of the rest of the family.)

Come September, we got back into our routine of getting up, eating breakfast together at the table, Dad reading out loud from “Our Daily Bread,” and heading off to school, learning stuff (I guess), and coming back around the table for supper. The biggest change was that empty spot at the table. There to my left, by the exploded spot Mom had burned into the Formica, was Kathy’s empty seat. We pulled Jimmy’s highchair up closer to help fill the gap.

Every Sunday morning before church, the phone would ring and the nasally voice of a telephone operator was on the other end:

“I have a collect call for a Mr. Jack K____. Do you accept the charges?”

“No, Jack is not here.” Dad would say, and politely hang up. He would then dial the number of the phone booth on Kathy’s dorm hallway. You see, this was way before cell phones and each dorm floor had only two pay phones in little wooden booths by the center stairway. Long distance during the week was about 30 cents a minute, but it was about half that on weekends. “Collect calls” were very expensive, but there is no charge if the call is denied. So each Sunday, Kathy would get in the same booth, attempt a collect call home for Jack, and we declined the call. It was our signal to dial the number in the phone booth.

You might be thinking that this was “cheating” Bell out of a collect call.

Not according to Dad. There really was a Jack K_____, it was his brother (my Uncle Jack), and had he been there when Kathy called, we would have gladly accepted the charges. But he lived in Bad Axe and was almost never with us on Sunday morning. In fact, strangely enough, not once was Uncle Jack ever there when Kathy called. Remember: Dad worked for Bell Telephone, Mom had been a Bell phone operator back in the fifties, they both assured us that “signal calling” was acceptable among the tight-knit world of telephone workers. It was all part of the true meaning of the "Bell System."

Getting Sunday morning calls from Kathy was one of the new patterns in our life.

Weekends were still spent working with Dad out at the property, but following that the unforgettable project of digging the well, I don't recall just what we did out there the rest of that fall and winter. I think Dad tinkered around with some more trees and excavated the rest of the basement for the house, but it would be spring before we poured the foundation.

Tom, you’ve gotta be kidding me. At this rate the house will never be finished. I know, I know… whoever heard of building a house over the course of years rather than months? There was a lot involved that I didn’t know at the time--things that never occurred to me.

As a family, we never talked about money or the lack thereof. I never knew how much my father "made" for a living. I never knew how much the used cars we owned cost. By this time, we all just lived frugally as a family, and I’m not sure that would have changed had Dad somehow become a wealthy man. But what I didn't know until much later in life was the fact that the house was being built at the pace Dad could afford to pay cash for the next phase. He had made it a goal not to borrow a dime for the house and not to use any “credit” for things along the way. Living on his Bell Telephone income alone, it’s a wonder the house got built at all, but it did, and I promise to retell the highlights in the weeks ahead.

Chapter 28, however, is a funny highlight of my 9th grade year that has nothing to do with the house. I'll try to post that next weekend.
3110

8 Comments:

Anonymous quilly said...

Dad pulled off to the side of the road and just started balling.

Bawling? Yes? Please.

School isn't in session is it? I used to switch my brain off for the summer, too.

9/6/09 9:10 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Oh, my!
Good catch, Quilly. I'll blame it on the fact that it was 4:00AM when I wrote that. I've been working on a back-yard project all day. I wish I would have seen you correction sooner. =)

9/6/09 9:50 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

I'd have gladly accepted the charges from Kathy. The only collect calls I ever got always started out in that mechanical recorded voice..."This call is from a Michigan Department of Corrections prison, if you accept the charges press..."

10/6/09 3:53 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Mark,
I'll have to ask you about this sometime. If I understand you correctly, it means that you were so important to somebody that it was you they called with their "one call." I guess it's sort of a "good news-bad news" thing. =)
Tom

10/6/09 7:43 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I'm catching up. This chapter reminded me that my mom was a Bell telephone operator for a short while and they still get together each year and have lunch together. There aren't many of them still around.

I love the quilly comment, this really gave me a good laugh.

I loved Michigan and the weather was great until the day we left. They had 500 students graduate, they all had their names called as they walked across the stage, they had 4 short speeches, two songs, and still did it all in ONE HOUR... Absolutely amazing!

I'm in the process of interviewing applicants, in search of a new Director for the preschool. You had some very sound advice about that situation. It's a very exciting time and the prospects look good but it is time consuming. I will try to catch up with your other posts as time permits! Thanks for hanging in there with me.

11/6/09 9:08 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Tom, I got those phone calls for 16 years as a friend served his time. I was the only one who did not cut off contact with him. Most people I know, know not to call me for bail money because they know I will leave them in jail so they can either sleep it off or await the process to set them free or incarcerate them.

But I will never turn my back on someone who needs to talk once every couple of weeks.

12/6/09 4:20 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Nancy,
We had 22 seniors in our commencement and it took an hour and a half. What does that tell you? And no, I was not speaking or telling stories...so it wasn't that. There were three very good breif addresses--excellent. Also a wonderful ceremony, but probably different than larger schools.

Glad your time in Michigan was nice. One of these days, you'll have to hit "Michigan's West Coast" as they call it over here.

Mark,
That is even more significant than what I guessed, and it reflects even more what I was saying about you--a true friend.

The older I get, the more amazed I am at our need to connect as that individual did with you. I made about six new friends working on a "small" rag-tag construction crew on a project similar to moving a grand piano up a sand dune...a real bonding experience. Our worlds were quite different but when the job was done we sat down in my back yard and chowed pizza and they went back to Ionia (home of the world's largest "free fair").

This crew had worked together before (my son-in-law and I were the outsiders) and they had the kind of friendship you speak of.

Mark, in all the years of our comment acquaintance, I have come to see you as a person I would call if, like Paul the Apostle, I found myself in prison and was looking for a friendly face through the bars (or on the other end of a phone), but hopefully neither of us will meet JRT under those circumstances. =)

12/6/09 5:22 AM  
Blogger heiresschild said...

even with the cell phones, there are still a few people who have to accept collect calls that way.

21/6/09 10:21 AM  

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