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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, October 14, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 33: "Redemption"

It is faster and easier to tear something down than to build it up. Read that sentence again. It rings true far beyond the subject of this chapter.

Building something involves very deliberate thought. It requires a plan, some know-how, and countless measurements to make sure things are square and plumb and firmly in place. That’s true about building a business, a church, a school, a reputation, a life. Building something worthwhile is never easy. Most mistakes can be undone, but carelessness can be costly.

“Measure twice. Cut once,” Dad used to say.

Tearing something down, however, requires little thought, minimal planning (beyond one’s own safety). A few sledge hammer blows on the right props and down comes the whole shebang! Wrecking balls, dynamite, and bulldozers may be needed for bigger jobs, but you get my point: It is faster and easier to tear something down than to build it up.

Salvaging, on the other hand, falls somewhere in between construction and demolition. If building is about perfection, and tearing down is about destruction, salvaging is about redemption. It’s finding worth in something worthless. It's saying, "Not so fast" at the dumpster of life. It's the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. [See the Youtube clip here.] Redemption looks beyond the surface, ignores the scorn of passers-by, and cares enough to discover usefulness in imperfect things (or people).

Allow me to jump beyond the back cover of this book to the time I first understood redemption. Fast forward four years to when we lived in the unfinished house and the job of salvaging the school was long past: I was twenty. It was the summer of 1976.

I had landed a job in the Mt. Clemens Ford Vinyl Plant (which no longer exists). It was my first of four summers there during my college years. Nearly every post in that plant required wearing safety glasses and a pair of white canvas “work gloves.” Typically, an eight or twelve-hour shift would do little damage to the gloves, but the workers felt entitled to a new pair every few days, which meant the “old” pair was theirs to throw away or, as most of the workers did, take home in their back pocket in plain view of the security staff at the revolving exit gate. (These were those one-size-fits all canvas gloves that cost about a buck.) By the end of that first summer, I had dozens of pairs of used gloves that I kept out in the barn.

One day I was wearing a pair of those gloves while helping Dad burn brush. I had scythed a patch of burr marigolds and my gloves were completely covered in stick tights, those small brown bidens burrs [bi-dens means "two-teeth"] that cling to your clothes like cockleburs but they're smaller and harder to pull off.

Anyway, when I was done with my work, I carefully pulled off the prickly gloves, shook my head at all the burrs, and tossed the wadded pair on the top of the pile to be burned. We'd forgotten matches so I ran to the house, got a box, and came back to see Dad with my burr-covered gloves in his hands. One by one, he was pinching off stick-tights and throwing them in the pile.

“Dad, we’ve got enough gloves in the barn to last for years. That’s why I threw those in the pile to burn.”

“I know, and I was going to leave them right there for the same reason, but I remembered a day when I was a kid playing out in the snow with no gloves. I'd lost 'em but didn't want to tell the folks. When I thought of how glad I would have been to have these then, burrs and all, it didn't seem right to burn them. It’ll only take me a few more minutes to pick ‘em clean.”

I stood there watching him pick the burrs from those cotton gloves and drop them into the fire, and I understood Dad in a way I’d missed before. I knew he was thrifty; I knew his dress shoes had been re-soled again and again; I knew he hated that it was cheaper to buy a new toaster than to fix the shiny Toastmaster he and Mom got as a wedding present (so he bought Mom the new one she wanted but kept the old one in the barn to fix on a rainy day.) I knew he sometimes made strange meals out of all the left-overs in the fridge. I knew we mixed powdered-milk to stretch the grocery money. I knew we had torn down a school to build our house, but it wasn’t until I watched him picking burrs form those gloves, that I understood what made him the way he was. Maybe it's a gift; maybe it's a curse, but some people spend much of their time and energy redeeming things others have given up on.

Redemption is a wonderful thing.

In the late winter and early spring of 1972, Dad redeemed that old school house for fifty dollars. Mr. Solomon could have hired a bulldozer and razed it in an afternoon, but that would have cost him money; it would have splintered every board in the place and piled tons of debris in the landfill. What a waste.

Today we’d call this project of salvaging of the school a “green” idea. Good for the environment! Save the Rain Forest! and all that. But Dad simply needed wood—just like that little boy who needed a pair of gloves—he needed wood and didn’t have the money to buy it...so piece by piece we picked away at the job, undoing what was done all those decades before.
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With Dad's old cast iron nail puller, we pinched each nail from the floor boards, sub-floor, siding planks, joists, rafters and studs. Thousands of nails filled dozens of coffee cans, and even the nails were sorted. Most were bent beyond hope, but the ones that came out straight enough to use again were put in a separate can.

Pulling nails. Pulling nails. Pulling nails. For weeks we were pulling nails, sorting lumber by size, and piling high the 20-foot flatbed trailer we borrowed from Uncle Bob. If all went well, we made two trips fully loaded from the school to our barn at the property each day we worked.

Every Saturday, Mr. Solomon stopped by to watch us work. He would simply nod in Dave and my direction if we saw him and didn't say much to Dad. He seemed mostly interested in making sure we would finish the job on time.
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Coming next: Chapter 34: "Just Below the Surface"

6 Comments:

Blogger the walking man said...

Disassembling something has always been the best part for me. Once you understand the construction of a thing, the repair and reassembly are so much easier.

It was hard working behind other mechanics who apparently had less time in their 8 hour day than I did. Rip, rend and destroy being the motto apparent.

It may be that by force of necessity, we, or our children, are going to bring another generation of people into the world that will save those gloves.

I for one am not looking forward to the pain of need that so many are going to go through but I don't think the other end of the tunnel will be a bad thing at all.

15/10/09 5:07 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Mark,
While you were writing this comment I was rewriting a paragraph in the middle. You know me...posts always get tweaked the morning after.

What you said is true. I do think we may be headed for such times. Maybe this unfolding story will be of some encouragement if we are. The pacing of these chapters is dictated by what little time I have to write, but now that you mention this, they may be more timely now than when I began them over a year ago.

15/10/09 5:33 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Here I am, playing catch up again but delighted to get back and see the progress, you've made. I worked in a similar plant with the required hard hat, safety glasses, long sleeves, and gloves during the summers of my college years. My dad worked at the same plant as a mechanic and of course... the extra gloves ended up on a work bench in his basement! How could our lives be so similar? What a small world we live in!

Redemption is a great choice of words for this chapter and again let me express my appreciation for your writing. Blessings to you my friend-I shall return.

18/10/09 7:51 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Nancy,
I know it's hard to keep up with both Facebook and blogging so I'm always glad to see you here. I haven't done the Facebook move for fear I'll never finish these chapters. I'm determined to crank out a couple chapters a week until we move into the house that we are now getting ready to "list." My goal is to wrap up the story while we still own our family home.

Went to a Steve Green concert tonight in Holland. Wonderful as always!

18/10/09 10:11 PM  
Blogger Christal said...

WOW! Lots of work isnt it!

3/11/09 12:42 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Christal,
I like that picture in your profile. Glad to see he's back. Tell him thank you from us all.
Tom

5/11/09 9:32 PM  

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