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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

Friday, November 06, 2009

"Unsettled" Chapter 35:
The Foundation was Poured in the Fall

August passed like the last inch of sand in an hour glass, faster, it seemed, than time itself.

I did not hate school nor the thought of going back. What I dreaded was the end of things: the end of summer, the end of life as I knew it with Dave at home, the end and sharing the halls with him at school.

Two years had passed since Kathy left for college; Paul had followed her the next year; and now, in the fall of 1972, Dave joined their ranks on the same far-away campus. The three of them would return home in December for Christmas, but until then, it was just Mom, Dad, Jimmy and me in the house on Buckhannon in Roseville. The house seemed empty.

Along with the leaves, Mom's spirit always dropped in the fall (and typically didn't perk up until the first good snow). More than ever she was struggling with her private bouts of depression (that I would not know about for decades). On the surface, it seemed to be a typical case of empty nest that made her cling more tightly to Jim and me.

Never was it more important that a little boy was a part of our lives. Jimmy was now four and long past needing a high chair. He sat to my left at breakfast and supper. For the first time as a family, we did not have to pull the table out to free up the chairs on the far side. Other than that, the morning routine stayed the same: hot cereal (on a plate so as not to burn our gullets); Dad would read a page of “Our Daily Bread” then hustle out the door to fight Detroit traffic en route to his Bell office downtown. Then Jimmy sat on the living room floor in his "robot" (that's what he called his robe) and watched “The Polka Dot Door” while I got dressed for school.



To fully understand the pages of these days, it may help to know that, before finding the Youtube clip, I had not heard that song for 37 years, and that simple tune brought back those pleasant mornings and misted up my eyes as I smiled. You gotta be kiddin' me! Nope. It's true. I can get sentimental about the silliest things.

It was the beginning of my junior year of high school. I would be taking Drivers Ed Class that winter (which used to be taught by the schools), but I would not get my license until a month before my 17th birthday. With Dave now gone, I was completely dependent on Mom for rides to and from the high school (about five miles from home). You recall from previous chapters that I was a late bloomer and wrestled in the 98-pound class the year as a sophomore...well, I now weighed only about 105 and stood 5'4". Add to that handicap the fact that sat and watched morning children's programs with my four-year-old brother while waiting for my Mom to pull on her least-ruined wig and get dressed enough to drive me to school.
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While my peers were jamming to Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly or mourning the break-up of the Beatles, I was singing “The Polka Dot Door” theme song with my little brother.

I don’t know if it was because I had been the youngest child until Jim was born or because I was young for my age or because it was now just the two of us at home, but more and more of my “nothing to do” hours at home were spent with Jim. All the other patterns of life stayed pretty much the same. I was still active in the youth group at church, hung out with a handful of good friends at school, and worked with Dad nearly every Saturday out at the property.

Saturday work was different, though. For one thing, we tended to get much later starts than when Dave was home. Sometimes it was after 9:00 when I was not hefting open the log gate to our driveway. Jimmy was old enough now to come with us sometimes—though never for the whole day. This was typically on days when Dad didn't really need me but did not want to break the pattern we'd been in for four years. Jimmy and I would play in the woods or at the tree fort and rope swing, and Dad would call when he needed me to help.
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[That's Jimmy there at the entrance to the property, just beyond the log gate.]

I’m not sure why, but Dad’s pace slowed down a bit. It was not age or health that caused it—goodness! He was only 42. But there was less urgency in our schedule once we met the deadline of tearing down the school.

I think it was that “counting the cost” I mentioned before. With three kids in college, there was only so much he and Mom could afford to do on the house in any given month. We now had a good start on materials: We had the cement block for the basement (had to buy quite a bit more). We had enough soil pipe for all the ground-level work that had to be done before we poured the basement. We had enough lumber to frame in the forms for the foundation. None of these things would be harmed by sitting unfinished through the winter, but Dad wanted to hold off on framing in the house until spring when Paul and Dave would be home to help. Maybe that’s why the pace was slower.

Maybe it was because Dad was taking more time to be a father to Jimmy than he had when the four of us were that age. It just so happened that I was Jimmy’s age when Dad began building their original dream house on Atkins Road, and believe me, Dad was all work and no play back then. It was Mom who tended to the four of us kids, keeping us out of Dad’s hair, while he was stirring up the saw dust. I don’t fault his ambition. His goal was to finish the house in which his family would grow up. But then we moved to Roseville. A dozen years flew by, and he was now getting ready to begin dream house two. Only problem was…three of the five kids were already out the door to college. Where did the time go?

It’s frightening at times to calculate the years once you've passed mid-life. You shake your head and say, “That can’t be right," thinking you've made a math mistake. But then your head stops shaking, and it’s true.

Dad was a different man at 42 than he was at 30. His priorities had changed, his faith had been awakened, and his family had grown—grown up and grown in number. And it was that fifth child who brought out the teacher in Dad. The father who had not taught his older sons how to tie a half-hitch until a moment of desperation was now taking his time to interact with Jim and me as we started what would be our final home. It was in these days I learned nearly everything I know about home construction.

The first step was pouring the foundation. Dad had finished excavating out the hillside around the well in August. He surveyed the site, drove stakes and tied heavy twine in the shape of the house. Then everything was on hold as summer wrapped up and Kathy, Paul and Dave left for college.

Once things settled down at home, we got back to work. We trenched and built most of the foundation forms for the outside rectangle of the house on one Saturday (thanks to all the advanced survey work). This was steady, serious work, and Jimmy stayed home with Mom until she brought out lunch around 2:00. The same was true the next week. We finished the inside forms (shaped like an "L") just as the air breaks hissed on the big cement truck that had woven its way into the woods.

The truck backed up toward our empty forms, and the driver hopped from the cab to visit briefly with Dad. Cement truck drivers waste little time. They live in "dispatch" mode like mud-daubers delivering a product that has a short window of usefulness. Concrete prep-work is measured and methodical, but the actual pouring of cement is a hasty process punctuated with short confident commands by men who seem to know each other's next move.

Me? I did not know the next move, and for a minute I just stood out of the way until Dad showed me what to do. That’s when the fun began. I love the smell of wet cement. I like the gritty sound it makes as it slides down the heavy trough and plops against the ground…and the way it oozes into place with the help of a rake or shovel. I like the way it smoothes out under a wide trowel and seems to turn to rock right before your eyes.

I hadn’t noticed in all the pouring and pulling of cement, but Mom and Jimmy had showed up with lunch, and from a safe distance they watched as we made our way around the base of the site. We didn’t stop to eat, until the truck drove away, and even then we ate while we worked. I was surprised by how quickly the first-poured cement began to set. It was not hardened, not cured—that would take weeks—but it was firm and immovable within a couple hours. In the last section we toweled, before the surface set, Dad took a twig and wrote our name and the date. It's all buried now and will never be seen, but that's how it is with foundations. They are the first formed and last remembered underpinnings of all things meant to last a lifetime.

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I've confessed that in the fall of '72 my morning sound track consisted of songs from my four-year-old brother's TV time, but my evenings were often spent down in Paul and Dave's bedroom in the basement listening to Paul’s Carpenter and Lettermen albums (which he did not take to college). It was a cheap little stereo, but Paul had bought it himself, and I passed countless hours down there on their beds staring up at the low ceiling until I knew every song by heart.

At the risk of sounding corny and about ten years out of date for this chapter (but you must know by now that the music in our house was very conservative), let me close with one of the Lettermen songs I found myself playing often that September: Try to Remember.


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4 Comments:

Blogger the walking man said...

OK Tom...you're right the music was pretty cheesy comparatively for the teenagers of the day but lyrically it said much the same things as Janis Joplin and others were saying.


I know you're dad slowed the pace down because a part of counting the cost was the needed labor was not available. it would have taken a lot of effort to frame it in with the two of you. But there is that coming of time when a man has to slow down as he realizes there is much he's already let slip by as he established himself in the work world.

The only turtles on this side of the state are them who have buried themselves years ago to hibernate and still haven't found their way back above ground. Cowards all.

8/11/09 6:43 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Mark,
I talked with my brother Jim yesterday. His first memories out at the property are the chapters I am now writing. He helped me remember the subject of chapter 37 about used brick from downtown Detroit.

The music sounds a bit cheezy even to me, but it's true. Paul owned every Lettermen album ever pressed in vinyl. Lot's of good old classics.

8/11/09 3:32 PM  
Blogger Christal said...

It seems so funny that certian things just bring back a memory when we least expect it. I am always amazed at your writting Tom, as well as inspired.

11/11/09 7:55 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Christal,
I talked with my other brother Dave tonight on the phone and he helped me remember a few more details from chapter 34 but agreed with my treatment of that day.

Part of the challenge of writing this is that it is generally limited to my perspective and recollection and I sometimes wonder how it could be of interest to others so thank you for your encouragement.

11/11/09 9:41 PM  

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