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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, November 18, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 37 "A Smile or a Sigh?"

When Kathy, Paul, and Dave came home from college in May of ’73, they all found summer jobs within a week. Paul and Dave worked the midnight shift assembly line at the Pontiac GM Truck Plant. Kathy became a waitress at a little restaurant on Gratiot Avenue near Eastgate Shopping Center. Summer jobs were part of each kid’s deal with Dad and Mom to cover half of the college bills, but the various schedules of odd hours and overtime marked a distinct change in our home life.

Dave and I did manage to spend a few days on our ten-speeds or at the beach, but gone were the Saturdays of passing hours on the rope swing or roaming the woods between shifts of hard work with Dad. Dave and Paul lived in another world; they were either working or sleeping, and Dad hated taking their Saturdays. The fact is: Dad had been working 40-hour weeks at Bell and still looked forward to long, laborious Saturdays. But that is the difference between working from the heart and merely lending a hand. As I put it in a much earlier chapter:

There is a kind of work
that is not forced,
that seeps from bone to sinew
in the dawn,
ever calling for the strength
beyond the marrow of its source
and reaching past its grasp
to test the mettle,
taste the sweat,
smell the dust of saw and wood,
feel the cold steel of chain
or bristle of rope
and sting of pain
in cuts on calloused hands.
This work that comes
from deep within,
it's always doing never done
pausing only briefly for a bite,
not calling it a day 'til night
when weary hand and head
find rest
and settle in the shape
of flesh against a bed.
© Copyright ,2008, TK, Patterns of Ink

Somehow during that summer, I was also exempt from many Saturdays with Dad out at the property. I do not remember expressing an unwillingness to join him, but with each passing season it seemed that Dad understood the other dimensions of his son’s lives and in direct proportion grew more and more content to work alone. There were days when he would specifically ask for help from my friends and me, but the pattern of hearing the alarm go off Saturday mornings and dutifully rolling out of bed to join Dad became much less routine.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Dad's days had also become less routine. Remember, one of his criteria for building the house was not to take out a mortgage or to incur debt in any way. That year he had been saving up to buy cement block and brick for the basement walls. He had used the cement block from the school to build the front basement wall, beginning in the corner bedroom. In fact, to this day, you can see where he ran out of that block in the fruit celler below the porch. That narrow room has both the old and the new block, but until that load of new block was on hand, Dad's “to do” list was a bit more random and harder to explain to a son who may have other things to do himself.

So Dad was content to putt around on Saturdays, completing the roads on the far side of the bridge, clearing out the creek with the back-hoe, or otherwise grooming the land into a place fit for long walks with him and Mom and Jimmy.
I sometimes brought a friend out for walks in the woods—not the many guy friends who had joined me through the years—no, this was a girl friend, a nice young lady from my church (who is still a family friend to this day). I mention this only briefly here because it does, perhaps, explain why Dad was more understanding of my free time during my Junior and Senior Year.

There was one job that Dave and I were assigned toward the end of the summer, and Paul and I continued it the next spring: cleaning used brick, but I'll talk more about that in a coming chapter.

I’ve heard many people say they “built their own house.” By that they mean they served as their own general contractor but hired out much of the work, picking and choosing tasks they enjoyed or could do on their own to save money. In such cases a house goes up in a matter of months—two summers at the most—and the owner proudly oversees every phase. There is nothing wrong with that approach— in fact, I think it makes perfect sense—but that is not what Dad did. He had built two other houses in his younger years: one to sell and one for us to live in.

He was a master at every trade involved: excavation, concrete work, masonry, plumbing, electrical, roughing in, finish work, cabinetry. There was no portion of our house that he did not intend to do himself. The excavation was done, the foundation laid, and the soil pipe in place just below the sandy soil.

By late summer, Dad’s attention turned back to the house. It was time to build some walls.

About the time Kathy and Dave were beginning to pack up for college (Paul chose not to return that fall), several pallets of cement block were delivered to the site. In a few weeks, I would be stepping into my senior year of high school. I don’t know where I was the day the block was delivered; I only know I wasn’t there to see whether it made Dad smile or sigh.

I like to think he smiled as he is doing in these snapshots, but a secret sigh would have been understandable. After all, he was finally about to begin the house in earnest but may have realized that the last time he stood before this much cement block was sixteen years before on Atkins Road in Port Huron. He’d thought then that he was building the home in which we’d all grow up. Then came the transfer to Detroit, and we moved to Roseville with the plan to build again. Building was finally a reality, and that thought, no doubt, would have brought a smile. A sigh, if it happened, would have come with the thought that the years had slipped like sand through his fingers; three of his kids were grown and almost gone. Perhaps the house had been on hold too long to ever be a home for us all. Then again, there was Jimmy. There may have been no sighs at all. That may be my own temperament seeping into these thoughts as I write from an age ten years beyond Dad's at the time.

I can truly say through all that yet remained ahead, Dad never seemed happier than when he was working on the house. So I'm thinking he smiled a lot the day the block was delivered. The abstract ideas in his head were about to become concrete... quite literally. No more long waits between the phases of construction. Time to "get the ball rollin'," as he used to say, but for some reason the first rolls of that ball were done alone. Paul and I were otherwise occupied during the months the lower walls went up.

Were it not for these few pictures that Mom took in the fall of 1973, I would have no recollection of the basement taking shape. I only know that Dad's hands alone touched each of those bricks and that the last one was in place before the first freeze. Then the basement waited through the long winter for the floor below and above and for the framing of the house itself to begin. For that part of construction, my brother Paul and I were there to help.
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2 Comments:

Blogger the walking man said...

Comes a point, though you love your children and understand the need to teach them practical skills, one simply must re-find the pleasure found in laboring alone. I think dad may have been re-centering himself as he thought of the labor he needed help with.

21/11/09 6:11 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Mark,
I called my brothers to see why it was that we weren't involved with the basement walls. Dave was away at college, Jim was 4 and a half. Paul was home but he had chosen to keep working rather than continue college at that time. I do recall Paul "discussing" with Dad why he shouldn't be expected to forfeit his Saturdays. (He was now 20.) That's understandable, but I think the outcome was that Dad didn't want to force any of us to work out there anymore. Being younger, I felt differently about it than Paul. I had always enjoyed it, but that was because there was a lot of play mixed in with the work. Paul was way beyond that. But I still can't remember how it was that I didn't have to help with those walls.

You are right, though, Mark. Dad was recentering himself. If you watched him work you'd see the process. It was his way of sorting out life. He was not in a hurry. In fact, as few remaining posts will show, the house was an on-going project even after we lived in it.

21/11/09 9:06 AM  

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