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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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 46:

"Home Chatter 'Round the Tree"

This was originally Chapter 43 Part VI-B: Note: My original intention was to wrap up these chapters. But there's been a change of plans. I have had more time to write in the past three days than I've had in the past three months. I've also been on the phone talking with each of my siblings about this memorable first Christmas in the unfinished house. What was to be the final chapter (43) morphed into more than I first intended, and since my sibs are coming over today for New Years, this won't be done before the end of the year as I previously stated. Oh, well. Happy New Year!

When Mom and I came down from the attic to help Dave and Jim with the tree, our feet were uncomfortably cold. I had put on two pair of socks, but it was close to freezing in the attic, and we had been up there for nearly an hour. Mom turned a knob on the wall, pulled up a chair from the kitchen table, and put her slippered feet on the baseboard heater.

“Here, Tom. Scootch up a chair. This is what Jimmy and I do to warm up our feet. Isn’t it Jim?”

“You should’ve worn your boots up there, Mom.” He said with that toothless smile.

“What took you guys so long?” Dave asked. “We’ve got the tree together and half the lights on already. We’d have ‘em all on, but these three strings don’t work.

“We were looking for some things,” Mom said, rubbing her bare feet against each other. “Jupiter! My feet are like ice.”

“We could use these lights. They work,” Jim suggested. He had plugged in a string of big-bulb lights from an old shoe box. They were the different-colored night-light-size bulbs we used when we were little kids.

“No,” Mom said, “ You don’t mix those old kind of lights with the miniature lights. I’ll have to run to K-Mart and get some. (At that time, there was no Wal-Mart outside the greater Arkansas area. and though Target’s parent company had taken over Detroit’s J.L.Hudson’s chain in 1969, it would be another 12 years before a Target Store opened in Michigan. K-Mart was a Detroit-based chain that had sprung from the old S.S. Kresgee dime-store chain.)

“They look like Rudolph-nose lights,” said Jimmy.

“Don’t hold ‘em too long,” I said, “They get really hot.”

“Ouch! They are hot. Isn’t that dangerous?” He asked, unplugging the cord.

“Not really,” Mom said in defense of the old lights, “Unless you forgot to water your tree. If the tree got dry, then they could catch fire."

“Sheesh!" Dave gasped, "Talk about ruinin’ Christmas! You’d lose your gifts and your house.” (In 2007, Dave and his family would lose their home in a fire and spend Christmas in a temporary home. No, the fire was not caused by antique Christmas lights on a dry tree.)

"You don't hear 'bout it happening so much anymore what with miniature lights and fake trees. But it useta happened sometimes if folks forgot to water their tree.”

"It's a wonder it never happened to us," Dave said, "We'd keep the tree up so long the needles would be all over the living room by the time we dragged it out the door."

"I always hated to take down the tree," Mom sighed, "Still do."

“So why do we even keep those old lights?” I asked.

“Because they work,” Mom said, putting the chair back at the table and turning down the thermostat. "They might come back in style. Who knows? I guess I keep 'em because they remind me of Christmas at home."

"At home?" I asked, somehow knowing she was not talking about Roseville.

"You know...Mumma's house on Forest."

"But you said 'home" like you still lived there." I said.

"Did I?" she smiled. "I guess part of me does. Maybe somewhere deep inside always lives where you grew up. Everything else sort of stacks on top of that. Does that sound silly?"

"I don't think so. That's what I meant last night when I said this feels weird."

"I don't think it feels weird," Jimmy said. "I like it out here."

"I do, too," I quickly added. "This is home now. We're all here, and it's great to be home."

Jim smiled. Mom smiled. Dave was standing on a chair putting the top ornament on the tree, and didn't seem to hear. It did feel like home, sort of, but the feeling Mom was talking about was "stacked up" about fourteen years deep inside me, and this newer feeling was balancing precariously on top.

"Which reminds me,' Mom said, "I need to call Grandma. I told her I would when you two got home."
"That was after midnight," I said.
"I know, but she was worried. Anyway, Jimmy," she stuffed the big lights back in the box."We’ve had these lights since we lived on Lapeer—same time your Dad wired all these little ornaments into bunches like grapes. I have some new things—like these miniature lights from a few years ago—but I’d hate not mixing the new things in with these special things.”

I looked in the boxes opened around the room, and she was right. Most of her Christmas things dated back to the Fifties, when Mom and Dad were still in acquisition mode.

I should pause here to explain my terms: “Acquisition mode” refers to the first five to ten years of marriage, when couples shop garage sales and thrift shops, begging for bargains and hand-me-downs to fill the empty corners of their lives. Then come bunk-beds and a bigger home which prompts phase two of acquisition mode. During phase two, the couple can typically buy new or newer things and the home looks less eclectic with a range of frills reflecting household income. After their 25-year Anniversary, the couple begins “disbursement mode” by giving the things they want to upgrade to their college kids or married children who have just entered phase one of acquisition mode. It’s a cycle familiar to most middle-class families.

I mention these modes only to explain that Mom and Dad never really hit phase two. Many of the things at the time of their move from Roseville were from their first years of marriage. Grandma K’s couch had not survived the move to the basement, but her stove and refrigerator were in the new kitchen with the gingham curtains for doors. (That General Electric two-oven range is there to this day.)

It’s not that Mom did not want new things, but speaking of them with Dad merely prompted the promise that these things would come with their someday-finished house. To Mom’s credit, between occasional lapses of despair (now fully understood by every woman reading these chapters), she learned to put her dreams on hold and find nostalgic contentment in the things around her.

For instance, the only vacuum cleaner she had at this time was a half-century-old Hoover that her mother’s mother got during the Great Depression. We saw the exact model in the Henry Ford Museum and took a picture of mom laughing in front of it. The thing still works fine to this day. She told me the story behind that vacuum often through the years.

I set up mom’s record player in the corner out of the way, pulled the black vinyl disk of Mitch Miller from its cardboard sleeve, skewered it on the skinny post, and placed the needle on Side 2 , track #4. “Let it snow!” It was wishful thinking on my part, but just singing the song with Mom and Mitch was almost as magical as watching snow fall beyond the eye-level windows around us (if only it were).

By lunch time, the tree was done (except for the burnt-out lights). The nativity scene was arranged on the piano, the porcelain Santa mugs and Santa train were on the window sill with the old red felt stockings tacked into the Celotex below. There were lots of other decorations but not enough horizontal surfaces to put them all out. Mom made her choices and put the others back in the wooden crates.

“Where do you want this?” Dave asked, holding up the plastic mistletoe. (On Buckhannon, it always hung from the narrow arch that divided the living room from the hub-hall of the bedrooms.)

“Can we hang it from this arch?” Mom asked, referring to the beam between the kitchen and the tree in the corner.

“It’s a little low,” Dave shrugged, “but we can walk around it.”

“I remember when I had to jump my highest to touch that in Roseville,” I said, which prompted Jimmy to jump up and touch the red velvet ribbon that dangled from the round ball of leaves..

“That’s easy,” he smiled.

“I couldn’t do that ‘til I was about ten.” I said, not reminding him that this was about a foot lower than it was in Roseville. “You’re getting so big! Come on. Let’s carry these boxes back to the attic.”

Paul came home around four o’clock from his job at a nursing home in Fraser. It was a good job. [In fact, it was a great job considering it’s where he met Dee, a girl he would bring home to dinner for the family to meet in the summer of ’76.] Before he even took his coat off, he saw the tree in the far corner, and his shoulders went limp. He was dismayed.

“You guys did the tree without me?” [Paul is really into Christmas decorating.]

“I’m sorry, Paul,” Mom said, “You can still help ‘cause I’ve got to get some more lights to put on it.”

“You can’t put the lights on after the ornaments. We'll have to take 'em off on the dark spot."

"That's what I mean, Paul. It's really not done. I was going to run to K-Mart to get the lights ‘cause I got to pick up some other things, too, but maybe they’ll have some at Kroger. I’ve got to run there to get a couple things for supper.”

“You haven’t started supper yet?” Paul said ominously. “What time’s Dad coming home?”

“Same time as usual I suppose.”

There were few things that caused more frustration for Dad than coming home from a long day and an hour drive from Detroit and not having supper ready to eat when he came through the door. Paul looked at the stove. Looked around the kitchen, but didn’t say a word.

“Don’t, Paul. We’ve had a nice day. I’m only fixin’ spaghetti. Does that sound good to you guys? It won’t take long at all.”

“I like pahsketti,” Jim said, mispronouncing it as Mom often did.

“Pahsketti!” Mom laughed, “That’s what Pam next-door used to say. Remember? She was about your age, Jimmy, and she came up to the porch and said, ‘We’re havin’ Pahsketti tonight. What are you havin?’ and I said, ‘Pahsketti? What’s that?’ Them being Italian and all, I thought it was some sort of dish I didn’t know, but she said, ’You know—pahsketti—noodles, meat balls, and pahsketti sauce.’ And I said, ‘Oh, you mean spaghetti,’ But from then on, She and I always called it pahsketti—even in high school when you liked her, Tom. Gee, I miss them. They were such good neighbors.”

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted, “I never liked Pam.”

“Well, Maybe it was just a crush.” she said.

“We were just good friends.” I protested.

“Well, the two of you used to sit and talk on the porch for hours.”

“She talked about her boyfriend, John. And I talked about Linda.”

“Well, all I know is you two sure talked a lot your Junior Year. I thought you liked her. That was when she started comin’ over more often to help me with dinner.”

“Okay. You’re right I did kind of like her—kind of—but do you remember when that changed? It was your fault. You and Pam were sitting on the couch talking and I was in the bedroom changing after a shower. You didn’t even tell me she was in the house, and I came strolling out in my underwear—just my whitey-tighties—and there’s Pam sitting on the couch facin' my way and she looked right at me.”

“I forgot about that!” Mom laughed.

“I froze in my tracks. Then decided to act all normal—like a kid in the Sears catalog. I just nodded my chin up nonchalantly as if to say, “Hey, Pam, how's it goin'.” Then I stepped calmly into the bathroom , shut the door, and went silently berserk. I pace back and forth until I just grabbed the sink and squeezed it staring red-faced into the mirror—screaming inside my head at you.”

“At me?” Mom laughed, “What did I do?”

“It’s what you didn’t do!. You didn’t tell me Pam was in the house.”

“Well, you shouldna been walkin’ around in your underwear!” she laughed again.

“We all walked around in our underwear.” Dave added.

“No, Sir. Not Kathy and I. Just you boys and your dad. So it wasn’t my fault. I don’t know why you boys do that.

“It’s the same way in the dorms,” Dave said.

“But girls aren’t in the dorms,” I clarified.

“The only reason I don’t do it now, Paul said from the tree, “is because it’s so dad-blamed cold. I can’t believe you guys did the tree without me.”

“I’ll see if they have lights at Kroger.”

“I was humiliated…” I mumbled.

“I forgot all about that, Tom.” Mom said, looking in the freezer.

“I can go get the lights,” Paul offered.

“No, I need to get a couple things.” Mom said, filling her aluminum kettle with water.

“I stayed in the bathroom so long.” I continued.

“What all do you need, Mom?“

“Just spaghetti noodles, two jars of sauce, some hamburger, canned mushrooms, and a loaf of bread.”

“So basically everything. Dad’s coming home in an hour and you’ve got a pot of water…”

“Don’t, Paul.”

“Is anybody listening to this story,” I moaned, “I’m still in the bathroom.”

“I am,” smiled Jim. “How did you get out?”

“So I’m in there for so long doing nothing that I started worrying Pam might think ‘Man, he really had to go,’ which is worse than being seen in your underwear.

“She probably thought you were stinkin’ it up,” Dave added.

“You probably were stinkin’ it up,” Paul said, stepping toward the back door.

“I was just standing in there waiting for Mom to stop talkin’ and get her out of the house.”

"Waitin' for Mom to stop talkin'?" Paul and Dave said in unison.

"This story is gunna take longer than I got," Paul added.

“Thanks a lot," Mom said in mock offense (because she knew it was true), "I didn’t even know Tom was in the batheroom. My back was to him when you walked past. Where are ya goin’, Paul?”

“I’m goin’ to Kroger to get all those things, but I want to hear what happened.

“How long were you stuck in there?” Jimmy asked.

“Seemed like forever. When I finally opened the door a crack, the couch was empty." I turned to Mom, "You just left me in there, Mom.”

“See? I wasn't talkin' the whole time, but I didn’t think to get you out because I didn’t know you were in your underwear. Pam left way before you came out.”

“Well, how was I supposed to know?”

“So that’s it? That’s the end?” Paul asked. “I thought you were going to climb out the window or something.”

“What good would that do?”

“We useta climb out the windows all the time," he laughed.

"I know, but the bathroom was on the front of the house."

"True. I gotta go. Anything else, Mom?”

“Nope. That’s it.”

Paul stepped out the door.

“I couldn’t look at Pam for weeks,"I continued, "And even then I thought she was smirking at me, but she never said a word about it.”

“She used to come over and make my salad while I cooked the bahsketti.” Mom said. Suddenly Mom bolted for the door. “Paul! Paul! And a head of lettuce, two tomatoes, and some celery.” She shut the door, then opened it again. “And some butter. We’re out of butter.”

By the time Dad got home, Paul was re-stringing the dark part of the tree, Mom’s spaghetti was ready to serve, and we all sat down to supper.
To be continued...


Blogger the walking man said...

Take your time Tom it is all coming together nicely.

3/1/10 4:58 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks, Mark,
Nice to know it's making some sense. =) As I visited with my siblings, I got so many perspectives and additional details I didn't want to rush it.

5/1/10 4:30 PM  

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