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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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 41: "Sometimes Life Moves
in Fractured Bits of Time"


These chapters are not about my time at college so I’ll spare you those details, but I needed to explain that my change of locale in the summer of ’74 brings a shift in tone and pacing in these remaining chapters.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but once I went to college, my life at home began feeling like snapshots flipping past a pressing thumb--- or the photos in the antique Mutoscope I’d seen once in the old arcade pavilion at Cedar Point. (I doubt the pavilion is there anymore.)
You know the kind of picture machine I’m talking about with countless photographs attached to hub like cards in a huge Rolodex. You put in a penny, turn the crank, and the fractured images come to life.

Beginning with my college years, life seemed that way sometimes. Whenever I was home, I'd share pictures from college with my folks and they'd share pictures of what I missed while I was gone. And just like that, all the unshared bits of life were compressed into a shortened version of the time apart.
Photographs are good for that; they confirm the best of our otherwise uneventful existence, but we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the “picture moments” are the highlights… when in fact, it is the other way around. It is the endless uneventful moments that are the framework for the fractured bits of time we call photographs; it is the dull-but-steady passing of days that connects months into years. As for pictures, the truest signs of life are in the background: the un-cleared table, the un-mowed lawn, the unmade bed, the toothbrush on the sink, the trashcan waiting to be emptied, and the countless other details we never think to take a picture of. But there they are in the background, hints of the uneventful patterns that secretly add their rhythms to the dailiness of days.

Mom did not merely glance at pictures; she studied them, and the unintended dimensions in the background of a few photographs often turned into long conversations on the couch. [Looking for a photo of Mom that goes with this thought. I hope to add it in the future.]

In previous chapters, I’ve shared how hard it was as one-by-one my siblings went off to college, but this time at the end of the summer of ’74, it was my turn to leave. I was looking forward to being “in school” with Dave again, but other than that I dreaded the thought of being so far from home just as Kathy was home with us again. [Kathy earned her degree in elementary education and came home to teach in my brother Jimmy’s school. In fact, she was his first-grade teacher. He called her Kathy at home, but Miss K___ at school just like the all other kids in the class. It was an interesting year in their lives, but since Kathy had missed out on much of Jimmy’s life up to that point, it was a wonderful way to make up for lost time. This was especially important considering Kathy was engaged to be married the next summer. More about that in chapter 42.]

Paul was also at home, still figuring out if he wanted to return to college or just stay home land a good job. [That good job came in the summer of 1976, Paul and I got summer jobs together at the Ford vinyl plant in Mt. Clemens. Come the end of August, I headed back to college, but for four summers straight I had that job at Ford. Paul, however, stayed on at Ford. In fact, he still works there to this day some thirty years later.]

Thoughts of home remained very much a part of my college-life. For instance, so ingrained in me was the experience of working with Dad that in my freshman speech class, I gave a persuasive speech on why a family should build their own house. Everyone else was “persuading” the audience on social issues or politics of the day—and in 1974, on the heels of Watergate and the strange non-elected presidency of Gerald R. Ford there were plenty of issues to talk about. But I chose to talk about the benefits of building your own house. My teacher (whom I just received a Christmas card from these 35 years later), said she had never heard that topic used for a persuasive speech. I got an “A.” But even better than the grade was the affirmation that Dad and Mom felt when they learned I had chosen that topic.
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In looking back on it, that speech was a milestone of sorts. It was the first time that I had voluntarily chosen to identify myself so closely with the house and all those years of working with Dad. During the years of the actual work, my friends knew that my brothers and I typically had to work on Saturdays, but it was not something we chose to talk about the rest of the week. But being from home for the first time in my life changed those feelings. I felt it that first night on campus when Mom and Dad dropped Dave and me off in our different dorms.

My roommates would arrive the next day, but I was alone that first night, lying in bed with my head resting in a an old feather pillow I’d kept nearly all my life. I remember staring into the dark with tears rolling down my face into that old pillow. It was still damp when I woke up the next morning. Things got better. I had great roommates, made many new friends, dated a lot of nice girls once or twice then dated one or two girls a lot. Then dated just one for quite a while. College stuff. It was nice. But just below the surface of all the classes and activity was a longing to go home.
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This feeling began to peak after Thanksgiving (which, at that college, was spent on campus). The dorm doors were decorated with lights; Christmas music was playing from every open door, and everyone was counting down the days ‘til Christmas Break.
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In the song "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays" there's a word we never use: pine [2]. ("When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze..."). If ever I have pined in life, it was those days before Christmas when I longed for...yearned... to be home. I couldn’t wait to see my parents and have the seven of us together again; to just sit in that little house in Roseville in front of the tree or around the table; to hear Mom's Christmas albums on her little record player on the floor; to play ping-pong on the table downstairs, to worship again in our home church on Utica Road, to shovel snow from our driveway and the sidewalk between our blue spruce and Chinese Elm, to go out to the property and see Dad’s progress on the house, and to spend a few days with my brothers and Dad working out there as we had for so many years.
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But here is an interesting thought. To my surprise, the longing to be home and all of my feelings connected to that word were completely attached to the small house on Buckhannon and not the house we had been building for three years. All of my memories of time spent at the property were positive--the trails, the sledding hill, the well, the barn, and even the house-in-progress were like old friend I wanted to see, but none of them as yet carried the feelings of home.
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At first glance, the progress on the house was not noticeable, but Dad had done a ton of work while Dave and I were gone. My brother Paul and brother-in-law-to-be, Jack, helped when they could. The basement had been poured. (Though the cement trough extended through the windows, they still had to wheelbarrow the cement to the far corners. [I don’t think I’ve ever used the words though, trough and through in one sentence before—what a language!]) The basement window casings were in, and Dad had put in nearly all of the upstairs plumbing, but the interior walls were still open studs, and in that sense, the house looked pretty much the same with only the subtle changes--sort of the like the photos in a flip-book.
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Coming Tuesday. Chapter 42: "Many Things about Tomorrow"
Coming Thursday. Chapter 43: "Christmas 1975: What Makes a House a Home?"

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