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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

Monday, January 11, 2010

Unsettled: Chapter 48-B

Saturday, Sawdust, and Skating

As we stepped into Dad’s work area upstairs, the fine dust hovering in the air sparkled in the sunbeam of the dining room window where Dad was measuring. He smiled and nodded our direction, but he couldn’t speak. A flat carpenter’s pencil was in his grin, like a stick in a dog’s mouth. His left hand was pulling a tape measure to keep it tight where he had hooked it while his right hand was holding the business end tight against the window. He then took the pencil from his mouth wrote a number on the wall stud. The steel tape dropped to the floor and recoiled into the case in Dad’s hand.

“Up and at’em, eh, boys? Sorry about the noise. I held off as long as I could.”

“I was awake before that. No problem." Dave said.

“Have you eaten?”

“We just finished,” I said.

"What can we do to help," Dave asked.

“What I’m doin’ now is the trim on this window. I was hoping to get this and the two kitchen windows done today, but that won’t take too long. Then I was thinking we’d skate to the lake if you guys want to do that.”

“I was thinkin’ the same thing,” I said.

“Are you sure,” Dave added, looking around the open, unfinished walls, “We could start whatever you want.”

“I only bought enough sheetrock for the outside walls so I could install these baseboard heaters and trim-in the windows."

"I thought we were going to have fireplace up here?" I said, remembering a conversation we had the week we built the brick wall.

"Eventually, yes. Actually, it'll be a Ben Franklin stove. They're more efficient."

"A Ben Franklin?" I asked.

"He invented it," Dave said, "It's a wood-burning stove like the pot-belly kind."

"It's cast iron," Dad added, "Puts the heat out on all four sides. Bev wants a brick fireplace, but I'm not sure there'll be enough brick once we build the chimney. The chimney is going from the basement, through the floor right here, and up through the ceiling and attic here. That's a lot of brick."

"And we haven't done the outside of the house yet."

"We've got plenty of brick for that," Dad said while measuring a board and marking it with his pencil, "But when we bought the brick I didn't figure in a fireplace. Stoves put out a lot more heat. But that's all down the road. I can't get the plumbing inspected up here without first putting in a source of heat, so I put in this baseboard heat just to pass inspection."

"Inspection?" I asked, not sure if he was kidding.

"Yep. You remember by buddy the inspector. He comes out and inspects my work, electrical, plumbing--everything."

[They were not exactly buddies, and we boys had never met him, but years before the building inspector had dropped by to cite Dad for building the log barn without a permit, but he was so impressed with it that he decided to call it a "work of art." He took a shine to Dad's work and his work ethic, and proved to be remarkably patient between inspecting each phase of the house.]

"When's the inspection?" Dave asked.

"I had to get the basement inspected before we could live in it, and we're playin' the rest of the house by ear. I just call him when I'm ready. All the electrical on this floor has already passed."

"So these heaters work?" I said, rubbing my cold hands together.

"They work but I hate to use 'em--especially before these windows are sealed in. Last week I could see my breath up here," Dad laughed, "These heaters are cheap to put in but expensive to run. I just dress in layers. By noon, I'm usually down to my shirt. You boys may want to go put your coats on."

"I'm fine," Dave said as I took a step toward the door.

"Once we move up here, a wood-burner will heat the whole floor. But anyway, Dad said before turning on his saw, "That's why I'm finishing the trim on these windows before sheet-rockin' the other walls.

“The windows look great,” I said, but he could not hear me for the saw. I waited until the drone whirled to a stop and said again, “The windows look great. Mom was tellin’ us how you were makin’ the trim yourself.”

“Do you recognize this wood? It’s all the trim from the school, but it’s too wide so I rip and router each piece.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to buy molding? Or is that expensive?” I foolishly asked.

“Millwork is high, Tom. I got all that wood in the barn, and it’s free. Well, free not counting all the work we did to get it there. My goal is to all that wood. I want to empty the barn not my wallet," he laughed. "That’s why we did all that work. I’m not a wood collector.”

“You’re not like Hubcap,’” Dave said, and Dad smiled a sad smile with a nod.

Dave was referring to an unfortunate man who lived just off of Gratiot Avenue in Roseville. Some called him Mr. Gratiot because he spent his days walking the median of the avenue between Ten Mile and Utica Road, searching for hubcaps, hence the name he was best known by. Various legends swirled around Hubcap. Some thought he was crazy. Some said he was a veteran with a plate in his head. But since no one ever stopped to talk to him, we never really knew.

Hubcap was not bum. He was not homeless. Oh, no, he had a house, a little shack of a house where he lived alone. It was completely shingled in hubcaps. He originally collected them to sell, but few buyers approached the place, and over time his wares became the objects of his affection. What started as a display of hubcaps under his eave gradually spread, row by row, up and down and around until the place he called home was shrouded in chrome. Even then he continued to collect hubcaps. In the hot summers, freezing winters, and especially in early spring when pot-holes rocked the passing cars from rim to roof and hubcaps rolled unnoticed to the grassy median. “There’s Hubcap” we boys would say whenever we saw him. (Not in a mean way; just noticing his existence as we passed.) I don’t know what became of him or his strange little house, but that’s what Dave meant when he said “You’re not like Hubcap. Dad had hunted and gathered the wood, and now he planned to put it to its intended use.
In Dad’s mind, the wood was free and his time was free. It made sense to take his time and do every inch of the house himself. But when you take the time to custom-make many of the materials that typical "do it yourselfers" buy ready to use, it’s takes much longer to finish a house. That's why the upstairs looked pretty much as it had the summer before, even though there were hundreds of man-hours in the subtle changes all around me.

For instance, Dave had pointed out that the sub-floor was down. When we left, the floor was the tongue-and-groove floorboards from the school, laid diagonally across the joists. All the internal walls were built on that base. Now there were 4-by-8 sheets of 3/4 inch sub-floor fit like giant tile around all those walls, down the hall, round each corner, inside every closet. That is a huge amount of work to do alone (or with Paul if he wasn't working), but when that project was done, it was still overshadowed by all that was left to do. I hadn't even noticed it until Dave pointed it out.

It felt funny standing there watching Dad work without doing anything to help, but he had gotten so used to working by himself that he didn't always know what to have us do. In that way, working with Dad on the house was unlike all the other work we had done at the property, particularly that first Christmas when he hadn't seen us since September. He seemed more eager to visit than put us to work.

As Dad began to finish the trim around the kitchen "breakfast window" (where someday would sit a small table for three), Dave and I began straightening things up. It was then I fully appreciated the sub-floor. It was a smooth hard surface, much easier to sweep clean of sawdust than the floorboards with all its cracks or the cement floor of the barn. We tidied up the stacks of wood, rearranged the cut pieces leaning on the outside walls, and filled a 50-gallan plastic garbage pan with sawdust and wood scraps. It took about an hour, and every five minutes or so came the intermittent deafening sound of Dad's Delta. By the time he tapped in his last nail, and we shook the last dustpan of sawdust into the trash, the place was clean enough to eat off the floor.

"Wow, fellas." Dad smiled, "I don't recognize the place. Wudayasay we call it quits, grab some lunch, and skate out to the lake."

As mentioned in previous chapters, with the exception of digging the well and salvaging the school building (both pressing jobs with deadlines), Dad knew how to add just enough play in our working with him to keep it rewarding. In the summer, we'd sometimes knock off before dark and run up to Marine City or Port Huron for a jump in the river. In winter, we'd take a break from work and go sledding or skating. So his eagerness to skate down Fish Creek to Salt River and then out to Lake St. Clair was based on the many times we had done in previous years when the ice was good. Still, Dave and I felt a little funny that we were the reason he was stopping his work before noon.

"We don't have to go skating if there's more you need to do up here." Dave said.

"Yeah. We can skate tomorrow or next week." I added.

"There will always be more to do up here," Dad laughed as he looked around, "But the weatherman says snow is on the way. Could be quite a storm. So we might as well skate while the skatin's good."

He leaned slightly forward and ran his fingers through his crew-cut hair in a sort of quick shampooing motion to shake the sawdust from each strand. "Oops, Tom." He laughed, "I didn't mean to get all that sawdust on your floor."

"I'll get it next time I sweep."

We stepped down the stairs and stopped at the middle landing. Dad turned to lock the door behind us and put the key back on its nail on the wall.

That was the pace of progress upstairs, and Dad found contentment in each finished phase. The kind of contentment most men feel when they chalk some weekend project off their "Honey-do" list--except there were a hundred more things to do before he and his Honey could move upstairs. Mom often begged him to "hire" some of the work done, but that of course meant far more cost, and Dave and I were still in college. It also put more emphasis on being done than on the doing, and Dad liked the doing, so he would simply smile and say, "It just takes time, Bev."

The only part of the equation that Dad failed to factor in was that time itself may be free, but it is also free-flowing like the water in the creek. Even when it's frozen it flows. It may seem to be standing still, but that's an illusion. Just below the ice, it's flowing, always flowing, further and further down stream to a bigger faster river. Flowing, flowing--just below the surface--slowing only when it spills beyond its banks into the lake, a lake so big we cannot see the other side.

To be continued...


Blogger the walking man said...

Progress may not flow in pace with time but your dad measured his time differently than you did as a young man. Much as you measure it differently now eh?

13/1/10 8:30 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Right you are. My brother Dave left a comment a few weeks back (Penny in the wall) That speaks to this. I may copy it and add it here.

13/1/10 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a sibling of Tom’s being away at college I call this era the “lost years”. At the time I was glad to be away from all of the never ending business and labor that my dad created for us. Each visit home was a snapshot in time. Only now do I understand the lost moments and how precious they are. I suppose it’s part of leaving the nest. Seeing photos of Dad tying to finish a house whose deadline had long past is hard. I am realizing that I am where he was. I am my dad. There is nothing new under the sun. Only now do I realize his predicament. My boys are gone. I thought I had more time to “get it done”. It caught me off guard. So I begin again with my grandchildren as my father did…
Dave K

13/1/10 7:05 PM  

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