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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, January 03, 2010

Unsettled Chapter 47:

"The Happiest He'd Seen Her"
Originally posted as Part IV-C of Chapter 43.

This is a picture of Julie and me ice-skating New Year's Eve. My feet got cut out of the picture, but trust me I was skating. It was like old times. More about that later. As much as I enjoy gliding three inches over ice on narrow blades of steel, the arches of my feet ache the whole time. One of the best things about skating is the moment you take off those leather shackles and take a few normal steps in stocking feet.

In Thursday's post, I mentioned a change of plans that has extended this final chapter. With continued, beneficial input from my siblings, more and more details from this first Christmas in the new-but-unfinished house make it harder and harder to end. I think there is a part of me that doesn't want to end this story, and in truth, as a chronological matter, it is far from finished because in 1975, the house was far from finished, but I still think this is the chapter best-suited for closure. I had hoped to finish before 2010, but having missed that personal deadline, I'll simply do my best to wrap this up in the days ahead.

We had a house-full of company over the New Years weekend. It was great. We went out to the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, a destination I highly recommend for anyone within driving distance. It was amazingly fitting that my extended family (siblings from these chapters) was here to enjoy that nostalgic, snow-filled night, because it was so similar to the draft of this post that had been written last week.

I went down a luge for the first time in my life. Yes, me, on a luge just like in the Olympics. In fact, Olympic champions have trained on this very luge track. I set a new personal record. (If I ever go a second time, I'll try to break it. Ha Ha)
Our last hours of 2009 were spent ice-skating on winding trails through the woods--sort of like cross-country skiing but on skates. It was very much like the event of this post below. That's my daughter Emily and her husband Keith. It's hard to tell it in that winter coat, but it is Emily who is going to have our first grandchild (a girl) later this month. Skating as a family was the perfect way to end 2009.
Life in a snow globe!

And now back to 1975.

Many years ago, my wife and I bought this Norman Rockwell snow globe for Mom and Dad. (The picture is blurry but it works.) It's a couple skating. We kids had seen Mom and Dad looking much like this many times on the ice. The first times were at Palmer Park in Port Huron, which is a block away from Mom's childhood home. This post is about another time and place many years later but even closer to home.

"The Happiest He'd Seen Her"

Dad made small talk as we sat down to Mom's spaghetti dinner. He was unaware that when he began his drive home from downtown Detroit to 23 Mile Road, an hour before, none of the food on the table was in the house. [And this was years before Mom had a microwave.] Shop-n-serve was a feat Mom pulled off at least once a week. But considering she had to plan for at least a dozen home-cooked meals a week, that's not bad.

“So what all did you guys do today besides put the tree up?” Dad asked, just making conversation.

“Nothing really.” I said passing the noodles.

“I was thinking maybe there was something we could have been doing for you upstairs,” Dave suggested.

(We all felt obliged to do our part in helping Dad through the years, but Dave sometimes had a deeper sense of responsibility to tackle tasks he knew we could do without being told. On this occasion, it may have been because Dave knew something about this Christmas Break that he had not yet shared with Mom and Dad.)

“No. I didn’t bring it up for that. I thought maybe you walked down to the creek.”

“We helped Mom do the tree,” Jimmy said.

“That’s good, and it looks great,” Dad continued, “but I was thinking maybe we could go ice skating down on the creek tonight.”

“Oh, let’s do,” Mom said. “I haven’t skated in years.”

“Is it frozen enough?” Dave asked.

“It’s been solid enough to walk on since last week, and you should see it. Smooth as glass because there’s no snow. Good skatin’.”

We had been skating on the creek nearly every winter since we owned the property. Some years it smoother than others. If it froze while snow was falling, it was a bubbly, bumpy frozen slush that made it hard to shovel and skate on. Only once before that winter of ’75 had it frozen without snow, and it was as Dad said “good skatin’.” Mom was so excited at Dad’s suggestion, she could hardly sit still as we ate.

“Our skates are all hanging in the fruit cellar. Dad made special hooks for 'em.”

(This is the far end of the porch as it appears today--not as it was in 1975. This weekend, Jim gave me a set of photos he took of the house last fall.)

Under the long front porch, Dad had built Mom a large, windowless fruit cellar. It was Mom's intention to someday can fruit and vegetables for her families long winters, a nostalgic idea that reminded her of the days when she and her mother and grandmother canned in the fall in the large kitchen on Forest Street. She tried canning a couple times in Roseville but lacked the storage space to make it worth her while, so when Dad was sketching his house plans, a fruit cellar fit in nicely with her other request: a large front porch with a swing (another touch from her childhood home). Mom did not always have a say in the details of the house, but this one had come to pass, complete with large shelves in the back capable of a hundred Ball mason jars. Canning, however, is a ton of work, and much of its pleasure comes from the company kept while toiling and boiling and scooping and storing. In time, Mom’s ambitious dreams for her fruit cellar gave way to a large deep freezer kept in the same room. The shelves held empty jars and whatever else we could fit on them.

The fruit cellar is at the bottom of the basement stairs. Its greatest feature is the heavy door that Dad made from planks from the school (also true of the stair rail). Its greatest significance is that it is in that unpainted, unfinished cement bunker-of-a-room that readers of previous chapters can see where the cement block from the old school meets the new block Dad had to buy. One other feature that remains in that room, are the wooden peg hooks that held our ice skates through the years, which brings us back to that night.

“The skates are in the cellar,” Mom said again, “but all our winter clothes are in the attic. We’ll have to bundle up. I’ll make hot chocolate and keep it warm on the stove.” She got up and began cleaning the kettle in the sink, “Then when we come in, we can put our feet on the heaters and warm our hands with the mugs. It’ll be cozy!”

Dad smiled, happy that almost everyone was home. He didn’t come out and say multiple times a day like Mom did. He expressed what he was thinking in ways I didn’t always notice at the time. But this suggestion to go skating was one of them. The thought that had been on his mind since the day he made the pegs to hold the skates. And that explained the quiet smile from his end of the table, which we quickly cleared to put this plan in motion. It was perhaps the happiest he had seen his wife since this move to their unfinished house in the woods.

We clumped across the frozen, leafy ground in our skates. Across the clearing, past the barn and rope swing oak, down the lane, north of the bridge to the first bend in the creek. That is where we could most easily scale the bank down to the ice. (There by the hollow shag-bark hickory that was home to the only flying squirrels I’ve ever seen in my life.)

The ice was just as Dad described, smooth from the bend beyond the bridge the where the creek goes wide at the foot of the sledding hill, where stood the Trinity Oak that prompted our first tree house. Twenty feet further is where our property ended, and beyond that to the north the creek was too narrow and overgrown for skating.

Not so with the south lot line beyond Dad’s bridge. From there we could skate to Salt River and out to Lake St. Clair. That stretch of the creek was not maintained as well as ours. There were fallen trees that arched the creek, their branches frozen in the ice, but these obstacles and our ducking and weaving around them made the skating all the more adventurous. We’d done it many times, even at night, but never with Mom along. She was up to the challenge, but that night was poorly lit with half a moon, and after hearing a few thuds and moans in the dark, we wisely headed back home to our smooth, clear ice and the shadows of trees we knew.
My parents were fine “pairs skaters” on the open ice—not Olympic competition types of pair skaters—that kind of excellence stretches from pleasure to perfection and in most cases it is the stretch toward perfection that saps the joy out of any pursuit. This is especially true of performance in athletics or the arts.

I love, for instance, that my daughter Natalie enjoys playing the piano. It brings her and our home many pleasant hours. She also accompanies various Praise groups. She is a fine player who is not the least bit interested in the kind of “perfection” it takes to be declared the best ever by outplaying some other performer. It is likely that she will enjoy private hours at the piano her entire life, as her mother and both of her grandmothers did.
That’s how it was with my mom and dad’s pair-skating. They took what they knew from the dance floor and elongated it into smooth, flowing strides on the ice with a handful of practiced figure-skating moves thrown in here and there. And because no other couples (especially their age) could skate as well at Palmer Park or wherever they took the ice, people sometimes stopped to watch them, not to witness perfection put to watch a married couple in step with each other and having fun at the same time (a sight always worth noting).
Because the creek was less than ten feet wide in most places, Mom and Dad had little room for their fancier moves that night, but it was good to see them skating again with Dad’s arm around Mom’s waist, their left hands held, side-by-side in flowing steady stride.



Blogger Stephen said...

A perfect ending to 2009...and I trust exciting days ahead for you and your family in 2010!

10/1/10 9:46 PM  

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