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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

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Unsettled Chapter 50-B

"How to Spoil a Sunday Dinner" Part II

One of the unintended consequences of going to college 700 miles from home is that there’s a good chance you’ll begin dating someone who lives equally far away. Since the ultimate goal of dating is learning more about yourself and the kind of person you wish to spend your life with, this kind of dating can lead to a lifetime of travel and long-distance family ties.

Kathy’s husband was from New Jersey. Dave was dating someone from Florida (though his wife of 32 years is from Pennsylvania). In my freshman and sophomore years, I made friends from all compass directions and was dating a nice girl from Maryland at this time (though my wife of 30 years is from Kansas). Three of us kids married someone whose home was far from our own. We wouldn’t change a thing, but this is a reality one should consider when choosing an out-of-state college.

That first Sunday supper with all the boys home was in the kitchen by the mud-room. Mom’s new Ethan Allen table was safely protected under a large vinyl tablecloth. Our seating assignments around the table were exactly as they had been through the years in Roseville. The strange thing is: because the kitchen was laid-out almost the opposite way, this now put Dad at the working end of the table, by the stove and refrigerator while Mom sat at the the opposite end with her back to the walking space and window. About halfway through the meal, Mom said something that inadvertently opened the exact topic that was on Dave's mind.

“It was nice to meet John’s girlfriend. She seems like a nice girl.” She said.

“That’s the girl he went to visit last summer,” Dave said calmly.

“I know, but we didn’t get to meet her then. It’s nice to meet the girls your friends are dating.”

“Did you see Ted this morning?” Dave asked with a forkful of food.

“No, I didn’t where was he?”

“He’s visiting his girl friend but will be back in time for Christmas.”

“I would hope so. Please pass the salt, Jimmy. I don’t think kids should be away from home around the holidays.”

“Wait a minute. You just said it was nice to meet John’s girl. She’s away from home.”

“Well, that’s different.” Mom laughed, “She came here; John didn’t go there.”

Dave swallowed his food hard, “Think about what you’re saying, Mom.”

“I’m just kidding. Is Ted serious with this girl?”

“I don’t know about serious but he wanted to meet her parents and spend some time there,” Dave said, adding, “I think it’s a good idea.”

Dad took a sip of water and joined in, “I think Ted has a good head on his shoulders. I’m glad to hear he’s found a nice girl.”

“She is a nice girl.” Dave assured, “She’ll probably come here next summer. The guy goes to the girl’s house first and then the next break the girl goes to his house.”

“Makes sense,” Dad said, stabbing another piece of beef and putting it on his plate.

Dave took a deep breath, looked at me, and said, “Remember last summer when I said I’d like to go visit Robin over Christmas?”

“Don’t, Dave,” Mom said. She did not mean ‘don’t go’ she meant ‘don’t talk about it.’ Dad shook his head, not at Dave’s question but at Mom’s illogical request not to talk about it; as if not talking about things makes them go away.

“You said, ‘We’ll see.’” Dave continued, “Well, I’m planning on doing that.” He turned to Mom, “But not until after Christmas.”

“There’s a difference between ‘We’ll see’ and “Go ahead. Right, Don?” Mom said.

“Well, yes, Bev. There’s a difference, but the fact is he did warn us and it seems to me that…”

“Don’t, Don. I don’t want to talk about this now. Kathy’s not home. The boys just got here. I don’t see why...”

“Mom, I’m not leaving until Monday—that’s a whole week away. I just brought it up now because you were talking about how nice it was to meet John’s girl. And Ted going now means he’ll be able to bring his girl to visit next summer. It’s really not that big a deal.”

“Well, maybe it’s not to you but it is to me. It’s bad enough you guys coming and going like you are.”

“Mom, I’m only gunna be gone five days sooner than I would’ve been.”

"You'll miss New Years," Mom said. "The church is havin' an all-night roller skating party."

Dave tilted his head and shrugged as if to say, "Life is about choices."

“How ya gettin’ back to school, Dave.” Dad asked.

“I’ll fly down to Jacksonville. Then we’ll drive back to campus with her and her brother.”

“Can you afford it without tapping into your tuition savings?” Dad asked.

"I've been working off campus. Yard work in Cleveland Park. Those people pay good."

"If you've got the money," Dad began, "I suppose..." but Mom interrupted.

“Don't get me wrong. I like that you've got a girl, Dave, and she's always real nice when we've talked on the phone, and I know you want to see her, and all that. I was thinking you'd do it next summer, and I won’t mind that because you’ll have three months but I’ve got all of you home less than three weeks as it is. Do her parents know you’re coming?”

“Of course, they know.”

“Well, I ‘ll bet her mother would feel the same way I do if she were leavin’ home to come up here.”

Paul spoke up, “You let me drive clear to New York to visit Shelby last year.”

“That was different. You live here, and it wasn’t Christmas. Dave and Tom are gone all school year.”

“There you go, Dave." Paul suggested, "Just quit college and you’re free to do what you want.”

“That’s not what I meant, Paul, and you know it. Don, say something…”

Dad had been cleaning his plate with a corner of bread, which he used like a sop and put in his mouth. He raised his eyebrows in thought as he slowly swallowed.

“I guess there’s nothing to say, Bev, except what's for desert? [Dad often said desert rather than dessert just to be funny.]

"Just ice cream. I haven't done my bakin' yet, but don't change the subject."

"I'm not changing the subject, but we can eat while we talk.... You’re how old, Dave?”

“Twenty-one.”

“That’s what I thought. Bev, what were we doin’ in December when I was twenty-one?”

“Whose side are you on, Don?”

“This isn’t about sides.” He looked at Dave and said, “The Christmas of 1951, I was twenty-one and your mother and I were about six weeks from our wedding day.”

“Things were different then, Don. You’d been workin’ full-time at Bell for three years by then. You had a car, a nest egg, and we’d been dating pert-near two years.”

“You’re right,” Dad nodded, “College adds four years to the whole thing. These years are to you fellas what high school was to my generation. So I do see what you're saying, Bev. Seems like they're still in high school to me, too, but the fact is he’s twenty-one.”

“I’m twenty-two,” Paul said, “So...You were married at my age?” Dad nodded.

“I’m not talking about getting married,” Dave gasped. “I’m just talking about a visit.”

“Things were different then...” Mom sighed.

"Mom, you say that like it was a century ago," Paul said, "That was only twenty-four years ago."
Mom took a deep breath and reached inside her sweater to the back of her arm, feeling her skin for some speck that didn't belong.

“Sounds like you’ve thought it out pretty good, Dave. If I were in your shoes, I’d do the same thing.” He looked at Mom and added, “Think of it that way, Bev. You would've wanted me to come visit."

"It's different..." she sighed.

"They’re not little boys anymore," Dad said.

“Well, I am,” said a small voice beside me. It was Jimmy. “I am,” he said again, “and I don’t even like girls yet.”

We all laughed, and Jimmy smiled up from his chair, glad that his first and only line had changed the mood of this conversation. But behind the smile, his eyes glistened from what I could tell were tears barely held back by his raised cheeks. Poor Jimmy. He was only seven, and most of the time he gave little thought to the age-gap between him and his siblings, but there it was, set out in unmistakable terms with the Sunday dinner. He’d been listening as he ate and was getting ready to side with Mom by saying “I don’t see why you have to go” when Dad said “They’re not little boys anymore.” To which, of course, he had to innocently object. He did not say “I am.” to be funny, but when the part about girls made us laugh, he smiled with those glistening eyes and considered the moment his secret consolation prize.
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