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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, January 21, 2010

Unsettled Chapter 50-A

"How to Spoil a Sunday Dinner"

When all of us kids were still living at home in Roseville, we drove two cars to church. Not only was it tricky to get all seven of us in one car, but Mom and Dad had a completely different exit strategy once the organist gave the cue that we were now free to move about the aisles and visit after the service. By that time, if you include bus-driving time, Dad would have been at church for nearly four hours, and he was ready to smile politely to all his friends, get to his car, and head home. Mom, on the other hand, loved to visit after church and often stayed until there were only a few people left in the parking lot. Typically, some of us kids stayed with her for the same social reasons. Only once did this system backfire:

It was Easter Sunday, 1967. After the morning service, some friends and I went up in the church's small gymnasium to shoot some hoops for a few minutes. Dad thought I was staying with Mom. Mom didn’t stay as long as usual because of it being Easter, and when she didn’t see me in the halls, she assumed I went home with Dad. By the time I got to the parking lot and saw both cars gone, I knew I was in for it. But a man named Wayne Selby, (who was a New Tribes missionary to Columbia home on furlough) offered me a ride home. He and his family had been to our house for supper the week before, so I felt like I knew him, and he didn’t mind at all. Because he helped me solved my own mistake, I hoped my parents would just laugh it off.

As I sat in his car, I straightened a twist in my tie and saw a big brown stain seeping from the pocket of my good white shirt. We had hunted Easter baskets that morning (a tradition we never outgrew in our home), and on the way out my bedroom door, I had put some chocolate Easter eggs in my shirt pocket to eat at church. They were wrapped in tinfoil and stayed pretty firm through Sunday School, which was the last time I'd felt them. But when we started playing in the gym, the tinfoil was no match for my body heat and the chocolate oozed into a big blotch. It looked like I had tried to hide a scoop of ice-cream in my pocket—only it was much darker. Mr. Selby was kind enough to ignore the spot, as he walked me to our front door with his big lanky stride and southern drawl. He laughed as he explained to my Dad that it was no problem at all to drop me off, but I think he knew I was in Dutch.

Dad smiled and waved at the Selbys as they backed out of our driveway, but as soon as the door closed, the smile vanished and both he and Mom started yelling at me big time. Mom for the stain on my shirt and Dad for playing in the gym on Easter. They marched me to the boy's bedroom and kept the tirade going behind closed doors. Dad’s finger was poking my sternum so hard that Mom told him to stop, which only made Dad madder.

I don’t know how things were in your home growing up, but in my house, my mom had the power to get us into big trouble with Dad and then once he started letting us have it, she’d begin pleading on our behalf. Mom’s habit of pressing charges and then advocating for us boys was so common and so frustrating to Dad that he told her to leave the room. She did, and he just kept yelling and poking until he no longer had any logical thoughts to instill into my listening ears. It was perhaps the angriest I’d ever made Dad, and I held my tongue but secretly wondered why he was so mad. It had to be more than the ruined shirt.

It was a time when parents took the role of parenting very personally—sort of a "If you look bad we look bad" approach. That's why back then when kids got in trouble at school they were in even more trouble at home. (Nowadays, I'm told by other educational leaders, some parents' first reaction is to blame the school rather than think their child could possibly be in need of correction or self control.)

I think what happened that Sunday was both Mom and Dad were embarrassed. They were relatively new to the church. They had left their kid behind, and neither of them noticed I was gone until I stood on the porch with that stain oozing down my shirt. Eating candy in church, playing in the gym on Easter, inconveniencing a missionary... what kind of parents were they? I think that’s what all the yelling was about.

But hey, it seems like I’d heard in church about another boy about the same age whose parents left him behind at church. They weren’t bad parents, and he was the perfect child. His parents had to go all the way back to Jerusalem to get him. I wonder if he would have gotten in bigger trouble if he had melted Easter eggs all over his tunic. But I digress...

This incident came back to me as I began thinking about that first Sunday when we went to church as a family from the basement of the house. We now lived about fifteen miles from church (compared to three in Roseville). Because of the distance, we no longer took two cars to church. All six of us piled into the station wagon and walked into church together. We sat on the side of the auditorium closest to the parking lot (For years, we had sat on the other side.) And when the service was over, Dad stood patiently off to the side smiling and shaking hands, biding his time while the rest of us visited with our friends, many of whom were also home for college. A couple of them even had girl friends with them from out of state, and Mom—who was like a second mother to all of our friends—made a big to-do about each of them. This fact was not lost on my brother Dave, and it played in perfectly with some news he intended to share with Mom and Dad when we sat down for dinner after church.
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To be continued: Chapter 50-B coming late Friday night.

Post-Post: The Selbys became good friends of our family. Years later, Wayne was bit by an exotic spider of some sort down in Columbia, and it triggered a serious illness that forced his return to the states. He began pastoring a small country parish (ironically called Columbia Baptist Church) near Port Huron. In the summer of 1979, he hired me to be their summer intern “Youth Pastor.” My last Sunday in that role, I was asked to take the evening service. I was tempted to deliberately let some chocolate melt in my shirt before taking the pulpit, but decided against it. Nearly thirty years later, 2008, at another church in Port Huron, a family came up and re-introduced themselves to me. They knew me from the three months we shared in that little church back in 1979, and based only on that... had come to pay respects at my mother's funeral service.

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