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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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Unsettled Chapter 51

A Wish Came with the Snow

It was the kind of snow
that sneaks in quietly after dark,
falls soft and silent through the night,
and blankets everything in sight
by early morning's light.

Everyone was still asleep, but I had gotten up to use the bathroom and stood amazed at the kitchen window. There in the basement with the windows at ground-level, it was easy to see that the snow was about ten inches deep.
.
“Finally some snow,” I said to no one, “ We’ll have a white Christmas after all.” I had goose-bumps from the cold floor to begin with and now I had goose-bumps on my goose-bumps just thinking about the snow, all of which heightened the sensation that woke me in the first place.

The small bathroom was in the farthest corner of the basement, between the back door and the laundry room, and it was rare to have it to yourself without someone else wanting in. This was one of the advantages of rising early and gave a more literal meaning to the “wee hours of the morning.” That one bathroom was so small that the door, which opened in, blocked off everything but the sink. To close the door, we had to step past it and squeeze between it and the shower wall. Once we were in that spot there was no real need to close the door because Dad had put a flange on the hinge-slot to prevent seeing through the crack. This way, the door could stay open when someone was taking a shower and the room got much less steamy. Mom reminded us regularly that the door should otherwise be shut for short visits from the five men in her family, but we mostly forgot. So I was a bit startled when I heard a knock on the open door beside me. It was Jimmy.

“Did you see the snow?” he whispered.
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I squeezed around the open door, “I did. Isn’t it cool!” I smiled, grabbing my snorkel coat from the wall rack behind the back door. "What are you doin’ up?”
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“Same thing you’re doin’,” he smiled, closing the door. "You didn't flush."
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"Saves water," I said through the door, "Shoot, when we were your age we'd all three go at the same time and have sword fights." (The need for solo use of the toilet was just a small reminder of how different Jimmy's life was from his older brothers.)
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“Why are you getting your coat?” he asked, still inside the bathroom.
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“I want to go upstairs and see the snow from there.”
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“Aren’t you going to get dressed?”
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“I’m not staying up there long. I just want to see the snow.
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“Wait up. I want to go with you.”
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I heard running water in the little white bathroom sink, and opened the door to wash my hands.
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“You didn't flush AND forgot to wash your hands?” he scolded.
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“I didn’t forget, you shut the door on me.” I laughed.
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“Mom says to shut the door,” he reminded.
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“I know, but that’s only when there’s people out here not just us guys.”
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“You look funny in that coat with no pants on,” Jim laughed.
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My bare legs stuck out from under my coat like two sticks from a pop-sickle wrapper. I helped Jim put on his coat over his pajamas, and we quietly went upstairs.

For seven winters, we had seen snow draped around those hills and trees, but never from behind the windows of a house. Our home was far from finished, but for the first time I fully appreciated the place Dad picked to put it and the way he set it at an angle from the road. Each window in the main living area had a unique view of the woods now flocked in snow. Only from the smaller bedroom windows could you see the road and neighboring houses in the distance.
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“I think I’ll go shovel the walk,” I told Jim.
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“Don’t you think you should put some pants on?” he asked.
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“That might be a good idea. Is the shovel out in the barn.”
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“No, it’s under the stairs. Dad brought it in last month.”
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I locked the upstairs door behind us, and followed him down the stairs. Sure enough, under the stairway, where the well was covered by its wooden lid, the snow shovel leaned against the wall, waiting for its first use since the winter before. I scarfed down some breakfast, put on two layers of pants and shirts, and stepped out the back door. (To this day, I do not mind shoveling snow. It's exhilarating. I own a snow-blower, but unless the snow is heavy or deep, I can clear our driveway faster with a shovel. I cut a center swath, and then push the snow off both directions in a sort of herringbone pattern. Takes five minutes tops.)
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Just outside the backdoor of the house is a 4-by-8 slab that meets a thirty foot sidewalk which curves around the corner knoll and up to a larger cement slab (where we parked our cars before we built the garage). Back then, this was the only exposed concrete on the entire fourteen acre property, and I was done shoveling it in no time. The temperature was still in the low twenties making it a relatively dry snow, not good packing, and each shovel-full was easy to lift and toss to the side. It was when I stood looking at my work that I got an idea.

The day before, when I had called Brenda, I’d mentioned to her that Dave had broken the news to my folks about going down to Florida. The rest of the phone call was filled with hint after hint about me flying to Maryland to do visit her at the end of Christmas Break. I didn’t want to explain how Mom wasn’t crazy about the idea of Dave going, so I just said I didn’t have enough money for the airfare. But I confess, by the end of the call, it did sound like a wonderful idea, and we sort of worked it out. We'd try to arrange a ride back to campus with some mutual friends. It would work just like Dave’s plans… if only I had the money. At the end of the call, she said again, “Try to find a way.” And doubting there would be a way, I simply said, “We’ll see.”
.
And there I stood with a snow shovel in my hands and a whole day ahead of me.

Past the barn, over the bridge, through the woods, and beyond the east end of our property line, a huge subdivision had gone in a few years before. Rows and rows of mid-sized homes, that brought a steady stream of trespassing kids who seemed forever bent on clogging up the creek with sticks and logs. Worse yet, the parents of these kids would sometimes come with saw or ax to poach a Christmas tree from our land. [When we bought the land there was not one pine tree on the entire spread, but that first year (1968), Dad bought several hundred conifers from the Michigan DNR. It was a special re-forestation program, and we got the six-inch trees for little or nothing, and Dad planted them in groves all around the property. About half of them were eaten by rabbits and deer the first winter, but scores of them had survived and grown into trees barely big enough to fill a corner, and people from the subdivision, who knew nothing of the area before they’d moved there, would come on our land and cut them down as if they were free for the taking.] Dad was not fond of the subdivision, and we spent little time along that lot line, but the idea I had to earn my airfair would take me in that direction.

I went back in the house to get a drink of water and tell Jimmy where I was going. While I was shoveling our walk, the rest of the family had gotten up, and Mom was starting some Cream of Wheat on the stove.

“I didn’t know you guys were up.”
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Dad looked up from the silverware box, “Thanks for shoveling the walk,”
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“Yes, Poochi-Kaloochi, thanks for doing the walk,” Mom chirped.
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Poochi-Kaloochi was a pet name Mom used for any of her children whenever she was in a child-like state of happiness caused by simple things like new snow just when she was afraid we wouldn’t have a white Christmas! Another thing she said when she was in these fleeting states of glee was “All around the pig’s hind end is pork.” We asked her to explain that expression, hoping it has some hidden meaning such is true with Mairzy Doats, but she told us her grandmother used to say it whenever she was cooking ham, and somehow just saying those eight words fast always made her smile. It was equally nonsensical when she called one of us Poochi-Kaloochi, but we just learned to play along and hope it never happened in front of our friends.

"Do you have to work today, Paul?" I asked.
.
“Yep. Tomorrow, too, but I get off at noon on Christmas Eve day.”
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“I’m not sure you’ll be able to get out the driveway,” I said.
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“I’m going to get out the tractor and plow to the road,” Dad said, “In fact, Bev, I’m going to do that now and eat later do Paul’s not late.”
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“What are you doing today?” I asked Dave.
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“I’ve got to go shopping for something before the weekend. Do you want to go?”
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“No, I think I’m going to walk back to the subdivision and shovel driveways.”
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“Awww...don’t do that, Tom. It’s too cold out there. Just stay in here where it’s cozy.”
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“Or we could build a snowman,” Jim suggested.
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“I thought of that Jimmy, but it’s not good-packing. I couldn’t even make a snowball. It’s too cold.
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“All the more reason to stay put,” Mom said again .
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“Now, Bev,” Dad chimed in, “If he wants to go earn some money, let him. Just don‘t wear out the shovel, Tom.” He laughed, then asked, “How much are you going to charge?”
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“I don’t know. Eight bucks maybe. Is that too high?”
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“You can start there. See what people say.”
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“Well, at least have some Cream of Wheat,” Mom insisted.
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“I already ate, Mom, and I’m getting hot standing here in all these clothes.”
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“How long will you be gone?” Jim asked.
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“I don’t know. Depends on how many people hire me. Send out Prop if I’m not home before dark. Just kidding…”
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And with that I took advantage of the corner bathroom one last time, stepped out the back door, and began the long walk through the woods with the shovel on my shoulder like a shotgun. It was a beautiful walk, and I hated to leave the trees and step into the subdivision.

When I got to the back yards that adjoined our land, I cut through one of them to the street, and from there I could see the houses that were still snowed in. Here and there, I saw others digging out their own driveways. There were no "snow blowers" in sight--perhaps because there was no sidewalk and the driveways were smaller than I'd remembered. I dropped my price to $7.00, and made my service even more irresistible by shoveling a swath to the front porch before knocking on the door. That path was free whether they hired me or not, but it showed a level of earnest desire to work, and the first three houses I approached hired me on the spot. One of them even gave me a Ten and told me to keep the change. At the fourth house, a man stepped out on the porch and told me to stop shoveling. I assured him the first path was free, but he told me he was going to do it himself. I wished him Merry Christmas and went on to the next house.

It took less than an hour to do each house, and by noon I had almost $50. As the day wore on, there were fewer and fewer driveways left to shovel, I had walked every street and cul-de-sac except the long entrance street that ran out to 23 Mile Road. There on the left was home with a double garage and a driveway wider than the others. I shoveled my path to the porch, and an older man came to the door.

“I saw you coming and was hoping you’d stop,” he said. “So how much do you charge?”
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“Well, you’re about twice as big as most of the other driveways. How ’bout Ten dollars and a glass of water? I‘ve been eating snow all day.”
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“Fair enough.” he laughed. And I shoveled his porch while he got the money and water.

It was the hardest driveway of the day. I was tired, and the snow had drifted high in front of his garage door. By the time I got to the street, I turned my back to the huge pile of snow I‘d made near his mailbox and just plopped backwards into the snow. It was something my brothers and I did when we shoveled the driveway in Roseville. The snow immediately forms into a “chair” like an icy bean bag, and it is surprisingly comfortable. In this particular pile, I had plopped back in a reclining position and just stared up at the sky. What I didn’t know is that the old man was watching from the window, and from his window it looked like I passed out. He threw on his coat and hat and shuffled in his house shoes down the slippery driveway

“Are you alright, young man?”
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“I’m fine,“ I said , sitting up in the snow chair, “Just taking a little rest.”
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“I thought that’s what you were doing, but then you didn’t move for so long I began to worry.”
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“No, I’m fine,” I said standing to my feet.
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“Can I get you some more water.”
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“No, thank you. I’m fine really. I’ve just been shoveling all day. But this was my last house. I’m done for the day.”
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“Yes, son, you’ve put in a long day, but it would be better to rest at home than in a snow pile.”
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I thanked him again and headed home. Poor guy thought I had croaked. He obviously had never felt the comfort of custom-fit snow chair. It was about four o’clock, I ached, but in my pocket was enough money for a one-way ticket to Maryland with some spending money to spare. Now all I had to do was figure out a way to tell Mom and Dad. It was pretty much the same conversation Dave had survived the day before. They would be a bit more surprised, I supposed, because I had never even hinted about taking such a trip. I was the cautious son, after all. I was the son who never “dated seriously,” convinced there was no point in it until I was old enough to do something about it. I had never uttered the words “I love you” to a girl, because I didn’t want the words to lose their meaning before I met “the one.” But like Dave said, it was just a visit; it’s not like he was getting married, and if that was true for Dave’s trip it would be far more true of mine. Sooner or later, a young man’s got to cut the ties to home, and while I had no desire to do that, little trips like this would help prepare me. It would be fun, a good thing.

These thoughts were racing through my mind, as I trudged through the woods, over the bridge at the creek, and past the barn toward the house, but it was then that something caught my eye. A silhouette in the kitchen window. At first, I could not tell who it was or which way it was facing. It might have been Mom just standing by the broom closet, but no… a little hand raised beside the dark shape and waved. Closer now, I could see that it was Jimmy watching me cross the open space between the barn and house. I made a huge waive with the shovel in my hand, and he waved a huge wave back and crossed to open the back door. Prop came out the door and met me.

“Finally!” Jim shouted with a smile.
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“I told you I’d be home before dark,” I said.
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“I thought you’d come home for lunch.” he said.
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“To be honest, I was working so hard I didn’t even notice.” I stepped through the door and smelled what I guessed was Spanish Rice, “But now that I smell that I’m starving.”
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“I was beginning to worry,” Mom said from the sink.
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“I was shoveling non-stop,” I said peeling off my sweaty layers of clothes.
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“Dad was worried, too. Jimmy why don’t you run upstairs and tell him Tom’s home and supper will be about a half hour.” When Jim went upstairs, Mom continued in a softer voice,
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“You should have seen Jimmy, Tom. He watched you walk away with that shovel, and all afternoon he kept looking out that window for you to come back.”
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“He did? It didn’t seem like I was gone that long. I just kept knocking and shoveling.”
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“Well, it was pretty sad,” Mom said, adding a palm-full of salt to the pot.
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“So how much did you make?” Jim asked stepping into the kitchen.
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“Enough,” I said vaguely.
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“How much is that?” he asked again.
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“Well let me put it this way. I haven’t counted it yet, but I know it’s more money than I’ve ever earned in one day. That’s for sure.”
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“Whatcha gunna do with it?” he smiled mischievously.
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“We’ll see,” I sighed, but the words sounded sadder than when I’d said them on the phone the day before.

The goal that had kept me shoveling all day seemed very far away, further than the back property line, further than all the driveways I’d cleared of snow, further than the state of Maryland. Looking down at Jim’s face, and remembering his wave from the window as I came through the woods, I knew I would not be buying any airplane ticket that Christmas. Such things would come in time but a time much further away.

The money in my pocket had been meant for one thing but would be spent in other ways: my share of the light fixture, some surprise gifts for my siblings, and for some carpet to put on the cold tile floor between the piano and the couch and the Christmas tree. It was not a fancy rug, just a large remnant I found on clearance, but it was just what that corner of the basement needed on Christmas morning when we sat down to open gifts.
8730\.
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Coming in the days ahead. Chapter 52: "Kathy's Christmas Surprise" and the epilogue to these Unsettled Chapters. If there is a delay between now and the concluding posts, it may mean that I have become a Grandpa. The time is drawing nearer by the day if not the hour.
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UPDATE THURSDAY MORNING:
We got a call from Em and Keith, and as you can see from this picture (cut and pasted from their Facebook page) labor has begun They checked into the hospital this morning.This is exciting!
FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE:
Well, I'm still not quite a grandpa. Em's progress tapered off by dinner time. She hadn't eaten for about 24 hours so they allowed her to have some supper. She and Keith watched some TV and got a few hours of semi-sleep. Then this morning at 3:00 the contractions began again and things are progessing nicely now. Em called at 6:00 and gave us an update. Things are different than when Julie and I were going through this with her 25 years ago. =)

6 Comments:

Blogger the walking man said...

I hope that by the time you read this you have a healthy and well born grandchild Tom.

You are right there is a difference in that experience a step away.

Good chapter as well. But you have of necessity other things on your mind. I can feel your pleasure from here.

29/1/10 7:53 AM  
Anonymous film izle said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

29/1/10 1:14 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks, Mark.
Your wish came true. 1:45 Friday I got the call at about 2:15.
I'll post about it soon.

29/1/10 3:15 PM  
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1/2/10 2:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6/2/10 11:48 AM  
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Host Anon

6/2/10 2:16 PM  

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