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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

Friday, January 29, 2010

Unsettled Chapter 52

Kathy's Christmas Surprise
(and a very important footnote)

Some Christmas days throughout my childhood stand out in my mind: the year I got my sled when I was four; the year Dave and I got our Pinocchio string puppets; the year the three of us boys got our BB guns [that's the picture of me pulling my Daisy from its box in 1966]; the year I got the bike tire and a Bible.

I remember those magical mornings, but for some reason the details of Christmas Day 1975 are sketchy in my mind. Perhaps it’s because Kathy wasn’t there and we were holding back some of the celebration until she arrived two days later. Perhaps it’s because of all the other "firsts" and adjustments swirling ‘round those first days in the house.

All I remember about that Christmas morning itself is one gift I got and another one that Jimmy got.

Paul gave me a Norelco triple-header electric razor. Being the “late bloomer” I’ve disclosed in previous chapters, it was good to know that by my sophomore year of college, I needed to use this new razor about two or three times a week. If I had a date on Friday, I’d shave on Thursday just to have a faint sign of some facial hair by the next evening. [I still have that Norelco shaver after nearly thirty-five years of light use. Light because at first I hardly needed it, and since 1994 I’ve worn a beard.]

While writing these closing chapters, I visited with my siblings to see what they remembered from this unique Christmas. I have a very photographic memory, but there are things that I forget until something “triggers” the memory. Sort of like the way I can finish reciting long Bible passages our old hymns once someone prompts me with the first few words. It was Jimmy who told me about his standing at the window and watching we leave that day I went to shovel snow (which brought back my recollection of coming home afterwards). He also reminded me that it was the Christmas of 1975 that he looked around the tree for the one thing he’d asked for and it wasn’t there. He knew things were tight that year, but as we were cleaning up the wrapping paper, he had a disappointed look that Dad had been waiting to see.

“Did you lose something, Jim.” Dad asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Oh, I thought maybe you lost something in the paper.”

“No. I’m just helping pick it up.”

“Well, here let me take that to the trashcan for you.”

Dad took the handful of torn gift wrap to the large trashcan by the back door, then he stepped into the laundry room and wheeled Jimmy’s missing gift through the kitchen to the tree.

“Look what I found in the laundry room. Santa must have run out of room under the tree.”

Jimmy’s face lit up as he saw the three-speed “Sting Ray” bike. It had a metallic copper finish, high-rise handle bars, and the long square-edged seat (which he later explained was much racier looking than a plain “banana seat”).He had shown my parent this very bike months before at the store, and he had no questions as to how Santa managed to deliver so precisely the bike he had described in his letter to the North Pole.

Our childhood Christmas lists were always written in the form of a letter to Santa which Dad delivered to the North Pole on his annual deer hunting trip to the Upper Peninsula. We never questioned that the North Pole is another 2,500 miles from the U.P. We only knew Dad was “close” to it and made sure Santa got our letters. [FYI:I just googled the question “How far is the North Pole from Detroit?” and got this smarty-pants answer.]

Santa’s accuracy was especially impressive in 1975 since Dad had not gone deer hunting because of the move to the house, which by the way, did not yet have a chimney. The chimney was built the next fall so Dad could start heating the house with wood. But let’s face it, seven-year-old kids don’t want to think too hard about the many questions surrounding Santa’s methods or existence. They’re just glad to know he’s on the job.

Jimmy got on the bike, peddled it about twenty feet back to the laundry room, got off, turned it around and rode it back toward the tree. He did that about three times and then just stood straddling the crossbar for several minutes smiling. (The trouble with getting a bike for Christmas when there’s nearly a foot of snow on the ground outside is that you pretty much have to sit on it and pretend until spring.)

As we were fixing breakfast, Jimmy was still sitting on his bike across the room near the tree, pretending to be steering it down some winding path.

Dad whispered to Mom, “I should’ve brought the bike out sooner. I felt like a heel watching him look around the room like that. I wanted it to be a surprise, but I waited too long.”

“He was trying to act so happy with his other things,” Mom sighed, “But that sad smile when we started cleaning up made me feel awful.”

“Oh, well,” I said, “Look at him now.”

We all looked at Jim and smiled.

“What?” he said.

“Do you like it?” Dad asked.

“It’s the exact one I wanted,” he smiled, and then his eyes again looked down that winding path in his mind.

That's about all I remember from Christmas Day, but come Saturday morning, we had to figure out where Kathy and Jack were going to sleep. The upstairs was freezing; the back bedroom was occupied with Dad and Mom and Jim; the makeshift bunk room we’d made for us boys was already full, but outside the entrance to our room was the only open part of the basement floor. It was about 12-by-12 feet. We brought down Kathy’s bed and mattress from the attic and put it together right there in the open. The rest of us had to literally walk around the bed to get out to the main living area of the basement. It was not ideal, but as Mom said, “It was cozy.”

Finally, the whole family would be together, all under one roof—way under the roof, in fact… clear down in the basement, but that didn’t matter. Finally, we would all be home.

Kathy and Jack arrived in time for dinner. We were setting the table when they stepped through the back door, and we all greeted them in the entry way, exchanging hugs and taking coats and suitcases to the foot of their bed. Mom apologized for the lack of privacy when they saw their bed in the middle of the room. “Hey, a bed is a bed!” Jack laughed.

For a while, the eight of us seemed huddle close, like people round a fire, joining in a mix of endless chatter and laughter as we stood around Kathy who was sitting on the edge of her bed. There was no fire, of course, no fireplace, no Ben Frankly stove, but there was a kind of warmth in that circle as we caught up on each other’s news, and followed Mom’s lead into the kitchen for supper. Dad said grace, and as we began passing the food, Kathy explained that she was not hungry. She had been sick more than once during their trip that day. In fact, she had been sick nearly every morning for the past several weeks. Her eyes brimmed as she took a deep breath and told us all the news.

“I’m gunna be and uncle?” Paul gasped.

“You are?” Jim pondered.

“Well so are you,” Dave laughed.

“I’m too young to be an uncle.”

“When are you due!” I asked.

“June, late June.” Kathy smiled, wiping tears from her cheeks. She was very happy, the tears were simply the culmination of having kept it a surprise ‘til then. There is both joy and apprehension in a pregnancy, especially one’s first, and those feelings often show themselves in tears. We boys kept asking all sorts of questions and acting like uncles-in-waiting when we suddenly noticed that Dad and Mom were just smiling at us, taking this news with a calmness that gave away the fact that they were in on the secret from the start. Kathy had called home to tell them in November, when the morning sickness began, and she needed Mom’s reassurance about the slightest things she felt each day.

The remaining days of that Christmas Break are a blur. I only remember the strange closeness of our quarters at bedtime and odd details like seeing Kathy get out of the bed outside our doorway to go throw up in the bathroom. Uncle-to-be or not, Paul found our new sleeping arrangements so claustrophobic that he began spending his nights upstairs in what would someday be Jim's room. There was no sheetrock on the walls, no door, no heat. He just put his mattress on the floor and slept in two sleeping bags under a quilt. One night he slept with a glass of water beside him and it was frozen when he woke in the morning. He was basically camping up there. Dave did go to Florida, and the trip to Detroit Metro Airport had a silver lining. It prompted the idea that Kathy should fly back to South Carolina rather than take that long drive home. This put her mind at ease. She was an elementary teacher, and the thought of starting second semester the day after that long trip back to their little upstairs apartment had been quite a worry.

The week after New Years, the house was back to just Dad, Mom, Paul, and Jimmy, with Mom being home alone most of the time.

I wasn’t there, but years later Mom told me that she continued to struggle with her depression and feelings of isolation the rest of that winter. Dad’s progress on the house was steady but seemingly uneventful to Mom who found herself making fewer and fewer trips upstairs while Dad was working. In addition to all the other causes of her feelings, those things I’ve mentioned in previous chapters, she was now going to be a grandmother. She was thrilled about that, but this was not how she had imagined it would be. Her daughter was far away. The grandchild would be far away. This bitter-sweet fact draped over her joy like the sheet that covered the new dining room light in its box upstairs. It was hard to fully enjoy the thought of what would someday be.

Mom still found solace at the piano and in the hymns and choruses she loved. One of them she especially enjoyed during this time in our family’s life was written by John W. Peterson" "I'm Not Alone." I haven’t heard it in decades, but I cannot sing it in my head without hearing Mom’s voice at the piano.

I’m not alone, while walking on life’s pathway,
I have a friend who walks along with me;
I’m not alone altho’ I’m often lonely,
My Lord divine is by me constantly.
So when the storm and trial assail me,
And earthly friendships fail me,
I’ll sing and smile o’er ev’ry mile
Till I reach my heavenly home;
And, so, I, journey o’er hill and valley
I’m not alone: my Savior walks with me.
So when the storm and trial assail me,
And earthly friendships fail me,
I’ll sing and smile o’er ev’ry mile
Till I reach my heavenly home;
And, so, I, journey o’er hill and valley
I’m not alone: my Savior walks with me.

It was in those drab days of April when all the snow is gone and earth begins to thaw but bare trees show no buds of what spring has in store...it was in those empty days that Mom and Dad got news that changed their life and nearly every unwritten chapter of those unsettled years out in the woods.

Jack and Kathy were moving home. Neither of them wanted to start the parenthood chapters of their life so far away. Home is where they wanted to be. A home of their own near home that is. Where that was, they didn’t know. Where they’d work they didn’t know. Kathy planned to take at least one year off once the baby came. Jack was working full-time but there was good work to be found in Michigan so why not get a job up there?

When they called to share the news, they didn’t want to impose, but they needed to start making plans and they wondered...just wondered...if it would be alright if they lived there in the basement until they found a place of their own. It would only be for a few weeks right before the baby was due, but they wanted to make sure it was okay with Mom and Dad.

“Okay? Okay? Of course it’s Okay!” Mom was beside herself. “That’ll be no trouble at all!”

“No trouble at all,” Dad laughed, “Your bed is right where you left it.”

To be continued....
The final chapters of Unsettled will be in epilogue form. Think of it as the little “here’s how things turned out” updates that are sometimes inserted in the end credits of a movie. I have reasons for wanting to share more about these chapters from my life, reasons to tell briefly of the many happy years we spent upstairs in the decades to come, reasons to close the gap between that Christmas of 1975 and where we are today as a family.

I will do that someday, but for now I will be ending this long string of chapters, because where I am today, this very day, even as I type is where my parents were in 1976. They would become grandparents on June 25th when my niece Aimee came into this world. Today, January 29th, Julie and I are going to be first-time grandparents. I stayed home with my other daughter who came home from Chicago last night just for this event. We are expecting the call at any time, telling us the good news. This writing of Chapter 52 has been my way of pacing the floor, waiting for that call. And once it comes, I know my thoughts will rightly be very much in the present. I’ll share the news and some pictures here in the days ahead. Gotta go...the phone is ringing! I think this is it....

UPDATE: That phone call was indeed THE call as the post above this one indicates. I added the thoughts below at a later date:
There is always a risk of adding literal pictures to a song for Youtube clip; it can weaken a lyric that really needs no help to convey meaning. There are several images in the following clip that, in my opinion, do not enhance the song. Please ignore those and listen to the words. On the other hand, there are some images that artistically show the kind of despair and isolation my mother sometimes felt during these years of our life. As a child, and even as a teen, I didn’t notice her struggle. I only knew that she sang at the piano a lot, sometimes for hours at a time. She would wipe her eyes and blow her nose and turn the page. If we walked in, she’d just smile through the silent tears. Sometimes we’d stand and sing with her for a while. This was one of her favorites:


Blogger the walking man said...

It is or it's the worlds longest labor...updates please? Hows Mom and kiddo? Pops? Grandma and grandpa, everyone well? No heart attacks in the seniors I am assuming.

30/1/10 5:38 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

All's well. I'll post photos soon.

30/1/10 7:35 AM  

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