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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, February 26, 2010

Epilogue D Continued: "She Was From Kansas"

In the first part of Epilogue D, I summarized the first three years of my college social life, shared some thoughts about dating in general (for the present generation to read), and closed by hinting at my brother Dave's role in pointing out a nice young lady from Kansas. That is a picture of the young lady (far right; double-click to enlarge), sitting at the reception of my little brother Jimmy's wedding in 1993, but this Epilogue chapter begins fifteen years before that photo was taken. It begins the day I first saw that smiling face in the teal dress.

“So where did you see this girl?” I asked my brother Dave.

“We were in a line up at the administration building, and we just talked for like ten minutes. Anyway, it hit me about halfway through the conversation: ‘Tom ought to ask this girl out.’"

“What’s her name?”

“That’s the problem,” he sighed, “I didn’t ask her for her name, but I’ll point her out to you tonight at supper. She mentioned that she eats at the dining hall just three table over from where you and I sit.”

This may seem hard to believe, but there was a time when many colleges had sit-down, “family style meals” in the evening as part of the room-board-and tuition package. Nearly all colleges and universities have gone to a self-serve salad bar and smorgasbord approach, but at that time in the seventies, at least on our campus, all students gathered in huge dining hall about the size of an indoor football field. It was in that setting that Dave and I ate supper together as brothers for three years. On some busy days, that half hour was the only time we saw each other, and I look back fondly on that strange ritual of our otherwise surreal college days.

And so it was on an evening in late October that my brother Dave, at about 6:05 PM pointed to a cute brunette sitting at a table about fifty feet away. Her hair was trimmed in what was called a Dorothy Hamill, and even from that distance, I could see the freckles and Kansas smile my brother had spoken of. I kept watching her as we passed the service plates and ate. There was an earnest serenity about her as she talked and laughed with the others at her table. On a typical evening, I would have been interacting in much the same way, but that evening I was focused on an undisclosed face beyond those at my table.

“I’m tellin’ ya,” Dave whispered as he poured brown gravy on a mound of rice, “You need to get her name and ask her out.”

And so, after that meal, the stalking began. I hate to put it in those terms, but what else do you call it when a guy times his exit from a room to coincide with a complete stranger who is unaware that she is being followed? After the meal, she met up with a tall, tan girl whom I later learned was her best friend from Kansas. The two of them walked to the library about four city blocks away. I followed undetected. It's not like I was slipping in and out of shadows. I was fairly popular, knew lots of people, and typically walked with whatever friends I bumped into along the dozens of sidewalks on campus, but typically, my friends and I did not walk directly to the library after supper. So that night I just kind of followed the two girls from a distance and tried to act natural.

As it turned out, these two freshman girls had a paper due in English class and needed to grab some books to take back to the dorm. Yes, I confess, I watched the entire process from behind some book shelves. See what I mean? Stalker! When they went to the check-out desk, I slipped into the line behind them and looked around the Dorothy Hamill haircut as she signed the book slip: “Julie McNabb.” That was easy enough to remember.

I wish I could embellish the story here and say, that I came up with some great line, but at this time all I knew about her was she was from Kansas. I suppose, I could have said something like, “How ‘bout them Jayhawks?” Or “Toto, I‘ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” But no such lame lines came to mind. I had gotten what I needed to proceed: her name, and with that, I returned the book to its shelf, jogged back to my dorm, and found Julie's dorm and room number in the directory. No, I did not continue my stalking by going to her dorm and sitting outside the door. That would simply never happen at this university where young men were only allowed in the women’s dormitories on rare occasions and then only in the main floor lounge. No, I needed the dorm room number for another purpose.

This university was rich with traditions that had continued like clock-work since the Roaring Twenties. And every night at 10:00PM, a selected fraternity on campus ran with a long wooden box with five compartments, one for each dorm. (It looked something like a short ladder with wooden milk crates between the rungs.) This tradition was called “running notes.” I had pulled the duty many times and it was a lot of fun running from dorm to dorm collecting notes addressed to the girls dorms and then collecting notes in those dorms addressed to the men’s dorms. The fraternities were constantly trying to set new records for this strange steeple chase, but typically the round trip deliveries took about twenty minutes. Hundreds if not thousands of notes were delivered every night between 10:00 and 10:20 PM. The scene looked like “mail call” in some soldier movie, complete with whiffs of perfume and starry-eyed clutches to the chest as recipients floated back to their rooms.

This was before cell phones, before email (before PCs for that matter), before telephones were installed in each of the dorm rooms. (There were only pay phones located near the stairs of each hall and those were for “off campus” calls only.) I was surprised but happy to hear recently that thirty years later, in spite of all the more convenient ways to communicate person-to-person, the tradition of running notes every night at 10:00 continues on that campus. I think it’s great! Makes me feel like writing Julie a note right now… So I’ll wrap up this post.

Long story short (Did I just say that?)… I wrote a note to Julie that night and asked her to a concert that was coming to the campus on October 27th. The next night I got a note back...drum roll please...She said yes. I don’t remember much about the concert, but I do remember leaning over and whispering in her ear, "Nice night for a coon hunt." It was a complete non-sequitur, a line from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. She didn't know that but laughed anyway, and from then on, in the months ahead, we made each other smile and laugh and sigh more and more.

About a month later, her parents and two younger sisters came to visit the campus. I liked them; and the feeling was mutual. We continued dating the rest of that year. That summer, before I began working at Ford, I flew to Kansas and visited Julie in her own setting. I have now been to that very place well over a hundred times, and if you add up all the weeks, I have lived more than a couple years of my life in Kansas. My relationship with Julies parents has been wonderful from that first visit to this past Christmas that we spent there.

Of course, in 1978, neither Julie nor I knew any of this would be true when the picture below was taken. Julie had come to my house in August, just before we returned to college. The upstairs of the house was still not quite finished, the rooms were not yet carpeted, so Julie stayed in the guestroom of Kathy and Jack's apartment four miles up the road. (My niece Aimee was two at the time.)

During that short visit, I showed Julie all the highlights of Detroit. We took the Bob-Lo Boat to the amusement park at Bob-Lo Island (which a year later closed down); went to the top restaurant at the RenCen (which at the time was owned by Ford and the top floor revolved once every hour, but that function has since stopped working).On the day of this picture with my little brother Jimmy (in the basement kitchen of our house), we were going to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.  Yes, Jim was coming, too.

It was moments like this and thousands more that gradually made Julie feel like a part of our family (as I did hers). All the while our love and relationship became more and more like breathing out and breathing in until the thought of not spending the rest of our lives together seemed more and more unthinkable.

Upon graduating from college (one semester after that picture was taken), I suddenly had a strong desire to earn my master’s degree (partly as an excuse to continue in school with Julie). But first, I moved back to Michigan and found work as a full-time substitute teacher in the nearby L’anse Cruise school district. Julie and I wrote letters and called each other on the weekends. It was good living that half-year with Jimmy and my parents. I didn't know it at the time, but they were my last months home as a single man. Julie and I visited each other over the summer, and by September, we were on campus together again; this time, I was a teacher, a graduate assistant, in a two year program toward my Masters Degree.

After Christmas that year, I flew to Kansas with a plan. Everyone back in Michigan was waiting to hear if I followed through with it. On New Year's Eve ,1979 (Technically, we were two hours into 1980), I proposed and she accepted. (I'll write more about it someday.)  In the summer of 1980, in the tiny rural town of Melvern, Kansas, in the same little church where her parents had been married in 1953, Julie and I tied the knot that has held tight for thirty years (or should I say thirty years come June 28, 2010). And that is how the first four of five dominos doubled between 1975 and 1980.

I have written much more about my life with Julie and some of it may someday be posted here, but this epilogue is supposed to be a summary only, in the context of the unfinished house we would all someday share on holidays, so I'll let what I've said suffice for now. Years later, it was the photo above that prompted me to write the following to my little brother:

To My Brother Jim
Who Made Everything Matter More

You may sometimes wonder what you brought to our world,
how things were different than before.
I think I speak for all of us…
You made everything matter more.

The dinner table mattered more—not just
the gathering there but the table itself.
In fact, it was when you joined us elbow to elbow
that Mom’s dream of moving meals from the kitchen
to the maple dining room set came true.
(All that was missing was a true dining room.)

Christmas mattered more after you came.
The magic returned to each story told,
cherubic joy returned to the mundane programs,
and toys returned to the tree.
Little things mattered again—
like having flashbulbs and film.
It mattered more who our friends were.
How they felt about you played a part
in how we felt about them.
It mattered more who we dated.
And who we eventually married
had more to do with whether you liked them
than I suppose you’ll ever know.

It mattered more how we did in school.
And later, as a teacher, the details of your life
helped me balance for my students
the irretrievable time of youth
with the endless load of learning.

It mattered more to come home on vacation
and to have you come visit with Mom and Dad.
Your growth and growing talent marked time
in ways our own children later would.

Everything mattered more because of our love for you—
and the kind of looking up only a little brother can do.
You made us feel like heroes on our least heroic days.
And knowing that you were there
in ways I cannot say, gave us strength
to hold on through the storms of life and loss.
You even made a pair of black shoe laces matter more
on a dark day when quiet needs went unexpressed.

So when we laugh about the years
God’s providence did not ordain us share,
never wonder at His timing or
how things differed from before…
I know I speak for all of us…
You made everything matter more.
© Copyright 2003-05, TK, Patterns of Ink
1050

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Epilogue D "She Was From Italy"

The Purpose of Dating [Revised 2-22-10]

I had always given considerable weight to my brother Dave’s opinions. He was my closest sibling, though twenty-two months my elder. As seen in these Unsettled chapters, I often followed in his footsteps (or in the thin tire-tracks of his ten-speed). I’m confident that the feelings of having a younger brother “tagging along” are quite different in the eyes of the older brother. Perhaps that was why he forgot to fill out the paper-work that would put me on his dorm hall my freshman year. (More likely he didn’t think to do it.) We lived in separate dorms that first year, but by the fall of 1977, the beginning of my senior year, Dave and I were roommates. (He had changed his course of study, which lengthened his college years.)

By then, Dave was dating Jayne, his wife-to-be, though they were not yet engaged. I was dating no one at the time. True, I had been in and out of three or four relationships in college, but the “late bloomer” part of me was equally true of my ability to think of dating as much more than hanging around a lot with the girl I had the strongest crush on. Perhaps, the one exception to that was the girl for whom my shovel toiled that Christmas Break of 1975, but by then Brenda and I were no longer dating as such; however, our paths crossed regularly in classes (same major) with occasional lapses of lingering feelings that were difficult to define. As for my social life in the fall of 1977, I was a confused guy who had not gone on a date for about a month, and of course this caught my brother’s attention.
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We always took interest in each other’s dating life. Only once had Dave and I ever taken interest in the same girl at the same time. (This happened months before he had met Jayne.) The funny thing is, I don’t even remember the contested girl’s name. She was from Italy; petite with a pixie grin and doe-eyes like a waif in those Keane paintings from the Sixties. It was silly really. I had walked with this new student all the way across campus after a class. Her accent was fun to listen to, and when I told Dave about it, he told me that he had met her the day before and was thinking about asking her out.

“I was thinking about asking her out, too.” I said in mild protest, but in all honesty the idea had not yet germinated into a plan of action. My words were prompted mostly by the fact that Dave had just told me his intentions.

“I thought you liked what’s-her-name,” Dave said.

“Well, I do... sort of, but I don’t know where that stands.”

“If you’re going to ask this girl out, I’m not,” he said, and I felt bad that he was willing to concede with so little fuss.

“No, you go ahead,” I said. “You saw her first. I only met her today.”

“What’s that got to do with it?” Dave’s eyes scolded, “It’s not like I have dibs on her. You can’t call ‘shotgun’ for a girl like she’s the front seat of a car. If you want to ask her out, go ahead.”

“I am going to. I’m just telling you that I don’t care if you ask her out, too.”

“How weird is that, Tom!”

“It’s not weird. It’s just a date. It’s not like I like her.”

“Yeah, well, if you do like her, I don’t.”

“I don’t like her.”

“Then why would you ask her out?”

To see if I like her.”

“Well, I’m not gunna get mixed up in that,” he said. “That’s weird. What if you do like her. Then what if I like her. Then what if she likes one of us back—or worse yet: what if she likes both of us back. She is from Italy.”

“I think you’re confusing that with France.”

“Whatever! I’m just telling you I have lost all interest. So go ahead.”

“Well, I’ve lost interest, too.”

“You are pathetic, Tom. We’re you going to ask her out or not?”

“Yes, I was going to.”

“Then do it,” he dared. “I don’t care. She’s too young for me anyway.”

I’d painted myself in a corner and had no choice. If I didn’t ask the girl out, it would expose the fact that her stock had gone up simply because Dave had expressed interest in her. What Dave didn’t understand at the time, was that this cute Italian girl situation was more about endorsement than competition. I never felt competitive with Dave, mostly because I was never as good as he was at all the things we did in tandem (things I did mostly because Dave did them). This was true of drawing, swimming, diving, wrestling, cycling, skating, gymnastics, ping-pong—you name it. I was good at those things because Dave was my mentor, my big brother, but he was not my competition, and it’s a good thing because in most of those endeavors there was rarely a true contest. His backing out of this situation was unusual.

The girl from Italy with the swimming pool eyes and Mediterranean accent was likable in every way. It was a nice date as dates go, but I did not ask her out a second time. I had this geography thing that always crept into my so-called love life. I was and am a real Midwest, homebody guy, and after college, I planned either to return to Michigan or live within a day’s drive of my family. If I met someone from California, I knew it was a non-starter. Met a girl from Prince Edward Island, but we were just good friends. So this whole Italy thing was a short-lived romantic notion—probably from watching Three Coins in the Fountain with my sister Kathy. The thought of a transcontinental relationship between the Mitten and the Boot would never work, and I knew it halfway through that soon-forgotten date.

I believed, and still do, that dating "seriously" is pointless if it doesn’t show signs of life beyond the date; it must, at least, hold hints if not hopes that it could lead to a life-long, committed monogamous marriage. If you say after a date, “That was nice, but I don’t see it leading anywhere,” why keep dating? Just to “be in a relationship” or to avoid going to events alone?

(There are exceptions, I suppose. There are those, like the Apostle Paul who never marry, or those who put it off for various reasons like Sherriff Andy Taylor who seemed to have some meaningful courtships that led to neither inappropriate intimacy nor marriage through all the years of that long-running show. [It was in the spin-off, Mayberry RFD, that he and Helen married.] And it is true that my Emily and her husband Keith dated in high school and all through college, but such dating that goes from high school crush to college courtship to marriage is the exception not the rule. These thoughts are primarily concerned with dating in the teen years.)

Between the ages of 15 and 20 (or however one defines the period of “dating just to be dating” without the idea of courtship toward marriage), developing friendships is the key. Friendships are a different matter. For our three girls, we have strongly recommended socializing in groups. If "friendship" sounds too common and the relationship needs to include "dates," we encouraged double or triple dates. Group dynamics and the social skills and accountability of shared values within the group help keep things in perspective during the years when dating for its truest purpose is simply not chronologically possible. What's the point of getting "head over heals" at an age when only one of the two logical outcomes of dating can take place? Those two logical outcomes being (A) you will either eventually break up or (B) you will eventually get married.

Since the 1950's, the average age of marriage in America has risen from 22 (men) and 20  (women) to 27 (men) and 25 (women). This is primarily due to two factors: First, about 60% of high school graduates now go directly into college (up from 30% fifty years ago). And second, the intimacies once strictly reserved for marriage (and therefore part of the incentive for entering into marital commitment) are now commonly traded among sexually active teens. In other words, societal norms have doubled the length of years of the "dating gauntlet" in the pre-marital stage of life while at the same time discounting a once-exclusive benefit of marriage. Think I’m wrong about the second reason? Consider this: Beginning in the 1960's and increases every decade, over 50% of couples who eventually tie the knot in marriage, live together prior to doing so. Based on every "date movie" since When Harry Met Sally (1989) to Valentines Day (now showing), 50% is low. That was almost unheard of before the "sexual revolution" of the 1960's.

Is it any wonder that the "try it before you buy" plan has led to the most promiscuous, mixed-up, insecure, non-committal "looking for love" generation in history? I am not judging; I'm saying that society reaps what it sows and may someday weep at what it laughed away over the past fifty years.

If the conclusions above hold water, and if we assume that parents are engaged in the formation of their teen's worldview while they live under our roofs, then our notions about "dating" are more important than ever. If, for instance, we allow dating to begin around age 15-16, our sons and daughters may be managing these emotions, pit-falls, and relationships for a decade before starting a home of their own.

Because of these trends, I encourage young people to postpone the entanglements of "exclusive/entitled relationships" until it is realistic to consider marriage being just a few years off. If they cannot resist forming a more serious relationship, it is wise to treat the person they’re dating as if they will someday be introducing them to their spouse. The thoughts typically go something like this:

"Imagine, at that point of introduction, how honorable it will feel to be able to look each other in the eyes and speak highly of the other person's wife or husband based on whatever time you shared in the past." Most often I'm speaking to young men, and I'll add, "Think of it this way. Suppose I'm correct. That means the girl you will someday marry is out there dating someone else right now, just like you are dating this girl now. If so, don't you hope that the guy your future wife may be dating will treat her as if the three of you will someday meet? As if he is not entitled to acts intended for marriage no matter how much the culture excuses it? Imagine, being in a dating relationship with the foresight to project how life may feel at a five or ten-year high school reunion."

In most cases, that is a very sobering conversation for young people. And since most young men "in love" are pretty sure the current girl is "the one," and they might just be that husband,  I remind them that if—and for most dating couples below the age of 21, this is an unlikely if—"IF, perchance, the girl you are now dating is indeed your future wife, she will still be introducing you to her husband, because you will not be that man until you look in the mirror together on your wedding night. Imagine how honorable it will feel to look in her eyes and know that you did not take the liberties of husband until you spoke the vows that made you hers."

How different the collective behavior and conscience of young people would be if they valued marriage and considered the fact that they are likely dating someone else’s future spouse. The comparison is not perfect, I know; there are many things that are appropriate for dating couples that would not be appropriate with someone else's spouse. But the thought does add an element of respect to dating. The kind of respect that can make a held hand speak volumes and bring the purest meaning to slightest touch; the kind of respect that keeps a gentle kiss from being demoted from an act of affection to a mere activity that leads to other actions. Treating the person you date with this kind of respect does not mean there can be no sparks, no romance; it simply asks that you keep in mind the difference between a candle and a conflagration. There is a time and place for unbridled passion, but it follows bridal vows.

Many readers are may be thinking, “Tom, I knew you were conservative, but I didn't think you were blind to reality. You do realize that we are living in a post-modern, post-Christian world, right? Do you actually tell 21st Century young people this old-fashioned, idealistic fluff ?”

Yes, I do. Ideals are always idealistic, they beg comparison between our hopes and our habits, between what we know is best and what we are willing to do (or do without) to achieve it. Marriage itself is an ideal as well as a rite. How shallow is it to someday expect fidelity in marriage when it was considered an unrealistic “ideal” in the dating years before? Marriage should be considered the beginning of intimacy not the end of some wild, hormonal ride. How silly is it to treat dating like bus stops at brothels or binging at a buffet, and then to assume the satiated appetite will suddenly be restored or limited by a vow on a wedding day?

I realize that the world does not endorse this advice—quite the opposite is modeled in nearly every “coming of age” flick and sit-com that Hollywood cranks out.

The world finds the mere talk of such ideals laughable, which is why I said “How different the collective behavior and conscience of young people would be if they valued marriage and considered the fact that they are likely dating someone else’s future spouse.” I personally think it would be a better world with far less heartache, far less divorce, and far fewer children standing in the lurch as if trapped in some sad painting.

Please don't misunderstand what I am saying. I know we are broken people in a broken world. Things do not always turn out as we or God originally intended. As Paul said Philippians 3, I'm not trying to talk or act as if I have never fallen short of the ideals I share with others, but as an educator, I dare not let go of ideals no matter how faded or outmoded critics say they are. Schools are constantly striving toward ideals, hoping to make the best of each student's situation, of each classroom environment. Teachers are constantly assessing: "Wouldn't it be better if..." and implementing those ideas. If this is true of our world from 8:00 to 3:00, we dare not accept that it is futile to direct teens toward what is best in their personal lives.

Ideals are not a yardstick used to beat down offenders who fall short of them; they are not haughty medals to be worn about the neck. Ideals are lights along the path of what is best; they help us see beyond what is to what was meant to be.
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"Meant to be." Sounds like the kind of thing people in love say. Where was I? Love? Dating?...

Oh, yes, I was talking about a cute girl from Italy that my brother and I once met. The point of my including that blip in my "dating" radar was to shed some additional light on this brotherly relationship in order to explain why I gave such credence to Dave in a similar conversation many months later. By then, the fall of 1979, he was very serious with Jayne, and concerned that I was "not dating" anyone at the time. He came into our dorm room, shut the door, and told me he had just met the nicest girl from Kansas.

"What does Jayne think about that?"

"I'm not saying 'nicest girl' for me. I'm talking 'nicest girl' for you."
0825-63-0942
More about that Kansas girl in "Epilogue D Continued."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Unsettled Epilogue C: The Dominos Doubled

Throughout these Unsettle chapters I have referred to the first four kids in my childhood home as dominos and “stair-steps." It was true of nearly every family we knew during the “Baby Boom” that followed WWII. Lot’s of kids in big families born about a year or two apart. In our case, four children were born in the four years between March, 1952, and  April, 1956. That is the six of us at a Bell Christmas party in East Detroit, 1961. Kathy, Paul, and Dave were in consecutive grades, which later meant there were years when our family was represented in all three grade levels (7,8,9) of junior high school and high school (10,11,12)—and even a year and a half when they were all at the same college together. It often worked that way for baby-boomers.

This Unsettled story began in 1968 for two important reasons. I was in sixth grade, twelve years old, the last of my family to darken the doors of Huron Park Elementary School in Roseville, when a special blessing came to our home. In May of that year, my little brother Jimmy was born. Five months later, in the fall, we bought the property as told in Chapter One. This picture was taken about two years after that, the year before Kathy left for college.

Back in Chapters 26 and 27, I told of our families struggle with adjusting to Kathy’s departure for college—heightened by the fact that it meant all of us would be gone in the next four years. Toward the end of Unsettled, Kathy was married in the summer of 1975, our last summer in Roseville before the move to the basement of the house. That's me leaning on our front porch. Note the un-mowed lawn and Ford in background. Kathy's wedding started another domino effect with the oldest four children, by June of 1980, all four of us were happily married.

That's Kathy and me at Paul's wedding. By the second Christmas in the house (Yes, we were still in the basement), Paul introduced us to his girlfriend, whom he had met at the nursing home before taking the job at Ford. (She was an employee not a resident.) Her name was (is) Dee, and from the start it seemed like she was “the one” for Paul. They were married in February of 1977, and are still happily married with three girls (and their first granddaughter on the way). You may recall that Paul was very upset that we had decorated the tree without him back in Chapter 46. Well, Paul remains a Christmas decorating enthusiast and hangs 40,000 lights on and around his house each year. (Back in 2004, I wrote a true story about the time he accidentally froze his butt to the roof while hanging lights on a dormer.)

Then in 1978, my brother Dave, who had graduated from college and moved to eastern Pennsylvania to work for Aetna Insurance. It was not a random placement, he was engaged to marry his college sweetheart who lived there. In January, I was his best man. He later went back to school to get his teaching degree and he has been a teacher ever since. (In 1996, Dave in his family moved back to Michigan. In fact, they lived in the basement apartment of the ol’ homestead until they were able to move into the place they now call home.) Here are some lines Dave once wrote about his first year of marriage:

"I was single in Altoona, Pennsylvania for the first year. It was not cozy coming home to a cold small trailer at night. There was no mom to say, “how was your day”. Or, “Hi, honey, dad will be home about five. We’ll eat then”. As the saying goes, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. At night I would lie in bed wondering if my independence was worth it. Sleep was always a comfort in that, no matter what, tomorrow always brought a new day. In January, I married Jayne my college sweetheart. This was one of the best things that ever happened to me. God was gracious to give me this woman. It certainly changed my life for the better. She transformed the trailer into a home as only she could. It was nice. Coming home to her was and still is the highlight of my day. In her, God had given me my best friend and partner. I had heard sermons on the Bible's standard for the virtuous woman. In truth, I had never really paid too much attention to them. After all, the sermon was about women. It was only after I came to know and understand my wife that I realized just how gracious God was to me. Jayne is the physical embodiment of the “virtuous woman” described in Proverbs 31. She was so subtle in her approach that I didn’t realize how much I was growing to love her. She had filled the empty unexpected gap that had come along and that was fine. As I reflect back on the way God’s plan unfolded I am truly amazed. I had been given one of the greatest gifts of my life [push play arrow at that link], and I hadn’t even realized it. I was too naïve to know and understand that God was in control. God had brought me to the trailer in the woods to bring me closer to my new friend. It was a wonderful plan. My focus had shifted from my “mom and dad” mode to my soul mate and that was as it should be."

My brother Dave is a school teacher, but in much the same way that I operated a video business in the 1980s and 90s, he began one as well. When I moved to Michigan in 2000, I never got back in the business. (Except for thaose Thailand documentaries I made in 2007 and a few other promotional tor personal things I've put together.) Dave has continued to hone his skills, and the high definition equipment that is now within the budget of small business operators is remarkable. In his above paragraphs, he mentioned that Jayne made their first house feel like home. He sent me the following video over the weekend. It's just some experimental footage he shot using one of his newer cameras, but it does give you an idea of what he meant.



Epilogue D is coming this weekend. It will pick up in the summer of 1978 and summarize to the fourth domino that doubled when Julie and I were married in 1980. [By the way, I had to add some steps to the comment process due to high amounts of daily spam in the archives.]
0728

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Unsettled Epilogue B: 1976

The year before I wrote those lines about our house on the hill, during the second semester of my sophomore year, one of my professors (Mrs. Harris) kept me after class and asked me if I had ever considered changing my major from a "youth work" track to education. “I’ve had you in three classes, Tom, and I think you’d make a fine high school teacher.” [It was Mrs. Harris who taught my freshman speech class, the one in which I gave the persuasive speech entitled “Why You Should Build Your Own House.”] At first, I was merely flattered by Mrs. Harris’ kind words, but a couple weeks later she asked if I had given any more thought to her suggestion, and I had. By my twentieth birthday in April, it was official; I was on track to become an English teacher. (I also took as many classes as possible in speech, journalism, creative writing, and dramatic production, and all of them were classes I eventually taught.)

The ironic thing about this change in my major was that, until that time in my life, I was never very strong in English. In fact, if my high school teachers had been involved, they would have told Mrs. Harris. “Are you sure about this? The boy is a terrible speller [as readers of these chapters know]; he gets nervous about giving speeches in public; and he’s a slow reader. [All of these facts are still true. My slow reading is because I read aloud in my head as if to another person adding voices to dialogue, etc. The concept of “speed reading” is completely beyond my mental guard-rail. If I try too read fast, the words sound like a 45 RPM record spinning at 77 and my comprehension flies off the road faster than a mixed-metaphor in a blender. Consequently, my pages turn at the rate of conversation. It’s a pleasant walk not a run. The good news is I remember what I see along the way.]

In spite of these and other weaknesses, Mrs. Harris said I had a knack at communicating ideas in ways that made them easier to understand and remember. The fact that I had overcome some early struggles in my subject matter, according to her, would make me an even better teacher. People to whom school comes easily sometimes cannot relate to the full range of students in their classroom. Made sense to me, and more importantly, it seemed to make sense to hundreds of students through the decades [not “all” mind you but “hundreds” among the many hundreds is a safe assumption]. It was in spring of 1976 that I changed majors and chose between these two roads, and as Robert Frost said, “that has made all the difference.”

I came home at the end of my sophomore year and found work right away as a care-taker at the New Baltimore cemetery. More about that job can be read in a forthcoming series called “Earning Your Keep and Then Some.” I really liked that job and would have kept it all summer, but something much better came along, and in order to pay for college I had to take it.

When my sister Kathy and her husband Jack came home, he began looking for a job. As you recall, Kathy was due to have her first child in late June. They began living in the basement with us just a couple weeks before my niece Aimee was born. We boys moved our mattresses from our make-shift room up to the corner bedroom where Paul had spent much of his winter and spring. By then the lack up heat was not an issue, and Dad had gotten the bathroom in working order. Sheetrock was now on the walls, but there were still no doors or curtains to close, which didn't matter to us three boys.

Before taking her teaching job down south, my sister had taught for one year in Michigan and the father of one of her former students was in charge of human resources at the Ford Vinyl plant in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. (The plant no longer exists—mostly because there is almost no vinyl used in car seats and interior “headliner” anymore, but it was a huge plant about ten-minutes from our house.)

Because Jack already had is college degree he was interviewed for a “white collar” job at a different plant, a job he held for over thirty years. Paul and I rode in on Jack’s coat-tails so to speak. We were hired as “summer replacement” along with a dozen other college students. We were supposed to work only three months (since exceeding 90 calendar days introduced many UAW issues). Paul’s and my official title was: “multi-colored printer operator.” Come late August, I went back to school and Paul stayed on right past those 90 days. In fact, he stayed on for over thirty years and still works there even as I type these words.

On June 25th, which also happened to be my brother Dave's birthday, my niece Aimee was born. Two weeks later was the biggest 4th of July celebration in our nation's history. It was our national Bicentennial, but Aimee's birth was the highlight of our summer. I was working seven-days-a week with a couple 12-hour shifts thrown in for good measure, and I don't remember much else about that summer. Jack and Kathy got an apartment a few miles away. Their place had a pool so between that and our new niece, we boys were there as often as possible. We did go on a short camping trip in August. Dad bought a used pop-up trailer for $400, an old Apache; it was a true upgrade from the tent we'd used for over a decade. (The picture below was taken on that trip.)

Two note-worthy things happened in the fall of 1976, which was the start of my Junior Year. First, Dave and I drove the old Ford Country Squire station wagon back to school by ourselves. That's the old station wagon there. That photo was taken on that camping trip (based on the 1976 bicentennial plate), which would make Jimmy 8-years-old.
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The old car had over 140,000 miles on it and was on its last legs. In fact, just a year and three months before it had literally lost a wheel while making that same trip except headed north. Dad told us to do whatever it took to get that car to South Carolina and then sell it as is to whoever would give us a hundred bucks for it.

While climbing one of the long mountain roads in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, the engine overheated. Steam was spewing in a plume from under the hood. We stopped at the crest of the highway, found an empty pop bottle and proceeded to pour semi-clear water from a roadside puddle into the radiator one bottle at a time. It took several bottles of water, and lots of steam, but the radiator was eventually full again, and we headed on our way.
A few days after arriving on campus, Dave and I went shopping at a nearby mall where some Mexicans (I say that only as a fact with no other insinuations) saw the “For Sale” sign in our window, and paid us $100 in cash on the spot. We pulled the title from the glove box and signed it over so fast that as we walked back to campus we realized that we had forgotten to take off the license plates. The next day (being Sunday) we called home. Dad was glad we sold the car but not happy about the plates, but we assured him that surely these fine upstanding citizens would get a proper plate.

Two months later, we happened to see the old family car two lanes over in traffic—you guessed it: it still had our plates. I have a feeling that car had those plates until it died, but as far as I know it was involved in no illegal activities—at least nothing that was discovered by law enforcement.

The other thing that happened in the fall of 1976, was much more related to the house.

I mentioned that Jack and Paul worked at Ford. Well, in the fall of 1976, Ford got picked as a target for a big UAW labor strike. I could say a lot about unions and strikes and the mess Michigan is in because “labor” went way beyond the tipping point that free markets could bear, but I won’t. I only mention the strike because it led to a “hidden blessing” for my father. While he and Mom did not have the money to pay Paul and Jack for their time during those weeks of the strike, he did offer them free meals in exchange for work.

Paul had been paying “board” during the two years since he had not been in college. Kathy and Jack had lived in the basement with us for only a few weeks. During the strike they slept at the apartment, but Jack, Kathy, and little Aimee spent their days at Mom and Dad’s. The spending those days together was wonderful for Mom. Just one year before, she had been at a low-point in life, feeling lost in the woods, missing us kids--especially her only daughter who had moved down south. For Mom and Kathy both, sharing the duties that come with a ten-week-old baby was the best thing about the strike.

Dad took the blessing another way. It was during the strike that he, Paul, and Jack bricked the outside of the house and built the chimney on the inside. Just as they were finishing up the work, and just as Dad put the chimney to work by heating the house with wood, the strike was over, and things went back to normal for everyone. But make no mistake, had Ford not gone on strike in 1976, it would have been another year before the masonry of the house was done, and the house would not have looked like this at our second Christmas there.
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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Unsettled Epilogue A

1976-1977

Through much of my adult lifetime, I had intended to write some of the stories now in the Unsettled posts of the past eighteen months, but what triggered the project in 2008 was the aftermath of my mother’s death and the subsequent family business with the five children, primarily deciding what to do with our homestead. There is a part of us that would want to keep things as they are for as long as possible, keep the place as a kind of "retreat." Speaking personally, it has been that to me for many years. If the land were a working farm or income property, it would be an easier decision; if we had a reliable, caring family to rent the home for as long as it made sense to both parties, it may be a different matter. If one of us siblings was in a situation to buy the house as a primary or second home, it might be a different matter.

But at the time of this writing, none of those three options seems likely, and the truth is, this is a beautiful house in a wonderful setting, and it is meant to be someone’s home, a family’s home.

This place is meant for a family who enjoys being close to the Metro Area while at the same time being “out in the woods"; a family who enjoys the change of seasons; that enjoys walks in the russet and gold of autumn; sledding the hill or skating the creek in the winter; and looking for Trilliums in late spring; a family that can step into a forty-year-old barn made from native logs and enjoy telling the story of how it was built and called “a work of art” by the inspector; a family that can look at the well under the stairway and fully understand the weeks of work that sunk it crock-by-crock 28 feet deep years before the house was there, back when the land was home to some of the vanishing wildlife squeezed out by the neighboring development in the township.

True, the house is not one of those super-sized “McMansions” that were so popular at the turn of the century, but if you’re looking for a home, built like a rock, with a story behind each beam and brick, a house that can easily be heated with wood split in your own backyard, with a breath-taking view from every window and lots of cozy living space inside, including a four seasons room, a back patio and front porch with a swing, a walk-out self-contained basement, a huge walk-up attic, and ample two-car attached garage with its own attic large enough to make a small apartment or workshop.... This “house on a hill in a woods somewhere” may very well be just the place for you.

Your family may be the one to pick up where these chapters left off. If so...if our house is now the place you call home, and if you are sitting there at one of those windows or curled up beside a fireplace with these pages, know that you were the imaginary reader in my mind as I wrote them. True, I also wrote for family and friends, but mostly I wanted you, the someday owner of this house, to better understand the walls and woods around you in hopes of bringing deeper meaning to each day you spend here.

And if someday, you see a stranger, young or old, there at the edge of the road looking down the long driveway, have no fear. It is probably one of us, or one of our children or grandchildren who has come across a copy of this book and come by the homestead for themselves to see if it is still as I’ve described. That is the purpose of this epilogue. It is a summary of how the house and the family in it continued to grow in the three decades after the Christmas of 1975. It will be more anecdotal and disjointed than the chapters before it, but I trust it will still be of interest.

1976-1977

When I headed back to college after Christmas, I looked at the house as we pulled out the two-track drive. None of the exterior brick was on the house; the walls were Celotex sheeting wrapped in tar-paper, and to me it looked like “a shadow of black half-hidden by trees of gray,” an image I recalled a year later, when I headed back to college and the walls were encased in the old brick Dad bought from the cleared RenCen site in Detroit. Along with the exterior brick, the chimney now stood in place from the basement floor right up through the roof, and the basement was heated by a wood-buring stove, which made the second part of the image possible: "And an arm of smoke gropes from its stack and waves with a lonely sway." It was in the weeks after that second Christmas in the basement that I wrote the following poem. A year after writing it, I entered the lines in a creative writing contest and won first place. It was the first "prize" I'd ever won for writing. [I say that as if many followed. It was actually the first of very few honors I earned with a typewriter.]

A House in Winter's Hold

There’s a house on a hill in a woods somewhere,
in a woods where no one sees
(save those who pass with a lasting stare
at its glimmer of light through the trees).
In winter it’s a shadow of black
half-hidden by trees of gray,
and an arm of smoke

gropes from its stack
and waves with a lonely sway.


Then comes a whistling winter wind.
The house shuts tight

with a shoulder pinned
against a threatening door
and waits for what’s in store.


A blizzard is coming;

windows are humming;
to the wind’s tune

the shutters are drumming.
The house is clenched in Winter’s hold—
freezing, frosting, frightening cold,
bare tress bending to and fro
in the pageantry of snow:
sifting, blowing, drifting, growing,
Autumn’s reaped and Winter’s sowing—
sowing seeds of icy white;
snow sifts through the moonless night;
falling thick with crystal frills
skirting ‘round the timbered hills;
lacing lace on dry leaves curled,
still clung to branches bare;
and covering softly all the world
that the house on the hill

in the woods somewhere
will ever, ever know.

© Copyright 1978, TK, Patterns of Ink

This was one of the first poems I ever wrote. (The title never seemed right but I left it all unrevised.) It was an experiment in rhythms and alliteration. The setting was inspired in part by Frost's "An Old Man's Winter Night" and the knowledge that a part of my father could happily live that life... but the lines were based mostly on that fine but foreboding feeling that comes when a family is snowbound in a winter storm as we were more than once in our house on a hill deep in the woods (which, by the way, is not in the house in the first picture. The shutters were drumming only in my imagination; our house never did get shutters, but they were part of Dad's original plan.)
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Thursday, February 04, 2010

A Candle Came
.
A candle came
to mid-day light
and even then it shone
bright with the hope
that one tiny flame alone,
a wick aglow in a window,
can change the night;
its faint and flickering cry
from two points far apart
can burn just bright enough
to catch the eye
and turn a wandering heart
t’ward home.
© Copyright 2010, TK, Patterns of Ink

“Her name means light,” my daughter Emily said as we began to leave the hospital room last Friday, “I mean… in case you want to know what Nora means for something you might write someday.”

I smiled, because I knew it was Emily's way of planting a seed (if not giving me a small homework assignment), but nothing clicked at the time, and I forgot about it until last night.

After leaving school around 5:30PM, I dropped off a meal that one of our secretaries made for the young couple’s first week at home with a new baby. I stayed about a half hour, holding Nora in my arms the whole while. She opened her eyes only once. Toward the end of my stay she did make the faintest cry while being changed, but the rest of the time she just slept and squirmed and made cute baby noises.

Before I gave Nora back to Emily, she said, “I read your blog. That was real nice, Dad."
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"Did you read all the comments"

"Yes, those were nice, too. Did you see the pictures from the delivery room on Facebook? I just put them up today.”
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I hadn’t yet seen the pictures, and since I’m not on Facebook [Julie is], Emily pulled them up on her computer right there in the front room. As we were looking at pictures, she showed me the one I included above and said, “Isn’t it cool how the light caught her face just as the doctor was trimming the cord? She’s is less than a minute old in that picture.”

It was a remarkable picture taken at 1:43 in the afternoon by a new father in a moment of sheer relief and joy. When Emily mentioned the light on Nora's face, I remembered what she had told me Friday about the meaning of her name.

Just then I noticed that the candles in the front window had come on while we were sitting there.[i.e. small brass-based window candles Emily inherited from my mother’s house]

"Were those on a second ago? I didn't see them." I asked.

"They're on a timer to come on at dark," she said, clicking to the next picture.

That's the picture there to the right. It made me laugh because it looks like Nora was smiling and winking at her daddy's camera as her footprints were being taken for the birth certificate. There were lots of other great snapshots, and I chuckled and said "Awww" a lot in the way that only grandpas can do without sounding light in the loafers.[I mention that last part for my fellow grandpa, Keith’s dad, who has been a good friend through the years and shares my growing inclination toward misty eyes and wonder as we enter this new phase of life.]

It was after six o'clock and time for me to head home where Julie was making some chicken corn chowder for supper. I gave Nora back to her mommy, and stepped out the back door to my car.

The window candles again caught my eye as I backed out of their long driveway, but I thought nothing more about it. Then this morning, about ten minutes before my alarm went off, I woke with some lines tumbling around in my head. This happens to me sometimes so I keep a notepad in my bed stand, but to be honest I haven’t touched it in months. I scribbled the lines down, and to my surprise they still made sense after I took my shower.

I’m sharing this explanation only because it’s strange how, like in some dreams, there is a connection between seemingly unrelated events and a much more concrete image they later bring to mind. Only Emily will know first-hand the tie between real life conversations and the scribbled lines, but I hope someday they bring a smile to Nora’s face and remind her of the meaning of her name.
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