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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


Blogger Jo said...

Aw... what a nice story. I love reading about other people's lives. You could make a movie out of this.

Julie has more than a passing resemblance to Dorothy Hamill. She's very much like her. What a lovely story.



2/3/10 12:09 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Hi, Jo,
Well, are things getting back to normal in Vancouver, BC? I'll bet it was crazy haveing all that action come to town.

I had a very busy string of days last week and didn't open POI. Missed this comment. Thanks for stopping by.

Julie and I miss the Winter Games, too. They were especially fun to watch this time around.

10/3/10 6:48 AM  

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