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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

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Unsettled Epilogue E-1: "The Weight of Waiting"

In July 1980, after my wedding in Kansas, my sister and her husband began a project that made my parents very happy. They were building a house, and better yet, they were building on a section of frontage within the 14-acre rectangle of our property. In time, they would become Mom and Dad's nearest neighbors.

In order to be fair, which was a very high value to Dad, especially in family matters, Dad had drawn up five lots along the frontage of our land so that each of us kids, if we so desired, would be able to settle there as Kathy and Jack had decided to do. The center lot was actually Mom and Dad's required frontage through which their own driveway led back to the house set deep in the woods.

At various times in the decades ahead, each of the children had opportunity to weigh the matter with their own spouse: Do we want to move back home, so to speak, and build our own house on the property? But as is true in any marriage "back home" may have a different meaning to the spouse who didn't grow up there. In our family's case, only Kathy and Jack made thoughts of such a move a reality.
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Through the centuries, corners of large family farms, ranches, and woodlands were parceled off to sons and daughters, making it possible for generations to live within walking distance of each other. I’ve seen this in Iowa, Kansas, and other agrarian settings. But in post-industrial/post-modern America when a family’s location depends almost entirely on careers and job markets, building on "the family land" is actually a very complicated decision. Kathy was the only one of us whose future plans seemed stationary enough to settle on our settled land. Between the other four grown children, there have been more than a dozen major geographic relocations during adulthood (including stints in Texas, Arizona, South Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Iowa, to name just a few). Until recent years, there was typically a collective distance of 1,000-2,000 miles between my siblings homes and the homestead.
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Today we all live within a short drive of one another and a short drive from the land. (I’m a few hours away in west Michigan; the others are in the Macomb/Oakland County area.) Each of us has different stories of how we came back to Michigan, but Kathy never left (other than that one year of teaching down south), and at the time of this writing, she and Jack still live on the land of these chapters.

A few weeks after returning home from my wedding, Dad took his yellow John Deere tractor and dug the basement of their house. [This is a picture of Dad and Kathy's daughter Aimee. The backhoe was not attached at the time. Double-click to enlarge.] Once the basement was dug, Kath and Jack took out a mortgage and sub-contracted the various phases of construction, which was scheduled for completion in May of 1981. From start to finish, it was a nine-month project.

This presented a bit of a dilemma for Dad: Seven years after pouring the foundation of the house, the main level was still not quite ready to move into. He and Mom and Jimmy were still living in the basement. From their front porch, Kathy's house would now be visible through the woods, and in a matter of months her daughter would be living in a finished and furnished home. Like Aesop's fable of The Tortoise and the Hare, it was very hard for Mom to watch the swift progress of contracted work compared to Dad's slow and steady work done in his spare time.

Dad could simply not bring himself to the point of paying others to do what he could do with greater satisfaction himself. He had excellent credit history. No problem there, but he also had a visceral avoidance of borrowing money (or anything for that matter). He had never mortgaged a house, and wasn't about to now. I have hinted at this in previous chapters (or other stories).  It was a generational thing, but it also reflects the difference between being 25 and 50. (It may have also been deeper than that: my father's dad had been less careful about debt, and he died unexpectedly at age 59.) I'm not saying Dad's plan was best. Many years later, in the winter of 1995, he expressed regret that he hadn't compromised his goal for Mom's sake. Contrary to the cliché, hindsight isn't always 20-20; sometimes it requires bifocals.

So there you have it,  the truth that I seriously considered not including in this epilogue: Dad and Mom and Jimmy were still living in the basement of their dream house the summer I was married. Yes, we moved into the house (the basement) in the fall of 1975, and they were still living downstairs five years later.

The upstairs was almost done. It lacked only carpeting and furniture. For more than a year, they were on the brink of moving upstairs, but Mom wisely refused to live on the main floor as they had lived below. "Don, I'm not moving up until it's really done, and I'm not taking any of this old furniture up there." She knew too well that Dad's ability to "make do" would easily continue in the rest of the house, and she longed for the time when she could have company over without making jokes about how they lived.

As was true of all the trials of my mother’s life, she found many ways to laugh about living in the basement, but as any woman reading this can imagine, there were also times when the weight of her waiting swept over her in waves of despair. Dad on the other hand, was still putting in full-time days at Bell an hour away in Detroit, and coming home tired but finding fulfillment in getting at least one more task done upstairs before going to bed. He still looked forward to Saturdays, not for recreation, but for a solid day in which to work uninterrupted. To Dad, the house had become a live-in, long-range task--almost a hobby, as had been all the other steps of settling the land.

This completely different perspective on the house was perhaps the greatest test of my parent's marital strength, and we kids watched and learned about the weight of waiting on Mom’s part and the perseverance required to set and achieve long-range goals on Dad’s part. Through the decades to follow, for each of us children, it was the durability of their love, the strength of the tie that binds for life, that served as a framework for all the other romantic notions we like to think are the secrets to a happy marriage. Tingly feelings and starry eyes may start the fire, but it takes work and faithfulness to keep it burning as feelings come and go. The love we observed in Mom and Dad's marriage had glimpses of romance and routine affection. These things were there at the beginning and became stronger toward the end, but the quality that defined their commitment to each other--the quality that perhaps explains the 148 uninterrupted years of their five children's marrieages--was durability. Romance is fine but only if the relationship endures:  A vase of roses is only safe if the table you put it on is solid.

During these years, Dad became an avid ping-pong player. For five years, the table was set up in our basement in Roseville, and it would become a focal point in our new basement for over a decade. When we were not playing (for hours at a time), we were having Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners around that green table (covered in white sheets to dress it up a bit). [That's my Schwinn Continental in the background. I still enjoy that bike thirty years later.]

The basement was never intended to be the main living space of the house, and Dad never intended to live in it for all those years. Actually, the rest of the house was well designed, but its functionality was based upon assumptions that were not yet in place: primarily, the missing features were the circle drive to the front door, and the breezeway and garage connected to the side door. Dad designed the breezeway to be the most-used entrance to the house for family; and the front door for guests. When he sketched the plans of the house in his journal, years before the foundation was poured, he envisioned that we’d pull into the attached garage, use the ample room and landings in the garage stairway for the place we’d kick off shoes and hang up coats, then step into the large inviting breezeway with the large windows and sliding doors, and views to the front and back woods. From there, we’d step into the kitchen stairway (or go downstairs to the right).

That was how the house would someday function, but the garage was not built until 1986, and the circle drive and breezeway didn’t come until…well, I’ll get to that part soon enough. For now, I only mean to say that for five years our family and guests had been parking their cars at the end of the sidewalk that leads to the back door, and that door—the basement door—had inadvertently become the main entrance to the house.

At times, the weight of this waiting was more than Mom could bear. As this story has hinted at many times, to Mom the “dream” part of whatever dream house, she and dad would build was the dream of raising her family there. That was true of the house on Atkins Road in 1960; and for her it was even true of the house they didn’t build in Roseville. That was definitely Dad’s intention, too, but he wanted it to be the kind of place he’d always wanted to raise his family. When he bought the property in 1968, he thought is would all come together sooner. He misjudged the pace of years as we all do in living them.

As I got older, I was more sensitive to Mom’s struggles. I’m not sure they were any different than before, but ironically when I lived at home, I simply overlooked them. It was when I married, and as Julie and I began feathering our own little nest (a very small house indeed) that I began to fully understand a woman’s need to make the walls and floors around her feel like home. In time, I better understood the weight of Mom’s wait. It was after a phone call with Mom during a time of discouragement about the house, that I wrote her a letter, a letter that I would find decades later, tucked in a drawer of her china hutch.

Dear Mom,
I know it seems as if you’ll never live upstairs, and sometimes it seems too late now that four of us are married and living someplace else. I know you always wanted it t be like Walton’s Mountain with all of us on the land and new house together before the growing up and marrying began. It just took a little longer that’s all; a little longer than we thought what with college and all. I feel bad about that. But you know that for as long as I can remember, you have been praying for our “life partners.” Remember how it used to bother me when you’d say, ‘I’m already praying for her—I don’t mean praying that you’ll find someone; I mean praying for the specific girl because she’s out their living and breathing right now. We just don’t know her yet, but I pray for her as if she’s a part of this family already because someday she will be. I pray for each of your life partners everyday that way.”

I used to hate to hear you say that because I wasn’t even thinking about marriage. I was at Burton [Junior High] when you first started telling me that, and I’d just smile and think you prayed about the strangest things in the strangest ways, but now here I am married (and Dave and Paul and Kathy, too) and pretty soon you’ll be moving upstairs to the finished house and it makes you sad because we’re not there. It took longer than we thought; that’s all. But think of it this way. This is going to be the house we all come home to; the house where all your grandkids will run around and play just like Aimee does now. Paul’s kids; Dave’s kids; my kids. Someday even Jimmy’s kids. We’ll all be home for holidays and summer weeks, and we’ll all be yelling Good Night from room to room just like we did before only there will be more of us. Someday we’ll be all over the place, and you and Dad will be playing with the grandkids on the attic stair behind the banister. Our kids will love that stairway just the same way we loved playing on Grandma Spencer’s stairway. It’s all going to be fine, Mom. You’ll see. It will be fine, Mom. It will be the place we all consider home. It already is.
Love,
Tom
1308
To be continued in Epilogue E-2...

2 Comments:

Blogger kelly said...

Hi.. my name is Kelly.. I saw that you posted a comment on my blog a while back, and yes I found you from reading Jodi ferlaak's blog. I have been following you for over a year. I enjoy reading your blog. I love the way you write. Keep on posting, when I am not doing homework (college at 37 is hard work) I read, blogs, books, stories...whatever I can get my hands on...

10/3/10 12:34 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Kelly,
I'm not sure what the difference is between the Patronus Incognitus blog and this one, but this (my main blog) doesn't put little pictures up of who has listed the site on their own. (Maybe no one has listed this one.) Anyway, that is where I saw the link to your site, and when I saw all of those scrapper lay-outs, I was sure that somehow my friend Jody was the point of connection. She is an avid scarpper, too. Her kids are in our school.

Nice blog, and congrats on going to college at this time in your life. One of my math teachers went back and got her degree as you are doing. She has four kids, and you're right, it is a challenge, but she did it with honors. Keep up the good work. Glad POI, is an encouragement.

10/3/10 6:43 AM  

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