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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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Four in Corduroy: May Day: Part III (conclusion)

Continued from Part II

The knocking at the door sounded first like a mouse in the warrens of the wall, and Pete made a mental note to put fresh cheese on the traps he had emptied the night before. Oddly, he didn't mind that mice continued to find new ways into his private fortress. He considered it an ongoing game whenever he was there to play. But the second knocking sound, he could tell, was coming from the door, a fact that puzzled him much more than the thought of a mouse.

Opening the door, he saw the crying boy with tulips in his hand.

“Where did you come from?” Pete asked, as he tucked in his undershirt, hoping to look more presentable.

“From over there,” the little boy said, pointing with the tulips to his house across the road.

“I thought I’d seen you before. Did you bring me some flowers?”

“No. I didn't bring 'em—I took ‘em. See?” He pointed to the ground.

Pete stepped out his door for a better look at a flower bed he had not tended in years. He had planted the tulip bulbs beneath both windows the first year he moved into the house, but since that time,  they typically bloomed and withered on the stem while he was out to sea. Seeing them now in the little boy’s hand was the first time he had paid attention to the tulips in years. Even so, his first thoughts about the boy pulling them from place were anything but kind.
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“Can we fix ‘em?” the little boy sniffled.

“Well, lemme see,” said Pete, taking one of the flowers from the little boy's hand. He bent down and tried to stand it up in the soil then caught it when it fell. “That's not gunna work.  I guess there’s no way to unpick a flower is there?”

“I’m sorry, Mister Pete,” the boy cried. “I picked ‘em for my mom, but then my dad got mad, and told me they were yours…”

“You picked ‘em for your mother?”

“Yes, for May Day. Mrs. Palmer told me to…”

“Mrs. Palmer told you to pick my tulips?” he said scratching his bald head.

“No. Not your tulips. Just flowers. I didn’t know these were…”

“So today’s May Day, eh?” Pete interrupted. “I forgot they even called it that.”

“Me, too,” the little boy agreed. "I didn't even know May was an inch until today, but Mom says this is the first day of it."

"May Day..." Mister Pete said softly. Then repeated it clearly, "May Day."

Mister Pete looked across the road at the boy's house, took a deep breath and said, “Your old man was right, you know?”

“What old man?” he asked.

“Did I say that? I meant… Your father was right. You really can’t go around taking people’s flowers without asking. Daisies in the ditch are one thing, but flowers by a house were likely put there by the folks inside.”

“Did you put these here?” the little boy asked.

“Not those flowers exactly, but yes. Years ago, I planted tulip bulbs there. I don’t know what I was thinking. I'm never here to see ‘em, but they keep coming back each year with or without me.”

“I didn't mean to steal 'em,” the boy sniffled.

Mister Pete winced at the word steal, then shook his head. "Do you know what 'may -day' means on a ship?" he asked. "It's actually French—looks like 'M'aider' with an 'r" at the end, but it's pronounced just like May Day.  Know what it means in French? It means 'Help me!' We get the word maid from it. Know what a maid is?"

The boy shook his head "no."

"Well, never mind. Anyway, if we hear 'may-day' over and over on the ship radio, we know somebody's in big trouble and needs help. It's just like S-O-S. Did you know that?"

"No," the boy said again, "but I am in trouble...big trouble." He wiped his nose on the inside of his shirt.
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“Tell you what, boy. Hold these flowers.” Mister Pete dropped to his hands and knees and picked the remaining tulips from under the other window. “Now, step in here for a minute, and we’ll find somethin' to put 'em in.”

Pete looked toward the boy’s house, and gave a thumbs up to the parents he felt sure were watching.

The little boy stood with his back against the door jamb and looked around the curious room. To his left was a hat rack draped in shirts and sweaters and a housecoat but no hat. To the right was an old iron bed neatly made. At the foot of the bed was a flat-top trunk that served as a coffee table for a small couch covered in a blanket. In the far corner was an open closet beside a door that blocked the only space not open to the room.The boy assumed that was the bathroom.

In front of the closet was a chair beside a small table, a stove, and an old-timey sink in a white metal cabinet. Above the sink were two cupboards—not cupboards in the modern sense but in the literal sense: they were boards with cups and bowls and plates stacked in plain sight.
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On the top shelf, were empty jelly jars that had been collected one-by-one to serve as drinking glasses. From the far end of the shelf, Mister Pete grabbed an empty coffee can for the tulips, added some water at the sink, and brought them to the boy.

“Now let me put the ones you have with these, and then you can take them all to your mother.”

“I can’t,” said the little boy, “My dad told me to bring these back to you.”

“Tell your dad he was right, boy. These flowers weren’t yours to take... but they are mine to give. I'm giving 'em to you. That's different. I want you to have 'em. Tell him that. Can you see where you're goin'?” he asked, letting the boy out the door.

“I think so,” he said from behind the blooms.“But what if my dad says no?”

“You just tell him ‘Ol’ Pete said..." his voice cracked, "Tell him I said I wish I had a mother to give ‘em to." His voice cracked again. "Tell him that, and he’ll know I mean for you to keep 'em.”

The old man gently turned the little boy toward home, and started him on his way. The boy went down and up the ditch, glanced both ways, then crossed to go down and up on the other side. Then he turned back to see Mister Pete still standing by his door.

"Thank you," The boy said with growing confidence.

Mister Pete just waived him on, then nodded again toward the window of the boy's  house, somehow certain this whole scene had been watched from afar.

A few minutes later, a vase of opening tulips graced the kitchen table. The boy's father listened to his son, swallowed hard, and tousled the boy's hair with approval. He glanced at his wife but was at a loss for words. "I'll be in the garage," he said knowing he needed time to think. Things were quiet in the house.

Alone with his mother, the little boy said, "Mom, did you know May Day means you're in trouble? Mister Pete told me that"

"I guess I've heard that in the movies, but I don't think the May 1st  May Day means that."

"I do," said the boy, staring at the flowers in the vase.

The boy didn't know it at the time, but his father went from the garage to return the empty coffee can to his neighbor, who of course, did not expect it back. It was an excuse, really, to go and thank a man he barely knew for adding thoughtfulness to what he thought the boy must do.

"Doing the wrong thing for the right reason is still wrong," he said to Pete.

"True... but sometimes it's nice to find the right way to fix a wrong. You did what a Dad's gotta do, and I did what I had to do once your boy said 'May Day.' Kind of funny ain't it?"

"What the May Day thing?" the father asked.

"No," laughed Pete, "Two Navy guys talking 'bout tulips."



Some time later, a yellow school bus stopped in front of the little boy's house; the double door split open, and his two brothers and sister came running up the gravel driveway. They stopped to talk to their father in the garage, then passed through the kitchen to go upstairs. When they came down in their play clothes, their mother was starting supper on the stove, and their little brother was sitting at the table.

"Can we go outside to play?" asked his brother.

"For an hour or so," the mother replied.

The little boy did not join them. He had not taken his afternoon nap, and his drowsy eyes seemed fixed on the tulips in front of him. He was actually staring past the flowers  to the calendar on the wall. It was not the notion of time he pondered, not the numbers of days in a row, not the letters spelling M-A-Y, and not even the tulips standing tall along the path. What caught his eye was at the end of the path beyond the stone steps. It seemed to him that the cottage door was not closed tight, as if to say "come in," and he wondered what he would see if he could do just that.

To a boy of four in corduroy,
it is the rhythms of life that measure time:
the rhythm of lying down and waking up,
of tables being set and cleared,
of Saturday baths and Sunday shirts,
and all the down and up of ditches in between..
To a child it is the rhythms
of long-remembered days,
dropping one-by-one
like petals from a vase,
that mark the passing of time,
and this had been one such day.
3136-75
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.© Copyright 2010, Tom Kapanka, Patterns of Ink
(The details and dialogue of "Four in Corduroy" are based on a very true story. It was an hour of my life that I would never forget with a character (Mister Pete) whose kindness turned a childhood blunder into a gracious gesture and a vivid contrast between justice and mercy for my father and me. I have no doubt that the next May, Pete and I could have picked Mom another bouquet (had he been home), but four months after this incident, we moved from our new house on Atkins Road in Port Huron to our little house in the suburbs of Detroit. Several years ago, I took my daughters down Atkins Road to show them the first "dream house" my Dad built. I also wanted to show them Ol' Pete's place (and see if it was as I remembered), but the little house was gone. Mrs. Palmer still lived next door, after fifty years. We visited a while, and then I asked her about Mister Pete. She told me he lived there alone and was just as enigmatic the rest of his life. He had passed away a few years before, but the house had just been torn down about a year before we stopped by. I told her this story. She assured me it was as I remembered. (The title phrase "Four in Corduroy" was a descriptive term my mother sometimes used of me when she spoke of the year-and-a-half we lived on Atkins Road I was actually five when we moved, and I began kindergarten at Huron Park Grammar School in Roseville, Michigan.)

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