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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

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Location: Lake Michigan Shoreline, Midwest, United States

By Grace, I'm a follower of Christ; by day, I'm a school administrator; by night (and always) I'm a husband and father (and now a grandfather); and by week's end, I usually find myself writing in this space. Feel free to join in the dialogue.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Just Before The End

I’ve changed some since before all this--

before sense gave way to the global scare

of something in the air...

Before our smiles were veiled

and strangers snarled if we exhaled 

within two outstretched arms.....

before our eyes could cast aspersions 

from behind the magic masks

as if peeking through drawn curtains

at shadows in the yard.

And now that it has passed 

(or in this pause between two storms),

I’ve learned to value strangers on the street

and treasure recollections of those I meet

in the same place where they were before.

It started weeks ago, when my wife and I,

in hopes of seeing something just the same,

ventured to a diner where we sometimes went

and though it had a different name, 

we went again.

(It had never gone to pitching tents outdoors.

Instead, it closed for a year or more

before the new owner mustered up the nerve 

to open for business again.)

Across the room was a waitress 

who through the years 

had topped my coffee off in passing. 

I did not know her name nor she ours

but we were "regulars" enough to catch her eye,

and her distant glance and smile seemed to say,

"You're back. I remember you. So glad to see

you're still in the cast of this play we’re in again."

We later spoke, of course, 

but the gist of what we said was that.

Such glances seem to happen everywhere I go.

I'll see someone I don't really know

and smile at them as if I do,

and they do the same to me on cue. 

A mother and child out for a walk...

The man at the hardware store...

The cashier at the grocer, smiling behind glass

like a teller at the bank.

Strange that simply seeing faces makes me smile--

unexpectedly--because they are not loved ones

or friends from long ago.

They are the “extras” in the movie of my life

as I am an extra in theirs.

(No matter who we are, at some stage, in some setting,

in someone else's script...

we're all of us merely extras--bit parts... passers by

without whose presence the story is not real.)

Till now, we extras went unnoticed and uncredited,

but now, after all this, unwittingly and unrehearsed

we're in supporting roles with perfect strangers.

The throw-away lines and greetings 

once lost in the ambient noise

now somehow suddenly matter…

the words matter… the people matter… 

the going on matters…

as our unmasked faces show again 

a glimpse of whose image they bear.

So here’s to the vaguely familiar faces

we see again each day. 

Here's to the extras and nameless pedestrians

simply going on their way 

as the last scene slowly widens

and the streets and buildings blur

to the long and gradual bend

of the horizon

that slowly fades... just before 

The End.

It has now been 18 months since our state first closed its schools. Most everyone I know admits to going through phases during the pandemic that began to spread around the world in 2019. The first phase was disbelief: "How could this be?" Even as we watch with pity as Italy sang through the night, it didn't seem like it would happen here in the U.S. But it did. 

The second phase was survival mode and we all walked a tight rope between faith and fear, characterized by extreme caution on a dystopian movie set of empty streets and shuttered storefronts. For months, we worked from home and rarely went outside as delivered groceries sat for 24 hours on our porches. Then, as if handling nitroglycerine, our gloved hands sanitized the paper bags and individual containers (Paper bags, we were told, were safer than plastic.)

The third stage was confusion.  We had been told that common masks were ineffective and not needed. Then they were mandated indoors and out. By the seventh month, some schools were determined to open (as we did), while many states began a long year of "distance learning" for millions of students. Unemployment soared. A sense of isolation and lost hope began affecting people's mental health, and the suicide rate began to escalate even as the number of actual deaths from the virus began to decline. Businesses remained closed, many went under and never reopened. Some restaurants began serving limited menus in make-shift clear tents or shanties. 

In many major Democratically-controlled cities, massive protests and riots were allowed to go on virtually unimpeded by law enforcement (officers of which were, in fact, the subject of the protests). Historic statues and monuments were torn down and defaced. The nation was torn along political lines, and the fact that so called "red states" were handling the pandemic quite differently than "blue states." This political divide led to distrust as the pandemic was used as the reason to allow untested "mail-in" voting for the 2020 presidential election. The aftermath of that controversial process continues to play out in America to this day. And in places like Australia, even more dystopian Marxism has taken control.

By June, 2021, 14 months after the closures, and several months after the non-FDA-approved vaccines were made available to all who chose to get it, most of America was reopen again. By this time, there was a deep sense of doubt in anything that the "experts" had to say about our health status. By then the source of the virus (Wuhan, China) was no longer in doubt even by those who had denied the most obvious facts for more than a year. The only thing that unified "both sides" seemed to be that masks were no longer needed (and once again proclaimed ineffective in blocking the virus). 

Seeing a masked face has now become the exception rather than the rule. One can go days without seeing a mask. Faces and smiles are all around. It is wonderful, and it was when this window of "normalcy" first opened that we ate at a Grand Haven diner (formerly called "Delite"). It had been completely renovated into a 1950's motif. It was attractive but entirely different with many new young staff and though it was late June in a tourist town, there were many empty tables. It was then we saw the one person we recognized from the years before. Those thoughts prompted these lines.

I'm a big fan of old movies, and I like the ones that end without answering all of the questions, but the director's choice to end the story with a wider and wider shot until the viewer is seeing a more omniscient perspective reminds us that all is in God's hands... from beginning to end.

Note: Just one of the studies done on how masks make communication difficult.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

"No Splash": A Screensaver Sonnet


Traipsing down a path that each day seems

the same, he came upon a sight he'd never seen:

the swimming hole of all his boyhood dreams.

Could it be real? This place he’d never been

but forever yearned to be?  He rubbed his eyes

and filled his lungs with the misty air

that vanished in the warm sunrise.

A stone's throw away, a waterfall washed care

and stress from a cliff to a rippling pool,

and though he was not dressed

to swim, he dove headlong toward the cool

fount like an arrow, but his finger pressed

the button by mistake… and POOF! it was gone.

No splash as he stared at his email inbox with a yawn.

© April 22, 2021

Sunday, February 21, 2021

A Case for Love

(This story is reposted from the October, 05 and February, 2007 and now here in 2021.)

The name of the street was Lovejoy, That was really the name, and the house stood proudly at the top of the street’s long hill. No two houses on the street were alike, and shade trees lined  both sides —the way streets used to look. It was a classic two-story built in 1922 with great lines and two strong columns on the porch.  We loved it the moment we saw the realtor sign in the yard, and we made arrangements to see the next day.

The inside seemed to whisper at each nook and archway that this was a home where memories had been made and where they lingered still. There was a corner nook beside the fireplace that seemed built especially for a Christmas tree, and though it was only June, that feature alone put a sparkle in our eyes that rang true to the street’s name.

Our two Christmases there confirmed that this was,  indeed the most enchanting home we would ever own. The front room fireplace crackled and cast a glow on the tree in the corner. Sitting there in my winged-back chair, I lacked only a pipe to hold smokeless in my mouth. I do not smoke a pipe, and never have, but it was the kind of house that prompted fathers to smoke pipes back in the day. 

I had envisioned seeing my girls grow up in those charming rooms—birthday parties in the family room, prom pictures on the entry stair—and all the points of passing time such pictures hold in memory. But a different kind of change came, and two years after moving in, we were moving away. 

With the interior touches we’d done, we listed at 30% above what we had paid and marketed it ourselves by making a brochure and hosting our own "Open House.” The traffic of lookers was non-stop and very encouraging. Some we knew were there just to check out a house they had no intention of buying. We knew such people existed because Julie and I often did it ourselves. Still it was fun to know that our efforts might pay off. After two hours, as a hint for people to leave, we began putting away our signs and brochures, offering cookies from half-empty plates, and thanking people for stopping by. 

Eventually all the guests filed out the front and side door of the house—that is, all but one gray haired lady who remained on our porch smiling at the others as they left. She was a sweet lady, and behaved as if she were part of our family invited over to add to the ambiance of baked cookies and lit candles, but the fact is... we  did not know her. 

I had first noticed her about an hour before, taking a self-guided tour through every inch of all four levels from basement to walk-up attic. Two buyers were coming back that evening, presumably to make an offer. Was she going to beat them to the punch? She was dressed like she could afford our asking price, but what would she do with such a big house? She must have read my puzzled eyes. 

"I wanted to wait until the others were gone," she whispered politely. "My name is Charlotte Bascomb, and I lived in this house for twenty-five years. Our two boys grew up here and went off to college from this doorway." "Oh, come in," we begged, "and do tell us more about it." 

My wife and I love learning the stories behind things we own, whether it's a hundred-year-old chair or a house, and up until that moment we had only imagined how the years must have passed in this storied home through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, WWII, the fifties, and so on. As it turned out she had lived there from the late Fifties through the early Seventies, but to our surprise, she said their story had ended badly. We were surprised at how stoically she told of her last years in the house, and how her husband, who was a lawyer, had become an abusive alcoholic which led to a divorce and, in the end, to his untimely death. She told the account as if it had happened to a neighbor and not herself. We soon learned why the details seemed so distant. 

 "After that, I stayed in the house for a few years. The boys had taken jobs out of state. and I didn't like being here alone, so I bought a smaller place. I was alone when the moving van pulled away with everything I owned. I walked through the house one last time from basement to attic—to see if I'd forgotten anything but mostly to remember... things... you know..." (We nodded without a word). 

"I ended up in the attic and was just about to leave when I thought I saw something way back in the corner. I walked across those rickety floorboards toward a shadow that looked like a little suitcase. You know how bad the lighting is up there." [She was right, but I had added two fixtures.] "By the way, you have the attic so cute. I saw the pictures of your three girls in the hallway, and when I went up in the attic, I thought 'Well, this looks just like Little Women up here.' The way you have that dress-up room and all those antiques and things. I bet the girls love it." 

 "Oh, they do," we smiled, "and you're right, we often call them our 'little women' when they spend the day up there, but you were saying something about a little suitcase...." 

 "Oh, yes. That. Except it wasn't a suitcase at all. It almost frightened me the more I stared at it. I was afraid to reach for it in the dark, but soon as I touched the worn leather handle, I remembered what it was, and I brought it out to the window to see it in the light. The case was a dusty mess, but the clasps flipped up, and inside it was just as bright as I remembered it... beautiful red velvet. It was my son's saxophone. He played in the marching band at the high school. I hadn't seen it for years—who would've put it so far back? And then I remembered something that bothered me. This wasn't really my son's saxophone—it was the one he used alright—but I remembered that it actually belonged to an old family friend. You see, my husband played in a jazz band in college, and he and his buddies kept rehearsing for years afterwards even though they rarely actually performed anywhere. Things were good then…. Well, anyway, years later, my oldest wanted to play in the band and Howard—he was the friend—said we could borrow his sax. So all through school, John—that's my son—used it, but I had no idea we'd left it there in the attic all those years. It's a miracle I even saw it that day...in that dark corner. It was the only thing I carried out of this house the last time I was here." 

 "Wow. That's quite a story," I said. Her eyes glistened as she looked around the interier of the house once again. 

"And you almost left it here." Julie said half wondering what else to say. 

Mrs. Bascomb was clearly not ready to leave. We stood awkwardly in the entry way. I gestured toward the living room and asked if she would like to stay longer. "No. I really need to be going. I just wanted to meet you and tell you how wonderful it was to see that this was a happy, beautiful home again. I really can’t stay…” There was a long pause, and then she smiled like she had a secret to tell.

"This will only take a minute," she said. "There's more to the story."

"Are you sure you don't want to come in and sit?" Julie asked.

"No. I shouldn't, but I do think you should know... After things settled a bit—a year or so—I called Howard. He'd moved out east a long time ago, but I finally tracked him down. He laughed when I told him I found his saxophone, but he told me to just give it to Goodwill. I told him I couldn't do that—it wouldn't be right—and it wouldn’t, you know, not after all that." 

(We nodded in wholehearted agreement.) 

"Howard and I talked for the longest time. His wife had passed away a few years prior. That was too bad. It's hard to live alone." She meant the words and knew them to be true, but there was also a twinkle in her eye as if she had very few people to tell this story to, and she was savoring every tid-bit.

"Poor Howard... All alone. He was semi-retired but was getting ready to fly to Europe on business the next day. So we had to get off the phone, but he did ask for my number. Which... I thought was nice, you know... old friends and all—but since he didn't want the sax, I wasn't sure I'd ever hear from him. Well, about two weeks later who do you think called?" 

 Our eyebrows rose with unconvincing suspense, "Howard?" 

 "Yes. It was Howard. We visited a bit and then he said, 'You know, Char—he never called me Charlotte—I've been thinking about that saxophone, and you're right. I think I need to come and get it. Will you be home this weekend if I fly in?' Well, I was speechless. Of course, I'd be home. Where else would I be? But I didn't know what to say. I offered to send it UPS, but he said, 'No, I think I need to come and get it myself.' And that's just what he did. We had a wonderful time that whole weekend—he was always such a gentleman—but then he went and forgot the sax so he had to come back the next week. Well you probably guessed it... He kept coming whenever he could, and never took home that saxaphone. We got married later that year, and I spent the happiest 12 years of my life with Howard. It was wonderful right up until the end... cancer." 

The word abruptly punctuated her thoughts but had no effect on her smile, and her eyes still held the joy they found in those unexpected happy years. "It's been four years—just me again, but at my age I can't complain. I had a second chance at love and it was wonderful—just like our street sign says 'Lovejoy.'"

 There was another pause, but this one needed no words. It was my eyes that were glistening by then as they are now even as I type these years after hearing her tell this red-velvet story that makes such a compelling case for love. 

"Thank you for listening to an old woman's story and for making me feel welcome in my home—your home, I mean. I really do need to be going. I want to call my boys and tell them where I've been." 

 "The pleasure was all ours," we said, stepping to the porch and helping her down to the front path. Half way to her car she turned and took one last look at the house then cast a glance up at the attic window. 

 "I still have that saxophone in my closet at the apartment— be sure to check the attic corners when you leave." Her hand held back a laugh, but her shoulders shook a little as she smiled and turned toward her car.

© Copyright 2005, TK, Patterns of Ink 

(I was moved by this lady's story when "Mrs. Bascolm" [not her real name] told it to us in June of 2000. Hearing it made it even harder to accept the fact that we were moving. But we were also very happy the next day when the house sold to a Doctor with a young family. He and his wife couldn't wait to move in. Whenever we or our children travel back to that town in Iowa, we drive by "the little blue house" on Berkshire [which has since been painted yellow]. We lived there for 13 years. We also drive by this wonderful home on Lovejoy, where we lived for only two years before moving to Michigan. We love it here, but the house is newer and the seven years have passed too fast it seems for stories. [It has been my experience that the stories closest to home take the longest to crystallize into something you can hold up to the light and say, "Wasn't that beautiful."])

My daughter took this picture of us with her when she went to visit our former home town. She then carefully lined up the snapshot with the actual porch. I will never forget the night we moved away. It had taken all day to load the moving van and our two cars, and it was dark by the time we were ready to roll. Ready that is but for one missing item. It was not a saxaphone. It was Emily (the daughter who took this picture). I found her up in the room just beyond the windows at the top of the porch roof. She was sitting on the floor with her back against the wall. She didn't have to say a word. It was one of the hardest moments of our shared life. She was completely supportive of the move, and like all us, she has no regrets (nor do her husband and three children who would not exist were it not for the move), but it was a hard home to leave behind.

If you're in the mood for another story about a second chance at love,go to my April 06 Archive. Scroll down to April 1 "Visiting Home." It's the first of four sequential, "verse" posts about my Mom's wedding cake (and what happened fifty years later).

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Wedding Book

(Reposted and slightly revised (to change the first two stanza from present to past tense) for the 70th Anniversary of my parents' wedding date: 2-10-2021)

I had gone back to our homestead 
 in the dead of winter and deep snow 
to keep my mother company for a few days 
in the now-quiet house our family built 
those many years ago. 

 It is a quiet comfort to step inside the one place 
on earth that in your mind is "home"-- 
not the house where you now live 
and share life with those who know the present you-- 
oh, that is home indeed, make no mistake, 
but I'm speaking of a corner in your mind... 
that place you left when it was time 
 that gladly takes you back again. 
If such a place exists for you, 
I highly recommend you go there while you can, 
and if inside there is a face to greet you at the door... 
then you will know the meaning of these lines. 

 I stood there with a gentle knock
 after a day at work and a four-hour drive. 
The front porch light was on, 
but the windows were dim,
and Mom was asleep on the davenport 
(as mother always called a "couch"), 
 but she woke at my knock, 
and stumbled to the door as if
her legs had not awakened with her.
We visited into the night until I nodded off 
and suggested we continue 
reminiscing in the morning. 
(Reminiscing is what becomes of conversations
stretched through time.)   

Rising early and alone with a pad and pen, 
I was drawn to the davenport and the pillow
still pressed in from Mother's head the night before. 
Sitting there, I noticed that 
the living room still knew the meaning of its name 
(but now a quiet sort of living to be sure). 
Gone were the days of horsy-back rides, 
our daughters’ song and dance upon the hearth, 
and wrapping paper strewn on Christmas morn. 
That sort of living in the room had faded like a snapshot 
left too many years upon a windowsill. 

It had been twelve winters (and twelve springs) 
since that bustle in the house 
that draws the tie that binds and finds 
 a way synchronize the laughter and the sighs 
till joy returns to vacant eyes 
enough to start the long goodbyes as one by one 
life calls apart what death has brought together. 

I smiled at how the many things find ways to gather 
undisturbed in corners where the carpet was not worn— 
and in countless numbers scrawled on torn scraps 
and backs of envelopes in the nook 
where the phone sat atop the yellow pages 
 left waiting on the corner chair. 
Across the room, was a row of photo albums 
in the shadow of the attic stair 
beside boxes waiting to be carried up 
next time the need to climb them came. 

And there it was I saw the wedding book 
was left waiting on the bottom step. 
Reaching through the banister I took the book in hand. 
Its pebbled ivory cover took me back the fifteen years 
when last it lay upon lap, 
the time my girls sat spellbound at my side. 
I'd borrowed it to make a video photomontage.
They'd never seen the book before-- 
a splendid volume of full-page black-and-whites 
with details crystallized in time: 
You can almost feel the softening varnish 
on the blackened backs of pews; 
and smell the winter on the woolen coats; 
and hear the hatted women in the crowd whispering, 
“Don’t look at the camera,” 
while children gaze bewildered in the lens.

It’s as if the photographer knew
these weren’t just wedding pictures—
especially in the group tableaus—
it’s as if he knew…
this was the cast party
of the unfolding play
that was our life before we lived.

Each shot is in the old historic church that shares its name
with the fort that once stood there
and the old lighthouse still standing
and the avenue that in its day
tied Port Huron to Detroit
and all points in between…
and thus became the byway of our lives.

The Wedding Guests

I rose to put some coffee on,
and when the pot had sputtered its last sigh,
Mom was up to share a cup
and ask me what I had there in my lap.
And so began a conversation
that saw us through to lunch and gave a glimpse
of how life’s yarn is spun and knit…
and how a Providential twist
can turn into the tie that binds.

I opened to the reception picture,
the most intriguing of them all.
There’s a clock on the wall
that says it’s nearly nine, and in that moment
the basement of the church is filled
with shared contentment.

Mom pointed at the page.
“Doesn’t my dad look handsome there?
Look at Mumma, and your Dad’s mom,
and that’s Aunt Edith beside her.”

“Isn’t she the one who kicked
her underwear off the bridge?” I smiled.

“No. That was Aunt Dean,” she laughed,
turning back a page to point her out
and obliged to tell the story once again.
“Jupiter! She was walking home
across the 10th Street Bridge
in downtown Port Huron—
not Military Street, the other one—
and right in the middle of the bridge,
her elastic snapped and down they dropped
like a parachute 'round her ankles.
Do you remember?” Mom laughed.
(I wasn’t there, of course,
but nodded so as not to break her thought.)

“On the spot she had to choose—
her dignity or her drawers?—
she could not have them both.
The coming traffic forced her call,
and with a flick of her less than dainty foot
she nonchalantly kicked her panties
through the railing on the bridge—
pshhhhew—and let them billow down
to the boats below. Black River’s
busy that time of year, you know.
And then she walked right on home
like nothing happened.”

“Enjoying the cool summer breeze,” I added,
since she’d left out that line.

“Yep. That’s what she said
whenever we made fun.
But you have to remember,
that was during World War II—
there was a shortage of rubber,
and they were chinsin’ on elastic.
My land! we couldn’t even buy stockings—
we had to draw hose seams
on the back of our legs with eyebrow pencil.
Between the air-raid drills and Hitler
and our loose underwear,
we ladies lived in constant fear."

I’d heard the story and its tie-in to the war
a hundred times before
(as I had the many that followed),
but it was wonderful
to hear Mom’s laugh
and the lilt in her voice again.

The Wedding Cake

Mom turned the page
to the picture of the cake
and told me something
that I’d never heard,
nor was there cause
to hear it until now.
“Did you know Bob made
the wedding cake we served?”
“Your Bob?” I asked,
wanting to hear more.

“My Bob,” she smiled.

“His family owned a bakery
near the corner of 10th and Lapeer—
just five blocks from the bridge.”
“The underwear bridge?” I asked.
“Just a walk from there, and around the corner
from our house on Lapeer Avenue.”

“Time out, Mom. I’m confused.
You just said OUR house on Lapeer?"

“Well, we didn’t live there yet, of course,” she said.
"We didn’t move there ‘til you were born—
Let's see... Kathy in ’52; Paul in ’53;
Dave in ’54;and you in ’56—
So this was five years before.
Those were fun days weren’t they, Tom?
You in droopy diapers riding Duke,
and Dave and Paul wearing pots on their heads
in the sandbox, and Kathy playing dress-up...”

She drifted off to someplace in her mind,
a place I knew mostly from old photos
and the stories Mom and Dad so often shared.

“They were magic years, Mom, but… the cake.
You were telling me about the cake.”

“Oh, yea… Well, Bob and I
were in class together since 7th grade.
He’d come over to talk sometimes
when Barb and Jean and I
were sitting on the back-porch swing.
(She turned back to the reception page.)
That’s Barb there serving cake—
but that wasn’t the cake I’d ordered.
You see what happened was…
an acquaintance of ours had offered
to make a wedding cake,
and she brought it to my house—
you know, Grandma’s house
on Forest Street—the day before.
But the cake was not what I'd described at all,
and soon as she left, I just bawled.
I had no time and no money left to fix it
and then I remembered Bob.
He worked at his folk's bakery on 10th.
So I caught the bus, and...”

“Wait a minute, Mom.” I interrupted. “Why a bus?"

“I didn't have a license; I didn't have a car—
it was your dad who taught me how to drive,
but that was later on;
and Daddy, my dad, was workin' I guess;
and Dad Collinge was probably at the Grotto;
and Mumma never drove—ever...
but we always managed to get around—
just like she still hops a bus to the beauty shop
and she's just pert-near 100. Isn't that something?
I used to take the bus every day
from Riverview to Stone Street.
This is when I worked at Star Oil."

"I remember that you worked there—
it was by Pine Grove, but I guess
I never heard about the bus."

"Here's something else
I'll bet I never told you about Star Oil:
I worked in accounts receivable? Imagine that.
Me who flunked bookkeeping—
all I remembered about bookkeeping
was it being the only word
with three double letters in a row,
but they hired me just the same.”

My jaw dropped,“Now that I did not know..."

“What? About the double letters?”

“No that you worked in accounts receivable.”

“Ironic isn’t it, but that’s what I did…
right up ‘til a few months before Kate was born.
That was the only “job” job I ever had.
Then you kids became my job
and your dad, of course…
but he was working that day ‘til five,
climbing poles for Bell,
saving his days-off for the honeymoon…
so I knew he couldn’t take me.
I never even asked...”

“Take you where?” I wondered aloud.

“To the bakery to see about a cake.”

“Oh, yea. You got me thinkin' about that picture
of Dad smiling at the top of a telephone pole.
Most of your stories I know by heart,
but this cake one I’ve never heard,
and we keep veering off...
So it’s what time? Noon?
The day before the wedding...
and you still need a cake...
you get to the bakery… and then what?”

“I was afraid it was closed.
The door was stuck, but then
I pushed it, and the bell that hung inside
rang so loud it scared me.
No one was at the counter—
which was fine because I knew
I was about to cry again…
so I just stood there staring
at baked goods behind the glass.
I loved the smell of that bakery.
I used to walk you kids
there for doughnuts. Remember?”

“Mom, the cake. I’m like five years
from existing at this point in the story.
If you don’t get this cake,
I may never be born.”

Mom laughed, “You know how I like to tell things—
they're not tangled they're connected.

"So… I’m standing there and Bob comes
from the back to the green counter out front.
We’d lost touch since high school—
I’d heard he was married now—
but he was always such a friend.
‘Hello, Bev!’ He says, ‘What can I do for you?’
He said that. So I asked: ‘Do ya mean it, Bob?
Can you really do something for me?'
I think he could tell something was wrong.
‘I’ll sure try. What do you need?’
And then I just bawled.”

“Mom, you just walked into Bob’s bakery…
after not seeing him for what--three years?
And ya started crying? What did he do?
Had he seen you like that before?”

“Oh, probably. Everybody knew I cried easily,
but he just smiled and said:
‘Bev, for you I can do this.’
‘How can you do this by tomorrow?’
(I was so embarrassed to ask.)
‘For you, I’ll bake it this afternoon,
let it cool overnight, frost it in the morning,
and deliver it to the church myself.’
He scribbled the order on a pad,
open and closed the register drawer,
and said, “No charge.” And I cried again.

The cake was there the next day.
It was beautiful with little roses
on each of the sheet cake squares.

That was the last time I saw Bob
until our 50th Class Reunion
seven years ago. You know the rest."
I did know the rest,
but this story brought a smile
that had been missing
from a chapter of our lives.
Some things take time to understand.

Mom went to the kitchen for a bite,
and I turned to the last picture
at the back of the book.
Mom and Dad are sitting cheek-to-cheek
in the back of a borrowed sedan,
smiles beaming with all the love and happiness
they gave to us for forty-some years to come.

Dad died unexpectedly in ’95,
and Mom lived alone for a while.
Then the Class of ’48 called to see
if she was coming to their reunion.
She was ready.
By stepping briefly into her past
she was able to re-enter the present
and look ahead. Long story short…
Bob was also there and alone that night,
and their friendship was rekindled.
It slowly grew in the forgiving soil
that comes with age until it called for
a gathering of friends and family
about a mile from the other church
(the one in Mom's wedding book).
In a little chapel there
we shared another wedding cake
that as far as I know…Bob didn’t bake
the afternoon before.

Mom was right: Her stories aren't tangled at all...
they're unbelievably connected.

© Copyright 2008

The following video was made during my parents 40th Anniversary Year (which happened to also be my Grandmother's 80th Birthday. 
At the 2:02 mark of the video, you'll see that "they still had it" after a long sabbatical from the dance floor. We only recently discovered this footage on an unmarked Hi8 video tape that had been unwatched nearly 30 years then digitized just in time for the reposting of this story.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Finding Cozy: Author's Note

Click on image to enlarge © 2020

"Cozy is sometimes hard to find

for it's more than a place to be--

more than a bed or a roof overhead

for a few or a you and me.

Cozy's a snuggled-in state of mind

that wraps from the inside out

like a rabbit's fur 'neath a juniper

somewhere between dreams and doubt."

Click on image to enlarge © 2020

"Finding Cozy" is available on Amazon. Click Here. For more about the newly published story see below:

Michigan is home to many quaint summer cottage rows along lakes and rivers. Many of these houses are passed down through families and are now lived in year-round.  To me, such places still hold the charm of their original purpose, and that element of fantasy is part of this tale.

 "Finding Cozy" is about an imaginative eight-year-old girl who stumbles into the world of a rabbit wintering beneath a snow-covered juniper. The accidental encounter forges a friendship as the pair searches for the meaning of a profoundly important word. 

Toward the end of their search , the little girl whispers to the rabbit: “Do you know what else? My mother says cozy is a feeling that we learn before we are even born.” The rabbit's eyes widen, “Before we were even born?” he asks, and the little girls says: "That’s what my mother says. Way before I ever breathed my first breath or saw my first sight or spoke my first word, she says I knew what cozy was.”

As the preface page above explains, this was an evolving bedtime story I told my daughters back in the late 1990's. I put it to paper in 2014 when I also mapped illustration ideas for the written pages. At that time, my daughters and sister Kathy helped proofread the story, and we "kid-tested" it by reading it to our grandchildren, but the daunting task of finding an illustrator stalled the project for six years. Sometimes it takes a few years for a plant to blossom. 

So it was when this past October my wife Julie began to change her fall decor to her winter decorations. This is a thorough process involving the entire house, and she loves it. Julie loves making things cozy--especially around Christmas. This year, at one of her favorite shops she bought a new decorative piece that seemed to jump from this story. She brought it home, set it up, and said, "What do you see?"

I had not thought about the "Finding Cozy" story for many years, but I said, "I see Cozy Rabbit under the juniper." 
"Yes! You remember..." she said. "Tom, you've got to publish that story. This is the year. Maybe you can team up with Colton and Natalie and get it printed by Christmas." I knew my son-in-law could draw, but illustrating a 44-page book is a huge project. It was October 8. I shook my head and told Julie something about how impossible that would be. In any other year that would have been true. 

Two months is not a lot of time when measured in sixty evenings, ten weekends, and many wee hours of the morning. As my daughter and son-in-law (Natalie and Colton Wilson) began storyboarding and drawing each spread, it was amazing to see the imagery of thoughts and words coming to life. The process was new to all three of us.

Between writing and re-writing drafts through the years, Colton's weeks of drawing, and Natalie's editorial oversight as motivational "captain" (no small task), the three of us have logged hundreds of hours in this collaborative project. 

This beautifully illustrated full-color book  is a blend of poetry and prose meant to be read aloud by parents who enjoy reminiscing to children who love fond memories passed from age to age.With Colton's permission, I'm sharing just three samples from the 44 illustrated pages (pages that don't give away the storyline).

Click on image to enlarge © 2020

Click on image to enlarge © 2020

Watch the short video below to see how it all started Once Upon a Snow Day:

[Added February 5, 2021] The above home video footage was found on a tape in a box nearly two months AFTER "Finding Cozy" was published. I shot the video with my daughters nearly thirty years before, but none of us ever recalled watching seeing before January 26, 2021. (It was on old videotapes that we sent off to be digitized.) As we watched the images for the first time, I half expected to actually see the rabbit run from under the snow-covered limbs because it was on this snow day at "the little blue house" that the stories began. The story's plot-lines changed through the years, and when we moved to West Michigan, there several overgrown juniper bushes that wrapped around the front corner of our house. They were like an igloo when covered by heavy snow. They also provided shelter for a cottontail rabbit who had a burrow by the trunk of one of the bushes. One day Natalie and I startled hiding in that "fort" on a snow day. Can you imagine how it felt to watch these forgotten video clips months after publishing the book? We were overjoyed to see that the spirit of the story and illustrations were true to images that inspired them (and that we thought lived only in our memory). 

"Finding Cozy" is available on Amazon. Click Here. 
and at The Bookman in Grand Haven

"Finding Cozy": Theme and Tone

We'd like to thank the many people who have purchased "Finding Cozy" on Amazon. At last count More than 100 copies sold in the first five days. If you enjoy the book, please leave a comment and lots of stars as those two features at Amazon help advance the book. Thank you for the many kind words in social media, that's also very encouraging.

Based on the texts, etc. from purchasers across the country (and the globe—japan, so far), there are lots of parents and teachers enjoying this book. In the "Author's Note" in the above post, I explained the events that brought the book together just days before Christmas 2020. For those who may want to know a bit more about the writing itself, I'm adding this post about "theme" and "tone." This might help you maximize "teachable moments" as you share the book with others. There is another post after this one about  importance of fostering imagination in childhood (and adulthood for that matter). That's so important. After that there is a post full of "details" in the book. Colton calls them "Easter eggs." That one's just for fun.

Many years ago, when I told various versions of "Finding Cozy" to my girls at bedtime, the room was dark, and the purpose of the story was to lull them to sleep. In fact, most of my ad lib tales ended as soon as that was achieved. I kept that in mind as I put the story in writing in 2014. It was written to be read aloud. It is a risk to create a tone that takes the reader and listener to the brink of believing a dream-like state we sometimes associate with being "cozy."  A risk because younger children may be lulled to sleep before the final page. I can live with that.

I don’t mind sleepy heads as long as the reader occasionally keeps reading and thinking to the end... because--guess what?--"Finding Cozy" is also a story for the "grown ups." It's perhaps most meaningful to those old enough to recall when each childhood day was a book instead of a turning page.

It is older readers who will be able to read between the lines like looking through the blinds at night to watch the falling snow. Older readers will see the hints of  the rhythms (ticking clocks, fleating days and nights, changing seasons, and passing generations). Lost on younger readers are the contrasts within these pages: near / far, dim / bright, inside / outside, warm / cold, animals / humans, dreams / doubts, etc. You'll see them. The most important contrast of all in "Finding Cozy" is that of the vast expanse of space to the tiny specks we call home on the dot we call Earth (and more importantly to the perfect enclosure where each of us spent the first nine months of our lives). This contrast is first shown in the starry moonscape over the little blue house (pp 9-10). It's later replicated as Kenzie stares at the starry image of her mitten under the shelter of the juniper which happens just after the theme is said aloud.

A theme is an underlying truth that runs through a story. In this case, "Finding Cozy" refers to both an accidental encounter between a girl and a rabbit and to the theme of the story which is the notion that "finding cozy" is a subconscious reconnection to the most perfect shelter humans ever know. The feeling we call "cozy" is to well-being what food is to hunger, what love is to loneliness.  It is hinted at in hundreds of songs from "My Blue Heaven" to "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." 

Some embrace the word cozy and use it freely while others pretend to be too tough to say the word aloud. In truth, however, it's a need whether the word is uttered or not. It may be found in the quiet nursery of a cottage or a foxhole in a battlefield. It may be enjoyed by a couple on a snowy sleighride or a hermit in a snowbound cabin. We may apply the term to many things, but its deepest meaning is nestled in the basic need that chicks find under the wings of a hen. Much of life is quite the opposite of cozy, and that's why we are drawn to the people and places that help us find it.

SIDE NOTE: A theme is sometimes confused with the "moral of the story" often tagged on to the end (as in Easop's Fables, which are fanciful tales of personified animals, that teach a truth [like "The Tortoise and the Hare."] Though "Finding Cozy" shares some elements of fable, it deliberately stops short of anthropomorphism choosing instead to provide only the ability to communicate in order to contrast human and animal as distinctly different in that animals lack Imago Dei.. The distinction goes beyond physical differences [e.g. the fact that rabbits lack the ability to cry tears as humans do] to highlight the ability to "create" from concepts (as seen in art, music, literature, and Kenzie's vivid use of simile.) This innate distinction between these two new friends is what prompts the search for the meaning of cozy.

An author's own disposition toward a story's theme sets the story's tone and style of presentation. Because I wanted the story to be read aloud,  rhythms and  rhymes of verse sometimes slipped into the narrative prose.  When I noticed this happening, I stopped and tried to rewrite the whole story with no hint of poetic device. The result read like an instruction manual. So I attempted writing the entire story in verse, but that became labored and threatened to trivialize the theme. It was this struggle that eventually shelved the project in 2014. When I came back to it six years later, I reverted to the original completed draft and let some verse slip in an out of narrative prose naturally (often keeping poetic lines in paragraph form).  This tends to happen while describing the extraordinary nature of otherwise ordinary things: falling leaves, snow-covered moonscapes, being carried to bed, returning a mitten, etc.  My hope is that the blend of poetry and prose helps contrast childlike WONDER and "grown up" certitude.

Minutia in "Finding Cozy"

For Those Who Like finding "Easter eggs"

Film and video-game buffs tell me that an "Easter Egg" is a message, image, or feature hidden in a video game, film, or book that becomes "inside information" known only by those who are know to look for them. Alfred Hitchcock used to include a cameo of himself in each film, just for fun. That is a form of "Easter egg."
These elements are typically incidental and non-essential to understanding the story itself, but If you are reading here about the book "Finding Cozy"  you might enjoy finding these "Easter eggs" in the book. It was Natalie and Colton's idea to include them, and I'm so glad they did. I'll share them below in order of appearance (page order) 

(pp 1-2) I made the tire swing in the willow in 1986 from a motorcycle tire which looks more like the car tires from the 1930's. My goal was replicating the swing that hung outside The Waltons house. I have always enjoyed Earl Hamner's vocal narrative style. (He wrote and narrated the TV show.) So while the tires wing is a little detail on the page, it's a significant easter egg. That tire swing hung behind "the little blue house, then in the willow on Lovejoy Avenue, and now at our current home in Michigan. My grandkids still swing on it....The little blue house is based on the first home we owned at 104 Berkshire Road in Waterloo, Iowa. We moved into that Cape Cod when our first-born was barely crawling. Her two sisters joined her there over the next 13 years. In this house is where "Cozy Rabbit" stories began.

(pp 3-4) The flower pot on the porch step is my wife's. She has a green thumb for flowers and plants that pot and many others around the yard each year. The blue house had a matching dog-eared fence, but Julie always wanted a white picket fence. It never happened. (Thirty-some years later, the new owners removed the fence and the trees and painted the house yellow. It's still charming.) ....The house we've called home for over 20 years, has a limestone walk made of random-shaped flat pavers that I brought back from Julie's parents small farm in Kansas. (Each time I went I brought back about a dozen until the path was complete.) Colton had a similar flatstone path in his childhood yard.... The dog is modeled after Natalie and Colton's labradoodle, "Rooney," 

(pp 5-6) The flower pot is replaced by an uncarved pumpkin which, upon turning the page, is carved, suggesting that the month of October has passed. The opening four "spreads" of the book move from summer to fall to winter. Because spring is missing, we include that season in a brief dream later on. The mention of spring also plants a seed for a sequel to the story. The actual juniper that "housed" a wintering rabbit was outside a bedroom window of our house (it has since been removed), but we chose to change the layout of the fictional house to facilitate the interior scenes. 

(pp 7-8) This moonscape spread is one of my favorites. The brief lines in verse help transition from "back story" to all the magic that comes with a lake effect snow-day in West Michigan. (Safety Note: The candles in the window are electric. We used to put them in our windows each year, but now they adorn my daughter Emily's house.) The other purpose of this spread is to contrast the vastness of space to the tiny specks we call home on the dot we call Earth (a contrast that is essential to the story's theme). Less essential is the inclusion of the constellation "Lepus" (the rabbit) found to the left of the moon.

Fridgid air blows across state of Michigan making "lake effect" snow. 
(pp 9-14) The  glare of sunshine on snow is almost blinding, and thus begins the subtle contrast of glaring "reality" what occurs under the juniper, which those reading the story will understand.... Lake effect snow is different than a regular snow storm in that those  down-wind and closest to the "source" lake may see a foot or more of snow while inland areas get only a few inches.... The original event happened on a snow day with my daughters and me, and thus the story does the same. My wife and I have worked together in two different schools for 40 years. I confess that we've never out-grows the joy of a snow day. (The anticipation has been dampened by the extended pandemic closures of 2020. Even as schools across the north are in "virutual mode," however, some leaders still understand the  magic of a snow day.)

(pp 15-30) To avoid "spoiler alerts," I'll not share much from these pages, but did you know that healthy rabbits cannot shed tears as we know them. This is not to say they cannot whimper but that such responses do not produce tears.... The mention of "tents" was essential to these pages and the story's theme. Kids make tents. Drape some blankets over some tables and chairs, and you've got an afternoon of play (and maybe even a special sleep-over with friends). My siblings and I used to do it. Beyond being blanket Bedouins, the author, editor, and illustrator grew up camping in real tents all across the state. Granted, we "glamp" in trailers these days, but the coziest camping memories of my childhood took place when seven sleeping bags filled the floor of a six-man tent. It was then my own mother say, "Isn't this cozy!" as she turned off the big flashlight. (Mom was always last to get in her sleeping bag.)... The beach scene in the book is at Grand Haven State Park with the landmark pier and lighthouse in the background.... I've seen snow-crumbs attached to the fibers of a mitten many times. For that reason, as a kid I hated wearing knit mittens during a snow fight. I've actually packed a snowball that meshed so tightly with the yarn fibers that the mitten flew off my hand with the thrown snowball. In this case, the snow-crusted mitten becomes a symbol of the starry sky and "tiny spaces" mentioned earlier on the moonscape spread and more significantly during this scene in the book.... There is a related detail on page 31 that I'll not discuss here. It becomes clear in the book itself.

(pp 33-36) The bright / dim contrast now transitions from outside to inside:  The story mentions that Kenzie's mother is a teacher who is therefore home on this snowday, but her focus is on domestic things, making cocoa, doing laundry, and fine-tuning her seasonal decorating. This is not meant to "stereotype" the role of mothers but to merely reflect the autobiographical realities behind this story and be true to the real people who have merged into these fictional characters. In these pages hide some true "easter eggs."... Notice the pictures on the far wall beyond the dining room table.... You'll also see a pfalzgraff  bowl of M&Ms which is a trademark staple in our home. Our family has eaten off those dishes (and that very dining room table) for over 30 years.

(pp 37-38) On the back of the book there is a short poem that ends "...somewhere between dreams and doubt" which echo my thoughts from another poem called "Wonder Is" , a poem that contrasts the difference between "knowing" and "not knowing."... While writing "Finding Cozy" it was not my intent to blur the lines between the animal world and human beings but rather to create a tone of wonder. (My reasons are explained in paragraph 8 here.) .... Page 37 in the book describes a window view like a snow globe freshly shaken. It also include the words "a dizzied, dancing feeling..." that makes Kenzie lose her balance. Those two words dizzied, dancing may or may not ring a bell, but they are similar to a line in Joni Mitchell's song "Both Sides Now" from her album called Clouds (1969). To fully understand the mood of that "looking out the window" page, listen to that song while looking at Colton's beautiful illustration. I hope it makes you ponder that time in your life when "reality" clashed with the imaginative yearnings you had as a child. In the movie "You've Got Mail," that same Joni Mitchell song sums up the conflicting personalities of the two main characters. My use of "dizzied, dancing" was meant to subliminally trigger that sense of bewilderment as Kenzie looks out the window.

Click to enlarge.
(pp 39-40) While living at the little blue house in Waterloo, Iowa, a dear friend gave us a  Department 57 piece called Berkshire House. It actually looked like a slightly bigger version of our home. For the next several Christmases, I bought another house from that collection until our village populated the broad mantle of our fireplace. An abrieviated version is seen on the mantle in the book If you look closely in this picture, you'll see a rabbit in the juniper in-front-of the Berkshire House.

[Side Note:When we lived in Waterloo, a major employer was the Rath Packing Plant (home of Black Hawk Bacon) Three of the four most common breeds of pigs raised in Iowa are Berkshire, Yorkshire, and Hampshire. All three pigs have roads in Waterloo named in their honor. The Rath plant closed in 1985, putting the fathers of some of my students out of work. Sometime later the Black Hawk Bacon trade mark was purchased as one of the last assets of the company. Do you remember it? It's still available at Wal-Mart]

The second house in our village is called Shingle Creek. It reminded us of my sister Kathy's house in Michigan. It had the center porch and shingle siding. You may recall that house was destroyed by fire one year ago, three days after Christmas 2019. I've written about that sad and happy fire. How can a fire be sad and happy? Well, I just put it in book form someday. It was Colton and Natalie's idea to include these two homes of the many on our real mantle. At the right of the mantle in the book are a school and a church, which together have shaped our family from the beginning. The village on the mantle pays homage to the "cottage rows" that provide the setting for this story. 

The nearest cottage rows to us are a short walk away at "Smith's Bridge Bayou" For decades U.S.31 was called "West Michigan Pike," From 1911 through the 1920's, the pike grew to become one of the nation's most traveled "tourist roads," stringing together 300 miles of countless beach towns from New Buffalo to Macinac Island. Resorts from that era still exist like Lakewood ClubMaranatha, Portage Point, and Bay View near Petoskey. Similar cottage rows enjoy the rivers and lakes all across the state. When I was a kid, "Water Winter Wonderland" was imprinted on every Michigan license plate for more than ten years. "Finding Cozy" attempts to wrap a deeper message in that slogan.

A century after the cottage boom of the 1920s, many of those quaint summer homes have become family residences year-round. Whenever I meander through cottage rows, they exude the charm of their original intent, which lends to the fantasy element of this story. 

Also on that "family room" page, you'll notice a tube TV with a VCR. The videotape is a well-known holiday classic. Hint: in the pictured scene, they are singing about about cozy things like "warm woolen mittens" and "snowflakes that stick to my nose and eye lashes." 

The tree is trimmed with real ornaments that span 70 years in our family history. The newest is one I made for everyone this year. You'll see this ornament near the top of the tree.... The two stockings by the fireplace bear two names that my wife and I never got to use in real life: McKenzie (which is my Grandma Kapanka's grandmother's name) and Tyler (though the name of Kenzie's brother is used nowhere in the story itself. That name, had we ever had a son, would have been Tyler Sinclair). The red-blue-green plaid plaid couch was in our home at the turn of the century. It was a common pattern of the day. It's now gone, but the "old wooden clock" still hangs on our wall.

(pp 41-42) I have written about being carried to bed as a child in one of my favorite poems "Kept." Being carried to bed is an important rite of childhood. What an amazing dream-like flight. As it happens in the story, the prose slips into verse again to pay tribute to that extraordinary moment, and the narration never really goes back to prose. A brief word about "the squeak at the top of the stair." We really have such a squeek. Houses talk to us but in such a common language that we don't often hear it. In this case, a sub-theme of this book is the patterns of life: seasons, holidays, school-days, chimiing and ticking of clocks, and yes, a chronic squeak in the floor. These are all part of the tone of the story, and by the end the tone is so set that even a squeak is "cozy." BUT... imagine if I were writing a very different tale, let's say a murder mystery. "The Squeak at the Top of the Stair" could be the title of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller (in which he would have made a cameo appearance).

To whatever extent our family colaborates on more illustrated books, there will be cameos and "Easter eggs" to blur the lines of fact and fiction. As is true of life itself, in the writing / illustrating process nothing comes from thin air and nothing truly returns to dust.

Tom Kapanka

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