Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saturday Musings, 05 February 2011

Good morning,

In the dim light of my upstairs bedroom, I feel a pleasant sense of isolation. The house has settled into a lazy kind of stupor. My fellow humans have left to fulfill their responsibilities out in the cold of February, and I have regressed to browsing through pictures of last night's opening of Penny Thieme's new show at the VALA gallery, clicking past pictures of myself in my current somewhat daffy guise. I linger on snapshots of a radiant Penny greeting friend after friend in a trio of rooms crowded with those who have always known that Penny's star would shine, the walls of which rooms bore brilliant witness to the fact that she has always done so.

Winter has asserted its own dazzling wildness into my daily existence. I bundle in down, and wool, and knee-high knits, burnished leather, and waterproof gloves. I sling my pocketbook cross-wise across my chest and lumber through drifts to my car. A stranger beckons with his arm and navigates me across an icy sidewalk. My neighbor scrapes my car's windows; my son sends an excited message: School is canceled! when Indiana feels the brunt of Nature's fury. It has grown impossibly cold.

I need but close my eyes to remember warmer days.

When I was in my teens, my mother decided we should camp as a family. She had fallen into what we called then -- and now, 26 years after her death -- her "hippy days". She cooked with whole wheat flour and brown rice. She stopped smoking, and took up sewing again, making her own wrap-around skirts in every fabric she found on sale. And she dragged us camping.

I am there, in an instant, feeling the heavy air of a warm day in early August. My father sits on a webbed lawn chair outside of a green four-person tent. I am thirteen or fourteen. My brothers, in one-pocket T-shirts and cut-off shorts, rummage around the clearing of the our little private peninsula, far from the RVs, showers, and port-a-potties. Beyond our encampment is Huzzah Creek, one of two tributaries of the Meramec River, south of St. Louis and an eternity away from whatever cares my mother leaves behind when she packs the battered pans, a dozen eggs, loaves of bread and cans of pork and beans in our old green cooler.

Prior to my mother's hippy days, my father's notion of camping had involved a cheap roadside motel and black-and-white television. But in the halcyon days of my middle youth, he gamely strove to please my mother, a kind of apology for the sins of the early decades of their marriage. Thus did he grudgingly assent to sleeping on a cot and missing a few days of televised Cardinals baseball. My brothers, on the other hand, thrilled in these rare and idyllic outings, breaking sticks for the campfire, gathering rocks, and plunging with abandon into the Creek. Occasionally, they ventured to the Meramec River itself, while I stayed in the gentler, more welcoming ripples beside our campsite.

On the last afternoon of our few vacation days, my brothers lured me upstream to the vigorous waters of the river. Come on, Mare bear, you can swim! you can do it!, they urged, stripping off their sweat pants and their T-shirts, preparing to swim in the still-damp trunks they perpetually wore beneath their clothes. I laughed, and sat down on a rock jutting into the water, casting aside my sandals and rolling up the cuffs of my blue jeans. Not likely, I replied. Nice try, but no cigar. I sat beside the river as they hurled themselves into its rushing depths, their wild laughter drifting back to me. I pulled my knees to my chest, and wrapped my arms around them, resting my head, letting my frizzy braids fall forward.

I drifted, half-asleep. The voices of my brothers receded, and my reveries shifted to the foreground. I didn't hear my oldest brother, Kevin, approach; and didn't see the grin he flashed to his confederate, Mark, on the other side. I startled, suddenly aware, just an instant before they pulled me into the water -- warned, perhaps, by the call of a bird in a nearby tree, or the deepest, most basic instinct of self-preservation.

I entered the river struggling, but at a place where even I could stand and hold my head above the water. Come on, we'll help you, Kevin told me, and each took a hand. With my bare feet sinking into the muck of the riverbed, I let them pull me forward. They guided me to the center, and then, with the current, we began to move in tandem. Just as slowly, they let go of my hands, and I found myself alone, moving downstream, feeling the encouraging kiss of the sun caressing my back while the cold, cleansing strength of the river pushed me forward.

With my eyes closed, now, in the chilly confines of my room, I lift my face and feel again the exhilaration of that day. I snap my braids, long shorn, through the air and lift my arms, sensing the warm wind rush over them. I salute the majestic, ancient trees that flank the river. I hear the raucous calls of my brothers, and other voices, other families, on the banks as I pass. With my eyes closed, I am once again the strong brave girl who turned, and, laughing into the wind, strode back against the river's pull, holding her head high, and her arms wide, smiling into the dazzling brilliance of an August afternoon.

Later, we scrambled to load our camping gear into the back of the car, and shuffled into damp shoes and clothes made grungy from the weekend's adventures. My brothers shoved each other, and Mother scolded them in an indolent, insincere voice. They settled against their respective windows, to my left and my right. I leaned against the back seat. As night settled around us, we journeyed home, and I fell asleep, dreaming of my walk in the water.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.