Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday Musings, 19 March 2011

Good morning,

As I complete the mundane task of washing breakfast dishes, a stained glass bird, crafted by my son's eight-year-old hands, dangles before me. I watch the light filter through its blue and green surfaces, thinking of the satisfaction on my son's face as he watched me tear the Christmas wrappings covering his work. Satisfaction melted into radiant joy as I exclaimed over the beauty of the piece. It has hung from the window frame above my kitchen sink for eleven years, slowly turning with the gentle urging of the air current, winter, summer, heat, air-conditioning.

One week from today, I will plunge, without reservation, into my third attempt at matrimonial bliss. Signs exist that this marriage will differ from the first (gas and a lit match) and the second (bravely sailed ships, destined for different if neighboring harbors). I pride myself on maintaining a friendship with my two ex-husbands, in wishing them well, in offering them assistance when they've needed it and receiving theirs on occasion in return. I do not bear grudges. I already have an ulcer; I cannot afford the luxury of vengeance and even if I could, nothing rings clear-cut, nothing arises to fairly apportion blame. Time passes; wounds heal; forgiveness soothes.

My parents weathered greater storms than those which shredded my first marriages. They separated; reunited; overcame; and upon my mother's death, at age 58 of cancer, had been married for almost thirty-nine years. My father died six years later, still grieving, still writing sad, archaic poetry in tribute to his lost love, whom even he knew he had not honored as well in life as he did in death. He failed to honor, but he did cherish, and he did mourn.

I picture, as I write, a couple whom I represented in a wetlands case north of here, close to Brookfield and Chillicothe. Strapping farm folks, both of them -- he, tall and gangling; she, sturdy but nearly equal in stature. I see them in the simple, faded cloth of their every-day existence: Denim, gingham and chambray. Her kitchen bore not one speck of dirt or dust; her breezeway held not clutter but the neatly organized flotsam and jetsam of a working farm and dog kennel. When I visited to scope out the alleged infringement on a protected wetland -- a dry creek bottom at the southern edge of the acreage passed down to him from three generations -- I sat at a wooden table crafted by her father's hands, while she perked coffee in a tin pot on a wood-burning stove. She had an electric range beside it, but could not be bothered with the slow-heating burners.

I sipped the steaming liquid and browsed through photos of their offspring. She wiped counters that I would have thought too clean, and began to set out the makings of a Sunday lunch, while her husband fetched waders to protect my city clothes. He stood near her, at the sink, sipping his coffee from a heavy china cup, and I watched the light gleam in his eyes at the sight of his seventy-four-year old wife of sixty-nine years. I swear, he pinched her bottom when he thought I could not see.

I casually asked how they had managed to stay married for almost seven decades. We never fight, he told me. She raised a thin eyebrow and shook a grey head. Okay, okay. Mebbe I ain't tellin' it straight. She smiled. Okay, okay, he relented. We've had one fight. She glanced at me, her smile widening as he delivered a practiced line. And it's lasted nigh on to seventy years!

We all laughed. Then he and I got into his old Chevy and lumbered down to the bottom of his land, where the offensive stump lay on its side, no longer hitched to the tractor he had used to disengage it from its withered root ball. I walked around it, taking a few pictures, squatting down to touch the waterless ruts of the long-dry creek. I stood, slowly, and scanned the nearby area for signs of offended wildlife, disturbed habitat, or threatened flora. I saw none.

We made our way back to the house, and sat at a table heavy with the bounty that people in rural areas always offer visitors. Never mind that they paid for my time and travel; or that I had only come a couple of hours to see them. My plate strained under the weight of the servings set upon it, and my cup of cold well water did not stand empty. He said grace; she laid the food; and their grown son, who lived a few minutes away with his own family, came and joined us to show respect for the lawyer from Kansas City.

A few months later, after winning his case by the merest of coincidences and the push of curiosity, which led to the discovery of fly-over slides proving our contentions, I visited again. I brought my own son with me to select a puppy, their gift -- along with a check for my fees -- to thank me for helping them. I stood by the screen door in the nippy March wind, watching my two-and-a-half year old earnestly gazing at a kennel of squirming young Beagles. Patrick's selection made, we sat down to another Sunday dinner, with Patrick on two telephone books in front of an enamel porridger, much like the one that I still use that belonged to my mother as a child.

On the way home, Patrick asked me why he didn't have any old people. I had no answer for him, other than the obvious fact that my parents had died, and his father's people did not claim him. We fell silent, and I imagine that he thought about visiting the kennels, hunting for eggs, and walking along the unevern, enticing paths of a north Missouri farm.

I heard that my clients' son died that fall, in a tragic accident, and each of his parents outlived him by only weeks. Their widowed daughter-in-law called me, to let me know that they had never failed to give thanks for my efforts, in their evening prayers, and in their Sunday intentions. You took a worry from them, she told me. I could not think what to say, imagining the worry she herself now faced, a widow at thirty-two, with children, and a farm to manage. I murmured something inane, then asked how they died. He couldn't live without his son, she said, quietly, with no hint of bitterness. And she couldn't live without him.

I said that I understood.

I'm fifty-five now. It's probably too late for me to have a marriage of seventy years. I raise my glass to anyone who married young enough, and has stayed married long enough, to come close to such a glorious accomplishment. My hope for myself is more humble: and it is a prayer, I suppose, more than anything. I hope, and pray, that I am able to honor and cherish this man, for any remaining day of my life that I am blessed to experience.

I've a pile of opened mail to peruse and trash, and a little bit of laundry to do. The prodigal son arrives at six tomorrow, and the next few days will race across the calendar with wild abandon. Saturday will come. Judge Brian Wimes will intone the ceremonial phrases in his sonorous voice, and I will whisper, I do, and I will. I expect to be rendered nearly speechless with tears. Patrick will hover nearby, watching his mother go willingly into the last good phase of her life.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

P.S.: The Musings will be on hiatus for the next two weeks, first as I get reading for my wedding and then because Jim and I are going to New Orleans for our honeymoon. I will attempt to post pictures on Facebook. On my return to Kansas City, I will, in due course, resume this pleasant endeavor. Be well, be joyful, and be at peace. CC

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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.