Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saturday Musings, 01 October 2011

Good morning,

In the silence of the sleeping house my mind has no choice but to reflect. My week bore marked lows. I met with a former client to discuss a new matter, and experienced the shock of seeing a once-robust man tamed by approaching blindness. I stood on the sidewalk in front of my office and felt the rising rage within me, held back by dint of age, as a vendor for a neighboring business refused yet again to refrain from parking in designated handicapped spaces. I suffered a small, aching sadness tinged with guilt at news of my aunt's passing. I battled frustration at my own growing realization that perhaps I have outlived the natural usefulness of my scarred body.

Last night I stood in a tent filled with celebrating lawyers, friends of lawyers, and spouses of lawyers at the American Royal BBQ. My husband and I had tickets courtesy of my neighbor's firm. I leaned against my husband and let the cool of our last September evening flow over me. I cannot believe the year is three-quarters past, and yet, the mornings foreshadow winter. Soon we shall see a thin layer of frost where dew once bravely sparkled. I closed my eyes and thought about family -- my family, my clients' families, the families of those around me.

My primary contact with my son these days consists of words exchanged in the virtual realm. Oh, we spoke by phone last weekend, I hanging on every word and tone; he distracted by passing students on the porch of his fraternity house in the late Indiana evening. But mostly, I learn about his doings in fractured sentences into which I am hard-pressed to read his mood with anything near accuracy. I think about a recent comment made by a family court judge in discussing the parenting plan that he intended to adopt: Each parent should be able to contact the child by phone or text. . . isn't that how we reach our children these days? I protested then, and I protest now: If we limit our guidance to the number of words allowed by our cellular carriers, what cost to this generation?

And yet, I wonder if I had more or less contact with my parents in my third year of college. I strain to recall. Sunday dinner once or twice a month; I might have borrowed my mother's car on occasion, prompting the need to deliver a censored report of my comings and goings. My husband swears he saw his parents only twice each year during college: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Perhaps, perhaps, I acknowledge, but the question remains: are we the better for it?

I only have to close my eyes to find myself back on my great-grandmother's porch, at age three or four. My great-grandfather, Dad Ulz, whittles as he perches on the step beside me. The autumn night sings around us, and the low, pleasant murmur of the women and children in the house cascades over my tiny frame. I lean against my great-grandfather's strong legs, and think my childish thoughts, the content of which has been lost in the intervening five decades. The warmth of his body seeps into my deliciously chilly legs. The occasional flash of the last lightning bugs of autumn thrills me, and the heady smell of freshly mown grass envelopes us both.

I have a picture, somewhere, in a box in the attic, of my great-grandmother feeding chickens. She stands in a plain stretch of yard, wearing a flowered dress and a white apron. Though the picture has no color, I know her hair is red and the dirt beneath her feet is black. She raised her eyes just at the moment that the anonymous photographer captured her, and did not smile. I have run my finger across the square of paper and wondered where in me her genes dwell.

In another photograph, my mother leans on a railing and points to a distant, unseen spectacle. I stand to her right and slightly above her, my long hair cascading in waves, hers done up in curlers. I no longer recall who captured this funny tableau, or why. I remember the smoothness of boards on my bare feet and the sharp snap of the autumn air. The porch adorns the Bissell House in north St. Louis County, and the occasion must have been a Sunday afternoon outing to view their waning, delicate gardens before the first frost.

On a sill in my breakfast nook stands a photograph of my son, age three, in a rocking chair flanked by two neighbor children. His earnest face meets the camera's eye. I keenly remember the day, and my photographer boyfriend who captured the scene. I stood behind him, gazing on my son's countenance, seeing in it the curve of his father's mouth, my father's button Irish nose, the shape of my mother's brow.

I saw a photograph of my son on Facebook this week, his arm around a beautiful young woman. The sudden shock of beholding his tall frame, the shadow of his beard, his broad shoulders in a suit jacket, rendered me breathless. I think about the narrowing of his generation from my great-grandmother's brood: thirteen children down to one. He's all that's left of me now. Is it any wonder that I am discontented with the brevity of our contact? Is it so wrong to wish that I had one more chance to get this right, one more autumn night to sit on a porch step and listen to the crickets sing?

But the nights have all been savored or squandered. Whatever I was going to give him, I have given. Whatever he will make of it, is his to be made. Whether our children have enough or too little, they take their little kerchief-clad bundles upon their crooked sticks, and march down the road set in front of them. We are left to our rocking chairs, to the smooth remembered feel of cold boards on our bare feet, earnest faces turned towards the weighty lined countenances of their elders, and the wild flash of the season's last lightning bugs captured in a Mason jar.

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.