Saturday, September 8, 2012

Saturday Musings, 08 September 2012

Good morning,

After a day and an evening of standing, more or less continuously, on arthritic feet in cheap shoes, my toes complained far into the hours when I should have been sleeping. Vanity lulled me into believing that I could tolerate these cute little wedge sandals. So I wore them to court, and to breakfast with a friend at the incomparable Ginger Sue's where the biscuits are divine, for a full day of lawyering, and to the liquor store. Then I stood in them and greeted the steady stream of visitors to the opening of the newest art showing in Suite 100, the professional conclave that my husband and I created two years ago. By ten o'clock, I sat on the side of my bed, rubbing reddened toes and massaging Burt's Bee Balm into the balls of my feet. Ridiculous.

And instantly, without warning, my mind flies back to the single time that I tottered on three-inch heels. Rochester, Minnesota. 1980. My brother Frank's wedding. I have a few photos, yellowed, curling, in an album in the one box that escaped a 1984 apartment flood and the rising waters in my current basement, the year that river rats overtook Kansas City, when rain fell in unrelenting sheets, forcing the Little Blue River over its banks and into the inadequate storm sewers.

I wore a black print dress to that wedding, and stood in tall, cheap, black patent shoes on the arm of the man who squired me that year. As thin as I am now, back then, I weighed 25 pounds less. The Corley clan formed a ring at the center of the reception in the bride's parents' back yard, adult siblings and our parents, maybe a brother-in-law and a small grandchild or two. I cast a backward glance outside our closed circle, at my brother's new in-laws and their friends. I did not speak of the divide, but felt its cold depths.

I realized my father had drifted away and into the house. Some instinct pulled me after him. I found him sitting on a sofa in the living room, holding a wine glass. I sat beside him, searching for the right words to softly mutter, worrying that he might be drunk, hoping that he was not.

Did I ever teach you how to hold a wine glass, he asked me, without warning. My gaze fell on the stem that I held. No, Pops, I acknowledged. You never did.

He raised his right hand, dark wine shimmering through the crystal. I transferred my glass to my left hand and mimicked him. We laughed at my efforts to crook my little finger as he instructed. He spoke my name, urged me to try again, and I did, my hand poised in the same way as his. We sat, on the sofa, at the Reeves home, in the quiet of the living room, an ounce or two of wine and a couple of decades between us.

Weeks later, an envelope arrived at my apartment in Kansas City. I slid a half-dozen photographs from between two rigid pieces of cardboard. I shuffled through images of me and the boyfriend with whom I had, by then, parted ways in a flood of tear-drenched betrayal. My unknowing mother did not mean to wound me by sending those along. I hurried past them.

The last picture had been taken just at the moment when I had finally gotten what my father had been trying to teach me. My hand rises in a perfect mirror of his. We gaze at one another, my chin a delicate version of his own, my button nose reflecting his Irish profile. My curls fall to my thin shoulders. He wears a navy blue suit and a dark tie, and I wear my black dress, legs crossed at the ankle, feet clad in those ridiculous shoes, frail arm contrasting with his more sturdy one.

I have no other pictures of me with my father. In another photo album, I stand in the dress I wore at my first wedding, caught unawares, fury on my face. That man is NOT walking me down the aisle! I had told my sister, at precisely that moment. Her hand rests on my arm. Calm down, she whispered. He'll hear you. I told her that I did not care. My brother Stephen would take my arm, and guide me past the congregated friends. Just tell him.

On a shelf in my office, my parents turn to smile at a photographer as they dance at some other child's wedding. My father's face shines. My mother's smile is sweet. There are no children in the picture. When I sit at my desk, I can study them, and I often do. I don't know what answers I seek. I am not even sure what questions I am asking.

This morning, the throbbing in my feet has subsided. The blisters look more painful than they feel. The offending shoes, discarded, look innocent. But I know better. I won't be fooled again.

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.