Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve Musings

Halloween, 1982.  I flew into Helena to visit a guy who'd been my lover during my second year of law school.  I can't claim that he was more or less than that.  This man owned a plate, a fork, a knife, a spoon, a cup and a pan.  With his food scale, such constituted the kitchen equipment of my friend in those days.  He lived a sparse life, and did not lightly welcome intruders.

The Blue Sky plane ride across the mountains terrified me.  At that time, I had not yet flown in a Cessna 150 during an ice storm, landing in a frozen cornfield; nor taken a 206 out of a small Louisiana airport on the heels of a thunderstorm having contractions four minutes apart.  I had not yet had a private pilot ask if I was nervous to fly with him after his recent crash -- of which, until he mentioned it, I had been unaware.  No, in those days, I had flown in nothing other than a jumbo jet from St. Louis to Denver, and that October flight from Billings to Helena grabbed my gut.  I fell into David's arms and whispered, "Holy Crud! That's a small plane!"  A twenty-seater -- ha.  Little did I know how much smaller planes could get.

Snow fell around us as we skittered on icy streets to his apartment.  Arms entwined, we walked down the streets of his neighborhood to a small grocer.  His diabetic needs jived with my vegetarian sensibility.  Back upstairs, I presented him with my "host" gift:  A second plate, a second set of silverware, a cup to use with my morning coffee.  He made his standard dinner:  Baked potatoes, steamed veggies, white fish cooked in his only pan with a tiny scrap of margarine.  We drank water.  It tasted like nectar to me.

A day or two later, Halloween loomed.   We decided that was as good a day as any to drive to Glacier Park.  Through small town after small town we rounded the curves of the road up the Rockies, their majesty beckoning.  He explained the meaning of the groups of white crosses on the  roadside:  one cross for every life claimed by failing brakes or speeding drivers.  The grim testaments stunned me.  We drove on, on, higher and higher, while David told me bout his work with Native Americans living on the area reservations.

The wind howled a bit as we neared the park.  A storm gathering miles away in Canada threatened the upper areas, beyond us, farther than we intended to go.  We pulled his little Ford over to the side of the road, and contemplated his chainless tires while the snow flurried around us.  Glancing back and forth, eyeing each other, measuring our bravery, we shrugged, climbed back into the vehicle, and proceeded forward.

At the entrance to the pass through which David wanted to travel, a large sign heralded us.  TURN BACK, DOROTHY, it might as well have said.  What it actually told us did cause a momentary hesitation.  The pass ahead had been closed to all  without chains unless driving ATVs.  Rangers could pass, presumably, and lumberjacks if any were ever allowed into the park.  But ordinary folks, driving Fords with old snow tires and without chains, entered at their own peril.  Another moment when we eyed each other, the one daring the other to suggest we admit defeat.  David shifted into gear, and we crept forward.

A short ways into the park proper, David stopped in a turn-around area to give himself an insulin shot.  I got out and stood beside him, sheltering his thin frame from the sharp bite of the winter air.  He spoke in a low voice, telling me to glance over the railing at the glacier.


I saw only grey, as far as I could stretch my neck in any direction.  A snow storm, rapidly moving sleet, low-lying clouds or long-clinging fog.

No, he assured me.  That's a glacier.

I stood transfixed, staring into what a sign told me  was St. Mary's Lake.  A soundless snow fell around us.  David finished the simple act that kept him alive, and beckoned me back to the car.  I paused a moment, unable to turn my back on what I had beheld.  Finally, I followed him, and pulled the door shut, sealing us into the car's warmth.

I remember little of the rest of our visit to Glacier Park.  We spent the day driving through nearly impassable roadways, venturing as far north as we thought his car would take us, before turning around and slipping back down through the small towns, slowing for the chattering trick-or-treaters on the cobblestones and sidewalks.  We did not speak.  Words seemed unnecessary.

A week after my return to Kansas City, a parcel arrived from Montana.  It held the red plastic dishes that I had brought him, and the spoon, fork and knife.  The little red cup.  I put them away. Years later, my son would take his lunch from them, oblivious to what they once meant.  But when he was three, or maybe four, and innocently asked me where God lived, my answer came without hesitation:  Glacier Park, I said.  One day, I hope you get to go there.

Happy New Year, everyone.  May all your parks hold glaciers, may your holidays be filled with awe, and may your place setting rest beside one at which someone you love sits, smiling, waiting for you to join them.

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.