Saturday, April 20, 2013
Saturday Musings, 20 April 2013
Good intentions to the contrary, I awakened at six this morning, in the barely lightened room, surrounded by a blanket of quiet, chilly air. Small noises drifted from the downstairs. Outside my window, baby birds had just begun to proclaim, hunger, or joy, I could not tell which. I had fallen asleep after staring with fascination at the scrolling, swiftly accumulating tweets about the second of two suspects in the Boston marathon bombing. So many dead, so many wounded, so many terrified. The last clip I watched showed hundreds of Watertown citizens standing in the street, singing our national anthem. Their voices echoed as I drifted to sleep. And in my dreams, I am transported back.
I am six, I am tiny and frail. I stand in the concrete room in the farthest corner of my parents' basement. The shelves would sag with their burden, had they not been built strong and sturdy by my father's hands. They hold jars, boxes and bags, with food that my mother has gathered to forestall hunger, should we spend days or weeks in the murky, musky rooms beneath our home.
In the larger room next to the fruit cellar, narrow cots have been placed. I run my fingers along the thin blankets, the flat pillows, the frayed sheets. My mother has used our oldest linens to prepare these emergency beds. It is 1961, maybe 1962. It is Saint Louis, Missouri, and new batteries have been carefully inserted into the portable radio. A stash of unopened AAs sits on the workbench beside a gallon thermos of clean water.
High windows cast the waning light of the evening sun into the gloomy rooms. No one remains in the basement but me. Did sirens frighten me? The threat of missiles from Cuba has hovered over our city for months. My mother always brings the babies down, the little boys, but the older kids often ignore the siren's wail. The air hangs close, damp and dank. I stare at a bulb dangling from a wire, with its skinny chain, a short few inches tied to a sturdy string, from which a steel nut hangs. I can reach this pull to turn the light off, on, off, on. I watch its flicker between gentle monotonous tugs. The light and I are alone.
I run my finger along the edge of my father's workbench, which lined the wall of the big main room that my mother has made into our basement retreat. I lift his hand tools from their spots, one at a time, studying the sleek darkness of their oiled surfaces. My father has taken care of these implements. They show signs of being cherished. I return them with utter care to the positions from which I have lifted them.
I wander around, staring at the shelves which hold broken toys that my father has promised to repair. My mother's ironing board stands in the center of the room, the iron's cord wound around its base. A blurry chalk mark forms a circle around my mother's work space, the demarcation of her territory. Our tricycles stand idle in a corner, next to the red wagon. They make no sound.
I open the creaky door of the large closet under the stairs. I would not normally be allowed in this closet without supervision. The air raid has ended, and my siblings have gone back upstairs, but I stayed behind. The high-pitch of their voices drifts down through the ducts, eerie and detached, taunting me from the registers. I stand in front of the closet and poke my head in its gloomy depths. Mysterious boxes sit in readiness on the shelves of the deep recess. Easter, and Christmas, and Halloween can be made from the content of the cardboard containers. I close the door.
In the next room, I stare at the piles of laundry heaped on the floor which have overflowed the huge bin. There is a washing machine at one end of what used to be our garage. Beyond the washer, a crude wall blocks off an expanse in which there is a shower head, a floor drain, and a toilet. Only my older brothers brave this rudimentary bathroom.
The crackle of the radio in the room that I have left behind me speaks of the all-clear. I pay it no heed. But hours have past since the sirens sounded and my family had come into the basement. I am tired, and hungry, and frightened. I climb into the slatted bin which holds my family's accumulated washing, and fall asleep, with the darkening of night surrounding me, and the sounds of KMOX drifting in from the fruit cellar.
This morning, I have fixed breakfast for my husband and me. I have read more of the newspaper than I might normally read, including all of the news about the capture, the lamenting of the suspect's uncle, and the bold, colorful article about the anti-anti-gay-church movement that has taken hold in Topeka. I have listened to the commentators repeatedly summarize the Friday events, and ruminate about the Justice Department's decision not to Mirandize the suspect. My coffee has grown cold. My husband has readied himself for his weekly tennis game and kissed me goodbye. In a corner of the dining room, our dog sleeps. In a few minutes, I will call the vet to refill the dog's medication. I will make another pot of coffee, and then stand on my beloved front porch, watching my American flag waive in the gentle spring breeze.
The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- 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.