Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saturday Musings, 11 May 2013

Good morning,

As I stood in the crowded restaurant last evening, leaning against the half-wall separating the bar from the dining room, I gazed up at the tension in my husband's face.  Long days, hard work, his mother's decline  -- all haunt him.  The accumulated impact deeply mars his face and draws his brow to a tight bundle of dispirit.  I close my eyes, and reach across the small space between us, touching his arm.  I have spoken to my father-in-law; I know what kind of day it has been.

As we wait for a booth, my own mother's face floods back to me.  Its mottled brown skin, the slight hook of her nose, the muted red of the lipstick she bought several at a time to be sure she always had the right color.  Auburn waves, later streaked with grey, framed her narrow face.  She sang in deep, low tones, lullabies and Broadway show tunes.  Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind".  The  spiritual, "Goin' Home", sung to the haunting strains of "The New World Symphony".

I am five, maybe six.  I stand on the little bench, in my mother's kitchen.  An apron has been wrapped around my small belly, the strings tied in front.  With sleeves folded over and over, my arms stretch to knead the dough that my mother and I have made.  She sprinkles flour on the surface of the counter, spreading a fine layer with an easy, practiced motion.  She instructs me in the best technique, knuckles first, pushing away, then pulling back.

I raise my eyes to meet hers, pale blue gaze fixed on warm brown pools of wisdom.  She wears curlers, tightly rolled, fixed with long white plastic sticks, wrapped round with a bandanna.  She raises one eyebrow and I turn back to the dough we are making for Sunday dinner.  It will rise twice in the yellow Pyrex bowl, after which we will form it into clover leaf rolls.  My mother places one hand over mine, gently guiding my movements.  "That's the way," she says, and her tones wash over me, leaving a flush of pride in their wake.

At her direction, I spread a clean dish towel over the ball of dough, after she flips it  to be sure the melted butter adheres to both sides.  Then onto the warm oven it goes, so the heat will encourage its rising.  "Now what?" I ask her, and she looks down on my face.  She flicks her eyes toward the living room, where a slight noise has arisen, like the whisk of a fox running past the chicken coop, briefly startling the sleeping hens.  She stares toward the hallway. I turn, too, and both of us stand motionless.

I  hold my breath.

It could be anything, from a couple of boys grousing with each other to the dog rummaging in the Sunday newspaper.  I suspect, in the tiny corners of my young mind, that my mother fears something worse.  My stomach clenches.  I am five, I am six, and I already know the wild ride between serenity and chaos.

But the moment passes.  I climb down from the bench and my mother takes me into the bathroom, where she lets down the curls formed around my head by old-fashioned plastic clips.  She helps me into a dress and then does her own hair.  Other children emerge from the two bedrooms and my mother goes to get the baby ready for church.  My father still sleeps.

Later, after Mass and before we go home to form the dough into rolls, I stand with my mother outside of the church.  My older brothers run around near the grotto.  There must be a toddler in tow, at the very least.  Maybe my mother is pregnant with the one who will be named "Stephen" because he evens out the balance of genders.  I hold my mother's hand.

A lady walks over to us.  She wears a jacket that matches her skirt.  Her hat forms a broad band across her forehead.  The redness of her cheeks fascinates me, and I stare at the huge beads around her neck.  She leans down.  "What a pretty little girl," she trills.  "What sweet banana curls.  Your daddy must be really proud of such a pretty child," she tells me.  Then she folds her body into a deeper bend, to get her face very close to mine.  "What does your Daddy do, little girl," she asks, in a voice shrill with malice.

"He drinks,"  I tell her. 

She gasps, and pulls her body away from mine.  She clutches her handbag against her chest.  Her faces hardens.  She hastens away, leaving my mother to stand with her hand on the top of my head, and me to wonder what I have said to make her face turn to steel.

I am five, I am six.  I do not know what it means to drink.  I have heard my Nana say this, talking on the hall phone in her home, while I sit on the floor between her knees and she brushes my hair.

My mother's hand lingers against my cheek.  It does not feel like steel. It feels like silk.  I glow where she touches me.  I close my eyes, and the world stands still for just a few moments, until the sound of my brothers' impatience cuts through the morning air. We start the long walk home.

In a few hours, the fudge shop will open.  I will go and purchase two one-pound boxes, and then drive out to the facility which, by the merest chance, currently houses both my mother-in-law and her sister, though in different units.  I will visit first one, then the other, and tell silly stories about what I have done this week, some of which might even be true.   I will try to amuse them while I am there, and to leave a smile on each of their faces, because that's what my mother would do.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

In Memory of Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley,
10 September 1926 - 21 August 1985
She who has gone home.

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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.