Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saturday Musings, 29 June 2013

Good morning,

Plush green fools me into believing that I have been transported to a mountain retreat.  I face away from the street, ignoring the occasional rumble of a passing vehicle, keeping the gardenia plant on the table fully in view.  The begonias, nearly overgrowing their pots, frame the perimeter.  Cold smooth wood under my feet; chilly iron against my back; the occasional squawk of a blue jay; the gently swaying branches of a flowering bush, past its bloom but still lovely.

I only need to close my eyes, breathing long and slow, and I am again in Arkansas surrounded by the gentle rise of the mountains.  I stand outside a makeshift market constructed from four by eights and plywood, with piles of organic vegetables for sale, bring your own bag.  It's 1988.  I am alone in the height of the season, for reasons I no longer recall.  Perhaps my first husband, who dragged me to Arkansas, had taken a short contract in Little Rock.  Perhaps he was on tour with one of the theatre companies for which he freelanced.  But there I found myself, a city girl, in Newton County, Arkansas, with only a group of faded hippies and organic gardeners for company.

I trace the outline of a potato and ask the stand's proprietress what  kind it is.  She tells me that it is like a Yukon Gold, buttery and sweet, good mashed.  I put it down and select a few tomatoes and a late-season bunch of lettuce.  She tells me I can eat the tomatoes like apples, and I nod.  I give her a couple of dollars and get back into my Nissan Sentra, following the road down to our small house in town.

No one has come to my home-office while I have been away.  I'm not surprised.  I haven't done much law work since leaving Kansas City in July of 1987.  My promised job with the AG's office fizzled with the AG's indictment.  Chester's position with the Arkansas Opera vanished with a new General Manager who hired an entirely new staff.  We landed in Jasper in a rental house and he took up contract work.  I got a part-time gig as the county counselor only because there were four governmental lawyer positions and, before me, only three lawyers.  They greeted me with subdued enthusiasm.

That day, I put my vegetables away and decided to drive to Murray Valley.  Past Parthenon, a town so small it barely exists, along the paved road along the East Fork of the Buffalo River, Murray Valley lies on one side of Mount Sherman, flanked by a mountain which has a name, but now, twenty-five years later, I cannot remember it.  I've lost other names, including one of the two women to whose home I drove that day. 

But I have not forgotten them, nor the quiet drive to their house, nor the calmness of the summer surrounding me.  Only the occasional bird call, brief twitters, break the stillness of the warm morning air.  The trees on either side of the highway rise with a quiet confidence.  They grew before my birth and would survive my death, they whisper.  My eyes sweep up the lean trunk of  the tallest of them, which does not need to speak but merely stands confidently on the ridge as I drive past.

I almost miss the driveway.  It happens, in the mountains.  In the city we want you to find our driveway, cut boldly through the neat squares of lawn flanking the street.  We place statues at either side of the entrance and tile placards proclaiming the numbers of our addresses.  But in the country, a driveway serves as the last barrier between the sanctity of home and the harshness of the outside world.  The letter carrier doesn't even traverse that last stretch, but stays a respectful distance away, leaving your mail in a box at the driveway's end.

This driveway, on this day, has barely parted the lush growth of trees and undergrowth.  I pull onto the gravel and park beside a pile of stones.  I do not lock the car; I toss my keys under the seat.
One of the women whom I have come to visit stands on the stone stoop.  She has short black hair and wears a sleeveless white blouse and knee-length pants.  Her skin has deepened to its summer color of something just shy of walnut.  Her smile widens as I get out of the vehicle and she calls, "We've just made tea, come on up".  Without waiting for me, she goes back into the house, and I follow.

Everything about the house says comfort. Rustic woods, heaps of quilts, vibrant pieces of stained glass, cedar trunks and punched tin on the ceiling.  One large room, with a loft, and each function of the room defined by the positioning of its furniture: the inviting table, the poster bed, the wicker chairs, the wide windows.  Though it is June, the house feels cool.  I sit down and pull a mug towards me.  They did not know that I would arrive, but there is always a mug on the table, awaiting company.

The two women sit close together.  The second, heavier, more rounded, with long red hair twisted in a leather clip, crinkles her eyes at me.  She asks if city life had got me down, that I'd come slumming in Murray Valley. We laugh. Jasper has under six hundred residents and can scarcely be called a city but I know what she means.  I tell her that my husband is away.  She leans forward, and places one of her hands on mine.  Hers is a bit gnarled, mostly from honest labor but possibly from a bit of arthritis.  She tells me that if I ever get tired of my husband, I can come and live with them.  I think she means it.

We drink our tea and then walk a little on their land.  They sit above an unsullied sweep of mountainside, and we cannot even see another house.  I fill my lungs with long draws of freshness.  I tie the laces of my shoes a little more tightly and venture down a steep slope with the leaner of them, the dark-haired one whose name has slipped into time, holding  my hand. She wants to show me something.

We dip our hands into a small stream of water and pull a couple of flowers from a scrubby little bush.  We look at a grotto that someone has built, then climb back up to the house, quietly talking about who that someone might have been, and whom the grotto might have been intended to honor, with its stacks of carefully balanced stones.  When we get back to the house, my companion's partner has made lunch.  We eat in the kitchen, at the table for four, with light streaming into the house through the gauze of the embroidered curtains which flutter when the breeze rises and lie still when it falls.

After we have eaten, I decide it is time to go home.  They stand close on the stoop as I walk down to my car.  In that year, 1988, these two women had been together for more than a decade. Their stance seems natural, comfortable, almost careless.  They wave as I carefully back around a broken kennel that someone has left near a tree.  My last sight of them, as I pulled out onto the country road, was of two radiant smiles, two bodies seemingly melded into one, a lean arm slung around muslin-clad shoulders and the summer sun glinting on their shining hair.

My coffee has grown cold and the newspaper has been read.  As far as I can tell, our nation took one step backwards and two steps forward this week.  Though others might disagree, I like to think progress towards full equality for everyone is always a good thing.  As I take another sip of wretched, dank coffee, I strain to remember that other woman's name.  One was Carole, I know, but I just cannot recall the other.   I wonder if they are still together, in this golden summer, so many years  later, or if, like me, they have moved past that  marriage and live with one another in their Murray Valley cabin only in my memory.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Good morning,

The begonias on my porch and deck have taken on a life of their own.  They flank the tables and chairs, resting on old shelves.  The gardenia bush, given to me by my first writers' workshop, thrives in its place at the center of the table.  In the cool of the morning, before summer clenches this day in its grasp, I sit on the porch with one in an endless stream of cups of coffee and a plastic plate bearing a crumpet slathered with a weird combination of cream cheese and strawberry jam.  The cup announces that I Love A Mystery.

My life reverses in rapid shots, last year, last decade, last century.  Last night, I stared out of the passenger's window as my husband drove, down a street near the Little Blue River where an old boyfriend still lives.  We passed a man in a golf cart, wearing Blues Brothers shades and a crimped cowboy hat, talking on a cell phone.  I twisted in the seat to watch his image recede as my husband accelerated the Blazer and we pulled back onto Bannister Road.

I closed my eyes and felt the softness of the car seat.  As the motion lulled me into a stupor, the seat became a green recliner, in a fourth-floor apartment at the corner of 43rd and Warwick.  The rapid thunking of cars passing over a metal plate, not quite securely bolted over a pothole, startles me awake again and again.  It's 1982, early spring, and I have not been out of the hospital more than a week.

I shift the burden of the full-length cast on my right leg and reach for the cooling mug of coffee.  A sheaf of notes sits beside me, weighed down by a cassette player.  I've barely dented six weeks of recorded classes and meticulously compiled outlines.  I could have listened to them incrementally, while I lay in my hospital bed, but I did not.  I spent the first two-weeks post-accident luxuriating in star status from a haze of Morphine. At the end of that period, of which even then I had little memory, a surgeon laid my knee open to his indiscriminating knife, reduced the multitude of fractures, and stabilized the insides of my leg with a huge steel pin that I would one day marvel looked like a straightened coat hanger.

For the first few days after surgery, my star status spiked to immediately-post-accident levels.  My Constitutional Law professor brought a small bouquet of violets in a thin glass bottle.   The three Davids -- Boeck, Stever and Frye -- snuck real food into my room when I complained about the retched fare, and sat beside my bed listening to me belly-ache about my terrible troubles.  Law student run over by a car, ooohhh, ahhh, ahhh, film at 11.  Emmett Queener brought a giant chocolate chip cookie in a pizza box.  I picked at it, then sent it out to the nurses' desk.  I let them thank me as though I did it out of altruism.

I came home from the hospital six weeks after the accident.  The social worker expressed concern that I would be in a 4-th floor walk-up, but I wanted nothing to do with the rehab center she suggested as an interim measure.  Snow had fallen, got pushed to the curb lane in the streets of Kansas City, and melted while I dawdled in the hospital awaiting the doctor's permission to leave.  My visitor count had plummeted as the semester drew closer to final exam week.  I could not abide the thought of a shared bedroom in a facility of other struggling invalids.  The doctor signed my release and my parents toted me to my apartment.  They stayed one night, but my mother had already missed a lot of work on my behalf.

And so, I found myself alone.  Saturday, midtown, the sounds of birds drifting through the balcony door.  I could have struggled to my feet and crutched my way to the kitchen for breakfast, or sat on a chair in the bathroom to give myself a sponge bath.  I did neither.

The apartment fell silent.  I examined the scrawled names on my cast but then, listlessly settled my nightgown back over my leg.  I pulled my glasses off and threw them down on the table beside me.  A small sound from the back of the  apartment, where the door stood unlocked, distracted me but no one appeared, not one of the many friends who had volunteered to traverse those stairs with groceries, coffee, and clean clothes.

A blaring car radio disturbed my stupor.  I rose then, and staggered to the curtained French door.  I peered outside, searching for the source of the noise.  A car idled at the light, a convertible.  I pulled the door open and leaned further out, clutching my robe against my chest.  A woman sat on the top, her legs sprawled wide on the narrow back benchseat.  In the front, the male driver and a female passenger dangled their arms over the car's side.

But it was the woman in the back who caught my attention.  She arched her back, letting her long, thick hair fall behind and lifting her face in my direction.  With its slash of red, her mouth curled in an  upside down smile.  She closed her eyes and let the boldness of the spring sun caress her face.  From above, I felt the warmth that she must have been feeling, the coolness of the breeze, the complete abandon of her crazy perch.

And then, she opened her eyes.  She could not have seen me, half in, half out of my apartment and three stories above her.  But she raised her head, turned, and stared in my direction.  Neither of us moved until the light turned green, and her companions called to her, and she slid down on the seat just as the car shot forwarded into the intersection.

An hour later, clean, dressed, and fed, I sat down at my kitchen table, twisted my newly brushed hair up into a clip, and pulled the first of many days of class notes toward me.

I hear our neighbor coughing.  His wife lies in a hospital bed, where she will be forced to stay for the last month of her pregnancy.  I saw him walking down the driveway last evening, towards her car, on his way to get food and bring it to her.  He carried his worry in his shoulders.  I stood on our  porch, and watched his lean frame, watched the arch of his hand as he held a cigarette away, its smoke drifting over the asphalt and mingling with the waning heat of the summer night.  I waved as he passed, and he acknowledged me with a raised hand.  I watched the car until I could no longer see it, and then, went into the house, with a small shake of my head, and a certain understanding that has been years in the learning.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Midweek Musings

Good afternoon,

Half my life has been squandered in coffee shops.  I have written essays,  poems, and pleadings, with a yellow pad, laptop or a tablet propped on the square of a wooden table, a slick formica surface, or the heavy, shiny counter while I precariously balance on a rickety bar stool.  I have eaten muffins, and scones, and sandwiches, from Boston to Denver, and many points between.  So I feel no surprise at finding myself in another coffee shop, on another afternoon, with another ceramic mug at hand.

I tried to explain the premise of my blog to the most recent iteration of my fledgling writers' workshop.  I told them that I start with the present, digress to a memory or a description of something that's recently happened, and end back in the present, in the intimacy of my bedroom, or the porch on our home, or my little nook.  I explained that the blog entries have two lines, one being the events that I describe, and the other being some theme or concept that I am trying to illustrate.  I don't much care if anyone gets both, as long as someone, somewhere gets one of them.

I found myself, today, standing on the steps of my Brookside home, watching a small black Kia pull away from the curb.  Patrick, my only-born son, left for Chicago.  I suppose adventures await him.  One friend offered lodging; another tempted with the chance of a part in an improv film.  He felt unsettled in our home.  I remember when my friend Diana Howell told me about the moment when her daughter Pia's room became not-Pia's-room.  The moment when she knew Pia would never live with her again.

That moment has not come -- I don't think.

I never expected Patrick to go to college.  Europe, perhaps; or Mexico.  LA, even.  I could see him, guitar in one hand, laptop under his arm, with a bundle of stuff in a canvas bag slung over a shoulder.  I remember arguing with his first stepfather about the difference between "cooperation" and "obedience".  He asked me then if I didn't want to get Patrick to obey me, and I shook my head in such haste that I truly thought I heard my teeeth rattle.  Hell, no.  I just want him to cooperate.

Cooperation takes different forms, with different motivations, at different ages.  But at any age, the person whose cooperation you seek must understand and accept your goals and how what you want them to do will aid in the attainment of those goals.  They must also be persuaded to want to assist in the accomplishments that you value.  This doesn't always happen in real life.

The virtue in teaching a child cooperation rather than obedience lies in the depth of contemplation that you cultivate.  The child taught cooperation really evaluates each situation.  I'm laughing here.  This parenting style can result in some extraordinarily annoying behavior.   I had an early warning.  As a toddler, Patrick did something to irritate me one day, and I instructed him to sit on the couch.  He did so but quickly rose again.  I snapped, "I told you that I wanted you to sit on the couch!"  He replied, calmly, "Mother, I'm 2-1/2, do you really think I care what you want?"


On the other hand, despite the occasional blip in the road, the ultimate result has been the development of an independent thinker.  While he lacks a few skills -- budgeting, the bane of my own existence, chief among them -- and insists on leaving dirty dishes in the sink, nonetheless, I would stand him against nearly anyone for patience, kindness, and courage under fire.

I always wanted a big family.  I certainly tried for one.  From the ashes of several failed pregnancies arose this Phoenix, this guitar-playing, vegetarian, playwright, a sometimes scattered, handsome young man who throws his belongings and his shoes into the back of his car and takes off: to Indy, to Asheville, to Chi-town, to LA, to Nashville.  He was born under the sign of Cancer, and for what it is worth, he should have been a Leo but he couldn't wait.

I've had a few chances to provide some parenting to other young folks.  I took in strays. I've had, and currently have, stepchildren.  I fostered through the state.  I've held the crack-addicted baby of a street-dweller, the child's sweet smile beaming into my face as she clutched my sweater.  I've cranked up the heat on an electric blanket for a wandering teenager whose mother lashed his back with a hanger.  I've taken a pregnant teen to an adoption attorney, and waved goodbye as she left the courthouse steps for parts unknown.

I've been accused of coddling my son, and of catering to his weaknesses.  I've been praised for letting him fly.  I've squeezed my eyes shut and thrown him back into the pool when he nearly drowned at age 3.  I've surrendered him to doctors, teachers, nannies, girlfriends, and the kindness of strangers.  I've made mistakes, playdough, Schmarren, veggie burgers, appointments, reservations, and promises.  I've bargained with the devil, the universe and God.  When the doctors gave me six months to live, I stubbornly rejected their prognosis, saying, "I'm the single mother of a six-year-old, I cannot die until he graduates from college."

He's walked me down two aisles and up three or four mountains.  He held my hand through Carlsbad Caverns and stitches.  He drove me to the emergency room twice before he turned seventeen.  He once stepped in front of an angrily thrown soup pot for me.  He's hailed ambulances and offered to face my sister's drunk boyfriend who threatened to disrupt my son's high school graduation party.  He moved bedrooms twice for new family members that I drew into our circle, ultimately landing in the room where he started, as a two-year-old, with an old Singer sewing machine table for a desk.

I am one of the lucky ones.  I have loving family and friends.  I have a professional license even though I've never figured out how to use it to get rich or even rise above middle-class.  I have a car, a house, a mortgage and a library card.

And, my friends, it must be said:  I have the greatest kid on earth.  There are a lot of people I love: my husband, his children, his parents and sister, my siblings, and that lovely cadre of my family-by-choice who stand beside me through tears and triumphs.  Will I ever love any of them as much as I love my son?  As much, perhaps; but never quite the same.

So if a little black Kia with Missouri plates passes you, somewhere, anywhere, on a city street, a gravel road, or the Interstate outside of Austin, give your horn a little honk and wave.  That's my kid, driving to his next destination, squinting through his broken glasses, with a guitar on the back seat and Shakey Graves cranked up loud.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Saturday Musings, 08 June 2013

Good morning,

Through the open window, trills of waking birds entertain me.  The harsh red glow of the clock pierces the dim light of the room.  Its unrelenting march from midnight to four a.m. gives only one bittersweet, begrudging bounty:  A new twenty-four hour cycle.  I down a couple of pills, making a mental check against the day's allotment, and lean toward the open window.  I close my eyes, my fingers dancing over the keyboard. 

I no longer sit in the cool of a Missouri breeze; now I feel the mountain air and hear the wakening birds of an Ozark spring.  They nest in tall cedars, caressed by the wind; in the crook of a red bud branch, surrounded by fresh green and delicate crimson; in the hickories, the black walnuts, the enduring oaks.  My pen lies idle over the pages of a notebook, a paper notebook, with blue lines and scrawled complaints.  Only the birds and I stir; the small town has not yet come to life.

But a rustle in the leaves of the yard's hedge distracts me.  From the narrow porch of our house, I prick my ears.  There could be trouble.  I've once caught a glimpse of small bobcat, furtively twitching its tail and stalking the neighbors' fowl.  I have no defense, here on the porch, a silly city girl in flannel pajamas recording her tentative commitment to country life.  I do not sleep well; in times when the innocent lie oblivious, I hover on the porch, scanning the dark mountains for solace. 

This day, in the spring of 1988, before the sun has sent its warming rays above the rugged Boston Mountain Range, I lean forward, straining to hear the noise again.  When it comes, I jump: it has moved closer.  I draw myself against the house.  I should flee:  I should open the door beside me and step into the living room.  I freeze, instead.  A bobcat fears me more than I fear it, or just as much.  I want to see.

The leaves of the shrubbery part.  If I were home, in Kansas City, the intruder could just as easily be a wandering human looking for shelter or mischief.  Its form would crash through the bushes and from its mouth would come a cold cruel demand.  Its eyes would flare and its arms would brandish a thick stick or a firearm, and I would dive for the phone on the table just inside the door, frantic, clumsy, dialing for help. Sirens would wail while I crouched behind a sofa and the intruder pummeled on my door; then the figure would crash back through the thicket. Hammering steps would recede into the night, and I might even be believed, if the bushes bore signs of the hasty retreat.  My heart would stop beating sometime the next day, and I would resolve to discontinue my nighttime writing, or confine my quest for inspiration to the four walls of my city home.

But in the country, in the town of 563, the Newton County seat, such encroachments rarely occur.  And this morning, with the sun not yet lighting the yard as my feet shift on the rough wood of the porch, no human slips through the bushes.  I find myself face to face with a doe and her fawn.

Now three creatures stand motionless.  I have drawn a long full breath, and I dare not let it escape my lungs.  The noise would startle this pair.  The fawn steps forward on uncertain legs.  The mother's chest heaves.  I could swear she sees me.  She peers intently into my face, assessing the likelihood that I will unlock my muscles and lunge at her baby.  I hold myself rigid, keeping my arms close to my hips, clutching the notebook against my thigh, summoning the strength to stay silent.

She leans down, nudging the fawn.  Once more, she raises her head, turns her eye in my direction.  The air begins to lighten; dawn approaches.  From a few miles away, the muffled rumble of long-haul trucks drifts down toward us.  Then the rooster in the neighbors' yard lets out one strong crow,and with a quick flick of her white tail, the mother deer turns and urges her baby back into the hedge.  The branches snap back, and I see their fleeing forms, brown against the green.  In another moment, they have completely vanished.

I raise one hand to my face, rubbing my eyes, rolling my neck, blinking rapidly.  The other hand has clamped hard on my journal and the pen closed within its pages; I release my grip, and drop the notebook.  Now the rooster crows in earnest, and the impatient cackling of the hens in their coop breaks the stillness of the morning air.  I shift my stance, flexing my muscles, lifting and dropping my shoulders, until I can move freely again.  The breaking dawn plays on the mountain tops, the wind dances in the trees, and the birds join the cacophony as I go into the house to start the coffee.

Here in the present, the city birds call their morning messages outside my window, from which I can see that the sun has just barely cleared the maples to the east.  The pills I took an hour ago make my eyes heavy.  While the sun makes its climb in against the city skyline, I might catch a little sleep, perhaps dreaming, perhaps not.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Saturday Musings, 01 June 2013

Good morning,

At the end of a week of anti-climaxes and mild disappointments flavored with the sweet sauce of my son's resumption of residency in our home, I trudged up the smooth asphalt of our driveway, dry-cleaning over one arm, heavy bag over the other.  I shifted the weight of the bag, missing the extra ounces from my Droid Tablet.  Its screen had splintered under an unknown miscreant's careless drop, at the last session of my inaugural VALA Gallery Writers' Workshop, souring the pleasurable feeling of the otherwise victorious conclusion. having failed in its promise to deliver the replacement by Friday, we gair-un-tee, I'd spent an unsatisfying hour chatting alternately with the customer service departments of UPS and Amazon, in windows open side by side on my old PC.  Each tried to blame the other.  Not my fault, not my fault, not my fault.

I turned the corner at the edge of my porch and spied a small package sitting on the concrete floor.  For a wild moment, I imagined that somehow the substitute package that is to be delivered this morning had entered a time warp and made it by last evening instead.  But no: the package seemed much too small, and awkwardly shaped.  I set my burden down on the wooden rocker, bending to retrieve the square, fat manila envelope.  To: PATRICK CORLEY, it read, with our address carefully penned beneath his name.  I glanced at the return address.  The same steady hand had penned:  "Batesville PD", with an address in Batesville, Indiana.

The dropped wallet!  My son's wallet, left by him on the top of his car at a gas station just outside of Indianapolis on his trip home!  I banged on his bedroom window and held the package up for him to see.  He glanced, annoyed, in my direction, distracted from whatever played across the screen of his computer.  When he realized that his maternal unit stood on the porch holding a package for his viewing, he seemed to instantly know.  My wallet?  My wallet!  That's crazy.  Even crazier: when he slid the wallet from the package, he discovered that instead of the $20 he thought it had held, it now had nearly sixty.  Either he was mistaken about its contents or someone had given him a bounty.  We prefer to conclude the latter.

I poured a cup of coffee and took it back to the porch.  With the cool of the evening around me, I thought about the kindness of strangers.  It's not solely the stuff of Tennessee Williams flashbacks or maudlin advertisement for insurance companies.  I've found comfort in a hand reached to help me from an icy street, in front of my office, on a day when I probably should have stayed home.  The woman had seen me struggling, stopped her car, and came to assist.  She bore no more weight than I do, but her arms could pull me out of the snow drift into which I had fallen.  She guided me safely to the building's door and slipped away before I could even focus on her face.

The wind whiffled the flag beside me.  I remembered, too late, my annual ritual of hanging a new flag each Memorial Day.  We spent Memorial Day weekend in St. Louis, mingling among a large group of cousins who bi-annually gather to preserve the bonds forged by our departed parents.  To secure our contribution for a pre-picnic dinner at my brother's home, I forged without hesitation into the largest grocery store I've ever visited outside of the Super Wal-Mart where I lost my neighbor, years ago, before we all carried cell phones. I had had her paged and waited for fifteen minutes until she found the customer service unit, next to the post office, just down the corridor from the bank and the food court which was giving out free sodas to people waiting for their missing families.

The store to which I went for our family's contribution had slightly fewer twists and turns but still overwhelmed me.  I found the deli-counter and a helpful young man packaged some oven-baked chicken.  Now If you could just tell  me where I could find the beer, the protein bars, and the contact lens solution, I'd be set. I grinned at him.  I didn't expect him to know the ins-and-outs of other departments, but it never hurts to ask.

The clerk came out from behind the glass encasement.  Do you want me to help you? His smile begged me to agree.  Oh, I don't want to take up your time, I demurred.  Ma'am, I've got nothing but time, and it's yours if you need it.  How could I refuse?

He led me to the drinks aisle, and when I hesitated over the variety of beer that my husband might want, he suggested that I phone.  I could not believe a store clerk would just willingly wait while I listed off the available types of beer but this young man did, without shrugging, or grimacing, or giving that little shake of the head that we all suppress when someone cuts ahead of us right before the light turns red.  I mentioned several varieties that my husband would like, and the clerk rummaged in the shelves until he found something suitable.  Then, off we went to find the exact right protein bar for son number two.

My helper squatted on his strong young legs to collect a half dozen Detour bars.  The boys won't eat protein bars with soy; only whey will do.  So we loaded the fistful of energy into the cart, and off we went to the pharmacy.  As I pushed and he reigned in his energy enough to match my lumbering pace, he asked from where I had come.  I told him, hastening to add that Jennings in St. Louis County is my home of birth.  Ah, Jennings!  I'm from Ferguson, he chortled, and the inevitable question yielded the information that he went to high school in U-City after his family moved.  He had not heard of my Catholic high school, unsurprising since it closed a couple of decades before his birth.

But no matter.  The binds of commonality had been forged.  We strolled through the aisles of Dierbergs, a fifty-eight year old lawyer and a twenty-year old store clerk, chatting about picnics, family reunions, and coming home.  He got me to the shelf where my last item would be found, then, with what I heard as reluctance, told me he should probably get back to his station.  I shook his hand, and watched him move away.  His shoulders sat broadly in the white butcher's coat; the tie of his apron rested easily at his narrow waist.  He sauntered rather than walked, with the grace of the young and the guileless air of the unbroken. 

I sipped my coffee, last evening, as the sun slid closer to the earth's edge.  I thought about the police officer who must have carefully copied my son's address from his driver's license, and wondered who had brought the wallet to the Batesville, Indiana police station.  I reflected on the memory of the many hands which have steadied me over the years, from the high school teacher who guided me down the hall when I became ill to the Jackson County deputy who carried me into the courthouse after the wind  blew me over  one brisk spring morning.  I am no Blanche Dubois, but I, too, have always depended on the kindness of strangers. As I sat eating my hummus-and-avocado sandwich last night, I realized  that people who have no knowledge or understanding of your life sometimes treat you more kindly than those who do. As the coffee grew cold, and the sun set, I closed my eyes, and prayed that every stranger whom I ever encountered would remember me as kind.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Missouri Mugwump™

My photo
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.