Saturday, June 1, 2013
Saturday Musings, 01 June 2013
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. Amazon.com 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.
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.