Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saturday Musings, 27 July 2013

Good morning,

The week draws to a gentle close.  From the vantage point of Saturday morning, I gaze back six days to early Sunday, when a small black Kia jetted east, then a bit south, gliding to a stop in a GPS-tracked restaurant in Washington, Missouri. I sat in the passenger's seat; my son in the driver's seat; and we looked first at each other, and then at the restaurant to which we had come for purposes of meeting my long lost niece.

We eased out of the car, stretching muscles held still since the last rest stop. I hesitated, thinking the restaurant looked closed but Patrick ventured forward and soon we occupied a table facing the entry way. "Do you think she will come," I ask, and my son just looks at me. I can't decide what he thinks except that I should stop chattering.

A few minutes later, I saw a tall, sturdy man walk into the restaurant and glance over at us. He left again; and then came back, preceded by a short woman, whose picture I had memorized so as to recognize her. Patrick and I stood, and the two of them approached. I saw the curve of her smile, her profile, and my heart stopped. I knew that profile.

And in an instant, it is 1987 and I am again the age of this long-lost niece.

I sit in a Firebird, wearing a blue muslin dress and white leather Mary Janes, clutching a silk bouquet. I turn to see the driver, in profile, a profile that I have known nearly three decades since his birth brought even-ness to my family, four boys and four girls. "Steve," I say. "Aren't you driving a little fast for these mountain roads?"

He responds with a grin and an upward crank of the Grateful Dead, and hands me a bottle from which I take a swig. "You're getting married today, Mare Bear," he scoffs. "You gotta live a little, it's your last hour of freedom."

I glance in the side view mirror at the line of cars inching up the mountain behind us. The gathering of Corleys, all of whom stayed at the off-season motel in the little mountain town, follows us. I am supposed to be their navigator to Murray Valley, above the county seat of Newton County, Arkansas, in the rich lovely hills. "I can't see Mark's car," I tell my little brother. "I think we've lost him." Steve responds by slowing down a mile or two per wild hour and I take another sip of Chivas Regal.

I gaze out the window, deep into the valley, at the tops of the lush trees and clustered homes. I roll the window down and close my eyes, letting the breeze wash over my face. "Casey Jones" blasts across the otherwise quiet land. I feel the staccato tapping of Steve's hand on the steering wheel, the warm flush of the Scotch; the slight flop of my stomach. I can't say if what I feel is from the impending event, the alcohol or the lurch of the city car around the country corners.

I open my eyes. "Steve," I say suddenly. "I think the mountains are on the wrong side." He doesn't understand at first and makes a joke about God's choice of where to put the mountains. "No, no," I insist. "I think we're on the wrong side of the valley. I think we took a wrong turn."

He stops the car on the narrow shoulder, on the edge of the mountain, a thousand feet above the rolling, verdant fields of spring in Newton County. A half-dozen cars pull in behind us. Steve eases himself out of the driver's seat, confers with my older brother at the wheel of the second vehicle, and we all turn, slowly, and go back down a ways to where we got off track. I do not speak as we climb back up, this time on the right road but now thirty minutes late. I glance again at his profile and take another drink.

"You know, Mare bear," he finally says, "If you don't want to do this, you don't have to. We can just have a big party and get everybody high, they'll think you got married and then you can just go back to Kansas City like nothing happened." He reaches out and touches my arm, his own clad in the light brown of the jacket he has worn. I feel the warmth of him through the thin fabric of my dress. "I know," I tell him. The Dead sings on, whatever song is next, and soon we are in a clearing filled with scores of trucks, and Jeeps, and a handful of small, dusty cars that tell me some of my friends have made it down.

We stop. The cars behind us stop. It is still, except for the call of a bird from a tall evergreen by the side of the road. Steve is watching me, I can tell, his face turned toward me. The bottle is nearly empty and the music has stopped. Sweet air flows through the car and his hand rests on my leg. "Okay," I finally say. "I'm ready." And Steve walks round to my car, opens the door, and reaches his hand for mine, while the music of the mountains whispers on the wind.

A lifetime later I sat at a table in a Mexican restaurant, meeting Steve's oldest daughter for the first time. She was born of a relationship that did not endure. Her parents were too young, maybe; or maybe something else went wrong. They went their separate ways and she grew into a lovely young woman without my brother's help. Six months ago, I awakened in the middle of the night with a lurching feeling. I barely made it to six a.m. before I called my sister Joyce with this urgent question: "Didn't Steve have another daughter?" I've already forged a relationship with his younger daughter, Chelsea -- maybe not enough of one, but something -- and suddenly, I have this insatiable urge to find Amy. Both girls were raised by their respective mothers and stepfathers. Both girls bear the unmistakeable stamp of Steve's profile, the slant of his nose, the line of his strong chin. Beautiful women.

Amy and her husband sat beside me in that restaurant, then for another hour in Starbucks. She talked about her childhood -- surgeries for a difficult birth defect, surgeries that succeeded as I can see. Her coloring comes from her Italian mother, as do her deep brown eyes. But that profile: That is pure Steve; as is the gleam of mischief in her eye and the curve of her smile. She seems level though, in ways that he had never been. She possesses a kind of peace that I think he would have envied. I can't stop beaming as we visit, flush with a warmth not from anything I've eaten or drunk but from something else; something close to joy. The feeling lasts the whole way home, and lingers still.

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.