Saturday, August 10, 2013
Saturday Musings, 10 August 2013
A quiet house, a lazy Saturday. Two of the family members have gone to visit a bird flown from the nest. Another still sleeps, and I have read the meager news offering and drunk two strong cups of coffee. I've re-wrapped my broken hand three times, managing, finally, to leave one functioning finger free to handle the work that four should do, skimming its tip over one half of this little keyboard. Life goes on.
Over a formica table this week, my son asked me about the New Madrid faultline. A Google search later, we see the sweep of its line. And I am taken back without warning, to the sweet summer of 1970.
With a thin frame and tumbles of badly combed curls, I moved through my early teenage years in a fog of confusion made worse by the Valium that my doctor used to treat my "walking problem". I barely spoke to anyone. I huddled inside my brothers' chambray workshirts and handed-down blue jeans from my cousin Kati. I filled dozens of notebooks with bad poetry and hid in my bedroom, unsure of anything other than my own flawed state.
I volunteered for everything. I taught GED classes and gathered coins for poor kids in mysterious foreign lands. Eventually, I found Young World Development and started working on the annual Walk for Development, which YWD claimed launched the "walks" to raise money of the 70's and 80's. I couldn't walk the distance, but I could staff the refreshment tables and hand out registration forms. I wore the Walk shirt under an Army jacket and looked serious whenever a camera lens scanned the crowd.
In the fall of 1970, a handful of Walk volunteers piled into a pick-up truck driven by Battle Smith, whom I recall as a gruff, handsome social worker somehow assigned to help our group. With a little car driven by another adult behind us, we headed for the Bootheel, to visit one of the projects that our efforts helped to fund in Haiti, Missouri.
We stayed on what everyone, even its inhabitants, called "the Black side of town". As I slid from the dusty bed of Battle's Ford, my Converse-clad feet sank into inches of gunky mud. I wiggled free, and lunged out of the mucky street, over to a short span of cinder blocks, following my companions into our host's home.
Small, clean, sparsely furnished: the house had a kitchen in which stood a small metal table with four neatly spaced chairs. A two-burner stove, a small round-edged refrigerator, a coffee pot on a low shelf. We moved through the space to a small living room, where a couple of wide-eyed children in white T-shirts and shorts sat next to their thin mother. I looked beyond them through a doorway, glimpsing a narrow room with two iron beds. I didn't see a bathroom.
The man in whose home we stood introduced his family. He asked each of us our names, and the children repeated each one, "Hello, Miss Mary, so nice to meet you"; "Hello, Mr. David, welcome to our home." After everyone had been greeted, we all went back outside, and walked through the mud to a bigger house, where we sat down to a meal of cooked vegetables and ham. The night fell around us. The volunteers listened as the residents talked with our adult advisers about the efforts to get the city to pave their streets and bring running water to their houses.
Later, we drove a ways into the country darkness, and parked the truck near a small ravine. We sat in the truck bed, dangling our bare feet over the ridge, throwing rocks as far out as we could and whispering, unwilling to let our voices disturb the sleeping critters of the Ozark mountain night. We lay back and beheld the wide expanse of stars which would have been obscured by the lights of the city on any night in Saint Louis. No one spoke about the poverty we saw in the homes of the people who welcomed and fed us.
In the morning we went into town for breakfast but no one would serve us. We were strangers and we had parked outside with thick clumps of dirt from the wrong part of town on the wheels of our truck. We bought donuts and juice from the grocery store and sat on folding chairs in the office of the local economic development group. We struggled to regain the enthusiasm which compelled us to come. There we sat, a huddle of middle class kids with middle class values and no clue about anything beyond the edges of our middle class world.
The door opened. We saw an older woman, with crinkled dark skin, and short, grey hair. She wore a pressed white blouse and a long cotton skirt. She approached us with extended arms and small brown hands, which she clasped around each of ours. "Thank you so much for coming," she said, simply, in a firm, clear voice. I felt myself pulling my back a little straighter. She walked past our group and sat in the desk chair, clearly at home with the neatly aligned pencils and the fresh pad of paper. The air around us brightened. She beamed at us, a broad smile beneath bright eyes. We rose, brushed the sugar from our T-shirts, and moved toward her, the taint of the waitresses' sneer falling away with the cheerful, bright sweep of this woman's warm gaze.
A life-time later, as I type these words, I cannot remember the woman's name. Now the phone rings, and the reality of 2013 pushes away my reveries. My shoulders have grown stiff from the unfamiliar angle at which I must bend to type with one-and-a-third hands. The dog barks and a truck rambles by, and I realize that I have grown old. The girl who once raised money to better the lives of others and walked the rain-sogged, unpaved streets of Haiti, can barely remember the dazzling glory of those southern Missouri stars.
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.