Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday Musings, 30 November 2013

Good morning,

The collected faces around two tables this week shone with happiness, though some bore the tinge of a first Thanksgiving without a certain smile newly taken from us.  I sat in a guest's spot at both tables, struggling to make sense of the rising swirl of emotions within my breast.  At one table, the customs stemmed from the family into which I married, matching none of mine but having their own sweetness.  At the second table, the gathering had the familiarity born of longevity, two families melded who have been breaking bread together for many years, and the ritual incorporated the sharing of "thankful-fors" which the hostess learned in my home.  At one, we sat on formal Italian furniture, heavy, beautiful and carved; at the other, several folks snuggled onto closely-packed folding chairs and a few place settings did not match.  Both gatherings flowed with love, with hope, and with laughter.  And in the midst on both days sat I, remembering.

I am walking down a street that could be anywhere, down  a hill flanked by tall bare trees, spindly soldiers on a winding path.   I wear a green Army jacket, a thin flannel shirt, and blue jeans folded at the cuff.  My feet shuffle in their heavy, tied shoes.  Beside me, my mother strolls without effort, bundled into something warm.  We have walked farther than we planned but she does not feel the strain as I do so I trudge on, unwilling to admit that I am tired.

We've left the car parked outside the small restaurant at which we have had lunch and now are walking toward a small park, a little patch of ground on which there is a bench.  We're walking off the pie we have eaten after our soup and sandwich.  The bite of early winter wind spurs us onward.  We do not speak. My silence stems from the strain I feel, the breathlessness that walking triggers.  I glance at my mother.  Her face, in profile, seems sorrowful.

We reach the little patch of winter ground and sit, side by side, on the wooden bench with its peeling paint.  A small building nearby houses the town hall but looks to be mostly a museum.  We see no one.  We can hear the occasional car on one of the two main roads in this small Illinois town.  A few blocks south of us the river gently flows.

"Just a few days to Thanksgiving," my mother finally says.  I nod.  The counter at my childhood home has heaps of fixings on it.  I'm visiting; I don't live there; but at that moment it is home.  I'll knead the dough for clover-leaf rolls; I'll stretch the pie crust under her direction.  The house will smell like ginger and nutmeg.

A chipmunk skitters across the cold ground.  My mother's hands rest in her lap.  Our shoulders touch and neither of us flinch.  We settle onto the bench, my mother, my college-girl self, and all the memories that each of us have.  Time drifts by and no words escape either of us.

My mother unfolds her worn, small, brown-spotted hands and places one finger on my open palm.  Side by side our hands could be from different worlds.  I have my father's Irish skin and she has her own father's Lebanese hue.  Her nails have been clipped  short; mine are filed into a small half-moon and have been brushed with clear, shiny polish.  The liver spots on my mother's hands have grown with time; I bear  only one small birthmark in the shape of a heart, and two tiny scars from a childhood injury.  Yet we sit, my mother and I, her hand touching mine, with the chilly breeze of an Illinois autumn tossing the bare branches of the elms around us, and I am flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood, bone of her bone.

"What are you going to be thankful-for?" I have asked her this question every year, ahead of the moment when we're to share that confidence.  Every year she has given me the same half-serious answer:  She's thankful for me, she's said: in a dozen ways, a half-dozen more, phrased differently each time depending on my age.  I wait; I know she will say it again, as she has said it every year.  And then on Thanksgiving Day, when she goes last because that is how we do it, she beams around the table and includes everyone.  But in this preview, she confesses that I am her favorite and she is thankful for me.  I wait.  I know she will say it.

She shifts on the bench and removes her hand from mine.  A truck lumbers past making a heavy noise that washes over the little park and then subsides as the vehicle crests the hill down which my mother and I walked.  The same chipmunk dashes down the tree on which it has been sitting and hurries to another for no apparent reason.  My mother stands.  "Let's go," she finally says.  "We need to get back.  I need to start on the fruit pies."

I stand; we trudge back up the hill and my mother drives us home.  Small talk fills the car; the order of guests at the table, whether I have time to help her iron the linens.  All the way home, I wonder if my mother consciously chose not to answer me, not to assure me that she is still most thankful for me, her baby girl, her kitchen helper, her companion on Saturday excursions.  We're almost to McLaran Avenue where our house sits at the bottom of a T-intersection in a quiet neighborhood, when a flood of wonder overtakes me, and I realize, for the first time, that I am no longer a child.

Mozart plays in the living room here, in this house, this bungalow, which I share with my husband who sits on the couch reading the Wall Street Journal.  Outside the window, I see tender fading leaves of the Japanese maple and beyond that, towering over my car, the long leafless branches of a maple tree.  Winter has come to Kansas City.   I take another sip of the  coffee which my husband has poured for me, and then, for no reason, I smile.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley


  1. What a moving piece that weaves past and present so lovingly together. Thank you for this wonderful reflection.

  2. Julie, I am honored that you read my post! Thank you for your comment.


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.