Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Musings, 13 September 2014

Good morning,

After visiting my favorite curmudgeon last evening, I sped northwards, on Quivera Road, deep in Johnson County, Kansas, with rudimentary directions and a strong sense of determination.  I had promised Penny that I would attend the showing of her Summer Love photographs, taken at Greene's Acre, an organic farm in Merriam owned by her friend Steve Greene.  Despite the threat of approaching dusk when my weak eyes lose their shy grip on functionality, I vowed to get there. I pulled into the parking lot of Jill Dutton's art space nervous, edgy, and certain that I would have to sleep on the floor.  I wedged my car between the driveway and a dumpster, nursed the cagey ignition into lock position, and slid from behind the wheel.  My feet hit the gravel just as the door to the old stone house burst open and Penny herself emerged, saying goodbye to one friend as I approached the entry way.  She folded me in an embrace that validated my decision to brave the potential of death by night-blind driving.

Three hours later, photos viewed, friends met, and caravan back to the house with one friend driving my vehicle and another following completed, I ascended to my cabin bedroom, laptop in one hand, bowl of grapes in the other.  As the cold of the room with its open windows hit me, I thought about all the cold rooms I have ever entered and the present gave way to the musty memories which rose to claim me.

Early January, 1988.  Jasper, Arkansas.  I'm six months into my first marriage, alone in Newton County trying to start a law practice while  my husband tours with a theatre company as their technical director.

The pipes in our rental house have already frozen, a phenomenon with which I've not previously dealt  in 31 years of living.  I've already made a frantic call to my father, and, at his instruction, gone to the local feed store and purchased a bale of hay to put around the above-ground pipes.  A farmer in a battered truck has already hauled the hay to the house and opened it for me, silent, grim, eyeing me with an unspoken question gleaming in his glance.  Who moves their city wife to the country and leaves her on her own?  It is a fair question but there is a fair answer:  We needed the money that Chet's job promised.

Now I've discovered the propane tank either doesn't function or has no fuel.  I don't know which, and it's Sunday; the company which we're told can fill it won't be open until the next day.  I had no idea it would be so cold in Arkansas, in the mountains but several hours south of my home state.  I had thought of Arkansas as a hot land, a different segment of the hemisphere, one with nothing in common with its northern neighbors.  But here, in Jasper, I find myself shivering in the living room as I struggle to get all of our belongings unpacked and put away.  My heart feels grim.

I abandon my task and drive, up the mountains to Murray Valley, with the low grey depths of the countryside  on my right as I climb the gentle rise to the mountains' higher points.  The land lies  still.  Most of its native inhabitants are down in the city at church.  I get to the Murray Valley Community Center in time for the nonsectarian Sunday Service.  My husband's friends, old hippies most of them, greet  me with broad smiles as Jeanne Ashworth begins to play and sing.  Her wide friendly face turned toward me, she lets her spirit wrap around her words as she praises the divine entity in whom I did not quite believe in those days when I still groped to find some faith.

After the song, someone reads some passage, not from the Bible but from something I did not recognize.  I mostly daydream, warm now in a room with heat, my muscles gradually loosening as the cold releases its grip.  Someone else speaks a few words about how we should manage our lives, our inner lives, our spiritual existence.  My mind drifts.  Then we sing another song which I do not know.  After the service, we drink coffee, and Mary Ann Ashworth invites me to Sunday supper.  This is the whole reason that I have driven to that place, sat through the service, strained to keep my disinterest from showing on my face:  To get invited to some one's house for Sunday supper.

Her home holds all the things you'd want to see in a dwelling built into the side of a stretch of rough untamed land:  Jars of preserves, flowered curtains, a mudroom with flannel quilted jackets.  The kitchen smells like every country kitchen everywhere, without perhaps the heavy odor of too much fried food.  It smells of freshly cut herbs, and cinnamon, and the smokey fragrance of well-water.  Mary Ann's younger children still live at home but they've gone off somewhere, and just she and I sit in the kitchen for a cup of tea while the chicken simmers in the skillet and the pie bakes in the oven.

Her face shines as she asks how I'm adjusting to this life.  Her eyes meet mine and they seemed filled with love though I cannot imagine why.  I've known her not quite a year, since she made the food for our March wedding, and for most of that time, I've seen her only  at church during our weekends staying at her ex-husband's house across Thomas Creek where Mary Ann and her children had once lived, before the divorce that they probably never thought could happen.  But Mary Ann walks the path of kindness.   I take the last few steps to dwell in her glow, if only for that hour.

Now she waits for me to answer her question.    I tell her about the frozen pipes, the empty tank, the boxes in the living room and the lonely midnight hours.

Oh honey, she says.  Stay here tonight, it's okay.  I've got plenty of room and it's warm here.  I pretend to resist the invitation but we both know that I will stay.  She gets up to fill our plates straight from the pots and pans, and we sit at her table, which she has covered with a flowered table-cloth.  We eat baked chicken, green beans that came from her garden  last summer, and potatoes from an organic farm across the valley.  Afterward, we have strong coffee and her freshly-baked pie, and I forget about the empty rental house down in town.  For a day, a night, and a morning before I leave to meet the propane company, Newton County feels like home.

Now it's Saturday in Kansas City half a lifetime later, and my house holds the chill which tells me that winter approaches.  I wear a woolen, hand-knit sweater over my pajamas and drink hot coffee from a pink checkered cup given to me by my friend Pat.  I had a rough night.  I don't know if the cold plagued my legs, or if I suffered from a day wearing worn-out shoes, but I found myself pacing, writhing, and finally groping for the midnight anti-spasmodic that I hoped would calm my raging nerves.  I stilled my anxiety with deep breathing, letting  my mind fill with memories of Mary Ann's kitchen, the fragrance of  cinnamon and basil, and Mary Ann's calm smile.  I could see her standing with her wide bosom covered with a gingham apron, handing me an extra blanket, a stack of fresh towels and a new bar of home-milled lavender soap.  I could hear her soft voice telling me, as I drifted back to sleep, that everything would be all right in the morning.

And so it was.

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.