Saturday, November 29, 2014
Saturday Musings, 29 November 2014
I'm in St. Louis. Though it's been a night to prove that gluten does impact my neurology, nonetheless, I'm feeling fine. I have much for which to be thankful, starting with a Eureka! moment which I had in January of 2013, in the middle of a winter's night.
I awakened suddenly, sitting ramrod straight in bed, exclaiming, Didn't my brother Stephen have another daughter? I couldn't wait for sunrise; I called my sister Joyce immediately and demanded that she tell me if she knew. You woke me at 5:00 a.m. to ask this question, she all but grumbled. She cleared her foggy brain and then said, in wonder, Yes, yes, I think he did. Wasn't his girlfriend back then named Sherry?
I pondered for several days. All I could recall fit into a five-minute recitation. Steve's girlfriend Sherry had a baby; the baby had something wrong with her; my mother bought the baby some medical supplies; the baby came to our house a few times. Following that: a void. My brother Stephen, dead these 17 years, could not easily be consulted. My mother, gone for 29 years, remained silent. My brain could not pull any more details from its morass of forgotten family tales.
So I did what any red-blooded twenty-first century American with a quest would do: I got on Facebook.
I didn't announce to the entire world that I was striving to determine if my deceased baby brother had a daughter and where she might be, if so. I exercised just a smudge of discretion. I found a Facebook page for graduates of my brother's high school and posted there: If anyone here was friends with my brother Stephen Corley, please message me. I got a note within a day from Jane Neske-Beckerle, who identified herself as having gone to school with Steve but not having known him very well. She offered to ask others, privately; people whom she believed had known my brother better than she had.
Two months later, she messaged again. She had a name, she knew someone who knew my long-lost niece, and they had talked to my niece's mother's sister and decided that I should give them my contact information and they would give it to my niece. Amy. My niece Amy. Amy Marie Barrale, now married to Harlan Broch and now known as Amy Marie Barrale Broch. My niece. My brother's other daughter.
It's a delicate thing, reaching into the past to talk to children of a man who did not raise them. I had done this previously, with a beautiful girl who had been his daughter and who had been adopted by her stepfather. The initial foray into that terrain had been nearly disastrous, and seventeen years had been needed to mend the battle scars, assuming that they have ever healed. I did not want to cause anyone else to suffer just because I had a desire to see a face which bore my brother's stamp. So I acknowledged the wisdom of the course of action which Jane suggested and tendered my information.
A few weeks later, I had my answer, and timidly reached out to Amy through her Facebook page.
Later that year, my son and I drove to Washington, Missouri where Amy and her husband live, and we four met for the first time. I would have found her in any crowd. Though she has her mother's Italian coloring and small stature, the contours of her face are pure Stephen Patrick Corley.
This Thanksgiving, my son Patrick and I are back in St. Louis. We had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat on Thursday mid-day, at the home of the incomparable Puma, Joyce Kramer. We journeyed slightly west, to St. Peter's, to share a meal that evening with another Joyce, my sister Joyce Corley. We got up on Friday morning and drove out to Ferguson, to see some of the ruination of the riots in the aftermath of the grand jury's decision not to charge the officer who shot Michael Brown, who, like my brother, cannot speak for himself. Part of his story met us in the graffiti on the restaurants and shops of Ferguson, which spoke of love conquering hate. We drove slightly east, to Jennings, to see my childhood home; and then to my old high school, once teeming with laughing girls and now an immense, lonely edifice with boarded windows. Afterwards, we sat, with the Puma, eating her scrumptious tuna salad and listening to a teleconference on the emotional whiplash of the events in Ferguson and how the world might start to change, hosted by a trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication. And then we went west, to Kirkwood, and had dinner with Amy and Harlan.
They make good dinner companions. They tell funny stories and relate to one another with palpably genuine affection. They exude warmth, compassion and tenderness. Amy has Sherry's sassy, saucy smile but she also has the contours of Stephen's face. She feels like family. She calls me "Aunt CC" and remembers my siblings' names. As we talked last evening, I suddenly realized that even more than what I recall of Sherry Barrale and the occasional, poignant flash of Stephen's smile, Amy reminds me of my mother. My mother. Her grandmother.
The four of us hugged in the parking lot of the Italian restaurant where we had dined rather more lavishly then we might have intended. We agreed that the accidental find of the place had pleased us all. We vowed to meet there again, perhaps at Christmas. We talked about a visit that they might take to Chicago where Patrick lives; and the hope that in the spring, they would come to Kansas City. And then my niece, my brother Stephen's long-lost oldest daughter, got in her husband Harlan's pick-up truck and drove away.
I'm still smiling. I am immeasurably thankful for whatever force prompted me to waken, suddenly, from a deep sleep, eighteen months ago, remembering that she existed. I'm even more grateful for the chain of people who drew her back to me. Ultimately, I suppose, I am thankful that she welcomed me into her life, and that she holds me and my family no ill will. For she smiled last evening when she told me that in her jewelry box at home, she has her father's class ring, which her mother gave her five years ago just before she herself died unexpectedly. And she was still smiling as we parted. She put her arms around me, in that parking lot, at Thanksgiving time, and I realized that I had come to a restaurant where I could indeed get anything I wanted.
(with apologies and thanks to Arlo Guthrie)
My niece Amy Marie Broch and myself.
A sign on a boarded building in Ferguson, Missouri, 28 November 2014.
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.