Saturday, January 3, 2015

Saturday Musings, 03 January 2015

Good morning,

The quiet of the room around me ripples only with the voice from the radio and occasional inexplicable electronic noises.  The blips and squeaks of modern life evoke the world of Walter Mitty. I smile; I wonder how many people in my son's generation know anything about Walter Mitty except the failed movie of recent years.

My place in the continuum of time announces itself more loudly in the silence of the house.  Even if I live to be 103 as I threatened once to do, I've passed more than half my days.  Two-thirds or more, likely as not.  Aching muscles and nervous legs remind me that I've pushed myself too far, too far, and have farther to go.  I remember my grandmother saying, "Put your best foot forward," and asking her, "Which foot is my best foot, Nana?"  She smiled, inevitably, and gently replied, "Whichever one is going first."  I would follow her off the curb, watching my feet, wondering which one is going first?  Tall above me, Nana's face carried her radiance all the way across South Sixth Street in Springfield, down the block, back to the office where she and Grandpa had their business.  I marveled as she greeted the other business owners on her street and thought When I'm grown, I want to be like Nana.

Last night, I talked for a while with my ex-husband in Ohio, someone with whom I never dreamed I could find myself remaining friends after the turmoil of our break-up in 2008.  But our connection testifies to a theory of mine:  Love doesn't dissipate.  I have been forced to admit that the thing we call love can change character -- you can be friends one moment and lovers the next; married today and friends tomorrow; good friends today, and less close months from now. So it has gone with Dennis and me.  When I am hurting, he sends messages or calls.  They make me laugh.  He castigates those whom he perceives as wronging  me, in strong, coarse terms that I could never use but which, typed or spoken by him, give me a little secret pleasure.

And all of this leads me to think about some of the times we had together.  Inevitably:  I recall a vacation we took with my son and the youngest boy of the Alongis, neighbors whom we called "the Christians".  The odyssey on which the four of us embarked took us all the way to Asheville, North Carolina; to Fort Knox and the George S. Patton Tank Museum; and home again.

On our first morning in Asheville, we loaded Patrick and Phillip in the van and drove up into the wooded mountains.  I brought a book to read; Dennis had packed a rifle and ammunition.  He had decided to teach the boys to shoot.

The lushness of the trees nestled around us as we parked in a small clearing beside the rural route.  A nervousness crept over me.  I'm a city girl; the concept of just pulling over to the side of the road and firing a weapon seems odd to me.  In the city, guns get stuck in people's backs, wallets stolen, rings jerked off trembling fingers.  In the country, guns are carried easily by one's side as people move to and from their vehicles, and ride in racks at the back of people's truck cabs.  I have a city-dweller's guarded respect for guns.

But I voiced no objection to the boys learning.  I settled myself in the back seat, coffee at hand, granola bars at hand, as the three of them maneuvered themselves into a shooting format.  Dennis decided that they should shoot from the clearing to the other side of the road.  I steeled myself not to interfere but questions rose in my mind:  What if there is someone down below, at a house we cannot see? What if someone calls the sheriff? I bit the questions back and watched their progress, one eye on my book, the other on the two boys, who at ages 11 and 12 projected starkly different attitudes. Phillip looked the more eager of the two. Patrick, who had gone shooting with Dennis at the range,  looked determined --- or, possibly, resigned.

By the time the three had attained the grouping and set-up that Dennis thought most functional, I had dropped all pretense of reading.  I found my nervousness gathering, tight in my stomach.  I chugged the rest of my coffee and ate both granola bars, feeling my jitteriness instantly accelerate,  My nerves jangled.  On coffee and carb overload, I sat straight in the back seat and stared through the open door daring the scenario to degrade into disaster.

Phillip begged to go first and Patrick conceded.  I saw the struggle on his face.  It was his rifle.  Dennis had given it to him for Christmas and while he might not have wanted it, nonetheless it was his rifle.   But he acquiesced and Phillip took a stance, with Dennis in his wheelchair along side.  The first shot rang out and my stomach clenched.

The boys rotated and fired, one after another.  The brown of a tree's bark across the way began to shatter as the occasional shot found its mark.  A flutter of wildlife rose in the brush; birds squawked,  rodents skittered.  I studied the faces of the three males.  Dennis's features seemed stamped by a kind of euphoria.  Phillip's smile had grown as his shot got more sure. His eyes shone; his face, smooth, open, broad, turned toward Dennis after each round.  Patrick's brow had become furrowed, his eyes narrow, his mouth set in a straight line.  Stance, fire, stare.  Both boys got better as they practiced.  I began to feel ill.

I got out of the van.  I stood a few feet from the line from which the boys were shooting and leaned against the van door, my eyes closed.  I remembered something from Patrick's toddler days.  I had not gotten a toy gun for him.  He had no father; no cable TV; no male influence except my law clerk, a gentle man who wouldn't have had a gun in his house for anything.  But one day I heard noises from the other room, Pow, pow, pow, and came around the corner to see my eighteen-month old son holding two forks, the tines of which he had jammed together to former a weapon.  One fork clutched in his little hand, he aimed the protruding fork at the furniture.  Pow, pow!

I took a few steps toward my husband and said, I'm hungry, I need protein, can we go back to town?  He pivoted and cast a glare toward me and I fell back against the side of the van.  No, he snapped.  We're not done.  The boys stood still.  The four of us froze.  But then the moment passed.  They spent another twenty minutes, maybe fifteen, taking aim at the poor tree and then Dennis relented though not without complaint.  They tidied up the forest floor and we climbed into the van.  All the way back to Asheville, Phillip chattered:  How good the rifle felt in his hands, how well he shot.  I said nothing.  In the afternoon, we toured the Biltmore Mansion, and I snuck the boys a taste of wine while Dennis flirted with the ladies at the bar.

Here in the Holmes house, yesterday's newspaper announces that the murder rate in Kansas City fell 23% in 2014.  I don't like guns, I have to admit; and I will never understand the expressions on the faces of those male personages, twelve years ago, in a clearing in the North Carolina mountains.  But I understand the nausea of their mother, their wife, their neighbor, as I stood and watched the perennial ritual of boys learning to shoot.  Nothing but fear.  Cold, stark fear.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Folks:  I make no apology for the tone of my musings today.  They write themselves.  Sometimes they trickle out as what one reader called "warm, fuzzy fluff" and sometimes, other emotions crowd any tendency towards frothy sentiment.  This piece came out nearly whole-cloth.  With only two interruptions in writing -- a message from a friend, to which I responded, "Wait Please Writing"; and a phone call from my doctor with test results and medication adjustments, this poured from me over an hour.  To Dennis, who will, with two or three others, understand; I say:  "Life is complicated; put aside blame; embrace the good in every experience."  And if you are one who finds yourself stuck on the question of "Who the heck is Walter Mitty?", read here.  

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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.