Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday Musings, 28 March 2015

Good morning,

A troubling image haunts me; and I quiet my mind to recall the scene.

Last Sunday, here in Kansas City.  I stood at the Customer Service cashier at the grocery store near the cemetery in which my parents-in-law are buried.  I try to visit them a couple of times each month, and this store carries bouquets of roses in my mother-in-law's favorite color.  I typically buy the flowers, drive to the cemetery, and place the arrangement with little human interaction.  The clerk gestures; I swipe my debit card; and decline a receipt.

On this Sunday, last Sunday, two women approached the Customer Service counter ahead of me.  The area has two windows, one with a hand-lettered sign declaring that it provides Lottery tickets only.  The three of us hovered in front of the left-hand window, beyond which a short man wearing the store's logo t-shirt stood ready to take our money.

But the first of the women had already been through a cashier line in the main part of the store.  She dangled a plastic bag from her extended wrist, the small item in it pulling the bag downward towards the floor.  Her other hand rested on the handle of a baby stroller, the flimsy umbrella kind. I followed the line of her heavy jacket to the clenched hand, and drew a sharp breath.

A stuffed white trash bag sat in the buggy, stretched and bulging with its contents.  A stack of clothing protruded from beneath the bag, layers of dark wool and faded denim.  I drew my eyes back to the woman:  Eighty, maybe; with short blunt-cut white hair.  Under the winter coat a shapeless sweater covered her bulky torso.  I met the eyes of the other person in line, who shook her head very gently, right, left: a brief blink.  Nothing more.

The woman had let her outstretched hand fall down as she spoke to the cashier.  I tried to understand her complaint.  It seemed she felt she had been cheated.  I thought it was two dollars, she repeated, and I could see inside her nearly toothless mouth as she spoke.  I pinched my brow; one does not expect to see homeless people at 105th and Holmes Road in Kansas City -- north and east of here, certainly, but not this far south, not here, in a decent neighborhood far from the roar of Troost Avenue's traffic and the neighborhoods north of 75th Street, north of 47th even.

The woman repeated her accusations.  I thought it was a two, she told the man again.  She charged me five dollars.  I shouldn't have had to pay five dollars.  I thought it was two dollars and she never told me it wasn't.  The man behind the window murmured something but a stalemate had definitely ensued.  I thought about the dearth of cash in my own wallet, wishing I had three singles that I could give the woman.  I had my debit card and a twenty.

Our little group had fallen silent.  The woman's hands trembled as she guided the plastic bag with her five dollar purchase over the handle of the stroller, letting it fall against the fabric seat.  She grasped both handles, but before she turned away, she told the man that she thought the clerk should be fired for cheating her.  I'm sorry, ma'am, he told her.  I'll speak to her.  Her shoulders sagged.  She wheeled the little buggy around, its burden shifting.  The lady behind her gave way to let her pass and she went through the automatic doors of the exit so slowly that I almost moved to stop her.   But I did not.

I bought my flowers and went to Jay and Joanna's grave.  I got the headstones cleaned, arranged the new roses to replace the old ones which a deer had eaten and scattered on the ground, and stood gazing at their names for just a few minutes before turning to go home, north on Holmes to my Brookside neighborhood.

A half-hour later, I stood on the porch drinking tea and thinking about the bags of leaves on the curb.  As I gazed toward the sidewalk, a walker came into view -- a woman -- white hair, substantial girth, shapeless sweatshirt over black knee-length shorts and white ankle socks.  She strode forward with purpose, a small weight held in each hand.  Her arms swung as she trudged past my house -- rapidly, though: much faster than I myself could walk.  I guessed her age at seventy, maybe more.  She pitched her body forward, bending her swollen knees, dragging her weight.  She swiftly moved beyond  my house, determination marking her face and a sheen of sweat rising on her broad brow.

When the street in front of me fell motionless, I sipped my tea, thinking, not for the first time, about what kind of old woman I want to be.  Then I went into the house and started cleaning, while a pot of coffee brewed on the counter and the dog slept beneath the table.

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.