Saturday, October 3, 2015

Saturday Musings, 03 October 2015

Good morning,

It's been quite a week.  The microwave died, I succumbed to the claustrophobia of too much furniture, and I lost my temper with a client.  I lay on the couch like a beached whale at five o'clock yesterday, tension gripping my bruised rib and the damaged muscle beneath it.  Two Advil and three Tylenol four hours apart had yet to ease the pain.  I knew that I should not get one more restaurant meal but the refrigerator held only yogurt, bottled water, and some wrinkled cherry tomatoes.  My hair hurt. I wanted nothing more than an order of something hot and fried; and sleep.

As I lay there, waiting for Jessica to come home and provide some moments of distraction, a sudden flash of my mother's face seemed to light the room.

Standing in the doorway of our Jennings home, as she had stood a hundred thousand times.  She wears her uniform: a stiff white polyester dress, scuffed worn nurse's shoes.  Her cloth purse hangs from one shoulder, dragging her cardigan down along her arm.  A pained expression mars her olive skin, clouds her brown eyes.

Three of her children lounge in the living room with the Grateful Dead blaring from the stereo.  None of us could be called lazy.  We have jobs; we do reasonably well in school.  But at that moment, no scent of cooking wafts from the kitchen and my two older brothers and I lay around listening to loud music.  There's no sign of the little boys; my father has retreated to his workshop in the basement.

Kevin stirs first.  He's seventeen and by far the most responsive to my mother's needs in general. He pulls his lanky frame vertical and reaches for a bundle in my mother's arms.  She yields to him; but the easing of this burden does not pull the worry from her face.

"Will somebody start dinner," she says, and walks past us through the door into what used to be a dining room before the Corleys outgrew such luxuries.  She walks through that bedroom to the back bedroom beyond it and clicks the adjoining French doors shut.  The boys and I look at each other without speaking.  We do not need words.

The three of us go into the kitchen and rummage in the fridge.  We take out a package of ground beef, pull some spaghetti from the shelf and start water boiling.  The meat goes into a cast iron skillet with bacon grease.  Mark breaks the red clumps so they'll brown evenly while I start taking down plates to set the table.  Kevin has gone outside to find Frank and Steve.  Silence emanates from the basement, a sign that my father has discerned my mother's arrival and sits on a stool smoking, waiting for the next thing.

I'm laying the silverware when I hear the sound which we all dread:  My mother's sobs.  I slip through the linen closet door into her bedroom from its back entrance and stand in the dimness, watching her form shake under an afghan on the bed.  She's discarded her shoes and uniform, lying in her slip and stockings.

"What's wrong, Mom?" I ask, not really wanting to know.  I sit on the edge of the bed and place my hand n her forehead.  By thirteen, I understand her life enough to know that the reason for her tears might be simple, but it might be so complex as to frighten me.  

I wait.  Finally she pulls herself up, leans against the headboard, and pulls me to her.  Neither of us speaks for a few minutes, then she lets go of me and dabs her eyes with a handkerchief that she's clutching.

"I cashed my paycheck on the way home," she begins.  "I pulled away from the teller and stopped in the parking lot to count the money.  I realized that she had given me six hundred dollars too much."

She stops.  I think about that sum, six hundred dollars.  I do not know then what six hundred dollars might buy, what burden it might ease for my overworked mother but it seems like a lot.  I wait for her to continue.

"I looked at that money.  I thought about you kids.  You need shoes.  You need clothes.  You need food.  I held that six hundred dollars and sat in  my car and thought."  She pauses.  "Then I got out of the car, went into the bank, and told the manager what had happened.  He took the money and thanked me.  He turned away.  And that was it."  A long sigh riffs through her body.

Just then, the sound of the dinner bell breaks the dimness of the room.  My mother hugs me.  "Go wash  your hands.  I'll be there in a minute," she says.  I move to do as she directs, but as I start to slip  through the makeshift back passage through the closet, my mother speaks my name.  I stop and look over my shoulder at her small body, standing now in the unlit bedroom.

"Don't say anything," she whispers.

And I never did.

This morning I calculated all the money that I've spent on restaurant food in the last twenty months, during this time when my emotions raised a wall between me and the kitchen; when I've stood in grocery stores feeling so desolate that I could not push the cart nor fill it with items that I would be unable to cook anyway -- vegetables which would be doomed to rot, bread which would grow mold.  A month ago I began to feel able to cook again; able to slice, dice, saute and simmer.  Doubtless what kept me from the kitchen could be called depression.  I labelled it "situational sadness" and resigned myself to eating out instead of getting therapy.  But today I feel differently.  Today I think of my mother anguishing over her meager salary, crying about her choice between honesty and groceries.  I feel ashamed by the hundreds of dollars that I've wasting indulging myself on pakora, Panera's, and pizza.

The sun floods my neighborhood with the sweet light of an autumn morning.  Cool air wafted through the open window all night, while warmth drifted through the register.  I have to schedule routine maintenance for the furnace.  Piles of laundry stand in my closet.  The crowded furniture must be weaned and the living room made comfortable again.  I stretch my shoulders and feel a twinge of pain beneath one breast, where the healing rib still protests.  I think about my mother, though -- imagine the smattering of age spots on her hands, the deepness of her brown eyes, the lock of hair which always fell across her forehead.  I have her strength in me.  I carry on.

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.