Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 28 November 2015

Good morning,

In three hours, our table will bubble with the laughter of people who have broken bread with us so often I cannot count the times.  This will be our third celebratory meal this weekend, which began on Thursday at the Taggart table.  Yesterday we brunched at an elegant home on the Plaza.  Having the prodigal son home has considerably improved my social life.

I pad around the house with a crystal mug of coffee, making a list in my head of what must be done.  Write the Musings, clean the bathroom, cut fruit. . .My thoughts drift back, to my mother's home.  I remember the piece of paper divided into eight segments, one chore on each. My siblings and I grabbed one slip apiece and dashed off to get our assigned job done before the cousins arrived.  When the timer goes off, start your chore! The heady fragrance of roasting turkey and allspice filled the air.

I'm thinking of other Thanksgivings.  Oddly, among my favorites stands the Thanksgiving of 1988, which my first husband and I spent in the mountains with no running water and only intermittent electricity.  We made Cornish Hens on a wood-burning stove and kept warm next to the fire.

I can't remember the Thanksgiving of 1990.  I know I spent that Christmas in Missouri, first driving to Kansas City then taking a train to St. Louis, across Missouri during an ice storm, not quite three months pregnant and feeling wretched.  But I have no memory of Thanksgiving.  Did I go to the Kesls' house?  Stay home in Winslow, sulking?  Did I drive to Kansas City?  I cannot recall.

During Thanksgiving weekend when I was about eight, my mother told us that she was going to sort through our clothes to take hand-me-downs for the poor children.  I'll take anything you can't wear any more, and the church will make boxes for families who don't have anything to wear for Christmas.  She instructed each of us to look through our drawers and in the big sliding door closet, and gather things to donate.

Most of my clothes had come from my sisters or our Behan cousins.  But I had gotten a grey flannel coat from my grandmother.  I stroked its little velveteen collar and straightened its pocket flaps.  Nothing else new hung in my closet.  My small collection of dresses had all been first worn by other girls.  But that coat had its tags on it when I got it!  My stomach lurched when I thought about some other child wearing it to church on Christmas Day.

I slid the coat from its hanger and brought it over to my bed.  I folded it flat, so flat; I straightened its edges and slid each little covered button into its hole.  Then I hid it under my pillow.

We filled a huge cardboard box with blue jeans, shirts, and sweaters.  Someone hauled the box out of the house when the collection ladies came.  I ran back to check on  my coat: no one had found it.  I leaned down and smelled the fabric, my eyes closed.  I had had it for two years, but it  I could still smell the perfume of the tissue paper in which it had been wrapped when I found it in the box on my birthday.

I slept with the coat under my pillow for three days before my mother figured it out.  She came to kiss me goodnight that Sunday, asking if I had gotten everything ready for the return to school.  She saw the edges of the coat when she bent down.  She held it out and looked at me, lifting one eyebrow, not speaking.  I didn't want you to give it to poor children, I whispered.  I'm sorry.  It's just so pretty.

My mother sat down on the bed and gathered me into her arms.  We sat like that for a few minutes.  Then she stood, crossed the room, hung up my grey flannel coat and closed the closet doors.  Goodnight, Mary, she said, and then turned to the little boys who slept in their maple beds across the sunroom.

Each fall, I clean my closet out.  I take anything that I don't wear, or which no longer fits, and bundle it into a black trash bag.  I pin matching items together so the thrift store people will know.  I haul the bags downstairs to the car, and drive them to the DAV, City Union Thrift, or Goodwill.  I don't spend a lot of money on clothes myself. I often shop at consignment stores, just because I know I can get designer brands for a pittance.  But I take care of my clothes, and I know they can be used by someone else.  And I try to make sure that the clothes which I donate are clean and neatly folded.

The grey flannel coat disappeared some time that winter, after the snow fell, during Christmas break.  I don't know what happened to it.  I wore it to midnight Mass but never saw it after that.  I never asked my mother.  It probably didn't fit me anymore.  I never owned anything like it again; nor did I have anything new again until the pants suit that my Mother bought me for my eighth grade field trip, other than the shoes from Nana and the pajamas from Grandma Corley.  In the years since then, I've wondered about the little girl who got that grey flannel coat in the donation box.  Did she like it as much as I had?  Or did she wish for something new?  Did she yearn for something no one had worn before her, something she chose from the racks in a department store, with an attentive clerk hovering around her mother, asking if they needed anything, rushing to find other sizes, other choices, while elevator music played and the overhead lights flickered.

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.