Saturday, May 28, 2016

Saturday Musings, 28 May 2016

Good morning,

I woke before the sun and struggled to reclaim sleep but without success.  Finally dawn crept through a crack in the crooked shade and I abandoned the effort.  Next to the ocean, I feel most at home in the mountains and we have come to Colorado.  Though the Rockies sit lower here, nonetheless they rise in the western skyline with a serene eternal splendor that beckons.  See? We remain; just where you last saw us; waiting.  Come into our embrace.

Last evening, Jenny Rosen and I dabbled on Pearl Street and dined with my stepdaughter Tshandra, her husband Sean, and their daughter Grace.  Oh, technically, she has not been my "stepdaughter" since her father and I divorced in 1989, but we reclaimed each other half a decade ago and now she holds a place in my heart tightly woven by gossamer thread as though the years never intervened.  That bond depends not on law, or blood, or time, or distance, but on our regard for one another.

Our connection seems tied to mountains.  Tshandra spent a summer with her father and me in Little Rock, then joined us in the lower Ozarks in Newton County, Arkansas.  She slept in our wide screen porch, with the sound of the Buffalo River below and the night birds above.  She sat with her father in his basement shop as he built sets and puttered.  Above them in my attached office, I wrote wills, and edited contracts, and made phone calls for the dozen clients that ventured past the more well-known local lawyers and found the separate entrance to our home bearing my name and the words, Attorney and Solicitor in Chancery.  One summer in between; a stop in our lives which knocked the world on a crooked trajectory to temporary disaster for each of us.

But it is the summer in Little Rock which I remember most, the summer of  1987.  Chester and I had married in March, in a sweet hippie ceremony performed by Bill Lord, the local justice of the peace and one of Chester's friends in Jasper, Arkansas, where Chester owned land.  After the wedding, I went back to Kansas City, awaiting the July sitting for the Arkansas Bar in Little Rock where Chester had taken a job.  A few weeks later still, Tshandra's mother Joanne sent her to live with Chester.  By the time I arrived, Tshandra had become the thirteen-year-old lady of the house and I struggled to assert myself as stepmother.

Sarah White, Chester's niece and the daughter of my long-time friend Alan, completed our household that summer.  The girls sat on our stoop and giggled, two blonde heads together, cousins who had spend no time with one another until my marriage intervened in their lives and brought them in alignment.  Their presence made me an instant parent, a role which I struggled to understand. I had too much to learn:  How to be a wife; a stepmother; and a player in the odd game of Southern culture; all while studying for the Arkansas Bar and its strange rules about equity courts.

I came home one day and decided to make chicken noodle soup.  I beckoned to the girls, we're going to make noodles for our dinner, and showed them the flour, eggs, salt, all set out on the counter.  We made and rolled the dough, cutting it into wide strips to drop in the boiling broth. Their triumphant looks as we served the soup with its shredded white meat, carrots, celery and onions justified the mess.   This spelled success to me:  Making meals with "my" children, in a wide open kitchen while my husband worked with his hands at a shop just blocks from our home.

One afternoon, I took the girls to Hobby Lobby and bought them each a project.  Tshandra chose a Precious Moments embroidery kit.  I taught her a few rudimentary stitches and the piece came out from time to time that year, but never got finished.  It did not matter; it was something I had given her.  She could decide what to make of it.

The idyllic days did not last.  Chester lost his job when a new general manager took over the theatre company.  My promised job with the Attorney General's office evaporated when the A.G. himself got indicted and the interim office head rescinded all offers.  We moved to the mountains, and struggled to establish ourselves.  Tshandra came back the next year, for a strange few weeks in the mountains, for some of which Sarah joined us.  Then Tshandra went back to her home in Colorado, in August of 1988, and for a spell, lost her way in the world.  Her mother called us for help, and Tshandra returned to us that fall.  We met her at the airport in Springfield. She ventured through the gate wearing an uneasy look beneath hair that had been dyed black and shaved on one side.  I reached  out to embrace her, feeling the frailness of her body.

When I finally let her go, she rummaged in her backpack.  With trembling hands, she pulled the Precious Moments needlework from the depths of the bag.  I finished it, she whispered.

My heart melted.

Life happened, then.  After a few weeks with us, Tshandra returned to Boulder and her mother's care.  Chester and I struggled to make our marriage work with little income, no family around us, and little to bind us except the love we had but could not show.  I left.  We divorced.  And another twenty-five years went by before I saw Tshandra again.  At some point, a decade ago, I took that embroidery piece from my kitchen wall and gave it to Chester.  I miss it; I'd give much to have it back.  I close my eyes and imagine the intent look on Tshandra's face as she pulled the needle through the cloth, forming each tentative stitch. I see her as she was all these years ago, in the haunted days of my young womanhood, from which the best remaining remnant is my connection with a beautiful little family in Colorado into the folds of which I am welcomed from time to time.

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.