Saturday, February 13, 2010

Saturday Musings, 13 February 2010

Good morning,

Serenity surrounds me. The brown Beagle sleeps in her tattered bed; my old white cat has consumed her fill of water from the bathroom faucet and resumed her customary position, curled in a ball under the chair that stands beside the piano, in front of the register from which warm air flows, trickles, or blasts depending on the thermostat's whim. I haven't seen the fierce male cat since Thursday, but I am confident that one morning soon, he will appear with the newspaper on my stoop. I canceled his appointment at the vet due to a docket conflict, and he celebrates, instinctively knowing that his time as a rogue cannot endure much longer.

The front page startles me, spreading its word of death at the Olympics as I bend over it, coffee held away to avoid dripping. Sadness momentarily grips my heart, causing an ache that matches the sharp pain of the pulled muscle in my back, so that, briefly, my physical and emotional states coincide. Then I turn the page, take a long pull of hot caffeine, and settle against the smooth curve of the arrow-back chair.

My friend Penny has acquired a new art space, and later today, I will join a motley assemblage of VALA Gallery groupies in a clean-up and painting party. I'm hoping there will be plenty of coffee. There are just three weeks until the first opening there, in this bold new venue on Johnson Drive, in the old part of Mission, and there is much to be accomplished. We are none of us young enough to make work duty anything but a hilarious commentary on the possible ways in which one can discover muscles that have been abused or forgotten since the days when we roamed our respective childhood neighborhoods until the street lights flickered and our weary mothers summoned us to bath and bed from concrete stoops under the yellow glow of June-bug encrusted light bulbs.

The luscious leisurely days of childhood summer occupy a small, hidden corner of my mind. Lightening bugs intermittently called to us, hovering in the heavy cloud of fragrance rising from the dark expanses of newly-mown grass. On any given summer night, the old hand-mower might rest against the wide oak, beyond which, on the downward slope of the driveway, the thick green hose might lie, forgotten. Metal chairs with high rounded backs stood on the uncovered side of our porch, the side with small square drainage holes that my sister would occasionally clog with rocks so she could fill that side of the porch with water. I would sit in one of the painted chairs and dangle my feet into a cool rushing expanse, my own private swimming pool. That child was an innocent incarnation of this fifty-four year old, stuck on the porch from illness, or the invalid state of her legs, or maybe just because she did not dare compete with laughing boys running back and forth through the sprinkler's spray like banshees in the wild.

I close my eyes and summon sensations long resting unneeded in those creaky crevices of my subconscious. The piercing chill of snow cones, sweet, impossibly blue liquid sliding down their paper encasement. Sharp edges of a broken branch scraped against the sidewalk until a point forms, and on that point, the sticky mass of a marshmallow, turned black. Hot oozing foam pouring into my mouth as I lift that stick to break the burnt crust and get to the inner bounty. The fluttering specks of soot from a steady fire in the massive pit with its angled sides forming a square chimney from which the smoke rose to vanish into the blackness of the night sky. Stinging burns on the edge of my hand from fierce, purposeful whacks at a tether ball. High familiar voices, marking the count as the rest of us run for cover. The firm smooth expanse of the concrete well of our basement steps, where I huddled, night after night, hoping that I would not be found first, or last, in our game of hide and go seek.

On those same steps, with crumbled edges washed clean with a watering can's worth of water, I sat near my mother two decades later. I remember that she wore her customary wrap-around-skirt, one of many made from the same pattern -- in denim or cotton, plaid, solid or print. She settled onto a plastic stool that might be the very one which I now use to reach the top shelf of my bedroom closet. Taking a trowel into hands once smooth, now mottled with the brown badges of age, my mother sank its blade into the cold damp soil of a Missouri spring, turning, loosening, letting the soil's rich odor surround us. Last night, I had a vision, she said. I saw a white being. He told me that I have about a year left to live. I handed her a garden fork, with which she broke the fat clumps of dirt. I watched a worm squiggle free, followed by a frantic curly bug, which tightened into its shell and let itself roll away from her steady onslaught of careful preparation for the tomato seedlings standing at the ready in their cardboard flats. My mother's liquid brown eyes met the grey-blue eyes of her youngest daughter. I'm okay with that, she told me, and turned back to her work. I sat, useless and sad, leaning my back against the cinder block foundation of our home. How can you be okay, I screamed, but silently. How can you be all right with that! You'll never see me marry! You'll never meet my children! You'll never call them in at the first warm glow of the streetlights, to snuggle, as you read to them, in the old spring beds, pushed against the windows in the sunroom where their mother and her siblings slept. In the cool of that spring morning, with the heavy scent of freshly turned earth around me, I stared with rage and useless fury at her determined frame.

She died fifteen months later, less than a month shy of her fifty-ninth birthday. I cannot pass a compost pile without thinking of her, nor see the grave of an infant without remembering that she wanted to be buried in the unbaptised babies section of the Catholic cemetery, to keep watch over those forgotten children. The heavy smell of freshly baked bread causes me to fall into a sweet little dream about my mother, and standing next to her on the wooden stool, painted white that year, green the next. With a dish towel wrapped around my waist, secured with a clothes pin, I bellied up to the counter to learn to knead, pushing my small knuckles in my bit of dough, on its eager pile of flour, watching her smooth hands demonstrate, lifting my eyes to find approval in her face. Pungent wafts from rising yeast in warm water fill the kitchen. I flip my braids back over my shoulders, then push, and turn, and push and turn, until the sticky surface becomes smooth, and the dough is ready to plop into a china bowl slick with shortening. It will stand, covered with a clean white towel, on the heated stove, and rise, while my mother and I clean the counter, and wash the utensils. When the kitchen is neatened, I will go, with her hand in mine, into the breakfast room, and then, contented, I will sit, for a few idle moments, while she drinks Eight O'clock coffee from a melamine cup.

When I open my eyes,it is my heavy china mug of coffee then sends its steam rising in the room around me. I push back my chair and stand, lifting my arms high above my head and arching my back. I glance around, half-expecting to see a sneaker's rounded edge disappearing around the corner of the doorway to the next room and to hear the round ring of the ice-cream truck's entreaty. Giving my shoulders a tentative shrug, I move away from the table, and into the TV room, where I will do thirty minutes of yoga, before taking my aging self out into the world.

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.