A vigorous chorus of birds dragged me into awakening. I have made a passable pot of coffee, and sip from a heavy white mug, still smiling at my recent discovery that a well-intentioned house-sitter had inadvertently switched positions of the canisters on my counter so that I unknowingly had been decaffeinated this week. I can report that my body struggled with the resultant fatigue; I found myself napping in the evening and canceling social engagements with the thought that I must surely be coming down with something. I am amused; but I firmly re-situated the containers so as to insure that we would not again be poisoned with the innocuousness of the decaf beans.
The customary calmness of my dwelling has been dispelled by the return of the prodigal son. The piano sounds beneath his nimble fingers; the chords of Bach's Suite No. 1 for cello stream from his Les Paul. He unpacked with alarming speed on Sunday, filling three trash bags full of the clothes left behind in his dresser last fall, saying that his taste has changed, he will not again wear these clothes, sorry, Mom. I am not sorry. I smile. He has matured, and I have no problem with the thought that his once-loved baggy jeans will grace the frame of another mother's miracle.
Yesterday, Patrick and I helped gather trappings to hang "The Potter's Hand", a new display at the VALA Gallery. We scoured area stores for large pieces of cloth to use as drapes, and our journey took us to the Salvation Army Family Store, just up Johnson Drive from the Gallery.
As I walked down the linens aisle, a soft, hesitant voice called from behind me. Lady, excuse me, lady. I turned, and beheld a tall, sturdy woman, with an armful of children's clothing, clutching a battered top-bound spiral notebook in one hand. I stopped, summoning a smile. I did not recognize her, but I knew the look on her face. Since I myself have often worn that peculiar blend of need and determination, I could do nothing but respond.
Excuse me, she repeated. Do you have CP?
I have not been asked that question in a long time, and I certainly did not expect to be asked that question in the middle of a May afternoon, in Mission, Kansas, in the comparative complacency of my middle age. But I think I smiled, and replied that I did not, and I think I did so without rancor. Her face sagged, inspiring my eye brows to lift and my curiosity to rise just as much. She satisfied my unspoken question without hesitation. My daughter has CP, she told me. I am always on the look-out for role models for her, and there was something about you -- I thought -- you looked ---
In the small space of time between the trailing of her sentence and the moment when I found my voice, I sailed into the distant past. I closed my eyes, just briefly, not long enough to startle her, I hope. I heard again the derisive voices of a gaggle of boys from my parish school. I beheld again their wildly stumbling progress, a half-block behind me, on West Florissant Avenue, one Sunday when my mother and I walked home from church the long way.
My mother stopped, stunned. I put my small hand on her arm, urging her forward. Don't look back, I told her It's worse if you say anything. I continued to trudge towards home, my Brogues slapping against the pavement, my knees bobbing with unsightly grace within the folds of my cotton dress. Do they always do that? she said, in tender tones. Yes, pretty much, I replied. Unless Mark and Kevin are with me. My big brothers. Beneath her steady, unfathomable gaze, I tossed my head, two long braids floating over my shoulder. I had no faith in the power of an adult to squelch the teasing. In the warm summer air, my skin grew clammy and I felt a long shudder course through me. I closed my eyes and barreled forward, away from their taunts, away from the awkward bent of their bodies in imitation.
I had gone another ten yards or so before I opened my eyes, realizing that my mother no longer kept pace with my careening gait. I turned, and saw that she had gone back to face the small gang of ten-year-olds. I could not move. I could only watch; I could only listen.
Beneath the onslaught of her scolding, the little hoodlums dispersed, some south to the blocks of subdivision houses known as Country Club Hills; some north, into Jennings proper. My mother returned to my side, taking hold of my thin arm with her strong hand, setting me once more in motion. She shifted her pocketbook on her shoulder, and smoothed her skirt. Come on, she said. Your father will be waiting for breakfast. She said no more, nor did I. The heavy pall that had overtaken my body eased; the air around me again felt pleasant and the breeze again rose to cool me. I stole a glance at the strong profile of my mother's Arab heritage, at the liquid brownness of her eyes and the bold crook of her nose, so unlike my own pale blueness and little Irish button. As we rounded the corner at the end of our block, she threw her own head back with a sharp snap, her mouth set, her brow furrowed, and I wondered what she was thinking, but did not ask.
In the closeness of the thrift store yesterday, I studied another mother's face. There it is, I told myself. That look. I've seen that look. My heart swelled, and I stopped, in earnest now; and we spoke about her daughter; two years old and the victim of a neo-natal stroke that killed her identical twin. I had some ideas for her; the life I have led has given me many obstacles to overcome along with many examples of others who have done so with more finesse than I. As she groped in her vinyl handbag, I pulled a pen from my own purse to hand her, and she took it with an earnest carelessness. She wrote down what I recounted: the URL of a website at which she could listen to a recent NPR interview with a doctor doing research on strokes in small children; lists of local services that could help her daughter which I have discovered during my years doing work with Children's Services. She talked a little then, describing the child, in tones both poignant and proud. As our conversation unfolded, the hubbub of other shoppers swirled around us, within which, I swore, I could hear my mother's voice.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- 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.
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