Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday Musings, 16 June 2012

Good morning,

The white cat stalks me as I settle onto the table, outside, on our lovely deck. She wants the raspberries on my plate, or the fat-free cream cheese thickly spread on my toasted crumpet. She disdains the indoors during this lovely weather, but we cannot leave food for her outside because of other, less worthy animals whose visits we discourage. I hobble over to the front door to allow her into the house, where the dry cat food, though less attractive than my breakfast, will sustain her.

The morning air still feels sweet, though June does not mind gathering its sweltering power to flag my energy. Obligations await me: My in-laws, our daughter and her adorable boyfriend, my husband, our youngest son and I will dine on a meal that our daughter and I will cook this evening. Father's Day arrives twenty-four hours early at the Holmes house, because my husband and our youngest travel tomorrow to Memphis, for two days of college enrollment. Life turns another click towards twilight.

I find myself struggling to make sense of the idea of celebrating Father's Day. My own father died in 1991 after a less-than-auspicious five decades as a parent. My son's father departed my life on learning of my pregnancy, appearing only once a month in the form of a very small child support check that stopped thirty days before my son's eighteenth birthday. He responded to few attempts at contact, none in the last fifteen or more years, and could be considered a father by genetics only. Two men have filled what should have been his shoes. His first stepfather did his best, and for the good that he did, we are grateful. This second time around, Patrick had already decamped to college. Though he admires my husband, and appreciates having family by way of my husband's children, his sister and her family, and my parents-in-law, still, Father's Day does not carry quite the same meaning for us as it does for my stepchildren.

I cast my mind backwards, trying to reclaim some sense of loss for my father's death. I see him at various stages of my life: Early, in a frightening fury; the middle years, frustrated and bitter; and towards the end, assuming the role of grandfather with an ease that he had never shown when dealing with our generation. On his death, one of my nephews described him as a giant, and I can see that to my siblings' children, he stood tall. He built wooden replicas of kitchen appliances for one of my nieces, a wagon filled with blocks for a nephew that eventually came to my son, and collected -- relentlessly -- every boxtop imaginable when asked to do so for one of the grandchildren's schools. He died as he lived: Sadly, ironically, and alone, on the floor of a men's room at a MacDonald's in St. Robert's, Missouri, with one of my brothers sitting at a table awaiting him, and me, oblivious in Arkansas preparing for their arrival to attend my son's baptism.

The only time that I ever received a punishment in grade school came when I refused to say the "Our Father" at morning prayers. My third grade teacher, Mother Rosamund, chastised me for remaining silent while my classmates stood and intoned this tribute to the Catholic concept of one prong in their trinity. I shook my head. She gestured for one of the children to continue leading the Rosary while she marched me to the principal. I stood in eight-year-old defiance, long pig-tails hanging nearly to my waist, uniform falling in heavy, lopsided waves to my calves. I twitched inside the oppressive cloth but stood my ground. When asked why I would not say the prayer, I replied, in small, determined tones: I already have a father at home. I sure don't need another one.

In those days, one did not publicly discuss family turmoil. I didn't have a phrase for what we experienced until I hit college and first heard the term, "Domestic Violence". I knew my father "drank", whatever that meant, and I knew what happened when he came home late at night. But I am not sure what those nuns knew, and by their consternation, I suspect precious little.

I remained unyielding. I stood, my tiny frame rigid, my face resolute. The nun towered over me, in the dankness of her closed office. She folded her arms across her chest, under the wide white wimple, against the black serge of her habit, just over the beaded belt from which hung the heavy crucifix. I cast my eyes down to the scuffed tips of my saddle shoes, examining the frayed laces, the dark linoleum, the straggling socks. We stood in seeming stalemate for some time. I offered no further explanation. She sought none. Perhaps she prayed. I did not.

I felt the gentle touch of her hand on my forehead, and released a breath that I had not realized I had been holding. I closed my eyes, shuddering, overwhelmed by a rising mixture of grief and relief. She finally spoke. Go on with you then, back to class, and try not to give Mother Rosamund any more fits.

I scampered away, not even pausing to say thank you, skittering down the hall, clinging to the walls, finding my way to my classroom. It might have been in the old building across the parking lot; I can't recall. I only remember sliding through the door which I had opened just enough to admit my thin body, and sinking soundlessly into my chair. Mother Rosamund had her back to the room, writing arithmetic problems on the chalk board. I scrambled beneath my desk in the chamber that held my books, pulling what I needed from the neatly stacked pile with as little noise as I could manage. Mother Rosamund turned to face the class just as I got my book opened. She let her gaze fall on me, nodded briefly, and continued with the lesson.

I never again said the "Our Father", not at any point in the next decade of attendance at Catholic schools, nor in the three-and-a-half years that I spent at St. Louis University, nor since. I never spoke to any of the nuns about why I so disliked the prayer, and I have no idea if any of them ever found out.

My husband and I bought bags and bags of groceries for the Father's Day dinner that we'll have this evening -- pork roast, and home-cooked apples, asparagus, a green salad, and fruit compote with gluten-free cake made by Cara and Ben. I've arranged a Father's day surprise that is supposed to be delivered some time this afternoon, the potential success of which I question. My son and I conspired a bit on that note, and I am hoping he will phone home during the gathering, to wish his stepfather a Happy Father's Day. I will resist the slight detachment from it all that I feel. My husband is not my son's father; my husband's father is not mine. But these are the closest we've had to people willing and able to adequately fill those roles, and we are determined to make the most of it.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers on this list and to all my friends who are fathers. To my father, Richard Adrian Corley: May you rest in the peace you so desperately craved, Pops. I know you did your best. With all my love, your baby girl, Mary-Corinne.

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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.