Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday Musings, 10 November 2012

Good morning,

Another trial crashed against a cliff of stone, the rising jagged bluff of justice that stands on the western side of the state. Thirty days to draft proposed findings and the rest of the night following yesterday's conclusion to rethink each decision, each strategic choice, the potential rise or fall of my client's prospects eternally tied to the wager he made in retaining me and the thousands of dollars he spent in the year since he did so. Another sleepless night.

I rose this morning an hour later than my usual Saturday, two hours after the standard time on my alarm for the last month. I drank my morning coffee on the porch, pleasantly half-shaded from the sun's sweet rays, surrounded by the swirl of leaves from the neighbor's tall, aging oak. Pages of the morning paper drifted under my tired eyes, half-veiled by the shimmer of white that the eye doctor says will eventually recede as my brain adjusts to its presence. The absence of political rhetoric in the pages of the Star both delights and confounds me: Where is the news?, I find myself thinking, but all I am given is paragraph after paragraph of the accidents, robberies, plays, and street improvements around my town. Another election forgotten; another turn of history's wheel, another inch closer to eternity.

As I draw in the fresh air outside, I feel the sweetness of every November, the unpredictable weather that Missourians smugly claim as their particular province. I feel again the gentle chill of Novembers of my childhood: Thanksgivings spent huddled in wool sweaters, deliciously shivering on my parents' front porch while my brothers played football in the front yard. I hear my mother's voice singing in the kitchen, she standing at the window over the sink, watching the sway of the neighbor's tree. She would turn to smile as I kneaded the dough from which our Thanksgiving clover-leaf rolls would be made. She would place one worn, brown-spotted hand over my smaller, paler fingers, and push down, giving the dough what it should have without scolding me for doing it wrong. The warm fragrance of yeast rose around us, mingling with the fragrance of roasting turkey and the sweet tang of whole berries simmering on the stove.

My mother made the pies ahead of time, perhaps on Wednesday night. She seemed to know what pies had to be refrigerated and which ones could rest on the counter, knowledge that I never gleaned from her, a distinction that still confuses me. My father watched television in the living room while she cooked. I see my sisters in the kitchen with us, taller than me, moving around the small space between counter and stove, the creation of Thanksgiving dinner orchestrated like the best ballet. Three times each year we used my mother's good china: Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The sterling came out from the bottom of the china cabinet on such holidays, the flatware and the napkin rings, the small plates from Grandmother Corley on which dessert would be served. We polished the silverware, simmering badly tarnished pieces in baking soda water on a burner set to low. The linen table cloths had to be ironed, water sprinkled from an old dish washing liquid bottle in those days before steam irons. After the table cloth came the napkins themselves, one daughter ironing, one daughter folding, and I with my little girl hands sliding them into the rings, each one with an engraved name. Richard, Lucille, Ann, Adrienne, Joyce, Kevin, Mark, Mary, Francis, Stephen.

Every dish had to be completed at the precise moment when the dinner would be served, at the correct temperature. The cranberry sauce might have been made a day earlier, so that its tangy chill could set. The turkey came out to rest while the rolls baked and the casserole of that green bean stuff heated through and the marshmallows cut in half to adorn the yams melted and took on their golden glow. The older girls helped my mother put the dishes on the table, and someone raised the camera to photograph the feast. Then the boys were called to come into the house; while their clamoring rose, and the pounding of their feet hammered on the stairs, my father stood sharpening the knife at the kitchen counter. I hear the sharp whisk of steel against steel, each draw of the knife sending wicked shivers through my body.

The table in our breakfast room held ten. Its Formica expanse hidden beneath linen transformed the humble dining set. Each child took their assigned seats: for most of my childhood, I sat to the left of my father at the far end. My parents waited for our chattering to stop, and then we murmured the grace: Bless us, Oh Lord, and these they gifts, which we are about to receive. . .Then the first draw of the knife through the turkey's crisp skin sent the steamy fragrance heavenward, and the blessings became obvious indeed.

As the serving bowls went around the table, and butter got smeared on warm rolls straight from the oven, we said our Thankful-Fors. Each person, youngest to oldest, disclosed that for which they felt gratitude. The boys often opted for their special dish; the girls, something more sweet. My mother's thankful-for varied with the times: Her job, the health of a child who had been particularly ill, or something more vague, a cryptic reference about which I do not believe I ever wondered: "prayers answered", and I never asked my mother, not once, what it was for which she had prayed.

In my memory, the Thanksgiving meal stands as the most special of each year. Easter's fragrant, yeast-dough-wrapped ham; the roast at Christmas; the backyard barbecue at the Fourth of July -- nothing compares to the richness of dressing roasted in the bird, fresh-whipped cream, and the first bite into the crisp brown exterior of gooey marshmallow over the brown-sugar glazed sweet potatoes. My childhood days held frightening turbulence, which coalesced as flinty memories that pierce my nights at times, recollections I should have let slip into the morass of age. But I remember nothing unpleasant about any Thanksgiving. I recall only the warmth of my mother's body standing behind me in the kitchen, guiding my hands; my father holding a heavy, china serving dish while he coaxed me to accept more food than he knew I would eat, my brothers clamoring to claim the turkey legs and the biggest ladle-full of thick, salty gravy.

Thanksgiving 2012 approaches, and I am already beginning to contemplate the things for which I am thankful. As I grow older, my thankful-fors gravitate between two categories: Things for which I am thankful that make me cry; and things for which I am thankful because something that made me cry didn't happen. I'm thankful that my retina isn't detached; I am thankful for my children, the one to whom I gave birth and the two whom I acquired when I married; I am thankful that the doctor who said I had six months to live, fourteen years ago, got it wrong.

The yammer of the Car Guys tells me that I've lingered too long at the keyboard. My coffee has completely cooled, forgotten on the gilt-edged plate that I use as a coaster on my little desk. I've raised the wood-slat blinds, and I can see the clearness of the day and the blueness of the sky, against the wintry leaves. The winds has risen, and the neighbor's patio umbrella tosses its green canvas as a small brown critter skitters on the surface of the table. I should be doing something constructive, like laundry, or Yoga, or cogitating on the likely outcome of this week's trial. Instead, I think that I will gather all of the books I have read in the last two weeks, and take them to the Mystery bookstore. I'll tender them for store credit, order an Americano from the coffee bar, and browse the shelves of international writers. By and by, I'll choose the next in a series of which I am fond, or maybe the first in a series that I haven't read. I'll take a chair in the far back of the reading room, and lose myself in the pages of other people's lives.

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.