The stretch down Truman Road between the Independence square and I-435 can be driven on auto-pilot. A day or two ago, as I made that sweeping pass towards the highway that would take me back to my office, the rambling tones of Steve Kraske, a Kansas City Star reporter who interviews local celebrities on public radio, filled the chilly confines of my car. A lilting laugh rose to meet his deeper, friendly chuckle. Kraske asked Joyce DiDonato, the opera star who hails from Prairie Village, Kansas, about her new recordings. I barely attended to their chatter. I do not like opera.
But he switched gears: Another new release, this one filled with more colloquial tunes. And I nearly drove the Saturn into a curb as Ms. DiDonato's voice threw me back to 1973. When you walk through a storm, Hold your head up high. And don't be afraid of the dark. At the end of the storm is a golden sky, And the sweet silver song of a lark.
I stood again beneath an arching, raised roof amid painfully modern contours of Corpus Christi Church. The middle section in the vast space held row on row of parents clad in Sunday finery. They twisted to watch the back of the church, where I and my classmates have submitted to being adorned with the ragged petals of a giant, white chrysanthemum. We each hold a single yellow rose. We've been aligned in our customary alphabetical order, a few dozen eighteen-year-old girls whose fate awaits on the other side of the gloom. The notes of the organ start, and the first girl, the girl who has always been first by the coincidence of alphabet, steps forward.
Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you'll never walk alone; you'll never walk alone.
With my surname, I found myself grouped in the first third of any line. I followed the swishing skirt of the girl ahead of me, pulled forward by the music, as the chorus repeated. Some one's mother, or a nun, or maybe a junior, sang the lyrics standing in front of a microphone at the far side of the nave. The size of our class, the last graduating class of the doomed high school, allowed us to finish the journey before the brave notes subsided. Our Baccalaureate Mass began. Fragrance rose around us, a curious, cloying mixture of mums, roses and burning candles. At some appropriate moment, each of us tendered the yellow flower to our mothers, long stems catching on our sleeves, thorns lightly scratching the tender skins of our hands.
When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high.
To the communion rail, to our seats, down the aisle through the doors at the back of the church. The strains of the organ sent us on our way. A great noise arose, voices of my classmates, their laughter, their unbridled whoops of self-congratulation. The din of disorder overcame me. I pulled away. My eyes spanned the throng of exiting parents, searching for my own mother, who had sat in the church by herself, a bit away from the others, in a pale blue dress with frayed cuffs and collar, clutching a vinyl navy handbag.
Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.
I spied my mother's mottled brown countenance, the worn face broken only by a thin line of mauve lipstick, her plucked brows slightly drawn. I could not see her eyes behind the reflections on the lenses of her glasses. By the set of her jaw, and the arch of her chin, I knew she despaired of finding me. The voices of my classmates and their proud parents swelled and filled the vestibule. I stood apart, near the door, unable to force myself to advance towards her. A cluster of students in pretty frocks flanked by their mothers and fathers barred my mother's way. Thus did we hover, a world apart, separated by something more dire than a mere gaggle of girls.
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart.
And you'll never walk alone. You'll never walk alone.
Just before my mother surrendered to defeat, just before the moment when she might have turned and left the building by another exit, an avenue opened in the chattering crowd, and she saw me, standing alone, watching her.
Our eyes met. Her hand fell, slowly, to her side, the petals of the rose I had given her brushing the wrinkled skirt of her dress. I cannot know what she thought, in that moment. I cannot know if she understood what held me back. I cannot say whether the treachery rising in my heart had reached my face.
She stepped towards me before I could summon myself to move. But I met her halfway. In the center of the crowd of exuberant graduates, my mother and I embraced.
The strains of Joyce DiDonato's beautiful rendition of the Rogers & Hammerstein classic died away as I made the final swoop onto the highway. I shook off the bittersweet memories of the past, and signaled my lane change. By the time I got to my office, only the lovely hopefulness of the song lingered in my mind, entwined with the memory of the widening smile on my mother's face, just before I took her in my arms.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
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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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