The sun shines higher than usual as I sit at my old writing desk, my computer slightly listing when the wobbly legs occasionally shift. I hear mild coughing from a downstairs bedroom, signaling that one of the sentient beings in the house stirs. I've slept later because the demands of the last few weeks have taken a terrible toll on my aging bones. With a little pharmaceutical boost, I managed to reclaim some needed rest.
The annual food fest on which we gorge ourselves and then spend too much on material goods of dubious quality passed with muted fanfare this week. I cooked a passable turkey, less monstrous than normal but still tasty rolls, that ubiquitous green bean casserole, and dubious bread pudding, all of which we hauled to my in-laws' house. The service and grace seemed strange to me but apparently comported with the traditions of my husband and his family-of-birth, so I smiled and silently relinquished my own preferences. But tonight the friends who normally gather at my table this time of year will do so again, and there will be a round of "thankful-fors", and the serving dishes will pile up on the table, and I will have the best of both worlds.
The only shopping I did this Black Friday involved a stolen moment at Prospero's, a used bookstore which recently opened a new location near my office, and a couple of stops to find shoes with my visiting son. The latter journey took place within the small, clean confines of the Kia that Patrick just purchased from our neighbor, with the CD emitting strains of his favorite music and he behind the wheel. Either his driving has improved or my backseat driving has diminished. I found myself relaxing as a passenger for the first time since he got his license five or so years ago. I even liked some of the songs on the mix CD he played. Some. Not all -- but some.
I don't need to close my eyes to see my mother standing in the doorway of our living room, surrounded by the blaring notes of Joe Cocker, or Frank Zappa, or maybe Jerry Garcia, coming from the long, low stereo she had purchased with the proceeds of many weeks of saving S&H Green Stamps. My brothers sit on the floor, on the thin grey carpet, and I recline in a yellow wing-back chair with worn arms. I cannot imagine that I am older than twelve or thirteen; my brother Kevin is four years older than I am, and left home straight away after high school. So we are teenagers, on this afternoon in my memory, probably on break from school, Thanksgiving perhaps, with the steely sky outside our windows.
I was sitting in the breakfast room trying to balance my checkbook and pay bills, my mother says. And as I gritted my teeth, striving to concentrate despite the blaring of this -- do you call it music? -- I told myself, "Oh, Lucy, it's not so bad. They could be out robbing banks. My mother pauses, laughs, shrugs her shoulders. And then I looked at my bank balance and I thought, What's wrong with them?! They could be out robbing banks!!!
One of the boys turns the volume down a notch, and another rises from the floor and crosses to where my mother stands. They had both surpassed her height by then, and she looks up to the face of whichever one has come to cajole her back to good humor. He takes her hand and pulls her into the open area in front of the couch and twirls her around, a waltz timed to the hard beat of rock and roll. He dips and spins her small frame, and as she dances, her skirt swirls around her sturdy legs. It is a denim wrap-around skirt, one of a dozen she made from the same pattern in different fabrics. Soon, they are all three dancing, my brothers and my mother, while I sit in my mother's favorite chair singing along with the stereo.
Someone recently asked me if I had a happy childhood. I could not answer the question. I had a strange childhood, with peaks and valleys. I traveled through childhood strapped in the middle car on a crazily high roller coaster, plunged to terrifying depths and thrown to exhilarating heights. If my life had a soundtrack, it would include tracks by Dvorak, Livingston Taylor, Willie Nelson, and always, the Grateful Dead. The liner notes would pay special attention to those who taught me cruel lessons as well as those who gave me safe harbor from the ravaging of the winter winds. And to the loss of those in the forward cars: Fare thee well, Fare thee well, I love you more than words can tell.
I tried to give my son less for which to be grateful in the starkness of its lessons, and more to appreciate for the sweetness of its scenery. I do not know if I was successful. He stomps in and out of the house as though either driven by demons of his own or propelled by a fantastic ambition which he can barely contain. Or both, maybe. His writing shocks and astonishes me with its deft combination of irony and joy, its overtones of presumed defeat tempered with abiding hope. But it's okay, I tell myself. He could be out robbing banks.
I am thankful that he is not. And there is so much for which I feel gratitude, including, I must admit, the heart-wrenching memory of my mother dancing with my brothers, to the pounding rhythms of Casey Jones.
Saturday, November 24, 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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