The begonias wave their leggy arms at me, searching for light from the unopened curtains. My dog snores in her bed, an unwitting reminder that I must dash to the vet's office before the snow accumulates and get her medication. My bones protest each shift in my chair and I think: Remind me again why you like winter? I tell myself, It's the clothes. I look better in winter clothes. I laugh out loud, the sound of my brief amusement blending with the dog's gentle rumbling.
I think about Thanksgiving and begin to ruminate over that for which I'm thankful. I bend against the list of disappointments, straining to shift my focus from that which clamors to the surface: what I lament. I close my eyes and will myself to draw the gratitude from within me. And as I wait, memories flow into the vacuum.
It's 1977. I have come home. I've failed in Boston: I've abandoned my place at BC, quit my job, packed my metal rocking chair and boxes of clothes which don't fit and ridden west in my mother's car, my brother Kevin behind the wheel. I've spent the fall cajoling SLU into giving me my spot back in its non-master's track PhD program in the poli-sci department, and found a job with the Knights of Columbus' not-for-profit development program as a secretary in the three-person office. I'm living with my parents. My brother Stephen, 18, lives there as well, and the two of us grouse around the house feeling sorry for our sad selves, me drinking too much Scotch at night and both of us burning our mouths each morning with my father's over-perked coffee.
Fall wanes. Winter settles on Jennings, on its old asphalt streets and its cracked concrete sidewalks. My mother has me help her spread mulch over the garden beds and bundle yard debris which my father ties with strong twine. I sit on the wide brick porch in an old flannel shirt that one of the older boys left behind, covered with an afghan, working crossword puzzles and complaining. My mother comes and goes and largely ignores my belly-aching. She does not indulge me but neither does she challenge me. I'm letting my hair grow again and losing weight, the weight of nine months in a city with a Mug and Muffin shop at every T-stop.
November rumbles forward. My brother Frank lights fires in Minnesota as a freshman at Carleton College. My mother keeps me updated on him, causing envy to unfurl within me and tear my innards with its relentless claws. I read "The Bell Jar" for the hundredth time and wonder if it's too late to be a writer. I scribble self-indulgent poetry in a notebook and avoid my mother's amused glances.
On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my mother forces me to go to the grocery store with her. We fill the cart with cans of broth, a large turkey, flour, bags of cranberries, whole sweet potatoes. I push the buggy along beside my mother as she crouches to retrieve raisins, reaches for whipping cream and butter. Salted and unsalted. I idly wonder why we need both.
On Thursday, my mother raps on the bedroom door shortly after dawn. I've been out late, drinking with my leftover boyfriend from college who should be with his real girlfriend but finds my sullenness perversely attractive and has taken up with me again instead. So I ignore her first knock and she pushes open the door. "Mary," she says, softly. "It's time to get the clover leaf rolls started."
I can't refuse.
In a short while, hands washed, jeans tugged on, flannel shirt wrapped around me, I'm elbow deep in flour and my mother has put on the John Phillips Sousa marches on KMOX radio. I hear my father talking to the dog in the living room, and close my eyes. The sweetness of butter fills my nostrils, mixed with the acrid coffee fragrance, the scent of Pine-sol from the kitchen floor, and the bite of cinnamon from pies cooling on the shelf above the kitchen counter.
There, in my mother's kitchen, with my arms covered in flour, I begin to weep. My tears drip from the curve of my cheek and fall into the dough. My mother reaches over and dabs my face with a paper napkin. We do not speak. I knead the mixture which I have created, for the clover rolls that I have eaten every year for as long as I can remember, certainly for the two decades since my crooked teeth came into the small cavern of my toddler mouth. Paul Harvey tells The Rest of The Story and I shape the dough into its three balls per roll, placing them in the greased wells of the cupcake tins, covering the pans with clean towels and placing them out of the way so I can start to peel potatoes. My mother says, "Let's have some Reindling," and I stop what I'm doing, sit down at the breakfast room table, and let her bring me a piece of buttered raisin bread on a purple Melmac plate. She refills my coffee cup and we just sit, eating, drinking, while the dough rises in the kitchen and the radio plays.
The snow has not yet started. My coffee has grown cold and I'm feeling that the yogurt which I ate two hours ago might not be enough. I'm regaining my appetite after a month when the sight of food sickened me. The furnace roars into life and I look out the front window, at the greyness of the sky looming above my barren yard, with its blanket of fallen leaves. I see, just over the edge of the sill, the purple leaves of my Japanese maple. I suddenly wonder if there's anything I can do to insure that it survives another winter under ice. As the silence of the house surrounds me, I notice that it is not yet snowing. Somehow, the clearness of the air encourages me, and I head to the kitchen for another cup of coffee.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
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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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