Saturday, December 5, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 05 December 2015

Good morning,

I know that the 6th Annual Suite 100 Holiday Open House succeeded last evening.  The Harvester's collection barrel groans under the weight of the donations brought by our guests.  The tip jar to benefit the charitable works of the Waldo Brookside Rotary Club filled with "folding money".  Though we bought too much food, as usual, the yummiest stuff got completely eaten and I myself will eat the leftover cut fruit and veggies, so I'm okay with the excess.

My phone died about forty-five minutes into the event, so I'm still waiting for the photos taken by others as the crowd grew.  I stood at my customary spot, but didn't badger folks to sign a guest book this year.  But the turn-out overwhelmed me.  Each of the five professionals who office in Suite 100 had plenty of guests from their individual lists, and a large contingent of friends of our featured artists arrived throughout the night.  The weather cooperated.  My colleague, Jenna Munoz; and our "sweet" suite secretary, Miranda Erichsen, worked like the fierce lionesses whom I know them to be, and the place looked gorgeous.

I am contented.

I have difficulty with the holidays.  Today I find myself thinking of a Christmas season when I drove from Jasper, Arkansas, to St. Louis to see my father and my siblings.  I made the journey alone, leaving early one chilly mountain morning and arriving with stiff, sore muscles, struggling from my Nissan Sentra, regretting the infrequency of my stops along the way.  My father stood on the porch in the cold of the evening air, watching for me, worried.  He carried my bag to the front bedroom while I wandered through the house.

I walked among the photos and china still arranged by my mother's hands, though she had been dead for more than two years.  I touched thick dust on the surface of her mixing bowls.  The silence of the breakfast room saddened me.  I went to bed heavy with an inexplicable regret.

My father fixed breakfast for me after a night of little sleep.  I surveyed the bacon, the bright yellow yolks of the fried eggs, the toast spread thick with butter.  My father studied me, waiting for approval.   I summoned radiance into my face and lifted the fork, thinking of the fruit and yogurt which I normally ate, quelling a shudder.  One day of this won't kill you.

We talked of my attempts to start a law practice in the rural county where marriage had brought me to live.  I described the portable kitchen which Chester, my husband, had built to go on tour with a theatre company, that tour being the  reason for my solitary journey.  I knew my father would be delighted with the intricacies of the large box on wheels with its built-in propane cooker and its cubbies for dishes.

The story took us through the meal, then we fell silent.  We carried the dishes to the kitchen and then I shooed my father into the living room, where I knew the crossword puzzle from the day's St. Louis Post-Dispatch awaited him.  He pretended to be offended, feigning reluctance to leave me to the dishes.  But he went.  Moments later, I heard him settle into the worn recliner, easing into the depression that his body had made over the years.  I could picture him reaching for his pencil; for the folded newspaper; for a cigarette.

I ignored the portable dishwasher, organizing the dishes by category the way my mother would have.  Glasses and cups into the sudsy water first; pots and pans last.  Everything had its place in the drain basket.   I had been well-schooled in the process, standing first on a tall wooden stool, too little to reach the sink but old enough for chores.

I felt my mother's eyes on my back as I gazed out the window at the neighbor's yard.

The orange sliding board had long since vanished, snatched by the same twister that had uprooted the old tree at my parents' place.  But I could see children climbing on it; my younger self, the neighbor girls, our impatient brothers.  I could see the boys climbing in the treehouse, high on the thick trunk of a long-dead tree.  Their shouts drifted through the kitchen window so many wistful years later.

I wrung out the dishcloth and hung it on the side of the sink.  In the living room my father looked at me as I sat on the couch.  I could not bring myself to sit in the upholstered chair beside my dad's recliner, the chair long empty.  I did not look on the floor beside my mother's chair to see if her knitting bag still sat there.

What will you do today, my father asked, though I had told him several times over breakfast.  Frank is having everyone over for dinner, I said, for the fourth or fifth time.  He nodded.  We both knew that "everyone" did not include him.  I asked if he needed me to do anything, and he put the newspaper down.  Yes, he nodded.  I've got some things of your Mother's for you.  My stomach lurched.  But we all have our rituals, the dances of our grief.  He needed this.

We spent a couple of hours in the room where my mother had spent her last months.  He had already sorted out what he planned to give me.  I touched the ironed handerchiefs, pressed and folded by my father's hands.  I held my grandmother Corley's housecoat against my face, picturing my mother wearing it, her hair in rollers.

My sisters and I had divided my mother's small jewelry collection after her death.  We had cleaned out the closets, donating her clothes to the church.  I had taken her record collection and turntable home with me after her funeral.  But my father had kept the more intimate things for a time when he felt more capable of sorting through them. He had been raw back then, whereas we had been numb, or drugged, or drunk, and the sorting had come easy for us.

Not so on that New Year's Day in her bedroom with my father.  I felt the roar of grief rise in my ears and fell against the wall.  My father pretended not to see and kept pulling her things from drawers.  He could not stop.  He had planned this purge.  He pretended that the desire for me to have something of my mother drove him but we both knew better.  I let him go.

Later that day, I sat in my brother's house watching my siblings and their families.  I had nothing to say, and they spoke around me.  We had little in common.  On the surface our lives might parallel, but I had constructed my existence from the fragile fibers of fraud, and they knew it.  They did not ask about my "job"; they briefly inquired about Chester's tour and then the seam of their solidarity closed and I stood on its outside.

I slipped away when no one noticed and went back to Jennings, to my parents' home, and told my father that I could not stay.

He fretted while I shoved my clothes and my mother's things into my suitcase.  He reached into his wallet and gave me the Standard Oil charge card which he never used, not having a car, not having  a driver's license.  He made me promise to call when I got home, and then stood in that same spot as I pulled away from the curb.

It snowed the entire way back to Jasper, including after I crossed state line, thickening as I drove higher into the Ozark Mountains.

Two days later, my sister Ann called to ask me why I had left.  I imagined my siblings looking around, wondering, before turning back to their shrimp gumbo and the chatter of their easy camaraderie.

In the last two years, my sisters-by-birth have risen to the urgent challenge of my need.  They have stood with me, with my sisters-by-choice.  My brother Frank has visited my house and brought his children into it, the second wave of children, the ones that he and his wife adopted.  On Thanksgiving day, my sister Adrienne sent an early morning text to her siblings including me.  I feel like part of their family now as I never before have felt.  It's taken sixty years but my path has finally led me home.

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.