Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Musings, 30 August 2014

Good morning,

I'm blessed with a little laptop that has a touch-screen so I can make the words instantly grow to a size that accommodates my aging eyes.  I use that feature and still squint at the white square in front of me, the twenty-first century equivalent of the empty piece of paper rolled into the old Remington.  What do I wish to say, I ask myself.  I've time enough for most memories but they seem to elude me today.

Last evening, I attended the first hour of a surprise birthday party for a woman whom I barely  know but find intriguing.  With a wide engaging smile, a gardener's tan and an easy way, Leslie exudes natural cheerfulness without seeming shallow or arrogant.  The guests ranged from 2 to something old enough to require a walker and double hearing aids, all shapes, all sizes, all colors, in garb ranging from demure flower-print dresses to cut-off blue jean shorts.  The home where Leslie and her family reside sits at the end of a dead-end street, and the resultant secluded lot had been festooned with banners, balloons and dangling fairy lights.  A Zydeco group heralded every arrival including, with boisterous fanfare, that of the very surprised birthday girl.

I had intended to arrive at the dot of seven so as to make my escape before the sun set.  My finicky ignition switch trapped me in front of my office building for an extra fifteen minutes, until a fellow building tenant came and jiggled it with just the right sensitivity to find the sweet spot.  I'm sure I'll have to repair it soon enough, but last night I managed to get to the party -- and, later, home -- without a call to AAA.

Other than the guest of honor, her boyfriend and their children, I knew only one other person at the party, a former client with whom I exchanged somewhat awkward greetings and an update on his improved life in the several years since I got him divorced.  I sat in a rocking chair in the sweet evening air, eating a bit of food and listening to the music, having tendered the pricey gluten-free cupcakes that I brought and hugged Leslie, pleasant duties easily dispensed.

A young boy, whom I learned to be a fifth grader, sat in the chair beside me.  He declined an invitation from the host's son to play video games.  I asked him if he liked the music.  He acknowledged that he did.  I noticed a couple hovering beyond him, eyeing me, whom I took to be his parents.  I kept my distance but continued my delicate inquiry.  It's hard to be at a party where you don't know anyone, isn't it? said I.

He raised his eyes and peered full-force into my face.  Yes, it is, he admitted.  His eyes stayed on mine.  I noticed he wore a buttoned, collared shirt, neat khaki shorts, and shoes with actual socks.  I recognized him, then:  In this child, I met my younger, male self; my brother Frank; his now-grown son Rick at 10.  Perhaps my own son.  My heart contracted.  

I asked him about his school (French immersion) and his summer (a trip to Argentina with his father).  He warmed to both subjects, talking about a future field trip to France; the odd meat that his father tried in Buenos Aires which his father leaned down to identify as large intestine.  He told me that he wanted to have a job that allowed him to live in the United States but travel.  He said he wants to be a writer.

Ah, a writer! I exclaimed.  My son is a writer.  And I write, but I don't make my living as a writer.  What do you want to write?  He said he wasn't sure but he thought books.  I asked him if he keeps a journal.  He leaned forward, rested his arms on his knees and gazed at me with utter seriousness.  Sadly, no, he replied.  In those two words, I saw reflected many conversations he must have had, with himself or some external influence -- a teacher, a parent --  and all such exchanges that I have inflicted on my own writer's soul flowed back to me.  I knew his demons: the writer's blessing and the writer's curse.  

At some point, we stood so he could introduce me to his parents.  My cell phone rang; my son calling from Chicago; and I excused myself for a few minutes.  The boy ran off to get some food, and, my call completed, I chatted with his parents.  I noticed the sun had fully set and the danger zone for driving had now been breached.  I made my apologies and excuses to the couple, just as their son came back to stand beside his mother.  

I leaned down and offered him my hand.  It was a pleasure meeting you, I told him.  He shook my hand like a champ and then, just before I turned to walk down the driveway, he reached over and threw his arms around my neck in the most tender of innocent hugs that I've had in an eternity of tender, children's embraces.  I looked over his head at his mother.  I recognized what I saw there; I smiled at all of them as the boy disengaged.  I left before the tears could flow, while the unbidden joy still claimed my face.

A man about my age, a friend of my hosts, saw me struggling on the uneven boards of the porch and took my arm.  He guided me down the gravel road, and reached into my car to turn the key when I failed to get the thing to work.  Seeing my consternation at being hemmed between two vehicles in the narrow lane, he volunteered to back my car from its space, and turn it around.  When he had done so, I showered him with thanks, and asked his name -- Mark -- so I could be sure to hold it in my heart, among the names of other strangers who have stopped to help me since my car developed its stubborn refusal to instantly engage.

A half hour later, I sat on my porch, in the easy air of a late summer night. The neighborhood had fallen quiet.  I read my e-mail, wrote a few paragraphs to someone who harbors hurt because of me, trying to soothe the deep-set fraying in his psyche.  I talked a while to my son, listening to his weekend challenges, getting his insight about mine.  I made my night's blog entry, let the old dog out and in again.  I set the alarm, climbed the stairs, and sent a prayer from my heart to whatever being watches over serious ten-year-olds and their sixty-year old incarnations.  I fell asleep smiling.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Musings, 23 August 2014

Good morning,

I sit on the deck of the Holmes house, with the lingering chirp of crickets, or cicadas perhaps, trilling off to my right in the small patch of earth between this point and the asphalt of the driveway.  I hear the dog at the side of the house, barking, wanting to be granted entrance.  I'm trying to ignore her so I don't have to leave this comfortable scene.  I don't think the neighbors will waken.  Now she subsides; perhaps she has discovered that I filled her food and water dishes and left a chew for her on the back porch.

The neighbor's cat slinks up the stairs to nibble from our boycat's dish.  I would shoo her away, but rumor on the block says that my cat and she have something going, so I let her have a bit of breakfast.  I myself can't eat; my stomach  protests the unaccustomed entry of fried foods yesterday, reminding me:  don't put that junk in this belly, no matter how yummy it might seem to be.  I sip coffee, hoping that I won't make things worse.

The events in Ferguson haunted me this week.  My cousins lived right next to Ferguson and we in nearby Jennings.  I can picture the stretch of West Florissant described in the articles.  A high school friend recently returned to live in Ferguson, with her husband, joyous about the prospects of restoring their newly acquired dwelling to mid-century modern splendor.  The streets of North County had no terror in my childhood.  Riots occurred in Chicago; looting nowhere that we knew; tear gas and firing police officers shocked our parents when news of them flashed in black and white, scenes from somewhere far away, something brief and disturbing.  This violence did not happen here; it did not touch our home; it did not threaten us.

I visited my Aunt Della Mae in Tinley Park in July of 1966, just weeks after those Chicago riots.   Tinley Park, in the southern part of Chicago's metropolitan area, sprouted in the 1950s with split-level homes in three patterns, alternating, the King, the Queen, and the Princess.  I walked the dog and mentally tracked the three styles to find my way back to Aunt Dell and Uncle Dick's home.  My mother scheduled the trip to compensate me for a planned week in the hospital, soothing my resentment with descriptions of Chicago and what might await me there.  In reality, my aunt feared the city, especially that summer.  We never left her subdivision.  She talked about the aftermath of the riots, a tension which gripped the whole area, the fear, the uncertainty.  She spoke of divisiveness with a trembling voice.  She did not know what to make of the rage that had appeared on the pages of the nation's newspapers, and so she kept her children close and me with them.

I scoured news sites this week, straining to understand the facts of the Michael Brown shooting.  He fought with the police officer; the police officer accosted him; he ran; he turned; he fell; he begged; he threatened; he surrendered; the cop shot, the cop shot, the cop shot an unarmed eighteen-year-old who might have stolen some cigars.  I close my eyes and insert myself into each player:  the thick tall body of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown; the slender frame of his companion; the sturdy shoulders of Darren Wilson.  I read several accounts that describe Officer Wilson as having been "badly beaten" and others which deny the veracity of those claims.  I see a video which seems to portray Mr. Brown as having paid for those damned cigars, but read a statement from his friend's attorney, in which he claims his client confessed that he and Michael Brown did, indeed, steal.  A still photo of the officer shows no injuries; an Illinois newspaper describes him as having "an orbital fracture".

I take this all into my brain along with images of looting, and peaceful protest, and journalists arrested by nervous local law enforcement.  Overlaying the montage runs the sound of a minister's voice.  The Reverend Willis Johnson, whose image appeared in the Washington Post, snapped as Reverend Johnson confronted and calmed a young man named Joshua Wilson, spoke these words and I pulled my car to the side of the road to let them wash over me:

'I had not met [Joshua Wilson] personally, but I've met Joshuas. I was 18 once, and a young black male. I have a young man that I'm trying to grow. ... People may not understand, but many of us look to the eyes of young people — doesn't matter about color, doesn't matter about the things people assume. This is not a race issue, in and of itself. This is a human issue.'

I do not know the truth of what happened between that young man and the police officer, in Ferguson, two long weeks ago.  I do not believe anyone will ever know.  We have the account of many persons who saw the events from different angles; and a grand jury will, presumably, have the account of the man who fired that weapon.  By the same token, I do not expect to truly comprehend how peaceful protests about the killing created a vacuum into which criminals crept, to terrorize the town, taking advantage of its momentary vulnerability.  

But this I do know:  We have not overcome our fear.  The same conviction that caused a waitress to refuse service to my friend Joyce and me in 1980, saying, "We don't do salt and pepper here," lurks in our hearts and dangerously close to the surface of our many-colored skins.  Fear of those who differ from us stains our daily lives.  That fear leads us to shoot when we might otherwise soothe; and if that did not occur in Ferguson on August 9, 2014, it certainly occurs somewhere each dogged day of our lives.  What followed Michael Brown's death, on the streets of Ferguson, could happen everywhere.  Those who feel mistreated try to voice their message, and those who do not care about that message seize the jagged edges of the societal malaise and use it to their own perverted ends.

I see my neighbor walking down his driveway.  He is a solid sort, middle-class, a working man.  I remember when his young daughter became pregnant in high school, and his anger at the creamy chocolate of the baby's skin.  Now that child dwells in a holy place in my neighbor's heart, along with her sister whose skin matches her own, and the other girls, who have a different biological father and their mother's Irish freckles.  My neighbor's initial dismay, fourteen years ago, retreated with the rush of love that followed close on the heels of that first, more base instinct.

I recently completed a survey about the Kansas City school district, my attitudes toward public education here, and whether I chose the District for my child's education.  Only one question in the multi-page online form directly addressed race, the one which  asked me  to disclose  mine. Options A, B, and C, were, "White", "Black", and "Hispanic". A clickable box followed the fourth choice, "Other".  I selected that option and entered this word in the provided space:  HUMAN.

My heart aches for Michael Brown, for his family, for the officer who shot him and for that man's family.  I mourn  for the town of Ferguson, for its sons and daughters, for their sleepless nights and uneasy days.  I do not know what transpired in Ferguson on August 9th.  But this I know:  We are a people who judge each other by immutable features which have nothing to do with our worth, and until we abandon those faulty criteria for valuing each other, there will always be a Michael Brown, and a Darren Wilson, and looting in our streets when opportunists see the rift between us and step in with their terrible trouble.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley










Saturday, August 16, 2014

The crystal

Good afternoon:

I have had a lot of comments about my crystal from David Spencer, mentioned in today's Saturday Musings.

By chance, I am at the office where the crystal resides in a bowl. Here is a picture of the bowl of crystals.  It is the small one on the right, with brown/red veining and a little point.  The spark which I felt when I first touched it emanated from the point.

All of these crystals came from Arkansas.  The rock, also; and that might be a geode.  

Enjoy, all.

Corinne


Saturday Musings, 16 August 2014

Good morning,

When I first awakened, hours ago, I couldn't tell if the light above the tress was the sun or the city.  Hunger rumbled in my stomach.  The scar tissue inside my artificial knee had knotted itself. I could hear the dog pacing in the kitchen.  If I strained, I could feel the cat waiting on the stoop.  I ignored it all and drifted back to sleep.  My mind takes over.

I'm in a car, heading from Jasper to Murray Valley in the mountains above the town.  Chester drives.  We round a bend and he pulls into a driveway.  We're stopping to see friends of his.  The husband, David, works as a carpenter in town and I think Chester hopes to get a little work.  

Their dwelling rises above the roadway and nestles against the curve of a hillside.  We skirt the vehicles and pallets between where we have parked and the steps to their front door.  David's wife waits in the doorway, a small brown wren of a woman.  She gestures; we pass her and enter the pleasantly cluttered home with its hanging plants and many bookcases, no doubt hand-made.  Their shelves gleam; their contours fit the angles of the room.  I touch the top of one, feel the heat of the hackberry, the smooth of the finish.  My fingers linger until I feel self-conscious and hastily remove them.

I've not caught the wife's name.  I smile to cover my embarrassment.  Dave bounds around the corner from the kitchen, tall, with wild crazy hair, fuzzy hair on his chin, and an endless smile.  He wears a white T-shirt, jeans, and hiking boots.  His wife takes his place by the stove and pours coffee from the pot sitting on a burner.  I haven't seen a stove-top coffee pot since my childhood.  It fascinates me.  

Chester and David have fallen into the kind of talk that interests those who work with wood.  I like wood but I find myself drifting away, looking at the bits and pieces that comprise their decor.  Stained glass, pottery, weavings and crystals.  Lots of crystals.  I see a wooden bowl of them in the middle of a table pushed to the back of the small living room, a table on which I feel sure they eat their meals, write letters, and plan their adventures.  I stand, gazing at the lovely pieces, until I cannot resist:  I reach into the bowl to touch one.  I do not realize that David and Chester have fallen silent to watch me.

As I touch the topmost crystal, a flash emits from it and sends a charge through my hand.  I stop but do not pull back.  My eyes raise and meet those of my host.  "That crystal seems to be yours," he says.  He moves, lifts it from the bowl, and places it in my hand.  He tells me that some times a bit of electricity from the earth remains in the crystals, lingering, until something releases the energy.  He holds my gaze and says, gently, that I had been the catalyst for that momentary spark.  I ask him if it will happen again.  He says, "It's not likely, these are very small crystals and they don't hold a lot of energy."  I close my fingers around the crystal and feel its jagged edges.  We remain silent, until his wife moves towards us with heavy mugs of steaming, fragrant coffee and we all sit, on hand-made chairs, around a hand-made table, in the home of a carpenter with a deep understanding of the forces of our world.

Several years later, after my marriage to Chester self-destructed, after I met a jazz musician with dreamy eyes and became pregnant, when the child who would become my son lay heavily in my slender body, I visited Jasper.  I sat in the home of a quilter, Mary Olson, talking about the Ohio Star pattern that I wanted for my son's quilt.  David's wife, whose name I still could not remember and only now speculate might have been Elizabeth, came visiting.  We embrace; she touched my belly, as women do when one carries a child, and she told me that she and David would gift me with a cedar chest in which to store my baby's things.  I tried to dissuade her, though without much conviction.  

She asked me if I still had the crystal which her husband had given me.  I told her that I did, although, in truth, it was mixed in an oriental bowl with several others and I was not sure that I could distinguish it from any other.  She nodded.  I felt as though I had failed some test, but she had too much kindness in her heart to tell me.

David made the chest, and Mary made the quilt.  I have them both, still, in my second floor room with all of its wood and oddities.  The bowl of crystals sits on a table in my office, but here at home, amid the other memories, I keep these two gifts safe to give Patrick when he has a child, or when he settles somewhere.  Until then, their presence comforts me.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley





Saturday, August 9, 2014

Saturday Musings, 09 August 2014

Good morning,

The porch lured me, with its preening plants and the soft call of crickets.  Our stubborn boycat nibbles on food at the other end; I see he has a new battle scar but he wouldn't let me examine it.  Since he became an outdoor creature four years ago, he has gotten into some damaging scrapes but comes home nearly every morning to be fed.  I watch him settle onto the cool concrete for a morning nap.  He ignores my gaze.

Wakefulness claimed me at four this morning.  I rose, pace, pondered.  I don't  know which more troubled me: the spasming in my legs or the melancholy in my heart.  Eventually, I meditated myself back to quietude and slept until the sun kissed my eyelids through the open shade at half past six.

I found myself measuring the past this week, day by day, decade by decade, town by town, house by house.  I saw a picture of my first shared daughters, standing on either side of their father in a reunion for which I had long lobbied.  My spirit soared with gladness to see their image, the smile none had been sure would dawn with their coming together.  I studied in particular the younger daughter, Tshandra Michelle, now forty, with a beautiful daughter of her own.  I see her mother's face stamped there, though she carries her father's mark as well.  On the far left, little Gracie raises her arms and her face heavenward and I think:  Joy lives in that one.  I hope the child's joy springs back a generation and embraces her mother.

I close my eyes and see that mother's teenage face, spiked hair, black fingernail polish, defiant glare.  We're standing in the small lobby of the Springfield, Missouri airport and she's telling her father and me why her mother's sent her back to us.  Or why she believes her behavior got her shipped back to the wilds of Newton County, Arkansas.  We drive back to Jasper without talking much, with the radio playing, and Shelley -- as she was known then -- fuming.

We had had her for the prior summer, down in Little Rock, along with her cousin Sarah, she of the golden hair and the sunny disposition.  Her mother begged us until we agreed to tell her that she and her husband had separated.  The news had not set well with my stepdaughter.  She had been a toddler when her birthparents had divorced, and she barely knew her father.  Her stepfather had moved into the void left by Chester's parting.  Now she found herself living in Chester's home again, with his new wife again, and I feel certain, even now, nearly three decades later, that she dreaded the prospect.

She rummaged in her backpack and unearthed a plastic bag and handed it to me.  "Here," she said.  "I finished it."  I smoothed the wrinkles caused by a hasty hand and extracted the muslin still caught in the embroidery hoop.  "Live a little, Laugh a lot, Love enough".  A cross-stitch piece; I had bought it for her after much debate the prior summer in Little Rock.  I turned, I smiled, and I thought, for just one moment, that her steely countenance relaxed.

Back in Jasper, with the clean mountain air surrounding us, Chester settled her onto the sleeping room that we had made of the screened porch while I started cooking dinner.  I heard murmuring; her father's voice, then hers, rising, strident.  I quelled my apprehension and stirred the hollandaise, made the salad, set the table.  The three of us tendered small talk over the food, across the divide.  We didn't discuss what had happened back home; we didn't mention the differences we saw in her.

She stayed with us for just a handful of weeks, that time.  But in that month, I came to love her.  I didn't know if anything I did or said in that time reached her, but I got her under my skin and in my heart, that first shared daughter, and there she has stayed with her tender nature and her steely spine.

A couple of lifetimes later, Tshandra reached out to me on Facebook and we became steady correspondents.  At the same time, I started teaching a Writers' Workshop at the VALA Gallery, at which Chester had become a resident artist and general handyman.  He and I started a long, loosely choreographed dance number entitled How Can I Get My Daughters Back, with particular emphasis on Tshandra Michelle.  He led the dance but occasionally, I would send us into a spin.  His line:  "I Did My Best", juxtaposed against my chorus:  "She's Your Daughter, Chet, Just Apologize For Leaving Her".

Then their mother died and the dance accelerated, with the daughters out west now having their own places in our frenzied waltz.  Reclaiming Tshandra and Kimberly became an imperative.  The music rose to a crescendo now and again, with Chester banging on his drum and Tshandra trilling the gentle, elusive line of the flute above his bold bashing.  For my part, I turned the pages,  occasionally striking the triangle with its wand.

So here they were, in my Newsfeed on Facebook a few days ago:  One of three shared daughters who live in my heart, with her half-sister Angelica on her right, and her father and sister standing in the middle of the tableau.  My soul sang.  I studied the figure of Grace, Chester's granddaughter, Tshandra's daughter.  I saw that she carried no taint of two generations of angst which came before her making.  I saw the happiness on Tshandra's face, this brave young woman; and my heart, which has had its share of sorrow, felt  light and easy.  Remembering that picture now, I find I can let go of the melancholy, if only for a morning, because of  reunion in Colorado among people whom I will always love.

Here in Kansas City, the sun has fully risen but the air is still sweet.  The neighborhood has come to life and my coffee has grown cold.  Pablo, the boycat, has wandered off and workers on some nearby street have started a noisy project.  I rise, stretch, and move toward the house and another cup of coffee.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Saturday Musings, 02 August 2014

Good morning,

A vague ache in my right hip caused me to turn and clutch the wall as I descended from the cool of the bedroom this morning.  That brief twinge spun me backwards in time, to 1974, St. Louis, just blocks from St. Louis University.

I've just left my dorm room with a date, a West County boy who's slumming tonight, taking a North County girl out riding in his dusty Gremlin.  We pull away from the curb and I turn to him, gazing at his profile, my right hand reaching down for the seat belt wedged against the door.  It's dusk and the evening stretches ahead of us, a cool spring night with no expectation of rain.

I've not yet buckled the belt when I see his eyes briefly widen.  I have no other warning.  The car coming straight for us slams into my door and I am thrown sideways, pinned between the rough fabric of the seat and the Gremlin's door, on top of which, I later learn, is the left front wheel of an Oldsmobile, full-size.  I close my eyes; I do not breathe; I wait while the blare of someone's horn pierces the night soon followed by the urgent siren's wail.

My date falls back while the first responders assess the situation.  They ask me questions that I know seek to learn my level of awareness.  I tell them  my name, my age, the year, who is President.  I correctly identify the city.  They stump me with one final question:  "Do you know what  happened to you?"  I don't know if they mean, "Do I know there's a car parked on  my hip?" or "Do I know my luck has run out?"  I shake my head but the fire fighter seems to understand.  He squeezes my hand.  "We're going to get you out of this," he assures me.

That fire fighter's hand never leaves mine.  Hours pass; maybe minutes; new sounds replace the stilled siren.  Urgent voices, the slap of a box on pavement.  I see another uniformed body hovering behind my fireman, I can't tell who, I can't see what.  But I see medical supplies and understand that it must be someone from the ambulance.  A body crawls beside me while the fire fighter's large strong hand grips mine.  "We're going to get you out," he repeats.  He can't say it enough for me.  He seems to know that.

A gentle voice asks me if I can feel my toes.  I hold the gaze of the man who has made it his job to comfort me and nod.  "Can you move your legs at all," the voice inquires.  I shift.  "Not my right one," I admit.  I consider whether to tell them that I'm disabled but I have 18 years of experience with the impossibility of explanation, the impasse this raises.  I decide to wait and tell the emergency room personnel.  I don't want my rescue delayed while a huddle of EMTs tries to decide if my crippled legs pose an impediment to their work.

I hear the murmur of voices.  That strong hand has not released mine but the rest of them huddle to be part of the strategic assessment.  I try to focus; I gather they can't decide whether to move the Oldsmobile or how quickly to do so. They don't know what will happen when the pressure rises from my body.  I whisper; the firefighter leans to hear.  "Get it off me, get it off me, get it off me," I plead. He nods.  They've all heard.  They move towards the car.

I don't know then but I learn later:  they hoist it off with the cable of a tow truck. I feel the easing of the pressure on  my hip and tears rise in my eyes and flow down my checks, dropping on the two hands now holding mine.  I feel the sear of pain rush through my torso and realize what they had known:  Lifting the car has shifted me in ways that might be less bearable than the car's stabilizing weight.  But I can breathe again and that's what I wanted.

Someone climbs on top of the Gremlin's hood and peers into the cracked windshield.  I hear a guiding voice.  Someone else enters from the smashed back window and slides his hands between the blanketing door and my shoulders.  My fireman squeezes both my small hands, which he engulfs with his, the sleeves of his jacket falling down onto my thin arms.  "They're going to move the door," he says, gently.  "Look at me, look at me,  LOOK AT ME."  He holds my eyes with his; I see into the brown pools of his dark eyes which never waver or shift.  And suddenly the pain becomes unbearable and I cry out but that fireman never lets go of my hands, never breaks contact with my eyes, never lets me go.  I black out, briefly, and when I come back around he's still there.  Still there.

Forty years have gone by since that accident.  Sometimes I wonder what became of those first responders.  I'm nearing sixty now; they must be older, if they are still alive.   I don't know their names.  I've had worse things happen to me since that accident,  including being run down on Westport Road by an uninsured driver in a VW Cirocco, a blast to my left side which sent me skyward, flying above the adjacent row of two-story buildings, tumbling back down and smashing into the Cirocco's hood and then its windshield before sailing eighty-two feet forward to land on the street.  The first responders at the accident came to visit me in Menorah Hospital, amazed that not one drop of blood had been shed.  I told them about the Gremlin-Oldsmobile match of 1974, in which I had suffered, by some miracle, only a dislocated hip.  I told them about the fireman who held my hand.  They glanced at each other, a long, knowing glance.  "That sounds like an angel," one of them quietly remarked.  I smiled.  Indeed.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Musings, 26 July 2014

Good morning,

The little box at the top of my tablet says that it is eighty degrees, and the box has turned from its customary blue to red.  I assume that warns me of more degrees to come, but at present, I feel the movement of the air as I sit on the deck, a cup of coffee to one side and the morning paper to the other.  I'm not much of an outdoor woman, but I do love the morning air on the porch here in Brookside.

My mind drifts back to another summer, another early morning.  Newton County, Arkansas, in the mountains above Jasper.  We've come for early coffee, my then-husband and I, to a compound owned by friends he has known since their hippie days.  He's at the kitchen table pontificating along with the homeowner, his quiet wife, and a couple of others who still nurse hangovers from their Friday evening.

I walk the grounds.  A long stretch of chain link fence surrounds the place where they have their breeding dogs, who live in sturdy houses built of hack berry and tar paper.  I see a couple of them snuffling at the far side of the fence, perhaps catching the lingering scent of a nocturnal visitor -- a deer or a little mountain cat.  I stand and let the sun warm my face, my arms.  I shift my thin legs to balance myself when the breeze rises.

A noise behind me causes me to startle.  I turn.  The window of the little guest house has been raised.  I see a face peering at me through the space; the French exchange student.  I wonder how she fares, at this place where she sleeps in a structure built for lazing about smoking dope, back when the landowner was twenty and lying around in a wooden dollhouse high on homegrown marijuana appealed to him.  A couple of decades ago; a couple of light years ago.  I wave to Tiphaine and turn to walk towards her, across the gravel driveway, into the yard of the compound and up the rise on which the guesthouse sits.

The tiny structure has electricity but no running water.  There's an outhouse nearby; or she can go into the main house to use the chemical toilet.  She emerges from the charming little building and greets me, in her flawless, accented English.  "Just one moment, please excuse," she says, and moves beyond me, headed for the outhouse.  I sit down in one of the two lawn chairs on the little terrace beside the guesthouse and wait for her to return.

She's eighteen, this French exchange student, and from Versailles.  I don't know what she expected when she came to Newton County, Arkansas. Perhaps a working farm; perhaps a village. What she found was a dying town with five hundred sixty-three residents (six hundred three on the water line) and this place, a dozen or so acres where drop-outs came to live communally in the sixties, to grow pot and escape adult responsibilities.  They had children; they partnered; the marriages splintered.  Only T.J. and Jeanne remained, with Jeanne being his second wife, not much older than the children of his first.  His children and their mother lived in other houses, across Thomas Creek.  One spent his days building a house while living in a mud-insulated school bus.  The extremes through which they went to avoid being on T.J.'s land puzzled me.

Tiphaine returns from her morning visit to the rough facilities, wiping her hands on a wet-nap which she tucks into the pocket of her capris.  I try to put sympathy in my smile as she sits in the second chair.  She's tall, maybe five-nine, with dark hair and a smattering of  freckles sprinkled across her nose and the oval of her face.  Her answering smile tells me little except that her parents have raised her well; she hides any chagrin at the way she's forced to live during her week at Thomas Creek.

"Good morning, Corinne," she says, softly, perhaps out of respect for anyone who might still be sleeping in the mainhouse.  I return her greeting.  I think back fourteen years, to being age eighteen.  I almost went to France as an exchange student; I wouldn't have expected to use an outhouse had I done so.

"How are you getting on, here, Tiphaine?"  I relax my body against the back of my chair, hoping she will see that she can reply honestly.  But she shifts her gaze to the trees beyond the dog kennels and acknowledges, with an expressionless tone, that T.J. and Jeanne are being very good to her.  We both know it's not an answer to my question; we both also know that she won't give me one.

I ask her another question, an easier one, about her family.  A radiance breaks across her countenance and she talks about her parents, the apartment on rue Albert Joly in Versailles, and the school which she attends.  I can see she misses them, something else we won't mention.  Her words wash over me, rising and falling in an unfamiliar but intriguing cadence.  As she warms to her topic, her English becomes less clear, and peppered with a fragment of French here and there.  I miss some of the details but the essence is clear:  Versailles is nothing like Jasper; it is a city; it is old; it is beautiful; and she is homesick.

Her voice stops, finally.  The sun has risen above the ridge.  The long, low house, squat against the hillside, emits noises, signalling that everyone now stirs and gathers for the morning meal.  Tiphaine and I linger, on the porch of the quaint little guesthouse where she has slept a night in which she dreamed of home.  She lets a small sob escape from between her tightly closed lips and I place a hand on her arm.  I'm homesick, too; for Kansas City; for my job as a prosecutor which I have left a bit hastily; for late-night music in Westport and the throngs on the sidewalk after last call.  I am not as many miles from home, but my home seems just as unreachable as hers, and I do, really, understand how she feels.

After a few minutes, Tiphaine rolls her shoulders and rises from her chair.  "I want a coffee, don't you, my dear Corinne?"  She strides ahead of me, with her long, strong legs and her swinging arms.  I follow.  The ghosts stay behind, to haunt us, perhaps tomorrow, in the sweet air of another Ozark mountain morning.

Nearly forty years later, I sit beneath a hazy sky and wonder what has become of Tiphaine.  She visited Chester and me one year; and me and my child a few years later, that time just as an adult, not an exchange student.  I took her to Kansas City and we ate at a French cafe.  She crumbled the tender pastry of a brioche and rolled her eyes at the pleasure of dipping its flakiness into her strong cream-tinged coffee.  We walked the cobbled hills of Eureka Springs and listened to jazz in the little bandstand there, where I had seen my son's father play just  a year before her summer visit.  She held my infant son and sang to him in French, sitting on a park bench, in Eureka Springs, such a long time ago.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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.