Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Musings, 24 September 2016

Good morning,

In a few hours, I will turn the Prius eastward to St. Louis, abandoning the dog and house to the best house-sitter ever, a woman whom the neighbors have hinted should adopt our little old Beagle-Lab mix since she renders far superior care.  I've been mumbling about taking the dog to the groomer; Catherine actually took her and did not even ask me for repayment.  The dog stands in the hallway mooning towards the guest bedroom as she usually does after my son has visited.  I'm obviously more suited to the disdain of cats.

The madness of mid-September has abated. Stillness descends on the waning days of summer.  The umbrella maple in the front yard bears tinges of auburn in her crowning glory; the monkey grass has bloomed and the black-eyed Susans have dropped their petals.  Soon I will shake the mustiness from the woolen quilt and bring my coats out of the cedar closet.  Winter looms.

Last evening I drove thirty minutes to walk through an art gallery at which an old acquaintance had a display of her hand-made jewelry.  I don't usually venture to the hinterlands but this display needed my attention.  The woman suffers from advanced cancer and needs money to pay for her treatment.  I don't know her well and have not seen her for years, but the strength of my affection does not dictate the degree of my compassion.  Besides:  I can always use a source of gifts. So off I went.

The rush-hour traffic demanded most of my attention but in the space between lane-changes and slowing for semis, my mother's face rose to claim brief contemplation.  Her wispy hair, fallen to the chemo; her olive skin stretched across sharp bones.  But even in her waning days, at least until the cancer claimed her mind, the warm eyes danced and the familiar curve of her smile greeted me.  I'd drop my bags in the living room and walk through the doorway to the bedroom where she rested.  Sinking to my knees, I'd wrap my arms around her neck and breathe her fragrance, a mixture of tea and powder.  Then she'd speak in her low throaty voice, uttering the familiar cadence of my name, and I'd stand and start to do her bidding.  Lucy's word had become law.

I spent so many Friday evenings, Saturday mornings sitting in her garden or by her bedside, depending on her strength.  I would babble about my little life, the life in Kansas City without cancer.  I didn't talk about the arguments with my boyfriend or the hours hunched over a bar top.  I avoided the lameness of my limited role as a city prosecutor and the sparse work in my private practice.  Instead I talked about the walks around the lake in Loose Park and my attempts to take yoga classes.  She listened carefully, no doubt hearing between the lines, but nodding, patting my hand, and asking for another glass of water or bidding me to play the New World Symphony one more time.

When I stepped into the Gallery last evening, the woman whose work I had come to see had not yet arrived.  I stood in front of the display, fingering the fresh water pearls and the hammered metal.  When I had known her, this gentle creativity had been as yet unseen.  I knew nothing of her story since we'd parted.  I knew only of the grief through which I had once tried to navigate her; and the grimness that sharpened her anger in those days.

As I stood at the counter contemplating which earrings to buy for my sister, the door opened and Ruth walked into the room.  I saw at once that she bore the stamp of a difficult disease but gamely.  She had clipped her hair, let it go its natural grey, and lightly applied a layer of make-up.  Her shoulders squared above her spare frame, and only a slight pinch of her brow testified to pain.  We embraced; and we walked around the large open room, while she told me about the cancer and the abyss into which she nearly tumbled before a miracle treatment had been found.

I'm a super-responder, she told me, her voice tinged with the wonder that must never abate.  A year ago, I sat in a wheel chair and now, look at me.  I did; I looked so closely that she must have thought me odd.  I saw a woman game to try, to push, to stand and move.  She greeted others who had come to support her efforts or who had wandered in from the Oktoberfest outside.  She talked with the gallery director and the artists whose work graced the walls.  I watched, not speaking, until her circuit brought her back in my direction.

Then we stood together at the counter talking about her jewelry.  While I picked a few items to buy,  I felt my mother's spirit in the room, just briefly, just a whisper, so faint that it could have been that a momentary madness had overcome me.

I completed my purchase, and we sat talking on a metal bench.  Suddenly, Ruth turned to embrace me and I leaned closer to her, breathing in the fragrance of her fragile body.  After a few moments we parted and I said goodbye.  I went into the night and drove home, with something close to love settling lightly on the barren contours of my heart.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Visit Ruth Roberts' FACEBOOK STORE.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Musings Delayed


I am preparing for our annual benefit which is held this evening at 7:00 p.m. at my professional suite, 4010 Washington, Suite 100, KC MO.

Therefore, I will not be writing a musing today.

If you are in KC, please join us for an evening of food, fun, music, art, and raising funds and awareness for two local KC shelters for those experiencing family violence and needing help to survive and thrive.

Thank you.

Mugwumpishly yours,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday Musings, 10 September 2016

Good morning,

From an AirBnB in San Rafael, I search for pictures of my Mother to share on this, the ninetieth anniversary of her birth.  I have few.  I've scanned some; taken snapshots of others; and snagged a few from my sister Adrienne's Facebook page.  Someone might have more but all I have sit in space somewhere, grainy and awkward.

But she cannot fade from my memory.  Recently one of my siblings reminded me that Mom had her flaws -- and she did; we all do.  She allowed our father to commit atrocities on us which had no name then but today would be considered felonies.  While I understand what happened to her, and why she felt powerless to fight him, still, there it is -- leaving us scarred, damaged, different, disillusioned.  Some of us rose above what we felt and saw; some of us sank below the muck and mire.  None of us emerged from our childhood without a profound burden, however easily or awkwardly each of us learned to carry it.

However, my mother had magnificent qualities.  She gave me many of them.  She steadfastly endured, and I have leaned on her example through my own travails.  Mother could skip one moment and hold a troubled child the next.  Possibly this mercurial quality would be seen today as manic-depression, but I just thought of it as adaptability.  She had little tolerance for inanity, or cruelty, or illogic.  She protected her babies with an unparalleled ferocity in most realms, though at home, only by standing in the way of many of my father's blows.

At least, I remember her this way.  Others might have their own images, their own memories, their own opinions.  But I persist in my assessment.  Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley stands tall in my mind.  Not perfect, certainly.  Irreverent, often.  Tired -- most assuredly.  But present -- ever present, and unwavering.

It took me nearly 37 years to successfully bear a child.  My mother died six years before my son's birth.  I mourn the fact that he never got to meet her.  They would have had fabulous talks, Patrick and Lucille.  They have much in common, including an inner gentleness that happily came out in his genes though they skipped mine.

My first pregnancy ended in a bloody mess on the floor of my mother's bathroom in late winter, 1977.  At twenty-one, aimless and undirected, I would have been a terrible parent.  But I had known the child inside for a month or so, and desperately wanted the baby even if I had no earthly clue what to do with it.  I stood helplessly clutching the sink, pressing a wash cloth to my mouth to stifle the sobs.  My mother knocked on the door.  Mary, let me in, she commanded.  When she saw my face, she folded me in her arms.  She did not require a confession.  She led me from the room, stripped me, found a nightgown, and settled me in my old bedroom without making me answer for my actions.  I fell asleep with a cup of half-drunk tea cooling on a tray beside me.  Though I went back to my apartment the next day, my mother's love followed me.  I slept for days under my great-grandmother's quilt which Mother sent with me that morning.  It carried the heavy fragrance of home:  Mother's perfume, over-cooked coffee, and a curious blend of Pine-Sol and talcum powder.

In one of my many wooden boxes at home, I have my mother's defense medals, the bracelet she made from the baby beads of her first four children, and some pin that could be a Boy Scout den mother award.  I have little else of hers.  But every fiber of my being carries her stamp.  I would not be sixty-one and still relentless if I were not my mother's daughter.

In a little while, I will go to see the garden of a gentleman whom I met on my travels.  I will stand among the flowers in this temperate climate, remembering another garden, in Jennings, which bloomed beneath the tender care of a half-Austrian, half-Syrian, girl from Gillespie.  I will think of how much my mother loved her flowers, and her vegetables, and her children.  I will  not cry.  She would much prefer that her memory linger in my smile.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

In Loving Memory:
Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley
10 Sept 26 - 21 August 85


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Saturday Musings / Without Complaining

Good morning,

I did not write an entry in My Year Without Complaining yesterday.  My travels kept me away from a computer.  Here on the coast, the internet works when it wishes to work, in the house or room where it feels comfortable.  Cell service follows the same dictates of its whim.  But here I sit, in Dolphin House, in the kitchen.  A young man from Germany who had no breakfast food other than a peach now cooks two of my eggs for himself.  He might be the same age as my son; I hope if my son travels in Germany, someone's mother will spare him a couple of eggs and some butter for his morning repast.

I left Kansas City at 10:20 a.m. CDST and pulled into the parking lot of HI-Pigeon Point Lighthouse at precisely 5:00 p.m. Pacific time.  I had acquired a box of groceries in Pescedaro.  I set my basket on the counter and asked for butter.  A surly man gestured to the back case.  I walked over, rummaged, and found a pound for $5.00 or a stick for $3.00.  I went with the pound.  Back at the counter, I asked the man if they sold coolers.  He grunted, a sound which I took as a negative reply.  Instead he loaded my groceries in a leftover box, breaking off a stalk of celery in the process.  I smiled.  He evaded my eyes.  I broadened my smile and thought perhaps he softened his gaze.

Out at the rental car, I spied the trunk open but luckily my suitcase still rested within the small cavern.  I stood staring at the keys, wondering if in my fumbling I had pressed some wayward button.  I let my shoulders rise and fall and set to driving the rest of the way to the hostel, the ocean on my right, the gentle western slope of the mountains on my left.  With the radio silent  and the windows slightly open to let in the soothing air, I drove, and thought, and breathed.  Mostly I breathed.

Michael stood behind the counter at the hostel.  I swung around the doorway and broadened my smile.  Michael, you're still here!  I cried.  He matched my grin.  Why, it's the girl from Kansas City, he replied.  It might be a trick he has; to check the roster.  But I let myself believe he remembers me.  He might; I don't mind either way.

Michael helped me with my suitcase.  Had he not, I would have pulled a few things from the large bag and put them in a smaller pack, one brought just for this purpose.  We talked as we walked, me with my red walking stick, Michael carrying everything else.  As we entered the building, he asked me, Are you this happy at home? Or is it California?  I stopped and thought.  He waited for my answer.  I told him the truth as I know it:  This place brings out the joy in me.  He nodded.  He has his own story of redemption, behind a weathered face turned sixty-one last month.  He understood.  We continued into the building.

Later, I sat in the Adirondack chair and let my eyes play over the ocean.  A woman from Santa Cruz told me about her childhood in Kansas City.  She went to St. Theresa's High School, and then over to St. Louis University for college.  Our lives intersected in so many places that we sat together for some time at the kitchen table, she with a somewhat burned pizza and me with my apples and hummus.   She talked of some unpleasant things which had happened to her.  I steered the conversation towards happier memories and she talked about Imo's Pizza, the quadrangle at SLU, Minsky's Pizza in Kansas City.  I listened, hearing the loneliness between her words.  Then our voices fell silent and only the ocean spoke.

Later, two men traveling for the Labor Day Weekend gave me a couple of their stuffed mushrooms.  They offered pasta but I declined.  We sat at the same kitchen table with the ocean still sending its voice in waves towards us, right outside the window.  We talked of their jobs, and the election, and the artichoke bread that I had bought in Pescedaro.  One of them told me about teaching ballroom dancing in Long Beach.  The other spoke of moving to California from Amarillo in the 1990s, to find somewhere liberal enough to accept him.  We ate without speaking for a few minutes, the room around us heavy for a brief time with our thoughts, with the longing for a place to call home.

Then a couple of young women burst into the room, backpacks falling from their shoulders, eyes bright, faces gleaming.  I took my plate to the sink, and myself to bed.

I fell asleep easily, with the window open, and the sea air soothing the weariness which I wear like a shawl.  Everything fell away, to the floor, crumbling, whisked away by the breeze playing through the room.  I woke twice in the night; once to the sound of laughter in the hallway outside my door; and once with a start from a dream that I cannot recall.

When I rose at six, a fog had settled over the lighthouse; but the one surrounding my soul had cleared.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

PostScript:  My humility compels me to confess that Master Michael of the Hostel Realm confirms that he did indeed remember me; and he further honored me by telling me that he considers me a friend. My cup runneth over.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday Musings(tm), 27 August 2016

Good morning,

The lingering heady smell of a ferocious rain surrounds me on the porch.  I've dragged one of my five-dollar home-made estate sale folding tables outside to write and drink coffee.  I feel the night's pressure in my lungs.  I dreamed of trying to navigate a small car through a narrow space with two passengers.  Hold your breath, I cautioned.  I struggled awake to find that an asthma episode gripped my body. Rescue inhalers make my finicky heart race, so I'm trying the openness of the porch.  Sometimes that helps my breathing; it certainly soothes the rest of me.

The wide washed expanse of my neighborhood sizzles with the song of the cicadas.  Their pleasant noise echoes the frenzy of last year's bunch,  a seventeen-year brood making an unprecedented second appearance in Missouri.  I find their chattering pleasant today, though one of them slipped through the broken bathroom screen upstairs last night and scared the daylights out of me by landing on my sleeping self.  Now they hover wherever cicadas stay -- in the ground, I suppose; and talk to each other in their rhythmic soothing way.

I had an e-mail from a client last evening which depressed me.  She's decided to surrender a fight to retrieve her child from his malicious father, who started a smear campaign against the mother at a time when she had different counsel.  She feels hopeless.  I can only imagine; I can only try to encourage her to keep the faith.  I cannot guarantee that I will undo the harm her prior attorney did, nor can I promise that she will prevail.  I shuffled through the various pleadings filed by the other side over a five-month time, and stared with dismay at the thin stack of what my client's former counsel feebly tendered.  I've done more in two weeks than my predecessor did in twenty.  When I come across such poor professional performance by a colleague, I want to weep.  I want to understand why the person put forth such little effort.  As with doctors, the failing of a lawyer can devastate the client and cost him or her thousands with no potential of any progress in their case.  It tires me just to imagine my client's anguish and despair.

I will call her later today and see if I cannot help her cling to something close to sanity.

The sound of the cicadas today reminds me of the 1998 emergence of the 17-year brood.  We had a screened porch then.   Patrick hovered in the living room near the  door staring at the horde as it descended.  Whether through an open door or a torn screen, the beasts swarmed the porch, raising their racket, fluttering against the ceiling and the side of the house. We stood transfixed.

Suddenly Patrick spied our cat crouching in a corner of the porch, snarling and growling.  He jerked the handle of the screen door before I could stop him and plunged out into the swirling mass of insects.  He snatched his cat and dove back into the living room with a furious plunge.  I slammed the door and stomped at a handful of invaders.  Patrick released the cat who dove under the couch, still hissing, her green eyes gleaming.

Patrick and I fell into chairs, laughing and crying in turns, while the sound of the massive brood  roared outside.

By contrast, this year's gentle cicada hatch speaks longingly of summer's close.  From my porch the sound blends with other noises of the morning:  the occasional car, the distant drone of traffic, voices of the neighbors, an occasional timid bark.  These few minutes outside have done their work.  My breathing has slowed; the tightness has eased; the asthma attack has loosened its grip.

I sit rocking, thinking of these next few days in which I must prepare for my upcoming trip to California.  I will lay out my clothes and pick items that harmonize with one another.  I'll move my son's guitars from the guest bed and wash the sheets for my friend who has agreed to house-sit.  At work, the client status sheet waits for my close examination.  Every available minute will see intense effort; every client will receive several hours of writing, phone-calling, or notation.  By Friday morning, files will be downloaded to a flash-drive or e-mailed to myself; notes will be scanned; and instructions given.  Ten days away from home and the office could lead to the kind of disaster which I can't allow my clients to suffer.  I do not want some other lawyer sitting with an inherited file, cursing my name.  I do not want one of my clients speaking of surrender because I failed them.

The morning slips away.  A friend will be here soon for breakfast and a visit. I must make good use of my time and start the weekend's chores.    My hour of pleasant dalliance draws to a close. I drain my coffee as the sun slips behind a bank of grim clouds and the voices of the cicadas rise in the heavy air.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Next week's Musings will be posted from Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Saturday Musings, 20 August 2016

Good morning,

It's just past one.  I did myself in by eating a piece of chocolate cake before sleeping.  I knew I'd regret it:  The calories, the carbs, the sugar, the gluten.  My legs writhe and jerk now; sleep eludes me.  I dragged my heavy body out of the bed, pacing around the room in the dark.  But man: it surely tasted good.

The ghost of a girl I knew crowds me.  She settles her Peter Pan blouse around her big-boned body, easy and light.  I see her in my rocker, there in the corner, just like she owns the place.  She pushes her pug little nose up with the back of her hand, a move that tells me it's really her.  You got them all beat, kid, she reminds me right before she vanishes.

I wave my hand at her and go back to massaging my calves.

Another flash:  the storm seems to have settled in for good.  I drove home in high water, through the city all the way.  Eighty-seventh Street as far as it went, then the dog-leg over to 79th and into Missouri.  Green lights kept me going for the first 30 minutes.  I steered the Prius through intersections that had neither beginning nor end; only that emerald beacon calling me, Go, go, go.  I couldn't make out the sidewalks for the pelting rain.

When I slid down my driveway into the space next to my neighbor's girlfriend's car, my stomach did a final flop.  I pressed the button to cut the power and told myself that I had never been so scared.  I knew it wasn't true but it felt good to say it outloud in the dark.  Like a lie that keeps us walking under the moon.

The dog shook all over my white slacks when I let her into the kitchen.  I scolded her but she knew I didn't mean it.  She looked over her shoulder and trotted into the dining room, glancing briefly at the place under the  window where we stashed her bed for a decade or more before I moved it into the TV room.  I caught the guilt she threw me and huddled into it as I turned out the lights.

I dreamt a jumble of images in the hour or two before the ghosts rattled me awake.  They crowd the room now:  the people of my past; my mother, my little brother, a host of others -- some I don't know whether they live or breathe outside my nightmares.  Or maybe it's the chocolate cake, or the carbs, or the calories sitting in my middle hammering at my quietude.  What did you do to yourself, you're going to get fat again, you ate all that sugar and now look at you, muscles twitching, what were you thinking?

I think it's my mother in the rocker now, thirty-one years dead this Sunday, pushing the floor with her foot, knitting, hands quick with the yarn round the needle.  I take a drink of water and bend down, touch my toes, think, How much yoga to work off that damn cake?

But it sure was good.  I watched the two men who had just gotten married hold each other's hands to cut the first slice.  I felt the storm as it broke; the wind knocked the vase of flowers from the table by the pictures taken at the courthouse that morning.  We all moved to the front of the pavilion and sent a wave of applause in their direction.  I hugged first one and then the other, and ran for the car clutching my cake, while the wind blew the fallen branches through the park and all my angels surrounded me.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

For Dan and Bobby.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday Musings(tm). 13 August 2016

Good morning,

A brutally restless night followed by two tortured hours of sleep between four and six a.m. remind me, once again, Do.Not.Eat.White.Sugar.  Even fabulous mousse at an unexpectedly delightful dinner at Cafe Provence.  Even shared.  Do. Not. Eat. White. Sugar.  Even.

I drag myself through the house clutching coffee.  I've left the crystal cup upstairs so I'm using Ivan Komoroski's Owl Cafe mug.  He left it on the back steps of their house after they moved two years ago.  I keep meaning to return it but it's got such a comfortable handle, I cannot part with it.  I don't think Ivan will mind.

The dog has taken to furious barking outside which will probably wake the neighbors.  I'm installing the new sixty-dollar printer that I got at Office Depot when the first sixty-dollar printer died.  The fabulous fiber connection seems typically slow today: I'm still at 30% and creeping by.  Ah, well.  That little rabbit has to nap some time. Some where.  Might as well be now and here.

A blog entry which I wrote this week in my other blog reminded me of my mother's mother.  I dig around a drawer that I don't usually open because it holds things shoved into it in order to avoid them.  But I find what else lives there:  a little book which I made years ago of photos from the late 1960's.  And there it is, just as I recalled -- Nana and my sister Ann, together, in the years when Nana's right side dragged from the vicious aftermath of stroke after stroke.

I touch the black-and-white surface.  Nana.  Oh, Nana.  And I am there, again, at her home, listening helplessly as she tries to make her brain find the words.

Der-der-der.  I don't know what she wants.  I stare helplessly at this woman who comforted me so many times when my home had been chaotic.  She held me while I shuddered and cried. She wrapped her arms around me and murmured soothing things that I could not discern from underneath my thick veil of hair, buried in her warm embrace.  But I knew they meant that I would survive, that she will guarantee my survival.

Now in her living room in Lake Knolls, her brain fails her.   She wants me to get something for her but I do not know what it is and she cannot find the words.  My brother has gone into Springfield with Grandpa, to their business, the Sonotone House of Hearing.    I glance at the door to the back bedroom in which my great-grandmother, Mom Ulz sleeps.  I silently will her to come out.  The door remains closed.

Nana abandons the effort.  She pushes past me, dragging her bad leg as she navigates the hallway.  She reaches with her functioning arm and pulls open the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.  She gestures.  I start taking out bottles until she finds the one she wants and then I place it in her one functioning hand.  Castor oil.  I have no idea what it does.  But she is my grandmother and I am twelve.  If she wants castor oil, I have no right to prevent her from it.

She speaks:  Poon, poon, poon.  She shakes her head.  I know this one:  Spoon.  But should I get it?  What size?  I suddenly wonder if caster oil can hurt her.  I long for the old Nana, before the strokes, the Nana who taught us to make a bed "tight as a drum, neat as a pin".  The Nana who came to Jennings after so many blow-outs; who swept up broken crockery; bought groceries; made schmarrn and sauerbraten; and calmed every fear in my heart with her throaty Austrian voice and her gentle blue gaze.

In the end, Nana used her teeth to open the bottle and she took a swig of the horrible stuff while I stood helplessly five feet from her wishing I knew what to do.

Almost five decades later, I sometimes hear my grandmother's voice.   The last time I saw her alive she stood at the door to my grandparents' home.  My mother had come to bring my brother Mark and me back to Jennings after our summer visit.  My mother drove the Dodge Coronet which her parents had sold to her for a pittance, taking small payments though only because she insisted.  We paused in the driveway.  My mother said, She didn't say, "See you soon", as she usually does.  Or something; I am not sure, now, all these years later, what my mother expected.

We watched my grandmother for a few minutes.  My mother said, I don't like leaving her alone.  Grandpa had gone to the office.  Nana finally lifted her good arm and waved.  Mother put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway.  My last sight of my grandmother was that lifted arm, and her crooked smile, and the golden halo of her curls.

A day or so later my grandfather called my mother before dawn.  Oh Lucy, he sobbed.  I found your mother dead in bed this morning.  We knew, we knew, we knew, that my grandmother felt the fullness of time.  She understood that she would not see us again,  as we sat in her old car, in the driveway of the modern ranch home that she and her husband had worked so hard to buy after so many years together.  And  yet she let us go. And yet:  we left her there, standing alone in the doorway.    My mother held the phone and wept with her father, and then pulled on clothes, got in the Dodge, and went to be with him.

An hour has passed.  The dog seems to have quieted.  The new Epson installation has finished.  My coffee has grown cold.  Ghosts crowd around me.  A shiver clutches my body and I close my eyes and whisper, to no one, to all of them, Oh, how I miss you.  Then my heart falls still.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Missouri Mugwump™

My photo
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.