Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday Musings, 23 May 2015

Good morning,

With a mellow cup of coffee beside me and a piece of buttered toast in my hand, I gaze out of the living room window at the street and the houses which flank it.  This view satisfies my craving for belonging, as it has done for twenty-two years.  I realize that the neighborhood in which I live resembles that in which I spent my childhood.  Small, well-kept front yards; bungalows and ranches; wooden porches, old trees, and the occasional passerby -- casually dressed, perhaps with a dog, maybe a child.  I fit here; I belong.  It neither challenges nor judges, my part of Brookside.  The property values raise with each stoplight one travels westerly, but still I tarry, here on the eastern edge, near the city streets but not of them.

This morning, one of my neighbors sent a message on social media asking for prayers for her mother-in-law, Clara Black.  Mrs. Black lives a few houses north of me, in a house much like mine.  She raised her son in that house.  That son raised his own child in the house across from me.  I can't imagine Holmes Street without Clara Black and yet, I know, if I am sixty she must be eighty.  I do not wish for her to suffer and I will, indeed, lend my prayers to those of others.  In this moment, though, Mrs. Black symbolizes the fullness of time,  the turning of the season, my world changing but remaining the same:  sidewalks waiting for different feet, houses opening for new tenants, trees yielding piles of leaves for toddlers who will some day rake other leaves from the same tree into piles for their own eager children.

As I lay nearly sleeping before the sun rose, memories crowded me.  People who have faded from my consciousness returned.  I could see the curve of cheeks that have pressed against mine; the light in eyes that no longer shine or that shine in other cities, in other mirrors, beholding others and leaving me unseen.  Children who now sit at desks crunching numbers tossed jacks on sidewalks as I drowsed.  In twilight sleep, my brother Mark dared me to jump from the treehouse and my body left the warmth of my comforter to plunge ten feet and thud against the summer ground.

I wrapped my arms around myself to reclaim sleep, groggy, sucked down by the quicksand of memory.  My mother stands on the neighbor's lawn under the platform from which I have jumped.  She shakes a finger at my unrepentent brother.  With her other hand she grips my shoulder.  Why on earth did you jump out of the treehouse? she demands, and the reply echoes in my aging mind: Because Mark told me to.

At sixty, I still understand:  It is not for a sister to think, when her brother tells her to act. I lift my arm from under the covers, here in Brookside, fifty years later.  I flex the fingers, bend the elbow, freeing my muscles from the memory of that insult.  And my aging heart, with its SVT, beats rapidly.  Warmth rises to my cheeks where once before it rose, seeing the smirk on my brother's face, a flicker of amusement where I longed to see approval.  

In an hour or two, I'll travel eastward and by noon, I'll be surrounded by the people that my brothers and sisters have become, our perfect balance -- four boys, four girls --  destroyed by the loss of one but augmented by another generation.  I will stand among them as I have always done:  barely speaking, slightly smiling, sure that the fluttering in my chest betrays me.  I will cross my brother's kitchen to pour a cup of coffee, and someone will ask if my son is coming to the big reunion tomorrow.  I will smile and murmur something vague, my words falling into the brief ripple just before it closes, leaving me to lean against the counter while my family ebbs and flows around me.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Saturday Musings, 16 May 2015

Good morning,

Outside my window, the laden rose trellis signals that the world has turned again.  The men who now live in the house which the trellis climbs have tended it well and this year's blooms show the reward of their care.  I benefit from their ministrations.  The heady fragrance wafts through my open backdoor reduced by the distance to a pleasant scent.  I gaze on the vine from my breakfast nook, vibrant colors, curling petals, plush greenery. 

My mailbox yielded pleasantries last evening when I finally returned home from a full day of work and an evening with the effervescent Vivian Leahy and the lively Jennifer Rosen.  I can barely keep pace with some of my women friends.  Their eyes spark with the fire of their thoughts; their smiles radiate throughout any room they occupy.  I'm tired but happy when I spend time with them.  Friday was no exception.

But the mailbox:  a Mother's Day card from my son Patrick, with a sweet message and a snippet of The Journal, a quote that I well remember from the days when my mother introduced me to On Walden Pond and other writings from this most wondrous author.  As I read what my son has written, and the printed message on the inside of the card which he chose for me, I am suddenly drawn back to a time before he came, before I understood the purity of maternal love.

I'm lying on an examining table.  It's April 1991, and I've driven over the Pig Trail from Fayetteville to Little Rock.  I've already seen the folks in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Clinic who've made me part of a study; I've submitted to the torture of the lady in Orthopedics who strives to keep me ambulatory without the medicine that I've had to discontinue using.  Now I'm about to have a humongous needle stuck into my enormous belly for purposes of extracting some of the fluid which surrounds the baby inside me.  

I've already prepared a nursery in the apartment to which I moved in town.  I don't like pink and I'm so convinced that the child is a girl that I avoided blue.  I chose, instead, pale yellows and delicate greens.  

But the name which awaits this child signifies my certainty of its gender.  She will be "Elizabeth Lucille Johanna Corley".  My sister Joyce's middle name is "Elizabeth" and my mother was "Lucille Johanna".  The "Johanna" comes from my maternal grandmother.  I think this name will suit my child and pays tribute to three major influences in my life.  In early February, I lost this baby's twin; so I am taking extra care to be sure that Beth --- as I intend to call her -- survives.  

So I am on this hard surface with its crinkly paper to get amniocentesis.  My due date is August 21st, a day of which I'm not overly fond as it is the day on which my mother died.  But there's a certain symbiosis with the coincidence.  I'm at about eighteen weeks gestation, the very earliest they would do the testing especially since I've already miscarried one child.  

I'm in the room alone.  I've no partner, though a secretary from my office drove me to Little Rock and waits somewhere in the outer edges of the vast medical facility.  My baby's father walked away from the chance at parenthood.  So I'm going through this with the tangential help of the village which awaits the child whom they plan to nurture, ready-made aunts and uncles since I'm living far from those who bear the title by blood.  I'm lucky:  Though my nights might be lonely, and the fears many, I've a score of adults eager to babysit.

A woman comes into the room.  She wears a white lab coat.  She pulls a rolling stool and a monitor towards the examining table and settles herself.  She lifts the sheet which covers me and smears something cold and sticky on my belly.  She smiles.

"Do you want to know the gender of this baby?" she asks.  I tell her that I do not, that I would rather wait until birth and be surprised.  She holds a wand to my skin and moves it around, gazing at the monitor and then she gasps and says, "Oh, you're having  a boy! See, it's a boy!"

And I think:  What part of "No, I do not" was unclear?  But my mouth betrays me more deeply by blurting out, "What in God's name am I going to do with a boy?"

The woman stops her work and stares at me in mild horror.  I hold her gaze for a moment, then turn to face the wall.  I feel the pressure of her equipment again, and then the door opens and a gruff man enters, also clad in white.   He does the test, though he has to stick me twice since I jump the first time, for which he blames me in a tired voice.  And then the test is over and I am left to dress and make my way back to Sendie, the friend who has driven me.

I don't tell her the news.  I'm still digesting it.  I'm still trying to figure out who will teach him to throw a baseball, change the oil in a car, pee standing up, and all those things that a father would instinctively know and share.  I'm still holding fast to my Elizabeth, whom I was sure I bore.  I'm wondering what I will call this child since "Beth" will no longer suffice.

The child got born, though early.  He entered laughing.  He went without a name for two weeks until I finally grew tired of calling him "Bundle", after "Bundle of Joy", a nick-name which morphed into "Buddy", an appellation which my son bore until kindergarten.  Instead, I named him after two influential men in my life:  my brother, Stephen Patrick Corley; and my best friend, Charles Alan White.  My baby became "Patrick Charles Corley", a name that he has sometimes loathed but to which  he has, hopefully, become resigned.

The other day, my son called and asked what might be amiss to cause his turn signal to cease working.  I speculated that it could be a burned-out bulb or a fuse.  He said, "Am I the only person that doesn't know these things?" and though his question might have been light-hearted, my stomach flopped.  I realized, as we ended the call, that there had been a whole host of things that I never taught my son -- things at which I am not all that accomplished, and which in my mind must have been a father's province.

But here he is, an adult, and he has survived being a fatherless child.  I hope he understands my choice to bring him into a single-parent home.  I suffered substantial criticism for my decision, dire predictions of disaster, well-intended advice to give him to a "real" family.  But I had waited long to be a parent and even though the nausea which I felt on learning that I'd be the mother of a boychild never really left me, I have no regrets.  He's a good son, and a fine young man.   His path has taken him over some rocky roads but he keeps walking, just as my own mother encouraged me to do.

And how can a mother not love a son who quotes Thoreau in her Mother's Day card?

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

"When I see the dead stems rising above the snow by the roadside, sometimes in dense masses, which carry me back in imagination to their summer life, I put faintly a question which I do not yet hear answered:  why stand they here?  Why should the corn-stalks occupy the field longer than the green and living did?"

                                                                                                H.D. Thoreau
                                                                                                January 14, 1852 



 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Saturday Musings, 09 May 2015

Good morning,

We all know that tomorrow is Mother's Day.  I gave some thought to spending a few moments educating myself on the origins of this annual commemoration of procreation.  But then again, I don't really need to know why we honor our mothers only once a  year.  At least we do that.  And inevitably, in the coolness of this morning when I stood out on my porch surrounded by blooms, I thought of  my mother and missed her for the millionth time.

I scrounged around the house trying to find a picture of my mother to include in my Musings today.  I pulled boxes out from the backs of closets and down from shelves too high for me to reach without climbing.  I finally resorted to a photo album that my sister and niece created one year.  I stare at the photo before putting it on the scanner. In this picture, my mother has some frou-frou product smeared on her skin.  In the mid-seventies, my mother went through a period when her face hurt every time she got anxious.  To alleviate that sensation, I would give her facials.  And the process worked -- not because facials ease tension, but because my mother felt so ridiculous that she would howl with  laughter.  My family had some rough years, but I remember laughing with my mother so many times.  It's a good picture.  It represents us.


I'm a terrible poet and a passable essayist.  I've written a lot about my mother over the years and I often quote her, sometimes attributing things to her that I'm not really sure she said.  But my mother permeates every thread of my being.  I have her frame, her hair, her eyebrows.  I have her dogged determination which some characterize as relentlessness.  I hope I have her ferocious protectiveness of weaker beings.  Her love of cool mornings, hot tea, pretty flowers and Willie Nelson certainly survive in me.

In my mother's last months and weeks, I sat beside the hospital bed in her room at home on weekends, having made the trip from Kansas City after court each Friday.  I would put "Always On My Mind" on the turntable over and over, followed by the New World Symphony.  One Sunday we watched Terms of Endearment, not realizing that the main character would die of cancer, leaving her children in the care of their odd grandmother.  We looked at each other and raised our eyebrows.  "Maybe not the best choice," my mother admitted.  Then we laughed and the mood lightened.

My mother supported my dreams, though she often tried to steer me down practical avenues.  She dissuaded me from taking dance lessons but enrolled me in tumbling classes.When I proposed spending a year in France during college, she mildly pointed out the implausible aspects of the scenario that I painted.  On the other hand, she helped me move to Boston and then orchestrated my return when the experiment failed.  She gave me hope when I felt most desolate and courage when I felt afraid.  She made mistakes without question; but her most tragic errors flowed from the time in which she lived -- a Catholic convert, she did not believe in divorce and stayed with my father despite his monumental failures and the terrible price those failures extracted from all of us.

I see my mother in my strengths and my weaknesses.  I have difficulty delegating, and I know my inability to trust others comes in part from her example.  But my generous heart comes straight from  my mother.  I don't know if the ways in which I am like my mother come from nature, or nurture, or both.  I'll take the bad because I could not exist without the good that she gave me.  I might walk a lonely path at times, but the sureness of my tread comes from her and makes the journey worthwhile.

I think of my mother nearly every day.  She's now been dead for half my life.  She drew her last breath fourteen days before my thirtieth birthday and twenty days before her fifty-ninth.  I am older than she ever got to be but not one wit wiser nor, truth be told, nearly as kind.

Whatever she was, or wasn't; whatever she did or did not do, my mother loved her children without reservation and in that, I hope that I have followed her teaching.  She also taught her children to think for ourselves.  She encouraged dialogue, provided information, nurtured curiosity, and rewarded achievement.   I felt loved; I felt cherished; and even though we all knew that my brother Mark was her favorite, each of us felt we might just be close seconds.

I thought about dredging up a cute story, or a touching moment to describe, but the memories crowded too closely.  I felt to pick any one of them might leave some important tidbit behind and give only a partial picture of the woman who gave birth to me.  Her character seems so complex in retrospect that no one account could possibly do her justice.

My mother raised eight children despite having an alcoholic abusive husband who did not work and sometimes stumbled home cut, bruised, and ragged but other times came home with pockets full of money, new suits, and diamond rings.  She found money to feed us even though working for a dollar an hour at a department store before finding a job at St. Louis County Hospital.  She learned to drive at forty-two and let her husband's brother prepare a legal separation so that my dad's small trust fund could come to her, even though she felt disloyal doing it.

No matter what happened, she found a way to give us Christmas and birthday presents.  I am sure both her parents and my father's mother helped more than I will ever know, but my mother made things happen day to day.  We were not wealthy nor even solidly middle class.  Every one of us started working in high school but frankly, that did not hurt us at all.  I remember my brother Kevin buying groceries for the household with his tips from Steak n Shake.  His face shone with pride that he could help Mom.  I've never forgotten that radiant gleam.

My son told me not too long ago that a blog is a way of answering questions no one has asked at a time that no one wants to hear the answers.  I daresay he is correct.  These musings started out, seven years ago, as amusing accounts of past events sent to my lawyer's list serve.  One listserve member called them "fluff pieces".  I did not take that as an insult.  Everybody needs a soft place to land.  But today I have no fluff for you, no quaint recollection of a time with my mother.  I just wanted to talk about her for a few minutes, and to tell you how much I miss her.

If your mother still lives, please, won't you call her tomorrow and tell her how much you love her?  Better still, why wait?  Call her today.  After all, Mother's Day is just a Hallmark Holiday.  Nothing says you have to limit yourself to one day of the year to honor your mother.  And you never know -- tomorrow might be too late.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley


In Memory:
Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley
10 September 1926 - 21 August 1985


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Saturday Musings, 02 May 2015

Good morning,

The week before Mother's Day: I find  myself thinking about my mother, who died thirty years ago.  Half my lifetime.  My son never met her -- never saw the milder version of my brash self -- the twinkle in her eyes which burns in mine, the spring in her step which causes me to stumble.

A month ago, I got a text from my son that said, "Today's not Mother's Day, is it?"  I had to laugh.  In the next week's mail, he sent me a document that I needed and on it he had placed a post-it note which read, in his right-brainer's script, Happy Early Mother's Day!  I have it still.  It's accolade enough.

When Patrick was very small, no one took him shopping for my birthday, Mother's Day or Christmas.  My sister Joyce would send presents labeled "To Mommy from Patrick", and inside would be little flowered plaques or candles.  Things that a big sister picks for her baby sister.  I appreciated them, and truth be told, I'd rather give than receive.  But Patrick was nearing kindergarten before anyone facilitated his procurement of something for him to give me, and that was a total stranger. . .

The cold concrete of Brookside bore our feet in and out of shops, the week before Christmas in 1995.  I had two or three gifts left to buy, and searched for just the right thing but at a budget-friendly cost.  Patrick compliantly followed me into a dress shop where I hoped to find a scarf for my friend Katrina.  

The owner bent over to pat his blond curls.  "Such a dear little boy," she exclaimed.  Patrick never grew accustomed to this attention and shrank a bit, but not enough to discourage her attention.  I stood nearby, holding a blouse that I thought Katrina might wear.  I checked the price, then put it back, moving over to a sale rack.  Patrick stayed with the lady, a polite boy who would not interrupt her animated engagement of him.

Then I heard her say, "What are you giving Mommy for Christmas, sweetie?"  I wondered what he would reply.  He had no experience with children giving  presents to their parents other than dandelions or pictures to hang on the refrigerator.  

His voice:  "I'm too little to go shopping by myself."  My heart spasmed.

The lady smiled at him and asked if his Daddy could take him shopping before I could stop her.  I heard my son murmur something about not having a Daddy and moved towards them as the lady sighed.  She looked at me and apologized.  I shook my head, and started to reach for Patrick's hand.  

Then the shop-owner asked me if I would trust her with my son for a few minutes.  "Would you let me 'take' him shopping?", she asked.  "You could just step outside, wait on the sidewalk, what do you say?"

I had been in the shop a few times, and knew her name but nothing else about her.  I saw kindness in her eyes, though, and a bright eagerness rising on Patrick's face.  I took a chance.  

I paced back and forth in front of the place, watching through the windows.  I did not feel the deepening cold nor discern the snow which started during my vigil.  I saw Patrick moving around the large room, reaching his hand, holding back until the woman spoke or gestured.  Then they disappeared for what seemed an eternity before they emerged from the back room, Patrick holding a box.  The lady motioned to me.  I opened the door and stepped inside.

"We're all done!" The lady's voice reached me as I crossed to the counter.  Patrick looked radiant.  He held the package against his small chest and told me that it was a surprise, that I couldn't see it, that he had wrapped it ALL BY HIMSELF on a big table with REALLY BIG scissors.  I looked at the woman, whose face mirrored the glee on my son's small countenance.

"How much do I owe you?" I asked her.  

"Not a thing," she replied.  "Your son and I settled the bill."

I felt my heart clench again.  I walked over to the blouse that I had wanted to buy for Katrina, and took it off the circular rack.  "I want to get this for my best friend," I told the shopkeeper.  "What do you think, Patrick?  Would Katrina like this?"  

Patrick studied the blouse for a long minute before replying.  "That's nice, Mommy, but it's not as nice as what I bought for you."  And he smiled so wide that I thought the room itself would burst.

On Christmas morning, I gently took the tape from the present which Patrick solemnly extracted from the pile of things from Santa beneath tree.  He stood eagerly beside me while I lifted a beautiful green knitted scarf with matching gloves from the package.  

"It's your favorite color," Patrick said.  "The lady said I could pick whatever I wanted, and I got you those!  Because you're always so cold, Mommy."

I wrapped the scarf around my neck and donned the gloves.  We sat, smiling, his stack of gifts forgotten, joy filling both of our souls to the very core.

I wore the scarf set all winter and indeed, it kept me very warm.

The following spring, my neighbor Tacy Rockwood took Patrick to buy a park-bench kit to give me for Mother's Day.  They assembled the bench in my driveway, with me watching, on Mother's Day morning. Patrick sat on the cracked asphalt, working the little Allen wrench, teeth gritted, grunting, while Tacy held the iron sides and wooden seat-slats in place.  When they had finished, I took the first turn sitting in the beautiful bench.  We placed it under the cedar tree and stood back to admire it.

"Happy Mother's Day!" my son exclaimed.  "Now you can sit out here and drink your coffee!"

I looked at Tacy, and saw again that perfect reflection of the child's happiness.  And I thought of the shopkeeper, who had given my son this same gift:  The gift of giving.

I still have the scarf, although the gloves have long since disintegrated.  And a few weeks ago, my neighbor Brenda rescued the ailing bench from the patch of ground on which it has sat for the  last nineteen years, out-living the old cedar tree, forlorn, neglected, over-grown with wild onions.  She carried it to the front yard and set it in a large patch of ground where there once stood an evergreen.  The shrub succumbed to the drought three years ago.  Though there had been talk of replacing it, that never happened.  It finally occurred to me that I had the perfect thing to fill it.  My Mother's Day gift, from my son.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturday Musings, 25 April 2015

Good morning,

The rain had not yet started when I descended the stairs to the first floor and let the dog outside.  Now it patters on the wood of the deck and the dog has retreated inside her house.  She will not be persuaded to venture up to the kitchen to come inside.  I am left to be amused and watch the rain from the front door, stretching my tired limbs, shaking my head at the feelings coursing through me.  Another day, another chance to wonder:  Is this medicine working?  If so, then why do I still feel so sick?

 I see the American flag on my house and smile, suddenly, without inhibition.  A light shines on this flag -- a floodlight that we included in the new porch design both to light the steps and to allow us to fly the flag without interruption.  For the same reason, we replace our flag nearly every year, most recently in 2013 with a quality, sewn all-weather flag.  Many have doubted  my patriotism:  I have never served, I do not advocate war, I question the way our country has been managed.  But drive past my home and you will see that I proudly display our nation's most visible and beloved symbol.

Standing here reminds me of a rainy day nearly fifty years ago -- forty-seven? -- when I spent the summer at Camp Fire Girls camp on a "poor girl's scholarship".  As the memory floats to the surface, I give myself to it.

Among our troop were twins, Barbara and Bonnie Cross, whose mother led us.  Barbara and Bonnie looked alike but in reality, could have been strangers.  Bonnie leaned toward more typically feminine deportment while Barbara played sports and had strong, sturdy limbs. I liked Bonnie but I admired Barbara the most.  I yearned for her approval and attention.

A group of us occupied a rustic portion of the camp, sleeping not in cabins but in three-sided bays with crude roofs and a canvas flap for rain protection.  Iron bunks, three sets to a structure, and thin mattresses contributed to the military feel of the place.  This group consisted mostly of experienced campers, twelve years old or so, and we did not have to participate in the daily ritual of the place.  We hiked, boated, swam, and learned about survival. 

 Though I fit the age, I had  only been to camp once before that summer and did not fit the profile of an experienced attendee. I struggled to keep pace. Barb Cross thrived on the rigors of this schedule.  But with my clumsy legs and pale skin, I caught poison ivy, grew blisters, and lay in bed each night aching in every muscle.

Towards the end of the week, our troop would be leading a hike through "unmapped land".  No one told us what we would find.  We would be following markers through brambles, over boulders, with only a rudimentary path beneath our feet.  Barb Cross could not contain her excitement nor I my dread. 

We stood in the rain one day for the process of grouping ourselves in pairs for the next day's hike.  I looked and felt miserable as the others jostled together, laughing about the rain's causing their hair to frizz, guessing whether we'd hike if the rain did not stop, pairing off while I stood forlornly by myself.   No one wanted me, not even a pretty girl from Springfield with whom I had become friends.  But Barb Cross stepped forward to choose me and then she did an even more unthinkable act: She volunteered the two of us to rise at dawn, go to the place where the trail-blazing would occur, and use our compasses and a map of the area to mark the trail that the others would later follow.

I lay awake that night until no sound drifted to me from others sleeping in adjacent bunks.  I could not imagine why Barbara chose me except from pity.  I would slow her progress; I would fall; I would doom our task and cause her to be humiliated in front of the several participating troops and the camp leaders.  I fell asleep with silent tears streaming  down my cheeks, their saltiness stinging my chapped lips.

I slid out of the building in the morning, dressed in slacks and the only shoes I owned.  I had tied my braid with a Camp Fire Girls kerchief and stashed a few supplies in a small pack.  I pulled aside the canvas and peered out:  the rain had gone, leaving behind cool sweet air and a gentle freshness.  I stepped down, steadying myself on the unpaved bare ground.

Barbara waited for me, a stout backpack beside her, in which she had stowed the red flags that she and I would tie on branches to guide the others who came later.  She carried an ax.  I shuddered when I saw it.  But I forced myself to remain composed as we moved toward the road.

Barbara had the map provided by the counselors.  She took us across a clearing and into the woods, where we found an initial, large red flag which told us where to start the trail.  Then Barbara moved past it, wielding the little hatchet at the spindly new growth of trees.  I followed her, tying red cloth to the young trees every few feet, dodging to avoid being slapped by the branches whipped away by Barbara's strong arms. 

After we had gone a hundred feet, Barbara stopped and looked back at the narrow clearing that her efforts had created.  Fire rose in her eyes as she surveyed the path down which the other girls in the group would come.  They would not have to do much to navigate the way; she had done more than the leaders expected.  She glanced at me and grinned; then resumed her forward trek.  The sun crept higher.  Sweat rose on my forehead but I kept going.

I fell a few times.  Barbara immediately dropped her pack and came back to me, gently lifting me from the floor of the woods and brushing debris from my back.  Each time, she stayed until I found my footing again, then moved away, retrieved her backpack and ax, and started forward again.  She moved farther ahead of me as I tired, but we both kept going, Barbara working the compass and the map, me just following Barb, tying red strips of fabric every four or five feet, feeling the burn in my chest. 

I don't know how far our efforts took us, but suddenly, we broke through the forest to another clearing.  This one stood on the edge of a lovely ravine.  We crossed the clearing and looked down.  What we beheld could not be called a canyon but it certainly took our breath away as surely as the deepest gorge.  Barbara let out a grand laugh and threw her arms around me.  "We did it!" she cried.  "We made it!  We did it!  You and me!  Not those other girls!  You and me!"  We fell on the ground, laughing, congratulating each other, even though in my heart, I knew that but for Barbara, I would have failed and turned away in desolation.

Later that day, we followed the rest of the girls as they made their way through the forest using our red flags as guides.  They widened the path, cleared the brush created by their efforts, trampled down undergrowth so that eventually, even the youngest campers could walk that way.  When the group of us broke through the woods to the clearing by the ravine, we discovered that a picnic had been laid, with portable tables, coolers, chairs, and food.  Our troop leaders awaited us.  

But Barbara and I walked past the impromptu party to stand together on the edge of the ravine, looking down at the rocks, the straggly trees, and the floor of the ravine with its small stream and untamed growth.   We did not speak.  The sun shone full upon us.  I felt a sense of peace flow through me.  I don't know if Barbara shared that sensation but a few minutes later, she touched my arm.  I looked at her.  A smile rose on her face and I felt my own face relax beneath her gaze.  And then, still without speaking, we turned away, and went to join the others.

That evening, Barbara and I paired again for the nightly flag-lowering ceremony.  She worked the ropes with her strong arms, to slowly lower the flag from its pole in the center of the camp while Taps sounded  throughout the camp.  I stood beside the pole, gathering the end of the flag.  She took the opposite end as it came down, and gently unhooked the flag.  She walked away, stretching the flag straight, then methodically moved towards me, carefully holding the flag taut so it would not touch the ground.  Barbara folded the flag in the manner that our leaders had taught us, moving closer and closer to where I stood, until the last fold.  She neatly tucked the end to keep the flag in form until it would be hung at Reveille the next morning.  Then she held the flag reverently in her extended arms, again, as we had been taught.  We walked towards the main building while the last notes of Taps played and the sun set.

Mugwumpishly tendered.

Corinne Corley

This flag flies from my home, the Holmes house.  When people come to visit me for the first time,
 I tell them to look for a blue house with red trim and an American flag.  
They never have any trouble finding me.
If you want to review the Flag Code, you can find it here.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday Musings, 18 April 2015

Good morning,

Bread rises in a pan and a sheen of oven cleaner steams on the inside of the stove.  In an hour or so, I'll slide the bread onto an oven rack and hope for the best.  My first batch of gluten-free bread will be history by ten.  As guests arrive for coffee at nine, I'm hoping this experiment sings.  I think about other culinary efforts which failed:  the lemon pie in which I forgot the sugar; the buckets of cherries and a recipe which called for cherry pie filling from a can; the first steak on a grill pan which this non-meat eater completely ruined.  I don't have a back-up plan so all I can do is pray.

This recipe called for three minutes of beating on medium speed in a stand-mixer, which I don't have.  I've had two:  My great-grandmother's ancient model which got lost in a flood, and the one that Dennis and I bought at Target to use on shortbread.  It's in Ohio, presumably, making shortbread for him.  I got the metal mixing bowls and the cast-iron skillets in trade.  I'm okay with that.  I used the hand-mixer that I stole from my sister Adrienne by dint of never returning it.  The dough seems none the less worse for the substitution.

I didn't use my mother's yellow bread mixing bowl.  I thought about it, but truthfully, if it broke, I would not lightly forgive myself.  I see her so clearly standing over that bowl at the kitchen counter with her hands covered in flour.  She wears an apron over her Sunday clothes, a dress she has donned thinking she'll get to Mass that day.  She smiles and gestures, bits of dough flinging from her fingers.  She wants me to do something but I can't figure out what.  The memory fades as the sound of my barking dog pulls me into the present.

I stand in my breakfast nook staring through the glass doors of the built-ins.  The yellow bowl sits on the top shelf with other Mom-bowls inside of it.  I pull the door open and run my finger across its surface, seeing my mother's face again, her thin eyebrows so like my own; her olive skin which I still envy; the warmth of her dark eyes.  I've been wondering, lately, what my mother would make of my life -- of the failed relationships, of the weirdly configured law practice with its mixture of appointed and low-budget custody cases, of my son who is so like her youngest, and the shared daughters whom I've tried to help as my mother helped me.

As I turn from the cupboard, the bowl in my hand, I see her standing in my kitchen but it is just a trick of my mind.  Her apron has a sprinkle of flour and a dotted line of milk.  She holds her hands against her waist, and her head turned in the way that I so keenly remember.  I feel my own head tilt and I meet her eyes.  Her radiant smile lingers in those eyes as she fades and I see straight through to the overgrown lawn outside my backdoor.

I turn and set the bowl down on a table.  I've decided not to use it, but I want to photograph it.  You never know:  Things get broken, sometimes through no fault of anyone, sometimes just because our fragile belongings come in contact with sharp edges and hard surfaces.  There's no use placing blame when something breaks.  It's just a fact of life.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saturday Musings, 11 April 2015

Good morning,

Above my mantel hangs a print of an original work by an artist named William McNamara.  I gaze at it and remember standing near the spot depicted by the delicate strokes.  I recall visiting Billy in his home; the crinkle of his eyes when he smiled, his quiet spirit.  I did not know him long or well.  But his picture takes me back to the Boston Mountains, to the headwaters of the Buffalo River, to a summer spent struggling to make sense of rural life.

We stand on a path that would be a road, Chester White and I.  Sweat pours from his brow; dirt streaks either cheek; an Ozark warrior.  His jeans sit loose on his hips; his shirt bears the heavy rings of stain that only real labor can induce.  Badges of honor here in the country, where work-outs involve not treadmills but tools, and calories fall into the furrows plowed each morning.

Chet and I are city folks.  My knees creak as I walk from truck to tree, set the thermos and cooler on a stone, and turn to survey our morning's work.  Chester has kept five or six feet ahead of me, with spade and shovel, digging smooth the ground on which I have begun to lay the river rocks.  He stands in the roadway with his legs spread wide for balance, bending, digging, pitching dirt, while I trudge to and from the site where he has piled the rocks.  He's hauled them from various places on this mountain: from creek beds, from the river, from the left-overs of others' endeavors.  

It takes a lot of rocks to make a road.

We gingerly ease our bodies to the ground and rummage in the cooler for our lunch.  I pour cold water from the thermos and Chester drinks greedily.  He's done by far the bulk of the labor.  All week while I pushed paper in my home office, working my two or three cases in the small town where we live, he's dug, he's hauled, he's pitched piles of stones rounded by centuries of water from the truck bed.  My part pales next to his effort but my legs ache nonetheless.  I've never done manual labor other than the year that I worked as a maid in our parish convent.  Hot waves of pain course through my muscles but I smile at the man beside me.  We envision this road as being the driveway down which we will one day walk, to the home we will build, to the porch on which we will rest in lovely hand-carved chairs.

As we eat our meal, I think about the first time that I camped on Reynolds' Mountain, about the flying snakes which Chester had convinced me threatened my long hair.  I had tied my braids under a bandanna and furtively glanced at the towering branches, wondering what made their leaves shudder. I had not seen the glint of humor in Chester's eye as he walked behind me.

A year later, we've started building this road together.  I feel an ache in the foot which I broke doing the Chicken Dance at the Murray Church, the day this man and I got married.  The shooting pain disturbs me more than the burn in my legs.  I think that maybe I need better shoes; I loosen the laces and rub my arches.  We talk in lowered voices; mostly we sit in silence.  Then Chester stands and gathers the wrappings from our sandwiches.  He walks towards the place where we've parked the truck and for a brief second, the light of a thousand summer days surrounds him.  

The glow startles me.  At almost the same instant, a shot rings out and Chester freezes.  I leap from the ground.  I see his body fall but no:  I am imagining that; the shot is far away.  My heart slows; I pause.  Chester shakes his head, annoyed with the hunters who've broken our calm.  He continues on toward the truck, bathed again in sunlight.  Just as I start to follow him, a cloud passes over the sun and a chill runs through me.  I stop again and raise my face skyward, thinking that we have a lot to do before the rain.

Twenty-seven years later, here in Kansas City. I think about the road we did not finish; the house we did not built.  I look around me, at the wooden surfaces of this home, at the beautiful porch which Chester created, years later, another summer, another situation, with his daughter and my son playing together in the yard.  I reach no conclusions other than to realize that my coffee has grown cold and the sun has risen.  It is time for chores.  From another room,  I hear my alarm telling me to rise but I've been awake since five.  I listen to its notes and find myself smiling.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley


"Headwaters", William McNamara, 1986, 12/750

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.