Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saturday Musings, 04 December 2010

Good morning,

I've surrendered to winter.

The furnace roars. I've abandoned the front porch for my breakfast nook, where my laptop is staged on a table comprised of a laminate top added to an old Singer sewing machine table, found at one of my favorite used furniture haunts years ago. This table has traveled from Missouri to Ohio to Iowa and back again, and I daresay, it has several years of use left. Speakers flank my Mac, to the right and left, a five-dollar pair from Best Buy that delivers Morning Edition on local station KCUR as I write.

I am stunned to find myself in December. I have purchased but one Christmas present. My tree still snoozes in its box. No ornaments have been hauled from the basement to deck my halls. I've just discovered a trial conflict in January that I'm trying to resolve, and I have four hearings between now and the day my son returns for the Christmas break, one of which is out of town. What happened to 2010?

I heard someone admit yesterday that Christmas had become increasingly important for her because of the birth of her child. You get to do stuff you haven't enjoyed in a long time, she noted. She didn't mention attending church, or lighting the Mary candle to place in the window for the Christ child. She referenced going to see Santa, and wrapping presents, and decorating her house. I understand her point. Though raised Catholic, I'm not particularly religious, espousing instead the 20th century label "spiritual". I find most telling the tender, guileless words of my son, at age 3, when asked if he knew whose birthday we celebrate on Christmas. "Oh yes," he chirped. "Uncle Steve's!"

I have a confession to make. I miss my brother. Yes, he was born on Christmas Day. As I recall, his impending arrival spoiled our Christmas morning. My mother winced when we exclaimed over each present. She must have been in labor. One particularly spectacular gift, a child's desk with a peg-board top and a lovely hammer, could not be deployed until she left for the hospital. I might be imagining that he was to have been called "Christopher" because of being born on Christmas Day; but he got the name of Stephen Patrick and Stephen made everything even -- fourth boy, balanced by four girls in the Corley family.

My friend Paula recently asked: How long does it hurt, losing your mother? A long time, I admitted to her; but losing your brother hurts forever. My only solace is thinking about the Christmases that I spent with him,

And so, sitting here, little nuggets of guilt, and glee, and glory, all rattling around in my gut, I think about one Christmas after another. The year my grandmother Corley sent matching pajamas for all eight of us: The boys got Cowbow PJs, the girls got red PJs embroidered with the phrase, "I'm a Little Devil". Eight bundles wrapped in reindeer-covered paper, in a huge box mysteriously delivered to our doorstep. The year that Frank and Steve snuck into the living room before my parents awakened, spying sleds beneath the tree, whispering, Mom is going to feel so stupid! because there was no snow -- and then, when they opened the living room curtains to reveal a white wonderland, hopping around with unbridled delirium. Watching my brothers stringing tinsel from branch to branch on the tree, playing made-up games with the elf ornaments. His last Christmas with us, when he and I shopped together in Clayton, and he bought an Alien catcher for my son complete with a plastic replica of that creature that burst from the astronaut's chest in the terrifying movie that the eight adult Corleys saw together one year on New Year's Eve. Thirty-seven years of German chocolate cake. A dozen years of celebrating Steve's half-birthday on July 25th, a practice invented by my mother to give him one special day when no one else got gifts. His bright eyes; his snapping fingers; his dancing feet.

Strains of violin now waft from my computer speakers. I've lost track of the program that I'm hearing; evidently, a violinist is being interviewed and is playing selected pieces. The poignant, haunting notes lift me, taking me away from the reverie into which I've fallen, higher, to a place in which dancing feet can never be stilled.

At last night's First Friday Gallery opening of Scott Anderson's powerful photographs, one of the models told me that she had no wishes for Santa Claus because she had everything she needed. Then wish for something for someone else, I suggested, playing her game, watching children flock to Santa at the tree-lighting ceremony outside the Gallery doors. Head tilted, serious for a moment, she agreed. I will, she assured me. So many people need things. That's a good idea.

I can't claim Christmas as a religious holiday, for I've strayed too far from my heritage to return on anything save the path of hypocrisy. But viewing Christmas-time as a season of love, I can stake my birthright with anyone. I know several people for whom this holiday will be particularly joyful -- children have been born, grades have been made, romantic alliances forged. But I know some for whom this year holds particular pain: parents, spouses, and children have been lost. Before the madness of shopping overtakes me, before the swags obscure the vision through my windows, before I swoon, overcome by the heavy fragrance of cedar and incense, I look around, trying to memorize the reasuring contours of the framework of permanance beneath the seasonal trappings.

My life has many ironies. One particularly amusing twist of fate consists of the cumulative effect of spasticity. The very spasticity which plagues me also allows me to remain vertical. Removing the spasticity in my legs eliminates pain but disenables me from walking. Now that is one Catch, that Catch-22, isn't it? But in those little ironies, I find immutable truths.

And so, as the icy drizzle strikes my window pane, and the last simmering coffee cools in my cup, I'm counting my blessings, being careful to wish for only that which I really need, asking the Universe to give others endless bounties to sustain them, and looking forward to another Christmas, another New Year's Eve, another burgeoning year dawning with its nascent hope.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.