Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Musings, 31 December 2011

Good morning,

On waking this morning, I realized that I had, in fact, survived another year. The casual section of our newspaper displays pictures of the many folks who did not, and I review their names in awe. I recognize some of them; many mystify me. All meant something to someone, somewhere, and apparently, a lot to many. Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Rooney, James Arness. . .icons in their day and still. We mourn many of them like lost members of our own family and in a way, of course, they occupy special places in the human family, the family of a post-industrialization world, in which currents conduct characters and airwaves shape our hopes, our dreams and our desires.

I have not made the magic hour on New Year's Eve for many years, not since before children, and mid-life ailments, and a keen awareness that over-consumption of alcohol holds no allure for me. From a time to party, New Year's Eve has turned into a time for self-examination. Am I really incompetent and an unbelievable bitch, as someone recently claimed of me? Do I insist on winning every argument, as I heard in another painful accusation? Or am I the virtuous helper that my Facebook friends acclaim?

Am I the Wicked Witch or Wonder Woman?

I push aside the newspaper and fall into a reverie. A gaggle of Corley kids out on the front porch. With pots and pans, and wooden spoons, they beat the old year out and herald the New Year. Inside, a tray of half-eaten Ritz crackers with cheese, and glasses with the residue of something sticky and sweet. My mother sits in her arm chair. My father's recliner stands empty. From the decades' distance, I spy him in the kitchen, slumped against the counter, stubbled face hanging slack, hand clutching a cigarette. I can't recall him drinking in our presence, but he must have -- or perhaps he had been to the local bar. I remember what came later, I keenly recall his hang-over and the wrath of his sobering self. But in that moment, I stood on the lawn and merrily banged on the back of an aluminum pan, and I thought, I can't believe we're staying up til midnight And the fireworks popped in the distance, and my brothers ran around yelling, Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Happy New Year! until my mother came out onto the porch and gently drew us back into the living room.

Years later, at a New Year's Eve party in a now-forgotten bar, I clutched a glass of champagne and braced against the rush of revelers. New Year's Eve 1980, at the end of my first year in law school, and a wild bunch of 1Ls crammed into a room more intent on finding someone with whom to share the last stray pillow of the year than on contemplating self-improvement. Recently single after a grim year-long relationship with a man twice my age, I had no interest in anything but escape, and I lifted the glass as though, like many before me, I sought refuge in its depths. And the crowd roared as the ball dropped in Times Square on the small television perched on a nearby table, and my drunken friends crowed, Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Happy New Year! until their dates and those in other parties scolded, enough, enough, enough, and confetti fell around my narrow shoulders and onto the dirty tiles beneath my feet.

The New Year's Eve celebrations of the last thirty years have faded in my memory. From partying, I turned to sleeping early; bidding the year good night and good luck from a quiet room, with a book, a spouse, and a sleeping cat. More recently, I've spent the evening worrying that my son would make it safely back to the Holmes house, or stay the night wherever he celebrated. I'm not worried that he will drink and drive; he's not yet 21, and though I do not doubt that he would drink, he is sufficiently afraid of the ramifications of being caught to insure that his keys stay on a table beside his discarded glasses and wallet until his blood alcohol returns to zero. No, what I fear is the driver that might not be as smart as my son, and might plow into the side of his car and ruin my one chance for immortality.

Instead of celebrating, I make resolutions. Like the non-Christian who takes the opportunity to celebrate Christmas without sharing "the reason for the season", I borrow New Year's Eve to wallow in self-scrutiny. Wicked Witch or Wonder Woman, I ask myself. Did I help more than I hurt in the previous 365 days? Can I see a way to improve my performance over the next 365? Do those who smile at me with appreciation outnumber those who scowl at me in anger? Do I tip enough? Do I thank the sales clerks with sincerity or snarl at them with petulance?

I cast my mind backwards. My ambitions have largely fallen by the wayside. I never had a poem published in the New Yorker. I have not been to Europe. I've not even been to Canada or Mexico. I've started three novels and abandoned them in varying stages of completion. I still file for an extension on my federal tax return every year, and I am sure that a few old medical bills lie unpaid in a drawer somewhere, or in the mail basket in our living room. I haven't visited my aunt Della in two years. I've never planted gardenias on my mother's grave.

The lesser resolutions have fared better. I lost weight and kept it off. I no longer raise my voice at my secretary when she makes a mistake, though I still feel the temptation and have to walk into my office to gain control. I clean my purse out regularly to make sure I haven't left any crumbled notes to myself to languish beyond relevant due dates. I never miss a dose of Warfarin and I get a regular dental check-up.

As the morning wanes and the old battery on my trusty iBook G4 starts to whimper, I ruminate over this year's resolutions. I reject the trite and true. I won't live like I'm dying; that's so last year. I won't live like there's no tomorrow, or consider today the first day of the rest of my life. I pride myself in creating my own nauseatingly sentimental platitudes.

I hear my husband gently clear his throat in the living room, and the chuckle of the Car Guys on NPR emitting from the radio in my breakfast nook. The furnace blower begins its obtrusive roar, and our old cat, the 17-year-old stare-down champion, yowls for something that I have not a prayer of discerning. I sit amidst the sounds of Saturday morning at the Holmes house, gazing at the bad news in today's paper -- famine, and crime, and the looming election cycle. Suddenly, my resolution seems so obvious that I laugh out loud.

I resolve to cherish what I have.

And now I can eat breakfast, and grouse at the cat, and pour another cup of Dunn Brother's Coffee. At this moment, when it is still possible that the vow of 2011 will not fall empty into a kitchen drawer or vanish beneath my delete key, all seems possible. So Happy New Year, everyone, and here's hoping that you all get safely to the berth where someone who cherishes you lies waiting.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley


Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you'll buy your pint cup !
and surely I'll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

(Original Scottish Version by Robert Burns, English Version by James Watson, based on a traditional song / poem; Burns version 1788).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday Musings, 24 December 2011

Good morning,

The stack of wrapped presents begins to grow on my dresser. Two carry bags on the floor hold additional gifts, sorted by the households to which they will be taken. A third pile has yet to be wrapped, and in my closet, more await. As I cut paper and pull tape, I try to cough away from my work, desperate to keep my germs to myself.

I lean against the bed, gazing at the happy results of my shopping efforts. Simply put, I love Christmas. I'm not religious but I have adopted this holiday as my opportunity to bestow each person in my world with a tangible manifestation of my gratitude for their existence.

Yesterday, my secretary opened the small gift that I had chosen for her while shaking her head back and forth. I thought I saw her hands tremble. She has worked for me for just a few months, and I know nothing of her life, nothing that would explain the emotion displayed as she lifted the scarf and truffles from their gift bag. As I left an hour or so later, she spoke in a faltering voice: I'd sure like to give you a hug. I put my arms around her thin frame. Merry Christmas, merry, merry Christmas.

I've purchased many scarves for people through the years. I give my friend Basimah a new scarf each Christmas and birthday. I'm not sure how she wears them all, but I am certain that she will never have to buy one for herself. I try to think of another gift to give her, but find myself standing in front of the display of silk, cashmere and wool, caressing the lovely threads, fascinated by the shimmering colors, choosing yet another piece of fabric that she can wind around her neck or drape over her shoulders. She has never said, Enough, enough!, and accepts each with the same sweet, sincere smile.

Years ago, when I was a senior in high school, I purchased a matching hat, scarf and mitten set for a little girl whom I tutored. I used my babysitting money to buy them. I stood in Kresge's dime store for a long while, running my fingers over the knitted yarn. I imagined the child with her stringy, unwashed blond hair, and her deep blue eyes, and thought about the colors and how they would frame her face. I shifted from foot to foot, debating, and finally chose the red set, imagining the bright pom pom atop her small head, thinking of the light in her eyes as she tore away the paper and opened the box.

The following Saturday, I traveled to the church at 14th and Mallincrot in St. Louis for the Christmas party staged for our students by the parish sponsor of the tutoring program. I gazed out of the window of the vehicle in which my friends and I rode, watching the suburban houses fall away as we traveled south and east into the city proper. Apartment buildings with broken sidewalks took their place, and the quiet streets of our county neighborhood yielded to blaring horns and sirens; clean pavement gave way to littered slush.

But inside the church, dozens of small boys and girls chattered as volunteers handed out paper cups filled with hot chocolate. Among them, I found my student standing silent, gazing at the colored light bulbs draped from the folding table which held plates of cookies.

As the other children eagerly pulled toys from gift bags, my girl gently lifted the scarf and held it high enough to keep it from draping on the floor. I stood over her, encouraging her to wind it around her thin neck. I settled the beret around her curls and eased each of her tiny hands into a crimson mitten. She stood, gazing at me, wearing an expression that I could not understand, not moving, holding her thin frame rigid. I finally took pity on her, and removed the knitwear, returning it to the box. I thought she would run off then, but she reached for the gift and clutched it against her chest, and said, thank you so much for these beautiful things, and as she spoke, tears ran down her face.

The next week, my girl came to tutoring without her hat, or scarf, or mittens. When I asked about them, she shrugged. After the session, I mentioned them to our teacher, who told me that likely they had been lost or stolen. I felt a small measure of regret for having given her something so transient, something so briefly brightening her life.

At the end of the session, I learned that no one had come to retrieve my student, and that we would be delivering her to her parents' home. She sat beside me in the car without speaking, holding my hand, gazing out the window. When we parked near her building, she quickly wiggled out of the car and swiftly walked away from me, with only the briefest of glances in my direction. I stood beside the car, troubled, and from that vantage point, saw the door of the building open and her mother's narrow frame step onto the sidewalk.

The rush of shock propelled me forward several steps before my teacher's hand stopped me. We watched my student's mother walk forward to greet her, wearing a flimsy, tattered dress, a scarlet hat on her head, a matching scarf wound around her neck, and mittens on each hand. From the short distance between us, I could see hollow cheeks and dark smudges under sunken eyes. I saw the woman reach for her daughter with long, fragile arms, drawing her close, pulling her into the yawning gape of the battered door which closed behind them with a dreadful thud.

There was nothing to do but get back into the car and leave the place. The other girls talked happily among themselves during the ride home. When the car stopped, they spilled out onto the parking lot and called holiday wishes to each other as they ran to their parents' cars. I got out last, and stood waiting for my ride to arrive. The teacher spoke my name, and I met her eyes with a sharp snap of my head. Merry Christmas, she whispered, as my mother's Ford pulled into the driveway. I did not reply.

Decades later, my son's cell phone starts to ring and buzz in his bedroom. He's scheduled for his customary volunteer work with Meals on Wheels today. In a few minutes, he will stagger out and grunt a request for coffee. He will have tarried too late over his guitar and his computer. We finished Christmas shopping last evening, with dozens of other people at Barnes and Noble, where we had a coffee and talked about his fall trip to West Virginia. We went out one night with a bunch of people that I didn't know, and I had a really good time. That trip was great, he told me, and I believed him, for rarely do I see him speak with such uncontrived passion.

I purchased a scarf for my son this year, and as I wrapped it in tissue and gently placed it into a box last night, I thought about my little girl and her mother. I remembered the look in her eyes above the box which she clutched to her chest. I saw again the brief flash of red disappear behind a heavy door, and I felt again the cruel bite of wind on a St. Louis street, long ago, under a leaden sky.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Merry Christmas, and God Bless You, Each and Every One

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Musings


Everyone gives to charity in some way: time, money, prayers. You drop coins into the red bucket and get a bell-ringer's thanks. You drop a can of beans into a barrel and it feeds a needy family.

If you are in the Kansas City area, consider giving to the Harvester's Community Food Network Online drive:

This worthy program provides food and "back pack snacks" for families and children in our community. If you give before noon this Thursday, you can dedicate your donation to someone and that person's name will appear in Sunday's Kansas City Star.

My husband and I donated, and I made the donation in the name of my dear little brother, Stephen Patrick Corley, who was born on Christmas Day in 1959 and died in June of 1997.

I am very pleased to be able to celebrate his birthday this way. You, too, can celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah in honor of someone -- by donating to this or any other charity, giving of your time or talents. For example, our two sons will continue the tradition of helping by delivering Meals on Wheels with my best friend, Katrina, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. I am sure there are many giving opportunities in which you can invest, and I encourage you to do so.

If your giving dollars and/or time are already committed to your personal limit, then give by sending positive thoughts out into the Universe, and remember: That clerk has HAD IT with unpleasant shoppers, so give her your smile. That's a gift that keeps on giving, 24/7/365! (or 366, if it's leap year!)

Merry Christmas,

Mugwumpishly tendered, with best wishes to all of you for a very, very safe and joyous holiday season,

Mary-Corinne Teresa Corley,

daughter of Richard Corley and Lucille Lyons Corley,
sister of seven Corleys,
wife of Jim MacLaughlin,
mother of Patrick,
stepmother of Cara and Ansel,
and your friend and colleague.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Musings, 17 December 2011

Good morning,

Grey sky greets me from the opening where the pale orange curtain parts from the dingy sheer falling to the floor at the side of my dining room window. I strain to find some glimmer of blue but the heavy clouds, with their burden of rain, ice, or snow, block the sun. My heart falls and I think for a moment about the eight-hour drive from Greencastle, Indiana, to Kansas City, and wonder if the Blazer will make the journey without incident.

Seven months into marriage, I still find myself somewhat puzzled at having gone from a family of two to a family of five. The wonder of seeing my stepdaughter walk across a stage, red hair falling in a silky sheath from beneath a mortar board, causes my heart to pound and tears to well in my eyes. I've known this young woman for just over two years and have seen her blossom from someone struggling to find her place in an adult world, to someone poised to conquer. I never doubted that she would reach this point, but I did not anticipate this overwhelming rush of pride.

I cannot deny the strength of feelings that I have for this beautiful young woman who has late come into my life. My son knows that he occupies the first place in my heart, but my stepdaughter and stepson have their own little nooks in that scarred chamber. I've been a stepparent before now, in my first marriage, and not a very good one. I watched my second husband struggle to fit into the nearly impenetrable bond that joins my son and me. I've guided countless clients through the morass of his-mine-ours debates about discipline. I have experienced the pain and pleasure from every direction but one, and I've seen enough to have an inkling of the child's perspective.

With all of that, I nonetheless have been taken very much by surprise at the rise of love which I feel for my stepdaughter. Putting aside the several young women whose younger years coincided with my son's childhood, and whose mothers graciously shared them, she provides my first opportunity for same-gender parenting. She's certainly old enough to need very little hands-on mothering. Still, I have taken full advantage of this chance. I've waited a long time. Though I love my son, I am, after all, the woman who, upon being asked by a helpful clerk if I had gotten what I wanted after standing in the Action Figure aisle for longer than the clerk thought healthy, blurted out, No, I wanted a girl.

I don't doubt that there would have been times when I wished the opposite. I remain convinced that boys cause less daily aggravation. Certainly, they often quickly grow protective of their mothers, as my son did, as my stepson is towards his mother and my son's friends are towards theirs. But something about ribbons, bows, and Barbie dolls makes my stomach clench even now. I have no problem finding Christmas presents for my stepdaughter; in fact, my problem takes the opposite form: stopping myself from getting many more presents for her than for the young men of our family.

I look backwards, with something like sorrow, at the disconnect that broke my relationship with my mother at the start of my college years, which I never quite overcame. I still hear her voice on the telephone, snapping at me, telling me that if you are not home by five o'clock, don't come home at all, occasioning my departure from the family fold just shy of my eighteenth birthday. I never looked back. Though we found a way to communicate, after a fashion, the damage never fully healed. I vividly recall sitting at a restaurant table in the Central West End during graduate school, talking about the silver market and over-sprouted beans, thinking, who is this woman. Had I known she would be gone six years later, I might have tried to find out.

But now I can only gaze at a sepia-tone picture of her dancing in our front yard, and plead with her to tell me what made her heart so glad. In the pages of an old picture album, I find other snapshots from the same day: My grandfather, with his lovely brown skin and tall, sturdy frame; and my brother Frank and me, standing in front of a sheet cake, holding a knife together. I realize that the occasion was a graduation for each of us in the same year. I see the light in her eyes, captured when she least expected, while she looked at me across the room. I am suddenly breathless. This, this, right here in this picture: that is what I felt when Cara walked across that stage last night. A mother's love for her child.

It matters not that she was born of another, who sat in the same auditorium with right of first pride. Nor does it matter that she came from the genes of the man beside me, whose arm I clutched, as I nagged him to quickly hand the camera down to one of the boys so we would not miss the crucial shot. And, finally, that my son was born of me does not diminish my feelings towards my stepdaughter, just as my feelings for her and her brother do not detract from my love of Patrick. Our family has blended.

I glance out the window and am astonished to see that the clouds have scattered, and an azure expanse rises above my neighbor's house. My coffee has been replenished by a man sitting at our table in tennis whites, working a puzzle. In an hour, one of those young women whose lives I have shared will be coming to help me with chores that are beyond my physical ability, and we will have a pleasant hour restoring the Holmes house to cleanliness. Later, when I have done a little shopping and a little fussing over my Christmas list, I will make dinner for the new graduate and her boyfriend, and sometime this evening, my first-born child will arrive for the holiday.

And all will be right with my world, as it turns again, and inches towards the close of another wonderful year.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Congratulations, Cara Withers MacLaughlin, Bachelor of Liberal Arts Magna Cum Laude, 16 December 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Musings, 10 December 2011

Good morning,

I've balanced my laptop on a wooden table purchased at an estate sale for five dollars, more years ago than I can recall. A stout cup of French roast cools at my elbow. At the far end of the scarred oak dining table, an assemblage of Christmas decorations stands at the ready for a later event.

The five-foot tree purchased a decade ago at a January half-price sale shines in its customary corner, lights glowing, only a few plastic needles falling to the floor. Christmas stands proud at the end of the next two rows of boxes on my German calendar. I braved the "early shoppers" sale at Kohl's yesterday, and even did a round at Target, being as I needed cat food any way. Every single sales clerk whom I encountered flashed smiles; but then, it's early yet.

Nearly sixty Christmases span the backward circuit of my life. As I make my lists, check them twice, buying presents for everyone regardless of whether I consider them naughty, or nice, I think about successful purchases in the past: the radiant smile of my best friend's granddaughter Nora just last year, when she opened a life-size, soft Christmas doll; my son's grin at the remembered request of a clock made from reclaimed computer parts, which he had spied at the VALA Gallery; and years ago, the same boy's shrieks upon spying the tall Batman with light-up eyes that Santa had finally found after searching a dozen stores.

But one of the most satisfying presents that I've purchased -- and I have purchased hundreds -- was the American/French idiomatic dictionary that I bought for my cousin Kati's then-husband Bernard in 1983.

He had little English at the time. Kati and I had reunited on their relocation from St. Louis to Kansas City, sitting for hours in their apartment chattering about our childhood and the decade of events since our college days. Bernard could not follow our conversation. He thumbed through a French-English dictionary and could not determine the meanings of phrases rushing around him in our common St. Louis twang.

For weeks, he grumbled about his crazy American wife and her wild cousin Corinne, though said in French it sounded elegant. I got it into my head that he might feel less alienated if he understood our vernacular, so I set about -- in the days before Al Gore invented the World Wide Web -- to find a French/American idiomatic dictionary.

Not easy, I discovered.

My search extended to the considerable reach of area bookstores available at the time. Harried clerk after harried clerk shook head after tired head. Finally, in Whistler's Books, then located in Westport, a salesman took pity on me. I'll try, he said, in a weary voice, seven staggering shopping days before Christmas. Don't get false hopes, he cautioned, and turned away to answer a question about the tells-all-star-biography-of-the-week, which No, they did not carry, we are an independent bookseller, we don't carry that kind of stuff, try Walden Books, he said, with only a slightly disdainful sneer.

Kati and Bernard had invited me to share a meal at their home for the holiday. I could never have declined. In addition to my craving for the company of family, the allure included the fact that Bernard, a French chef, would certainly provide something succulent and decadent. But I did not want to go without a present for Bernard, and I had despaired of finding what I wanted most to give him. I purchased a back-up -- I think it was a boring wool scarf -- and hoped it would suffice.

A half hour before I should have been arriving at their apartment, the phone rang. You ordered a book from us, said a very, very tired voice. It's here. I drove faster than I should through the thick traffic of last-minute shoppers, not noticing the lovely rise of Christmas lights on the Plaza, narrowly escaping a crash with Cinderella's horse-drawn carriage in my haste to get to Whistler's Books before it closed. My parking karma provided a narrow spot into which I crammed my vehicle, and I slammed the car door, barely pausing to lock it, arriving ten minutes before the store closed, and fifteen minutes after my scheduled arrival time at Kati and Bernard's apartment.

The man who had called was the same man who had promised to try to find the book. He handed it to me, and I gazed down at it with surprise. Slightly battered, a little care-worn, clearly used, nonetheless, it bore the title: Dictionary of American to French Idiomatic Translations. Or something like that. I looked at the clerk. How did you find it, I asked, with true wonder.

He smiled. I searched a lot of catalogs at first, he told me. Books in Print, too. Then, when nothing I did worked, I called a friend of mine.

The friend, it turned out, ran a bookstore in New York City. That friend had a friend who ran a bookstore in Paris, France. That friend had a friend who ran a used book stall on a side street in Paris, a hand-made structure with a slanted tin roof that did not even have a name. In the stall stood a small shelf of guides for French folks planning to travel in various countries, and on that shelf, my present for Bernard had waited. The Paris bookseller bought it, shipped it to the New York book store owner, who sent it to Kansas City, where I purchased it for less than the postage to mail it from France.

I gazed at the salesman with frank admiration. So much trouble for one book, I murmured, running my hands along its cracked spine. He shrugged. I told them about your cousin's husband, he admitted. About the two of you talking all night in their living room, and poor Bernard sitting in the kitchen, clueless as to what half your chattering meant. We all felt bad for the poor guy. He shrugged again, a careless lift of a wool-clad shoulder. I got the sense that his efforts rose more from his sympathy for a man with a crazy wife, and a crazy cousin-in-law, than from his desire to satisfy a customer. The motivations of the New York and Paris connections, I can only imagine.

I wished him a very Merry Christmas. I left the store, unwrapped book clutched to my chest, and made my way to Kati and Bernard's apartment. The meal did not disappoint, nor did the shining smile on Bernard's face when he saw his gift.

In an hour, three seven-year old girls will descend upon my home, to decorate my Christmas tree and paint glass ornaments. One of them, my friend Elisabeth's daughter Accalia, has hired herself out for the morning to raise money for Operation Smile ( I will compensate her efforts with a check to that charity. I invited the others -- my friend Sherri's nieces, my flower girls, Courtney and Allie -- just to make a merry morning. I will feed them ants-on-a-log, and take their pictures to post on Facebook. When they have gone, I will sit in my rocker by the fireplace, and gaze upon the ornaments dangling from the branches of my artificial tree, recalling each Christmas that I have spent in this home. When I start to feel that I have been lazy enough, I will set aside that pleasant occupation, and get on with my day.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday Musings, 03 December 2011

Good morning,

Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon read a children's book in the background as I study my "contacts" entries and wonder whether my words reach those on the list or succumb to the vicious slam of a delete key. Occasionally, I hear from people -- "thanks for leaving me on your list", say some. "Delete me," say others. I try to comply and wonder if columnists whose essays appear in the newspaper fare as well as I do. So far, the expressions of thanks outweigh the expressions of annoyance about 4 to 1. As I ponder, Pinkwater concludes his "occasional appearance" on Morning Edition, the rain softly falls on the peeling paint of the neighbor's eaves, and the other sentient beings in my home begin to rattle around or pour second cups of coffee.

The year draws to a close more quickly than I anticipated. Like the errant buttons of my old alarm clock, the pages of the calendar have leaped ahead. I am another year older but no wiser; still stepping on my own toes, while pushing my foot towards my mouth and flapping hopelessly in the conversational breeze. I'm living proof that those who cannot do, write about doing.

After pizza and a tour of the Benson Gallery last evening, we arrived in Mission just before the launch of the fireworks. The shooting stars sailed over the old Fine Arts theatre, the former lobby of which is now the VALA Gallery at its new location. As I stood on the slick cobblestones and craned my neck back to better see the streaks of red, blue and gold, a mother broke away from the group gathered around the fire pit to take a frightened child farther from the crackles and booms. I was instantly transported to a long-ago Fourth of July, when my own small child huddled against me crying, They're pretty, Mom, but why do they have to be so loud?

Christmas fireworks don't figure in my own family's tradition. We install a smallish artificial Christmas tree in the living room, and decorate it with ornaments whose history I relate to anyone foolish enough to stray close to the action. Lights and garlands adorn the mantle; a small collection of snow globes, the plastic Disney kind, nestle among pools of tinsel. I usually get this done on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but I have a trial next Monday and my attention has been distracted. I hope to have the tree installed before St. Nicholas Day, even though there are no longer small children whose shoes must be filled with candy overnight, and no longer anyone to anticipate a visit from the Tree Elf, who puts a small present for each child on the lowest branches the night of the tree's first appearance.

These rituals, slight variants of those which my mother orchestrated for my siblings and me, tell me that the year will soon fade into my increasingly cloudy memory. With less than a month remaining of 2011, I hold myself accountable for the failure to completely attain the New Year's Resolutions that I made on the stroke of midnight eleven months ago. I am no less catty; no less snappish; no better organized. I have not progressed towards getting published, nor gone paperless. In fact, the only one of my self-imposed goals that I accomplished this year was keeping slim. Three and three-quarters years after I started my diet, I hover between 108 - 111, depending on salt intake; I started losing weight at a horrible 175 pounds on March 1, 2008.

I mark the passing seasons by the changing colors of the trees rising above my neighbors' homes. Today they bear few leaves, and their dark scraggly limbs sag under the chilly weight of the winter rain. The view out my window could be anywhere but the most rural of locations. The houses press towards each other, dwarfing the urban clutter of wires and cables, looming over the SUVs on the small parking pavements at the end of the narrow driveways. Without the cheering rays of a summer sun, the roofs seem sad and dingy.

I feel a sense of listening, waiting, in the air around me, in my home and outside in the stillness of my street. Standing on the porch an hour or two ago, bending to retrieve the paper in its plastic wrapping, I let the cold air rush over me and closed my eyes. Winter drives the dog-walkers indoors. I have not seen the usual strollers in weeks, and when the first snow falls, I will close the blinds on the outside world, and retreat to my writing desk, where I will begin to compose another set of resolutions.

Perhaps next year, my successes will outweigh my failures, and I will not be overwhelmed by winter's gloom when December arrives.

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.