Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Mugwump Muses

Good afternoon,

At 9:05 p.m. on 9/5/55, my mother let me slip quietly and without fanfare into the waiting arms of the doctor. My father, not to be outdone, celebrated by buying 9-0-5 beer at the 9-0-5 liquor store at the bottom of the hill on McLaran Avenue, just down from our house, in Jennings, Missouri.

My mother and father told me -- and I have always believed it to be true -- that Mother wanted to name me "Mary Kathleen" and Dad wanted to name me "Bridget Corinne". They also told me that my original name was "Bridget Kathleen", and that I was to be called "Bridget Kay". The change to "Mary Corinne" came, the story went, after a week or two, when Dad got to writing combinations on a cocktail napkin and decided "Mary Corinne" looked better. Since "Corine" was the great-grandmother after whom I was thusly named, it seemed a good change, as she was alleged to be a strong and capable single parent, having been widowed, a model that I later needed, as I raised my son alone for at least half his life.

I am fortunate to have been born in 1955 rather than 1945, for in 1957, I contracted what later was identified as a virus. At the time, they thought "polio" and then "multiple sclerosis", but settled on a diagnosis of "hereditary spastic paraplegia", which apparently has long since been discredited in favor of various conditions which have come to all be associated with one or the other virus. But at age 18 months, I essentially stopped walking. I'm told my knees swelled, and had to be drained. My mother used to say that someone, I am not sure who, dragged my little sick body around in a wagon. I'm assuming it was one of my older sisters, though I've never asked if any of them remember doing so. Had I been born a few years or a decade earlier, I probably would not have lived. Medicine -- specifically tetracycline -- kept the infection at bay.

I don't think they expected me to live. But live I did. I spent my childhood in Jennings, attending Catholic school and feeling ostracized because I "walked funny". An older sister shared my affliction; I don't know how she felt, but I always thought that people were staring. Boys did in fact follow me home wobbling and making loud, rude noises. Girls shunned me. I attended an all-girl Catholic high school, and suffered many indignities at the sniping mouths of girls who probably now wish they had been nicer.

The forty or so years since high school seem like a blur. College; a brief, surreal time in Boston; graduate school; lobbying in Jeff City; law school here; and a long, strange trip to this day. I sit at my computer, fresh off of twelve wonderful days in one of the most beautiful places in our nation -- Ludington, Michigan -- where I met many lovely people who welcomed me into their homes just on the strength of my smile and my affiliation with my husband and his sister. I walked in cool water, lounged on warm sand, ascended scores of steps to view Lake Michigan from atop one or the other look-out (inhaler at hand) and read novel after novel from the rocking chair on the screen porch of my sister-in-law's summer home, Maryland Cottage in Epworth Heights. I breathed. I slept. I contemplated few things more serious than whether to eat out or stay in.

Through the wonders of modern communication, a hundred people, most of whom are known to me in real time, have wished me returns of the day. My son phoned; my other son, my son-by-marriage, phoned; and message upon message arrived in my inbox. Rather than dreading the return to my desk, I am pleased to be here, opening mail, drinking coffee, sending replies of appreciation to those who have written with good wishes.

In two days, my father will have been gone for 21 years, almost my son's entire life. In eight months, my son will walk across the stage at DePauw University, exit, stage left, into his own independent life. In two years, I will be older than my mother was when cancer claimed her.

I have been searching for something pithy to share. What comes to mind are the words that Robert Graves put into Claudius' mouth:

Some say that I am half-witted. Well, that might be so. Why is it then, that I have survived to middle age with only half my wits, while thousands around me have died with all of theirs intact? Evidently, quality of wits is more important than quantity.

I'm off to have a quiet dinner with my husband. I thank each and everyone of you, again, for taking the time to send me birthday greetings. I cannot properly express how much it means to me, to be the subject of even a transient thought, let alone well-remembered. I am humbled.

Mugwumpishly yours,

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.