Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday Musings: 08 December 2012

Good morning,

My body feels like a shirt pulled through the ringer of the old washer that stood in my mother's basement.  Those wrung-through shirts, pants and other laundry plopped into the waiting basket, lifeless and cold, coming to life only with the billowing wind that gently dried the wash hanging on the line in our backyard.  My coffee, crumpet and mandarin orange restore some semblance of life to my old bones.

Two hundred folks gathered in my professional suite last night for a Holiday Open House and Art Reception.  I say two hundred because two hundred names march in rows in the guest book, but I suspect a few souls snuck past without signing, so it could well have  been more.  I'm crowing:  the idea of having walls big enough to display fabulous art supplied by the VALA Gallery came from a conversation over coffee with Gallery founding artist Penny Thieme, my long-time friend and my son's god-aunt.  And that conversation, ultimately, flowed from twenty-five years of a friendship that stemmed from a thirty-year connection to my legal-assistant-slash-former-brother-in-law-slash-best-friend, Alan White.

I don't have a ton of long-time friends, but those whom I do have, enrich my life full-strength.

I started Friday with the nagging, chirping voices of NPR's Morning Edition at 5:00 a.m.  At 7:15, I parked my scrawny butt in a chair at You Say Tomato with a hobbit-style Second Breakfast, which I greedily gobbled while waiting for clients to arrive.  Arrive they did, and I had an opportunity to reiterate a few salient points before we headed to Juvenile Court for a hearing that I had tried to have scheduled on another day.  But Judge, my office Holiday Party is that day, I had whined, two months ago when she announced the selected setting.  What time is it starting, she snapped, and in response to being told 3:00 p.m., she promptly replied, I'm setting you at 9:00 and only giving you an hour, so you'll be done in time.  A metaphorical gavel pounded, and December 7th got even more crazy.

I'll say only that the hearing resulted in a favorable outcome, and I got to be the hero for a family that might some day regret my effectiveness.  I liken my lawyering in Juvenile Court to applying a swathe of plaster to the cracks in a concrete wall.  It holds until the next big rain.  Outside the courthouse, I scolded my client for the past transgressions that culminated in the demise of his first marriage, which inglorious ending prompted him to turn his back on three small children, leaving them in the constant care of his psychotic ex-wife.  Her failings brought them into the state's care, and now my client and his present wife strive to secure their release, home to a father who once abandoned them to the chaos of their mother's world. 

Every time I set foot in the halls of family justice, I say a prayer, sometimes audibly uttered, thanking the Powers That Be for limiting my inadequacies and the impact of my shortfall to tersely-toned visits to a teacher or two along the way.  My son matured into a decent soul despite my best efforts to derail him.  Thank God I never had to come here as a parent of a child in care, I told a friend once, and concurrence shone from her countenance.  Or as that child in care, she added.

I walked away from the chastened trio of my client, his wife, and mother, stepping into my car and journeying south where decorations waited to be hung.  I felt the age in the tightness of the muscles that barely hold my neck upright, and in the small of my back, where three disintegrated vertebrae maintain their feeble hold on integrity with the ironic assistance of a Tarlov cyst. I shrugged off fatigue; I drank cold water, and nibbled on a protein bar, casting my eyes from side to side, watching for stray buses and accelerating teens. 

A couple of hours later, two young ladies hired to bartend and serve arrived amidst the frenzy of preparations of my suite-mates and our receptionist.  These women, twenty-somethings, with radiant faces, came into my life on the heels of their mother's divorce.  I represented her and fought for custody, which we succeeded in maintaining despite the improbable testimony of the Guardian Ad Litem who argued that my client should not be considered a suitable custodian because as a stay-at-home mother, she had not made any effort to contribute to the support of her children.  She cited the first prong of the best interest test, which includes a mandate for the court to gauge "the willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child".  She argued that failure to maintain employment signaled the reverse -- an unwillingness, an incapability.

The judge disagreed.

Years later, two of the three children whose custody I won for their mother still matriculate in  my circle, especially the middle child, Laura, who graced the receptionist desk at the Corley Law Firm for many years.  As I watched them last night, pouring drinks to two hundred of our close personal friends, circulating trays of delectable goodies, bagging trash -- I realized that my life's tapestry glistens with gossamer threads that distract one's eye from the tattered edges.

Late in the evening, I collapsed in a chair in the lobby near the settee from which a cellist had played heavenly music through the event.  A guest sat in the chair next to mine, and we watched as a stalwart soul carried dissembled easels out to the Gallery owner's vehicle.  My companion mentioned that she would soon remarry, having found her soul mate late in life after a long marriage had ended disastrously.  But I don't think I will change my name to his, she opined.  He doesn't care, and I just think I want to have my own last name, the name with which I started.  That's how people think of her, she said.  That's how she thinks of herself.

I told her that having been married three times, I had not changed my surname for anyone.  She expressed surprise, asking if "Corley" was "my name".  I laughed, as did the easel-carrier.  Ask my first husband if I ever changed my name, I told her, and gestured.  She only used my name once, the man announced, with mock outrage.  When she filed for divorce!  Exit laughing, my first-ex-husband, Chester White, the best carpenter in Kansas City.

I don't like enemies.  For a cantankerous old soul, I'm surprisingly willing to keep the faces of my past around me -- the good ones, at least.  The ones who welcome your son to sleep on their floor when he and a buddy travel cross-country, despite the fact that you haven't seen their hostess for fifteen years nor written for five.  The ones who sit for three hours over coffee, laughing, crying, touching your hand, even though you hadn't so much as exchanged a phone call in forty years.  The ones who arrive with stepladders, and hammers, and carpenter nails; the ones who humor you and scallop the Christmas lights under the window sill; the ones who give deep discounts on gorgeous flowers; the ones who know where all the bodies are buried, especially the bodies over whom they cast the first shovel of dirt.

A friend recently turned a cold face and a stiff back in my direction, as far as I am able to discern for no reason other than that I bested her on opposite sides of the aisle in a case that should have been easy to settle.  I miss her.  I miss her warm smile, her deep throaty laugh, her haughty self-confidence, and her quirky humor.  The yard of my life's fabric from which her ruby thread unraveled has weakened without her.  The loss of her underscores the beauty of what remains, and its fragility.

I hear the Car Guys from the kitchen and realize that I slept too late, and tarried over-long.  I have several more hurdles to jump before I can spend a quiet evening with my husband.  I haven't consumed enough coffee to shake the languorous feeling of my long sojourn on the pillow, and I'm not sure we've many beans left in the canister.  That's as good an excuse as any for throwing on jeans, and driving to my favorite coffee shop, One More Cup, where a Nutty Girl sandwich no doubt bears my name.

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.