Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Musings, 22 December 2012

Good morning,

Christmas arrives early at my home this year.  Our daughter Cara and her adorable boyfriend Ben leave mid-day tomorrow for Omaha, where he now lives and where Cara will join his family for Christmas.  So our stockings have been hung by the chimney, with considerable care; and tomorrow our three children, Cara, Patrick and Mac; Cara's Ben; and my husband and I will nibble on  pastries while opening presents, three days early, but with no less exuberance than we might feel on the day itself.  Last evening we had a royal Christmas Eve feast, enjoyed in a home cleaned by our two sons while Jim traveled to Topeka and I tied various loose ends at the office.  Now the house sleeps; and I sit in my oak rocker, flanked by a stack of brightly-wrapped packages on my right and the soft glow of light from an old brass lamp, to the left.

I cannot sleep.  I envy my husband, who might awaken in the wee hours at times, lying awake, calculating, worrying, fretting over his business deals, but who falls asleep within seconds of his head resting on his pillow.  My brain races, my ears ring, my legs jump; I do not fall asleep easily.  But I have a warm home, and electronics to provide distractions, and wealth that's modest by any standard but sufficient to provide the salmon on which we dined last evening, so a little sleeplessness might be a small thing in an otherwise comfortable existence.

The week went well.  Magic flowed from my finger tips.  Every endeavor on which I toiled came to good result.  A trial averted with an excellent settlement; legal custody restored with a deft argument; payment tendered by clients whose bills I had forgotten; and even the accident which damaged our daughter's car to the lamentable, unexpected burden of six-hundred dollars could have been worse:  she suffered no injury, and was able to tell the story of steering her wobbly car to a repair shop  with bright eyes, an easy smile, and considerably more calm than I would have felt, had I been the one who had driven my car across a sheet of black ice, into a curb, in rush hour traffic.

Yesterday, my husband telephoned from his office at one end of the corridor in our professional suite, to mine.  Hesitatingly, he asked if I would join himself and a few business associates for dinner that evening.  A thousand chores could have distracted me.  I had not finished the Christmas shopping for our accelerated celebration.  I had risen early to make the drive to Clay County for a trial setting and then journeyed in haste back to Jackson County, where I tried the second day of a custody case in which my client had been unrepresented during the first day, an unenviable position for both of  us.  The cumulative effect of a rigorous schedule prompted me to consider refusing, but some wistful note in his voice stopped me.  I agreed to meet them, after I did a couple of Christmas-related errands on the Plaza.

I guided my Saturn into one of the 27 curb-side handicapped designated spaces that I bullied the city into allocating to Kansas City's little replica of Seville.  Cars edged past me as I struggled from the vehicle and maneuvered to the curb, where I joined a swirl of pedestrians juggling shopping bags and laughing toddlers, strolling from corner to corner in the chilly afternoon air.  I stood waiting for the light to change, watching a little gaggle of college students, the girls with their long, shining hair, the boys in close-fitting cable-knit sweaters, walking with entwined hands, bright-eyed, hopeful and happy.

At that moment, the face of my brother Stephen rose before me. Another Christmas, my first in Kansas City, when I had driven home to St. Louis for the holiday at the tag end of finals week.  Steve and I went to some huge mall together.   He seemed to have a huge lot of money, which he dolled out to every Salvation Army bell-ringer we passed.  He bought masses of presents for everyone in our family and coaxed me into letting him subsidize my own gift-buying.  He bought himself several pairs of cashmere socks.  It's going to be my birthday, after all, he gaily reminded me.  Our Christmas present in 1959, standing over six-feet 21 years later, wearing a brown wool jacket over crisp blue jeans, flirting with the sales clerks, opening doors for older ladies who beamed at his Irish eyes.

We strolled through the mall with our arms looped together, our parcels thumping against our legs, his deep chuckle endlessly sounding through the corridors, wafting to the ceilings, reflecting in the bright eyes of people we met.  They envied me; I saw it in their faces.  They couldn't help themselves.  They beheld his six-foot frame, his broad shoulders, his strong chin and clear blue eyes, and felt the vibrancy moving through him.

Lady, are you all right? The sound of a voice close to my ears brought me back to 2012, to the day before the world would not end, to the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, where I had stepped from the curb in a dream.  The face of my brother vanished in a wink, and I spared my savior a small, wan smile before continuing to the far side of the intersection.

I heard the bell ringer before I saw him.  His arm moved unceasingly up and down, the brass bell in his small brown hand clanging relentlessly, calling for charity, for contributions, for passers-by to dig down into the bottoms of their pocketbooks and change purses for coins to throw into the red bucket.  I met the man's brown eyes, set deep in his wrinkled face, as I slipped a handful of coins into the slot, listening for the clunk, trying to determine how generous others had been.  God bless you, he intoned, without letting the bell cease.  Thank you, I answered, with a bit more enthusiasm than I felt.  Then I asked him if he was cold.  I'm just fine, ma'am, he assured me.  I been just fine since ten o'clock this mornin', when I started ringing, and I'll be just fine til eight when my shift ends, and then I'll go home and  get me some soup.  Merry Christmas, God bless you, and he rang his bell, and spared smile after smile to the shoppers who pushed past me to drop their own coins into the familiar red bucket.

I moved beyond him, into the Barnes & Noble. A young boy held the door open for me.  The brightness of the place stung my eyes, where, to my surprise, tears had risen.  A terrible longing to see my brother's face overwhelmed me.  I wanted to sit next to him while he ate German Chocolate cake and lamented being born on Christmas so that he had to share his birthday with everyone else.  I yearned to dance with him, my small stumbling frame encircled in his guiding arms.  I longed to hear him call me Mare bear, to watch him stroll among the Christmas shoppers, to listen to his rambling accounts of whatever pursuits distracted him that day.  But I never will.  He will never age past 37; he is frozen in time, and I miss him terribly.

A couple of hours later, with warm food in my belly, I walked the two blocks from the restaurant back to Barnes & Noble.  The same bell ringer still summoned folks to his side.  He smiled as I negotiated around a group of children jostling each other for a chance to donate the pennies and nickels tendered by their parents.  You have a good night now, ma'am, the bell-ringer called out to me.  I do not know what he made of the sudden flow of tears down my cheeks.  He never stopped ringing his bell, nor dropped his broad smile, but he reached out his other hand and gently touched my arm.

In a few hours, this house will ring with the happy sounds of my family.  It is time to lay my ghosts to rest, and to sleep, though I am not sure if I can do either.  I do not  pretend to be Christian, nor to celebrate Christmas as anything other than an annual opportunity to choose gifts for those whose presence in my life makes every good thing better, and every bad thing easier to bear.  I have no quarrel with those for whom Christmas has a different significance.  For me, though, it is a time for remembering, a time for honoring, a time for cherishing, and a time for coming together.  Years ago, when my son Patrick was three or four, a heavy-set lady clad in a billowing coat bent down to chuck him under the chin.  Do you know whose birthday comes on Christmas, she asked him, in a shrill voice.  Yes, I do! he chortled.  It's Uncle Steve's birthday!

Ah, yes.  And so it is.  Happy birthday, Stephen Patrick Corley, wherever you are.  I hope you sit on the banks of a broad blue river, beneath the branches of a willow tree, peaceful and easy.

From the Holmes House, to your house, I send sincere wishes that everyone you love will journey safely to your side.  I bid you the best of times, the most joyous of days, filled with  love, and laughter.  Merry Christmas, and God bless us, each, and every one.

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.