Friday, December 27, 2013

Saturday Musings, 28 December 2013

My friends,

I write this late Friday night, hoping it will greet you with your first cup of coffee or tea on Saturday morning. I have settled myself, quiet now, after a pre-birthday-party birthday party for my dearest friend Penny Thieme, she of the silver hair and the shining smile. Her original birthday party has been rescheduled due to weather and many of us cannot make the new date, so we gathered this evening, on her "real" birthday, to insure that she knows we love her. Now I am weary, but feeling content. Tomorrow, the family with whom my son and I socialized all through his childhood will come for their usual Christmas celebration with us. My heart lies with these people, these friends, these dear souls who cradle my heart and watch my back.

In addition to being Penny's 50th, today would have been my father's 91st. The feast of St. Stephen, two days after Christmas. When I think of my father, I think of forgiveness. I traded comments with a friend online yesterday, about the pain and passion we meld with our writing. "I have to censor my blog," I remarked. "One or two of my siblings sometimes read it, and I can't say too much about my childhood or my father." I watched the dialogue window, waiting for her reply. A minute or two ticked past, and finally her words appeared on the screen. "I understand," she said. A sense of connection flowed through me, a flood of unbridled joy. 

But now I think of the events that never make it to the page, and I see my father's face, always in profile. He sits in the recliner in my parents' living room, in a short-sleeved shirt with a crossword puzzle in his hands. His head tilts slightly; the paper trembles; he carefully marks a row of letters and pushes his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. I sit on the couch and watch his efforts. He seems unaware of my presence, even though I am just a half dozen feet away.  

My mother comes into the living room with a cup of coffee and sits in her chair, which flanks the table next to my father. I have come for Sunday dinner, in my second semester of college. Only the two youngest children still live here but they ate in sullen, teenage silence and have slipped off to their room. 

In a few minutes, I will have to go back to school, to the dorm room that my boss in the financial aids office pulled rank to get me, last September, when I quarrelled with my mother and she told me not to come home. Now we have an uneasy peace between us. She will run me back to the city, and we will speak, quietly, without rancor, for most of the trip.

My father finishes the puzzle and lays the paper on his little table. He crosses his legs, and suddenly looks at me. A ripple of tension flows between us. My mother is knitting but lets the piece drop to her lap. I hold my hands still and my shoulders straight. My father opens his mouth and tells me that he is proud of me. My blue eyes meet his; and I feel a kind of flutter in my chest that I cannot explain. My mother takes up her knitting again and the three of us sit for a while, with only the sound of the six o'clock news breaking the silence.

On the way back to school, my mother touches my arm. "He really is proud of you," she tells me. "And I am too." I face forward in the car, thinking about the time I refused to let my father take me to a Father-Daughter dance. When he asked if he could, if I wanted him to, I look at him with astonishment. "Why on earth would I do that?" I gasped, turning away oblivious to the cost he might pay for my candor. In the car, driving down Kingshighway Boulevard, the rush of evening traffic surrounding us, I tell this story to my mother. "What I don't understand," I say, with a hollow voice, "is why he thinks it matters whether he's proud of us, after everything he put us through." We lapse back into silence as the siren of a passing squad car slices the brittle cold of the winter air.

Someone to whom I am close recently admitted to me that she'd had difficulties in her childhood. A raging, alcoholic mother. "But nothing as bad as what your dad did," she quickly added. I assured her that there was no competition, that the degree of chaos in my childhood had no bearing on how difficult it might be for her to move past her own pain. She asked me if I had forgiven my father for the abuse he levied on my mother, my siblings and me. I did not hesitate in my answer: "Yes," I told her. "I look at it this way: My mother forgave him, and she suffered much more than I did. How could I do any less?" She stared beyond me. "I never forgave my mother," she whispered. "She never asked me to." She turned and walked away, the tension of her unforgiving heart riding the rigid muscles of her shoulders. I pitied her.

The pages of another calendar will drift to the forest floor around us, just four short days from now. I'm gathering my intentions, and sharpening my pencil, to make my list of promises. When the fireworks flare, and the crackle of the firearms sound in the night, I will be ready to embrace my resolve.

Happy New Year to all, from your devoted Mugwump,

Corinne Corley

Friday, December 20, 2013

Saturday Musings, 21 December 2013

Good morning,

I pulled into a space in a crowded parking lot, late Friday afternoon, a handful of days before Christmas. Cars passed as I slid out from behind the wheel, one hand on my cell phone, the other securing my keys. "Do you need anything from Target?" I texted to my son, and the reply came: "Oatmeal?" I stopped, oblivious to the traffic, and without so much as a moment to stop the flood of memory, I sank into 1970.

I stand in the hallway of my parents' home. The hubbub of Christmas surrounds me; my little brothers chattering about the prospect of snow, the rustle of wrapping paper, the gentle thud of a glass ornament hitting the carpeted floor. Tears rise to my face. Everything triggers the relentless flow of emotion: My father's words, sharp in tone but slurred from alcohol; the taunt of the neighborhood boys following me down the roadway home from school; the backwards glance of unthinking teenage girls; the casual flick of a dismissive hand in my direction. My body surges with the new unbidden flush of hormones, and the old, frayed edges of everything that has gone before.

I see my mother's face; heavy lines cross her forehead and a shadow lies under her half-closed eyes. "What's wrong, Mom," I ask, and she raises her head, leaning in my direction. "Nothing, nothing, just tired," she replies, in a paper-thin voice, and moves away, towards her room in the back of the house. I briefly stand absolutely motionless, then go into my own room and close the door.

I pull a box of presents from under my bed. I've spent all of my babysitting money to buy something for everyone. At a dollar an hour, eight hours a day, six days a week, for most of the year, I earned enough to do my own shopping for the first time. I ease each item from the box and organize them side by side on the quilt. I brush my fingers across the soft scarf for my mother and trail them down the side of a box holding notecards for one of my sisters. I lift each one onto a swatch of paper covered with glistening stars. When they have all been wrapped, I nestle them back into the storage box and under the bed where they will stay until Christmas Eve. I lie on the bed beside the window, and stare into the night at the silent snow falling on our yard.

On Christmas morning, a jubilant din surrounds me, but I exist inside a thick wall which muffles my family's joyful noises. I look at the small stack of presents by my feet. I wait while the little boys tear through their haul, then start to open my gifts while my mother hovers a few feet away, an unchecked gleam in her eyes.  

One package stands out. It's a cylinder, about eleven inches tall and five inches in diameter. 
I glance at my mother but her face reveals nothing. I cannot tell what might be in this tube. I know the one thing that I want: a pretty blouse. One that will make me look like a young lady and not a little girl; with buttons, and a collar, and some delicate decoration. Other than school uniforms, underwear, and the pajamas our grandmother gave us each year, I had never, to that point, owned a single piece of clothing purchased brand-new just for me. But blouses do not come in tubes. Hope fades.

I ease the paper from it and see what I've got. "Quaker Oats". I draw in a quick sharp breath. 
Is this a joke? I hate oatmeal and everyone knows it. I meet my mother's eyes and she raises her brows. Oatmeal? I hate oatmeal! I feel the tears begin to rise. I touch the edge of the lid, and slowly pull the long peel of Scotch tape away. My mother watches me as I gingerly lift the lid. The last thing I want is a shower of Quaker oats spread across my long flannel nightgown.

But there are no oats in the box. I pull on the tissue in the cardboard tube and unfurl the most beautiful garment that I've ever seen. I raise the loosely coiled blouse and gently shake it, letting the soft edges fall. I have no words; I cannot breathe. I am fifteen. In my battered wooden dresser lies folded piles of hand-me-downs; my father calls me his Secondhand Rose after the Streisand song. I caress the silk. I throw my arms around my mother and we laugh about her joke. Oatmeal! I forgive her. I wear the blouse to church and cannot stop myself from fingering the tiny pattern embroidered in its cuffs. I feel divine.

A few weeks later, our furnace fails. Every inch of the house holds gleams of oil, black grime in thick unbearable sheets. We stand outside in the cold of a January night while a gruff man in denim overalls sees to the safety issues that the aging oil-powered heater poses. We look absurd, a dejected, straggling lot shivering on the sidewalk in front of our house in filthy clothing. The next day my mother dumps everything we own into the bathtub and runs the water for hours, ringing each garment out again and again, sending swells of dark water down the drain. Some things cannot be saved. My beautiful blouse has been ruined. Grey and stained, it lies among the casualties in a sodden heap on the bathroom floor.

Friday night, amid the throngs of gleeful shoppers, I filled my cart with contributions to the surprise for a family that my friends at the VALA Gallery and I have adopted this Christmas. The girls, Jasmine, age 9 and Lily, who is 2, each get a complete outfit, jackets with hoods, cute little blue jeans, and colorful tops. The 9-year-old's shirt bears a colorful unicorn, scrawled beneath which are the words "Peace" and "Love" in rainbow glitter. I pressed it against my cheeks, feeling the unbearable softness of the fabric, breathing its newness, before wrapping it. There's no adequate gift I can give their son, who sleeps in the neonatal intensive care unit, born four months too early, still only weighing a bit over two pounds. Nor can I ease his mother's fears. I don't know how much what we're able to do will help; but none of us can stand idle while they grieve and worry. 

When each gift had been wrapped and tagged, I stacked them in a new laundry basket, tucked a gift card into an envelope with the parents' names on it, and added some chocolate foil-wrapped Santas. Before going upstairs for the evening, I stood for a few minutes in the living room, next to our Christmas tree with its twinkling lights. I touched the wooden star with my name and the year of my birth which hangs beside the St. Lucia ornament. The sound of the wind rose outside, and in its wake, I heard the echo of my mother's low, husky laugh. 

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Musings, 14 December 2013

Good morning,

I have survived another Friday the 13th.  I even tempted fate, changing some Saturday morning plans to yesterday, thinking to avoid the vicious weather we expected but, it seems, have not gotten.  I fooled around the office all day, doing small things and not very well; and then mingled with scores of cheerful faces at an annual Christmas party that my husband and I attend.  Home; warmth; one young man back from college and full of stories, the other off at work.  Murmurings of television through the house; on my tablet, messages and letters from friends, then a book I have been slowly reading, a few percentages each night, to help me find a better way to communicate.  Friday, Brookside, quiet comfort.

This morning I awakened to find an article in the Kansas City Star about a pervasive pain syndrome plaguing teenage girls, the symptoms of which sound shockingly like one entire set of problems that I've had my whole life. My earliest memories are of sitting upside down on the couch telling my mother that I have to sit that way, it's the only way that doesn't hurt.  I might have been four.  I read bits of the article to my husband, then let the pages of the paper fall to the table, my mind lost in years past.  But not lost in the pain.  Rather, lost in the lengths to which my mother and sister Adrienne would go to help me deal with that pain.  Their instinctive actions, their stumbling through the dark morass of my childhood without guidance, sounds just like the therapies described in the article.

Maybe I just stopped too soon.  My neurologist at Children's Hospital in St. Louis prescribed Darvon and Valium when I started high school, and I went down the path of painkillers, a crooked road with jagged stones embedded along the smooth pavement, with gnarly roots and crevices too terrible to avoid.  I managed the journey, though not without a few turned ankles and skinned knees. Decades later, I see my self, my younger self, my current self, between the lines of the article and wonder, is there still hope?

I glance through the e-mails waiting in this morning's inbox.  On my lawyer's listserve, which I have rejoined, a debate has arisen about political discussion, the very bogeyman which drove me off the list earlier this year.  One poster pleads for civility in discourse, for abandonment of hostilities, for pursuit of pleasantries.  She's bothered by the press of time. She cites the pain of loss, the pressures of the passing days, as inspiration for a call to camaraderie. A rapid rejoinder signals a decline to heed her request, and the debates roll on. I feel what she feels: The painful sight of the empty chair, the abandoned instrument with silent strings, the book with its page marker that never again will advance. The fullness of time. The squandering of our most precious commodity.

My memories flail around me. They vie to leap to the page, clamoring to be the tale told to illustrate my idle musing. They overwhelm me. A life well-lived has a plethora of stories. Some amuse. Some instruct. Some reveal. I know what I want to say but I cannot join its telling to one triggering event today. I count on every leaf to make the tree.

Like the children in today's story, I find myself plagued by the merest touch. Fingertips on my skin send shocks through my body. A caress meant to soothe raises fire upon my flesh. So, too, do the soothing words, the conciliatory cluckings, threaten my composure. Like the reader who sees the call to civility as a threat to freedom: I wrap my independence around me and close my heart.

But in this moment, I raise my hand, with its tight, contracting fingers, and stretch the tips toward the keyboard. I flex the taught tendons and stare at the result: My reaching hand. What lies beyond its short traverse, I cannot say. Fire, perhaps. A shocking slap. Like my conciliatory colleague, who calls for peace because she's seen the passing days slashed from a calendar by the fury of rage and the silence of an unforgiving heart, I choose to raise my hand, risking rejection, but knowing that the risking is its own reward.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Saturday Musings, 07 December 2013

Good morning,

Today the world remembers a catastrophic and mesmerizing event. The radio announcement resonates in the hearts and minds of Americans.  Even those of us not then born can hear that strong, clear voice: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." That date changed the lives of an entire nation. The attack on Pearl Harbor set forces in motion which would leave our country indelibly marked, from the haunting reminder of empty chairs at dinner tables to the abiding ache in the hearts of men who marched the Burma trail. War knew no color, no class, no condemnation of character. Anyone in uniform could be killed; and across the fields of France, Holland, Denmark and Poland; on the shores of Hawaii and the cities of Japan, war did not distinguish between soldier and citizen. Sixty million dead; forty million of those being civilians. The impact is palpable, measurable and everlasting.

But war does not stand alone in the ranks of devastating furies. Other forces, equally insidious but often amorphous and unseen, tear the fabric of humanity. And when I heard the news on December 05th, the day before the feast of Saint Nicholas and two days before the seventy-second anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, news of the passing of Nelson Mandela unexpectedly reminded me of the first time I encountered one of those forces.

1969. December. Corpus Christi High School, Jennings, Missouri. In homeroom, each girl received an envelope marked SECRET SANTA. I opened mine with trembling fingers. At fourteen, I remained remarkably naive. I still felt that unfettered friendship could exist; I resisted the lessons I had already been taught -- rejected the pain of standing around a corner, listening to the catty talk of mean girls. I slid out of the envelope the slip of paper on which appeared the name of the student on whom I was assigned to bestow little gifts and notes for the next two weeks, culminating in the exchange of Christmas presents. I would be her Secret Santa and somewhere in the school, someone got my name in their envelope and would serve as mine. I looked at the name. Vivian Wilson. I did not know her, but the slip described her as "Freshman" and gave her locker number. An unbidden smile rose to my face. I wanted nothing more deeply than to have friends at that place; to find people who might accept me regardless of my strange walk, regardless of my unnatural slimness and the two long, thick braids dangling from beside my ears. Perhaps "Vivian Wilson" would be such a person.

At lunch-time, I took my tray of disgusting cafeteria food to a table near the window where the dirty dishes later would be stacked. I had already humiliated myself too many times by trying to traverse the length of the cafeteria, stumbling, sending heavy plates and silverware clattering to the floor. I set my tray down, then sat on one end, far from the chummy groups of noisy females whose casual air I envied but could never imitate. I slowly ate; I rarely finished what the ladies served me, but I could nibble around the edges of sandwiches, celery, and odd piles of rice mixed with unidentifiable meat.

A few girls passed my table without glancing at me, but finally one sat, with her own tray of mess, and opened fire with a question about Secret Santa. "Who did you get," she asked. A sophomore, she was, and wise in the ways of the world. An eager little glimmer of hope rose within me. I pulled the slip out from the pocket of my uniform jacket, and offered it across the table to her. She gripped it between strong fingers, the fingers of a volleyball player, fingers that knew how to flip hair with a curling iron and roll the waistband of a uniform skirt to whisk its hem above sleekly shaven knees. Her keen eyes read the typed text. "Oh man, you got a ------------ ", and she uttered a word I cannot to this day, four decades later, abide hearing and which I will not even type as a single letter followed by asterisks.

I snatched back my paper. I shoved it back into my pocket, and stood. I had never before heard the term she used and did not even know what it meant. I would not find out until late that night, when my mother discovered me lying on my bed sobbing, unsure, uncertain, unwilling to ask. She told me though; and told me, too, what she thought of someone who would describe people using such horrible terms, a term which referenced skin-color, something as immutable as the color of one's eyes or hair, or the smattering of freckles across a little Irish lass's nose.

But there, in that moment, in the cafeteria, though I did not know what the word meant I recognized the disdain with which it had been uttered, and people's disdain for somebody just a little different from them had haunted me for all of my fourteen years.

"I don't care," I snapped. "I'm gonna be the best Secret Santa this school has ever known." And I picked up my tray, turned, and trounced away. I had never before found the strength to put bounce in my step but that day I did. I could not know, never knew, whether my skirt swayed with that sauce I'd seen other girls manage but I felt it: the unquenchable power of passion and determination.

My mother helped me understand. And she helped me, too, fulfill my promise. I rose to the Secret Santa challenge with gaily decorated cards, and little packets of candy, and streamers of red and green crepe paper carefully curled with an open pair of scissors, furling down the front of Vivian Wilson's locker, proclaiming that her Secret Santa had visited. On the last day, when everyone's Saint Nicholas brought a gift, mine exceeded the dollar limit with the aid of a smashed piggy bank and my willingness to sacrifice one of my Christmas presents to get a contribution from my mother's careful budget. I met Vivian Wilson for the first time that day, the last day before Christmas Break. The glowing look on her face more than compensated for the fact that my own Secret Santa had done absolutely nothing for me and never appeared in the whole of the Christmas party. For all I know, my Secret Santa was the sophomore who tried to shatter my happiness by throwing a rotten tomato as I stood on the stage, ready to recite my first line.

I hear my husband's tread on our stairs and turn to kiss him goodbye. He's made toast for me, and in return, I give him one of my portable packets of breakfast bars. "It's cold outside," he tells me. "Then wear a coat," I say, and off he goes, to tennis, while I am office-bound. I will sort exhibits, and prepare my cross-examination, and organize my trial box. The sky rises above our home, clear, blue and bright. The world is safe, safe for something, safe from something, and made safe by the negotiations of diplomats, the dreams of those who would be jailed for their beliefs in equality, and the bravery of those in uniform. December 7, 1941: A date that will live in infamy. But not just infamy: also, in fame, in flame, in fury and in foxholes; in history, in hearts, and in heavy shoulders, sagging at the sight of tension on the faces of the bearer of bad news. A face like yours and mine, a face which can be any color, any age, any gender. A human face.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday Musings, 30 November 2013

Good morning,

The collected faces around two tables this week shone with happiness, though some bore the tinge of a first Thanksgiving without a certain smile newly taken from us.  I sat in a guest's spot at both tables, struggling to make sense of the rising swirl of emotions within my breast.  At one table, the customs stemmed from the family into which I married, matching none of mine but having their own sweetness.  At the second table, the gathering had the familiarity born of longevity, two families melded who have been breaking bread together for many years, and the ritual incorporated the sharing of "thankful-fors" which the hostess learned in my home.  At one, we sat on formal Italian furniture, heavy, beautiful and carved; at the other, several folks snuggled onto closely-packed folding chairs and a few place settings did not match.  Both gatherings flowed with love, with hope, and with laughter.  And in the midst on both days sat I, remembering.

I am walking down a street that could be anywhere, down  a hill flanked by tall bare trees, spindly soldiers on a winding path.   I wear a green Army jacket, a thin flannel shirt, and blue jeans folded at the cuff.  My feet shuffle in their heavy, tied shoes.  Beside me, my mother strolls without effort, bundled into something warm.  We have walked farther than we planned but she does not feel the strain as I do so I trudge on, unwilling to admit that I am tired.

We've left the car parked outside the small restaurant at which we have had lunch and now are walking toward a small park, a little patch of ground on which there is a bench.  We're walking off the pie we have eaten after our soup and sandwich.  The bite of early winter wind spurs us onward.  We do not speak. My silence stems from the strain I feel, the breathlessness that walking triggers.  I glance at my mother.  Her face, in profile, seems sorrowful.

We reach the little patch of winter ground and sit, side by side, on the wooden bench with its peeling paint.  A small building nearby houses the town hall but looks to be mostly a museum.  We see no one.  We can hear the occasional car on one of the two main roads in this small Illinois town.  A few blocks south of us the river gently flows.

"Just a few days to Thanksgiving," my mother finally says.  I nod.  The counter at my childhood home has heaps of fixings on it.  I'm visiting; I don't live there; but at that moment it is home.  I'll knead the dough for clover-leaf rolls; I'll stretch the pie crust under her direction.  The house will smell like ginger and nutmeg.

A chipmunk skitters across the cold ground.  My mother's hands rest in her lap.  Our shoulders touch and neither of us flinch.  We settle onto the bench, my mother, my college-girl self, and all the memories that each of us have.  Time drifts by and no words escape either of us.

My mother unfolds her worn, small, brown-spotted hands and places one finger on my open palm.  Side by side our hands could be from different worlds.  I have my father's Irish skin and she has her own father's Lebanese hue.  Her nails have been clipped  short; mine are filed into a small half-moon and have been brushed with clear, shiny polish.  The liver spots on my mother's hands have grown with time; I bear  only one small birthmark in the shape of a heart, and two tiny scars from a childhood injury.  Yet we sit, my mother and I, her hand touching mine, with the chilly breeze of an Illinois autumn tossing the bare branches of the elms around us, and I am flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood, bone of her bone.

"What are you going to be thankful-for?" I have asked her this question every year, ahead of the moment when we're to share that confidence.  Every year she has given me the same half-serious answer:  She's thankful for me, she's said: in a dozen ways, a half-dozen more, phrased differently each time depending on my age.  I wait; I know she will say it again, as she has said it every year.  And then on Thanksgiving Day, when she goes last because that is how we do it, she beams around the table and includes everyone.  But in this preview, she confesses that I am her favorite and she is thankful for me.  I wait.  I know she will say it.

She shifts on the bench and removes her hand from mine.  A truck lumbers past making a heavy noise that washes over the little park and then subsides as the vehicle crests the hill down which my mother and I walked.  The same chipmunk dashes down the tree on which it has been sitting and hurries to another for no apparent reason.  My mother stands.  "Let's go," she finally says.  "We need to get back.  I need to start on the fruit pies."

I stand; we trudge back up the hill and my mother drives us home.  Small talk fills the car; the order of guests at the table, whether I have time to help her iron the linens.  All the way home, I wonder if my mother consciously chose not to answer me, not to assure me that she is still most thankful for me, her baby girl, her kitchen helper, her companion on Saturday excursions.  We're almost to McLaran Avenue where our house sits at the bottom of a T-intersection in a quiet neighborhood, when a flood of wonder overtakes me, and I realize, for the first time, that I am no longer a child.

Mozart plays in the living room here, in this house, this bungalow, which I share with my husband who sits on the couch reading the Wall Street Journal.  Outside the window, I see tender fading leaves of the Japanese maple and beyond that, towering over my car, the long leafless branches of a maple tree.  Winter has come to Kansas City.   I take another sip of the  coffee which my husband has poured for me, and then, for no reason, I smile.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mugwump Musings: Thanksgiving Week 2013


For the last five years, I've been sending a post every Saturday morning with thoughts about my life, past events, and the world around me.  I started doing this as a therapeutic venture.  My second marriage had just limped to a halt; my son had boarded a plane for Mexico and would return two inches taller with curly hair and a deep tan; and I had a whole summer to myself.  Writing served the same role for me that a weekly counseling session might provide, with the added impact of a virtual audience.

At that time, my captive readers consisted of the Solo and Small Firm Internet Group of the Missouri Bar.  This group, among whose members I have found deep and lasting friendships, actively dialogues about the same things which draw me:  Life, the practice of law, and all things intriguing, inspiring or interesting.  Eventually, I added a "BCC" list, on which you all appear -- although my current technology does not allow me to move your addresses from the "to" field to the "bcc" field.  Those in the "copy" list comprise my family:  By birth and by choice.  Later still, I found my way to a blogspot site, and the link for the blogspot goes to social media each week.

After last year's election cycle, I left the lawyers' internet group where this post had its birth.  I found myself unable to tolerate the nastiness that had besieged that group during the challenges of the 2012 elections and the aftermath involving the Affordable Care Act.  As a known liberal-thinker, I suffered personal attacks on that list which detracted from my enjoyment of it.  Any time I tried to voice an opinion in phrasing that did not rise to the level of a "personal rebuttal", the stinging rebukes from list-members cost me another quality day.  In short, I left the sandbox because I could not manage the little kids throwing pebbles at me, and I found a greater joy outside that group, even with all of its virtues and benefits, than I did inside it.

But the musings did not die with my membership in SFIG.  As a writer, I found the essay form to be an immensely appealing vehicle.  I started a writers' workshop which, though currently on hiatus, had a couple of successful cycles.  I realized that in leaving "writing" behind as a profession thirty-five years ago, I abandoned an important aspect of my self.

I told  that self, and my friends, that 2013 would be the year in which I published a collection of my essays.  My friend Penny Thieme, who is a photographer,  painter,  multi-media artist, and founder / director of the VALA Gallery, encourages me in this effort.  She tells me that I am a literary artist. I dismiss her characterization; but she smiles, and does not abandon me.

But 2013 had other ideas.  I broke my hand; I had surgery; my mother-in-law declined and then died; I dislocated my hip; I broke a rib; my heart started beating wildly and my asthma careened out of control.  My practice survived but my writing suffered.  And here I am:  About to give thanks for getting through another year, for the people and places I have seen and loved; for the times my son's little Kia pulled into the driveway safely from yet another trip; for my husband who stands beside me despite the challenges being married to me poses; and for my family, by birth and by choice, without whom I could not do any of  this.  They know who they are.  They smile, right now, reading this, because they know how indispensable to me they have become.

So.  I plan to be on the road to St. Louis this Saturday, where I'll try to see a few of my blood-family, and maybe a friend or two.  My brother Stephen's daughters; my sister Joyce; my brother Frank; maybe a bunch of nieces and nephews in the Frank and Mark tribes. Maybe just one or two of those on my list.  I won't be posting a musing this week, so this is my musing for you, for each and all of you.

Walk out on your porch, your balcony, your stoop, and look around you. Breathe the air that wafts towards you, and feel the rays of sun upon your face.  Close your eyes.  Listen for the voices of those whom you love.  If the air does not shimmer with the casual conversation of someone whom you can call toward you, then step out onto the sidewalk, and put your best foot forward. Don't stop until you come to the presence of someone who greets you with a smile.  When you have that person in sight, embrace them.

And never let them go.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Saturday Musings, 16 November 2013

Good evening,

It's not morning, I know; but  it's still Saturday, and I'm still musing.  I hear the wind howling outside this secluded bedroom, my cabin-in-the-sky at the top of our airplane bungalow in Brookside.  Faint sounds of the television drift through the open door of the stairwell.  My tinnitus shimmers.  Somewhere beyond my hearing, Saturday night plays out on the roadways of Kansas City, only dimly invading my sanctuary.

I've had the pleasure of seeing the inside of yet another Kansas City emergency room.  Another trial odyssey:  Clay County; Division 5; Lunch break over, the judge back on the bench, my client quietly standing near our side of the courtroom, my opposing counsel settled in her chair, leafing through her flawless trial book.  I feel a familiar reeling, one I had thought I left behind me a decade ago, and I realize that I will not be able to continue.  An hour later, I sit in a triage unit, telling an unfamiliar scrub-clad nurse a long tale about abnormal bodies which behave -- well, abnormally.

When you present in an Emeregency Department with pain in the chest and a history of arrythmia, you've bought yourself an overnight stay.  There in the northland, the hospital of choice for cardiac events sits on a wide expanse of land just east of the I-35 loop towards downtown.  North Kansas City Hospital boasts a tall pavillion, single-patient rooms, and the ability to deal with any cardiac crisis you can manifest.

For me, the twenty-four hours resolved itself with some medication adjustment and a new asthma management plan.  For the Code Blue that I heard while waiting for my room, the outcome was apparently grim.  I inquired, as I knew the room to which the team had been paged lay just a corridor away from the one into which I had been admitted.  Eyes averted, the doctor merely murmured, "Up here, Code Blues almost never turn out well."  I let it go.  The pain of failure can rarely be shared.

Though my symptoms had not quite vanished, they sprang me shortly after lunch.  I drove my Saturn south to Brookside, where a couple of pharmacy folks spent nearly an hour trying to locate the right medication, then finally called back to the hospital to get further guidance when it turned out to be impossible to find.  It seems I am too small for the most common pre-loaded syringe of a certain bloodthinner.  Just my luck:  I knock myself out to stay thin, only to find that I've placed myself in one more abnormal category.  Ah, well; just remember, you made it out, you did not Code Blue.

My husband, who has lounged patiently, scrolling through his e-mail, beside many a hospital bed in the four years he has known me, took me to our favorite El Salvadorean restaurant for dinner.  We greeted friends who had just finished eating, and traded stories about our grown children until they slid off their counter stools and went back into the warm November night.  Then we ate pupusas, and yuca frita, and the luscious, carmelized fried  plaintains which always snare me.  And the wind blew; and the full moon shone overhead; and when we had eaten our fill, we came back home, where no machines beep in the night, and no team of doctors races toward  the sound of sorrow while the rest of us sleep, unaware.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday Musings, 09 November 2013

Good morning,

Four or five begonias crashed to the floor of our deck in the night.  When I step onto the porch to snag the newspaper, I see them.  I glance about, wondering if the wind has done this, or if our black cat decided to protest my late slumbering.  It's seven a.m. and he would have been outside at six, waiting for breakfast.

I unfurl the newspaper and see that jobs numbers give more hope of a recovering economy, two of the local sports teams won, and a noted post-release offender activist has written apology letters for his own recidivism.  It's fall, it's 2013, and the world shows signs of aging.

Deeper into the paper, I see reviews of a Flannery Connor book, and, smaller, down at the bottom of a human interest page, a call for photos of things for which we are thankful.  I set my coffee down, and my mind drifts.

My mother stands in the kitchen, an apron tied around her waist to protect her good dress.  Enticing smells drift from the oven and rise from platters on the counter, covered with clean towels, waiting to be carried to the table.  I'm eight, I'm nine, I'm twelve: It wouldn't matter, it happens every year.  This year, this year of my memory, I am still in single digits but old enough to be my mother's sous chef.

"It's time to take the turkey out," she prompts.  I cover my hands with thick oven mitts and clumsily pull open the oven door.  The foil tent protects the glistening, thick skin, which browned so beautifully it's almost painful to see.  My mother smiles; she expects no less, but still, seems smug, satisfied.  I can't lift the bird without help, and together, we raise the heavy roasting pan and set it on the stovetop, next to the cast iron pan in which she'll make the gravy.

"What's your thankful-for?" I ask the question unexpectedly, and my mother frowns.  It's a ritual; we go round the table, youngest to oldest, and everybody says their thankful-for.  You're not allowed to be silly, or grateful for turkey legs.  It has to be something solid, like straight A's or getting a job.  I know you aren't supposed to ask ahead of time, but my mother doesn't scold me.

She straightens up, and leans against the counter.  A look descends on her fact that I don't understand.  I regret asking the question.  A minute passes, then two, then more.  I don't know how long we stand there.  I shift from foot to foot and wonder if I can reach over the refrigerator, take down the clock, and turn back the hands of time.  I think my mother's life flickers across her face.  I hear the sound of the television from the living room and my brothers' voices from the back of the house.  The fragrance of the turkey rises around us.  My stomach churns.

The darkness eventually recedes.  My mother opens her eyes and gives her head a little shake.  She looks down at me, at my braids tightly pinned in a circle on my head; at my little dress; at my shiny patent leather shoes.  "Why, I'm grateful to have such a good helper in the kitchen," she says, and I flush.  "And now it's time to put the rolls in the oven," my mother continues, turning her body away from me.  I catch a glimpse of something wet on her face and tell myself that she is not crying.

In three weeks, my family-by-marriage will serve itself buffet style from my father-in-law's counter.  We'll group around the heavy table, and someone will slip into the chair where my mother-in-law Joanna would sit, if Joanna had not left us a month ago.  Grace will be said, a strange grace to me, one which requires those gathered to hold hands.  One of the men will invoke the name of their Lord, and we will ask for divine guidance, and protection for those who cannot be with us except, of course, for those who've gone close enough to divine radiance not to need our intervention.  I will think about my mother, and the sadness which crossed her face, five decades ago, in a house in Jennings, where there was so much to lament but now and then, a few things for which to give thanks.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Saturday Musings, 02 November 2013

Good morning,

On Halloween, I sat on the bed listening to the radio program, "Q".  The Indiana cadences of the guest, half twang, half drawl, filled the room as he spoke of his cat, an Internet sensation earnestly described by her human companion as the cutest cat on the entire planet.  I ran a search and found the cat's website: LIL BUB, it read, and over a picture of this unusual being, inch-high letters announced the release of the cat's first book.  I chortled with unabashed glee, wondering if I might be the last occupant of Earth to make this delightful creature's acquaintance.  The interviewer expressed dismay at not being able to see LIL BUB in person -- so to speak -- being many miles to the north; but LIL BUB apparently had not even traveled as far as the Bloomington, Indiana radio station in which her story unfolded for those of us in radio land.  I did not even try to suppress my smile.

The room fades; and I find myself in Jennings, called by another voice over another wire.  "Can you come down and distract the cat?" I hold the phone's receiver to my ear and listen with some incredulity.  My older brother speaks.  He's gone to our sister's apartment to tend to her plants and her critter while she vacations in New Orleans.  Now he beseeches me to drop my preoccupations and join him, insisting that he cannot leave the apartment.  I hang up and call my mother into the room.  "Adrienne's cat has Kevin cornered," I tell her.   "He wants us to come rescue him."  Neither of us find the situation amusing.

Adrienne calls the cat "Ebonique" but we prefer "Killer".   Its normal noises evoke thoughts of dark alleys and moonless nights.  With Killer in residence, Adrienne has no need of a burglar alarm or a bedside weapon; Killer would not hesitate to sink her teeth into a jugular vein or her claws down the length of an unsuspecting intruder's arm.  She hates everyone but Adrienne and makes no pretense about her feelings.

We drive to South St. Louis and park on my sister's block.  We trudge two flights upward, and stand outside the apartment door, hesitating, straining to hear Kevin's voice or the cat's hissing.  My mother turns the knob; the door gives way; and as it swings open, I place my hand on my mother's shoulder, restraining her.  An open door frightens me, though I cannot say why.

She shrugs me off.  "It's a cat," she says, as though that proves something.  "Why is the door open?" I ask. She shakes her head, a gesture that could mean anything from "my children have all gone nuts" to "I've got no time for this nonsense".  She takes a step into the room and I follow, slightly sheepish, mostly frightened.  We get only as far as the small foyer before we hear the low unrelenting growl of the angry creature.

She's tethered.  My father had rigged a thin chain to a block of wood and the cat had been hooked to it.  Still, she crouches low and her back is arched, and she's stretched her bonds far enough to block my brother's exit.  He's cornered, all right; between the bookcase and the bathroom, looking disgruntled and crouched on the floor.

My mother has begun to shake.  I cannot immediately tell if she's laughing or crying; but my brother's expression prompts me to nudge her.  "Mom, come on, you're making things worse," I whisper, and move closer to the angry beast.  Now she's seen me, and a shudder ripples through her taught muscles.  She's torn between her cowering prey and my creeping form.  She darts a glare towards me and swipes the air with her paw, but her attention has wavered and my brother makes a break for it, clearing the arc of her reach and falling through the doorway to the hall outside.

Mother has completely collapsed, clutching the sofa and surrendering to her mirth.  "It's not funny," my brother snarls, but clearly, it is, and I join my mother.  The cat could reach us from where she's chained, but our laughter confuses her.  She huddles on the floor, emitting low, angry grunts and glaring at us through eyes pressed into tight thin slits.  My brother leans against the door frame shaking his head.  "It's really not funny," he tries again, and now Mother's giggles rise into a shrill, gleeful shriek.  The door to the neighbor's apartment opens; a face looks out at us.  The cat barks; my mother snorts; and the neighbor retreats into the safety of her own dwelling.

Ebonique moved to New Orleans with my sister.  I visited them once.  I ate beignets at the Cafe du Monde and read a tattered copy of a Gertrude Stein book that I found in a French Quarter bookstall.  I slept on a pallet on the floor, and watched the odd occupants of Dauphine Street from a metal chair on my sister's balcony.  In the evenings, her friends visited, and once, late at night, the cat jumped into my lap.  "Take a picture," I whispered, to my sister.  "Nobody will believe this."  In the faded square of  the Polaroid, I'm leaning back against the couch cushions, with folded arms and a slightly anxious expression.  The cat crouches on all fours.  You can't see her claws in my legs or hear the rumble of her voice.  But she doesn't move, and the picture proves that once, long ago, I survived the attack of a Killer cat.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday Musings, 26 October 2013

Good morning,

Swirls of orange and brown leaves begin to pile around the pillars, posts and trees in the neighborhood where I live.  Soon their golden carpet will spread before me as I trudge from car to house.  Rain will erode their dry contours and turn them to sludge as winter draws itself closer around us, along with the ghosts who cast benign, enigmatic glances at me as I hurry by.

On Halloween, I turn out the porch light and dim the lights in the living room.  The houses of my block have no children, and the only trick-or-treaters who trod our steps come late and from far away.  My neighbor's grandchildren have moved to North Dakota.  If I bought candy, my husband and I would be hard-pressed to resist the pile of leftovers.

A little image floats upward from a deep recess.  A tiny velour-covered critter, with a cherub face and brown whiskers formed from the stroke of an eye-liner pencil.  I lift him from his car seat and clutch him to me as I walk to his babysitter's house.  We're going around her neighborhood with her family.  She and her husband wait on their porch with their children, a couple of little angels and a devil.  She's position a huge metal bowl full of miniature chocolate bars on their stoop, with a plastic witch clipped to its rim and a hand-lettered sign inviting children to help themselves.  She's a trusting soul.  She's written "One To a Customer" and made a smiley face.

We set off down the block, the two youngest in a wagon.  We send them to each door hand in hand, while the three adults hover a few feet back.  Halloween has turned scary; we don't want to be the parents whose children came to harm because we didn't look out for them.  Diane puts one hand on her son's head and tells him to hold his sister's hand.  My own little own toddles ahead, clutching his tiny bucket and chortling "trick or treat" with only a trace of a lisp.  It's 1992 and he's been walking for just a couple of months but talking practically from birth.

By the end of the block, the kids have lost their enthusiasm for walking and don't resist our  urge to head towards home.  We hit a couple of houses that straddle the corner, venturing near  the main street but not approaching it.  We see a carload of children emerge from a van near the curb and spread out towards the neighboring houses.  One lone adult leans on the open door, his face visible in the dome light.  He looks weary.  He lights a cigarette and huddles into his jacket as we move beyond him.  We trade smiles.

Back at my car, we all hug and I buckle my son back into his car seat.  Diane's husband has already taken their three into the house and I'm anxious to get home.  But Diane stops me with her hand on my arm, the same slender hand I had just seen her use to propel her son forward to each house displaying a beckoning light.  I look into her face and see grief that hadn't been obvious before now.  I wait.  "We're getting divorced," she says. I know there's more; but we both know this isn't the time or place for what lies behind her statement.  I fold her into my arms and we stand without speaking, in the dark, on her street, while my son rummages through his loot and sings a little song.

A few weeks later Diane closed the daycare in her home.  I put Patrick in pre-school and bought a house.  When I toured the place, for the first time, in the January after that Halloween, I noticed pictures of familiar children on the mantel.  "I know these people," I told my realtor.  "Their kids used to go to the same babysitter as my son."  We stood in the living room, looking at the photographs, until one of us shifted and the world started spinning again.

My husband has gone off to tennis and my son still sleeps.  Yesterday counts as a good day:  My friend Penny Thieme and I launched an Indiegogo to raise funds for the VALA Gallery, an artists' community which she founded and manages.  There will be a pumpkin painting contest there today, and my son, well beyond the age of trick-or-treating, plans to go help with the children.  As for myself, I'm doing fall cleaning, and when the night falls, I'll be a half-mile from here, celebrating an anniversary with some friends of ours, and wondering where all the little goblins have gone.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday Musings, 19 October 2013

Good morning,

I don't dare venture onto the porch in the sharp cold winter morning.  I huddle in the dining room, tablet perched on the five dollar wooden folding table which, with its mate, I scored at an estate sale years ago.  The furnace whirrs; the dog pants, lying on her bed; and periodically my son tells me something clever that he sees on The Onion.  Morning, late fall, Brookside.

My brain clenches and my son's voice melds into that of his long-ago uncle.  I've played this scene before; Stephen hugging a coffee cup, me slouching around in velour pajamas; my mother long gone for work, my father in the basement.  "You don't look much better..."  Steve mumbles as I smirk.  Expletive deleted.  My poison of choice doesn't give me hangovers like his does.  1977, both of us stuck in the family home at the same time, me back from Boston licking my wounds; him between high school and college, before his wild ride into his last two decades.

I take my coffee cup out onto that porch, the porch in Jennings, wide and brick, fronting a street that I know so well.  Tall oaks provide a canopy for the yard.  Wind whistles through their branches; golden leaves flutter to the ground.  I sit on a slightly damp metal chair and settle my feet onto the porch's low wall.  I take another sip of coffee, acrid and strong.  I try to bring myself to full consciousness but the coffee hasn't hit my veins yet.

The door opens and my brother comes out.  He settles into the chair beside mine and sets his coffee cup on the brick pillar.  "Welcome to winter," he says, and we share a short, rueful laugh.  We sit in a silence broken only by the sound of rain  and the occasional rush of a passing car.  We sip our cooling coffee and set the cups onto the brick in unison, glancing towards each other.  No doubt, we are Corleys.  He lights a cigarette.

"So, Boston didn't do it for you," he remarks.  If anybody else had raised this subject, I would have tensed. My little brother accepts my imperfections because they mirror his own.  I tell him no, it didn't do it for me.  "You were going to grad school," he adds.  I shrug.  I was.  I got accepted.  I panicked.  But he knows that, so I remain silent.

"Now what," he asks.  I turn and meet his eyes.  I don't know what happens next, I tell him.  St. Louis U had put my entrance on hold and would take me in January, might even refrain from snickering in the direction of Boston College, which I had planned to attend.  He nods.  Grad School.

"I thought you wanted to be a writer?"  Now he's treading close to rocky waters and neither of us know where the iceberg lies.  He finishes his cigarette and lights another.  I toss my coffee dregs over the south wall onto the neighbor's driveway and don't speak.  The weight of a half-dozen years of stupid choices settles on my shoulders:  The AP classes down the drain because I did not complete the paperwork; the college years swirling round in gallons of Scotch; the seven months in Boston lost in a haze of partying with folks who sobered up faster than I did and excelled at their day jobs.

"Yeah," I tell him. "I wanted to be a writer."  The rain quickens; the sky darkens; and my brother and I sit on the porch with the smoke from his Marlboro rising around our heads.

"It seems to me," he says.  "It seems to me that if you want to be a writer, you should just write."  He finishes his cigarette and stands.  He juggles both our cups by their handles and looks down at me.  His strong jaw juts out from under his pale blue gaze.  "Just write," he  repeats, and goes into the house.

Last night, I got notice that I lost I trial.  I didn't expect to win; the facts turned against my client.  But the decision had been delayed so long that a flicker of hope rose from the ashes of the three-day trial.  Earlier that day, I had learned that I have to try a case on Monday that all the lawyers involved thought would be continued.  We kicked into high gear, and I expect that I will be ready.  My bones ache; I've had a long week, my second funeral this month and the periodic bleating of my heart monitor all soured my faith in the angels.  But here I am, nonetheless, just writing.  And I think the sun has come out.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Saturday Musings, 12 October 2013

Good morning,

The begonias on my porch have burst forth in bloom again.  Each spring, I trot off to Soil Service and return with a flat of the carefree plants.  I dig my hands in my huge bag of soil and gently set each small begonia in a new bed of dirt, in a clean pot.  I fill my old plastic watering can and soak their roots.  They boldly raise their leaves towards the sun, unfurling their colorful adornment, until late July, when the Missouri heat scalds their greenery and shrivels the delicate petals.  But this year, only my shy little gardenia bush withered; the potted plants grew tall, and full, and sent out blossom after blossom.  I sit looking at them, and thinking of the most recent gardener in my life, my mother-in-law, Joanna Mitchell MacLaughlin, who slipped away from us this week.

She spent the last six months of her life in comfort at a facility aptly called The Sweet Life.  Though at first, she wanted only to go home, nonetheless she felt the room to be comfortable and pretty.  She would pat the table which stood under the window, and gesture to the matching chairs and the wide dresser.  Jay bought these things for me, she told me, time and again, as though perhaps I might have forgotten.  And he bought that lamp, too, she would add, and smile at me.  The smile told me, I am loved, you know; Jabez MacLaughlin loves me.  She didn't need to say the words.  The sweep of her hand, encompassing the tangible  proof of his adoration, said them for her.

I tried to visit her as often as I could.  The "speech therapist" -- a Sweet Life code word for the folks who prompted her to strain her failing memory -- urged us to keep her mind stimulated.  I tried bringing her books in the genre we both enjoyed, but she could not focus.  Then, one clear blue Saturday, I went to Suburban Lawn and Garden, and found a willing clerk.  I want to put together a portable gardening kit, I told him.  I want to garden with my mother-in-law, but we only have a four-foot table on which to work, and one window sill's worth of space.  The man smiled, and pulled a cart over.  He told me to push, and walk with him.  He found a window box, some sturdy hand tools, a good-sized bag of soil, and a flat of begonias.  I added gloves, and a small, long-spouted watering can, and away I went.

I loaded it all on the same dolly that I use to take my trial bag into the courthouse, a small silver carrier which unfolds to the perfect size for one banker's box.  I wheeled it into the Sweet Life and past the wide-eyed, covetous glances of the other residents.  I made my way to Joanna's room, where she sat in a chair, gazing out her window.

She turned her eyes towards me and the corners  of her mouth curled upward.  But the light in her eyes turned radiant when her glance fell on my burden.  You've got begonias, she exclaimed, and extended her hand towards my little four-wheeler.  I hauled the plants, and the window box, and soil, and the shiny new tools, to the dining room table that Jabez MacLaughlin had bought for his beautiful bride.  I spread some newspaper down to protect the table's surface, remarking that the paper probably wasn't good for much else, so bad had its writing gotten.  Joanna laughed, a small, gentle sound; but she did not join me in criticising anything, even the local rag.

I situated the supplies within Joanna's reach.  She looked over the pile without speaking, as though assessing and planning.  Then she picked up the canvas gloves and pulled them over her slender fingers.  She turned her eyes towards me and gestured for me to put some rocks into the bottom of the container.  I held open the bag of soil and she took a handful of good rich dirt, and covered the stones.  She eased the plants from their plastic cups, aligning them in a row within the long rectangle, on top of the first layer of soil. To that point, she had been sitting; but she seemed impatient with my manner of doling out the dirt.  She raised herself from the chair, and dug both of her hands deep into the bag, then changed her mind.  She lifted the bag and dumped a generous mound of dirt, enough to surround the flowers.  She patted the mound level, added more, then looked up at me.  And at that precise moment, I took her picture: Joanna -- making a tiny but lovely garden, on the table that Jabez MacLaughlin got for her.

A few minutes later, her fatigue overcame her and she lowered herself into the chair.  She let me fill the watering can and bring it to her.  It took both of her arms to lift it, but she soaked the soil, then pressed it firmly down around the slender stalks.  I hoisted the finished box to the window sill, situating it under the stained glass piece that Joanna's sister Patt gave her, which dangled from the window lock.  I cleared away the debris, and repacked the gardening tools.  She sat by the table, with a sweet, contented expression molding her delicate features.  I like to garden, she remarked, her face glowing.  We sat in silence for a while, surrounded by the flowers and, restored to their places on her table, the photographs of her daughter Virginia, her son Jim, her grandchildren, and her beloved Jabez.  At that moment, we had no need for words.

I only knew Joanna for a little more than four years.  Like all great ladies, though, she taught me much.  She smiled whenever anyone came into the room.  When she first saw you, she would invariably mention something pleasant -- some little thing about you that she remembered:  a class you were taking, a new job you had, or something she remembered doing with you.  She offered you something refreshing, to eat, or drink; and listened to your stories with an air of interest.  She'd tuck those stories away, and trot them out the next time she saw you, to ask you how things were, and whether you had managed to succeed at something you mentioned intending to try.  And you would go away thinking, what a nice lady, and for the rest of the day, you would wear the smile that she had given you. And that, I would say, is the mark of a wonderful person.

It stormed last night.  The wild release has cleared the air.  I hear my husband's tread upon the stairs, James, the son of Joanna and Jabez.  It's a sound I love.  He's just about to come around the corner; and I feel Joanna's smile, rising to my lips.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

In Memory:  Joanna Mitchell MacLaughlin, 08/17/30 - 10/08/13.  Rest easy.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Saturday Musings, 05 October 2013

Good morning,

At 12:30 a.m. today, a rapid screeching awakened me. I fumbled for my glasses, the small blue flashlight at my bedside, and the little black box clipped to my nightgown. Through groggy, glazed eyes I saw it: A "1" where there had once been a zero. Event recorded. I reached for the phone, punched the 800 number, and imparted this news to the reassuring voice at the other end of the line. I performed the reporting procedure, bolstered by my husband's gentle touch on my arm. Then I hung up the phone.

In the last few weeks, I've answered a slew of questions about my medical history. I'm not sure why I've had to repeat myself, over and over, to techs and doctors whose computer systems merge with one another. Perhaps, like the sly prosecutor or the clever psychologist, they strive to see if my answers change. But that  disembodied voice wanted only to comfort me. A rapid heartbeat for 4.7 seconds provides good information, just what your doctor wants to know, he told me. But nothing about which to feel immediate alarm. The soft cadences of his voice take me back more than three decades, to a waiting room outside of a surgery theatre in North St. Louis County.

A huddle of Corleys stand or sit in small groups. My mother rises, paces, plunks herself back down onto a square vinyl cushion which releases a sharp puff of air with the impact of her body. A couple of brothers stand together in the corner, murmuring in tones too low for me to follow. My boyfriend of the year leans against a wall somewhat apart from them, not accepted, not expecting to be.  

We sit vigil for my father, on whom a cardiac surgeon works, pulling veins from his legs to create bypasses buried in his chest.  

I gaze out a broad window, eyes not seeing the parking lot or the tops of neighborhood trees. I've come from Kansas City, where I'm due to start my first semester of law school. I've been there since May, starting a job that would pay for the first year's expenses, getting situated in an apartment two blocks from the hookers' favorite stroll, trying to decide what to do about the boyfriend. I feel mild resentment at being called home.

I shift from foot to foot. I close my eyes, and let the indistinguishable mutterings of my brothers and sisters wash around me. I prepare to mourn, in case the surgery fails. I do not know if I can. I am twenty-five, and I have yet to forgive my father for his awful sins. That won't come for another five years or more. At this juncture, I cannot summon any sorrow from my belly.

A door swings open. A doctor joins us, wiping his hands on his scrubs, pushing a smile to his weary face. He's fine, he tells my mother. Your husband's a fighter. And funny. My mother stands. Her children move closer, our foreheads pinched, our eyes narrowed. Neither relief nor disappointment floods us.  I experience just some vague emptiness. What do you mean, 'funny', my mother asks. The doctor shakes his head. When he woke in Recovery, he asked the nurse how many bypasses he got. 'Seven,' she told him. The doctor chuckles. 'What's the record for one surgery?', your husband asked. 'Nine', the nurse said. Your husband laid there for a moment, then replied, 'Wheel me back in, I want three more.'  

A wave of something close to amusement ripples through the room. My mother laughs, then, and drops the tightness of her shoulders, and the gaggle of her children present follow suit. I study her face; I realize she would have mourned him, despite everything he has done to her. I do not know, standing beside her small, tired body in that brightly lit waiting room, if she would have mourned my father alone.  And I will never know, as she will die five years later, and he not for another six after that.

The doctor is thanked, his hand shaken, and he tells us we can see our father, two by two. My oldest brother goes first, with my mother, and the rest of us pour ourselves more cups of bad coffee, in little styrofoam cups, and sit down to think our various thoughts, which we do not share.

The tech who did a cardiogram on me yesterday told me that some of the problems for which all the tests searched could be hereditary. Did someone in your family have a heart condition, she asks. I think a moment. My father, I admit. But I have my mother's heart. She spares me a small glance, but doesn't ask me what I mean.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Friday, September 27, 2013

Saturday Musings, 28 September 2013

Good morning,

When someone several degrees of separation away from the shortest strings of your heart passes, you feel caught between the remoteness of unfamiliarity and the twinges of affection. Did you know her well enough to mourn? Or does that right belong to others, closer, more special, who don't have to strain to remember when they last saw her?

I actually do remember when I last saw Jeanne Jasperse.  She came to my office for some small exchange with Alan White, her long-time friend and music collaborator, also my legal assistant and Chief Damage Control Officer.  I stood next to the counter in my office's kitchen, staring with unseeing eyes at a pleading just received by fax.  Fatigue came over me in waves as I struggled to cope, at that moment dealing with a broken hand.  

Jeanne crossed the dozen feet between us with her long-legged stride and folded me in her arms.  It's so good to see you!  She exclaimed.  Emotion washed over me; not the cleansing wash of baptismal waters, but the damning taint of guilt.  When are we going to have coffee again?  She asked this with smiling reference to our only coffee date, six months before this encounter, when she had materialized in response to my broadcasted wail of self-pity.  Since then, I'd not taken the time to see her again; no reason, really, just a nagging feeling of disconnect, a sense that I might have to climb down from the fence and really engage with someone more genuine that I felt capable of being sometimes.

When were we going to have coffee again?  It turns out: never.

And I remember the first time I saw Jeanne Jasperse: Blayney's, 1986, a week after my first hospital discharge in a decades-long parade.  Wearing black, a shadow of my former self, I slipped into a chair in the farthest table from the stage and assumed an expression of remote disdain.  I flipped my dark shades over the red I carried in my eyes, and pulled my back ram-rod straight, preparing to dislike the two women who stood side by side on the stage next to Alan White.  I grunted my order to Heather, the waitress, then fixed my reluctant eyes on the front of the room, ready to condemn the act, a trio which had formed during my absence from the scene.

And then the voice of an angel filled the room.

Of the two women, Jeanne had the less trained voice back then.  But hers carried sweetness, and the promise of something soothing, and a fragile joy that could not be denied. Her eyes flashed; her hands raised; her chin tilted heavenward; and I felt my resistance fade.  How could I dislike a person so devoid of malice, so drenched in glory?

Over the next thirty years, I rarely saw Jeanne without a beer.  But I also rarely saw her without a smile.  She wore her delight at each meeting with anyone whom she called "friend" like a silk shawl that kept away the evening's chill.  And she considered me a friend, though even before she died, I classified myself as less than a poor excuse for one.

I don't know enough about Jeanne Jasperse to write her obituary.  But these things I know:  She laughed without hesitation.  She cherished her son.  She stuck by her friends. She persevered, though sometimes, she succumbed to the bogeyman who hovered in the corner with his wicked grin. She danced without reservation and loved without expectation.  She faced adversity that I can never comprehend; and lost her way more times than I will ever know, stumbling on broken cobblestones, clutching at the long gnarled branches of trees hanging over her  path which blocked the guiding star and the warming sun.  And this, too, I know:  Jeanne Jasperse sang with a raging purity and an unrelenting passion.

It's just gone midnight.  I cannot sleep.  As always happens when the universe suffers a sudden rending in the shape of a precious and worthy soul, I am awash with a burning mixture of loss and guilt, and something more: gratitude, for the time that I knew her, and the gentleness with which she touched me.

Heaven's choir grows richer this week, and the Kansas City skyline suffers the loss of an under-appreciated treasure.  Oh, Jeanne, Jeanne.  We shall miss you.  Rest easy, my friend.  And thank you.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Musings, 21 September 2013

Good morning,

Autumn's gentle bite greets me at the threshold.  I've overslept, after a twenty-four hour period of cleaning, cooking and entertaining for our mini-supper club.  Over a table laden with summer's last best harvest, we dissected the comments of the pope; the tattoo trend; and red wine versus white.  I fell asleep with the ghost of a smile lingering on my face, my husband's snoring acting, for once, like white noise.

My dreams rose in an instant.  I wake, haunted, on the other side of the state.  I realize that I still sleep, but the images surrounding me seem real, touchable.  I stand, back against a wall, in a crowded apartment.  I clutch a thick, short glass, ice clinking, liquid swirling.  A nearby table holds trays of food which I ignore.  I take another drink and gaze around.

I know no one.  I've followed someone to this party who has now left, and I am thinking about doing the same.  But the Scotch is plentiful and free.  I gulp some down and move to another wall.  I close my eyes, just for a moment, and try to catch the thumping rhythm of whatever record spins on the turntable.

I feel something brush against my arm and open my eyes.  A girl stands beside me.  She wears a gauzy dress with thin straps.  She herself barely breaks a hundred pounds, and she stands an inch or two taller than my five feet three.  Her hands are empty; she glances at my drink.  I raise the glass and gesture toward the make-shift bar; speech seems impossible, with the blare of the music and the rumble of the dancers' bodies pounding the floor in crazy staccato.

"Not for me," she mouths; sound might accompany the movement of her lips, but I can't tell.  We stand for a few minutes, strangers holding up a common corner.  She tries to speak again and I shake my head.  She raises one  hand and points to the French doors opening onto the balcony.  I shrug; there's no reason not to leave the noise.

Once outside, we lean against the railing.  "You know these guys?" she asks.  I assume she means whoever lives here.  I tell her no.  We trade names and I finish my Scotch.  "You reminded me of my sister," she tells me.  "I thought you were her, for a second.  That's why I came over."  I wait; a revelation would surely follow.  But she fell silent.  I slid an ice cube into my mouth and  crunched it, tasting the lingering smoke of a quite decent single malt for the place, the day: 1979 in a two-bedroom flat in University City shared by four Washington University grad students.

My new friend shakes her head; she seems to be arguing with herself.  "I'm so tired of all this," she finally sighs.  "Party after party, night after night, bodies pressed too thick, too close.  The smell of sweat and too much perfume.  Doesn't it ever get you down?"

I think a minute.  I see what she means but I'm not sure I can speak.  I have suddenly realized that the drink I've just finished must have been my fourth or fifth, and I can no  longer remember why I'm there.  I look at her profile; her face seems tense, the set of her mouth angry.  I place my glass on the railing and try to say something, anything, to move the conversation away from an edge over which I do not feel capable of stepping.

The girl tosses her shoulders, reaching the end of whatever inner debate she had undertaken.  "Well, I finally did it, I finally dropped the dime.  I called Mom and Dad and told them I've had it with all this.  I haven't been to class in weeks.  I'm going on the road. " She slides  her eyes in my direction.  "I can't live their dream anymore.  I can't make up for what they lost."  She wraps her frail arms around herself; her shudder runs through my own body.  It's clear to me that I have become irrelevant.  Even in my drunkenness, I can see she's talking to someone that I am not.  She falls silent, and gazes down at the street, at the tops of the trees with their straggly brown leaves.

The girl stirs. " Well, I gotta get going," she finally says.  "It's nice to meet you."  She slips between the doors, and I stand, motionless, on the balcony.  In a few minutes, I see her form on the sidewalk.  She stops a few feet from the building, and turns her face upwards.  I swear, I swear, I hear her say, "Goodbye, Sis." And then she is gone.

I've lost my whatever interest I might have had in the party.  No one notices me leaving, or standing on the street baffled because I cannot find my little MG.  No one laughs when I finally realize that I gave that car to my brother and bought a Chevy Nova, which  I have stumbled past three times.  No one watches as I lurch from the curb, and run three red lights before I make it home.  And no one waits in my apartment but I sit on the couch anyway, hoping to hear someone's welcoming voice, until the Scotch finally wins, and I fall asleep, fully clothed, just as the sun starts to rise.

The radio says that it is 53 in Kansas City this morning.  My bones tell me that I did too  much yesterday; but oh, what a nice party we had.  It's a lovely day.  I shake off the ghosts, and move to the kitchen, to pour myself another cup of coffee.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday Musings, 14 September 2013

Good morning.

Pleasant and high, barely discernible, a critter chirps to its mate.  Last week's heavy drone of locusts has vanished, without the swarms we expect from the periodic awakening of the horde.  I stood on my porch last Sunday, drawn by the unrelenting drone, wondering what year it must be in their cycle.

Another year, another porch.  Our old one, square and flat-roofed, with tall, bowed screens and peeling paint.  My son stands at the edge of our living room, just inside the screendoor, small sticky hands on the bottom panel, nubby nose against the grimy surface of the mesh.  "What is that noise," he asks, in his awed whisper.

I stand behind him, my hand on his head, wondering if our cat has slipped outside to the porch on which she loves to scamper.  She's an indoor cat, white with black heart-shaped spots on her coat, a year old and beloved. I stir, restlessly, as the noise of the locusts rises.  The mild air of September wafts through the screen.

I pull my child away, and close the door against the chatter.  We spend the day in the pleasant ways of mothers and sons: chores, and reading books, and singing songs.  Saturday surrounds us with its warmth.  I set aside my worry that my meager book of clients will not be enough to sustain us.  I pretend I face nothing more challenging than the worn heels on the black cowboy boots that my son wears everywhere, even to bed.

I am asleep before he is most nights, in those days when I have not yet found the balance of the approaching decades.  But I awaken early, lying in a bed too wide by half, wondering if I should make Schmarren for breakfast, thinking about church, missing my mother.

A shriek pierces the air of our home and jolts me from my languid reverie.  I tear away the quilt and race to the sound of my son's cries, wracking sobs punctuated by pleas.  His toddler bed is empty and the sound pulls me to the living room, where he has thrown open the front door.

I hear other sounds from ten feet away, and I quicken my pace, grabbing his small body as his hand reaches for the outer door knob, clutching him to me.  I cannot quite grasp what noise surrounds us; some high, some intense, some low, mixed with a growl.  I realize the whooping throb emanates from the alarm panel and lean against the wall, pressing the buttons which will silence it.

With the blare of the security siren stilled, the other noises stand out:  The locusts have errupted, smashing through through the  screens, swarming, thick as winter rain, filling our porch with their denseness.  I cannot see sunlight.  I slam the front door.  But Patrick's howling intensifies.  He has crossed the line to incoherence, and I sink to the floor, rocking him, murmuring, cooing.  Still he cries, then pummels my chest with his small tight fists.  "Listen to me, Mommy," he demands.  "Listen to me!"

So I stop the motion, and focus.  "My cat is out there!  I have to save my cat!"

The growling.

I must have left the cat on the porch at evening's end.

Only with my strongest promise to rescue his cat can I persuade my son to stay back from the door.  With a broom up-ended held out, wrapped in a trench coat, feet clad in Doc Martens, I pull the front door open.  The swarm's shrillness assaults me.  My son urges me: "Save my cat, Mommy!  You can do it, Mommy!"  And I open the screen door, pulling the heavier inner door behind me, praying that I've been quick enough.

I see our little cat huddled in the corner.  I hear her hiss, and the low rumble of her guarded growl.  I cross through the swirl of locusts and throw the towel I hold down onto the cat, scooping her off the floor, wrapping her tightly.  I drop the broom.  I don't know why I thought it could do anything to protect me.  Locusts slam against my face, my head, my long thick hair.  The cat opens  her claws and presses them against me, clinging.  I back to the door, one arm clutching my burden, the other flailing backwards, until it lands on the brass knob.  I fall through the opening, slamming out the host, stumbling, collapsing onto the sofa.  The cat scrambles away.

My son stands, crowing.  A locust or two has fallen across our threshold, and he stomps on them, pajama legs bunched over his boots.  "I killed them!  I killed them!  Mommy and I saved Sprinkles!"  Sprinkles, the cat, does not thank us.  In fact, she does not even come out from under my son's bed for several days, except, perhaps, to steal food from her dish while we sleep.

The locusts did not hatch this year.  Perhaps the loud drone that engulfed our neighborhood last weekend had some other source.  Perhaps they hunkered down wherever locusts live, before they rise to overtake our porch, and just sang a bit to rattle me.  This morning, though, I cannot hear them.  Maybe what we heard last Sunday was just a memory, like the teasing flash of white and black I spied flicking around the corner of the bushes today, a few feet from the Yellowstone rock, under which our Sprinkles sleeps.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Saturday Musings, 07 September 2013

Good morning,

I've yet to venture outside the house further than my nose sniffing the calm morning air.  What little news  appears in our morning paper entertained me over a cup of lime yogurt.  I stopped short, appalled, over the story of a mother assaulting her kindergartner's teacher because the five-year-old came home with a scratch  on his face which he attributed to the teacher.  I would be furious to learn that my child had been scratched by his teacher but would I yank her from a chair and slam her face against a file cabinet?  I don't think so.  And certainly, neither my mother nor y father would have.

My parents did defend our honor.  My father marched me back to school after my fourth grade teacher sent me home, a long mile walk, for raising my hand to her after she dug her red pen into my face "to give [me] a check mark that matched [my] freckles", for poor penmanship.  My father admitted that I should not have slapped the teacher but raged at the principal for the deep gouge  in his daughter's nine-year old face.

My mother organized a picket at the convent after one of the elderly nuns pulled me from the floor of the chapel -- the floor that I was scrubbing -- screeching that I was the sister of hippies and not fit to clean a House of God.  We marched behind my mother, carrying signs she had made with pages torn from magazines, depicting flower children and peace-niks.  We crowed in triumph when the mother superior reinstated my $5.00/week job, though transferred me to the high school to appease the smug nun who had sent me sprawling with a flick of the wrist which held one long, fat braid which she had torn from the pins securing it around my head. The new job required me to sling milk, a process which involved standing on a conveyor belt which  fed into the high school kitchen, hauling crates of milk and juice from the back of the delivery truck.  This entitled me to free lunches.

Images of my parents' faces rise around me.  My mother making a straight  row of coins on the breakfast room table, the purpose of which she did  not disclose.  A long rambling story fell from my mouth, word tumbling over word. My mother periodically slid a coin from the row, closer to her, away from me.  My voice faltered.  I eyed her solemn face, careworn olive skin, brown hair rolled in tight curlers held in place by little plastic pegs.  One coin gone; then two; then three.  I resumed my account, though more slowly, as I scrambled to  find a co-relation between something I had said and my mother's silent subtraction of quarters from the shiny line.  I spoke a few more sentences,  saw her finger raise once more and in a flash I got it:   She removed a coin each time I punctuated my sentence with the useless phrase, "you know".  When my story came to an end, six of ten quarters remained, and my mother gave them to me.  

I learned to read at the age of three sitting on my father's lap.  He held the Post-Dispatch in front of me, with one arm encircling my shoulders. One strong hand kept the page still while the other showed me the words as he intoned them.  The blurs crystallized into recognizable blocks of letters as I strained to follow, evening after evening, in the summer before I turned four.

My father didn't teach me very much.  He left the bulk of his children's upbringing to his wife, while he retreated into a fog of alcohol and what I would now call post-traumatic stress disorder, a lasting legacy of the Second World War.  But he taught me to read, and gave me such wonderful rules as he knew:  Always play the house odds; never draw to an inside straight; don't get caught without zip ties, duct tape, and a spare car key.  All the rest  of what I know came from my mother. I like think I am a credit to them both.

The dog paces around the  dining room, wondering why I haven't fed her.  My son retreated back into his room after showing us how to work the new Google Fiber.  My husband has left to join his tennis group for coffee.  I've lost my taste for the newspaper and it lies idle.  Within its pages linger stories of assault, and rape, and mass murder, tales of people who rise or fall on their parents' teachings.  It is enough to make a grown woman cry.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

In Memory:  Richard Adrian Corley, 12/27/22 - 09/07/91.  RIP, Grandpa Sport.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Saturday Musings, 31 August 2013

Good morning,

I finished a trial this week that should have been over a year ago.  My client found a job in Texas after several hard years of unemployment, and sought leave to relocate with her child.  A year ago, the father agreed; or so his lawyer said; and a temporary order allowed her to start the job, and the child to start school, in a Dallas suburb.

 But the man changed his  mind, which is his right; and the case was to be tried in October last year.  We got kicked from the docket twice, then a third time.  Then we spent a grueling day convincing my client to move back, one day last June; but the man wanted more and better than what we negotiated so the case got set for trial and we started evidence in late July, nearly a year after her temporary move.  A second day; then a third; and now the case has been taken under advisement, while the school year marches forward and the woman wonders how either of them will survive if her child is taken from her for no reason other than her need to support the two of them and her older daughter.

I came home last night and thought about her, down there in Texas, with her son and her daughter and the friends they have made over the last twelve months.  Suddenly, I thought about Ed Florida and his song, "Wind Blows Through West Texas", and I found myself standing on a porch in northwest Arkansas listening to Ed and Carol sing, drinking coffee, watching the pale shimmer of the autumn sun slip behind a low-lying mountain.

Friends I had made, in a new life, far from my old one, south of Kansas City.

By the time I journeyed to Ed and Carol Florida's cabin to sleep beneath a hand-made quilt with the cool air filtering through the curtains, my reason for being in Arkansas at all had tragically altered.  My wild and crazy Murray Valley wedding had spawned nothing other than sorrow and anger.  My marriage had crashed and burned.  I took a job in Fayetteville, but this weekend, I had come back to Newton County for a little bit of the comfort found on hand-built porches  and in the bottom of mismatched china cups.

"I wasn't sure I would be welcome," I told Carol, whose warm eyes shone as she enfolded me in her  arms.  Eddie just chuckled and grabbed my satchel, and soon I held that mug of coffee, curled in a wooden rocker, listening to Eddie sing while Carol hummed the harmonies.

"There's a sandy breeze a swirling round the corner of the shed,
Between the house that Grandpa built and the barn Grandma painted red.
Now the shed door keeps on slamming,
And the breeze keeps circling round.
I know Grandpa surely built it strong,
But that old shed's falling down."

I fell asleep with the sound of the song in my head, and dreamed of lush green fields gone brown in the summer's unrelenting heat, rust and wind ravaging the empty buildings and old tractors of the farm that Eddie's grandfather lost.  I woke with a sense of sorrow and went outside to stand in my nightgown in the quiet October morning.

Their cabin sat snug on the side of a hill, with a long stretch of easy valley and a barely visible road beneath them.  The sounds of morning began to rise on the ridge.  A bird called to its mate; the wind whispered through the pines.  I wrapped my arms around my body and shivered slightly, shaking the fog of sleep from my brain.  How did I come to this place, I wondered.  A city girl with piles of baggage in square, stodgy cases, standing on the edge of everywhere, a place where nothing I had packed would be necessary.

I felt the air change, and turned.  Carol stood beside me, holding out a cup of steaming liquid.  I took it from her; and we stood together for the longest time, watching the lazy flight of a carefree hawk and listening to scampering critters in the underbrush.

"There's a wind blows through west Texas
Like west Texas wasn't there,
Then on through Oklahoma,
But do you think them Texans care?
Then the old cold blue Northern hits
Like something cold and mean
After summer's hot breath scorched the land,
It's the dangdest thing I've seen."

Carol and I stood drinking coffee, without speaking, in the coolness of that morning.  I don't know what went through her mind; probably something serene, something joyful and easy.  As for myself, I thought about where on earth I could unload the worthless contents of my bulky city baggage if not right there on that mountain, with the smell of the earth all around me, and the kiss of the rising sun falling gently on my brow.

Ed Florida died a couple of years ago.  I heard he and Carol had divorced and that they both left Newton County.  I don't know what happened to the cabin, or the charming collection of country china, or the quilt that I wrapped around myself as I sat in the porch rocker and let my burdens ease away, in the quiet of that morning.  But it all lives in me, wrapped in the gentle tones of Carol's voice on the radio a few months after I moved back to Kansas City, and they came to town to do a gig on KKFI.  As I prepared Sunday breakfast for them, in my little apartment, on a side street just south of the Plaza with its narrow streets, blaring horns and lingering stench of  traffic, I listened to the last, haunting guitar cords.  Then Carol spoke, on air, right to me: "Put the coffee on, Corinne.  We're almost there."  And so I did.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

P.S.  I used to have a link to a duet of Ed and Carol performing Ed's song, but I cannot find it again.  So here's a link which I hope will take you to a YouTube of Ed Florida singing it solo:

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.