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:

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Saturday Musings, 24 August 2013

Good morning,

I clear my throat and take another swig of coffee. The house is quiet, and perfect for trying voice to text for the musings. I find that typing on my bad hand has become less and less attractive as the week wanes.  This technology is any ficient at best, and annoying to aggravating at worst, but going back to correct the occasional humorous misread of my spoken word is less arduous then typing the entire passage.  When the whirr of the air conditioner sounds, the technology degrades.  But, this is better than the alternative.

My son has spent a week on the road, including a handful of days in our nation's capital. Before leaving, he asked if I had ever been to Washington. And, surely enough, my memories flooded back to me as though a stored reel of film had suddenly been discovered in a creaking cabinet or a warped drawer.

I am 17. I have tired of being the outcast, the crazy girl with waist-long hair and funny feet. I have tired of wearing shoes, brogues, and cast-off clothing.  Somehow, I persuade my mother to let me take a train to Washington. I am sure that this trip will somehow change my life. I will become taller, or shorter, more petite or more statuesque, or somehow better. I will figure out how to wear my hair, I will get straight A's, I will have a boyfriend. All of this is possible, if I can just take this trip. The ostensible reason was to visit the main office of the American Freedom From Hunger Houndation, the parent group of Young World Development.  It's a lie, of course, something I have fabricated to convince my mother to allow me to take the trip.  I will stay with my sister, and everything will be alright, and this is why she said yes.

On a train bound for points east, I met another girl my age perhaps or maybe a year or two older, from Dallas, with a sweet, slow drawl. I don't remember her name now, decades later in my kitchen, middle-aged and tired. But I remember her face. Thin, blond, pretty, sparkling and mischievous.  I cast aside the book I had brought to read, and allowed her to pull me into her plans for making the trip memorable. "There has got to be men on this train somewhere,"  she said, with a wide grin and darting eyes.  I didn't know what she meant by "men". I had not started college yet. I had had a boyfriend, but not much else, and even that barely rose above simple flirtation, movies on Friday night, under the watchful eye of my brother.  A corsage  on my 16th birthday, a kiss or two;, what did I know about "men"?

Someone checked on us every few minutes.  Evidently the train personnel looked askance at young girls traveling alone in the mid 70's.  We kept our voices low; we feigned interest in the farms which fell behind the train as it crossed Illinois bound for Pennsylvania.  All the while, we shot furtive glances at the people passing through our car going frontwards to places my companion seemed sure would be more exciting than where we sat.

She finally spied her mark. A boy in uniform, someone her age no doubt, someone who enlisted at just the right time. The war in Vietnam spiralled towards its tragic close; his training surely would last until it would be too late to take place in that sad affair.  He might feel regret, but his mother would not, nor would the scores of girls that he would some day meet in college and tell about his fine two years in the United States Army.  They would not brand him as a baby-killer, nor would he shudder in the night with terror.  He might, at that young age, wish he had served in-country.  But he would live.

And just then, in the summer of 1973, he led a shy Midwestern misfit and a somewhat bewitching Southerner to a car-load of his companions.  They lounged, stood and sat in their own car, all in uniform, all willing to buy us Cokes and brag about their first military haircuts and the tortures of basic training from which they had just emerged, victorious, stronger and swifter than those who had failed to make the grade.

My new friend  drew the attention of most of the soldiers.  I stood on the perimeter, sipping soda from a small glass, watching her perform.  The miles dropped behind us; we sped across Indiana through farm after farm, and on into Ohio while the boys bought us sandwiches.  She barely touched hers; but I ate all of mine, undisturbed by anyone, sitting on the sidelines watching her play some game the rules of which I had never learned.  And on we sped, into Ohio, as the scenery passed unnoticed, and my companion sparkled brighter than the rising Evening Star.

The land grew lush outside our window as we crossed Ohio.  My friend grew more daring.  She sat on laps, her dress hiking higher on her thin leg, her eyes more dazzling with each mile of country that fell behind us.  I could not guess what she had left behind.  A careful father; a judging mother; a strict religious code.  She had left something at home which had acted as her brakes, and I cannot say how far she might have gone, if we had not suddenl realized that the train had ceased to move.

I jumped from my seat and leaned against a window.  I heard commotion; the clang of metal n metal, the calls of workers.  A door ahead of us opened and a railway official entered the car.  "Who are these girls?" He asked one of the men, and, on being told that no one really knew, he hustled us out of the now-uncoupled car and down into the railway yard where we stood, dismayed, watching the train on which we had been riding start to pull away for the last leg of its trip to Washington.

They stopped the train, of course.  They hustled us into our own car, making us run the last few feet across broken asphalt.  We panted; sweat rose on our foreheads.  They hurried us  down the narrow aisle and sat us by our belongings, which had miraculously not been stolen.  We huddled down in our seats across the way from each other, each at a window now dark with the gloom of dusk.  The train slowly started again, delayed only a few minutes, hopefully --we were told, by a harried conductor -- not enough to cause an irreparable disruption in the schedule.  Neither of us spoke; they wouldn't have believed we were sorry even if we had said.

We got to D.C. on time.  I took a cab to my sister's house; with a detour to the wrong quandrant orchestrated by an unscrupulous cab driver.  But I made him take me to the right place and refused to pay the extra fare.  As he pulled away, and I began the short trudge to my sister's door, I wondered, for the first of many times, where the girl from Texas would end her days.

I hear the dog barking.  I have to shake the fog of this clumsy week and get out of the house.  Groceries must be purchased, and I want to visit my mother-in-law.  The plants on the porch could use a good soak.    Maybe later, my husband and I will see a movie, or eat Venezualan fare.  Right now, though, I want to make another coffee and sit in my rocker, with the cool summer breeze blowing on my face, and think about all the places I have been.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Saturday Musings, 17 August 2013

Good morning,

A rustling from the other room signals the stirring of my son.  Behind me, on the floor, our little Beagle-Lab mix gnaws on a manufactured bone.  I struggle to hold my  operated hand higher than the keyboard to let its one functioning finger manage a third of the letters and think, This, too, shall pass.  Somewhere a fan whirrs, and my coffee cools on the table beside my plate of berries.  Saturday, August 17th: My mother-in-law's 83rd birthday.

Older women intrigue me; they show me my future.  I didn't see my mother age; she died two weeks before her 59th birthday.  I am a year younger than her oldest age.  I think I will be bird-like, though; wizened and stringy, with crinkly grey hair and an untamed moustache.

Like Evalyna Lloyd.

I met Evalyna Lloyd in 1985.  I spent an inglorious two years on the Jackson County warrant desk, filing cases and doing preliminary hearings.  Other warrant officers rotated to the trial side but I resisted.  I liked the finite contact with a case.  I couldn't make too many irreparable mistakes.  An indictment could always be amended by someone with a steadier hand.

I drank a lot in those days.  I never paid for Scotch at the bars near the courthouse and sucked down glass after glass.  I had a special affinity for the detectives in the forgery unit.  One day, one of them brought me a file on Joyce Warwick, whom they suspected had murdered a St. Joseph man after luring him away from his family to Kansas City.  She had taken up with another old person after his death, and somehow, checks cashed on that lady's account came to the attention of the indignant mothers' sons in the forgery unit.

Miz Lloyd lives next door to the apartment of the guy who died, the submitting detective told me.  This Warwick gal, if that's really her name,, moved in right after the landlord tossed her out of the guy's place.  She convinced Miz Lloyd to let her "help", and started "cashing checks" right away.  They wanted a warrant to exhume the dead neighbor's body.  But first they wanted me to charge the suspect with forgery for Mrs. Lloyd's accounts.  I did it all; and we got our exhumation order; and I attended my first and only autopsy in the very dress which I had worn to my mother's funeral.  I had to burn it; I could never get rid of the stench.

We couldn't make the murder charge; arsenic doesn't linger after death.  But we took the forgeries to the grand jury; got our indictment; and scheduled a video deposition of Evalyna Lloyd, just in case she didn't live to trial.

She sat one end of a long, old Formica table, primly attired in a thin blue cardigan held closed by a metal sweater clip, over a ruffled yellowing blouse and a dark skirt which skimmed her calves.  Her bright eyes darted around the room; I doubted she had been the center of this much attention in decades.  The videographer adjusted his equipment; the lawyers settled into camps on either side of the table, and a jailer led the defendant into the room in shackles, her long hair streaming, black on the ends but grey showing at the roots; her face no longer powdered, her lips no longer smeared with ruby red.

Evalyna beheld it all, from her thin face, with quick and lively eyes, motionless, hands folded in her lap.  She raised one of them to swear, to her God, in a clear unquavering voice, that every word would be true.  My boss established the preliminaries, then made the case:  No, Miz Lloyd had never given that girl permission to sign on her accounts.  The public defender tried -- didn't Miz Warwick bring her groceries, hadn't she cooked her meals.  She made me canned tomato soup once, I reckon, Evalyna acknowledged, but she ate half of it her own self.  Nobody snickered.

Silence followed the last question, then Evalyna spoke.  Don't I get to say what I know, she asked, in a voice high and clear.  My boss said, yes, ma'am, you do.  What do you know?

Evalyna sat a little straighter.  I know how she done it, she announced.  We each drew and held a long breath.  Me and sister, we done the same, many times.  When we was girls.  She was older than me by a minute and she was always the boss.  And when we would get into trouble, and have to bring a note from our Dad to the teacher, sister would write the note, in her own printing.  Then she would get a letter that our Father wrote, from his study where we weren't supposed to go, and she would hold that letter up to the window on a sunny day -- her arms raised, we could see the paper that wasn't in her hands -- and she would put the note she had wrote on top of it, like this -- she placed the second sheet on top of the first, and we all saw it, I could swear -- and them sister, she would trace his name.

We sat there, two prosecutors, an underpaid defense attorney, a murderer, and Evalyna Lloyd.  She smiled.  No one spoke.  And the camera kept on rolling.

Joyce Warwick pleaded guilty to numerous counts of forgery and stealing by deceit.  The public defender is now a judge.  My boss went over to the feds.  I went south, to Arkansas.  I sobered up, eventually, and had a child.  I  pass by the Plaza building where two old people, neighbors, were both hoodwinked by the same slick woman, and I wonder when Evalyna Lloyd died.  When I am an old woman, I plan to be just like her, with just that gleam of intelligence in my eyes, as I watch the young folks scurry around, self-important and busy, while I quietly sit in my cluttered apartment, knowing that every crucial thing has already happened.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Happy Birthday to Joanna Mitchell MacLaughlin, born 17 August 1930, and her twin, Jeanne Mitchell Menuet

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saturday Musings, 10 August 2013

Good morning,

A quiet house, a lazy Saturday.  Two of the family members have gone to visit a bird flown from the nest.  Another still sleeps, and I have read the meager  news offering and drunk two strong cups of coffee.  I've re-wrapped my broken hand three times, managing, finally, to leave one functioning finger free to handle the work that four should do, skimming its tip over one half of this little keyboard.  Life goes on.

Over a formica table this week, my son asked me about the New Madrid faultline.  A Google search later, we see the sweep of its line.  And I am taken back without warning, to the sweet summer of 1970.

With a thin frame and tumbles of badly combed curls, I moved through my early teenage years in a fog of confusion made worse by the Valium that my doctor used to treat my "walking problem".  I barely spoke to anyone.  I huddled inside my brothers'  chambray workshirts and handed-down blue jeans from my cousin Kati.  I filled dozens of notebooks with bad poetry and hid in my bedroom, unsure of anything other than my own flawed state.

I volunteered for everything.  I taught GED classes and gathered coins for poor kids in mysterious foreign lands.  Eventually, I found Young World Development and started working on the annual Walk for Development, which YWD claimed launched the "walks" to raise money of the 70's and 80's.  I couldn't walk the distance, but I could staff the refreshment tables and hand out registration forms.  I wore the Walk shirt under an Army jacket and looked serious whenever a camera lens scanned the crowd.

In the fall of 1970, a handful of Walk volunteers piled into a pick-up truck driven by Battle Smith, whom I recall as a gruff, handsome social worker somehow assigned to help our group.  With a little car driven by another adult behind us, we headed for the Bootheel, to visit one of the projects that our efforts helped to fund in Haiti, Missouri.

We stayed on what everyone, even its inhabitants, called "the Black side of town".  As I slid from the dusty bed of Battle's Ford, my Converse-clad feet sank into inches of gunky mud.  I wiggled free, and lunged out of the mucky street, over to a short span of cinder blocks, following my companions into our host's home.

Small, clean, sparsely furnished: the house had a kitchen in which stood a small metal table with four neatly spaced chairs.  A two-burner stove, a small round-edged refrigerator, a coffee pot on a low shelf.  We moved through the space to a small living room, where a couple of wide-eyed children in white T-shirts and shorts sat next to their thin mother.  I looked beyond them through a doorway, glimpsing a narrow room with two iron beds.  I didn't see a bathroom.

The man in whose home we stood introduced his family.  He asked each of us our names, and the children repeated each one, "Hello, Miss Mary, so nice to meet you"; "Hello, Mr. David, welcome to our home."  After everyone had been greeted, we all went back outside, and walked through the mud to a bigger house, where we sat down to a meal of cooked vegetables and ham.  The night fell around us.  The volunteers listened as the residents talked with our adult advisers about the efforts to get the city to pave their streets and bring running water to their houses.

Later, we drove a ways into the country darkness, and parked the truck near a small ravine.  We sat in the truck bed,  dangling our bare feet over the ridge, throwing rocks as far out as we could and whispering, unwilling to let our voices disturb the sleeping critters of the Ozark mountain night.  We lay back and beheld the wide expanse of stars which would have been obscured by the lights of the city on any night in Saint Louis.  No one spoke about the poverty we saw in the homes of the people who welcomed and fed us. 

In the morning we went into town for breakfast but no one would serve us.  We were strangers and we had parked outside with thick clumps of dirt from the wrong part of town on the wheels of our truck.  We bought donuts and juice from the grocery store and sat on folding chairs in the office of the local economic development group.  We struggled to regain the enthusiasm which compelled  us to come.  There we sat, a huddle of middle class kids with middle class values and no clue about anything beyond the edges of our middle class world. 

The door opened.  We saw an older woman, with crinkled dark skin, and short, grey hair.  She wore a pressed white blouse and a long cotton skirt.  She approached us with extended arms and small brown hands, which she clasped around each of ours.  "Thank you so much for coming," she said, simply, in a firm, clear voice.  I felt myself pulling my back a little straighter.  She walked past our group and sat in the desk chair, clearly at home with the neatly aligned pencils and the fresh pad of paper.  The air around us brightened.  She beamed at us, a broad smile beneath bright eyes.  We rose, brushed the sugar from our T-shirts, and moved toward her, the taint of the waitresses' sneer falling away with the cheerful, bright sweep of this woman's warm gaze.

A life-time later, as I type these words, I cannot remember the woman's name.  Now the phone rings, and the reality of 2013 pushes away my reveries.  My shoulders have grown stiff from the unfamiliar angle at which I must bend to type with one-and-a-third hands.  The dog barks and a truck rambles by, and I realize that I have grown old.  The girl who once raised money to better the lives of others and walked the rain-sogged, unpaved streets of Haiti,  can barely remember the dazzling glory of those southern Missouri stars.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Saturday Musings, 03 August 2013

Good morning,

The morning paper shimmers with lovely photographs of the butterflies and moths at Powell Gardens. A turn of the page reveals black and white photos of staff at a a local cancer unit taken by a patient's father. I sip my coffee, cradle my broken hand and think about luck.

Some might dispute my belief that I have always been lucky. But there is no doubt. I have survived weird diseases and freak accidents. I've literally dodged bullets and been hurdled back to earth by angels, where I came to lying on asphalt having shed not one drop of blood, suffering only a crushed leg while the car which hit me stood inoperable and steaming. I've been cut out of cars by the jaws of life and screeched to a stop just inches from a sleeping bear in the middle of an Arkansas mountain roadway.

Now I find myself typing with one reasonably capable hand and the index finger of the other on the docking station of my tablet, the radio humming beside me flanked by six hot ounces of coffee in a Don Francisco mug. I stepped from a curb cut into the wide stretch of street between the CVS and the handicapped space where I had parked. My legs wobbled; I went down; and who should be driving the car that narrowly missed me but a local physician? He staunched the blood and tidied me up while I waited for a ride to the ER.

I experienced a true Tennessee Williams moment. Kind strangers patted my hand while I bled all over the doctor's Brooks Brothers shirt. The pharmacy manager brought first aid supplies and a stool. A grandmother named Kate tried to reach my husband and then my son. Somebody scooped my fallen belongings into my bag and rescued a fluttering twenty-dollar bill from under my bumper. The doctor and his companions left me in the hands of the grandmother, who stayed with me until my son arrived to whisk me to the hospital.

A lifetime later I finally made it home, with a space-age splint and a Percoset prescription. Husband and son went back to fetch my stranded car. I trudged upstairs and dropped my shoes on the floor. A shiner bloomed on the left side of my face and a wicked headache threatened. I'll be lucky if I don't have to have hand surgery. I won't be driving for a while, at least until the ortho folks put something more sturdy on my hand. Typing poses a challenge and I'll be taking my son with me to court for a few days at least. Among the most annoying challenges? I am not quite sure how I will wash my hair. This is second only to the city's response to my being injured by my use of an inadequately situated handicapped space: they have apparently decided not to provide any accessible parking in Brookside. Nice call, Kansas City.

With all of this looming around me, I fight to push the pity party away. I add "run over by an SUV" to my list of things that haven't happened to me, and "fell right as a doctor turned the corner" to the growing catalogue of happy events in my life. Memories of the surreal four hours in the ER still draw a smile from me -- the unflappable pregnant triage nurse, the couple in their sixties wearing cocktail attire, making out in the corner. But there, too, I found reasons to feel lucky: a family huddled on one side of the room, speculating as to whether their battered loved one could hear them; a woman wrapped her arms and a warm blanket around a frail shivering man.

So another week draws to a close and Car Talk chatters in the background. My world turns a click closer to home, while somewhere in my town, a doctor's wife pats her husband's hand and tells him what a good man he is.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Missouri Mugwump™

My photo
I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.