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

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.