Saturday, December 26, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 26 December 2015

Good morning,

My sluggish body moves around the house wondering why I feel like a truck ran over me.  I cast my eyes downward, to the DearFoam slippers into which I have eased my sore feet.  My son found perfect presents for me:  these slippers; FarberWare kitchen shears to replace the ones which somehow vanished from a drawer; an excellent five-inch kitchen knife with a sheath and comfortable handle; a stuffed giraffe to remind me to use non-violent communication; and the promise of Neko Case loaded onto my phone and a cable to play her through the Prius's auxiliary function.  This last came when I confessed that my Neko Case CD which he gave me two years ago seems to have gone the way of the kitchen scissors.  My ghost  perhaps? But who knows.  Both are gone; and he's seen to their replacement.  I wiggle my toes in the soft fuzzy warmth of my new slippers and remind myself how lucky I am.

How blessed.

We dined at McCormick & Schmidt last night; and tonight we will eat at the Carnie table, north of here, in warmth, and light, with the Carnie children laughing around us.  Our friend Ellen Carnie has invited us to dine with her and her son's family.  Tomorrow, we will serve our family-by-choice at our home.  We've had a wonderful Christmas so far.  I can only see it continuing.

Patrick asked me last night, are you sure you can afford this restaurant? I had planned it, of course.  I'm not wealthy.  We have done several lunches-out this week and he's protested each time.  Mom, you shouldn't be spending money on me.  In days when he worked, he would pay for lunch and shake his head, waving his hand if I tried to contribute.  But grad school has gotten serious, this second year, and he has no time for a job.  So he has put himself on a budget and taught himself to cook.  He often calls with questions but also found  a website with video and humor:  Now he shares those recipes with me.  We spent time in the kitchen this holiday.

Over dinner last evening, I asked all the questions about screenwriting that had been hammering in my head as I watched him progress in his graduate program for the last year.  Technical questions; questions about the industry; questions about writing.  We talked as two adults, back and forth, listening to each other, following the flow where it led.  By dessert, I understood the rightness of the course he has chosen.

Last night before sleeping, a memory broke loose from the rubble at the bottom of my mind and struggled to the surface.   My mother stands at the front door of our home in Jennings.  I'm behind her, small, my hand on her leg.  I peer around to see what she sees: a cardboard box.

She pulls it into the house.  It's filled with food.  My mother says, They must have gotten the wrong house.  I don't know who would think we needed food.  I stare at the bounty.  One of my older siblings walks into the room and starts rummaging in the box.  Ann, maybe; or Adrienne.  Mom, we can use all this, look, there's a ham.  Mother starts to cry.  Her body crumples.  She sinks into a chair.  She shakes her  head; she wrings her hands.  It probably was meant for someone else.  But there is no one else.  They look for a note or some indication of the source of this gift while I watch them.  Finally my mother lifts the box from the floor and takes it into the kitchen.  Any talk of returning it has been stifled.

I never use the expression "don't cry over spilt milk", because I once saw my mother kneeling on our kitchen floor doing just that.  Shards of glass cut her hands as she tried to stench the flow from the shattered bottle and salvage some of the precious liquid.

My son and I started yesterday at Hope Faith Ministries, standing at the entrance to the bustling room where hundreds of homeless persons received a sit-down dinner on Styrofoam plates served by red-shirted volunteers with glowing faces.  The clientele coming through the doors passed through security, frisked by a laughing young man who made the undignified process as pleasant as possible, despite the gun on his belt, despite the filth of their layers of clothing, despite the bags they dragged into the place containing God knows what, their treasures, their lives.

I clasped their hands and wished them Merry Christmas.  They gazed at me, at the many strange faces in the row of greeters and servers.  Used to wandering into the place unobtrusively, they accepted our help but sometimes with suspicion.  One man studied my eyes before shaking his head but most took my hand and held it.  They read my name and thanked me.  I guided each person to one of the younger volunteers -- my son, or someone else -- who seated them and placed a small printed menu in front of them.  We did this for two hours.  I have never found a better way to spend Christmas morning.

As I sat at the restaurant table, I compared the look of our meal with the food that I'd seen at Hope Faith.  I know that I'm blessed.  I can afford the fanciness of restaurant service.  I can pay for the groceries that I will put on the table for my friends tomorrow.  I am not wealthy; I never learned to manage money.  I don't even really value it, not for itself, not in the way that I've seen in this world where the measure of  a man is often his net worth.

But I understand that money makes my life comfortable.  It sends me to California for my treatment at Stanford; it pays for the health insurance which covers that care; it keeps the furnace roaring and the Prius's motor churning.  I get that.  I love my work as an attorney, but I do it mostly to pay the bills and I accept this fact of capitalist society.  We earn our keep.  We make our own destiny.  Hopefully we get help when we need it and I've had plenty of that, too; and I have not forgotten my own guardian angels.  They stand with me when I stand for others; their love flowed from me to every person whom I greeted yesterday, through each cold hand, into each pair of lonely eyes.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

By coincidence, three pairs of mothers and sons worked the door at Hope Faith Ministries yesterday.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday Musings, 19 December 2015

Good morning,

The tree stands at the window, its lights twinkling.  I had the timer in my hand for two seconds but got distracted by the prodigal son and now we have forever-lights, day or night, on or off.  I choose to leave them shining.  I'll find the timer when I clean, I'm sure; sitting on the mantle, or behind a picture on the piano.

Last evening my son and Brian carried a small dresser upstairs and settled it in its new place in my snazzy dressing room. Brian Martig, the carpenter/friend/fellow-Rotarian who rehabbed my upstairs attic and bathroom, vacuumed the last dust from his seven-week odyssey at the Holmes house, drank an Oatmeal Stout with Patrick, and bid us good evening.  He will return; his equipment stands in my garage and needs to be organized and taken home; he has a few trim pieces to install; he's put a temporary lamp where a light fixture will be.  But his second child will be born on Monday.  The little fixings can wait until January.

Today holds house-cleaning, laundry, new-closet organizing, and Christmas shopping.  My heart still hums from last evening's successful creation of muffin-tin frittatas and pan-roasted Brussel sprouts with Patrick.  We used Chef John's mini-quiche recipe and made six large frittatas, three with chorizo, three meatless.  We sauteed the chorizo in one of the newly re-cured cast iron pans, and the veggies in another.  Hot pan, cold oil, just as my mother taught me.  I felt a bit reluctant to eat while Brian still worked, but I offered him dinner and he declined.  The three of us had shared pizza on the previous evening.

Last week the ghosts of Christmas Past haunted me but this morning I feel contented.  I've been doing these musings for more than seven years.  They have evolved from what someone once described as "warm fluffy stories" to a generous if uninvited helping of my life's philosophy.  The Musings and My Year Without Complaining often seem to blend together. I've let go of the past more and more this year.  So many stories have been told.  So much has found its way to this virtual page.

But faces rise in my mind still.  Tender moments of today connect themselves to the thread of sweetness running through my life.

Christmas  Eve, 1973; Incarnate Word Hospital; St. Louis.  Those of us without spouses or children volunteered to work the late shift so that our co-workers could see the glow of Christmas morning from home.  I sat at the desk transcribing the day's orders in the way that we did back then, before computers invaded every workplace.

A heavy-set woman settled into the chair beside me.  Mrs. Turner; her first name escapes me all these years later.  She had straightened hair in the way of black women of the day.  A pink uniform smock strained across her shoulders.  Lilac lipstick made a crooked swathe on her mouth.

I had not worked with her before that night.  I moved a bit to let her reach for the chart she wanted.  I offered her coffee from the pot behind us.  She took the mug, wrapping slender, red-tipped fingers around its warmth.   You don't have any place to be tonight either, she said to me, in a tone which implied either resentment or despair.  I mentioned my mother and father; tomorrow's breakfast and dinner.  Presents under the childhood tree.  I didn't say that I had not had a meaningful conversation with my mother for four months.  I left out the part about the slammed phone, the sharp words, the September sabotage of my good relationship with the better of my two parents.

Mrs. Turner showed less discretion.  I had me a family once.  The bitter words could not be stopped. Christmas, presents, roast beef, everything.  I waited.  My listening skills needed sharpening but   I could hold my tongue even at eighteen.

The unit had fallen silent while the nurses and aides walked its corridors in their soft-soled shoes, checking on the sleeping patients.  Mrs. Turner and I staffed the nurse's desk, shuffling paper, sending orders to the pharmacy, keeping notes and paging doctors.  The late shift demanded less of us and so we had time to talk.

Mrs. Turner shifted in her chair, a short woman with a ponderous frame.  Yeah, I bet you don't know who I am.  I did not.  I tilted my head forward, a gesture modeled after my mother.  She took this as leave and continued.  I was married to Ike Turner before that woman.  That woman.  Tina Turner?

I tried to picture the type of man who would marry both a ward clerk at a small Catholic Hospital and a pop diva.  My imagination failed.  My skepticism flashed across my face and Mrs. Turner slapped her mug on the desk.  It's true, I can prove it.  She hauled some papers from a handbag stashed in the footwell of her desk and shoved them towards me.  All I could think:  She carries her divorce papers?  I gently pressed them back into her hand just as the first tears fell.

You got no idea what it's like to be left, she whispered.  I did not, then, though later, so many heartbreaks later, I would understand.

I had never previously put my arms around a woman not related to me except the very old, at the nursing home where I volunteered.  I did that evening.  I felt her shudder against my chest; felt the ripple of her pulling herself back together.  I moved away. I filled her coffee.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a little sumpin sumpin in that sludge, she said.

The elevator door opened just then; and the director of nursing came towards us with a tray of cookies.  Merry Christmas, girls, she trilled.  Mrs. Turner took a handful.  I shook my head but set the tray on the counter.  Our DON asked about the patient count, the events of the evening, where the staff might be.  Mrs. Turner answered all her questions as the senior clerk on duty while I finished what our conversation had interrupted.

When we were again alone at the desk, Mrs. Turner faced me and asked, You won't tell nobody I cried, will you?  I shook my head.  We went back to our work, to the business of running the ward, as the overhead lights dimmed and the strains of Silent Night drifted from the speakers overhead.

I don't know if Mrs. Turner still lives.  If I am sixty, she must be ninety.  I don't know if she truly married Ike Turner. I didn't read the papers she thrust at me.  I tried to find out once, decades later, on the Internet.  I did not satisfy myself.  I let her memory be; I allowed her to remain the wronged ex-wife of a flawed charismatic star. Her face has receded into the dimness of lingering memory, a face seen in a gloomy hospital ward,on Christmas Eve, when I was young.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Saturday Musings, 12 December 2015

Good morning,

A grey sky stretches above me as I stand at the backdoor and wait for the coffee to warm in the microwave, yesterday's leftovers poured into the crystal cup which a friend's daughter left at my house and my friend let me keep.  I cradle the cup  in my hand and slide into a dining room chair to eat my banana and scroll through news sites, social media, and e-mail.

Late yesterday, I settled my Monday trial, so rather than work this weekend, I can enjoy myself.  Jenny Rosen has invited me to a Hanukkah party.  I plan to shop for Christmas.  I might nag my son via e-mail about his potential arrival date for the holiday.  Fun stuff.  I wonder how my client from Monday's trial will occupy her time this weekend, in her small apartment, still confused about the end of her twenty-year marriage.  I worry about her.  Her fire might smolder and then inflame, fed  by the stacks of paper showing her husband's treachery, the pages of her diary filled with stories of loss -- her birth parents, her adoptive parents, her fostering aunt and uncle, her husband -- the last on the heels of a half-million dollar inheritance that he hid from her until the discovery phase of the divorce action.

A red and green pile of presents on the buffet reminds me that I have not yet dragged the artificial tree from the basement.  I'm debating.  I bought that tree more than a decade ago, closer to two; when the pulmonologist cautioned against my breathing live cedar with my uncontrolled asthma.  I used oxygen then:  a condenser when seated; a portable tank on the move.  I returned the tanks long ago, and the condenser accumulates dust in the basement.  My favorite curmudgeon used it for a while, but otherwise it sits idle, on a shelf in the basement next to the boxes of ornaments.

This week also saw the end of a five-year divorce action in which I'd represented the wife for only the last six months.  Her husband has finally been consigned to a Missouri prison cell.  A judge levied two consecutive seven-year terms on the man  for savagely stealing his step-daughter's innocence.  With the conviction, he ran out of funds.  His divorce lawyer withdrew and we set the divorce for disposition.  I thought the judge might cheer as he spoke the formulaic words with uncharacteristic vehemence.  He apologized to my client for the long wait.  She tendered a thin smile.  I gestured her to wait for me while I got copies of the judgment.   I found her standing with a friend's arm on her shoulders.  Not cheering.  Not gleeful.


On the radio, I hear news of the first Saudi election in which women can vote.  I find this astonishing.  Though Saudi women still face a ban on driving an automobile, perhaps their voices will rise and finally be heard.  My cynical mind wonders if the Saudi election board can tell which ballots came from women.  I wonder if the segregated ballot box holds a shredder.

I have no plans for Christmas Day other than perhaps to watch a movie with my son.  We can spend Saturday at Carnies' Honker Springs Farm.  On Sunday, the usual suspects will gather at my table.  Scrooge and I share nothing except our ghosts of Christmas Past.  I don't need threats to move me to give, but spirits haunt me nonetheless.  I'm growing old.  I have sixty years of memories, each of which crowds for a place on my page.  I ignore them all, at least now, at least in the weak sunlight of a wintry Saturday.

A woman posted something nasty on my Facebook page this week, an admonishment that I would be condemned if I did not accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior.  She might be right, I suppose; though as I told her, I have lots of Jewish friends who beg to differ.  Her ugliness saddens me.  I let her statement stand and watched my friends rise to logically refute her contention.  Eventually the debate slipped into the depths of the social media morass.  But I continued to reflect on her assertion.  I cannot fathom a divine entity which limits acceptance in the way that she described.  "Divine" and "limit" seem incompatible.

It's human beings who judge, not divine ones.  I contemplate and find wanting the man who cast his wife from their home when his finances took an unexpected upturn; the man who ravaged his stepdaughter; the men who grudgingly allow their wives and daughters to vote while still denying them the right to drive themselves and their children through a day's activities.  But even though I feel confident in my judgments, I suspect that if there is a divine entity, he, or she, or it, opens a path to forgiveness even to those whom I condemn.

In thirteen days, much of the Western world will celebrate a Christian holiday commemorating the birth of a child in Bethlehem, a city which lies in Palestine, 93% of whose current residents belong to the Muslim faith.  Meanwhile, the world reels from the terrorist acts of Islamic extremists followed by angry retaliation -- the burning of Muslim mosques, the rejection of Syrian refugees, the assault of Muslims in subways and on city streets.

Society flags under the weight of shame.  I see it in my practice and I hear it on the radio.  The fact that any of us can still celebrate anything in the face of all this pain astonishes me.  And yet we do.  We do.  My clients will find a way to overcome their personal pain; the Saudi women will smile in glee beneath their veils.  Their eyes might reveal nothing, but their hearts will beat a little more wildly.  I will celebrate Hanukkah with Jenny Rosen, her boyfriend and his family, and a host of their friends.  I'll celebrate Christmas with Episcopalians.

Even though, as we all know, I am a recovering Catholic.  Life continues.

Mugwmpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 05 December 2015

Good morning,

I know that the 6th Annual Suite 100 Holiday Open House succeeded last evening.  The Harvester's collection barrel groans under the weight of the donations brought by our guests.  The tip jar to benefit the charitable works of the Waldo Brookside Rotary Club filled with "folding money".  Though we bought too much food, as usual, the yummiest stuff got completely eaten and I myself will eat the leftover cut fruit and veggies, so I'm okay with the excess.

My phone died about forty-five minutes into the event, so I'm still waiting for the photos taken by others as the crowd grew.  I stood at my customary spot, but didn't badger folks to sign a guest book this year.  But the turn-out overwhelmed me.  Each of the five professionals who office in Suite 100 had plenty of guests from their individual lists, and a large contingent of friends of our featured artists arrived throughout the night.  The weather cooperated.  My colleague, Jenna Munoz; and our "sweet" suite secretary, Miranda Erichsen, worked like the fierce lionesses whom I know them to be, and the place looked gorgeous.

I am contented.

I have difficulty with the holidays.  Today I find myself thinking of a Christmas season when I drove from Jasper, Arkansas, to St. Louis to see my father and my siblings.  I made the journey alone, leaving early one chilly mountain morning and arriving with stiff, sore muscles, struggling from my Nissan Sentra, regretting the infrequency of my stops along the way.  My father stood on the porch in the cold of the evening air, watching for me, worried.  He carried my bag to the front bedroom while I wandered through the house.

I walked among the photos and china still arranged by my mother's hands, though she had been dead for more than two years.  I touched thick dust on the surface of her mixing bowls.  The silence of the breakfast room saddened me.  I went to bed heavy with an inexplicable regret.

My father fixed breakfast for me after a night of little sleep.  I surveyed the bacon, the bright yellow yolks of the fried eggs, the toast spread thick with butter.  My father studied me, waiting for approval.   I summoned radiance into my face and lifted the fork, thinking of the fruit and yogurt which I normally ate, quelling a shudder.  One day of this won't kill you.

We talked of my attempts to start a law practice in the rural county where marriage had brought me to live.  I described the portable kitchen which Chester, my husband, had built to go on tour with a theatre company, that tour being the  reason for my solitary journey.  I knew my father would be delighted with the intricacies of the large box on wheels with its built-in propane cooker and its cubbies for dishes.

The story took us through the meal, then we fell silent.  We carried the dishes to the kitchen and then I shooed my father into the living room, where I knew the crossword puzzle from the day's St. Louis Post-Dispatch awaited him.  He pretended to be offended, feigning reluctance to leave me to the dishes.  But he went.  Moments later, I heard him settle into the worn recliner, easing into the depression that his body had made over the years.  I could picture him reaching for his pencil; for the folded newspaper; for a cigarette.

I ignored the portable dishwasher, organizing the dishes by category the way my mother would have.  Glasses and cups into the sudsy water first; pots and pans last.  Everything had its place in the drain basket.   I had been well-schooled in the process, standing first on a tall wooden stool, too little to reach the sink but old enough for chores.

I felt my mother's eyes on my back as I gazed out the window at the neighbor's yard.

The orange sliding board had long since vanished, snatched by the same twister that had uprooted the old tree at my parents' place.  But I could see children climbing on it; my younger self, the neighbor girls, our impatient brothers.  I could see the boys climbing in the treehouse, high on the thick trunk of a long-dead tree.  Their shouts drifted through the kitchen window so many wistful years later.

I wrung out the dishcloth and hung it on the side of the sink.  In the living room my father looked at me as I sat on the couch.  I could not bring myself to sit in the upholstered chair beside my dad's recliner, the chair long empty.  I did not look on the floor beside my mother's chair to see if her knitting bag still sat there.

What will you do today, my father asked, though I had told him several times over breakfast.  Frank is having everyone over for dinner, I said, for the fourth or fifth time.  He nodded.  We both knew that "everyone" did not include him.  I asked if he needed me to do anything, and he put the newspaper down.  Yes, he nodded.  I've got some things of your Mother's for you.  My stomach lurched.  But we all have our rituals, the dances of our grief.  He needed this.

We spent a couple of hours in the room where my mother had spent her last months.  He had already sorted out what he planned to give me.  I touched the ironed handerchiefs, pressed and folded by my father's hands.  I held my grandmother Corley's housecoat against my face, picturing my mother wearing it, her hair in rollers.

My sisters and I had divided my mother's small jewelry collection after her death.  We had cleaned out the closets, donating her clothes to the church.  I had taken her record collection and turntable home with me after her funeral.  But my father had kept the more intimate things for a time when he felt more capable of sorting through them. He had been raw back then, whereas we had been numb, or drugged, or drunk, and the sorting had come easy for us.

Not so on that New Year's Day in her bedroom with my father.  I felt the roar of grief rise in my ears and fell against the wall.  My father pretended not to see and kept pulling her things from drawers.  He could not stop.  He had planned this purge.  He pretended that the desire for me to have something of my mother drove him but we both knew better.  I let him go.

Later that day, I sat in my brother's house watching my siblings and their families.  I had nothing to say, and they spoke around me.  We had little in common.  On the surface our lives might parallel, but I had constructed my existence from the fragile fibers of fraud, and they knew it.  They did not ask about my "job"; they briefly inquired about Chester's tour and then the seam of their solidarity closed and I stood on its outside.

I slipped away when no one noticed and went back to Jennings, to my parents' home, and told my father that I could not stay.

He fretted while I shoved my clothes and my mother's things into my suitcase.  He reached into his wallet and gave me the Standard Oil charge card which he never used, not having a car, not having  a driver's license.  He made me promise to call when I got home, and then stood in that same spot as I pulled away from the curb.

It snowed the entire way back to Jasper, including after I crossed state line, thickening as I drove higher into the Ozark Mountains.

Two days later, my sister Ann called to ask me why I had left.  I imagined my siblings looking around, wondering, before turning back to their shrimp gumbo and the chatter of their easy camaraderie.

In the last two years, my sisters-by-birth have risen to the urgent challenge of my need.  They have stood with me, with my sisters-by-choice.  My brother Frank has visited my house and brought his children into it, the second wave of children, the ones that he and his wife adopted.  On Thanksgiving day, my sister Adrienne sent an early morning text to her siblings including me.  I feel like part of their family now as I never before have felt.  It's taken sixty years but my path has finally led me home.

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.