Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saturday Musings, 26 November 2016

Good morning,

It seems that I have been writing these Musings forever but it's only been eight and a half years.  So much has happened in that time; so many stages of my life, so many losses and even a few gains.  I cannot decide if I'm in a river swimming against the tide or a bottomless pool struggling to reach the light, resisting a relentless pull downward.

The world pauses for a moment.  Today's early light falls gently on my shoulders as I skitter through the fallen leaves towards the curb with a small bag of trash to add to the larger one already piled there.  I wear my grandmother's house coat flower-side inward, snapped, a folded handkerchief tucked into its bric-a-brac trimmed pockets.  My son sleeps.  This day holds work for him, ten hours of it.  Tomorrow we meet friends for brunch and supper; Monday he returns to Chicago.

The visit has gone quickly.  He came with the intention of being a help to me and he has done that.  He walked the dog, cleaned the house before the arrival of our Thanksgiving guests, drove us around on all our errands, and listened to a friend and me tell stories of courtroom antics.  But he also showed some aspects of his mid-twenties self;  I discovered a lot about my boy.  He runs deep.  He still has little faith in himself, something he learned from me, I'm sad to say.  Yet I have not surrendered my belief in him and I have no intention of dying or relenting.  My mother thought that I could succeed in anything I tried.  Her death at 30 deprived me of my most faithful fan.  Without her encouragement I slid into mediocrity.

Yesterday morning, I watched a little family walk past my house.  Father, mother, sister, brother.  Their daily treks to and from their home began before the birth of either child -- newlyweds hand in hand.  I watched the bulge of pregnancy grow under the woman's clothing.  A baby buggy signaled the happy event.  Later a little toddler pushed that same buggy; and father walked along beside.  I don't know their names, or in which house they live.  I speak only small words to them -- 'good morning', 'happy spring', 'nice weather'.  The man nods or waves.  The woman does  not turn her head towards me, not ever.  She does not break stride.  But the children smile and return my greeting.

I measure my tenure here by the evolution of that family.  I've lived here since before the birth of either child.  I've watched their children grow from babies to scampering grade-schoolers in the uniform of the nearby Catholic parish.  Slightly older than them, my son has gone from a daycare baby to an M.F.A. since we first moved to this neighborhood.  I've married  twice.  I've staggered through the stages of grief for the loss of a brother, my beloved in-laws, and both marriages, both husbands.  I started this blog during the summer of 2008 when my son had gone to Mexico as an exchange student and my husband had decamped for his Ohio girlfriend's arms.  I've tried to be kind; I've tried to be thoughtful; I've tried to avoid the maudlin and the self-absorption that I see in other forums.

A lifetime of stories has fallen from me to these pages, into the little rectangular boxes, driven by the marching cursor.  Faces that I strain to remember dance here.  My little brother lifts me, twirling me around in an airport while my boyfriend stands as an eternal outsider nearby, holding my suitcase.  My mother walks through her front yard, sits beside me on the porch, and listens to my sobbing stories of the failed East Coast experiment.  Doctors, clients, friends, lovers, other people's children -- they all tramp through the paragraphs and pictures that I pour onto these pages.  I hit the "publish" button and hope for the best.  I don't want to embarrass anyone, though I can accept humiliation on the heels of my own candor.  Those who have loved me took that chance.  The gamble of potential revelation.  A roll of the dice.  A bargain:  You give me a few years of your time, and I acknowledge that I might appear in the pages of your life's story.

Except for this:  None of those people understood that whatever else I am, I have always been a writer.  Mediocre, perhaps; unambitious, certainly.  But from this vantage point, looking backward, I see that other than perhaps my father, every person in my life has seen me as something relative to them.  A friend.  Their lawyer.  A short-term employee.  A casual girlfriend.  A troublesome wife.  Mom.  Daughter.

My father though, for all of his terrible burdens and awful actions, understood what no one else acknowledged.  He wanted me to practice law, but he also knew that the writer's gene had gone from his father to him, from him to me.  Neither of them let their lives take that path and nor did I.  My grandfather had a family to support.  He went to law school, started an insurance exchange, and became a gentleman farmer.  The poems which he had written for the journals at Notre Dame give tribute to his literary bent.  My father, on the other hand, went to war and came back a damaged man.  All that exists of his writing gift are a handful of sentimental verses that he wrote about my mother in the five years between her death and his.

I am not much better.  I write these little essays and send a link to them around to a few dozen friends.  My immortality comes only from the annoying fact that nothing on the internet ever quite goes away.  You can do a Google search of my name and find both blogs -- My Year Without Complaining; and these, the Saturday Musings.  Otherwise, there's nothing to show that I lived as a writer, not even a stack of coffee table books in the remainder bin at a failing bookstore.

I tell myself, you're only sixty-one, you're not dead.  More importantly, I scold my son:  Don't do what your mother did.  Don't doubt your talent. Don't throw away your life on a career just to pay the bills, even if you sometimes enjoy it.  Follow your passion.  Believe in yourself.  He shrugs.  He'll make a little face when he reads this but I don't care.  He can be angry with me if he wants.  I'd tell anyone's child the same thing.  I told my stepson.  I tell you all:  Follow your dream.  And: Look inward for your validation; the admiring bog will drift away when a louder frog emerges from the muck.

Now the sun shines full upon the waning year, outside my crooked shades and rain-streaked windows.  The unforgiving blast of daylight reveals the meagerness of what I've garnered from my awkward life.  The fullness of time seems to have won the war.  But maybe not; maybe just the most recent skirmishes.  I take a deep, cleansing breath.  I wait.  And while I wait, I keep writing.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday Musings, 19 November 2016

Good morning,

Here and there the piles of clutter threaten to grow and overwhelm me again.  I sit in a flannel nightgown listening to a distant roar that could be a trash truck except for the day of the week.  The neighborhood resists awakening.  Only my dog barks.  A quieter hum speaks from the basement, of winter nights and the fireplace which must be cleaned if I plan to use it.  It has sat idle for the last few years.  Perhaps finally I will set a match to crumpled paper and kindling again to let its flame roar high.

Now I see the pale glow of sunlight on a brick wall across the street, dappled and daring against the shadows.  A line of stairs marches to the cracked sidewalk on which a cat stalks something in the leaves.  From my window, I watch it all, even the ghosts darting across my yard with their makeshift capes flying from their small shoulders.   A slender woman led by her blue-grey border collie moves noiselessly beyond the pane in front of which I stand.  I see her nearly every day -- narrow frame, razored hair, round black eyeglasses.  She  holds her eyes forward.  She does not know that I am watching; or if she knows, she pays no heed.  We learn this way of walking in our solitary world.

Thanksgivings of my past crowd round, begging to be told.  Cornish hens in a fire-fed pot-belly stove; names pulled from a Christmas-gift hat; chores divided by eight who scurry around the house when the bell rings.  I've talked of them so many times.   Each day of thanks; each turkey; each plate of pumpkin pie.  I shrug them off and keep my vigil.

Now the sun crests the line of houses to the east and sheds a fuller light on the scene outside.  Traffic increases on my little street.  Pale leaves drift through the fragile air, shed from the heavy crown of the maples overhead.  I cross my arms and hold my body motionless.   I stare through the window with its broken sash and sagging shade.  I could not tell you what I think will come. I only know that I still wait.  I still wait.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Saturday Musings, 12 November 2016

Good morning,

At nearly 8:00 a.m., a second pot of coffee simmers on the one-burner.  Breakfast dishes and mugs await the flow of water into the kitchen sink.  The bags of food for the high school's food drive stand on the porch.  Outside, the dog finally falls silent, having vanquished the wind or the crimson leaves drifting to the ground.  I see a stretch of delicate sky in the space between the broken slats of the blind.

My brother's family, or a fragment of it, has already trooped down the front stoop out to their truck and driven away.  I held my cell phone as they left, thinking to snap a photo at least of them.  But I couldn't stop smiling and the moment passed.  The teenagers slipped into the back seat, Frank and Teresa into the front, and off they went to the Swope Park soccer fields.

Many months have faded away since the last time young voices murmured in my home; since the pulling of a cork from a wine bottle after the sun has set and responsibilities have receded with the quieting of the neighborhood.  The grown-ups talked until midnight while the high-schoolers, Mark and Devin, the youngest of my brother's sons, watched flickering screens and savored their team's victory over Rockhurst under the Friday night lights.

As I watched Frank leave this morning, a hundred stories from our childhood clamored to be written.  The time he fell off the back of a pick-up truck at the end of a long line of cars involved in an accident.  His profile, standing in the kitchen, intently explaining to his siblings how you turn a styrofoam cup inside out without the thing imploding.  My mother's anxious vigil over the telephone, waiting the problematic birth of one of Frank's older children.  His wedding; his graduation from St. Louis University High School; the happy noise of Christmas Eve jambalaya.

My favorite memory of Frank involves me, and the terrible menstrual cramps which plagued me in my own teenage years.  I lay on my bed in the coveted front bedroom.  I heard Frank's voice in the kitchen, saying, she doesn't look sick.  My mother's low reply eluded me so I don't know what she said.  But a little while later, Frank brought me a tray with a plate of vanilla wafers, a cup of tea, and the comics section from the evening paper.

When we lost our baby brother, our number tipped from Even-Stephen to eternally odd.  Frank became the youngest living member of the once infinity Corleys.  I think it must be a daunting spot to occupy, holding the banner for four hands, two brothers, the little boys.  But his broad shoulders have borne the burden of raising seven children, standing as one with his college sweetheart.  He's proven himself to be capable, to be honorable, to be the best of what his parents' genes afforded him.

Frank and Teresa intend to come back tomorrow, between soccer games, to get an old desk that I think would look good in their refurbished schoolhouse, their weekend home out in the country lanes of Missouri south of St. Louis.  I bought the thing at auction more than a decade ago, intending to restore it.  I never have.  I think my sister-in-law will make it shine.  I'm hoping that even though they will have just a few minutes in the morning, we'll get a photo of my brother and me.  I'm feeling the fullness of time.  You never know when he will pass this way again, or whether, when he does, I will still be here.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

My nephew Devin tends to a crying doll, the purpose of which is to inspire teens to avoid having children too soon.  Given the example which my brother Frank has set, I expect his sons to be wonderful fathers.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Saturday Musings, 05 November 2016

Good morning,

It's half past five.  The back door stands open.  Little Girl, the old brown dog, wanders around the back yard snuffling the scent of other critters.  A warmed-over mug of coffee rests on the edge of the little table on which my computer sits.  In an hour, I will drive north to a hotel near the airport where I will serve as Sergeant-at-Arms for the 2016 District Conference of District 6040 of the Rotary Club.  I never expected to join anything, not in the south end of my middle-age.  Being a member of the Waldo-Brookside Rotary Club gives me something to which I can look forward, week on week; and crystallizes my life-long yearning to be of service.  I don't quite fit into the mix with other Rotarians, but their kind hearts move aside to accommodate my bumpy contours.

I'm thinking of the letter "J" today -- as in Jay, Jabez, my favorite curmudgeon.  Two years ago today, with the victorious Republican election still shimmering in his ears, Jay slipped from our grasp and went with his waiting Joanna into the divine circle of eternity.  Because I must be north before 8:00 a.m., I will not be able to visit his grave today.  I will take flowers tomorrow; but for today, only the devotion of my heart will give him honor.

As I fell asleep last evening, I thought suddenly of one of many afternoons when I sat by his side.  Into the pureness of our relate, a little barb intruded.  Someone did something nasty, something to hurt me, something small and unwarranted.  Who and what no longer matter, and I will not speak them.  But Jay reached his hand to mine, flustered, almost furious.  I'm so sorry, honey, he said.  Our eyes met and we sat for a few moments. I murmured something, it's okay, I don't mind, and he shook his head.  He understood what I felt.  He had no power to control anything at this time.  His power had waned, except for the hold over me.  I bent over and wrapped my arm around him and said, firmly, louder, It's all right, Jay; please, pay it no attention. I'm all right.  I felt a  wrenching sob and then his frail arms reached around my body and we held one another.

I desperately wished the person who had taken such pains to sting me with their superiority could see that the arrow had missed and plunged into his heart.  But I let it go.  I stood and raised the shade.  I found the book which I had been reading to him, and began the next passage.  His hands arranged themselves on the cover that lay across his legs, and his eyelids lowered.  A smile passed across his face.  Sleep overcame him.  I kept reading.

I only knew my favorite curmudgeon for five years.  As my father-in-law, he showed me a purity of compassion.  He did not approve of much about me -- my politics, my breezy way of relating to my son, my headstrong will, my housekeeping.  But none of that mattered in the end.  From the spring of 2013 when we began a tandem course of care for his wife until her final days, to the dark November of 2014 when he himself passed from the grief and longing for her that had come to consume him, Jay and I forged a bond that in  my own dark hours sustained me like no other gift.  In his last few weeks, I listened as he spoke of his feelings for his children, his grandchildren, his cousin Anne Jones, his nephews Tom and Steve, and most of all, his beloved Joanna.  He lamented his flaws.  He spoke of his mistakes.  He told the same stories, over and over, his body shaking as he laughed in the same places.

Between the memories, he spoke of regret and his unrelenting desire to have been a better man.  He greeted me at the start of every visit with the same questions.  Are you all right, honey?  Do you need anything?  Do you have enough money?    Other questions, more pointed ones of which I will not here speak.  I answered the same each time: yes, yes, yes.  He would urge me to tell him if I needed anything.  I promised that I would.  Neither of us put to words what I might need.  We let that go.

Last night, I hit a parking barrier with the Prius which I drive, the one that used to be Joanna's car, which I got after Jay died.  I didn't hurt it, as far as I know.  Fatigue had overcome me early in the evening.  I hurried from a fundraising benefit, desperate to be home, my eyes wonky, my legs hurting.  I backed off the concrete barrier, tears welling in my eyes.  I've put so many dents in the plastic of this little vehicle which I feel blessed to drive, which inexplicably seems to be my last connection with my favorite curmudgeon.  Sometimes I feel like parking it and wrapping my arms around its funny nose and wailing.

 It's time to go.  I have to shower and feed the dog.  Perhaps the sun will rise before I pull out of the driveway.  I'll see its crimson tinge cresting the horizon and know that I've survived another long and dreary night.  A little nugget of hope will struggle to the surface.  Perhaps I'll find a quarter on the sidewalk.  I'll lift it from the ground and run my finger over its edge, thinking of Jay, wondering if he's trying to tell me something.

I love you, honey.  I love you too, Jay.  I know you do, honey.

His last words to me, before he slipped away.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Jabez Jackson MacLaughlin

To read my Musing from the week of Jay's death, CLICK HERE

To read My Year Without Complaining about carrying out one of Jay's last instructions to me,

The Missouri Mugwump™

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