Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Musings, 31 December 2011

Good morning,

On waking this morning, I realized that I had, in fact, survived another year. The casual section of our newspaper displays pictures of the many folks who did not, and I review their names in awe. I recognize some of them; many mystify me. All meant something to someone, somewhere, and apparently, a lot to many. Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Rooney, James Arness. . .icons in their day and still. We mourn many of them like lost members of our own family and in a way, of course, they occupy special places in the human family, the family of a post-industrialization world, in which currents conduct characters and airwaves shape our hopes, our dreams and our desires.

I have not made the magic hour on New Year's Eve for many years, not since before children, and mid-life ailments, and a keen awareness that over-consumption of alcohol holds no allure for me. From a time to party, New Year's Eve has turned into a time for self-examination. Am I really incompetent and an unbelievable bitch, as someone recently claimed of me? Do I insist on winning every argument, as I heard in another painful accusation? Or am I the virtuous helper that my Facebook friends acclaim?

Am I the Wicked Witch or Wonder Woman?

I push aside the newspaper and fall into a reverie. A gaggle of Corley kids out on the front porch. With pots and pans, and wooden spoons, they beat the old year out and herald the New Year. Inside, a tray of half-eaten Ritz crackers with cheese, and glasses with the residue of something sticky and sweet. My mother sits in her arm chair. My father's recliner stands empty. From the decades' distance, I spy him in the kitchen, slumped against the counter, stubbled face hanging slack, hand clutching a cigarette. I can't recall him drinking in our presence, but he must have -- or perhaps he had been to the local bar. I remember what came later, I keenly recall his hang-over and the wrath of his sobering self. But in that moment, I stood on the lawn and merrily banged on the back of an aluminum pan, and I thought, I can't believe we're staying up til midnight And the fireworks popped in the distance, and my brothers ran around yelling, Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Happy New Year! until my mother came out onto the porch and gently drew us back into the living room.

Years later, at a New Year's Eve party in a now-forgotten bar, I clutched a glass of champagne and braced against the rush of revelers. New Year's Eve 1980, at the end of my first year in law school, and a wild bunch of 1Ls crammed into a room more intent on finding someone with whom to share the last stray pillow of the year than on contemplating self-improvement. Recently single after a grim year-long relationship with a man twice my age, I had no interest in anything but escape, and I lifted the glass as though, like many before me, I sought refuge in its depths. And the crowd roared as the ball dropped in Times Square on the small television perched on a nearby table, and my drunken friends crowed, Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Happy New Year! until their dates and those in other parties scolded, enough, enough, enough, and confetti fell around my narrow shoulders and onto the dirty tiles beneath my feet.

The New Year's Eve celebrations of the last thirty years have faded in my memory. From partying, I turned to sleeping early; bidding the year good night and good luck from a quiet room, with a book, a spouse, and a sleeping cat. More recently, I've spent the evening worrying that my son would make it safely back to the Holmes house, or stay the night wherever he celebrated. I'm not worried that he will drink and drive; he's not yet 21, and though I do not doubt that he would drink, he is sufficiently afraid of the ramifications of being caught to insure that his keys stay on a table beside his discarded glasses and wallet until his blood alcohol returns to zero. No, what I fear is the driver that might not be as smart as my son, and might plow into the side of his car and ruin my one chance for immortality.

Instead of celebrating, I make resolutions. Like the non-Christian who takes the opportunity to celebrate Christmas without sharing "the reason for the season", I borrow New Year's Eve to wallow in self-scrutiny. Wicked Witch or Wonder Woman, I ask myself. Did I help more than I hurt in the previous 365 days? Can I see a way to improve my performance over the next 365? Do those who smile at me with appreciation outnumber those who scowl at me in anger? Do I tip enough? Do I thank the sales clerks with sincerity or snarl at them with petulance?

I cast my mind backwards. My ambitions have largely fallen by the wayside. I never had a poem published in the New Yorker. I have not been to Europe. I've not even been to Canada or Mexico. I've started three novels and abandoned them in varying stages of completion. I still file for an extension on my federal tax return every year, and I am sure that a few old medical bills lie unpaid in a drawer somewhere, or in the mail basket in our living room. I haven't visited my aunt Della in two years. I've never planted gardenias on my mother's grave.

The lesser resolutions have fared better. I lost weight and kept it off. I no longer raise my voice at my secretary when she makes a mistake, though I still feel the temptation and have to walk into my office to gain control. I clean my purse out regularly to make sure I haven't left any crumbled notes to myself to languish beyond relevant due dates. I never miss a dose of Warfarin and I get a regular dental check-up.

As the morning wanes and the old battery on my trusty iBook G4 starts to whimper, I ruminate over this year's resolutions. I reject the trite and true. I won't live like I'm dying; that's so last year. I won't live like there's no tomorrow, or consider today the first day of the rest of my life. I pride myself in creating my own nauseatingly sentimental platitudes.

I hear my husband gently clear his throat in the living room, and the chuckle of the Car Guys on NPR emitting from the radio in my breakfast nook. The furnace blower begins its obtrusive roar, and our old cat, the 17-year-old stare-down champion, yowls for something that I have not a prayer of discerning. I sit amidst the sounds of Saturday morning at the Holmes house, gazing at the bad news in today's paper -- famine, and crime, and the looming election cycle. Suddenly, my resolution seems so obvious that I laugh out loud.

I resolve to cherish what I have.

And now I can eat breakfast, and grouse at the cat, and pour another cup of Dunn Brother's Coffee. At this moment, when it is still possible that the vow of 2011 will not fall empty into a kitchen drawer or vanish beneath my delete key, all seems possible. So Happy New Year, everyone, and here's hoping that you all get safely to the berth where someone who cherishes you lies waiting.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley


Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you'll buy your pint cup !
and surely I'll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

(Original Scottish Version by Robert Burns, English Version by James Watson, based on a traditional song / poem; Burns version 1788).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday Musings, 24 December 2011

Good morning,

The stack of wrapped presents begins to grow on my dresser. Two carry bags on the floor hold additional gifts, sorted by the households to which they will be taken. A third pile has yet to be wrapped, and in my closet, more await. As I cut paper and pull tape, I try to cough away from my work, desperate to keep my germs to myself.

I lean against the bed, gazing at the happy results of my shopping efforts. Simply put, I love Christmas. I'm not religious but I have adopted this holiday as my opportunity to bestow each person in my world with a tangible manifestation of my gratitude for their existence.

Yesterday, my secretary opened the small gift that I had chosen for her while shaking her head back and forth. I thought I saw her hands tremble. She has worked for me for just a few months, and I know nothing of her life, nothing that would explain the emotion displayed as she lifted the scarf and truffles from their gift bag. As I left an hour or so later, she spoke in a faltering voice: I'd sure like to give you a hug. I put my arms around her thin frame. Merry Christmas, merry, merry Christmas.

I've purchased many scarves for people through the years. I give my friend Basimah a new scarf each Christmas and birthday. I'm not sure how she wears them all, but I am certain that she will never have to buy one for herself. I try to think of another gift to give her, but find myself standing in front of the display of silk, cashmere and wool, caressing the lovely threads, fascinated by the shimmering colors, choosing yet another piece of fabric that she can wind around her neck or drape over her shoulders. She has never said, Enough, enough!, and accepts each with the same sweet, sincere smile.

Years ago, when I was a senior in high school, I purchased a matching hat, scarf and mitten set for a little girl whom I tutored. I used my babysitting money to buy them. I stood in Kresge's dime store for a long while, running my fingers over the knitted yarn. I imagined the child with her stringy, unwashed blond hair, and her deep blue eyes, and thought about the colors and how they would frame her face. I shifted from foot to foot, debating, and finally chose the red set, imagining the bright pom pom atop her small head, thinking of the light in her eyes as she tore away the paper and opened the box.

The following Saturday, I traveled to the church at 14th and Mallincrot in St. Louis for the Christmas party staged for our students by the parish sponsor of the tutoring program. I gazed out of the window of the vehicle in which my friends and I rode, watching the suburban houses fall away as we traveled south and east into the city proper. Apartment buildings with broken sidewalks took their place, and the quiet streets of our county neighborhood yielded to blaring horns and sirens; clean pavement gave way to littered slush.

But inside the church, dozens of small boys and girls chattered as volunteers handed out paper cups filled with hot chocolate. Among them, I found my student standing silent, gazing at the colored light bulbs draped from the folding table which held plates of cookies.

As the other children eagerly pulled toys from gift bags, my girl gently lifted the scarf and held it high enough to keep it from draping on the floor. I stood over her, encouraging her to wind it around her thin neck. I settled the beret around her curls and eased each of her tiny hands into a crimson mitten. She stood, gazing at me, wearing an expression that I could not understand, not moving, holding her thin frame rigid. I finally took pity on her, and removed the knitwear, returning it to the box. I thought she would run off then, but she reached for the gift and clutched it against her chest, and said, thank you so much for these beautiful things, and as she spoke, tears ran down her face.

The next week, my girl came to tutoring without her hat, or scarf, or mittens. When I asked about them, she shrugged. After the session, I mentioned them to our teacher, who told me that likely they had been lost or stolen. I felt a small measure of regret for having given her something so transient, something so briefly brightening her life.

At the end of the session, I learned that no one had come to retrieve my student, and that we would be delivering her to her parents' home. She sat beside me in the car without speaking, holding my hand, gazing out the window. When we parked near her building, she quickly wiggled out of the car and swiftly walked away from me, with only the briefest of glances in my direction. I stood beside the car, troubled, and from that vantage point, saw the door of the building open and her mother's narrow frame step onto the sidewalk.

The rush of shock propelled me forward several steps before my teacher's hand stopped me. We watched my student's mother walk forward to greet her, wearing a flimsy, tattered dress, a scarlet hat on her head, a matching scarf wound around her neck, and mittens on each hand. From the short distance between us, I could see hollow cheeks and dark smudges under sunken eyes. I saw the woman reach for her daughter with long, fragile arms, drawing her close, pulling her into the yawning gape of the battered door which closed behind them with a dreadful thud.

There was nothing to do but get back into the car and leave the place. The other girls talked happily among themselves during the ride home. When the car stopped, they spilled out onto the parking lot and called holiday wishes to each other as they ran to their parents' cars. I got out last, and stood waiting for my ride to arrive. The teacher spoke my name, and I met her eyes with a sharp snap of my head. Merry Christmas, she whispered, as my mother's Ford pulled into the driveway. I did not reply.

Decades later, my son's cell phone starts to ring and buzz in his bedroom. He's scheduled for his customary volunteer work with Meals on Wheels today. In a few minutes, he will stagger out and grunt a request for coffee. He will have tarried too late over his guitar and his computer. We finished Christmas shopping last evening, with dozens of other people at Barnes and Noble, where we had a coffee and talked about his fall trip to West Virginia. We went out one night with a bunch of people that I didn't know, and I had a really good time. That trip was great, he told me, and I believed him, for rarely do I see him speak with such uncontrived passion.

I purchased a scarf for my son this year, and as I wrapped it in tissue and gently placed it into a box last night, I thought about my little girl and her mother. I remembered the look in her eyes above the box which she clutched to her chest. I saw again the brief flash of red disappear behind a heavy door, and I felt again the cruel bite of wind on a St. Louis street, long ago, under a leaden sky.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Merry Christmas, and God Bless You, Each and Every One

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Musings


Everyone gives to charity in some way: time, money, prayers. You drop coins into the red bucket and get a bell-ringer's thanks. You drop a can of beans into a barrel and it feeds a needy family.

If you are in the Kansas City area, consider giving to the Harvester's Community Food Network Online drive:

This worthy program provides food and "back pack snacks" for families and children in our community. If you give before noon this Thursday, you can dedicate your donation to someone and that person's name will appear in Sunday's Kansas City Star.

My husband and I donated, and I made the donation in the name of my dear little brother, Stephen Patrick Corley, who was born on Christmas Day in 1959 and died in June of 1997.

I am very pleased to be able to celebrate his birthday this way. You, too, can celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah in honor of someone -- by donating to this or any other charity, giving of your time or talents. For example, our two sons will continue the tradition of helping by delivering Meals on Wheels with my best friend, Katrina, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. I am sure there are many giving opportunities in which you can invest, and I encourage you to do so.

If your giving dollars and/or time are already committed to your personal limit, then give by sending positive thoughts out into the Universe, and remember: That clerk has HAD IT with unpleasant shoppers, so give her your smile. That's a gift that keeps on giving, 24/7/365! (or 366, if it's leap year!)

Merry Christmas,

Mugwumpishly tendered, with best wishes to all of you for a very, very safe and joyous holiday season,

Mary-Corinne Teresa Corley,

daughter of Richard Corley and Lucille Lyons Corley,
sister of seven Corleys,
wife of Jim MacLaughlin,
mother of Patrick,
stepmother of Cara and Ansel,
and your friend and colleague.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Musings, 17 December 2011

Good morning,

Grey sky greets me from the opening where the pale orange curtain parts from the dingy sheer falling to the floor at the side of my dining room window. I strain to find some glimmer of blue but the heavy clouds, with their burden of rain, ice, or snow, block the sun. My heart falls and I think for a moment about the eight-hour drive from Greencastle, Indiana, to Kansas City, and wonder if the Blazer will make the journey without incident.

Seven months into marriage, I still find myself somewhat puzzled at having gone from a family of two to a family of five. The wonder of seeing my stepdaughter walk across a stage, red hair falling in a silky sheath from beneath a mortar board, causes my heart to pound and tears to well in my eyes. I've known this young woman for just over two years and have seen her blossom from someone struggling to find her place in an adult world, to someone poised to conquer. I never doubted that she would reach this point, but I did not anticipate this overwhelming rush of pride.

I cannot deny the strength of feelings that I have for this beautiful young woman who has late come into my life. My son knows that he occupies the first place in my heart, but my stepdaughter and stepson have their own little nooks in that scarred chamber. I've been a stepparent before now, in my first marriage, and not a very good one. I watched my second husband struggle to fit into the nearly impenetrable bond that joins my son and me. I've guided countless clients through the morass of his-mine-ours debates about discipline. I have experienced the pain and pleasure from every direction but one, and I've seen enough to have an inkling of the child's perspective.

With all of that, I nonetheless have been taken very much by surprise at the rise of love which I feel for my stepdaughter. Putting aside the several young women whose younger years coincided with my son's childhood, and whose mothers graciously shared them, she provides my first opportunity for same-gender parenting. She's certainly old enough to need very little hands-on mothering. Still, I have taken full advantage of this chance. I've waited a long time. Though I love my son, I am, after all, the woman who, upon being asked by a helpful clerk if I had gotten what I wanted after standing in the Action Figure aisle for longer than the clerk thought healthy, blurted out, No, I wanted a girl.

I don't doubt that there would have been times when I wished the opposite. I remain convinced that boys cause less daily aggravation. Certainly, they often quickly grow protective of their mothers, as my son did, as my stepson is towards his mother and my son's friends are towards theirs. But something about ribbons, bows, and Barbie dolls makes my stomach clench even now. I have no problem finding Christmas presents for my stepdaughter; in fact, my problem takes the opposite form: stopping myself from getting many more presents for her than for the young men of our family.

I look backwards, with something like sorrow, at the disconnect that broke my relationship with my mother at the start of my college years, which I never quite overcame. I still hear her voice on the telephone, snapping at me, telling me that if you are not home by five o'clock, don't come home at all, occasioning my departure from the family fold just shy of my eighteenth birthday. I never looked back. Though we found a way to communicate, after a fashion, the damage never fully healed. I vividly recall sitting at a restaurant table in the Central West End during graduate school, talking about the silver market and over-sprouted beans, thinking, who is this woman. Had I known she would be gone six years later, I might have tried to find out.

But now I can only gaze at a sepia-tone picture of her dancing in our front yard, and plead with her to tell me what made her heart so glad. In the pages of an old picture album, I find other snapshots from the same day: My grandfather, with his lovely brown skin and tall, sturdy frame; and my brother Frank and me, standing in front of a sheet cake, holding a knife together. I realize that the occasion was a graduation for each of us in the same year. I see the light in her eyes, captured when she least expected, while she looked at me across the room. I am suddenly breathless. This, this, right here in this picture: that is what I felt when Cara walked across that stage last night. A mother's love for her child.

It matters not that she was born of another, who sat in the same auditorium with right of first pride. Nor does it matter that she came from the genes of the man beside me, whose arm I clutched, as I nagged him to quickly hand the camera down to one of the boys so we would not miss the crucial shot. And, finally, that my son was born of me does not diminish my feelings towards my stepdaughter, just as my feelings for her and her brother do not detract from my love of Patrick. Our family has blended.

I glance out the window and am astonished to see that the clouds have scattered, and an azure expanse rises above my neighbor's house. My coffee has been replenished by a man sitting at our table in tennis whites, working a puzzle. In an hour, one of those young women whose lives I have shared will be coming to help me with chores that are beyond my physical ability, and we will have a pleasant hour restoring the Holmes house to cleanliness. Later, when I have done a little shopping and a little fussing over my Christmas list, I will make dinner for the new graduate and her boyfriend, and sometime this evening, my first-born child will arrive for the holiday.

And all will be right with my world, as it turns again, and inches towards the close of another wonderful year.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Congratulations, Cara Withers MacLaughlin, Bachelor of Liberal Arts Magna Cum Laude, 16 December 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Musings, 10 December 2011

Good morning,

I've balanced my laptop on a wooden table purchased at an estate sale for five dollars, more years ago than I can recall. A stout cup of French roast cools at my elbow. At the far end of the scarred oak dining table, an assemblage of Christmas decorations stands at the ready for a later event.

The five-foot tree purchased a decade ago at a January half-price sale shines in its customary corner, lights glowing, only a few plastic needles falling to the floor. Christmas stands proud at the end of the next two rows of boxes on my German calendar. I braved the "early shoppers" sale at Kohl's yesterday, and even did a round at Target, being as I needed cat food any way. Every single sales clerk whom I encountered flashed smiles; but then, it's early yet.

Nearly sixty Christmases span the backward circuit of my life. As I make my lists, check them twice, buying presents for everyone regardless of whether I consider them naughty, or nice, I think about successful purchases in the past: the radiant smile of my best friend's granddaughter Nora just last year, when she opened a life-size, soft Christmas doll; my son's grin at the remembered request of a clock made from reclaimed computer parts, which he had spied at the VALA Gallery; and years ago, the same boy's shrieks upon spying the tall Batman with light-up eyes that Santa had finally found after searching a dozen stores.

But one of the most satisfying presents that I've purchased -- and I have purchased hundreds -- was the American/French idiomatic dictionary that I bought for my cousin Kati's then-husband Bernard in 1983.

He had little English at the time. Kati and I had reunited on their relocation from St. Louis to Kansas City, sitting for hours in their apartment chattering about our childhood and the decade of events since our college days. Bernard could not follow our conversation. He thumbed through a French-English dictionary and could not determine the meanings of phrases rushing around him in our common St. Louis twang.

For weeks, he grumbled about his crazy American wife and her wild cousin Corinne, though said in French it sounded elegant. I got it into my head that he might feel less alienated if he understood our vernacular, so I set about -- in the days before Al Gore invented the World Wide Web -- to find a French/American idiomatic dictionary.

Not easy, I discovered.

My search extended to the considerable reach of area bookstores available at the time. Harried clerk after harried clerk shook head after tired head. Finally, in Whistler's Books, then located in Westport, a salesman took pity on me. I'll try, he said, in a weary voice, seven staggering shopping days before Christmas. Don't get false hopes, he cautioned, and turned away to answer a question about the tells-all-star-biography-of-the-week, which No, they did not carry, we are an independent bookseller, we don't carry that kind of stuff, try Walden Books, he said, with only a slightly disdainful sneer.

Kati and Bernard had invited me to share a meal at their home for the holiday. I could never have declined. In addition to my craving for the company of family, the allure included the fact that Bernard, a French chef, would certainly provide something succulent and decadent. But I did not want to go without a present for Bernard, and I had despaired of finding what I wanted most to give him. I purchased a back-up -- I think it was a boring wool scarf -- and hoped it would suffice.

A half hour before I should have been arriving at their apartment, the phone rang. You ordered a book from us, said a very, very tired voice. It's here. I drove faster than I should through the thick traffic of last-minute shoppers, not noticing the lovely rise of Christmas lights on the Plaza, narrowly escaping a crash with Cinderella's horse-drawn carriage in my haste to get to Whistler's Books before it closed. My parking karma provided a narrow spot into which I crammed my vehicle, and I slammed the car door, barely pausing to lock it, arriving ten minutes before the store closed, and fifteen minutes after my scheduled arrival time at Kati and Bernard's apartment.

The man who had called was the same man who had promised to try to find the book. He handed it to me, and I gazed down at it with surprise. Slightly battered, a little care-worn, clearly used, nonetheless, it bore the title: Dictionary of American to French Idiomatic Translations. Or something like that. I looked at the clerk. How did you find it, I asked, with true wonder.

He smiled. I searched a lot of catalogs at first, he told me. Books in Print, too. Then, when nothing I did worked, I called a friend of mine.

The friend, it turned out, ran a bookstore in New York City. That friend had a friend who ran a bookstore in Paris, France. That friend had a friend who ran a used book stall on a side street in Paris, a hand-made structure with a slanted tin roof that did not even have a name. In the stall stood a small shelf of guides for French folks planning to travel in various countries, and on that shelf, my present for Bernard had waited. The Paris bookseller bought it, shipped it to the New York book store owner, who sent it to Kansas City, where I purchased it for less than the postage to mail it from France.

I gazed at the salesman with frank admiration. So much trouble for one book, I murmured, running my hands along its cracked spine. He shrugged. I told them about your cousin's husband, he admitted. About the two of you talking all night in their living room, and poor Bernard sitting in the kitchen, clueless as to what half your chattering meant. We all felt bad for the poor guy. He shrugged again, a careless lift of a wool-clad shoulder. I got the sense that his efforts rose more from his sympathy for a man with a crazy wife, and a crazy cousin-in-law, than from his desire to satisfy a customer. The motivations of the New York and Paris connections, I can only imagine.

I wished him a very Merry Christmas. I left the store, unwrapped book clutched to my chest, and made my way to Kati and Bernard's apartment. The meal did not disappoint, nor did the shining smile on Bernard's face when he saw his gift.

In an hour, three seven-year old girls will descend upon my home, to decorate my Christmas tree and paint glass ornaments. One of them, my friend Elisabeth's daughter Accalia, has hired herself out for the morning to raise money for Operation Smile ( I will compensate her efforts with a check to that charity. I invited the others -- my friend Sherri's nieces, my flower girls, Courtney and Allie -- just to make a merry morning. I will feed them ants-on-a-log, and take their pictures to post on Facebook. When they have gone, I will sit in my rocker by the fireplace, and gaze upon the ornaments dangling from the branches of my artificial tree, recalling each Christmas that I have spent in this home. When I start to feel that I have been lazy enough, I will set aside that pleasant occupation, and get on with my day.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday Musings, 03 December 2011

Good morning,

Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon read a children's book in the background as I study my "contacts" entries and wonder whether my words reach those on the list or succumb to the vicious slam of a delete key. Occasionally, I hear from people -- "thanks for leaving me on your list", say some. "Delete me," say others. I try to comply and wonder if columnists whose essays appear in the newspaper fare as well as I do. So far, the expressions of thanks outweigh the expressions of annoyance about 4 to 1. As I ponder, Pinkwater concludes his "occasional appearance" on Morning Edition, the rain softly falls on the peeling paint of the neighbor's eaves, and the other sentient beings in my home begin to rattle around or pour second cups of coffee.

The year draws to a close more quickly than I anticipated. Like the errant buttons of my old alarm clock, the pages of the calendar have leaped ahead. I am another year older but no wiser; still stepping on my own toes, while pushing my foot towards my mouth and flapping hopelessly in the conversational breeze. I'm living proof that those who cannot do, write about doing.

After pizza and a tour of the Benson Gallery last evening, we arrived in Mission just before the launch of the fireworks. The shooting stars sailed over the old Fine Arts theatre, the former lobby of which is now the VALA Gallery at its new location. As I stood on the slick cobblestones and craned my neck back to better see the streaks of red, blue and gold, a mother broke away from the group gathered around the fire pit to take a frightened child farther from the crackles and booms. I was instantly transported to a long-ago Fourth of July, when my own small child huddled against me crying, They're pretty, Mom, but why do they have to be so loud?

Christmas fireworks don't figure in my own family's tradition. We install a smallish artificial Christmas tree in the living room, and decorate it with ornaments whose history I relate to anyone foolish enough to stray close to the action. Lights and garlands adorn the mantle; a small collection of snow globes, the plastic Disney kind, nestle among pools of tinsel. I usually get this done on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but I have a trial next Monday and my attention has been distracted. I hope to have the tree installed before St. Nicholas Day, even though there are no longer small children whose shoes must be filled with candy overnight, and no longer anyone to anticipate a visit from the Tree Elf, who puts a small present for each child on the lowest branches the night of the tree's first appearance.

These rituals, slight variants of those which my mother orchestrated for my siblings and me, tell me that the year will soon fade into my increasingly cloudy memory. With less than a month remaining of 2011, I hold myself accountable for the failure to completely attain the New Year's Resolutions that I made on the stroke of midnight eleven months ago. I am no less catty; no less snappish; no better organized. I have not progressed towards getting published, nor gone paperless. In fact, the only one of my self-imposed goals that I accomplished this year was keeping slim. Three and three-quarters years after I started my diet, I hover between 108 - 111, depending on salt intake; I started losing weight at a horrible 175 pounds on March 1, 2008.

I mark the passing seasons by the changing colors of the trees rising above my neighbors' homes. Today they bear few leaves, and their dark scraggly limbs sag under the chilly weight of the winter rain. The view out my window could be anywhere but the most rural of locations. The houses press towards each other, dwarfing the urban clutter of wires and cables, looming over the SUVs on the small parking pavements at the end of the narrow driveways. Without the cheering rays of a summer sun, the roofs seem sad and dingy.

I feel a sense of listening, waiting, in the air around me, in my home and outside in the stillness of my street. Standing on the porch an hour or two ago, bending to retrieve the paper in its plastic wrapping, I let the cold air rush over me and closed my eyes. Winter drives the dog-walkers indoors. I have not seen the usual strollers in weeks, and when the first snow falls, I will close the blinds on the outside world, and retreat to my writing desk, where I will begin to compose another set of resolutions.

Perhaps next year, my successes will outweigh my failures, and I will not be overwhelmed by winter's gloom when December arrives.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday Musings, 26 November 2011

Good morning,

Muscles ache which I have not used for months. I suppose they are the famous "Mommy muscles" -- the ones that allow us to bend low, so as to lift a small child or a twenty-pound turkey; to push a damp mop across a kitchen floor; and to peel potatoes. But I awakened this morning to a house that sparkled, dishes snuggling in their cupboards, and a lingering aroma of fresh sage. I planned my life well: long-time guests who do not leave until the dishes are washed, dried and put away.

I enjoyed two Thanksgiving dinners this week, as I often do. On Thursday, we gathered at my parents-in-law's home. Last evening, our oldest and dearest friends (among many friends whom we hold dear) graced our table. And now I roll my shoulders to clear the happy stiffness resulting from eight hours of cooking. I smile over the pictures of young men teaching a bright five-year-old to play chess, and recall other chess games played in my house, a decade ago, when these same young men were serious ten and eleven year-olds. The world turns, and we move another click towards our collective and respective destinies.

I went to a new physician this week, an arrogant young woman who dismissively scribbled on my carefully penned medical history. For all of her supposed knowledge, she still got my symptoms wrong, as I learned when a testing lab phoned me to schedule their contribution to the puzzle. I put down the turkey baster to spare the woman a few moments, although she offered to postpone the scheduling interview until Monday. As we talked, I thought about the biting cold of the day on which I visited the doctor's office earlier this week.

When I left the medical building, I rued again my decision to dash over to the appointment without my coat. I stood on the curb, preparing to cross two lanes of parking lot traffic to reach the handicapped spaces. I stepped into the mark crosswalk, looking down at a long crack in the pavement. My eyes flickered forward as I gauged the potential for safe navigation to the center aisle, and I caught sight of a slim foot in a gold sandal extended towards me.

I noticed the thick support hose in which the foot was encased, and slowly raised my eyes. The woman wore a long, shimmering silver skirt that fell straight and stopped mid-calf. Her arms were bent towards her waist, her hands encased in white gloves such as I had not seen since my Catholic school days. The simple woolen jacket closed with a single large button. My gaze reached her face and met her eyes, for just one brief second, not long enough for me to register emotion. Her raised chin inched slightly upward. Her face was framed by thinning silver hair, swept up and held back no doubt with small metal hair pins.

She turned away from my scrutiny, unconsciously displaying the little tube running from behind one ear.

A man had one hand on the woman's elbow. As I passed the pair, I came close enough to recognize the smell of Old Spice clinging to his jacket. I reached the other side and turned back to watch him gently guide her to safety on the far curb. His suit fell away from his frame, its fabric countered before time robbed him of his sturdier presence. But his arm circled her as reliably as it surely had for decades, and in the brief second before the doors closed soundlessly behind them, he glanced back in my direction with a warning menace.

I closed my eyes and let the lingering fragrance settle in my lungs, a mixture of his after-shave and Chantilly Lace perfume. This is the smell of time, I thought. The scent of something that endures. I felt my body sway, and heard the voice of someone on the sidewalk talking into an invisible mobile device. I shook myself from my reverie, and continued into the parking lot, fumbling for my keys, pulling the stamped ticket from the pocket of my jeans. I took my place in the exit line and handed the ticket to the same woman who takes my ticket every time I visit one of my doctors. I listened to her cheerful greeting, and returned it, raising my window again before pulling out into the lane of traffic and resuming my mindless journey into evening.

A quiet rustle from the living room pulls me back into the pleasant air of a rainy Saturday. I spy the dog sleeping outside my son's closed bedroom door, and I catch a slight hint in the air of burned coffee. In a little while, I will rouse my son and we will venture into the city. He has not gotten a chance to do any of the clothes shopping that we planned for this holiday because his poli-sci professor handed out an assignment just before the students left campus for Thanksgiving Break. My son spent most of the last three days driving home or writing a paper on special interest groups. Today we will sip coffee at Dunn Brothers, and brave the aisles of Nordstrom Racks. Tomorrow the clock will resume its march toward the end of 2011 as he drives back to a place where he is not my just my son, but a person in his own right -- a world that exists on a three-hundred acre plot on which he has also staked his future.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Midweek Musings: 22 November 2011

Good morning,

Only time will tell if I live to write another Saturday Musings -- we are all visitors, even strangers, on earth. None of us know when our tickets will get punched.

So in keeping with my belief that if one cannot be a good example, one should be a horrible warning, I'd like to share with you that someone did something really wonderful for me today. It came out of the blue, and I cannot share the details as to do so might inadvertently disclose a confidence. Suffice it to say that I left home this morning with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat, but wearing, above my winter coat, a very broad smile.

This prompts me to suggest that each of you consider whether you can bestow an unexpected kindness. Lie in wait for it. Don't announce it. If possible, don't take credit for it. It need not be large; it need not involve an expenditure of funds. It can be simple. It must, however, be heartfelt.

I bid you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. As you and your families and friends gather, remember to do your "Thankful-Fors". This is a practice, started by my mother, in which those gathered each identify something for which they are thankful. We make the circuit from youngest to oldest, but you can do it any way you like. Get the hankies ready, and prepare to cry, and laugh, as your host carves the turkey.

Among the many things for which I am thankful: The Small Firm Internet Group to which my Musings are initially posted each week. SFIG is a family of colleagues which has given me both a forum and my voice, along with a keen awareness of the pleasures of our profession and an appreciation for its challenges.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. May the Universe, and the deity of your choice, bless you, and may it provide many opportunities for you to pay your blessings forward to one who might need a tender touch.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Musings, 19 November 2011

Good morning,

The mums which we purchases largely for their splash of color, one September Saturday, have decided that if we did not want to continue watering them, they would not continue to grace our deck. They have succumbed to neglect and the fierce whip of autumn winds, and now roll in their weightless pots behind the table. Fall threatens to yield to winter, and I pull my sweatshirt closer to my frame as I gaze around me before deciding to retreat to my idyllic bedroom with its early-century paneling and its cathedral ceiling. The wind batters my bungalow but I feel safe.

I have become a virtual parent. I felt this stark reality in recent days, as I watched my SmartPhone for messages from my son and his step-brother, one of whom attends the college that the other left to visit this week. I pull the laptop towards me in the evening and scroll through Facebook for news of my adult step-daughter and her adorable boyfriend, and there, too, do I exchange greetings with the boyfriend's mother. I do not cyber-stalk my son, but I do take note of the pictures on his Facebook page, and I cannot help but feel gratified by the complacency that I decide appears on his features. I feel a small wince of worry at the ever-present and barely disguised beer bottles, but I have only to reflect on my own college days to know that he has not yet attained the depths to which my friends and I sank during our own college careers, and so, I persuade myself to watch but not worry.

By text-message, I learn of his play that has been accepted for presentation in the playwrights' festival, and his short story that will appear in the campus literary review. I praise my son for these accomplishments, remembering the clench of thrill in my gut, nearly forty years ago, when I learned about the planned publication of three of my poems in a local literary magazine in St. Louis.

I got that news by mail, since the virtual word had not yet been born. I stood at my mailbox and tore open the self-addressed stamped envelope required with each submission. The editors of Eads Bridge are pleased to announce that we have accepted three of your poems for publication, which will appear as a triptych on adjacent pages. We enclose suggested edits of those poems, and await your approval. I clutched the paper and grinned at passing students. It was not my first publication. I had been a high school correspondent for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and a guest-essayist for a Christian magazine aimed at teenagers, the publisher of which employed my sister. I had been the editor of my high school literary magazine in my senior year, on account of which, to no one's surprise, my writing had been published. But the submissions to Eads Bridge differed from my prior accomplishments in that I had no guardian angel and no captive audience. If the editors of Eads Bridge liked my poetry enough to publish it, then maybe -- just maybe -- it was good.

In the end, only two of the poems appeared. I regretted that, but the editors had final say. I had written the poems together, and to me, they only made sense together. But I did not challenge the final decision and I accepted the "writer's copies" which were my only compensation. My father evidenced the most pleasure at my being a published poet, since his father had also been. From the example of my grandfather, who died years before my birth, I began to wonder if I couldn't go to law school and write as a vocation, while supporting myself as an attorney. I set my sites on this goal.

The rest, as they say, is history.

And now, my son has grown into a writer as well as the musician that he could not help but also be. He sends his short stories to me for review, and his essays, and his papers. I comment; I encourage; I support. From my perch, overlooking the neighbor's roof and the distant trees, I walk the line between mother and editor. I read what he writes wherever I am when I receive it. This story seems unfinished to me, I told him, texting from Division 3 where I awaited my very tardy client on Wednesday. Ugh, came his reply. Then, a few seconds later, okay, what should I do?

And although I know he seeks direction for this one story, which I imagine must be tendered to his writing professor within mere hours from the time he sent it to me to read, I find myself giving him broader advice: Just keep writing.

From the tenor of his answering text, I know he must be laughing. I give him more specific advice about the story itself, and why it leaves me wondering. He's better at essays than he is at short stories, but he is young, and might well find himself excelling in any of these genres. I haven't read the play as of yet, though I have asked to do so. He'll send it, in his own time, and, hopefully, one day I will receive a doc file of his first novel.

I am, when all is said and done, both a virtual parent and a dishonest one. If I bared my soul, I would admit that I want him to pursue his gift of writing in part, at least, because I did not. But as the wind whistles outside my window and the sounds of NPR drift around me, I protest to my silent, spiritual self that I do not strive to live vicariously through my son. Rather, I yearn to spare him from the isolation of regret that I feel for a road not taken.

Yesterday, I met a man at the Missouri Bar Fall Meetings who professed to have encountered me in the past, perhaps when he came to Jackson County as a visiting judge. I searched my data bank but found nothing to corroborate his memory. He asked me what type of law I had practiced in the past, and I told him: Lobbyist, prosecutor, civil litigator, family law practitioner. He remarked on the varied nature of my career, and asked of which endeavor I felt most proud. Actually, I told him, the job at which I think I most excelled was raising my son.

It might be the holidays making me a bit maudlin, or the long ride back from Jefferson City listening to country music. Perhaps in standing on my front porch at four yesterday afternoon, coat in hand, fishing through the mailbox, I triggered a recollection of that nausea which I felt long ago, holding the return envelope, wondering if Eads Bridge had accepted my submission. And perhaps that memory opened the flood gate of my most secret yearnings, of the life I did not lead, the loss of which I feel without diminishing my happiness in the life that I chose instead.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday Musings, 12 November 2011

Good morning,

The sky threatens to weep. I feel the bite of fall even here in my dining room, with the rush of heat from the register seeping into the air around me. A slight shiver passes through me. I bite into another cold grape and take another sip of tepid coffee.

Last evening, my stomach curdled as I read the 23 pages of grand jury report regarding accused child molester Gerald Sandusky. I reminded myself that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, but the grand jury's findings have the strong stench of starkly rendered truth. My eyes winced closed time and time again. I fought the urge to delete the file. I made it to the end, only skipping the most gruesome sentences. I had no taste for conversation after I read the report. My husband queried as to its contents, but I suggested only that he read it. I could barely bring myself to summarize the findings.

The question is not why he was allowed to return to Penn State year after year, but why he is still alive. You defense attorneys might protest, and in theory, I agree: he is legally entitled to a fair trial, before an impartial tribunal, with competent counsel. So to paraphrase the hanging judge, let's give this son of a bitch all the due process he can stand, and then let's crucify him.

This news occupied much of my week, along with the sad loss of several beloved famous persons, including Andy Rooney, and the passing of a friend's daughter after a most valiant and dogged fight with cancer. In my more somber moments, I wonder if I should cancel my newspaper subscription to avoid the heaps of depressing revelations that ruin my breakfast. Then giddiness overcomes me, and I stand on my porch to watch the piles of autumn leaves gather on my lawn. My brain can only stand so much grief before it must seek comfort in the changing seasons, or the comic page, or a cup of strong Earl Grey.

On the wall of my bedroom is a framed square of embroidery. It's a pillow case, I think -- a "sham", I suppose. Its contours sport crooked stitches next to exacting ones, and a broken ring of stain where the hoop stayed in one place too long while the unfinished work lay neglected in my mother's sewing basket. She started the piece while sitting next to my grandmother's bedside after Nana's first stroke, forty years or so ago. She did not finish it. I discovered it after my father's death in 1991, and brought it home. I inserted a few clumsy inches to complete its motto, and put it in an old gilded frame that I found in my parents' basement, during the purge, while my two-month old son slept in a baby seat upstairs.

It greets me every morning from the shadows of our bedroom wall: Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

I see my mother beside the hospital bed, stitching, glancing now and then at her mother's prone figure. A doctor had suggested that Nana could hear, and so my mother kept up a running stream of chatter, story after story of the endearing antics of her clinic patients, my little brothers' successes in school, news of my sister Ann, far away and on her own. I watched the rise and fall of my grandmother's form as she breathed through a tube, under a snarl of wires and a cover that I thought was too thin. I reached one hand forward and twitched the blanket closer to my grandmother's body, smoothing the surface, wishing I could bring a fresh pillow and a sachet to place under it. My mother smiled at me. Our thoughts ran on parallel tracks. She reached across the bed and handed me a clean, ironed handkerchief, with delicate tatting on the edges, and a vague scent of lavender. I used it to smooth my Nana's forehead, and wipe the sheen of perspiration from her brow.

I have that handkerchief still, and keep it, with others, in a satin pouch in my bedside drawer. I hold it against my face and imagine that the scent still lingers. I think about my mother standing over her ironing board, patiently eradicating the wrinkles. I sat beside her as a small girl, with my toy iron, which she held against hers to give me a bit of heat so I could help. She handed me the linen napkins that we used on holidays, and I pressed them, quickly, earnestly pushing with my small hand to mimic the practiced gestures that I saw above me.

My disgust in reading the grand jury report of the travesties in Pennsylvania stems from my tattered belief in the essential goodness of humankind. Despite decades of evidence to the contrary, I still cling to that delusion. I hear my husband's footsteps on the stairwell, and I know that in a moment, he will bend over me to place his lips on mine. He will inquire of my state this morning, and glance at my coffee cup to see if it needs to be replenished. I think about a basement bedroom, in Pennsylvania, where child after child cowered, awaiting a tread on the stairs.

I close my eyes and a lament arises within me. Victim 1, Victim 2, Victim 3, Victim 4, Victim 5, Victim 6, Victim 7 and Victim 8. I cannot call their names. The ones known are kept secret, as they should be. The identity of Victim 8 has never been discovered, but the man who stumbled upon the savagery inflicted on Victim 8 reacted so profoundly that those to whom he ran with the horrible disclosure described him, fifteen years later, as being so upset that they thought he was going to have a heart attack. If the sight of what Victim 8 suffered caused such grief, I can only image what enduring it must have done.

The morning sun struggles to dissipate the steely clouds. My coffee has grown cold and a fine layer of goose bumps on my outstretched arms tells me that it is time to raise the ambient temperature. My Saturday has begun in earnest, and I leave the past, with a small, terse nod to the gathering ghosts. Fare thee well, fare thee well; I love you more than words can tell.*

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

*From "Brokedown Palace", by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter.
With a special smile going across Missouri to the Elvish Banquet gatherers.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday Musings, 05 November 2011

Good morning,

From on an old rocker in my living room, as Friday drew to a close, I watched a neighbor and her husband walk by. Their stride has slowed in the last few years, and they took several minutes to pass my window. I stood and crossed the room to stand at the window for a better view. I noticed the wife's hair has grown to a lovely shade of silver, and the husband wears a cap similar to one my grandfather might have worn, decades ago. In years past, this couple zinged past my window on their bicycles, she ahead, he behind, and groceries bobbing in a basket perched in front -- sometimes on his bike, other times on hers.

Even more than the thickening of grey in my own hair, and the tightening of my own joints and muscles, the changes to this pair of devoted lovebirds mark the passage of time. For a few months, in 2008 or 9, the husband took his evening bike ride alone. I learned through the neighborhood grapevine that the wife suffered some undisclosed ailment. Since then, I have not seen them on bikes but they still take their evening constitutional, on foot now, faithfully.

I expect to see one of them alone some day, and I will know that their lives have come full circle.

The particular oddness of my watching these neighbors lies not in my voyeuristic monitoring of their lives' devolution, but in the fact that the woman of this couple went to my law school, graduating in the class behind mine. Yet I have never spoken to her in all the years that we have lived within blocks of one another. I know her name, and yet I do not call it. I made an effort to do so, once, about fifteen years ago. I greeted her as my son and I walked in front of her house with our Beagle in tow. Her eyes evaded mine. I do not know if she failed to recognize me, or knew me but did not wish to engage. I tell myself that I am respecting her preference for solitude.

Two blocks north of me, a house stands empty. Its occupant, a woman named Johanna, has moved to a retirement facility. The one-story bungalow had been her childhood home. She never married, never had children, never took a room mate or a boarder. She, too, walked every day, greeting my son and me, hailing the other walkers and the men who mowed their lawns. I often wondered what she thought of the changing block. I spoke to her only in superficial tones, about the weather, my son's growth, the relative state of her infirmity and mine. She walked on her own for years, and then with a wheeled walker and finally, with a minder. One day she did not appear; a few weeks later, I saw an ambulance at her house. Now the "For Sale" sign signals her first and last departure from the home she occupied for eight decades.

In Jasper, Arkansas, town of 562 (603 on the water line), I represented a friend's grandmother when she sold her house and moved into a nursing home one county north. Everyone on the block helped me pack her belongings. With my client ensconced in a wide rocker made by her deceased husband, the wives came one after another, with gift-wrapped trinkets which might never get used -- hand-embroidered handkerchiefs, small jars of home-made preserves, packets of pre-stamped note cards. She stretched a liver-spotted finger out and touched the care-worn hands of the farmers' spouses one after another, occasionally reaching to adjust her cardigan, to wrap it more closely around her frail shoulders. Her smile never faded. If there were two hundred families in town, at least half of them sent a representative to bid her farewell. I stood at her elbow, watching the church ladies pack her china and the local auctioneer appraise her furniture. They touched each item with reverence, as she had done.

That winter, we attended a pie supper for a family that had been burned out. Fire accounted for much loss in the country, since most people heated with wood and wood has a funny way of over-taking even the most diligent tending. I'm not much for baking but we brought an apple pie that my then-husband had made, It sold for three hundred dollars, the top take. The hippies of Murray Valley crowded in the community center shoulder to shoulder with the locals. Before the auction started, apron-clad wives ladled chili into Styrofoam bowls, with a hefty square of tender corn bread on the side. I hovered in the background, still a foreigner, in awe of the carefree disregard with which the women scrunched their faces in deep grins that furrowed the crow's feet beside their sparkling eyes. These women had earned their wrinkles, from fretting over crops, worrying about the building of barns, and wondering whether the old John Deere would last through harvest.

I shared breakfast this week with a friend, and something about the simple honesty of her countenance reminded me of one of the women of Murray Valley. All those years ago, when I sat at her kitchen table and complained about being an outsider, Jeanne turned her head to one side and gazed at me for several moments before replying. You've just got to step into the breach, she advised. And trust that someone will catch you, she did not add. I dismissed her advice and never felt at home. I left less than a year later.

Now I wonder if I've ever understood what she meant. I wonder, too, on which side of the breach I stand. I have lived in Brookside for eighteen years and have watched my former classmate age just yards from my porch, and have never made a legitimate effort to engage her in conversation. I don't know Johanna's surname, or the name of the retirement community to which she relocated. I can't tell you what ailment took Lise out of commission and forced her husband to walk alone for several months. I only know that her once-blond and plentiful hair is now silver and sparse. I know that she used to pedal a bicycle with vigor and now creeps forward in heavy, clunky shoes.

I can't help but think that something has gone amiss. I've watched the world spin, the world which now wonders if the approaching asteroid will drive a 1700-foot hole into its surface. If that rock hit my home, and I disappeared into the resulting crater, would anyone bother stepping into the breach to lend me a hand? I heard a speaker from Mexico talking about Dia de Los Muertos earlier this week. In some random context, he mentioned that his favorite Beatles lyric contained the best advice he'd ever heard: And in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you give.

As I watched last evening, my neighbor raise her hand and rested it on her husband's arm, I drew a long breath, and briefly closed my eyes. I marveled at the ease with which she reached across that small space between them. Just before they moved out of sight, she turned her head backward, just slightly, in my direction. She caught my gaze across the expanse of my yard, and then, with seeming deliberation, turned away, and the two of them disappeared into the gathering dusk.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday Musings, 29 October 2011

Good morning,

If the success of an event is judged by the quantity of trash and the soreness of the co-hostess's feet, the inaugural Open House at Suite 100 passes muster. My suite-mates and I remain astonished at the strength of our collective friendships and the harmony with which the disparate groups mingled in the corridors and offices, among the striking, provocative and warm digital art of Jean Van Harlingen, whose works we have shown in our Suite for the last year. On Wednesday, this display courtesy of the VALA Gallery of Johnson County will come down from the walls of our suite, and the works of another VALA artist will be displayed. Fall fades, giving way to winter, and Thanksgiving dances just beyond our reach, on the next page of my calendar. Life continues.

My week held more than one astonishing, powerful moment. But among them, one rises in my mind as I sit here. I drove home by an unaccustomed route on Thursday, and as I made the long curve around a Kansas parkway towards State Line Road past the rich, green expanse of a golf course, a small fox stepped from the southern edge of the roadway and ventured into the throb of civilization's evening regimen. I drew my car to a halt, as did those to my left and in front of me. No one sounded a horn, or edged forward, as the critter softly, slowly traversed the span of asphalt and slipped into a small stand of trees on the northern side. I released the breath that I had held in apprehension for the little guy, and eased my foot back to the gas pedal. The world resumed its rush hour haste.

This is not my first encounter with the dizzy overlap of nature with modernity. I am taken back to a morning when I drove across the mountains between Fayetteville, Arkansas and Newton County to make an appearance in a case in which I served as appointed counsel for the mentally retarded mother of a young boy whom she sought to save from her predator parents. I drove too fast, distracted by my resentment at being drawn from the life I aimed to make in the tamed hills of Arkansas' college town back to the life at which I had failed in the sleepy town of Jasper.

I made a long curve too fast, skittering close to the edge which dropped beyond sight into a wooded expanse of Ozark beauty. I righted the vehicle, easing over to the brake, letting my heart pound itself to quiet in my chest. When the trembling had subsided, I resumed my journey, shaking my head, glancing at the rise of hill to my left and the depths of green to my right. No roses to stop and smell here, I thought, and laughed a little, out loud, in the empty car.

My self-congratulatory chuckle explains why I let the speed accumulate and gave no thought to my own invincibility. Around the next corner, I slammed the car to a sudden stop, and looked, without comprehension, at the mass in the roadway. My heart lurched as a pair of eyes returned my gaze from the near end of the brown bear otherwise comfortable in the lane that I meant to traverse. She must have found warmth on the pavement, or perhaps, like an old cat, she favored a smooth surface for napping. She appeared to have settled into a dip in the highway just large enough for her body.

We sat, the bear and I, for some moments. I rolled down the window for reasons I no longer recall, perhaps because it just seemed the thing to do. I have always been taught to crack the window while traversing bridges, and the movement must be instinctual for me. The cool fall air wafted into the cabin of my vehicle. Eventually, I became aware of sounds. Birds high in the trees; a distant drone; and a sound that I realized, after a few moments, came from the bear.

She was yawning.

The gape of her mouth startled me. Seeing the slight swing of her paw and the sharp edge of her teeth heightened my fear. The bear spanned one entire lane of the two-lane highway, and because of the curve of the road, I could not move to the left without the potential of calamity from unseen oncoming traffic. The road dropped sharply from the narrow shoulder with no guard rail. I assessed my options. I could risk a head-on collision, wait for the bear to move, or sit, in the last event possibly risking sudden death from the slam of a car into the back of my vehicle. Hobson only offered two choices, I reminded myself. But wasn't one of them arguably good?

The bear resolved my dilemma. For reasons of her own, at which I can only feebly guess, she rose, slowly, onto her back legs. Glancing at me with deliberation, she gazed behind her, into the descending depths of the wooded hillside. She considered her options: climbing up, or edging down. Without regard to my existence, she choose the latter. She swung her heavy body around, giving me a brief, awesome glimpse of her height, then heaved herself with something close to grace, and vanished, among the lower branches of the evergreens.

I did not move for a few long moments. I made the curve at a slow speed, and never reached the allowed limit for the rest of the trip. I fulfilled the day's obligation, and retook the road near dusk. I do not believe I drew a full breath until I pulled into my own parking space, on a small, tamed hillside in Fayetteville, where my old calico cat watched for me from one of the many windows of my house on Skyline Drive.

Tony Bennett sings on the radio. I stop to listen. From the interviewer's questions, I gather that Mr. Bennett has a new release. He speaks sentimentally of the past in a craggy voice, and the radio man lets him tell his stories. My coffee grows cold as I linger here, at my wobbly old writing desk, in Kansas City, where the only vestiges of nature are the likes of a small brown fox in the roadway, the occasional deer glimpsed at the edges of a city park, and the sad-eyed animals caged in our zoo.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday Musings, 22 October 2011

Good morning,

A helicopter hovered over my bedroom last night. The phone rang; a friend with a police radio advised that a robber had bailed from a moving vehicle two blocks from my house during a police chase. A dozen uniformed officers and numerous patrol cars had created a perimeter surrounding our block. Take cover, he said. Make sure your doors are locked.

My husband and I rose from near-sleep to call our youngest boy and ascertain his whereabouts. Near home, he advised. His father strode out onto the porch to stand watch, just yards from a searching officer, in tense darkness. By the time all settled around me, and the morning agenda had been planned, I could no longer sleep.

I am privileged to live without fear most of the time. I know that many cannot say as much. Around the world, children lie on thin pallets inches from their siblings and parents, the stench of poverty settling on their hungry bodies. I believe that countries still exist in which threat of reprisal inhibits the exercise of what I consider entitled speech. Travesties and terror exist. But they do not dwell in my home.

The sound of Morning Edition murmurs behind me. A grey sky rises over the neighbor's roof line, the color of putty, the color of their satellite dish. I live in mundane oblivion and complacency, bothered by nothing more aggravating than the occasional peak in an otherwise flat line of crime. I read the headlines and make a funny sound with my mouth that suggests arrogance. I do not think, there, but for the Grace of God, go I. Rather, I reject the notion that any of these sad stories could ever carry my name.

With my SmartPhone, I track the progress of my son's Fall Break odyssey. From West Virginia, where he saw mountains devastated by coal-mining; to Asheville, where he briefly rested among the majestic slopes of enduring hills; to Nashville, on a quest for music and good food. He sends me periodic messages to mark his journey, as we agreed. My motivation for our arrangement is to be assured that nothing has befallen him. He has a more basic desire: To keep his mother's calls at bay. I can't miss you if you won't stop calling me, he quips, with only half a laugh.

I cannot help but draw parallels from his youth to mine. I left home at 18 and returned only briefly, for a handful of months, a half a decade later. I called my mother one day to let her know that I was going to be home late. If you aren't home by 5, she snapped, don't bother coming home at all. I never did. A friend drove me out to the county to get my clothing; we were denied access by my father, and I started from scratch. Eventually, Mother relented and invited me to dinner. We spoke in colder tones than I had known possible. She told me that on the day of our break, she and my father had purchased an air conditioning unit for my bedroom. I gazed at her as she talked, unable to formulate a response. I could only shrug. I was glad to be out. With the clouded sight of youth, I evaded her questions but greedily snatched her Tupperware of leftovers, hauling it back to my temporary berth in the offices of a youth group of which I was a member.

The social worker who ran the group encouraged my rebellion. I won't name him: he still lives, as far as I know, with his wife in a western suburb of St. Louis. But at the time, probably estranged from his family, he had taken refuge in the same large, drafty apartment as I. I did not speak to him of myself. I listened to his stories and found them fascinating; eyed his lanky frame in jeans and work shirts, bending over an acoustic guitar, and thought him glamorous. I close my eyes and wonder what he could have been thinking, letting a young woman squat in an unfurnished bedroom at the back of an office rented with tax free dollars. I don't know, even now, if he thought about it at all. Perhaps he was just being kind.

I spent the next semester in a borrowed dormitory room courtesy of my employer, the Financial Aids Office. By June I had decamped to a sublet, and in the fall, I started my second year of college as one of three young women in a rented townhouse east of campus living with furniture bought at Vet's Village, walking to and from class, existing on precious little more than air-popped corn.

I spoke yesterday with my former receptionist, who has gone back to school. I inquired after her progress. It's okay, she said. I waited. She continued, I mean, it's school, it's not supposed to be fun, right? I laughed. Now she tells me. My ignorance of that concept might explain my stunning lack of progress in my middle years. I had too much of what passed for fun while I attended college. I never took anything seriously, not my studies, not my friends, not the haunted look of a boy that my cousin and I passed back and forth between us like a toy, who died too young of the cancer that plagued him at the time, the cancer of which he never once spoke to either of us.

As our youngest child searches for a good fit for his own post-secondary studies, I think about my miserable existence in that time of my life. I would have said I was happy; I thought I was smart. We drank in the pub, drove too fast, and snuck people in and out of the gender-segregated dorms. We had no political beliefs. We had no drive. Our aimlessness sent us into a wide orbit, nearly directionless, from which I was a long time returning.

I shake the past from my shoulders, and glance around the room. There is dust to be banished, laundry to be done, and plants on the porch that have not been watered for days. Whatever my life has or has not been, this is what it has become. A middle-class existence, in a cute house, in an old neighborhood uncomfortably close to one from which crime occasionally intrudes on my existence. The great American novel will have to be written by someone else. I no longer expect to have a poem published in the New Yorker. But a couple of states south of here, my legacy sleeps in a Nashville hotel room. He writes better than I ever thought of writing, and in the spring, his first play will find voice in a playwright's festival. And I will become immortal, if only by virtue of his DNA and the fierceness of his writer's passion.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday Musings, 15 October 2011

Good morning,

The brisk chill of the morning air shares its stunning impact on my senses with the headlines of today's Kansas City Star. I heard the news on my car radio coming home from work yesterday, but it still causes a small lurch in the pit of my stomach: Kansas City Diocese Bishop Indicted. One small step for the victims of abuse by clergy -- one giant leap for humankind. Perhaps it remains to be seen in which direction the leap propels us, but I am inclined to think that we will move forward.

When the story first came to me yesterday by way of our local public radio, I almost had to pull my car to the side of the road. Holy catnip, I thought to myself. You go girl, I silently crowed to the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney, Jean Peters-Baker. Later that evening, my husband and I debated the legitimacy of the mandatory reporting law, and the prudence of criminal remedies for noncompliance. He voiced opposition to both. I appreciate the dent in unreported child abuse made by the former, and feel that anyone who, in the course of their profession, learns of, but stands silent regarding, a specific act of child abuse, should be drawn and quartered. A misdemeanor indictment provides a small but thrilling start.

I do not know if Bishop Robert Finn has criminal culpability within the meaning of the statute under which Jackson County has charged him. The news regarding these events, which I have closely followed, suggests that he had knowledge of the allegations against a priest in his diocese, and that he did not make a report to state or local civil authorities. If the facts come into evidence as they have come into the press, he should be convicted. Whether the criminal charge should or should not be cognizable under our law might be fodder for deeper debate, but the duty to report exists as does the potential of criminal prosecution for the failure to do so. I leave it to better minds than mine to determine whether the statute should be repealed.

For myself, the move soothes wounds I thought had long since healed. More importantly, as a step in the fight against child abuse whether by clergy or otherwise, this criminal prosecution signals a public intolerance of the kind of thinking that perpetuates the shroud which once surrounded abuse victims. In early days of public debate about domestic violence, one of the more important works had this telling title: Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear. Indeed. And now, thirty years later, a gutsy prosecutor has hollered from the rooftops, and the neighbors around the world will hear: We will not tolerate abuse of our children, and we will not abide your silent absolution of the abuser.

I do not advocate a climate of victimhood for any person who suffers at the hands of another. I myself strive to shrug off the excuse of my violent childhood, just as I refuse to blame God or the Ages for the viral encephalitis that struck me in my tender years, and gave me these wobbly legs and this addled brain. But a child who has been abused needs two things to happen before that child can arise from the veil of victimhood to the dawn of rebirth: He needs the abuse to stop, and he needs the abuse to be acknowledged. Jean Peters-Baker has given us hope that society stands ready to facilitate both.

Sitting in my dining room, just a few feet from my kitchen, I see again the reddened face of an angry five-year-old foster child named Mikey who lived with my son and me for six difficult weeks along with Mikey's brother Jacob. Mikey had been savagely abused by his mother's flavor-of-the-week, both in the sense of being beaten and in the sense of being sexually tortured. He had not one -- not two -- but three recorded episodes of attempted suicide before the age of five, the last of which involved his opening a car door while traveling, unseatbelted, with his mother and his abuser on Interstate 70 and allowing himself to slip from the vehicle and tumble down the shoulder of the road. As the paramedics slid him onto a stretcher, he told one of them, I just wanted to die. Five years old. Five years old.

I had to request that Mikey and Jacob be removed from my home after Mikey pulled a knife from my kitchen drawer and charged at me screaming that he was going to kill me and then kill everyone. I had no training for dealing with the extreme behavior that this poor child exhibited on account of what had been done to him. I could not lie awake at night worrying that he would begin to perpetrate on his brother or my son. I could not endure the anguish that I felt each time I held him while he sobbed.

On one of Mikey's last days with us, he collapsed into my arms and whispered to me: I just want to be happy.

I have a friend who has made a career of serving foster children, along with her husband and their now-grown birth-children who have long supported her efforts. She has harbored the broken and the beaten, the bruised and the battered. She has sat calmly beside them while they told her, with equal quietude, about their father's friend, their mother's boyfriend, their uncle, and the things done to them in the night, or in the day, sometimes with their parent nearby and seemingly aware. She has taken their anguish into her five-foot frame and used it to toughen her resolve. She has endured knowledge of the brutality that sick minds can visit upon the weak and helpless. She has done more good in a single year than I have done in a lifetime, in the name of saving children from abuse.

I am not like my friend. I let my foster license lapse, ostensibly because of illness, then, when that illness no longer presented an impediment to service, because of a new marriage. A decade ago, those excuses seemed reasonable. Now, I recognize them as cowardice, though perhaps understandable.

But I have had my braver moments, and those have helped me to rise above adversity. As some might know, I made a claim against the Arch-Diocese of St.Louis arising out of things that I experienced in high school, and was one of the first to insist on both a written letter of apology from the priest in question, and a clause in the settlement agreement that allowed me to speak openly of the events including identifying the perpetrator. I have not felt the need to do so, but I can if I wish. And in a file, in a box, somewhere, is the letter that he wrote. He knows, and I know, and they know. It was enough for me. The priest in question knew that I came from a difficult family environment, and took advantage of me when I came to him for counsel. He deserved to be punished, and he was. It sufficed to trigger my healing.

But for others, public prosecution is needed. For the ones in charge of the abusers, open castigation might be necessary to stop their tolerance of the savagery of child abuse. Look: Child abuse does not exist only in the Catholic Church. But anyone who has unfettered access to children coupled with the kind of societal protection that we afford the clergy can take advantage of their captive audience and the aura of invincibility in which they matriculate. That recipe for disaster gave rise to the environment in which child after child has been subjected to the whims of abusers. This results in a special kind of insidiousness, because the victim has had trust in his abuser imprinted on his DNA.

So bravo, Jackson County. Bravo, Jean Peters-Baker. If Bishop Finn had reasonable suspicions of child abuse, as a mandatory reporter, he should have called the proper authorities and let the system work. If he did not follow the law, he deserves to do his penance. And I do not think five Our Father's and ten Hail Mary's will suffice. I want some quality time on his knees, and a whole lot of community service, and I do not want that obligation delegated to his underlings. Hand him a broom, and let him sweep the corridors of a home for troubled youth. Perhaps the sight of their accusing, haunted eyes will open his own.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saturday Musings, 08 October 2011

Good morning,

Our wind chimes softly sing above the distant, intrusive roar of Saturday traffic on Troost Blvd., the large, symbolic dividing line that runs north and south less than a quarter mile to my east. The breeze which caresses the chimes also stirs the fronds of mimosa, wafting their mild lingering scent across my deck. I think that I can detect the fragrance of hot asphalt from our new driveway, but I am probably mistaken. I've never had a keen sense of smell; but I am susceptible to suggestion, and I let the pungent odor claim the backnote in my morning survey of our space.

I worked at a fevered pitch this week, and the quiet of this uncluttered morning embraces me, easing my tension. I cannot overplay the pleasure that I take in these mornings on my porch, nor the reluctance with which I greet the approach of winter's chill. I am an autumn woman. I like the warm colors of fall, and the light jackets and woolly sweaters that suffice this time of year. I do not manage well in heavy coats, boots, and mufflers. I resent December.

When I raise my eyes to follow the line of the neighbor's sugar maple that stretches its crimson leaves high into the vivid blue sky, I could be seeing any tree in any town where I have lived. In Arkansas, the fall came later than it does in Missouri, but it burst upon our world with just as much panache. I sat on a screen porch in Jasper and listened to the rush of the Buffalo River as it flowed past the town, and the rustle of October winds in the tall trees of Newton County. I nestled in a metal lawn chair on my mother's porch in Jennings, closing my eyes, inhaling the clean scent of a fire burning leaves somewhere nearby, no doubt in the confines of a steel trash can, overlooked by a watchful husband.

I have never lived in a seasonless climate. I imagine that the passing months would resemble one another too closely for my liking. I do not see the sense of entering the year's fourth quarter without the gentle falling rain, the leaves swirling on the sidewalk, the changing colors. I've heard people make a case for year-round education by dismissing society's ties to an agrarian calendar as meaningless in our technological age. I raise my eyebrows and make no comment. Three rowdy months of summer followed by a sensible change of temperature and freshly sharpened pencils -- what could be more natural?

I feel a quickening of earnestness in everything around me. My clients push to have their cases tried before the end of the year, presumably to gain some tax advantage. We got the driveway done so the asphalt would set before the first frost, and as soon as we can drive on it, the tree guy is coming to take out the old cedar, lest it fall on our house with December's ice and snow. Fall break at our children's schools approaches, and we have already begun to ruminate on the location of our Thanksgiving gathering. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Stack the firewood and bring the snow shovel out of its cobweb-infested corner. Autumn surrounds us; winter cannot be far behind.

I have only to close my eyes to envision myself in a blue serge uniform and white shirt with Peter Pan collar, trudging through the piles of crunchy leaves. I had a plaid satchel that I wore slung across my body. It clunked against my hip as I walked, and bunched my navy blue cardigan, but I liked the feel of its weight. The mile between home and school, traversed slowly in the chilly autumn air, afforded me time to dream. I composed my first poems in my head, and struck silent bargains with the saints. On the way to school, I beseeched my guardian angel to keep the big boys from teasing me; on the way home, I pleaded with St. Anthony to keep my Daddy from yelling at my mom. My brothers ran ahead, dragging a long stick along the ground, swinging their books and hollering at me to walk faster. I did not care. I knew they would not leave me.

As this year draws to a close, I will grumble my customary lament. I don't like to drive in coats. I fall on the ice. The cats will want to stay inside at night, and my husband will sneeze more loudly and cast baleful glances in their direction. But for now we can leave our windows open even at night, and the sweet winds of autumn waft through the house as I go about my morning chores. Other people clean their homes with increased vigor in the spring; I prefer the ritual of autumn cleaning. Once the cold of winter settles around me, my joints will swell and I will inevitably catch a wicked cold. We will all feel better if the house sparkles and shines before the winter falls around us. I will banish the germs, sweep away the collected debris of summer, and wipe down the cupboards. Then, when the seasons turn again, we can all hibernate in comfort.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saturday Musings, 01 October 2011

Good morning,

In the silence of the sleeping house my mind has no choice but to reflect. My week bore marked lows. I met with a former client to discuss a new matter, and experienced the shock of seeing a once-robust man tamed by approaching blindness. I stood on the sidewalk in front of my office and felt the rising rage within me, held back by dint of age, as a vendor for a neighboring business refused yet again to refrain from parking in designated handicapped spaces. I suffered a small, aching sadness tinged with guilt at news of my aunt's passing. I battled frustration at my own growing realization that perhaps I have outlived the natural usefulness of my scarred body.

Last night I stood in a tent filled with celebrating lawyers, friends of lawyers, and spouses of lawyers at the American Royal BBQ. My husband and I had tickets courtesy of my neighbor's firm. I leaned against my husband and let the cool of our last September evening flow over me. I cannot believe the year is three-quarters past, and yet, the mornings foreshadow winter. Soon we shall see a thin layer of frost where dew once bravely sparkled. I closed my eyes and thought about family -- my family, my clients' families, the families of those around me.

My primary contact with my son these days consists of words exchanged in the virtual realm. Oh, we spoke by phone last weekend, I hanging on every word and tone; he distracted by passing students on the porch of his fraternity house in the late Indiana evening. But mostly, I learn about his doings in fractured sentences into which I am hard-pressed to read his mood with anything near accuracy. I think about a recent comment made by a family court judge in discussing the parenting plan that he intended to adopt: Each parent should be able to contact the child by phone or text. . . isn't that how we reach our children these days? I protested then, and I protest now: If we limit our guidance to the number of words allowed by our cellular carriers, what cost to this generation?

And yet, I wonder if I had more or less contact with my parents in my third year of college. I strain to recall. Sunday dinner once or twice a month; I might have borrowed my mother's car on occasion, prompting the need to deliver a censored report of my comings and goings. My husband swears he saw his parents only twice each year during college: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Perhaps, perhaps, I acknowledge, but the question remains: are we the better for it?

I only have to close my eyes to find myself back on my great-grandmother's porch, at age three or four. My great-grandfather, Dad Ulz, whittles as he perches on the step beside me. The autumn night sings around us, and the low, pleasant murmur of the women and children in the house cascades over my tiny frame. I lean against my great-grandfather's strong legs, and think my childish thoughts, the content of which has been lost in the intervening five decades. The warmth of his body seeps into my deliciously chilly legs. The occasional flash of the last lightning bugs of autumn thrills me, and the heady smell of freshly mown grass envelopes us both.

I have a picture, somewhere, in a box in the attic, of my great-grandmother feeding chickens. She stands in a plain stretch of yard, wearing a flowered dress and a white apron. Though the picture has no color, I know her hair is red and the dirt beneath her feet is black. She raised her eyes just at the moment that the anonymous photographer captured her, and did not smile. I have run my finger across the square of paper and wondered where in me her genes dwell.

In another photograph, my mother leans on a railing and points to a distant, unseen spectacle. I stand to her right and slightly above her, my long hair cascading in waves, hers done up in curlers. I no longer recall who captured this funny tableau, or why. I remember the smoothness of boards on my bare feet and the sharp snap of the autumn air. The porch adorns the Bissell House in north St. Louis County, and the occasion must have been a Sunday afternoon outing to view their waning, delicate gardens before the first frost.

On a sill in my breakfast nook stands a photograph of my son, age three, in a rocking chair flanked by two neighbor children. His earnest face meets the camera's eye. I keenly remember the day, and my photographer boyfriend who captured the scene. I stood behind him, gazing on my son's countenance, seeing in it the curve of his father's mouth, my father's button Irish nose, the shape of my mother's brow.

I saw a photograph of my son on Facebook this week, his arm around a beautiful young woman. The sudden shock of beholding his tall frame, the shadow of his beard, his broad shoulders in a suit jacket, rendered me breathless. I think about the narrowing of his generation from my great-grandmother's brood: thirteen children down to one. He's all that's left of me now. Is it any wonder that I am discontented with the brevity of our contact? Is it so wrong to wish that I had one more chance to get this right, one more autumn night to sit on a porch step and listen to the crickets sing?

But the nights have all been savored or squandered. Whatever I was going to give him, I have given. Whatever he will make of it, is his to be made. Whether our children have enough or too little, they take their little kerchief-clad bundles upon their crooked sticks, and march down the road set in front of them. We are left to our rocking chairs, to the smooth remembered feel of cold boards on our bare feet, earnest faces turned towards the weighty lined countenances of their elders, and the wild flash of the season's last lightning bugs captured in a Mason jar.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Midweek Musings

Good evening,

The news last night of the passing of my father's last surviving sibling caused me to feel a bit guilty. I had not seen my aunt Irene for six or seven years, and I don't recall speaking to her in that time. I toyed with the idea of going to the funeral, but the arrangements coincide with some client responsibilities that I do not think can wait.

I sat over coffee after court this morning, in a funny little restaurant that I did not previously know existed. My stopping there occurred entirely by chance. I had spent 45 minutes looking for the Liberty Department of Revenue License office, only to learn that my Property Tax Receipt had an error that prevented me from renewing my plates. Disgruntled, hungry, caffeine-deprived, I tried to make my way to the Starbucks on Route 152 but went the wrong way. Instead, I found myself west of the highway, gazing at my choices: one to the right, one to the left. I have no idea why I picked the latter, but there I was, with a bad cup of coffee, a soggy biscuit, and a runny egg.

I called my office and let my receptionist know that she could refrain from canceling my Thursday appointments, and scrolled through my e-mail messages. I pushed the egg around my plate and stared into the cooling coffee. After a few minutes of pretending to eat, I heard a voice on my right ask if everything was okay, and looked up, expecting to see my waitress.

Instead, a man hovered over me. I felt my brow tighten, wondering what he wanted, as I assured him that I was fine, all was well, I did not need anything. He smiled. "You probably don't remember me," he said. "You helped me out in a little matter over in Clay County about ten years ago, and I've never forgotten you."

I glanced at his name tag, but it bore only his first name which afforded me no clue to trigger the lost memory. I studied his face, but could not remember him or his case. He told me his surname, and that he has never missed a weekend with his child. "You were really great back then," he told me. "I appreciated everything you did for me. I've been on the straight ever since. A lot has happened. I've grown. I take care of my kid, and it's wonderful." I smiled, and nodded, and strained to recall what I might have done to cause him to look at me with such dazzling gratitude, this tall young man who seemed strong, confident and calm. I thanked him for remembering me, told him that I was really glad things had gone well for him, and returned his smile.

I finished my breakfast, and left, standing just a bit taller, no longer worried about the lines at the tax office.

Later, I looked on Case.Net, and sure enough, I had done a paternity action for him in 2000. Since the docket items are not visible due to privacy laws covering paternity cases, I couldn't tell how contentious the matter had been. His file probably had been crammed in one of many document boxes lost in a storage room flood. I can't event browse its contents to refresh my recollection of his case. I don't suppose I will ever know.

But if you get breakfast in Liberty one day, and a kind young man with a radiant smile asks if he can help you, leave him a big tip. He's got a kid to support.

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.