Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday Musings, 19 March 2011

Good morning,

As I complete the mundane task of washing breakfast dishes, a stained glass bird, crafted by my son's eight-year-old hands, dangles before me. I watch the light filter through its blue and green surfaces, thinking of the satisfaction on my son's face as he watched me tear the Christmas wrappings covering his work. Satisfaction melted into radiant joy as I exclaimed over the beauty of the piece. It has hung from the window frame above my kitchen sink for eleven years, slowly turning with the gentle urging of the air current, winter, summer, heat, air-conditioning.

One week from today, I will plunge, without reservation, into my third attempt at matrimonial bliss. Signs exist that this marriage will differ from the first (gas and a lit match) and the second (bravely sailed ships, destined for different if neighboring harbors). I pride myself on maintaining a friendship with my two ex-husbands, in wishing them well, in offering them assistance when they've needed it and receiving theirs on occasion in return. I do not bear grudges. I already have an ulcer; I cannot afford the luxury of vengeance and even if I could, nothing rings clear-cut, nothing arises to fairly apportion blame. Time passes; wounds heal; forgiveness soothes.

My parents weathered greater storms than those which shredded my first marriages. They separated; reunited; overcame; and upon my mother's death, at age 58 of cancer, had been married for almost thirty-nine years. My father died six years later, still grieving, still writing sad, archaic poetry in tribute to his lost love, whom even he knew he had not honored as well in life as he did in death. He failed to honor, but he did cherish, and he did mourn.

I picture, as I write, a couple whom I represented in a wetlands case north of here, close to Brookfield and Chillicothe. Strapping farm folks, both of them -- he, tall and gangling; she, sturdy but nearly equal in stature. I see them in the simple, faded cloth of their every-day existence: Denim, gingham and chambray. Her kitchen bore not one speck of dirt or dust; her breezeway held not clutter but the neatly organized flotsam and jetsam of a working farm and dog kennel. When I visited to scope out the alleged infringement on a protected wetland -- a dry creek bottom at the southern edge of the acreage passed down to him from three generations -- I sat at a wooden table crafted by her father's hands, while she perked coffee in a tin pot on a wood-burning stove. She had an electric range beside it, but could not be bothered with the slow-heating burners.

I sipped the steaming liquid and browsed through photos of their offspring. She wiped counters that I would have thought too clean, and began to set out the makings of a Sunday lunch, while her husband fetched waders to protect my city clothes. He stood near her, at the sink, sipping his coffee from a heavy china cup, and I watched the light gleam in his eyes at the sight of his seventy-four-year old wife of sixty-nine years. I swear, he pinched her bottom when he thought I could not see.

I casually asked how they had managed to stay married for almost seven decades. We never fight, he told me. She raised a thin eyebrow and shook a grey head. Okay, okay. Mebbe I ain't tellin' it straight. She smiled. Okay, okay, he relented. We've had one fight. She glanced at me, her smile widening as he delivered a practiced line. And it's lasted nigh on to seventy years!

We all laughed. Then he and I got into his old Chevy and lumbered down to the bottom of his land, where the offensive stump lay on its side, no longer hitched to the tractor he had used to disengage it from its withered root ball. I walked around it, taking a few pictures, squatting down to touch the waterless ruts of the long-dry creek. I stood, slowly, and scanned the nearby area for signs of offended wildlife, disturbed habitat, or threatened flora. I saw none.

We made our way back to the house, and sat at a table heavy with the bounty that people in rural areas always offer visitors. Never mind that they paid for my time and travel; or that I had only come a couple of hours to see them. My plate strained under the weight of the servings set upon it, and my cup of cold well water did not stand empty. He said grace; she laid the food; and their grown son, who lived a few minutes away with his own family, came and joined us to show respect for the lawyer from Kansas City.

A few months later, after winning his case by the merest of coincidences and the push of curiosity, which led to the discovery of fly-over slides proving our contentions, I visited again. I brought my own son with me to select a puppy, their gift -- along with a check for my fees -- to thank me for helping them. I stood by the screen door in the nippy March wind, watching my two-and-a-half year old earnestly gazing at a kennel of squirming young Beagles. Patrick's selection made, we sat down to another Sunday dinner, with Patrick on two telephone books in front of an enamel porridger, much like the one that I still use that belonged to my mother as a child.

On the way home, Patrick asked me why he didn't have any old people. I had no answer for him, other than the obvious fact that my parents had died, and his father's people did not claim him. We fell silent, and I imagine that he thought about visiting the kennels, hunting for eggs, and walking along the unevern, enticing paths of a north Missouri farm.

I heard that my clients' son died that fall, in a tragic accident, and each of his parents outlived him by only weeks. Their widowed daughter-in-law called me, to let me know that they had never failed to give thanks for my efforts, in their evening prayers, and in their Sunday intentions. You took a worry from them, she told me. I could not think what to say, imagining the worry she herself now faced, a widow at thirty-two, with children, and a farm to manage. I murmured something inane, then asked how they died. He couldn't live without his son, she said, quietly, with no hint of bitterness. And she couldn't live without him.

I said that I understood.

I'm fifty-five now. It's probably too late for me to have a marriage of seventy years. I raise my glass to anyone who married young enough, and has stayed married long enough, to come close to such a glorious accomplishment. My hope for myself is more humble: and it is a prayer, I suppose, more than anything. I hope, and pray, that I am able to honor and cherish this man, for any remaining day of my life that I am blessed to experience.

I've a pile of opened mail to peruse and trash, and a little bit of laundry to do. The prodigal son arrives at six tomorrow, and the next few days will race across the calendar with wild abandon. Saturday will come. Judge Brian Wimes will intone the ceremonial phrases in his sonorous voice, and I will whisper, I do, and I will. I expect to be rendered nearly speechless with tears. Patrick will hover nearby, watching his mother go willingly into the last good phase of her life.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

P.S.: The Musings will be on hiatus for the next two weeks, first as I get reading for my wedding and then because Jim and I are going to New Orleans for our honeymoon. I will attempt to post pictures on Facebook. On my return to Kansas City, I will, in due course, resume this pleasant endeavor. Be well, be joyful, and be at peace. CC

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Musings, 12 March 2011

Good morning,

Last evening, I heard a singer whose voice had a lilting, Spanish accent stealing the attention of diners at a Mexican restaurant in Waldo. My first listen caused my brow to wrinkle. But when he switched from American pop covers to the cadences of his birth land, his voice mellowed, and the diners set down their forks to genuinely listen.

I am continually struck by the differences that make our world sometimes joyful, sometimes disturbing. Conservative, liberal, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, brown, beige, pale: we strut around pushing our small rocks of weight against each other's space and demanding attention. I sit and listen to the rousing, rough debate -- in Wisconsin, in Washington, around the nation and the world. I hear the words "stalemate", "reckless", and "unconstitutional" intermingled with the words "freedom", "stability" and "liberty". I wonder if it matters. I worry that it is all given more importance than it deserves, and that the drive to win improperly colors the judgment of those who compete.

In a nearly empty courtroom this week, I watch a small, fretful woman twitch and toss a head of unnaturally blond, pressed hair. She glared at the man on the stand whom I represented, bursting out occasionally in protest at his accusations. When she took the stand, she admitted her drug use in ferocious, swaggering tones while begging for her son to remain in her home. She must have known -- as my client knew, and I knew, and the judge knew, that her addiction precluded such result. No one condemned her. Everyone pitied her. She slunk down from the witness stand and trudged the few feet to her chair, crumpling into it and sinking back into her leather jacket, pulling its collar over her face. No one spoke except the judge, who closed the proceedings with a few gentle comments, taking it under advisement, though his ruling came within a day. Motion for change of residential custody, granted. I felt it as a shallow victory, though perhaps a child had been saved from the folly that might otherwise have awaited him, in the clutches of an addict who thinks nothing of taking him with her on drug buys.

When I returned from court that day, I texted my own son, wondering which of my choices exposed him to potential harm. I pulled several files toward me, and, with the push of an inexplicable drive, I worked each one. With untiring ferocity, I sent paper into the outer limits of the Internet for review by clients. I tendered letters into the morass of the postal service, left voice-mail messages, and reviewed reams of paper sent by other lawyers from other desks, in other offices, driven by other unseen forces. By the end of the day, I had touched each of my cases, pushing the boulder just a little farther up the hill, propping it with a strong lever.

Yesterday, I heard a story on NPR about a recently written book detailing the events of the attempted assassination of President Reagan. I listened to the author describe the actions of the operating room personnel, and to the Secret Service agent who saved the President's life quietly tell why he decided to change the course of our history by diverting the limousine to the hospital despite Mr. Reagan's mumbled assurances that he did not need medical attention.

I reached my destination as the story ended. Sitting in my car, I closed my eyes and recalled, as I had not remembered for years, the split second when I reached for a seat belt just before a car slammed into the door of the vehicle in which I rode. Because I had not yet restrained myself, the powerful impact turned my body sideways, and my hip bore the crush of the other car's wheel instead of my pelvis. I thought about the force of another car, a decade later, that sent me flying high enough to be seen by a woman her in second floor office, who called 911 as I sailed back down and slammed onto the hood of the car that hit me. The woman in that office visited me in the hospital, just to be sure I had survived. Years later, she died a savage, lonely death at the hands of a man bent on committing a vicious, senseless act. Her body settled in the bed of a river, and there it rested for a long time, while her family and all of Kansas City searched for her, hoping to discover that she had simply gotten lost, or suffered amnesia, or merely absconded.

The world turns. In a split second, its cracks shift and a country reels. Its oceans rise and slam into the acres of cement and steel that we have constructed. A body slumps. A child dies.

On the table in my dining room, the shell of an amaryllis bulb thrusts out a shoot long after I had decided its life must have ended. In another few days, a bloom will appear, bright pink on a vivid green stalk. As I eat my breakfast, I gaze upon the sturdy frond rising above the pebbles in the crock, and I dare to think that somewhere, in a neighborhood not too far from my home, a twelve-year old boy secretly sighs in sweet relief, to be waking in a home with a sober parent.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday Musings, 05 March 2011

Good morning,

I raise the blind above my desk and gaze out of a dirt-streaked window at the soft sky, with its thin trails of white wistful clouds. Against this delicate backdrop, bare trees rise stark and black. Perhaps small buds of new leaves pepper the branches, but I cannot see them from this distance, and the sky looks to be clutched in winter's wicked grasp.

Nearly one-third of this year has dribbled through my fingers as I reached to grasp it. I am astonished at how quickly the time passes. I convince myself that the rate of minutes accelerates, though surely it does not. Surely, my obligations merely expand to clutter the days and send me careening from dawn to dusk, collapsing in exhaustion for a few meager hours before I rise and race against the staring clock with its rushing hands.

I don't know when my life became this frantic. But I suspect I share a common malady with many. I listened to an NPR story about a company developing plastic that doesn't poison us, and wondered how we ever came to use receptacles that do pose such threat. Surely, glass can hold milk without contaminating it. We strove to make our lives disposable for decade upon decade, only to learn that the means for such convenience now clog our sewers, kill our wildlife, and sicken our children.

From where I sit, I can see a "dish", with its metal protrusion gesturing in a manner only vaguely obscene. I suppose it catches some sort of signal that its minders claim does not damage anything else through which it passes. I begin to understand the craze-eyed wanderers with their tin foil helmets. The world sinks into strangeness, and I stand, observing, wondering what conveniences do not carry health risks, or make us lazy, or deafen our ears.

I remember simpler times. And I wonder, as I remember them, if they were better than the times in which we now live.

I used to say that my family "was poor", until I met genuine poverty, and now I simply say, "we were middle class". We sometimes lacked for sufficient food, though we never starved. A broken jug of milk evoked tears; and my clothes lagged a season or two behind those of my parochial classmates. But we did not wander the streets for lack of a bed or a roof, and grandparents helped if the money ran short.

Still, our play grew creative because our playthings fell into the rudimentary category. Perhaps we had what others had in those days, before video games and iPods. Perhaps we had less. Either way, the toys of my youth had no motors, and much of my childhood occurred out-of-doors. This was especially true in the summer, when we had free license to wander from after breakfast until the street lights came on in our neighborhood.

Down the street from my house, the railroad track passed a small commercial outfit. As I reflect back to those days, I can't recall the nature of that business. It could have had something to do with rail shipping; perhaps maintenance crews for the railway stored their tools in the locked shed. I can't say. But we played there, I'm sure against the instructions of our working mother. We scrapped among the rocks by the side of the railroad tracks, and used the corrugated tin buildings as targets.

A block up from that juncture, a business lay empty, or so it appeared to me. Its grounds mostly held a large pool of something dank and smelly. I don't recall that business ever being active but I do vaguely recall that at one time, it made X-ray developer. I'm not sure what purpose the pool served.

One day, I wandered as far as the old factory without any of my siblings. I pushed aside the rusty gate, opening it far enough to slip into the yard. I felt my way among the broken bricks, and stood above the stinking liquid of the large cesspool. My eyes glazed as I stared into its depths. I breathed the stench of the chemicals, and felt my head swoon. As the world darkened around me, I began to pitch, head first, into the well of filth below me.

A large, dark hand pulled me back and threw me down upon the cinder driveway. I stared at the face hovering over me, with its deep lines and heavy fringe of graying hair. Denim surrounded the unshaven, wrinkled neck, a jacket streaked with oil and grime. I pulled myself up, and the man stood back away from me. Neither of us spoke. My head cleared, and I inched away. When I had cleared the gap in the gate, I began to run, three blocks to my house and on down the driveway, then through our backdoor.

I threw myself into a chair in the breakfast room. I felt the sweat rise on my face and dribble down the back of my neck. My braids hung dank and clammy against my chest; my shirt stuck to my skin. The fumes that had risen from the factory's pool clung to my clothing. I shed it quickly, and stepped into a hot shower.

By the time my brothers came home from their afternoon bike ride, I had found a book, and thrown myself into the adventures within its pages. I did not tell them what had happened. I never wandered to that place again, and I never saw the man who saved me. I never thanked him.

A bird squawks outside my window, reminding me that the morning wanes. Downstairs, the black cat yowls to be released into the wild. I rise to oblige him, thinking that perhaps, the world is safe enough for my tom cat.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Missouri Mugwump™

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