Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Musings, 27 May 2011

Good morning,

An odd phenomenon has occurred several times in recent days. I have found myself lapsing into inexplicable tears while reading about someone killed in the tornado in Joplin. A husband shielding his wife; a mother dying with a child in her arms, its lifeless body clutched against her breast. The thought of these tragedies stabs into my heart, though I imagine it resembles a mere splinter compared with the rending of the hearts of those who cherished them.

I stood in a neighbor's yard when a tornado touched down, when I was five or six. The father of that household ran out into the melee and scooped my small frame into his arms as their sliding board flew away, just after the tree in our backyard had been torn from the earth. I know what a small funnel cloud can do, and I see the devastation in the before-and-after photos so I am not left to imagine the impact of the largest and most deadly of them. My breath catches; I drop the newspaper, and tears well in my eyes.

Next to the pictures of those whose lives ended last week in Joplin, I find a reference to the resolution of several competitions on television -- shows that I do not watch, and have never seen -- American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and so forth. I cannot acknowledge the virtue of shows such as this, even as a distraction, though I am known to watch entertainment just as pallid, such as Top Chef and Project Runway. But even I know better than to find such pablum newsworthy in the face of tragic loss. Who cares? I ask myself. Who cares who won this shlock? But someone must.

The world keeps turning. My cases march into fruition; my son ages another day. The balance in my bank account drops at an alarming rate; but my mortgage also dwindles. Three weeks have passed since I broke my wrist; nearly twenty years have slipped away since I first heard my child laughing, under the glaring lights of the delivery room. Fourteen years since my brother died. Twenty-six since we lost my mother.

But only seven days since the lives of over two hundred people ended on the day after the date that an old California man had predicted thousands of faithful would be borne aloft. One week, in which the lives of scores of survivors have stood still while rubble was searched. The collective breath of a nation held; the collective head of a community bowed.

My little world still dances on its axis. I have not lost anyone of recent years; and the three smiling children of this blended family bounce through the summer with glee. Their grades please us; their laughter soothes us; their slightly patronizing air amuses us. We hold them close. We know that we have been incredibly fortunate, to come unscathed, thus far, through the spring of 2011, when others did not fare as well, and now grieve.

One child stayed the night where he spent the evening; another watched television until the wee hours, then rose in time for his Saturday shift. The third has her own orbit, with which our days occasionally intersect. And I, in the last third of my life, can only feel grateful that I was not in Joplin, Afghanistan, Reading, or Iraq this week, and that none of them was. For those who were, I shed some tears, and made a modest contribution to help the efforts of Heart to Heart. I feel inadequate, I feel blessed, and I feel that somehow, somewhere, I should find or make an opportunity to do more.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday Musings, 21 May 2011

Good morning,

The world has not yet ended, so perhaps I have time for one short reflection on my life. I say "short" because I find it difficult to type with a splint encasing my left hand. Yes, folks, all those cautionary tales have come true: I did fall, and I did break my wrist, and all those head-shakers and nay-sayers can now sigh and intone, We told you so!

Every year, at my annual visit to the neurologist, he cautions that I should consider a cane or a walker. I thank him for the suggestion, and remind him of the best advice my mother gave me, which was, "If you walk every day of your life, you will be able to walk every day of your life." I mention, too, that I already have two legs that do not properly communicate with my brain, and the addition of a third just causes a third more confusion (assuming my math skills serve me). He smiles, an enigmatic smile that I choose to interpret as mild amusement, and we part, to reconvene and dance the same dance in twelve months.

My current injury hardly rises to the level of exciting. I took a spill after stepping on a piece of yard debris sitting at the bottom of my front stairs. I felt my body slice through the air and, as usual, thought only of protecting my head and my artificial joint. I landed on my outstretched left hand. Fortunately, I have a thin, small body, and the resultant crack is not "displaced" nor did it extend into the joint. Because I broke my non-dominant hand, I did not have to have a cast.

I think my most glamorous break resulted from doing the chicken dance at my first wedding in 1987. If you are unfamiliar with the chicken dance, imagine a circle of intoxicated hippies in the middle of which each, in turn, must imitate a chicken while the others clap and march first to the right and then to the left. By the time I got to the doctor in Little Rock after my Newton County wedding, my foot had swelled far beyond the capacity of any of my shoes. That ortho guy scratched his head as he showed me the X-Ray, remarking that my foot showed signs of prior breaks. He asked, "Didn't you ever feel any pain that must surely have accompanied these old injuries?" I shrugged. Pain? A Jewish woman I knew back in my misspent youth would say, "Mah nishtanah ha-lahylah ha-zeh mi-kol ha-layloht, mi-kol ha-layloht?", which apparently means, "Why should today be different?"

I owe my artificial knee to a crazed Iranian in a VW Scirroco who couldn't see me because of the glare of the setting sun. He struck me from the left, and I flew higher than the second story of what was then the Tivoli Theatre in Westport. Summer Shipp, now tragically deceased but who owned the Tivoli in 1982, called the police as I sailed past her window. I swear I saw an angel, high above Westport Road, who urged me back down with a gentle push of her heavenly hand. It's not time, she said. I hit the VW's hood, then cracked its windshield with my right knee, shattering the entire leg. Twenty years later the knee surrendered its struggle to endure, and now I have plastic and metal that sets off airport alarms.

But not one drop of blood spilled on the hard asphalt that day, and I lived to make jokes about losing a contact and admonishing bystanders not to carry me to the sidewalk by asking -- Don't you people watch TV? You never move anyone who might have a neck injury!!!

My ankle broke in a horrible accident involving the joystick of an electric wheelchair and generally excessive alcohol consumption. The emergency room didn't catch the break at first, but my diligent doctor did. Those poor little feet had all their toes broken years before that, in a freak spill out in my backyard caused by a mischievous gutter hiding in a bank of snow. My son, aged three at the time, walked down the street to get the neighbor who carried me into the house. And in 2007, I fell going into the Minnesota state fair, resulting in a suspicious chip at the end of my elbow and a painfully dislocated shoulder.

As my husband set out this morning to make the drive to Greencastle, Indiana, to fetch the prodigal son, I tightened the Velcro straps on my splint and cautioned him to drive with care. In addition to my vehicle, of which I am fond, he'll be transporting the two beings most precious to me in this world. He smiled -- not entirely sure, perhaps, of which worried me more: the thought of having to replace the car, or the thought of losing my husband and only born-to-me child. He knows better; but my St. Louis-style humor still occasionally baffles him.

It's been a long nine months, without my son but with a new husband and a new young person barreling in and out of the house with raucous good humor and bursts of song in his beautiful voice. A confident young woman serves as another borrowed daughter, this time with a solid legally recognized connection to match the bond of love. The summer stretches before me. I check over my shoulder, and see that my guardian angel remains watchful. She winks, raises a heavenly cup of Joe, and gives me a little salute.

God is, indeed, in his Heaven, and all is, indeed, right with the world.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Saturday Musings, 14 May 2011

Good morning,

Our schizophrenic weather staggered back into winter this morning, though the Saturday morning tennis players wore their customary white shorts as they whistled their way to their cars and wandered off, leaving me to shiver and huddle over a chilling cup of bad coffee. Weak light streams into my bedroom through the tilted slats of the blinds, falling onto the faded, tangled black lace of my grandmother's shawl.

The sight of this shawl reminds me of the time that I first wore it, at a party given by me and my college roommates. We all wore black lace dresses and heavy jewelry, old Hollywood hair-styles and shiny sling-back sandals. We posed for our portrait on the stairway to the upstairs of our Laclede Town townhouse, heads thrown back, varying degrees of vibrancy on our faces. I stand on the bottom step, in a tea-length dress with a wide skirt, capped sleeves and scooped neckline. I am not smiling; but my eyes squarely caught the camera's lens. I cannot tell what I was thinking.

At the end of that party, the three of us pushed the chairs back against the walls. I listlessly vacuumed crumbs from the carpet while someone carried beer cans and Margarita glasses to the kitchen. Outside, the night air began to yield to the rising sun, and the first glimmer of Sunday morning noises rose from the street -- the heavy ramble of the newspaper truck, a last, desperate siren's wail, the beckoning of a church bell. When we had finished cleaning, we shed our finery in favor of flannel, and crawled into our respective beds, with curtains drawn against the brightness of the morning light.

I awakened that day long after noon, though the house remained silent and my roommates' doors still had not opened. I softly padded down the stairs, and pulled the coffee-maker from its cubby under a cabinet. As I waited for the brewing process to be completed, I pushed the furniture back into its customary configuration.

With my coffee clutched closely to my chest, I slid the patio doors open, and stepped outside. The vague chill of a spring afternoon kissed my face and I closed my eyes, sipping coffee, receiving the grace of the wind's caress.

A woman's voice startled me, and I nearly dropped my mug. You all had one heck of a party last night, she said, softly. I turned towards the patio next to ours, regarding the slender form of my neighbor, who sat on a low stool with a small child leaning against her body. We had not met. When the three of us had rented our place, the entire row had been unoccupied. I didn't know anybody lived there now, I told the woman. I'm sorry; did we disturb you?

She turned away, wrapping one arm around the child's small frame, gazing across her patio to the abutting edge of the yards behind ours. She shrugged. Not really, she admitted. This one don't sleep too good, since his daddy left.

I set my cup down on the small metal table between our two lawn chairs. Do you want some coffee, I asked the woman, and when she accepted, I stepped into the kitchen and then returned with a mug for her, and a glass of juice for her son. She took both with a tiny nod and the briefest of smiles below her somber eyes. I sat down on the chair closest to her and the boy, and for a few minutes, no one spoke.

The child broke the uneasy silence. This is good, he whispered, and his mother's body jerked, just briefly, as though in fear. Thank you, honey, I offered, putting as much sincerity into my reply as I could. Silence resumed.

When the little boy had consumed all of his orange juice, he slid from between his mother's bony knees and handed his glass to me. Thank you for my breakfast, he said, solemnly, carefully, before returning to the woman's side.

My neighbor rose, then, and placed her empty coffee cup beside mine on the table. She swung the boy high into her arms, and spared me another small bend of her head. Without further comment, she carried her son into her own house. As the door slid closed, before the beige drapes blocked my view, I glimpsed a scattering of cardboard boxes, a few bulging black trash bags, and a tiny, lonely pile of broken toys.

From within my apartment, I heard sounds of my roommates rummaging in our kitchen. One called to the other as they debated whether they would have breakfast or dinner. Someone spoke to me, and I pulled my gaze away from the wrinkled expanse of fabric covering the neighbor's patio door. Coming! I responded, and hauled myself up from the chair, scooping all three cups from the table, tossing a little cold coffee onto the bare ground between our patio and the one next door.

From time to time, over the next few months, I would see the woman leaving for work and bid her good morning. The child walked beside her, usually with a tiny backpack settled between his shoulder blades, and a grimy stuffed bear held in the crook of his arm. Neither of them spoke to me in those brief encounters, although the child often let his eyes slip sideways to meet mine, and occasionally he flashed a hurried, radiant smile, to let me know that he still remembered the taste of the cold, sweet juice.

We broke housekeeping at the end of the school year. I moved out last, and whatever man I was dating at the time hauled my belongings for me, backing his pick-up truck as close to the entry of the apartment as he could. We loaded it with an odd assortment of storage containers and suitcases, the bookshelf my great-grandfather made, my old bed frame, and a couple of boxes of books. We bundled the last of the rubbish to be taken to the dumpster. As we finished cleaning, I noticed that the front door of the town house next to ours stood open. I stepped across to the stoop, and peered into the living room.

It took a few minute to realize that the place was entirely empty, with no sign of the woman or her son. No boxes, no bags, no broken toys. No furniture. Nothing. I stood, surveying the barren look of the place, astonished that I could have been as oblivious to their departure as I had been to their initial arrival.

After a few minutes, my boyfriend honked the horn, impatient to get the load to my new apartment before sundown. I shrugged, to no one in particular, and closed the doors of both houses, making sure the locks clicked. Then I left, without a backwards glance.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Saturday Musings, 07 May 2011

Good morning,

Danger alerts sound outside: dogs bark, birds start a frantic twittering. Intruders pass -- a young mother with a stroller; a prissy little poodle, walked by a broad-shouldered man with a bald head. I don't look out the window, but I recognize the noise made by the three dogs at the side of our house -- mine and the neighbors' two -- and I imagine the morning brigade. Saturday in Brookside. I continue reading my paper, drinking my coffee, listening with half an ear to the soundtrack of my life.

I'm rushing myself a bit; I'm distracted by the knowledge that the number of coffee cups accumulated on the floor of my Saturn has started to effect my gas mileage, as has the heavy layer of road dirt on its exterior. I cannot think of any more excuses for avoiding this chore, so I'll grab a pair of jeans and my heavy shoes, and spend a half hour pumping quarters into the do-it-yourself car wash, holding the heavy wand with my right hand, babying my left wrist which still smarts from a recent sprain.

I used to take better care of my vehicles. My first car shone with endless rounds of wax that I rubbed into its British Racing Green surface. An MG Midget, in which I felt chic and fashionable. In a photograph album somewhere, in a box, in my basement, my eighteen-year-old self gazes out from its driver's seat. The top is folded back; the wind, doubtless, plays on my face. I wear shades in the picture, back in the days when I could still correct my vision with contact lenses -- the hard kind, for which one often had to search on one's hands and knees, on the tiled floor of the bathroom. In that decades-old snapshot, I have a bandanna tied over my tangle of long, curly hair and I wear a blue-jean jacket. I've got my arm dangling over the door, the other hand touching the steering wheel, and a broad smile widens my mouth.

The summer after my second year of college, I dated a police officer who worked second shift, ending his duty after eleven o'clock, when he would rap on my apartment door after parking his vehicle in the underground garage of my building. On one such night, he arrived well after midnight, and as I opened the door, he remarked, When I saw your car wasn't there, I figured you got tired of waiting and went out with somebody else. I shuddered as he spoke the words, and pushed past him, running down the interior stairwell, bursting through the garage entrance, standing, shocked, in front of my assigned space, in which I had parked my car earlier that evening.

My friend came up behind me, softly, putting his hand on my arm. I'll call it in, he said. I nodded, without speaking.

They found the car, stripped of its wiring, several miles from my apartment. My brothers installed a fuel-line kill switch when they replaced the wiring harness. Periodically, I would come down and discover it had been taken again. I would set out walking, dangling the keys, and find it a block or two away, the farthest it could be driven on the gas left in the line. Hot-wired, taken, and then abandoned.

I burned the clutch out on that MG three times before I finally gave it to my brother and bought a Chevy Nova from my cousin Angela. I took the Nova with me to Kansas City, when I moved here in 1980 for law school. The first summer, its carburetor rebelled and the car kept stalling; the guys at the Montgomery Ward Auto Center couldn't figure out what was wrong. I bought a carburetor rebuild kit and a Polaroid camera. I took the thing apart in the parking lot at the shopping center, piece by piece, photographing it as I went. Then I rebuilt it, using the line of pictures as my guide. When I finished, the vehicle started on the first try, and I wiped my hands, threw away the trash, and went home.

I sold that Nova for more than I had paid for it, and bought a big Oldsmobile which talked to me. The door is ajar, it said, in an insipid female voice. Fasten your seat belt, she admonished me. Oh, shut up, I took to telling her, before I figured out which fuse ran her and pulled it to silence her. The transmission went out on the Olds and she went for scrap, just before the accident which crushed my leg and netted me enough from my Uninsured Motorist provision to buy my first new car, a Nissan Sentra. I drove that little wagon until 1990, then gave it to a law student who worked for my firm in Fayetteville. I bought an old Audi with a sunroof until I drove until I returned to Kansas City to manage a Congressional campaign and had to dump the German car to appease the UAW contingent.

In the last decade, I've had three Buick Centuries, a small Saturn with manually operated windows, and a Chevy Blazer that introduced me to the world of SUV drivers, a world that just seems safer. Now I drive a Vue, and I'm hoping to get a sweet new Buick Enclave some day.

I can step through my life on the roofs of the cars that I have owned. I never expected to care about something so seemingly trivial, but I find that I am nostalgic for the little MG Midget with its classic lines and traditional paint job. I long to reclaim the casual air with which I shifted gears, as I accelerated into third on the highway between my mother's home in North St. Louis County and the dingy streets of the city where I lived. I have studied the face of the girl in the photo, her head thrown back, her eyes shielded but surely wild with laughter, her smile radiant. I do not know where she went, that girl; and I wonder what I have in common with her.

The house has assumed a deserted air with the departure of most of its human occupants. The cat yowls for water, no doubt standing on the edge of the sink in the downstairs bathroom. I tear my gaze back to the present, and swallow the last cold coffee. I rise from my chair, and the world shifts to a forward spin, while outside my home, the barking of my dog diminishes, and the startled birds fall silent.

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.