Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve Musings

Halloween, 1982.  I flew into Helena to visit a guy who'd been my lover during my second year of law school.  I can't claim that he was more or less than that.  This man owned a plate, a fork, a knife, a spoon, a cup and a pan.  With his food scale, such constituted the kitchen equipment of my friend in those days.  He lived a sparse life, and did not lightly welcome intruders.

The Blue Sky plane ride across the mountains terrified me.  At that time, I had not yet flown in a Cessna 150 during an ice storm, landing in a frozen cornfield; nor taken a 206 out of a small Louisiana airport on the heels of a thunderstorm having contractions four minutes apart.  I had not yet had a private pilot ask if I was nervous to fly with him after his recent crash -- of which, until he mentioned it, I had been unaware.  No, in those days, I had flown in nothing other than a jumbo jet from St. Louis to Denver, and that October flight from Billings to Helena grabbed my gut.  I fell into David's arms and whispered, "Holy Crud! That's a small plane!"  A twenty-seater -- ha.  Little did I know how much smaller planes could get.

Snow fell around us as we skittered on icy streets to his apartment.  Arms entwined, we walked down the streets of his neighborhood to a small grocer.  His diabetic needs jived with my vegetarian sensibility.  Back upstairs, I presented him with my "host" gift:  A second plate, a second set of silverware, a cup to use with my morning coffee.  He made his standard dinner:  Baked potatoes, steamed veggies, white fish cooked in his only pan with a tiny scrap of margarine.  We drank water.  It tasted like nectar to me.

A day or two later, Halloween loomed.   We decided that was as good a day as any to drive to Glacier Park.  Through small town after small town we rounded the curves of the road up the Rockies, their majesty beckoning.  He explained the meaning of the groups of white crosses on the  roadside:  one cross for every life claimed by failing brakes or speeding drivers.  The grim testaments stunned me.  We drove on, on, higher and higher, while David told me bout his work with Native Americans living on the area reservations.

The wind howled a bit as we neared the park.  A storm gathering miles away in Canada threatened the upper areas, beyond us, farther than we intended to go.  We pulled his little Ford over to the side of the road, and contemplated his chainless tires while the snow flurried around us.  Glancing back and forth, eyeing each other, measuring our bravery, we shrugged, climbed back into the vehicle, and proceeded forward.

At the entrance to the pass through which David wanted to travel, a large sign heralded us.  TURN BACK, DOROTHY, it might as well have said.  What it actually told us did cause a momentary hesitation.  The pass ahead had been closed to all  without chains unless driving ATVs.  Rangers could pass, presumably, and lumberjacks if any were ever allowed into the park.  But ordinary folks, driving Fords with old snow tires and without chains, entered at their own peril.  Another moment when we eyed each other, the one daring the other to suggest we admit defeat.  David shifted into gear, and we crept forward.

A short ways into the park proper, David stopped in a turn-around area to give himself an insulin shot.  I got out and stood beside him, sheltering his thin frame from the sharp bite of the winter air.  He spoke in a low voice, telling me to glance over the railing at the glacier.


I saw only grey, as far as I could stretch my neck in any direction.  A snow storm, rapidly moving sleet, low-lying clouds or long-clinging fog.

No, he assured me.  That's a glacier.

I stood transfixed, staring into what a sign told me  was St. Mary's Lake.  A soundless snow fell around us.  David finished the simple act that kept him alive, and beckoned me back to the car.  I paused a moment, unable to turn my back on what I had beheld.  Finally, I followed him, and pulled the door shut, sealing us into the car's warmth.

I remember little of the rest of our visit to Glacier Park.  We spent the day driving through nearly impassable roadways, venturing as far north as we thought his car would take us, before turning around and slipping back down through the small towns, slowing for the chattering trick-or-treaters on the cobblestones and sidewalks.  We did not speak.  Words seemed unnecessary.

A week after my return to Kansas City, a parcel arrived from Montana.  It held the red plastic dishes that I had brought him, and the spoon, fork and knife.  The little red cup.  I put them away. Years later, my son would take his lunch from them, oblivious to what they once meant.  But when he was three, or maybe four, and innocently asked me where God lived, my answer came without hesitation:  Glacier Park, I said.  One day, I hope you get to go there.

Happy New Year, everyone.  May all your parks hold glaciers, may your holidays be filled with awe, and may your place setting rest beside one at which someone you love sits, smiling, waiting for you to join them.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday Musings, 29 December 2012

Good morning,

An hour's worth of eloquence just went off to the land of accidentally deleted material, and I am loathe to reconstruct it.  I curse this technology. My old Mac has died; my son's Dell jumps to delete every time I hit the space key, and I drafted the Musings on my tablet.  When I tried to copy the material, the entire thing deleted.  While "Alt, C" meant "copy" on the Mac, it evidently means "cut" on the tablet.  Pardon me, therefore, for the resulting brevity.  The memories of Christmas and New Year's Eve once deftly here recorded now exist only in my brain. I swear, what I wrote shone with brilliance.

My little brother visited last night, with his son Deion, en route to St. Joseph where Deion is even now registering for a baseball showcase, at which a hundred small colleges, D2 and D3, will gaze on him and other high-schoolers, determining to which of them they might make overtures.  Frank's call asking if they could stay with us came on the heels of my early New Year's resolution  to repair my relationships with my siblings.  That resolution, in turn, followed a quiet Christmas with my in-laws, partaking in their rituals, missing the rituals of my family of birth.  My life turns another circle, my hair turns a little more grey, and the time of my reconciliation looms.  I might be a bit belated in my efforts to mend the tears in my life's fabric, but I have taken up my needle, and some good, strong thread.

Frank and I toured my home, gazing on things that once belonged to my mother.  We speculated on where each stood in our childhood home.  He touched the blue pitcher with a large but gentle hand, and stood in front of the picture of Mary with the babe, surrounded by shepherds.  "In the hallway?" he queried, and that jived with my memory.  A red glass cornucopia rested on the top shelf of my mother's china cabinet.  Dust now lies on each of the handful of pieces that I have from my mother's home.  We only briefly mentioned the items stored in a brother's basement, which apparently vanished in a burglary.  It's all gone; there's no need, no use, no reason to wonder where it really went.

As Frank and Deion backed out of our driveway, my son stood beside me, holding a cup of coffee.  "I played light sabers with that kid," he recalled.  "We used trash can lids for shields."  A long time ago, another century, another city.  The cold drove us back into the house, where we washed dishes, and brewed another pot of coffee.  Then my son decided to sleep for a few more hours, and I took my coffee upstairs, where I wrote my usual drivel, though slightly better, I'd like to think, now that it has been accidentally deleted.

On New Year's Eve, many decades ago, my brothers and sisters and I banged on Club aluminum pots with wooden spoons, calling New Year's wishes to neighbors who stood on their own porches. Gunfire, fireworks and honking horns rang out over our neighborhood.  When the commotion subsided, my mother beckoned us back into the house where hot cocoa and pastries awaited.  We sat at the breakfast table, straining against sleep, making silly jokes to stay awake.  Eventually, my mother chased us off to our rooms, and we snuggled under the covers,  confident that when we awakened, the dawn of a fresh new year would offer hope for our heart's desire.

From my little desk, where the Saturday sun struggles through the heavy clouds and streams through my window, I bid you each a very Happy New Year.  I hope that 2013 holds joy, and prosperity, and the comfort of cheerful companions.   If you have torn fabric of your own to restore, I hope for you, the chance to smooth the raveled edges of thread.  At midnight on December 31st, take up a wooden spoon, go outside, and make some noise.  Then drink a little hot chocolate, and nibble on some cookies   without regard to your vow to lose weight.  And sleep.  When you awaken, a whole year will be ahead of you, a   year with new chances to forge strong bonds, whole empty calendar pages to fill with delightful adventures, and open hours when you can settle down to browse the pages of the book you've been longing to read, or listen to the dreams of your children and the ambitions of your spouse. 

A new year dawns.  Make the best of it!

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday Musings

Good morning,

I have enjoyed the last year of musing with and for my family, friends, colleagues and the wide web of interconnectedness through Facebook and Twitter.  As you might have gleaned from last weeks Musings, this holiday holds particularly bittersweet connotations for me. I struggle with the meaning of Christmas not as a Christian holiday, but as a personal milestone, with all of its laughter, love, and longing.

 My little brother Stephen Patrick, whose middle name I borrowed for my son's first name, came into this world on 25 December 1959, and exited this world, sadly, by his own hand, in June of 1997.  Each year, Christmas marks another birthday that he will not celebrate; another German chocolate cake not baked, another gaggle of his beloved nieces and nephews that will not occur.   I have a particularly awesome son, and two fabulous stepchildren, a sweet husband, sisters by birth and by choice that immeasurably enrich my life, and in-laws, friends and co-workers who give me much personal validation and pleasure.  But the Stevie-Pat shaped hole in my universe cannot ever be filled.  I find myself alternating between tears of unending sorrow, and smiles sparked by unquenchable images of his magnificence.  I miss my mother, who died too young, and long to hear her voice.  But the fierceness with which I miss my little brother still ravages me at times, and especially, at this time.

I read about survivors of suicide and feel a kinship with the message of their furrowed foreheads and their strained smiles.  I tell myself that it is time to forget, or at least, let go.  And 360 or so days of each year, I more or less am able to do just that.  The exploits and accomplishments of my child by birth and my children by marriage distract me. And perhaps "distract" fails to convey the true import of my children to me.  My life could not have been as rich without them, nor as meaningful; nor could my home feel as bright, and joyous.   Most of the time, I don't even call my son "Stephen" very much anymore. I did that for the first year so after my brother's death, and my son seemed to understand despite his youth.  Well I remember the time I repeatedly called Patrick and his best friend Chris, then 8 and 9 years old, to the kitchen using my little brothers' names.  I did not understand why they wouldn't come. Only later did I learn that Chris had said to Patrick, "Who are Frank and Steve?" and Patrick had replied, "Oh, that's us.  You're Frank, I'm Steve."  Neither boy ever complained.

But that's mostly faded, 12 or 13 years later, 15 years after Steve's death.  I write about him once in a while.  I laugh at a particularly cute thing he did in his childhood, or a downright sassy antic of his young adulthood.  I stop, in the corridor of the courthouse sometimes, and think about his demons, his delights, and his daring.  Then I put aside the recollection, and move through the rest of my day.

At Christmas, though, I cannot do that yet. I remember his face and the sauciness of his step.  He entered snapping, calling everybody by some pet name and picking any child within reach from the floor and dancing through the room.  I see his face in his daughter's face, my niece Chelsea Rae; I see a bit of him in my son.  I think:  This year he would have been 53.  Fifty-three.  I gasp:  He has lost 14 years; and fourteen years of him has been stolen from us.

And so, this Christmas, the Christmas that my brother who "made everything Even", would have been 53, here is my wish for all of you:  That you find yourselves surrounded by those whom you cherish, and that if you have lost someone whom you cherished, your memories of them will sustain you. 

In the end, the quality of the gifts purchased carries no significance, nor the heft of the cash in your wallet, nor the richness of the food on your table.  If you have warmth, and nourishment, and clothing; and a place in which to sleep; you have enough.  If you have love, and if you are cherished, your treasures abound. 

Death deprives us of so much.  Death by murder devastates, as those who lost children in Newtown can attest.  Death by suicide leaves an awful, gnawing emptiness, overwhelming guilt, and looming, unanswerable questions. 

So:  This holiday -- whatever your holiday, whether religious or just seasonal -- find your own path to serenity.  Lift your hand, and place it upon the arm of someone in pain to ease their suffering.  Tote a meal to a 93-year-old veteran.  Turn the covers down for your spouse.  Brew tea and sit with your aging parent, or even, your not-so-aged one.  Meet your children where they dwell; see their homes, let them fix dinner for you, their dinner, served in the new style of their own traditions, putting aside your insistence on your own way of doing things.  I do not have to remind you, that this could be their last holiday among you.   Make the most of it.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Musings, 22 December 2012

Good morning,

Christmas arrives early at my home this year.  Our daughter Cara and her adorable boyfriend Ben leave mid-day tomorrow for Omaha, where he now lives and where Cara will join his family for Christmas.  So our stockings have been hung by the chimney, with considerable care; and tomorrow our three children, Cara, Patrick and Mac; Cara's Ben; and my husband and I will nibble on  pastries while opening presents, three days early, but with no less exuberance than we might feel on the day itself.  Last evening we had a royal Christmas Eve feast, enjoyed in a home cleaned by our two sons while Jim traveled to Topeka and I tied various loose ends at the office.  Now the house sleeps; and I sit in my oak rocker, flanked by a stack of brightly-wrapped packages on my right and the soft glow of light from an old brass lamp, to the left.

I cannot sleep.  I envy my husband, who might awaken in the wee hours at times, lying awake, calculating, worrying, fretting over his business deals, but who falls asleep within seconds of his head resting on his pillow.  My brain races, my ears ring, my legs jump; I do not fall asleep easily.  But I have a warm home, and electronics to provide distractions, and wealth that's modest by any standard but sufficient to provide the salmon on which we dined last evening, so a little sleeplessness might be a small thing in an otherwise comfortable existence.

The week went well.  Magic flowed from my finger tips.  Every endeavor on which I toiled came to good result.  A trial averted with an excellent settlement; legal custody restored with a deft argument; payment tendered by clients whose bills I had forgotten; and even the accident which damaged our daughter's car to the lamentable, unexpected burden of six-hundred dollars could have been worse:  she suffered no injury, and was able to tell the story of steering her wobbly car to a repair shop  with bright eyes, an easy smile, and considerably more calm than I would have felt, had I been the one who had driven my car across a sheet of black ice, into a curb, in rush hour traffic.

Yesterday, my husband telephoned from his office at one end of the corridor in our professional suite, to mine.  Hesitatingly, he asked if I would join himself and a few business associates for dinner that evening.  A thousand chores could have distracted me.  I had not finished the Christmas shopping for our accelerated celebration.  I had risen early to make the drive to Clay County for a trial setting and then journeyed in haste back to Jackson County, where I tried the second day of a custody case in which my client had been unrepresented during the first day, an unenviable position for both of  us.  The cumulative effect of a rigorous schedule prompted me to consider refusing, but some wistful note in his voice stopped me.  I agreed to meet them, after I did a couple of Christmas-related errands on the Plaza.

I guided my Saturn into one of the 27 curb-side handicapped designated spaces that I bullied the city into allocating to Kansas City's little replica of Seville.  Cars edged past me as I struggled from the vehicle and maneuvered to the curb, where I joined a swirl of pedestrians juggling shopping bags and laughing toddlers, strolling from corner to corner in the chilly afternoon air.  I stood waiting for the light to change, watching a little gaggle of college students, the girls with their long, shining hair, the boys in close-fitting cable-knit sweaters, walking with entwined hands, bright-eyed, hopeful and happy.

At that moment, the face of my brother Stephen rose before me. Another Christmas, my first in Kansas City, when I had driven home to St. Louis for the holiday at the tag end of finals week.  Steve and I went to some huge mall together.   He seemed to have a huge lot of money, which he dolled out to every Salvation Army bell-ringer we passed.  He bought masses of presents for everyone in our family and coaxed me into letting him subsidize my own gift-buying.  He bought himself several pairs of cashmere socks.  It's going to be my birthday, after all, he gaily reminded me.  Our Christmas present in 1959, standing over six-feet 21 years later, wearing a brown wool jacket over crisp blue jeans, flirting with the sales clerks, opening doors for older ladies who beamed at his Irish eyes.

We strolled through the mall with our arms looped together, our parcels thumping against our legs, his deep chuckle endlessly sounding through the corridors, wafting to the ceilings, reflecting in the bright eyes of people we met.  They envied me; I saw it in their faces.  They couldn't help themselves.  They beheld his six-foot frame, his broad shoulders, his strong chin and clear blue eyes, and felt the vibrancy moving through him.

Lady, are you all right? The sound of a voice close to my ears brought me back to 2012, to the day before the world would not end, to the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, where I had stepped from the curb in a dream.  The face of my brother vanished in a wink, and I spared my savior a small, wan smile before continuing to the far side of the intersection.

I heard the bell ringer before I saw him.  His arm moved unceasingly up and down, the brass bell in his small brown hand clanging relentlessly, calling for charity, for contributions, for passers-by to dig down into the bottoms of their pocketbooks and change purses for coins to throw into the red bucket.  I met the man's brown eyes, set deep in his wrinkled face, as I slipped a handful of coins into the slot, listening for the clunk, trying to determine how generous others had been.  God bless you, he intoned, without letting the bell cease.  Thank you, I answered, with a bit more enthusiasm than I felt.  Then I asked him if he was cold.  I'm just fine, ma'am, he assured me.  I been just fine since ten o'clock this mornin', when I started ringing, and I'll be just fine til eight when my shift ends, and then I'll go home and  get me some soup.  Merry Christmas, God bless you, and he rang his bell, and spared smile after smile to the shoppers who pushed past me to drop their own coins into the familiar red bucket.

I moved beyond him, into the Barnes & Noble. A young boy held the door open for me.  The brightness of the place stung my eyes, where, to my surprise, tears had risen.  A terrible longing to see my brother's face overwhelmed me.  I wanted to sit next to him while he ate German Chocolate cake and lamented being born on Christmas so that he had to share his birthday with everyone else.  I yearned to dance with him, my small stumbling frame encircled in his guiding arms.  I longed to hear him call me Mare bear, to watch him stroll among the Christmas shoppers, to listen to his rambling accounts of whatever pursuits distracted him that day.  But I never will.  He will never age past 37; he is frozen in time, and I miss him terribly.

A couple of hours later, with warm food in my belly, I walked the two blocks from the restaurant back to Barnes & Noble.  The same bell ringer still summoned folks to his side.  He smiled as I negotiated around a group of children jostling each other for a chance to donate the pennies and nickels tendered by their parents.  You have a good night now, ma'am, the bell-ringer called out to me.  I do not know what he made of the sudden flow of tears down my cheeks.  He never stopped ringing his bell, nor dropped his broad smile, but he reached out his other hand and gently touched my arm.

In a few hours, this house will ring with the happy sounds of my family.  It is time to lay my ghosts to rest, and to sleep, though I am not sure if I can do either.  I do not  pretend to be Christian, nor to celebrate Christmas as anything other than an annual opportunity to choose gifts for those whose presence in my life makes every good thing better, and every bad thing easier to bear.  I have no quarrel with those for whom Christmas has a different significance.  For me, though, it is a time for remembering, a time for honoring, a time for cherishing, and a time for coming together.  Years ago, when my son Patrick was three or four, a heavy-set lady clad in a billowing coat bent down to chuck him under the chin.  Do you know whose birthday comes on Christmas, she asked him, in a shrill voice.  Yes, I do! he chortled.  It's Uncle Steve's birthday!

Ah, yes.  And so it is.  Happy birthday, Stephen Patrick Corley, wherever you are.  I hope you sit on the banks of a broad blue river, beneath the branches of a willow tree, peaceful and easy.

From the Holmes House, to your house, I send sincere wishes that everyone you love will journey safely to your side.  I bid you the best of times, the most joyous of days, filled with  love, and laughter.  Merry Christmas, and God bless us, each, and every one.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday Musings, 15 December 2012

Good morning,

Ten days remain between us and December 25th; and as the steam rises from my coffee cup, I think of what I have left to accomplish.  Three hearings, perhaps a fourth judging by a message left on Friday by a desperate prospective client; a half-dozen presents to buy; the tree to finish decorating; and meals to cook, including finding a recipe for palatable gluten-free cookies.  In between those tasks, there are clients to harass for payment so that I can afford all those presents; and year-end taxes to turn my salon-colored hair grey; and one or two outstanding judgments to draft. 

And as I raise the mug to take another sip, internally grumbling, my eyes chance to fall on today's banner headline, and the fretting falls away, leaving only a well of gratitude.  One word spans the columns, in three-inch type:  Horrific.

When our suite-mate rushed into the office to tell us about the massacre in Connecticut, my stomach lurched.  Dear God, not more children killed, but my prayer came too late.  And as I sat in front of my computer screen, a wellspring of conflicting emotions flooded my chest:  Those poor babies; that monster; how are the parents going to struggle through this?

And one other thought rose unbidden, a kind of emotional deja vu, which sent my heart's call to the children huddled under those desks:  How terrified they must have been.  And I sank back, back, back two decades, to the path I trod down a hall of Kansas University Hospital, behind a rapidly striding doctor.  A path of which I might have spoken here before today, but one that repeats so often in my mind, so rarely described, that I see now, I should take others down that path with me, so that one kernel of truth might be exposed.

A friend had taken me to KU because I felt pains in my "right lower quadrant" and my temperature had elevated.  Neither of us knew with certainty what the signs of appendicitis might be.  We each had memories of rudimentary instructions in first aid class, and the pain combined with the fever seemed to suggest trouble.  So off we went, two recent transplants to Kansas City, to the closest hospital.

An overworked resident suggested that I might have hours to wait before lab results confirmed or dispelled our worries. I decided to go out into the waiting room and release my friend.  No cell phones in 1981, but I assumed that a nurse would let me call my friend to come get me when they decided I could go home.  So I pulled my jeans onto my skinny legs, exited the exam room clutching the hospital gown closed, and turned right.

The emergency room corridors formed an inner square with the exam rooms on the outer perimeter and the nurses' station sitting squarely in the middle.  I could not know that precisely at the moment when I acted from concern that Joyce would spend the entire night slumped in an uncomfortable chair watching reruns of old sitcoms, Bradley R. Boan entered the emergency room armed with a shotgun and a bad disposition.  He then lurched forward a few steps, into the very corridor which I traversed.  Between him and me, Dr. Marc Beck strode, long-limbed and intent, chart in hand, probably not even watching ahead of him, oblivious to the fact that there would be no more Christmases, no more patients, no more life.

When the shotgun blast sounded, I dove down an intersecting corridor and ran towards what I believed to be the exit. I had chosen badly:  I found only an abandoned waiting room, chairs strewn with jackets, coats, and magazines. I stood against the wall, frantic, listening to the screams, the shoving of furniture, the hurrying into rooms, the barring of doors.  A second blast, as Boan dispatched with a patient's mother sitting in a wheelchair to the right of the entrance, savagely and senselessly,

And then:  an eerie silence, punctuated only by the occasional ringing of an unattended phone.

I gazed in front of me, at my own grim face reflected in a darkened window.  I realized that if I could see the reflection of the corridor in the window, anyone coming into the corridor could see me. I dove for the closest door, into an examining room, where I waited for what seemed an eternity, alone, under the examination table, the door blocked by a cart that I had shoved in front of it.

The evening progressed: eventually, all of us were herded into one room, and later, escorted to the dark parking structure in which KBI agents had shot light after light, hoping to flush out the suspect whom they thought was hiding there.  As it happens, he had long since fled, and would not be captured until he unleashed his fury on another place of healing: a church.  He would be caught, tried, and unsuccessfully attempt to blame  mental illness.  Conviction affirmed, film at ten.

As I sit in my dining room, 21 plus years later, the terrible tragedy in Connecticut raises the hairs on the back of my neck.  Grief draws tears:  grief for the children whose lives ended with the deadly accurate aim of a ruthless murderer.  But grief also for the children huddled nearby under desks, in corners.  Layer upon layer of pain will unfold in their minds, drawn forth as they mature, bubbles rising to the surface, or foaming beneath the cool plane of their passive faces.  Time after time, they will ask themselves the question that lurks in the gloomy corners:  Why them?  Why not me?

Years after my brief encounter with a killer's rage, I stood in the bathroom at my home in Winslow, Arkansas.  The drug store kit had shown a solid "plus", foretelling the birth of my son.  Eyes met reflected eyes.  The chill of winter surrounded me; the future loomed, with its sleepless nights, its momentary flashes of regret, its joys, its triumphs, its fears.  As I stared into my own future, shining in the light of my reflected countenance, I felt the surge of survivor's guilt that I can never shake.  So much has happened to me, so many things that others could not bear.  A chaotic childhood.  A few lost years, drowned in single malt.  Some ravaged relationships, a few that left scars, some that left bruises that faded only in the corporal world.  Shot at, run down, left for dead. 

And yet, still living.  Where others bled and died, I rose, a crippled Phoenix, with tattered feathers, and flew on, sometimes knocked off course, but still soaring.  Why them?  Why not me?

The coffee pot sounds three bells, telling me it has shut off.  The crickets which sing in my inner ear raise their voices.  The rest of the house stands silent.  One glance tells me that the headline has not changed:  20 children still lay in the morgue, six adults to watch over them forever.  In an hour or so, a friend will pull into my driveway, and we will go sit over brunch, warm food in our bellies, steaming tea in a pot, chasing away the cares of the week with the same sort of ease that a lunatic ended the lives of twenty-six innocents.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday Musings: 08 December 2012

Good morning,

My body feels like a shirt pulled through the ringer of the old washer that stood in my mother's basement.  Those wrung-through shirts, pants and other laundry plopped into the waiting basket, lifeless and cold, coming to life only with the billowing wind that gently dried the wash hanging on the line in our backyard.  My coffee, crumpet and mandarin orange restore some semblance of life to my old bones.

Two hundred folks gathered in my professional suite last night for a Holiday Open House and Art Reception.  I say two hundred because two hundred names march in rows in the guest book, but I suspect a few souls snuck past without signing, so it could well have  been more.  I'm crowing:  the idea of having walls big enough to display fabulous art supplied by the VALA Gallery came from a conversation over coffee with Gallery founding artist Penny Thieme, my long-time friend and my son's god-aunt.  And that conversation, ultimately, flowed from twenty-five years of a friendship that stemmed from a thirty-year connection to my legal-assistant-slash-former-brother-in-law-slash-best-friend, Alan White.

I don't have a ton of long-time friends, but those whom I do have, enrich my life full-strength.

I started Friday with the nagging, chirping voices of NPR's Morning Edition at 5:00 a.m.  At 7:15, I parked my scrawny butt in a chair at You Say Tomato with a hobbit-style Second Breakfast, which I greedily gobbled while waiting for clients to arrive.  Arrive they did, and I had an opportunity to reiterate a few salient points before we headed to Juvenile Court for a hearing that I had tried to have scheduled on another day.  But Judge, my office Holiday Party is that day, I had whined, two months ago when she announced the selected setting.  What time is it starting, she snapped, and in response to being told 3:00 p.m., she promptly replied, I'm setting you at 9:00 and only giving you an hour, so you'll be done in time.  A metaphorical gavel pounded, and December 7th got even more crazy.

I'll say only that the hearing resulted in a favorable outcome, and I got to be the hero for a family that might some day regret my effectiveness.  I liken my lawyering in Juvenile Court to applying a swathe of plaster to the cracks in a concrete wall.  It holds until the next big rain.  Outside the courthouse, I scolded my client for the past transgressions that culminated in the demise of his first marriage, which inglorious ending prompted him to turn his back on three small children, leaving them in the constant care of his psychotic ex-wife.  Her failings brought them into the state's care, and now my client and his present wife strive to secure their release, home to a father who once abandoned them to the chaos of their mother's world. 

Every time I set foot in the halls of family justice, I say a prayer, sometimes audibly uttered, thanking the Powers That Be for limiting my inadequacies and the impact of my shortfall to tersely-toned visits to a teacher or two along the way.  My son matured into a decent soul despite my best efforts to derail him.  Thank God I never had to come here as a parent of a child in care, I told a friend once, and concurrence shone from her countenance.  Or as that child in care, she added.

I walked away from the chastened trio of my client, his wife, and mother, stepping into my car and journeying south where decorations waited to be hung.  I felt the age in the tightness of the muscles that barely hold my neck upright, and in the small of my back, where three disintegrated vertebrae maintain their feeble hold on integrity with the ironic assistance of a Tarlov cyst. I shrugged off fatigue; I drank cold water, and nibbled on a protein bar, casting my eyes from side to side, watching for stray buses and accelerating teens. 

A couple of hours later, two young ladies hired to bartend and serve arrived amidst the frenzy of preparations of my suite-mates and our receptionist.  These women, twenty-somethings, with radiant faces, came into my life on the heels of their mother's divorce.  I represented her and fought for custody, which we succeeded in maintaining despite the improbable testimony of the Guardian Ad Litem who argued that my client should not be considered a suitable custodian because as a stay-at-home mother, she had not made any effort to contribute to the support of her children.  She cited the first prong of the best interest test, which includes a mandate for the court to gauge "the willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child".  She argued that failure to maintain employment signaled the reverse -- an unwillingness, an incapability.

The judge disagreed.

Years later, two of the three children whose custody I won for their mother still matriculate in  my circle, especially the middle child, Laura, who graced the receptionist desk at the Corley Law Firm for many years.  As I watched them last night, pouring drinks to two hundred of our close personal friends, circulating trays of delectable goodies, bagging trash -- I realized that my life's tapestry glistens with gossamer threads that distract one's eye from the tattered edges.

Late in the evening, I collapsed in a chair in the lobby near the settee from which a cellist had played heavenly music through the event.  A guest sat in the chair next to mine, and we watched as a stalwart soul carried dissembled easels out to the Gallery owner's vehicle.  My companion mentioned that she would soon remarry, having found her soul mate late in life after a long marriage had ended disastrously.  But I don't think I will change my name to his, she opined.  He doesn't care, and I just think I want to have my own last name, the name with which I started.  That's how people think of her, she said.  That's how she thinks of herself.

I told her that having been married three times, I had not changed my surname for anyone.  She expressed surprise, asking if "Corley" was "my name".  I laughed, as did the easel-carrier.  Ask my first husband if I ever changed my name, I told her, and gestured.  She only used my name once, the man announced, with mock outrage.  When she filed for divorce!  Exit laughing, my first-ex-husband, Chester White, the best carpenter in Kansas City.

I don't like enemies.  For a cantankerous old soul, I'm surprisingly willing to keep the faces of my past around me -- the good ones, at least.  The ones who welcome your son to sleep on their floor when he and a buddy travel cross-country, despite the fact that you haven't seen their hostess for fifteen years nor written for five.  The ones who sit for three hours over coffee, laughing, crying, touching your hand, even though you hadn't so much as exchanged a phone call in forty years.  The ones who arrive with stepladders, and hammers, and carpenter nails; the ones who humor you and scallop the Christmas lights under the window sill; the ones who give deep discounts on gorgeous flowers; the ones who know where all the bodies are buried, especially the bodies over whom they cast the first shovel of dirt.

A friend recently turned a cold face and a stiff back in my direction, as far as I am able to discern for no reason other than that I bested her on opposite sides of the aisle in a case that should have been easy to settle.  I miss her.  I miss her warm smile, her deep throaty laugh, her haughty self-confidence, and her quirky humor.  The yard of my life's fabric from which her ruby thread unraveled has weakened without her.  The loss of her underscores the beauty of what remains, and its fragility.

I hear the Car Guys from the kitchen and realize that I slept too late, and tarried over-long.  I have several more hurdles to jump before I can spend a quiet evening with my husband.  I haven't consumed enough coffee to shake the languorous feeling of my long sojourn on the pillow, and I'm not sure we've many beans left in the canister.  That's as good an excuse as any for throwing on jeans, and driving to my favorite coffee shop, One More Cup, where a Nutty Girl sandwich no doubt bears my name.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saturday Musings, 01 December 2012

Good morning,

A maelstorm of messages flooded my inbox as I worked yesterday, seemingly triggered by a remark which I had made on this listserve, a place where I have felt that I could be reasonably honest with my expressions of thought.  I admit that some of the more vehement posts that I read trouble me still.  The original subject, I will summarize for anyone reading these musings who might not be on the listserve where they are first published, was an encounter that I had with a woman who acknowledged fabricating a vicious lie about her own son because her son is gay, (a word here which means "homosexual", not "happy"), and she harbors fear that her "gay" son will infect her young grandsons and "turn them like him".  The woman and her daughter, the outraged mother of the grandsons in question, found themselves in a tremendous quagmire of legal complications due to the false allegations made by the grandmother. 

They have not retained me.  I suspect they never will.  I met separately with the mother, and I even offered to represent her for a lower rate than my usual customarily low fees, but I do not think she can afford even that.  I've sent my nonengagement letter, I've paced the corridors of my suite castigating the ignorance of humanity in strident tones, and I dumped some of my frustration onto this listserve -- triggering the maelstorm, and drawing a few lurkers out of the woodwork to express their varied views on sexual orientation, its legal and religious implications, and issues stemming from those concepts.  At one point, the conversation here on this listserve degenerated so far down into troubled tones that I had to stop reading. 

I firmly believe in freedom of speech.  I don't recall who defined the First Amendment as a citizen's right to say any damn fool thing he wants, but that's my philosophy as well.  Am I not the daughter of a union organizer?  The sister of two brave souls who lobbied for the teachers' union, one of whom might well have been derailed in his career due to his staunch support of his fellow teachers?  Did my mother not picket the convent when a rabidly angry nun pulled me from the floor that I was mopping on  my hands and knees, and shook me vehemently, decrying the fouling of her chapel with the sister of hippies?  Was the family Maverick  not adorned with handmade bumper stickers which read, in my mother's careful print, "Vietnam...Laos...Cambodia...But I have four sons!"?

Freedom of speech should carry with it a mandate of responsibility, and to some extent, it does.  We must not cry "Fire!"' in a crowded theatre where none rages.  We have to be mindful of other limits that have been carefully crafted by our courts -- inciting violence, disturbing peace: the time, place and manner restrictions which have their origins in the words of Justice Louis Brandeis in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927):

"[A]lthough the rights of free speech and assembly are fundamental, they are not in their nature absolute. Their exercise is subject to restriction, if the particular restriction proposed is required to protect the State from destruction or from serious injury, political, economic or moral….To justify suppression of free speech there must be reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced…[N]o danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehoods and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression."

Having affirmed my kinship with Judge Brandeis, at least in these beliefs, I come, then, to the reason that my Musings this date have no warm-and-fuzzy memory, no heartwarming, tear-tugging, rosy recollection.  I find that sentiment and nostalgia have abandoned me.  I can usually depend upon my mind to lull itself into a Saturday stupor, eased into the comfort of reverie by the gentleness of the morning breeze, the cheerful glint of early sunlight, and the wandering of those portions of my mind which are not needed for the week's challenges and have been left to their own happy resources.  But this day, this Saturday morning, those extra brain cells had another chore.  While clients' work commanded some ten or twenty percent of the brain trust afforded me by whatever force created my genetic code, the rest of my thought-power has been cogitating over the competing viewpoints expressed on the subject of whether persons who have a same-gender orientation have committed sin, should be able to marry, violate general precepts of propriety, or however one would characterize the various threads on this listserve that shot from my original post with a vengeance.

I have interjected myself into the discussion on this listserve in the last forty-eight hours with uncharacteristic sparseness.  My intent in doing so arose from the desire to join in one or two salient points, and ignore the rest.  With various degrees of success, I strove to establish some basic beliefs:  I despise bigotry; I embrace diversity; I shudder at the thought that a divine entity could condemn anyone for anything other than intentional inflection of harm.  I have some friends on this list, and I believe there are people on this list who know me and dislike me.  That is certainly their prerogative.  In fact, I do not care.  But I do care about the suggestion that while "all [persons] are created equal (note the edit)", there are some persons who might just be a tad bit less equal than others.  The smug suggestion that God certainly loves people who are of a certain sexual orientation, despite that sexual orientation, sickens me.  The further proposition that there should be an intertwining of the condemnations that religions espouse with the law which governs our civilian business enrages me. 

And into the mix, someone threw a wrench that hit me squarely in the gut:  "The race card" -- a suggestion that "we whites" should heed an "urgent warning" that "we will soon be the minority".  I had to leave my desk and go into the bathroom and vomit.  Really.

There are a thousand people on this listserve, the listserve where I post these Musings and have happily done so for four years.  They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, both genders (maybe some that have themselves experienced each gender) and multiple sexual orientations.  Our members live in cities, and suburbia, and rural Missouri, or, even, heaven forbid, rural Missourah. The posts generated on this listserve land in inboxes thoughout the state, and in the Virgin Islands, and in other states, too, since some of the good members of the Missouri Bar have ventured elsewhere in this nation.  I am haunted by the hidden horror of members of the Small Firm Internet Group whom I don't even know, or whom I know but who belong to a category of persons that is unknown to me:  The SFIG listserve member who sits at his or her desk wrapped in brown skin, or the subtle tones of Vietnamese pigmentation, with a picture of his or her same-gender partner on the desk nearby.  I picture that attorney raising his or her fingers to hit "delete", feeling the nausea that beset me during this discussion, overwhelmed by the decades of the suppression of his or her basic nature that society demands.

In 1977, I got a job at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri as an assistant to Patricia Martin, their lobbyist.  Because of space limitations, I couldn't office on the same floor as my boss, but hung my cape on the back of a door in the Housing Unit, working at a little steel desk.  One of the housing lawyers, Nina Balsam, took pity on me, inviting me to lunch now and then, talking to me about her work.  Others in that unit let me into their social circles.  I recall that time with considerable nostalgia. I often imagine myself in that unit still, decades later:  my first taste of the law, long before I decided to embrace it as my vocation.

Let me be clear:  I have not seen Nina Balsam in thirty-two years.  I don't even know if she is still alive, or what she is doing. I don't know if she is, or was, gay or straight, married or single, partnered or alone.  I make no statements about her by recounting this incident.  I don't think she would be insulted if I did, but as I have no knowledge to form the basis of any pronouncement, any I would make would be based on pure supposition and hence irresponsible.

That said:

One day Nina came into the office with a dejected look on her face.  Someone inquired as to the reason for her foul mood.  I did something last night that I never thought I would do.  We waited for the pronouncement, expecting some wild event, or some profound decision.  I shaved my legs, she said, and slumped into her chair.

Later, she explained to me that she thought judges were looking askance at her because of her unshaven legs.  She didn't care if they didn't like her, she acknowledged.  But she cared if they ruled against her clients because they didn't like her.

I learned a valuable lesson from Nina that day, one of many that she and her colleagues taught me. Who we are, and how we are perceived, contributes to the response that others have to us.  This immutable fact haunts us.  Are we genetically driven to like certain people, because they are like us, because they conform to what we expect of others?  Are we socially conditioned to reach certain conclusions about people based upon the minute nuances of their personal comportment?

Is beauty really just skin-deep?

All of these principles -- the ones bandied about on this listserve in the past two days, and the ones gleaned from fifty-seven years of living -- swirl in my subconscious.  My dreams contained troubled imagery last night, symbols that I do not comprehend.  I have remained both troubled and intrigued by what I saw in the various posts, those by outraged Christians, the humorous ones, the thoughtful and intellectual examinations of these most weighty issues, even those containing what I still perceive as disgusting prejudice.

The First Amendment allows us to speak as we will, provided we honor what the law proscribes as speech that violates certain time, place and manner restrictions.  The law in turn must make those restrictions as sparse as possible, to serve the greater good but not drive it, to protect order but not demand it, to allow others to traverse society without itself defining what the society will be.  I would not have it any other way.

My quarrel is not with the freedom to speak.  My quarrel, then, must be elsewhere, and as I reach the end of my ability to muse this morning, I know at last where it lies.  It lies exactly where that grandmother found herself, in the inevitability of impact, the bell that has been rung, the insult that has been hurled, the tar that sticks to the surface of its victim.

I realize that the fundamental flaw in freedom of speech is that once spoken, one's words cannot be withdrawn.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saturday Musings, 24 November 2012

Good morning,

The sun shines higher than usual as I sit at my old writing desk, my computer slightly listing when the wobbly legs occasionally shift. I hear mild coughing from a downstairs bedroom, signaling that one of the sentient beings in the house stirs. I've slept later because the demands of the last few weeks have taken a terrible toll on my aging bones. With a little pharmaceutical boost, I managed to reclaim some needed rest.

The annual food fest on which we gorge ourselves and then spend too much on material goods of dubious quality passed with muted fanfare this week. I cooked a passable turkey, less monstrous than normal but still tasty rolls, that ubiquitous green bean casserole, and dubious bread pudding, all of which we hauled to my in-laws' house. The service and grace seemed strange to me but apparently comported with the traditions of my husband and his family-of-birth, so I smiled and silently relinquished my own preferences. But tonight the friends who normally gather at my table this time of year will do so again, and there will be a round of "thankful-fors", and the serving dishes will pile up on the table, and I will have the best of both worlds.

The only shopping I did this Black Friday involved a stolen moment at Prospero's, a used bookstore which recently opened a new location near my office, and a couple of stops to find shoes with my visiting son. The latter journey took place within the small, clean confines of the Kia that Patrick just purchased from our neighbor, with the CD emitting strains of his favorite music and he behind the wheel. Either his driving has improved or my backseat driving has diminished. I found myself relaxing as a passenger for the first time since he got his license five or so years ago. I even liked some of the songs on the mix CD he played. Some. Not all -- but some.

I don't need to close my eyes to see my mother standing in the doorway of our living room, surrounded by the blaring notes of Joe Cocker, or Frank Zappa, or maybe Jerry Garcia, coming from the long, low stereo she had purchased with the proceeds of many weeks of saving S&H Green Stamps. My brothers sit on the floor, on the thin grey carpet, and I recline in a yellow wing-back chair with worn arms. I cannot imagine that I am older than twelve or thirteen; my brother Kevin is four years older than I am, and left home straight away after high school. So we are teenagers, on this afternoon in my memory, probably on break from school, Thanksgiving perhaps, with the steely sky outside our windows.

I was sitting in the breakfast room trying to balance my checkbook and pay bills, my mother says. And as I gritted my teeth, striving to concentrate despite the blaring of this -- do you call it music? -- I told myself, "Oh, Lucy, it's not so bad. They could be out robbing banks. My mother pauses, laughs, shrugs her shoulders. And then I looked at my bank balance and I thought, What's wrong with them?! They could be out robbing banks!!!

One of the boys turns the volume down a notch, and another rises from the floor and crosses to where my mother stands. They had both surpassed her height by then, and she looks up to the face of whichever one has come to cajole her back to good humor. He takes her hand and pulls her into the open area in front of the couch and twirls her around, a waltz timed to the hard beat of rock and roll. He dips and spins her small frame, and as she dances, her skirt swirls around her sturdy legs. It is a denim wrap-around skirt, one of a dozen she made from the same pattern in different fabrics. Soon, they are all three dancing, my brothers and my mother, while I sit in my mother's favorite chair singing along with the stereo.

Someone recently asked me if I had a happy childhood. I could not answer the question. I had a strange childhood, with peaks and valleys. I traveled through childhood strapped in the middle car on a crazily high roller coaster, plunged to terrifying depths and thrown to exhilarating heights. If my life had a soundtrack, it would include tracks by Dvorak, Livingston Taylor, Willie Nelson, and always, the Grateful Dead. The liner notes would pay special attention to those who taught me cruel lessons as well as those who gave me safe harbor from the ravaging of the winter winds. And to the loss of those in the forward cars: Fare thee well, Fare thee well, I love you more than words can tell.

I tried to give my son less for which to be grateful in the starkness of its lessons, and more to appreciate for the sweetness of its scenery. I do not know if I was successful. He stomps in and out of the house as though either driven by demons of his own or propelled by a fantastic ambition which he can barely contain. Or both, maybe. His writing shocks and astonishes me with its deft combination of irony and joy, its overtones of presumed defeat tempered with abiding hope. But it's okay, I tell myself. He could be out robbing banks.

I am thankful that he is not. And there is so much for which I feel gratitude, including, I must admit, the heart-wrenching memory of my mother dancing with my brothers, to the pounding rhythms of Casey Jones.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saturday Musings, 17 November 2012

Good morning,

The stretch down Truman Road between the Independence square and I-435 can be driven on auto-pilot. A day or two ago, as I made that sweeping pass towards the highway that would take me back to my office, the rambling tones of Steve Kraske, a Kansas City Star reporter who interviews local celebrities on public radio, filled the chilly confines of my car. A lilting laugh rose to meet his deeper, friendly chuckle. Kraske asked Joyce DiDonato, the opera star who hails from Prairie Village, Kansas, about her new recordings. I barely attended to their chatter. I do not like opera.

But he switched gears: Another new release, this one filled with more colloquial tunes. And I nearly drove the Saturn into a curb as Ms. DiDonato's voice threw me back to 1973. When you walk through a storm, Hold your head up high. And don't be afraid of the dark. At the end of the storm is a golden sky, And the sweet silver song of a lark.

I stood again beneath an arching, raised roof amid painfully modern contours of Corpus Christi Church. The middle section in the vast space held row on row of parents clad in Sunday finery. They twisted to watch the back of the church, where I and my classmates have submitted to being adorned with the ragged petals of a giant, white chrysanthemum. We each hold a single yellow rose. We've been aligned in our customary alphabetical order, a few dozen eighteen-year-old girls whose fate awaits on the other side of the gloom. The notes of the organ start, and the first girl, the girl who has always been first by the coincidence of alphabet, steps forward.

Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you'll never walk alone; you'll never walk alone.

With my surname, I found myself grouped in the first third of any line. I followed the swishing skirt of the girl ahead of me, pulled forward by the music, as the chorus repeated. Some one's mother, or a nun, or maybe a junior, sang the lyrics standing in front of a microphone at the far side of the nave. The size of our class, the last graduating class of the doomed high school, allowed us to finish the journey before the brave notes subsided. Our Baccalaureate Mass began. Fragrance rose around us, a curious, cloying mixture of mums, roses and burning candles. At some appropriate moment, each of us tendered the yellow flower to our mothers, long stems catching on our sleeves, thorns lightly scratching the tender skins of our hands.

When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high.

To the communion rail, to our seats, down the aisle through the doors at the back of the church. The strains of the organ sent us on our way. A great noise arose, voices of my classmates, their laughter, their unbridled whoops of self-congratulation. The din of disorder overcame me. I pulled away. My eyes spanned the throng of exiting parents, searching for my own mother, who had sat in the church by herself, a bit away from the others, in a pale blue dress with frayed cuffs and collar, clutching a vinyl navy handbag.

Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.

I spied my mother's mottled brown countenance, the worn face broken only by a thin line of mauve lipstick, her plucked brows slightly drawn. I could not see her eyes behind the reflections on the lenses of her glasses. By the set of her jaw, and the arch of her chin, I knew she despaired of finding me. The voices of my classmates and their proud parents swelled and filled the vestibule. I stood apart, near the door, unable to force myself to advance towards her. A cluster of students in pretty frocks flanked by their mothers and fathers barred my mother's way. Thus did we hover, a world apart, separated by something more dire than a mere gaggle of girls.

Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart.
And you'll never walk alone. You'll never walk alone.

Just before my mother surrendered to defeat, just before the moment when she might have turned and left the building by another exit, an avenue opened in the chattering crowd, and she saw me, standing alone, watching her.

Our eyes met. Her hand fell, slowly, to her side, the petals of the rose I had given her brushing the wrinkled skirt of her dress. I cannot know what she thought, in that moment. I cannot know if she understood what held me back. I cannot say whether the treachery rising in my heart had reached my face.

She stepped towards me before I could summon myself to move. But I met her halfway. In the center of the crowd of exuberant graduates, my mother and I embraced.

The strains of Joyce DiDonato's beautiful rendition of the Rogers & Hammerstein classic died away as I made the final swoop onto the highway. I shook off the bittersweet memories of the past, and signaled my lane change. By the time I got to my office, only the lovely hopefulness of the song lingered in my mind, entwined with the memory of the widening smile on my mother's face, just before I took her in my arms.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday Musings, 10 November 2012

Good morning,

Another trial crashed against a cliff of stone, the rising jagged bluff of justice that stands on the western side of the state. Thirty days to draft proposed findings and the rest of the night following yesterday's conclusion to rethink each decision, each strategic choice, the potential rise or fall of my client's prospects eternally tied to the wager he made in retaining me and the thousands of dollars he spent in the year since he did so. Another sleepless night.

I rose this morning an hour later than my usual Saturday, two hours after the standard time on my alarm for the last month. I drank my morning coffee on the porch, pleasantly half-shaded from the sun's sweet rays, surrounded by the swirl of leaves from the neighbor's tall, aging oak. Pages of the morning paper drifted under my tired eyes, half-veiled by the shimmer of white that the eye doctor says will eventually recede as my brain adjusts to its presence. The absence of political rhetoric in the pages of the Star both delights and confounds me: Where is the news?, I find myself thinking, but all I am given is paragraph after paragraph of the accidents, robberies, plays, and street improvements around my town. Another election forgotten; another turn of history's wheel, another inch closer to eternity.

As I draw in the fresh air outside, I feel the sweetness of every November, the unpredictable weather that Missourians smugly claim as their particular province. I feel again the gentle chill of Novembers of my childhood: Thanksgivings spent huddled in wool sweaters, deliciously shivering on my parents' front porch while my brothers played football in the front yard. I hear my mother's voice singing in the kitchen, she standing at the window over the sink, watching the sway of the neighbor's tree. She would turn to smile as I kneaded the dough from which our Thanksgiving clover-leaf rolls would be made. She would place one worn, brown-spotted hand over my smaller, paler fingers, and push down, giving the dough what it should have without scolding me for doing it wrong. The warm fragrance of yeast rose around us, mingling with the fragrance of roasting turkey and the sweet tang of whole berries simmering on the stove.

My mother made the pies ahead of time, perhaps on Wednesday night. She seemed to know what pies had to be refrigerated and which ones could rest on the counter, knowledge that I never gleaned from her, a distinction that still confuses me. My father watched television in the living room while she cooked. I see my sisters in the kitchen with us, taller than me, moving around the small space between counter and stove, the creation of Thanksgiving dinner orchestrated like the best ballet. Three times each year we used my mother's good china: Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The sterling came out from the bottom of the china cabinet on such holidays, the flatware and the napkin rings, the small plates from Grandmother Corley on which dessert would be served. We polished the silverware, simmering badly tarnished pieces in baking soda water on a burner set to low. The linen table cloths had to be ironed, water sprinkled from an old dish washing liquid bottle in those days before steam irons. After the table cloth came the napkins themselves, one daughter ironing, one daughter folding, and I with my little girl hands sliding them into the rings, each one with an engraved name. Richard, Lucille, Ann, Adrienne, Joyce, Kevin, Mark, Mary, Francis, Stephen.

Every dish had to be completed at the precise moment when the dinner would be served, at the correct temperature. The cranberry sauce might have been made a day earlier, so that its tangy chill could set. The turkey came out to rest while the rolls baked and the casserole of that green bean stuff heated through and the marshmallows cut in half to adorn the yams melted and took on their golden glow. The older girls helped my mother put the dishes on the table, and someone raised the camera to photograph the feast. Then the boys were called to come into the house; while their clamoring rose, and the pounding of their feet hammered on the stairs, my father stood sharpening the knife at the kitchen counter. I hear the sharp whisk of steel against steel, each draw of the knife sending wicked shivers through my body.

The table in our breakfast room held ten. Its Formica expanse hidden beneath linen transformed the humble dining set. Each child took their assigned seats: for most of my childhood, I sat to the left of my father at the far end. My parents waited for our chattering to stop, and then we murmured the grace: Bless us, Oh Lord, and these they gifts, which we are about to receive. . .Then the first draw of the knife through the turkey's crisp skin sent the steamy fragrance heavenward, and the blessings became obvious indeed.

As the serving bowls went around the table, and butter got smeared on warm rolls straight from the oven, we said our Thankful-Fors. Each person, youngest to oldest, disclosed that for which they felt gratitude. The boys often opted for their special dish; the girls, something more sweet. My mother's thankful-for varied with the times: Her job, the health of a child who had been particularly ill, or something more vague, a cryptic reference about which I do not believe I ever wondered: "prayers answered", and I never asked my mother, not once, what it was for which she had prayed.

In my memory, the Thanksgiving meal stands as the most special of each year. Easter's fragrant, yeast-dough-wrapped ham; the roast at Christmas; the backyard barbecue at the Fourth of July -- nothing compares to the richness of dressing roasted in the bird, fresh-whipped cream, and the first bite into the crisp brown exterior of gooey marshmallow over the brown-sugar glazed sweet potatoes. My childhood days held frightening turbulence, which coalesced as flinty memories that pierce my nights at times, recollections I should have let slip into the morass of age. But I remember nothing unpleasant about any Thanksgiving. I recall only the warmth of my mother's body standing behind me in the kitchen, guiding my hands; my father holding a heavy, china serving dish while he coaxed me to accept more food than he knew I would eat, my brothers clamoring to claim the turkey legs and the biggest ladle-full of thick, salty gravy.

Thanksgiving 2012 approaches, and I am already beginning to contemplate the things for which I am thankful. As I grow older, my thankful-fors gravitate between two categories: Things for which I am thankful that make me cry; and things for which I am thankful because something that made me cry didn't happen. I'm thankful that my retina isn't detached; I am thankful for my children, the one to whom I gave birth and the two whom I acquired when I married; I am thankful that the doctor who said I had six months to live, fourteen years ago, got it wrong.

The yammer of the Car Guys tells me that I've lingered too long at the keyboard. My coffee has completely cooled, forgotten on the gilt-edged plate that I use as a coaster on my little desk. I've raised the wood-slat blinds, and I can see the clearness of the day and the blueness of the sky, against the wintry leaves. The winds has risen, and the neighbor's patio umbrella tosses its green canvas as a small brown critter skitters on the surface of the table. I should be doing something constructive, like laundry, or Yoga, or cogitating on the likely outcome of this week's trial. Instead, I think that I will gather all of the books I have read in the last two weeks, and take them to the Mystery bookstore. I'll tender them for store credit, order an Americano from the coffee bar, and browse the shelves of international writers. By and by, I'll choose the next in a series of which I am fond, or maybe the first in a series that I haven't read. I'll take a chair in the far back of the reading room, and lose myself in the pages of other people's lives.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Saturday Musings, 03 November 2012

Good morning,

The week floated to a smooth ending with a bookstore opening and a pleasant dinner with a young lady who became my daughter when I married a year and a half ago. I don't dismiss the importance of my son, but the two young people whom I call my children-in-law enrich my life. Having a daughter had always been a dream of mine. Having several children stood next on my bucket list, and now I have them: my "actual" son sandwiched in age between my two "step" children. The pictures scattered through my living room show that our family has grown.

The mother-son energy that crackled and livened my home had just begun to ebb when these two joined the fold: my stepson in his junior year of high school, my stepdaughter just finishing her four-year degree which she deftly pursued while working full-time. Before my recent marriage, I had gathered my son's friends, and the children of my friends, to comprise my flock. They know who they are -- these pseudo sons and daughters that deepened my appreciation for young people. They maintain their importance to me; my son's best friend of many years, Chris, will always be "my second son"; his sisters, Caitlin and Jennie, will never lose their place as the girls whom I took shopping for several teenage rites of passage, which their mother allowed with her heart of gold. And then there is Laura: Laura, daughter of my friend Elisabeth, who worked for me for several years, who cleaned my house time and time again, and who orchestrated my entire wedding with radiant joy and tireless dedication.

All of these young people hold a special place in my heart, each their own, each indispensable, like wooden blocks slid into a tower, integral and crucial.

All of them crowded around me as I read a lengthy transcript this week full of accusations leveled at a father trying to secure his own place in the life of his daughter. The deposition burned with the mother's scorn. Page after page filled with accusations about his preference for the children of his second marriage. Answering my questions, she spoke to him: You've got them now, why do you need my baby? she chided him, thinly disguised as her venomous litany of reasons she should be the custodial parent. Never mind that my client and she had not been a couple for ten years. Never mind that he has been fighting for a more active role in their daughter's life for most of that decade. Never mind that he has never missed a child support payment, or failed to provide extra funds when the child needed them. Never mind that their child has an entire room full of her own clothes, books and toys at his house, each identical in quality to those of his other children. He left us! she did not say, and though my heart felt heavy for her grief, I could not help but conclude that she resented his abandonment of her.

Orderly piles of trial documents adorn the window sills in my office. Judgments hit my inbox; motions pepper my files. The black and white belie the true color of their contents: Green for envy, red for rage, blue for sorrow. Give me more money! scream parents who really only desire the restoration of their failed marriage. You can't have more time with our children! comes the vicious cry of a parent who really wants to know why the other parent does not want to spend time with the grieving spouse. If I can't have him, he can't have them, they never say, though their true sentiment escapes no one.

I tell my clients that I understand. I'm on my third marriage! I proclaim, never mentioning that my child came from neither of my first marriages, and I raised him without his birth father through no choice of mine, through no choice of my son. I never had to share holidays except with the family-by-choice whom we gathered around us. I never had to get any one's approval for haircuts, or school choices, or medical procedures. I walk around my house, lifting small framed pictures and dusty objects from tables or wall hooks, thinking, Here is Patrick in the sixth grade; here is the stained glass he made for me in kindergarten; here is the award he won for writing; here is the fragile bird he made from leaves, the poem he wrote of his name, the sketch of us done at the Farmer's market in Rochester. Through some of those years, a stepfather took the pictures. Through some of those years, a surrogate aunt provided his summer berth. Through some of those years, the halls of our home held no one's footsteps but his and mine.

Client after client sits across from me with bewilderment stamped on weary faces, and anxiety spilling from red-rimmed eyes. They crave answers that I can only fabricate with reasonable conviction. They ask whether they will get time with their children, whether the other parent will consult them before choosing activities, whether they will witness the glory of their children's endeavors. I do not guarantee the success of my efforts or the reasonableness of their former spouse's decision-making. My only promise lies in the many paragraphs of my six-page contract, distilled to one two-word commitment: hard work.

I stood in the doorway of my office last evening, cross-body leather bag pulling one shoulder, tablet cradled in the crook of my arm. I ran my gaze around, checking to see if everything that needed to be done before the week's simpering end had, indeed, been done. Outside my windows, the chattering folks of Westport Friday night already drifted to and from the nearby bars, on foot, in cars, on bicycles, by bus. Down the hall, my analyst husband still crunched his numbers; any minute, the phone would ring to announce the arrival of my stepdaughter. But still I stood.

I tried a three-day motion-to-modify several weeks ago, pending cross-motions filed by ex-partners over the parenting and custody of their son and daughter. The case had been pending for four years. Grief flew in each direction; cross-accusations, psychological testing, denials of access, anger, fury, rage, resentment. In the end, the judge punted. He found for neither, and reinstated a five-year-old custodial decree. I spent only a year with the case; the other party's attorney had been in the case off and on for its life; the guardian saw the entire expanse and recommended the judge's decision. Did he do the right thing? my client asked me, when I talked with him about the order. I honestly don't know. But he did something; and now they can all continue living, especially the children.

I never wanted to be a lawyer, let alone a family law practitioner. I set out to be a writer. My high school yearbook, if it still exists on the cluttered shelves of any 1973 graduate of Corpus Christi High School in Jennings, Missouri, bears my life-long ambition: To get a poem published in The New Yorker. I only went to law school to have a paying career. I became a divorce lawyer after learning how important fathers are, by contrast with my child's lack of his. I did not predict the awful sorrows I would witness, nor the gallons of happiness that I could engender with one small result.

The judgment from that terrible trial sat in the middle of the oak table that serves as my desk last evening, awaiting the drafting of a long letter to my client, something I meant to do before the last mail of the day but had failed to finish. At the very moment when its accusing presence caught my eye, the phone rang. Snatching up the receiver, I pressed the button that activated the security lock on the front panel, admitting my dinner companion. I turned out the light, and quietly closed the door.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday Musings, 27 October 2012

Good morning,

A small victory: I slept all night without waking. Feeling refreshed is too much for which to hope, but staying asleep for eight hours signals that at least, my conscience rests.

Grey crowds my face, beaten back only by the skillful hand of a kind stylist. I wrench my elbow, and groan for hours, days, weeks, no longer cheerfully rebounding from every spill. I manipulate my neck and feel a crunching that causes me to wince. Middle age claims me; I stand on the brink of the downhill stretch.

Into this state seeps a trigger for memory. My son's friend Alex Thompson, who has written a screenplay about his Greek grandmother in which Olympia Dukakis has agreed to star, sends a tweet into the happy abyss of the internet: I've written about my yiayia -- send me stories about YOUR yiayias. Oh, memory: you rise to haunt me.

I'm back in a ranch house, the first built in the subdivision called Lake Knolls, sitting on the bend of a highway halfway between Chatham and Springfield, Illinois. My nana, the strongest, surest, finest woman that I have ever known, then or since, has been felled, slowed, bested, by a series of gruesome strokes. She stands in the living room, flanked by a worn recliner, a pale-colored sofa, and a console television, in this summer of my thirteenth year, one leg in a brace, her arm lifeless and withered by her side, and tries to tell me something. Ddddd-er, ddd-eer..she stammers, my Nana, the woman who taught me to always put my best foot forward, who bought me shoes that I could be proud to wear, who read to me summer, after summer, after scary summer, when my brother and I had been sent to the safe harbor of her Gillespie home. Dddeerrrrrr -- ddddeeerrrrr!!!, her urgent demand.

It wasn't fair that I should be tasked with trying to determine what Nana wanted that day. My grandfather had gone to work; I don't know where my brother had gone, possibly for a walk, down to the scraggly banks of the nearby creek, at the end of a dirt road beyond the cornfield next to our grandparents' home. I glanced around, desperate, worried, fearful. What does she want, I asked myself, a cold knot forming in my stomach. Still she stammered, stuttered, a frenzied look in her eyes, pleading with me to figure out the word that escaped her.

I couldn't. I turned, pretending that I didn't know, didn't understand, that Nana needed something. I'm going to my room, I told her, with a false, cold cheeriness. I went into the den in which I had been sleeping, where the fold-out couch had been restored to the guise of seating and my small suitcase held a handful of books brought from the public library at home. I grabbed one of them and curled into the farthest corner of the sofa, scrunched against the arm, under the window. I opened the book to a random page and held it resolutely against my bent knees, unable to read for the tears forming in my eyes.

I heard the painful steps of my grandmother pulling her ravaged body through the hallway to the bathroom. What followed could only be the sound of a person with just one functioning arm rummaging through a medicine cabinet. Grief stamped my face, dampened my cheeks, spilled to the surface of the book. I threw it across the room, my chest heaving with a terrible mix of self-righteousness and self-loathing.

When I went back out into the living room, Nana stood in the place where I had left her, holding a bottle from which she drank without benefit of spoon or dispenser. Her three-pronged cane discarded against the chair, she teetered, unstable, her internal resolve the only thing keeping her upright. I crossed to stand beside her, and put my own thin arms around her, lowering her heavy frame into a chair, easing the bottle from which she had drunk from the tight, frantic clutch of her one good hand. A brief glance at the bottle: castor oil. My disgust with my own obstinate unwillingness to help the woman who had given me so much rose in sickening waves. I sat on the arm of the chair, one arm across her shoulders. Neither of us spoke.

Late that night, with the cool summer air surrounding us on the patio, my grandfather calmed me with his deep, low, soothing voice. It's okay, little one, don't worry, he told me, holding me, petting my arm, singing the songs with which he had lulled me to sleep in the long-ago days of my babyhood. My Nana had gone to bed, her body ravaged and her bones weary, and my brother sat with us in the dark, having no words to help me forgive myself for failing our grandmother.

I remember the last time I saw Nana. My mother had come to retrieve me after my annual summer visit. I would have said it was 1973, though a quick search of the Social Security death records tells me otherwise. In any event, we left Nana and Grandpa's home while my grandfather was not there; I'm sure he was at work. Nana had cajoled my mother into cleaning her house, and sweeping the patio, and taking some leftovers to eat in the car. She stood at the door, waiving her one good arm, and my mother let the engine idle. Do you think she knows we are leaving? I asked, and my mother shook her head. She couldn't say; no one could. We waited, and Nana smiled, the sweet smile that I had always seen on her face, for all of my life, every time she had come to take care of us and every time she had taken us into her home. She knows something, my mother finally remarked, and we backed out of the driveway.

A short while after my grandmother died, my grandfather bought a new car. I had gone to stay in the dorm room to which I was assigned for that fall semester, a week or so early. We planned a family Sunday dinner for the next day, and my grandfather was to come down to St. Louis, the first visit since her death. I felt uneasy, unsettled, and I dreamed of my Nana. I saw her, sitting in the back of Grandpa's new vehicle, her face smooth, her arms strong, her eyes clear. Tell Lucy not to cry, she told me, in my dream, Tell her I'm just fine now. Lucy -- my mother.

The decades since my grandmother's strokes and her ultimate death sit heavy on my bones. I assume that by the time I am a grandmother, I will be older than my mother ever got, but younger than my Nana when she died. In that long heavy stretch of late middle-age, I will gather my memories around me, and weave them into a model of the best grandmother that a child could ever have, one who tells stories, dispenses advice, and buys the expensive shoes, and who lives in a brick home, with a cornfield, a patio, and a fold-out couch for a visiting grandchild.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

For more information on Alex Thompson's project:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Musings, 20 October 2012

Good morning,

It's dark, darker than a Saturday should be, the kind of creeping darkness that holds the threat of chill, and dampness. I have awakened early because I have a journey planned, and a few last minute chores await.

Nothing much happened on Friday. I loitered at home until my husband and our daughter had left for their respective obligations, using the ostensible need to launder towels as my excuse. Once the house settled into weekday lassitude, I took a long, hot shower and conditioned my hair, then puttered around, pretending to be occupied, just for the pleasure of being home alone.

I got little done at the office, enjoyed lunch with my father-in-law, and sent out October billing a week or two early; in some cases, September billing, a week or two late. Around 4:30, having had enough of being responsible for the live of people with whom I have only a contractual connection, I abdicated. Throwing my bag on the back seat to join the clutter of two weeks' worth of court jackets dangling from hangers, I started south, to Brookside.

A text message from my son distracted me. It said something about money, one of the few subjects that can startle me into instant action. I clicked the button that rings his cell phone, which no doubt rested in the change well of his Blazer as he traveled from St. Paul to Greencastle by way of a toll road. I drew from his reluctant voice, the fact that nowhere between Indiana and Minnesota, had he found a Bank of America, so his paychecks still had not been deposited. I levied a few salty measures of motherly castigation on his head, before agreeing to transfer some funds from my account to his. He endured my admonishments for longer than I expected, then suddenly, tellingly, with artificial urgency, spoke a familiar phrase: I'm going through a tunnel, Mom; I'll have to call you back.

My car continued its descent to the Plaza, towards Brush Creek, our local storm sewer with its odd concrete walkways. But my mind drifted back to another phone call, in 1977, when a younger version of Patrick's mother stood in the kitchen, talking to her own parental unit. I had paced back and forth in the galley kitchen of my shotgun apartment, holding the receiver with its long spiral cord, wedged between my shoulder and my ear. Uh huh, I muttered, time and again. Yeah, yeah Mom, I will. Yeah, Mom, I know.

Suddenly, I looked down at the floor. Oh, Mom, I gotta go; the cat's on the telephone wire. I hung up the phone, scooped my little kitten into the crooked of my arm, and went out onto the porch. A few minutes later, the phone rang. What was that supposed to mean, my mother snapped. Really, Mary? "The cat's on the wire?" I laughed nervously, but the silence at the other end of the phone signaled that apology, not laughter, should be forthcoming. I'm sorry. . .really. . .I'm sorry.

She forgave me, of course; and for the next eight years, until her death, when either of us had grown tired of a conversation, we would trill: Oh, sorry! Gotta go! The cat's on the wire! She would chuckle, deep, resonate, and I would answer with my higher voice, more of a giggle. We would say our goodbyes until the next time. Oh, sorry! Cat's on the wire! and neither of us harbored any resentment.

I vividly recall my mother's telephone voice. I could lift a receiver right now, dial her number, and expect to hear the same cadence. And I have replayed, over, and over, and over, the last telephone call I had with her: Oh, Mary, the X-Ray technician broke my arm. Can you please come home? And I did. I couldn't do much for her; drive to St. Louis every weekend to spell my sister and my brothers; sit by her side, endlessly playing Willie Nelson albums and the New World Symphony, while I read from her favorite novels or the Book of Ruth.

One afternoon, she turned her head towards me, and focused her liquid brown eyes on my face. She might have been searching for something; she might have been wondering where she could find herself in my pale Irish skin and my own blue-grey eyes. But maybe not: for she whispered, with a ghost of a smile, The cat's on the wire, just before she fell into a sweet, simple sleep.

I watched her for a while, the rise and fall of her thin chest. Then I pulled her bed jacket closer around her shoulders, and just sat, whatever book I had been reading falling idle to the side of the bed. And the room quieted down around us, around my mother and me.

I don't remember when Patrick started using the oncoming tunnel dodge to terminate a call of which he has grown weary. But this time, this Friday, at the end of a strange week filled with missed cues, anxious clients, and impatient judges, I felt the warmth of a mother's peace settle on my face as I laughed, telling him to drive carefully through that tunnel, and to call me when he reaches the other side.

I'm going to Arkansas. Some friends from my Fayetteville days have invited me down. Last night, I finished washing the towels, took our daughter out to a comfortable restaurant, and bought a new coat. There's nothing to keep me from this journey. I'm going alone, down 71, to the place where my child was born. I haven't been there in fifteen years. As I glide into town, with the gentle slope of the Ozarks on my left, I am sure that the changes will astound me. I don't think there are any tunnels, though you never know. I am keeping the phone fully charged, just in case.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday Musings, 13 October 2012

Good morning:

The week has drained slowly from the pages of my calendar, swirling around my feet, crunching beneath my heavy shoes. I shrug away the days, push them from my face like an unwelcome scarf. I sling my bag -- this bag, the bag that I left in the coffee shop, the bag with my phone, and my notebook, and my insurance card -- I sling my bag onto the seat of my car for the short journey home. Friday. . .and my pajamas await, and a man sits on my couch, watching his spooky serials and scrolling through the messages on his phone.

Night settles into my bones. I close my eyes. Morning threatens from a short distance. When it comes, I will slide the flat strap of my bag back across my chest and shuffle down to the car. I will drive to a coffee shop to meet with a client, and spend several hours explaining why the offer we got is a good one. If my explanation falls on deaf ears, I will prepare her to testify, while her anxious father watches her children, and the coffee cools in our cups.

Between my heavy obligations, I will do laundry, and make dinner, and slurp down some fat-free yogurt. And my heart will beat in its regular rhythm, a bit out of sync. It's always been that way. I've been asked: Do you know you have an arrhythmic heart? And I answer, Yes, I know that. I already know that.

Perhaps my heart beats the way that it does because of the hundreds upon hundreds of steps I have walked. My malformed feet have taken me so many places. . .

. . . Through corridors, beside black girls called ugly names at my high school: I hear the hard echo of hatred in the voice of a senior. She looked at the name I had drawn for "Secret Santa", the name of the classmate for whom I would anonymously leave little presents and cards for the three weeks until Christmas vacation. My upperclass friend spat out an unfamiliar word. I cannot bring myself even to type it. I had to ask my mother what it meant. She threatened to wash my mouth out with Ivory soap just for repeating the terrible syllables. She explained that it was a horrible label for people whose skin was considerably darker than mine. I felt a warm flush spread through my body. I didn't know, I told her. I cried. I befriended the girl for whom I served as Secret Santa, and abandoned the student who had used the awful slur to describe her.

. . .Up the steps of my first apartment in St. Louis, with my friend Hank, while the incredulous landlady stared, and the next-door-neighbor emitted an evil snicker. Later, when she gave me notice to vacate, the landlady said, We can't have none of them kind hereabouts. I wasn't sure what kind she referenced. She uttered another word to describe people with brown skin; a different label, just as vicious. My stomach lurched; my face flamed. I filed a complaint with the city and won; enough to pay for the deposit and first month's rent in a new apartment. I don't know where Hank is now; or what became of him. I don't know if he knows that I took a stand in his honor. The landlady didn't flinch as she answered the hearing officer. She admitted what she had said, confessed the grounds for eviction as being Associated With Persons Protected by the Equal Rights Provisions of the Relevant State Statute. I don't think she understood why she lost.

. . .Into a Plaza restaurant, with my friend Joyce, at lunch time. Our names on the waiting list, we watched party after party seated ahead of us. When we finally inquired, the hostess sneered. We don't do salt and pepper here. 1980. Kansas City. The Plaza, for crying out loud. Another complaint; another recovery; this time we donated it to Freedom, Inc.'s not-for-profit Impact Development, which matched minority, poor, or disabled residents with needed services.

. . . To a county clerk's office, where the clerk himself, when asked the minority population, replied, with a complete lack of guile, We got one family, but they don't give us no trouble. I met that family: White grandparents, a white mother, and two bi-racial children. The treatment they received at the local public school drove them to attend school one county to the north. Arkansas, 1987. Not Atlanta in the 50's. But not much different.

. . . Around and around the streets of Kansas City, in a high-top Dodge with a wheelchair lift, looking for a curb-side parking space, in a world that had only parking garages and nothing available into which we could fit the vehicle and drop the lift. One more complaint, twenty-seven spaces designated, but quietly, with no fanfare, lest the city have to admit its remission. 1999, Missouri, nine years after the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

. . . Into a courtroom behind two women who had joined together to raise a child, only to be shunted back out. The law would not recognize their co-parenting of their daughter, an orphan from China who would otherwise have had nothing but a small cot in a room with twenty other cots, tended by a minder responsible for room upon room of children, each with a pile of neatly-folded clothing on a cot such as this girl had had. It's the twenty-first century, people! Get over it!

. . . In the lobby of Juvenile Court, with family after family struggling to reclaim their children. Well-meaning, tired, with empty pockets, tattered bus passes, a dusty wallet containing nothing but food stamps. Haunted eyes, strained foreheads, worn shoes. How do we treat the poorest among us? That is how we shall be adjudged.

I'm still reeling from a meeting that I had this week, in which I learned of something terrible that a client of mind did --- years ago, it is true; but the thing was so terrible, and his attitude towards it even worse. It isn't that he thought he had engaged in acceptable conduct. It's that he thought nothing of it; he regarded it with indifference. He had not even mentioned it to me. I read a report during the meeting in which I learned of his awful act. I held my tongue. After the meeting, I took him aside, and I said, Did you do this? and he shrugged. He actually shrugged.

When you come home one autumn night, after a journey of a thousand steps through a life of passionate engagement, having just discovered that you are fighting for the rights of a man who committed an atrocity of which he himself speaks dismissively, every other brave act you have undertaken loses meaning. And so I am left, at the end of this cold, bitter week, with nothing to show for my life but a sore throat, a slightly elevated temperature, and a packet of forgotten dreams.

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.