Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday Musings, 28 April 2012

Good morning, It's later in the morning than I usually sit down to reflect. Accusations of my neighbors that I don't provide proper care of her notwithstanding, I've taken our little dog for her annual examination, a major undertaking that costs only slightly less than my monthly mortgage. Our dog came to us after being abandoned during a ferocious ice storm. We only learned about her seizure disorder after we had already come to love her. Each year, in addition to everything a normal dog must have, she submits to the withdrawal of several vials of various fluids to check her medication levels. I spend more on her medication each month than I spend on my own. The neighbors disagree with our decision to leave her outside during the day, despite the fact that she has a shelter inside of which is a cedar-chip-lined dog house. I say, anyone who leaves two huge Golden Retrievers inside a 1300-square-foot house all day should not throw stones. When my son left for his first year of college, I promised him that I would not let the pets die until he graduates. The boy cat roams the neighborhood and rumor has it that his immortality has been established several litters over.(fn, don't tell me he should be 'fixed'. I know. Tell Patrick.) The old girl cat will probably outlive us all. I worry most about this little dog, whose seizures now defy her current level of medication. She raises her deep brown eyes in supplication and pushes her trembling body next to my legs. I reach down and wrap my arms around her, holding her close as she trembles and grows rigid, in turns. I'm not a dog person. But I believe there is a special place in hell for whoever ditched this dog, an act probably born of the prior owner's refusal to deal with the grand mal seizures with which this creature, unmedicated, can be plagued. As I write, she sleeps on the back porch, made weary by the various shots that our gentle vet administered. On other days, she lies in the sun, or ambles along the worn path at the north side of the house which she regularly traverses to reach the front gate at which she stands sentry. She barks at dog-walkers, child-strollers, and runners. Sometimes she howls at the dancing wind. She's a beagle. I think her barking bothers the neighbors more than the fact that we let her live a peaceful life spending most of her time in the fresh air. I'm not really a dog person. Yet this animal moves me. I resist spending money on new shoes for myself or paint to fix the door trim the repainting of which a carpenter started several years ago and never finished. But I routinely shell out large sums to maintain the good health of this brown, pathetic, epileptic beagle-lab mix, who sleeps outside the bedroom door where Patrick would be, were he not at school; or, a few feet away, outside the door of my stepson. She knows that boys are her province. She protects them, standing guard, just as she has done for the last nine years. I take good care of her. After all, I am responsible for the death of our original beagle, a fact that I will never forget, and for which I will not forgive myself. That dog, named "Chocolate" by three-year-old Patrick who had named our girl-cat "Sprinkles", had been a gift from a client to my son. He climbed fences, and roamed the city, and cost me hundreds of dollars in fines. We made the fence taller, and wrapped it in chicken wire, and put a rudimentary electric barrier around the yard's perimeter. The blasted beagle, in defiance of our best efforts, taught himself to escape each measure that we deployed. Finally, we strung a cable from porch to fence, and kept him on a sliding lead which allowed him to traverse the length and width of the yard. We routinely detached him and brought both dogs into the house each night, until the night when I forgot, and he got wrapped in that lead, and the shock of the taught wire, or something worse, killed him. The other dog, our epileptic Little Girl, huddled close to Chocolate as his body grew cold, whimpering and occasionally barking, a short, desperate burst, a plea for someone to come. I found them at five the next morning, when one of my son's friends, spending the night, woke me to report that something seemed amiss with the dogs. We buried Chocolate in the side yard next to the cat who had been killed in the street a year or two earlier. I think my son has forgiven me, but I have not yet forgiven myself. My vigilance over the life and welfare of the remaining dog in part reflects a sense of guilt at the senseless death of her companion. The white cat sleeps on my son's bed, a spot she claimed 18 years ago and periodically disdains but never fully abandons. As my son's junior year of college draws to a close amid reports of good mark after good mark on projects, papers and plays, amid worry over summer internships and debate over fall course enrollment, I cast my glance around the house and think about the day when I will have fulfilled my promise to keep the pets alive until he graduates. It is a pledge that I hope to fulfill. So I pay the money, and I give the drugs, and I wrap my arms around her when the seizures strike, and as I do, I think to myself, one more year, Little Girl, just hang on for one more year. So far, so good. Mugwumpishly tendered, Corinne Corley

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday Musings, 21 April 2012

Good morning, In the quiet of a Kansas City Saturday morning, I drove my stepson to school, early, to board the bus for the Latin competition occurring in Columbia today. Few cars shared the roadway with us. We chattered about inconsequential matters, and I assured him that his father and I would make good on my daybreak offer to take his car to be detailed before tonight's prom; and secure the ordered corsage; and sew the buttons on the dry-cleaned tux hanging on the bedroom door of our absent older son. With a smile, and a crisp goodbye, he eased his tall frame from the vehicle. I watched him saunter over to a friend as I pulled behind the stream of exiting parents and merged back onto the light flow of morning traffic for the five-minute drive home, where coffee still cooled in my cup, and the dog awaited her medicine. In my youth, I imagined that I would have many children. All that I would need to complete my life would lie in trundle beds in a charming home. A small room in the house would hold an old wooden desk on which I would place the typewriter that I used to write pithy stories and touching poetry. The male parental unit to be involved in this idyllic scene hovered in a hazy patch, just outside the reach of my clear consciousness. I imagined that I would be successful in twin branches of existence: Wife and writer. I imagined that I would be published; I imagined that I would make spicy pickle relish and hand-rolled yabre, what my grandfather called the rice-filled grape leaves that others knew as dolmas. I saw no further than a few essential trappings: I would cook, clean and craft stories. I close my eyes now and think about that dream. Then my mind drifts to the surroundings in which I had those aspirations. I see my mother standing in the kitchen of my childhood, smiling over her shoulder at me, her hands plunged into soapy water. I remember the moment when I realized her imperfection. I remember the sharp intake of my drawn breath; the spreading heat of my embarrassed blush; the slipping of my illusions and the silent unseen crash, as my faith in her infallibility splintered on the green linoleum. I won't be like her, I promised myself, with the callous arrogance of my teenage years. This week, I held a telephone close to my ear and listened to a prospective client whine about her failed marriage and thought, get over yourself, lady. Her voice droned and droned as my mind wandered. The file of an appointed case sat at my elbow, and I raised its binding, glancing over a psychological evaluation of my client. I could not help comparing the caller's complaints with those of the young woman whom I had been appointed to represent and others whom I have helped over the years. I realize we all have different capacities for endurance, but I found it hard to sympathize with a claim that this able-bodied woman's preferred, comfortable lifestyle should be financed by the man whom she desired to divorce, the man whom she insisted wanted her to forgive him but whose perceived treachery she could not excuse. I compared her with scores of women who just wish their former spouses would pay the court-ordered pittance to help them support small children while working minimum wage jobs. I could not reconcile the level of her shrillness in proportion to the recounted events of her marriage. I could not place her anywhere on the sympathy scale near what I felt for my nineteen-year-old appointed client, whom the educational system had failed, passing her from grade to grade with no real accomplishment, and whose parents have some dirty secret that I've yet to discover which resulted in her leaving their home at the age of fifteen, cast into the arms of a man three times her age by whom she has now born two children. We've all got troubles. But aren't some just empirically worse than others? As I listened to the indignation of the woman who sought my representation in her quest for a pound of flesh from her cheating man, my eyes fluttered. I felt my patience oozing from me. My disgust rose like bile in my throat. But I forced myself to hold back as I told her that I would be happy to refer her to someone else. My schedule does not permit me to take a new case like this, right now, I am so sorry, I glibly lied. She fell silent. But my cousin said you represented him, and helped him get custody of his kids. He said you worked really hard. I sent a message through the cosmos. Don't make me tell you that I just don't want to champion your revenge, I pleaded, in my head, in my heart. I just can't muster the energy to care about whether he pays you maintenance for the rest of your life, and I surely won't be able to convince a judge that I think he should. As I understand the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, passed by the U. S. Senate on 08 April 1864, by the U. S. House of Representatives on 31 January 1865, and adopted on 06 December 1865, slavery has been abolished in our country and there is no asterisk after which my name appears as an exception. I declined her case. In a little flurry of outrage, the woman in turn rejected any name that I might give her. Lucky thing, I thought. The temptation to refer her to a bad attorney might have overcome me. As I close the book on another week of living a dream that I never imagined having, I thought about my mother, who quit nursing school just shy of graduation to betroth herself to a soldier home from the Burma front. Did she think about the house full of children that would eventually come? Did she imagine a career for herself? Or did she want both, as I did, as so many others have? Did she have any regrets? Most specifically, as she glanced over her shoulder, worn hands in a sink full of warm water, gazing at her fourth daughter's slender, teenage frame, did she sense my overwhelming disappointment in her? If she did, perhaps her restless spirit heard my apology, as I gently laid down the receiver on the still shrill voice of my caller this week, a woman so far removed from someone whom I can admire, that the stark contrast with one whom I should have worshiped cut to the bone. The heat has risen in the brightness of the day. In a little while, I will journey west, to Mission, for my weekly coffee with a dear friend. We will talk about the events that she plans at her Gallery for May, and the large new space in which that Gallery will soon be housed. After a while, I will leave her, and on the way home, I will retrieve the corsage intended to adorn the wrist of my stepson's prom date, and take his car through the car wash -- because, as Penny Thieme says, that's what mothers do. Mugwumpishly tendered, Corinne Corley

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saturday Musings, 14 April 2012

Good morning,

The trill of a recorder, a flute perhaps, wafts from the radio during a story on NPR. I hear the little pug downstairs chewing on a sweet potato goody, something we got free by dint of purchasing an enormous quantity of pet supplies from an online company. We're dog-sitting for our daughter; dog-sitting and car-sitting, while she and her adorable boyfriend dance in Las Vegas at the wedding of a friend. Morning drifts into mid-day, and I lounge in my gray cotton nightgown, thick socks on my feet, coffee cooling at my elbow.

It's been a dicey week. I've seen daybreak from an alarmed hospital bed at week's beginning, and nightfall with an inhaler inches from my elbow at week's end. I've quit a client; taken in new ones; shared stories of survival; listened to whispered tales of struggle from the pursed lips of a suffering friend. I survived Friday the Thirteenth. I lived.

In the throes of the wickedness of an asthma relapse, I abandoned work for a day or three, and immersed myself in books. I bought a new pair of shoes on E-bay and learned how to use a modern, sleek Nebulizer. I helped a friend understand documents from an estate in which she is named as an heir; I proofed my son's resume, marveling at his accomplishments which I had never seen paraded one after another in black-and-white; and I made friends with a pharmacy technician who shares my frightening, breath-taking ailment.

And last night, I fell asleep, alternately soothed and startled by the constancy of my husband's snoring, and dreamed of my grandmother.

I walked again with her down South Sixth Street, in Springfield, Illinois, in new penny loafers that she purchased at the shoe store next to the Sonotone House of Hearing where she and my grandfather tested hearing and sold hearing aids. I held her hand, listening to her tell me to put my best foot forward. I tilted my head back, again, letting my curls fall down my back, and, again, asked her which foot is that, Nana? Again, as she had so many decades ago, she gazed down on my face with sparkling eyes, set in pale Austrian skin, and in a gentle voice with just a lilting trace of her immigrant's accent, assured me that my best foot was the one striking the sidewalk in front of me, first left, first right, then left, then right, and on until we reached Strong's and the waitress set a steaming plate of stewed chicken in front of us.

Neither of us then knew that I had asthma; or would some time in life develop asthma; or that I would later in life find out that I am allergic to the swirls of thick rich honey that the restaurant stirred into their softened butter for us to smear on thick, hot biscuits.

She held my hand in hers and walked with pride down the street that she owned, nodding to tradesmen; gently pulling me to a stop at cross-walks, nudging me forward when the light turned green. And after lunch, she released me into the back room of my grandparents' business, where they kindly stored books for the bookstore next door. There my world expanded, as I sat amidst the stacks of novels, and encyclopedias, and volumes about how to care for your pet, or your parent, or your garden. Sometimes I fell asleep sitting on a carton of books, with the Wind and the Willows clutched in my sticky hands, and Anne of Greene Gables under my small head with its great mass of brownish red curls carefully cultivated around a nest of clothes pins each night by my grandmother, in those summer days when I stayed with her, long ago, before I knew what my life would give me.

I dreamed this dream of my grandmother in the last lazy hour of sleeping, while my husband sat downstairs reading his Wall Street Journal, and our dog, and our daughter's dog, lay curled at his feet. I awoke refreshed despite the rough night, and when I got downstairs, my coffee had been poured, and the light of love shown in his eyes, as he asked how I had slept, hoping, hoping, that the night had been good to me.

And so, it had.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Monday, April 9, 2012

Monday Morning Musings, 09 April 2012

Good morning, and a good morning it is.

I've a story to tell, and it is mostly a borrowed story. So indulge me. Picture this story told by a woman to her children. The woman is about 5 feet three, early to mid 50s, greying auburn hair, short, sassy, always a quick smile but sometimes a tense frown adorning her face.

Oh wait. That could be me.

So thought I, on Friday afternoon, lying in a hospital bed in St. Luke's brand-spanking new Heart Institute, listening to the overly condescending voice of the admitting nurse and thinking of a story that my mother once shared, about using the same tone with someone in the hospital at which she worked. The circle, indeed, is unbroken, though the shoe might well be on the other foot.

The memory of my mother telling the story that I'll shortly relate floated to the surface of my oxygen-deprived brain several times during my hospital stay. The first such occasion coincided with the floor nurse's questioning of my report of multiple broken bones so soon after my blithely answering "no" to the question, "is anyone you love hurting you". Rather than perpetuate her clear suspicion of He Who Adores Me, (he who was not even in my life during most of the breaks), I allowed her to slap a bright yellow "Fall Risk" band on my arm, and I endured three days of indignities from people half my age and a quarter as resilient as I believe I have proven myself to be, awkward gait and all.

My mother's voice rose in my head, chagrin-laced, regretful, for the tone she reportedly found herself using with her "clinic patients", a tone that she admitted arose from her middle-class assumptions: You are poor, therefore you must be stupid. You are in a wheelchair, therefore you must be deaf. Even my mother, liberal, Democrat, war-protesting, fell prey to such sad truisms.

The morning after my admission, the day shift had its turn at humiliating me. I discovered, to my horror, that being a fall risk in the heart unit meant having one's bed rigged to blare if one set one's dainty, bare toes upon the cold laminate floor for purposes of traversing a few feet to attend to one's morning personal tasks. An over-sized, thunderous aide appeared to scold me and grab for my elbow. As any person with an "awkward gait" will attest, grabbing for one's elbow triggers a sudden jar which sends you tottering in the opposite direction of the grabber, and so I nearly became the falling patient that their precautions ostensibly intended to forestall. Let go of me! I cried, desperate for the bathroom but determined to get there with as little humiliation as possible.

The nurse appeared beside my torturer. Darling, darling, she bellowed -- or cooed, perhaps, but by this time, I had no tolerance for such appellations, and I heard her voice as loud enough to wake my eternally sleeping maternal unit. Darling, honey, we have to help you, you're a fall risk.

I stood by the sink, just about ready to slam the door in her face. First of all, I spat out. I am not your darling. Second, I am not a fall risk. I only admitted to falling on the rare occasion to keep your night-shift counter-part from assuming that my history of broken bones should be attributed to my husband beating me. I've been disabled longer than you have been alive, and, really, it is rude to call someone you've never even met, 'Darling'.

My mother's voice, telling her story, the story that I am about to share with you, drifted up to the surface in my consciousness. I glared at the nurse, who stared back with a quiet intensity. I could see her thinking of how to keep me, whom she perceived as a nearly rabid patient, from posing a risk both to her calm day and my admittedly very sick self. I saw the precise moment when she realized that she had let her assumptions guide her tone, in that condescending us-or-them way of medical professionals, even well-intended medical professionals, even excellent, caring and concerned medical professionals.

Like my mother.

Who walked one day, down the hallway, a few feet from her EKG department, at the now-defunct St. Louis County Hospital. Clinic patients awaited her, and you should read "clinic patients" to mean people who were too poor to get their EKGs in the offices of private doctors, and so were forced to report to my mother's office to suffer the indignity of removing their upper garments behind a flimsy curtain in a room which also held filing cabinets and desks at which my mother and her colleagues did their work.

Stop me if you've heard this one. It's a favorite story of mine.

A man approached my mother and ask for directions to the laboratory. My mother eagerly responded, trying to be helpful. In a loud voice, gesturing, she told him: Okay, the lab. You walk down the hall. Way, way down the hall. You pass an office that looks like the lab but it is NOT the lab, it is the blood bank. DON'T GO IN THERE. Go past that place and keep going down the hall. Way, way, way down the hall, really far, and then you come to a set of DOORS.

The man look intently at her. He replied, Doors? You mean, those things with knobs?

My mother quickly corrected him. Oh, no! These doors DO NOT HAVE KNOBS. These are SWINGING DOORS.

And then she saw the stethoscope around his neck.

As the short blond nurse stood silent in front of me, re-evaluating her prior notions of what I must be -- changing me from a faceless "fall risk" to a human being who has beaten all odds and clings desperately to her notion of self-sufficiency, I thought of my mother, and of the lesson she learned, all those years ago, about assumptions. And here we were, this nurse and I, making assumptions about each other. I assumed that she called me "darling" because she thought I was demented. And she assumed that because I have suffered multiple, small and annoying breaks from time to time when the earth arose to insult my gait-challenged legs, I could not walk from the bed to the bathroom without an attendant. Yes, yes, I know: Policy, procedure; rules, regulations; liabilities and laws. But still -- the assumptions had flared and had bitten us both in the butt.

We reached a compromise, the nurse and I. She did not require me to have an attendant hold onto me, or to wear those ridiculous, loose-fitting socks, or to wear a gait belt. I agreed to advise the CNA when I wanted to move around, and to let them at least be in the room. The bed alarm would only be activated after 10 p.m. She would call me "Corinne". Nobody would grab my arm.

I heard my mother chuckling, shifting in her grave, and settling back, ready to let another memory rise to the surface, as needed, to teach her daughter another life lesson, on some other day, in some other place, when I would again need her wisdom.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Missouri Mugwump™

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