Friday, September 27, 2013

Saturday Musings, 28 September 2013

Good morning,

When someone several degrees of separation away from the shortest strings of your heart passes, you feel caught between the remoteness of unfamiliarity and the twinges of affection. Did you know her well enough to mourn? Or does that right belong to others, closer, more special, who don't have to strain to remember when they last saw her?

I actually do remember when I last saw Jeanne Jasperse.  She came to my office for some small exchange with Alan White, her long-time friend and music collaborator, also my legal assistant and Chief Damage Control Officer.  I stood next to the counter in my office's kitchen, staring with unseeing eyes at a pleading just received by fax.  Fatigue came over me in waves as I struggled to cope, at that moment dealing with a broken hand.  

Jeanne crossed the dozen feet between us with her long-legged stride and folded me in her arms.  It's so good to see you!  She exclaimed.  Emotion washed over me; not the cleansing wash of baptismal waters, but the damning taint of guilt.  When are we going to have coffee again?  She asked this with smiling reference to our only coffee date, six months before this encounter, when she had materialized in response to my broadcasted wail of self-pity.  Since then, I'd not taken the time to see her again; no reason, really, just a nagging feeling of disconnect, a sense that I might have to climb down from the fence and really engage with someone more genuine that I felt capable of being sometimes.

When were we going to have coffee again?  It turns out: never.

And I remember the first time I saw Jeanne Jasperse: Blayney's, 1986, a week after my first hospital discharge in a decades-long parade.  Wearing black, a shadow of my former self, I slipped into a chair in the farthest table from the stage and assumed an expression of remote disdain.  I flipped my dark shades over the red I carried in my eyes, and pulled my back ram-rod straight, preparing to dislike the two women who stood side by side on the stage next to Alan White.  I grunted my order to Heather, the waitress, then fixed my reluctant eyes on the front of the room, ready to condemn the act, a trio which had formed during my absence from the scene.

And then the voice of an angel filled the room.

Of the two women, Jeanne had the less trained voice back then.  But hers carried sweetness, and the promise of something soothing, and a fragile joy that could not be denied. Her eyes flashed; her hands raised; her chin tilted heavenward; and I felt my resistance fade.  How could I dislike a person so devoid of malice, so drenched in glory?

Over the next thirty years, I rarely saw Jeanne without a beer.  But I also rarely saw her without a smile.  She wore her delight at each meeting with anyone whom she called "friend" like a silk shawl that kept away the evening's chill.  And she considered me a friend, though even before she died, I classified myself as less than a poor excuse for one.

I don't know enough about Jeanne Jasperse to write her obituary.  But these things I know:  She laughed without hesitation.  She cherished her son.  She stuck by her friends. She persevered, though sometimes, she succumbed to the bogeyman who hovered in the corner with his wicked grin. She danced without reservation and loved without expectation.  She faced adversity that I can never comprehend; and lost her way more times than I will ever know, stumbling on broken cobblestones, clutching at the long gnarled branches of trees hanging over her  path which blocked the guiding star and the warming sun.  And this, too, I know:  Jeanne Jasperse sang with a raging purity and an unrelenting passion.

It's just gone midnight.  I cannot sleep.  As always happens when the universe suffers a sudden rending in the shape of a precious and worthy soul, I am awash with a burning mixture of loss and guilt, and something more: gratitude, for the time that I knew her, and the gentleness with which she touched me.

Heaven's choir grows richer this week, and the Kansas City skyline suffers the loss of an under-appreciated treasure.  Oh, Jeanne, Jeanne.  We shall miss you.  Rest easy, my friend.  And thank you.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Musings, 21 September 2013

Good morning,

Autumn's gentle bite greets me at the threshold.  I've overslept, after a twenty-four hour period of cleaning, cooking and entertaining for our mini-supper club.  Over a table laden with summer's last best harvest, we dissected the comments of the pope; the tattoo trend; and red wine versus white.  I fell asleep with the ghost of a smile lingering on my face, my husband's snoring acting, for once, like white noise.

My dreams rose in an instant.  I wake, haunted, on the other side of the state.  I realize that I still sleep, but the images surrounding me seem real, touchable.  I stand, back against a wall, in a crowded apartment.  I clutch a thick, short glass, ice clinking, liquid swirling.  A nearby table holds trays of food which I ignore.  I take another drink and gaze around.

I know no one.  I've followed someone to this party who has now left, and I am thinking about doing the same.  But the Scotch is plentiful and free.  I gulp some down and move to another wall.  I close my eyes, just for a moment, and try to catch the thumping rhythm of whatever record spins on the turntable.

I feel something brush against my arm and open my eyes.  A girl stands beside me.  She wears a gauzy dress with thin straps.  She herself barely breaks a hundred pounds, and she stands an inch or two taller than my five feet three.  Her hands are empty; she glances at my drink.  I raise the glass and gesture toward the make-shift bar; speech seems impossible, with the blare of the music and the rumble of the dancers' bodies pounding the floor in crazy staccato.

"Not for me," she mouths; sound might accompany the movement of her lips, but I can't tell.  We stand for a few minutes, strangers holding up a common corner.  She tries to speak again and I shake my head.  She raises one  hand and points to the French doors opening onto the balcony.  I shrug; there's no reason not to leave the noise.

Once outside, we lean against the railing.  "You know these guys?" she asks.  I assume she means whoever lives here.  I tell her no.  We trade names and I finish my Scotch.  "You reminded me of my sister," she tells me.  "I thought you were her, for a second.  That's why I came over."  I wait; a revelation would surely follow.  But she fell silent.  I slid an ice cube into my mouth and  crunched it, tasting the lingering smoke of a quite decent single malt for the place, the day: 1979 in a two-bedroom flat in University City shared by four Washington University grad students.

My new friend shakes her head; she seems to be arguing with herself.  "I'm so tired of all this," she finally sighs.  "Party after party, night after night, bodies pressed too thick, too close.  The smell of sweat and too much perfume.  Doesn't it ever get you down?"

I think a minute.  I see what she means but I'm not sure I can speak.  I have suddenly realized that the drink I've just finished must have been my fourth or fifth, and I can no  longer remember why I'm there.  I look at her profile; her face seems tense, the set of her mouth angry.  I place my glass on the railing and try to say something, anything, to move the conversation away from an edge over which I do not feel capable of stepping.

The girl tosses her shoulders, reaching the end of whatever inner debate she had undertaken.  "Well, I finally did it, I finally dropped the dime.  I called Mom and Dad and told them I've had it with all this.  I haven't been to class in weeks.  I'm going on the road. " She slides  her eyes in my direction.  "I can't live their dream anymore.  I can't make up for what they lost."  She wraps her frail arms around herself; her shudder runs through my own body.  It's clear to me that I have become irrelevant.  Even in my drunkenness, I can see she's talking to someone that I am not.  She falls silent, and gazes down at the street, at the tops of the trees with their straggly brown leaves.

The girl stirs. " Well, I gotta get going," she finally says.  "It's nice to meet you."  She slips between the doors, and I stand, motionless, on the balcony.  In a few minutes, I see her form on the sidewalk.  She stops a few feet from the building, and turns her face upwards.  I swear, I swear, I hear her say, "Goodbye, Sis." And then she is gone.

I've lost my whatever interest I might have had in the party.  No one notices me leaving, or standing on the street baffled because I cannot find my little MG.  No one laughs when I finally realize that I gave that car to my brother and bought a Chevy Nova, which  I have stumbled past three times.  No one watches as I lurch from the curb, and run three red lights before I make it home.  And no one waits in my apartment but I sit on the couch anyway, hoping to hear someone's welcoming voice, until the Scotch finally wins, and I fall asleep, fully clothed, just as the sun starts to rise.

The radio says that it is 53 in Kansas City this morning.  My bones tell me that I did too  much yesterday; but oh, what a nice party we had.  It's a lovely day.  I shake off the ghosts, and move to the kitchen, to pour myself another cup of coffee.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday Musings, 14 September 2013

Good morning.

Pleasant and high, barely discernible, a critter chirps to its mate.  Last week's heavy drone of locusts has vanished, without the swarms we expect from the periodic awakening of the horde.  I stood on my porch last Sunday, drawn by the unrelenting drone, wondering what year it must be in their cycle.

Another year, another porch.  Our old one, square and flat-roofed, with tall, bowed screens and peeling paint.  My son stands at the edge of our living room, just inside the screendoor, small sticky hands on the bottom panel, nubby nose against the grimy surface of the mesh.  "What is that noise," he asks, in his awed whisper.

I stand behind him, my hand on his head, wondering if our cat has slipped outside to the porch on which she loves to scamper.  She's an indoor cat, white with black heart-shaped spots on her coat, a year old and beloved. I stir, restlessly, as the noise of the locusts rises.  The mild air of September wafts through the screen.

I pull my child away, and close the door against the chatter.  We spend the day in the pleasant ways of mothers and sons: chores, and reading books, and singing songs.  Saturday surrounds us with its warmth.  I set aside my worry that my meager book of clients will not be enough to sustain us.  I pretend I face nothing more challenging than the worn heels on the black cowboy boots that my son wears everywhere, even to bed.

I am asleep before he is most nights, in those days when I have not yet found the balance of the approaching decades.  But I awaken early, lying in a bed too wide by half, wondering if I should make Schmarren for breakfast, thinking about church, missing my mother.

A shriek pierces the air of our home and jolts me from my languid reverie.  I tear away the quilt and race to the sound of my son's cries, wracking sobs punctuated by pleas.  His toddler bed is empty and the sound pulls me to the living room, where he has thrown open the front door.

I hear other sounds from ten feet away, and I quicken my pace, grabbing his small body as his hand reaches for the outer door knob, clutching him to me.  I cannot quite grasp what noise surrounds us; some high, some intense, some low, mixed with a growl.  I realize the whooping throb emanates from the alarm panel and lean against the wall, pressing the buttons which will silence it.

With the blare of the security siren stilled, the other noises stand out:  The locusts have errupted, smashing through through the  screens, swarming, thick as winter rain, filling our porch with their denseness.  I cannot see sunlight.  I slam the front door.  But Patrick's howling intensifies.  He has crossed the line to incoherence, and I sink to the floor, rocking him, murmuring, cooing.  Still he cries, then pummels my chest with his small tight fists.  "Listen to me, Mommy," he demands.  "Listen to me!"

So I stop the motion, and focus.  "My cat is out there!  I have to save my cat!"

The growling.

I must have left the cat on the porch at evening's end.

Only with my strongest promise to rescue his cat can I persuade my son to stay back from the door.  With a broom up-ended held out, wrapped in a trench coat, feet clad in Doc Martens, I pull the front door open.  The swarm's shrillness assaults me.  My son urges me: "Save my cat, Mommy!  You can do it, Mommy!"  And I open the screen door, pulling the heavier inner door behind me, praying that I've been quick enough.

I see our little cat huddled in the corner.  I hear her hiss, and the low rumble of her guarded growl.  I cross through the swirl of locusts and throw the towel I hold down onto the cat, scooping her off the floor, wrapping her tightly.  I drop the broom.  I don't know why I thought it could do anything to protect me.  Locusts slam against my face, my head, my long thick hair.  The cat opens  her claws and presses them against me, clinging.  I back to the door, one arm clutching my burden, the other flailing backwards, until it lands on the brass knob.  I fall through the opening, slamming out the host, stumbling, collapsing onto the sofa.  The cat scrambles away.

My son stands, crowing.  A locust or two has fallen across our threshold, and he stomps on them, pajama legs bunched over his boots.  "I killed them!  I killed them!  Mommy and I saved Sprinkles!"  Sprinkles, the cat, does not thank us.  In fact, she does not even come out from under my son's bed for several days, except, perhaps, to steal food from her dish while we sleep.

The locusts did not hatch this year.  Perhaps the loud drone that engulfed our neighborhood last weekend had some other source.  Perhaps they hunkered down wherever locusts live, before they rise to overtake our porch, and just sang a bit to rattle me.  This morning, though, I cannot hear them.  Maybe what we heard last Sunday was just a memory, like the teasing flash of white and black I spied flicking around the corner of the bushes today, a few feet from the Yellowstone rock, under which our Sprinkles sleeps.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Saturday Musings, 07 September 2013

Good morning,

I've yet to venture outside the house further than my nose sniffing the calm morning air.  What little news  appears in our morning paper entertained me over a cup of lime yogurt.  I stopped short, appalled, over the story of a mother assaulting her kindergartner's teacher because the five-year-old came home with a scratch  on his face which he attributed to the teacher.  I would be furious to learn that my child had been scratched by his teacher but would I yank her from a chair and slam her face against a file cabinet?  I don't think so.  And certainly, neither my mother nor y father would have.

My parents did defend our honor.  My father marched me back to school after my fourth grade teacher sent me home, a long mile walk, for raising my hand to her after she dug her red pen into my face "to give [me] a check mark that matched [my] freckles", for poor penmanship.  My father admitted that I should not have slapped the teacher but raged at the principal for the deep gouge  in his daughter's nine-year old face.

My mother organized a picket at the convent after one of the elderly nuns pulled me from the floor of the chapel -- the floor that I was scrubbing -- screeching that I was the sister of hippies and not fit to clean a House of God.  We marched behind my mother, carrying signs she had made with pages torn from magazines, depicting flower children and peace-niks.  We crowed in triumph when the mother superior reinstated my $5.00/week job, though transferred me to the high school to appease the smug nun who had sent me sprawling with a flick of the wrist which held one long, fat braid which she had torn from the pins securing it around my head. The new job required me to sling milk, a process which involved standing on a conveyor belt which  fed into the high school kitchen, hauling crates of milk and juice from the back of the delivery truck.  This entitled me to free lunches.

Images of my parents' faces rise around me.  My mother making a straight  row of coins on the breakfast room table, the purpose of which she did  not disclose.  A long rambling story fell from my mouth, word tumbling over word. My mother periodically slid a coin from the row, closer to her, away from me.  My voice faltered.  I eyed her solemn face, careworn olive skin, brown hair rolled in tight curlers held in place by little plastic pegs.  One coin gone; then two; then three.  I resumed my account, though more slowly, as I scrambled to  find a co-relation between something I had said and my mother's silent subtraction of quarters from the shiny line.  I spoke a few more sentences,  saw her finger raise once more and in a flash I got it:   She removed a coin each time I punctuated my sentence with the useless phrase, "you know".  When my story came to an end, six of ten quarters remained, and my mother gave them to me.  

I learned to read at the age of three sitting on my father's lap.  He held the Post-Dispatch in front of me, with one arm encircling my shoulders. One strong hand kept the page still while the other showed me the words as he intoned them.  The blurs crystallized into recognizable blocks of letters as I strained to follow, evening after evening, in the summer before I turned four.

My father didn't teach me very much.  He left the bulk of his children's upbringing to his wife, while he retreated into a fog of alcohol and what I would now call post-traumatic stress disorder, a lasting legacy of the Second World War.  But he taught me to read, and gave me such wonderful rules as he knew:  Always play the house odds; never draw to an inside straight; don't get caught without zip ties, duct tape, and a spare car key.  All the rest  of what I know came from my mother. I like think I am a credit to them both.

The dog paces around the  dining room, wondering why I haven't fed her.  My son retreated back into his room after showing us how to work the new Google Fiber.  My husband has left to join his tennis group for coffee.  I've lost my taste for the newspaper and it lies idle.  Within its pages linger stories of assault, and rape, and mass murder, tales of people who rise or fall on their parents' teachings.  It is enough to make a grown woman cry.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

In Memory:  Richard Adrian Corley, 12/27/22 - 09/07/91.  RIP, Grandpa Sport.

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.