Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturday Musings, 25 April 2015

Good morning,

The rain had not yet started when I descended the stairs to the first floor and let the dog outside.  Now it patters on the wood of the deck and the dog has retreated inside her house.  She will not be persuaded to venture up to the kitchen to come inside.  I am left to be amused and watch the rain from the front door, stretching my tired limbs, shaking my head at the feelings coursing through me.  Another day, another chance to wonder:  Is this medicine working?  If so, then why do I still feel so sick?

 I see the American flag on my house and smile, suddenly, without inhibition.  A light shines on this flag -- a floodlight that we included in the new porch design both to light the steps and to allow us to fly the flag without interruption.  For the same reason, we replace our flag nearly every year, most recently in 2013 with a quality, sewn all-weather flag.  Many have doubted  my patriotism:  I have never served, I do not advocate war, I question the way our country has been managed.  But drive past my home and you will see that I proudly display our nation's most visible and beloved symbol.

Standing here reminds me of a rainy day nearly fifty years ago -- forty-seven? -- when I spent the summer at Camp Fire Girls camp on a "poor girl's scholarship".  As the memory floats to the surface, I give myself to it.

Among our troop were twins, Barbara and Bonnie Cross, whose mother led us.  Barbara and Bonnie looked alike but in reality, could have been strangers.  Bonnie leaned toward more typically feminine deportment while Barbara played sports and had strong, sturdy limbs. I liked Bonnie but I admired Barbara the most.  I yearned for her approval and attention.

A group of us occupied a rustic portion of the camp, sleeping not in cabins but in three-sided bays with crude roofs and a canvas flap for rain protection.  Iron bunks, three sets to a structure, and thin mattresses contributed to the military feel of the place.  This group consisted mostly of experienced campers, twelve years old or so, and we did not have to participate in the daily ritual of the place.  We hiked, boated, swam, and learned about survival. 

 Though I fit the age, I had  only been to camp once before that summer and did not fit the profile of an experienced attendee. I struggled to keep pace. Barb Cross thrived on the rigors of this schedule.  But with my clumsy legs and pale skin, I caught poison ivy, grew blisters, and lay in bed each night aching in every muscle.

Towards the end of the week, our troop would be leading a hike through "unmapped land".  No one told us what we would find.  We would be following markers through brambles, over boulders, with only a rudimentary path beneath our feet.  Barb Cross could not contain her excitement nor I my dread. 

We stood in the rain one day for the process of grouping ourselves in pairs for the next day's hike.  I looked and felt miserable as the others jostled together, laughing about the rain's causing their hair to frizz, guessing whether we'd hike if the rain did not stop, pairing off while I stood forlornly by myself.   No one wanted me, not even a pretty girl from Springfield with whom I had become friends.  But Barb Cross stepped forward to choose me and then she did an even more unthinkable act: She volunteered the two of us to rise at dawn, go to the place where the trail-blazing would occur, and use our compasses and a map of the area to mark the trail that the others would later follow.

I lay awake that night until no sound drifted to me from others sleeping in adjacent bunks.  I could not imagine why Barbara chose me except from pity.  I would slow her progress; I would fall; I would doom our task and cause her to be humiliated in front of the several participating troops and the camp leaders.  I fell asleep with silent tears streaming  down my cheeks, their saltiness stinging my chapped lips.

I slid out of the building in the morning, dressed in slacks and the only shoes I owned.  I had tied my braid with a Camp Fire Girls kerchief and stashed a few supplies in a small pack.  I pulled aside the canvas and peered out:  the rain had gone, leaving behind cool sweet air and a gentle freshness.  I stepped down, steadying myself on the unpaved bare ground.

Barbara waited for me, a stout backpack beside her, in which she had stowed the red flags that she and I would tie on branches to guide the others who came later.  She carried an ax.  I shuddered when I saw it.  But I forced myself to remain composed as we moved toward the road.

Barbara had the map provided by the counselors.  She took us across a clearing and into the woods, where we found an initial, large red flag which told us where to start the trail.  Then Barbara moved past it, wielding the little hatchet at the spindly new growth of trees.  I followed her, tying red cloth to the young trees every few feet, dodging to avoid being slapped by the branches whipped away by Barbara's strong arms. 

After we had gone a hundred feet, Barbara stopped and looked back at the narrow clearing that her efforts had created.  Fire rose in her eyes as she surveyed the path down which the other girls in the group would come.  They would not have to do much to navigate the way; she had done more than the leaders expected.  She glanced at me and grinned; then resumed her forward trek.  The sun crept higher.  Sweat rose on my forehead but I kept going.

I fell a few times.  Barbara immediately dropped her pack and came back to me, gently lifting me from the floor of the woods and brushing debris from my back.  Each time, she stayed until I found my footing again, then moved away, retrieved her backpack and ax, and started forward again.  She moved farther ahead of me as I tired, but we both kept going, Barbara working the compass and the map, me just following Barb, tying red strips of fabric every four or five feet, feeling the burn in my chest. 

I don't know how far our efforts took us, but suddenly, we broke through the forest to another clearing.  This one stood on the edge of a lovely ravine.  We crossed the clearing and looked down.  What we beheld could not be called a canyon but it certainly took our breath away as surely as the deepest gorge.  Barbara let out a grand laugh and threw her arms around me.  "We did it!" she cried.  "We made it!  We did it!  You and me!  Not those other girls!  You and me!"  We fell on the ground, laughing, congratulating each other, even though in my heart, I knew that but for Barbara, I would have failed and turned away in desolation.

Later that day, we followed the rest of the girls as they made their way through the forest using our red flags as guides.  They widened the path, cleared the brush created by their efforts, trampled down undergrowth so that eventually, even the youngest campers could walk that way.  When the group of us broke through the woods to the clearing by the ravine, we discovered that a picnic had been laid, with portable tables, coolers, chairs, and food.  Our troop leaders awaited us.  

But Barbara and I walked past the impromptu party to stand together on the edge of the ravine, looking down at the rocks, the straggly trees, and the floor of the ravine with its small stream and untamed growth.   We did not speak.  The sun shone full upon us.  I felt a sense of peace flow through me.  I don't know if Barbara shared that sensation but a few minutes later, she touched my arm.  I looked at her.  A smile rose on her face and I felt my own face relax beneath her gaze.  And then, still without speaking, we turned away, and went to join the others.

That evening, Barbara and I paired again for the nightly flag-lowering ceremony.  She worked the ropes with her strong arms, to slowly lower the flag from its pole in the center of the camp while Taps sounded  throughout the camp.  I stood beside the pole, gathering the end of the flag.  She took the opposite end as it came down, and gently unhooked the flag.  She walked away, stretching the flag straight, then methodically moved towards me, carefully holding the flag taut so it would not touch the ground.  Barbara folded the flag in the manner that our leaders had taught us, moving closer and closer to where I stood, until the last fold.  She neatly tucked the end to keep the flag in form until it would be hung at Reveille the next morning.  Then she held the flag reverently in her extended arms, again, as we had been taught.  We walked towards the main building while the last notes of Taps played and the sun set.

Mugwumpishly tendered.

Corinne Corley

This flag flies from my home, the Holmes house.  When people come to visit me for the first time,
 I tell them to look for a blue house with red trim and an American flag.  
They never have any trouble finding me.
If you want to review the Flag Code, you can find it here.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday Musings, 18 April 2015

Good morning,

Bread rises in a pan and a sheen of oven cleaner steams on the inside of the stove.  In an hour or so, I'll slide the bread onto an oven rack and hope for the best.  My first batch of gluten-free bread will be history by ten.  As guests arrive for coffee at nine, I'm hoping this experiment sings.  I think about other culinary efforts which failed:  the lemon pie in which I forgot the sugar; the buckets of cherries and a recipe which called for cherry pie filling from a can; the first steak on a grill pan which this non-meat eater completely ruined.  I don't have a back-up plan so all I can do is pray.

This recipe called for three minutes of beating on medium speed in a stand-mixer, which I don't have.  I've had two:  My great-grandmother's ancient model which got lost in a flood, and the one that Dennis and I bought at Target to use on shortbread.  It's in Ohio, presumably, making shortbread for him.  I got the metal mixing bowls and the cast-iron skillets in trade.  I'm okay with that.  I used the hand-mixer that I stole from my sister Adrienne by dint of never returning it.  The dough seems none the less worse for the substitution.

I didn't use my mother's yellow bread mixing bowl.  I thought about it, but truthfully, if it broke, I would not lightly forgive myself.  I see her so clearly standing over that bowl at the kitchen counter with her hands covered in flour.  She wears an apron over her Sunday clothes, a dress she has donned thinking she'll get to Mass that day.  She smiles and gestures, bits of dough flinging from her fingers.  She wants me to do something but I can't figure out what.  The memory fades as the sound of my barking dog pulls me into the present.

I stand in my breakfast nook staring through the glass doors of the built-ins.  The yellow bowl sits on the top shelf with other Mom-bowls inside of it.  I pull the door open and run my finger across its surface, seeing my mother's face again, her thin eyebrows so like my own; her olive skin which I still envy; the warmth of her dark eyes.  I've been wondering, lately, what my mother would make of my life -- of the failed relationships, of the weirdly configured law practice with its mixture of appointed and low-budget custody cases, of my son who is so like her youngest, and the shared daughters whom I've tried to help as my mother helped me.

As I turn from the cupboard, the bowl in my hand, I see her standing in my kitchen but it is just a trick of my mind.  Her apron has a sprinkle of flour and a dotted line of milk.  She holds her hands against her waist, and her head turned in the way that I so keenly remember.  I feel my own head tilt and I meet her eyes.  Her radiant smile lingers in those eyes as she fades and I see straight through to the overgrown lawn outside my backdoor.

I turn and set the bowl down on a table.  I've decided not to use it, but I want to photograph it.  You never know:  Things get broken, sometimes through no fault of anyone, sometimes just because our fragile belongings come in contact with sharp edges and hard surfaces.  There's no use placing blame when something breaks.  It's just a fact of life.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saturday Musings, 11 April 2015

Good morning,

Above my mantel hangs a print of an original work by an artist named William McNamara.  I gaze at it and remember standing near the spot depicted by the delicate strokes.  I recall visiting Billy in his home; the crinkle of his eyes when he smiled, his quiet spirit.  I did not know him long or well.  But his picture takes me back to the Boston Mountains, to the headwaters of the Buffalo River, to a summer spent struggling to make sense of rural life.

We stand on a path that would be a road, Chester White and I.  Sweat pours from his brow; dirt streaks either cheek; an Ozark warrior.  His jeans sit loose on his hips; his shirt bears the heavy rings of stain that only real labor can induce.  Badges of honor here in the country, where work-outs involve not treadmills but tools, and calories fall into the furrows plowed each morning.

Chet and I are city folks.  My knees creak as I walk from truck to tree, set the thermos and cooler on a stone, and turn to survey our morning's work.  Chester has kept five or six feet ahead of me, with spade and shovel, digging smooth the ground on which I have begun to lay the river rocks.  He stands in the roadway with his legs spread wide for balance, bending, digging, pitching dirt, while I trudge to and from the site where he has piled the rocks.  He's hauled them from various places on this mountain: from creek beds, from the river, from the left-overs of others' endeavors.  

It takes a lot of rocks to make a road.

We gingerly ease our bodies to the ground and rummage in the cooler for our lunch.  I pour cold water from the thermos and Chester drinks greedily.  He's done by far the bulk of the labor.  All week while I pushed paper in my home office, working my two or three cases in the small town where we live, he's dug, he's hauled, he's pitched piles of stones rounded by centuries of water from the truck bed.  My part pales next to his effort but my legs ache nonetheless.  I've never done manual labor other than the year that I worked as a maid in our parish convent.  Hot waves of pain course through my muscles but I smile at the man beside me.  We envision this road as being the driveway down which we will one day walk, to the home we will build, to the porch on which we will rest in lovely hand-carved chairs.

As we eat our meal, I think about the first time that I camped on Reynolds' Mountain, about the flying snakes which Chester had convinced me threatened my long hair.  I had tied my braids under a bandanna and furtively glanced at the towering branches, wondering what made their leaves shudder. I had not seen the glint of humor in Chester's eye as he walked behind me.

A year later, we've started building this road together.  I feel an ache in the foot which I broke doing the Chicken Dance at the Murray Church, the day this man and I got married.  The shooting pain disturbs me more than the burn in my legs.  I think that maybe I need better shoes; I loosen the laces and rub my arches.  We talk in lowered voices; mostly we sit in silence.  Then Chester stands and gathers the wrappings from our sandwiches.  He walks towards the place where we've parked the truck and for a brief second, the light of a thousand summer days surrounds him.  

The glow startles me.  At almost the same instant, a shot rings out and Chester freezes.  I leap from the ground.  I see his body fall but no:  I am imagining that; the shot is far away.  My heart slows; I pause.  Chester shakes his head, annoyed with the hunters who've broken our calm.  He continues on toward the truck, bathed again in sunlight.  Just as I start to follow him, a cloud passes over the sun and a chill runs through me.  I stop again and raise my face skyward, thinking that we have a lot to do before the rain.

Twenty-seven years later, here in Kansas City. I think about the road we did not finish; the house we did not built.  I look around me, at the wooden surfaces of this home, at the beautiful porch which Chester created, years later, another summer, another situation, with his daughter and my son playing together in the yard.  I reach no conclusions other than to realize that my coffee has grown cold and the sun has risen.  It is time for chores.  From another room,  I hear my alarm telling me to rise but I've been awake since five.  I listen to its notes and find myself smiling.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

"Headwaters", William McNamara, 1986, 12/750

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Saturday Musings, 04 April 2015

Good morning,

I slept eight hours last night, though not consecutively.  I struggled awake at 7:00 a.m., vaguely aware of having read for an hour before sunrise.  Now, the coffee has not yet perked; the Metaxalone has not yet hit my nerves, and fog still grips my brain.  A story that I meant to tell about Easter in the Ozarks eludes me.

But a few things must be said.

More of my life spans behind me than before me.  I've promised to live until I reach 103, but awareness of the fragility of my body cannot be shaken.  A young man who reads my writing and bears my surname warns me:  If the message is spoken, it will be lost.  But that same young man called me yesterday to ask me to re-acquaint him with "The Rules for Almost Perfect Laundry" which I authored and posted during his childhood.  So perhaps he, too, will indulge me.

For today's musings share not a story but Mama Corinna's Rules for Almost Perfect Living.

Without further ado, my list:

If dessert is offered, eat it first.  You don't know when a quake will snatch the fork from your hand, or the plate from the table.  Or the table from the house, for that matter.

When a friend leaves her walking stick on your porch, take care of it.  She plans to return.

Keep a volume of pleasant verse on your bedside table for sleepless nights.

Speak your love while there are ears to hear, breath to quicken with your avowal, a heart to flutter at the sound of your voice.

Stand before a mirror unclothed in the silence of your bedroom, with no one nearby, and study your image.  Smile when you meet your reflected eyes.

Stretch your limbs before rising.

At least once each year, haul everything from your closets and sort through the mess.  Return to the drawers and hangers that which you genuinely use and like.  Give the rest away.  Decline the offered tax receipt; tender the stuff freely, expecting and taking nothing in return.

Grasp any outstretched hand. Acknowledge but ignore your misgivings.  Trust begets trustworthiness.

Surround yourself with joy but tread also in places where joy cannot be found.  Bring your radiance to those dim and tragic corners.

Embrace your uniqueness; and delight in the quirkiness of others.

And breathe.  Always remember to breathe.

I have Jewish friends celebrating Passover; Christian and Catholic friends celebrating Easter; and a whole bunch of folks like me who merely delight in the shimmering spring.  My love goes out to each and every one of you.  My life has been enriched by every person who enters it:  those who linger and those who leave; the aimless and the purposeful; the loud and the lonely.  I can only hope that each of you feels as blessed as I do.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

This delightful lady is my niece Lisa Corley Davis, taken on Easter Sunday at my  parents' home, circa 1980.  The lady in blue is her mother, my sister Joyce Elizabeth Corley.
On the porch: my father, Richard Adrian Corley.  In the original, my mother's profile can be seen to my father's right.  I am not sure who is standing next to Joyce.

Happy Easter, Happy Spring
Happy, Happy Everything!

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.