Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Musings, 25 July 2015

Good morning,

A text from Texas startled me into taking my seat at my secretary, laptop open, mug by my side.  Coffee and musings.  . .? read the little blip from an old friend.  I smile and answer: Working on both, and sidle over to the keyboard, opening a fresh page, giving way to the memories which jostle, push, shove and plead to flow from my fingers to the world. Or to the small segment of the world's population which, along with my devoted friend in Texas, favors me with a few minutes of their mornings each Saturday.

I have one less reader today, unless Heaven has the Internet.  My cousin Paul left us on Thursday.  In my keenest memories, Paul sits in a wheelchair or runs in a field.  I think of him as a child, a young teen, and then in the last years of his life when ALS crept along his limbs and tried to own him.  I rarely saw him between times.  In fact, after I left St. Louis in 1980, until I began to visit my family with more regularity in the last five years, I might have seen Paul a half-dozen times, most often in funeral-black.  My mother, my brother, my father, his mother, his father.  And once or twice at cousin-gatherings.

Images of Paul rise unbidden and he smiles broadly in all of them.  "Paulos the baby bull", I remember calling him, though I don't remember why any more than I know why we called his brother Charlie, "Carlos the baby car".  Neither of them seemed to mind, Paul least of all.

My son and I visited Paul at home in 2013, and I went alone earlier this year.  I arrived at the house in St. Charles while he and his care-provider for the day were out getting lunch, and I stood in the driveway, in the still of a spring morning, watching birds flit from branch to gutter.  When the vehicle carrying my cousin pulled beside me, a stern man slid down to the pavement and asked my business, in a terse voice.  But Paul beckoned from the other side and the man's face relaxed into a friendly pose.

Paul and I embraced when he had exited in his wheelchair and landed beside me near the back deck.  He called me his beautiful cousin and held onto me as though it meant something.  When we had settled inside, after he had eaten, his attendant disappeared into the back of the house and Paul turned his full attention to me.  How is my beautiful cousin, he asked.   I felt beautiful when he said that, one of the few moments in my life when I have.  Paul's voice had that power:  he spoke only truth, truth as he saw it, and you had no difficulty believing him.

I shrugged away his questions about my tumultuous life.  We talked about his CD, his wife, his children, a baby on the way.  He spoke of his parents and my little brother.  Then he asked me something that I did not expect.  Do you believe in God, Corinne? 

I assured him that I did, not feeling that my belief had the force of his, sure that it did not.  He accepted my answer, though.  And do you believe in angels,  he continued.  I could respond with more conviction.  Yes yes, I certainly do, I proclaimed.  Angels in human form, angels in spiritual form, all kinds of angels.  Paul nodded, satisfied, unquestioning.  Then he told me a long story about a priest who had visited him and told him about a dream, or a vision -- something that included people and places that Paul knew to be in his ancestry.  Paul felt the clergyman foretold of Paul's impending arrival in the heavenly company of his long-deceased great-grandparents.  I did not dispute his theory; I have no doubt that some type of spiritual reunion awaits us.  I doubted even less, then and now, that if entitlement dictates our eternal destiny, Paul had enough credits to bring himself and many others into paradise.

We sat in silence for a few minutes after his story.  Paul beamed at me.  He asked, for the third or fourth time, about my son.  I told him another tidbit or two of what I knew of Patrick's whereabouts and doings.  He asked about my stepson, about my work, about my health.  He told me -- as Paul always told me -- that he loves me.  We fell quiet again, a peacefulness surrounding us.  I listened to the sound of the home -- its creaks, the whirring of some machinery in its bowels, stirrings in the backroom which told me that the care provider hovered near enough to come to aid but far enough away to respect any privacy that might need respecting.

When Paul spoke again, his voice had dropped an octave.  He startled me by mentioning my father.  I loved your Dad, he said.  His bright eyes met mine.  I had no response.  What Paul knew of my father's truth, I could not say and I would not destroy any memory that Paul might have had.  But Paul himself spared me from any need of disingenuousness.  I know your Dad was not perfect, he assured me.  We both understood that what he meant was, I know what your Dad did, or I think I know.  He leaned forward, his frail torso swaying slightly.  My father and your father had a great friendship, he told me.  My father never gave up on Uncle Dick.

He raised his eyebrows and turned his head, just so, to let me know that I should take a deeper meaning from my Uncle Joe's dedication to my father.  I could not stop the tears which rose in my eyes.  Then Paul changed the subject -- sort of.  You're a fabulous writer, Corinne, I love what you send me.  Paul and I gazed at one another for a few minutes, me wondering what he was trying to tell me, and him holding the brightness of his eyes right where my heart and soul met.

Then I noticed that his breathing had become labored, and I knew that I should go.  I rose from my chair just as the attendant came into the room, no doubt having heard the heaviness in Paul's chest.  Paul engaged the joy stick of his motorized chair and guided me to the front door.  I leaned down to put my arms around him.  I could not be sure that I would see him again.  Just before I left the house, we posed for the obligatory selfie, me holding my cell phone high, both of us laughing.  I swear he pinched me; I think he tried to do rabbit ears but I wiggled away.  Then he kissed me and told me, again, that he loved me, and I assured him that I shared the feeling.

I looked back as I got into my car.  He had not moved, nor had his smile dimmed in the least.

I saw Paul only one other time, at the cousin reunion on Memorial Day weekend.  I ran across the grass to meet him.  While his beautiful wife Kathy got their belongings situated, Paul and I hugged, and laughed, and teased one another.  My beautiful cousin! he exclaimed.  My beautiful cousin Corinne!  And in the moment, I felt beautiful.  I felt cherished.  And I felt a crowd of angels flocking around him, waiting, watching, biding their time but close at hand.

Those angels came for Paul again, two days ago, in the evening, at home, no doubt with those whom he loved close at hand.  I woke to the news on Friday morning and a grey veil closed over me.  Even though I know that Paul's earthly burden had been great in the last year, and his faith carried him to heaven, still, I felt sadness -- not for his death, but for my loss, and his wife's loss, and the loss of his children and grandchildren, siblings, nieces, and nephews.

I can tell you that Paul would be all right with my mourning him.  Though he expected to be reunited with those who have already died, he also understood that we cherish our time here on earth.  He never said to me at least, Do not mourn me.  I told Paul, on my last visit to his home, that it really hacked me off that he had ALS, that he had to suffer, that he would die so needlessly, so soon.  He shrugged, lifting his weak shoulders skyward.  What can I say, Corinne, he laughed.  I'm a great guy, I feel for you -- I'd miss me too, if I were you.

Our laughter carried me home that day, and it will carry me through his funeral on Monday, just as Paul would want.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Me and Paul, my beautiful cousin.

If you would like to know more about Paul, and buy his CDs, you may do so here.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Saturday Musings, 18 July 2015

Good morning,

The sky sheds tears today, whether of joy or sorrow I cannot discern.  I stand on the porch and watch my flowers shudder, raise their stalks and stretch into the nourishment.  I go back into the house and get the coffee which I have warmed in the microwave.  I leave the front door open so the breeze will stir the cobwebs and disspell the stale air.

I did a home visit yesterday to a young man who shares two children with the wife from whom he is divorcing.  The children, age 3 and 2, clung to their father through most of the visit, occasionally drifting to their grandmother or me.  The older child, a girl, does not walk or talk due to a chromosomal abnormality. She weighs only eighteen pounds.  Her prospects have not yet been determined.  Surgeries await her, far beyond even my imagination.  She peered at me with luminous eyes, and when I spoke her name, she reached for me, climbing onto my lap, clinging to my long hair.  Her father said, Watch out, she's stronger than she looks, she'll pull your hair hard, but I did not mind.  She nestled into the crook of my neck and against my chest, gazing at my face.  Her mouth curled into a cupid's bow.

My mother told me that my older brothers pulled me on a cart through the hallways of the hospital before my own first surgery.  My right knee, grossly swollen, could not bear even my slight weight.  I don't remember this.  But I do remember being made an honorary member of the Club of Children Who Eat Dessert First by my father, after some doctor told them that I had to gain weight.  Calories are calories, they told him.  Decades later, when my dear mother-in-law wanted only ice cream, I told my favorite curmudgeon the same thing.  Give her ice cream, Jay, I would say.  Calories are calories.  And he did.

Just as my father had.

When I saw this little girl, my gut tightened and I flashed to the judge who had appointed me as her guardian ad litem.  I think I know why I got chosen.  He knows I'll do right by this child.

I drove from that child's home to my Liberty office thinking about a piece of pie my father served me one time.  While my siblings ate tough, cold calves' liver, I nibbled the edges of my mother's flaky crust, letting the juices of the filling soak into each tender bite.  I sat to my father's left, on the girls' side of the table.  Some nights, my father raged, lashing out at elbows with the flat side of his table knife, sending one or the other of us downstairs with our plates to eat in the old coal room.  He took table manners seriously, did Richard Corley; and he took back-talk even less well.  Until my mother had the walls of that old coal room scrubbed clean and taken down to make way for modern heating, any child disobeying the meal time rules would spend some scary moments standing at the doorway listening for my father's tread on the basement stairs.

But that pie set before me by my father, how I savored it.  I ran the tip of my tongue over each tine of the fork, then took another minute segment of the wedge into my mouth while my brothers watched.  The onions on their plates congealed and our father scolded them for lingering.  Finally, I took the last bite and set my fork down on the plate, grinning around the room, meeting my mother's eyes.  She shook her head and my throat clenched.  Then she stood and told my brothers to clear the table; and she brought everyone dessert.

My father served a second piece for me.

One day early in my first year of law school, one of my classmates hollered at me to wait for  her as I got on the elevator.  Students were usually required to take the stairs.  The elevator worked with a key, and only faculty got one.  But  an exception had been made for me.

As this woman followed me onto the elevator, she said, I wish I had a key to this thing, you're lucky, Corinne. I faced her as we rode to the top floor.  I'll make you a deal, Deborah, I snapped.  You can have my key, if you take everything that goes with it. 

She asked what I meant.

 You've got to take the pain, the open stares, the leg cramps, the feeling of being different in a weird and awkward way, different in a way that you can never overcome.  You've got to take the nasty remarks of men, the laughter when you fall, the uneasy glances of people skirting around you in the hallway.  I stopped.  My chest had tightened.  My face felt flush.  The small space held the heavy burden of my resentful words.

The woman turned away from me, staring at the door, no doubt praying for it to open.  Well gosh, Corinne, I just meant I wanted to be able to use the elevator, you don't have to get all shitty on me, she said.  When the door slid back, she bolted.  I let her go while I tried to calm my breathing.  I waited until I felt sure she had darted into her classroom, then slowly made my way down the corridor, dragging my sad right foot, the weight of my bookbag  banging against my other side.

I hear the rain falling on my deck, hear the rumble of thunder and the whisper of wind.  I close my eyes as the storm overtakes my city, and lightening splits the sky.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saturday Musings, 11 July 2015

Good morning,

The newspaper could have depressed me this morning, had I been in the mood of being blue.  The charming story of a police officer buying shoes and diapers for a shoplifter's six daughters nearly got lost in the juxtaposition of the Confederate flag debacle down south and the Trumpeting of bigotry.  Omar Sharif's death occupied a smallish filler, and the resignation of a Cabinet member anchored the left side of the second page.  A lopsided world, the printed page -- and one gone to press too early for the scores of the rain-delayed game of my home-town team.

So I let the newspaper fall into the recycle bin and go to the kitchen for more coffee. I sit down at the secretary, the desk pulled out, the computer waiting.  I glance at a figurine on the bottom shelf -- a little boy playing a pipe.  I never asked my mother-in-law about the origins of any of the delicate objects which she kept in this secretary.  I'm regretting that now.  I check the bottom of the figure and see the words, Hand painted in Hungary.  I wish I knew where Joanna got this little guy.

Yesterday I confronted a decision which I must make on Monday:  Whether to recommend termination of the parental rights of a three-year-old's imprisoned father.  The violent and lamentable circumstances of conception prompt the child's mother to want to protect her daughter from the biological progenitor.  If a stepfather waited to adopt, I would have no problem with the choice.  But my client's twenty-one-year old mother simply wants the Court to sever all legal ties with the man.  While I agree that the child should have no contact with him, I hesitate to make the situation immutable.  What about Social Security benefits, should this man die, of which he has a greater chance in prison and back on the streets as a felon?  What about the little girl's thoughts on the matter, which no one would now ask and which will no doubt fluctuate over the coming years?  What about the chance of rehabilitation, which surely exists, however marginal?  Am I then the arm of God, to sever this connection?  Is it in the child's best interest?  That the man has consented -- should this be enough to convince me, if his horrific conduct were not?

Over a lawyers' lunch yesterday, one present spoke of a schizophrenic defendant's quest to gain release after hospitalization on an insanity plea.  Between that conversation and my meeting with the three-year-old's mother, I am reminded of a woman whom I once represented, whose paranoid schizophrenia resulted in her wholesale inability to provide for her children.

I might have written of her in these pages before now; but she still haunts me.  Please, forgive me if I repeat myself.

Children's authorities in Kansas took my client from her mother at age twelve, and placed her with an aunt who worked full-time and left her alone after school unaware of her emotional decline.  My client started roaming the streets all afternoon, searching for the family she had lost.  She told me the story early in my representation, when she still held a small thread of sanity.

She sat in my office and spoke of the migrant workers who tarried under a viaduct by the foster home where she lived as a teenager.  Her thin pale face tightened.  She raised a hand empty of the cigarette she craved in my non-smoking office.  She twitched her blond hair off her bony shoulders and pulled her shoulders together.  I realized that I was one of them, she told me.  I was Mexican.  I had to be.  Why else would I feel so good when I walked the streets with them? They had to be my real family.  I knew that.  It felt wonderful, to find my people -- to have my people find me.

She began to speak Spanish, taught to her by the drifters, one and then another, blurring together, seemingly the same people, week after week.  One of them fathered her first child before moving west for the winter harvest.  By the time her second son came into the world, she had completely disassembled and no longer even thought in English.  She stopped feeding her children.  Someone called the state; the children went to families able to care for them while the court sorted out the situation.

I got a guardian ad litem appointed to represent the interests which I could not get her to consider.  We made what choices for her we could -- agreed to services, insisted on psychiatric evaluation, got orders for therapy.  But our client's condition deteriorated.  She stopped eating, stopped visiting her boys, stopped appearing in court.  She came to see me once, bearing a large velvet cloth with gold fringe.  I wanted to give this to you, she said.  She presented it to me, draped it across my desk, peered triumphantly into my eyes.  Isn't it beautiful?  You've done so much for me, I just thought of you when I saw it.  Please take it!  I tried to demure -- a lawyer should not accept gifts from a client, particularly a crazy appointed one.  But she backed away from the fabric, dropped the bag in which she had brought it, and dashed from the room, muttering, You've been so kind.

I never saw her again.

I withdrew from her case, in time.  I could not do more for her.  Parental rights to both her children eventually were terminated, and I assume the families who fostered her babies got to adopt them.  Six months later, I saw her name in the paper.  Aurielle. . .arrested for snatching a little boy from his front yard.  The article recounted the event, including that the woman had a friend cruise past the house from which she took the child, telling him, that's my baby.  It was not.  The child did not even resemble her sons, but he looked like her:  Blond hair, blue eyes, porcelain skin.  The boy was reunited with his family, and my former client went to jail.

I sent an e-mail to her public defender, describing my dealings with the woman, urging him to get access to the Juvenile Court records of her sad decline.  He did not reply.

So the innocence of the children haunts me today.  The innocence of the children, and the sorrows of their parents.  Sometimes I leave work with an urgent need to stand under a hot shower until my skin shudders under the water's sting.  On other days, I just want to sit in my porch rocker and let the evening air soothe me.  I come home from court and call my son. I re-read my favorite Sara Teasdale poems.  I gently, carefully, open my mother-in-law's secretary and stroke the silken surface of the pretty things which stand on its shelves.

And then I make a cup of tea, go back outside, and let myself surrender to the stars.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saturday Musings, 04 July 2015

Good morning,

I hadn't seen our black boycat for several days but he ambled onto the porch a few minutes ago and now he's noisily eating.  Each time the catfood nears empty, I wonder, will this cat stop returning -- should I buy more? But I do; and he does; and now I'm in my rocker as usual, watching him nibble with one eye on the passing dogwalkers.

Morning: Brookside, Independence Day.  The day after I set the record for Corinne-Walking, going from David Jones' Gallery on Walnut to Ruthie Becker's Gallery at 18th and Locust; and back again, spurred by the crowds, by passing cars with blaring hip-hop, and Ms. Jessica Genzer's stellar smile.  Young friends might be my salvation.

But I am paying for my fun, aching and sore this morning as only befits a nearly-sixty woman long past her expiration date.  The sun warms my bent neck and trembling arms.  I cross the living room and stumble, almost dropping the last cup of coffee which I've warmed in the microwave.  I right myself, make my way back to the porch, sit in the cool air thinking of fireworks gone by, of children staring into the sky, of my toddler son clinging to my blue jeans, of blankets spread on lawns and cars parked at angles in a cornfield far south of here, where home fireworks are legal and the men of the family show the children how it's done while the women carry pies to the picnic table and wash the supper dishes.

Jessica and I shared a couple's table at Grinder's last evening, ordering veggie sandwiches, gluten-be-damned.  Dozens of people clung to their seats while hungry First-Friday-ers milled in the doorways.  The heavy scent of cooking meat and beer drifted through the room.   An easiness settled on my shoulders for no particular reason that I could discern.

At Gallery 504, Ruthie Becker folded me in her slim embrace and offered cups of Sangria.  We followed a friend of hers to the Alley and watched the dancers for a while before heading back to where we had left the car at the far end of the Crossroads.  Jessica took my picture in front of the robot that lives on a light pole at 18th and Grand.  We skirted the foodtruck crowds and the little girls sitting on the hoods of their parents' cars with paper plates balanced on their laps.

At David Jones' place, I stepped inside to thank the displaying artist whom I had met there at the start of the night.  A young woman born and raised in Iran,    Behnaz Miremadi stood before her paintings with the quiet elegance which reminds me of my mother's Lebanese aunts and cousins.  She made no apology for her heritage.  She acknowledged the troubles of her country and the terrible plight of women there; the incongruity of the country's stark beauty and awful history.  Her calmness spread to my agitated brain, and I let myself be pulled into her serenity.  

The night ended.  I drove us back to the Holmes house.  As I fell asleep, I thought about these Musings, a contemplation in which I rarely engage.  The stories of my past, the tales of my practice, the scenes through which my life has taken me, usually rise unbidden on Saturday morning as the birds call to one another and the sun rises in the east.  But this morning, the peace and glory of a night spent among the revelers at First Friday hovers in my heart, crowding out the memories, pushing away the indignation of social injustice which I sometimes feel compelled to share.

Independence Day, 2015.  The sixtieth year of my life.  Our nation's 239th birthday.  A flag waves from the Holmes house, the stitched flag we bought two summers ago and hung with such care.  Its pole has cracks and the heavy iron holder in which the pole rests has gathered rust.  But the flag still flutters, rippling in the soothing breeze, as the sun climbs behind me and caresses my tired limbs.  In the distance, the occasional blare of fireworks testifies that Kansas City has already started celebrating.  Here on my porch, the glad chirping of the birds hales the beauty of this day, and I am content with their pleasant song.

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.