Saturday, December 31, 2016

31 December 2016

Good morning,

It's just my luck that I finally get my new website properly configured and this morning, the entire webhost where it will live has gone dark.  Punctuate this paragraph with a heavy sigh and pour another cup of coffee.  Ah well, I tell myself.  Next week for sure!  I surf over to my law firm's site which of course, cannot be loaded because the webhost itself is down.  I try anyway.  I stare dejectedly at the empty screen with its pixelated frownie face telling me this site cannot be loaded.  No kidding.  Meanwhile my cursor jumps around the blogspot, my coffee cools, and the dog stares dejectedly at her empty dish from which she's just inhaled 3/4 of a cup of $10/lb. dog food.

A Hershey's kiss leftover from last night's snack rolls across the tile on which my mug sits and I pretend to ignore it.

New Year's Eve.  The dawn of a new chance for whatever I might be able to snatch from the jaws of the old year and plant in fertile ground.  I pad around my house on the scuffed leather of the hand-knitted slippers which I bought in Half Moon Bay and think about all the repairs this house needs.  The chores loom large:  A broken window that's been pouring air into the upstairs bedroom since 2006; wooden slats dangling from the blind across the room; a faulty garage door opener; flimsy screens that jump their tracks; finish worn clear-through to wood at the front stoop where the dog tends to tinkle on days that I oversleep.  I pour another cup of coffee and close the broken cabinet door over the wall from which old wallpaper peels under poor priming and the wrong kind of paint.  I add "salvage the kitchen" to my mental list.

I cannot suppress another sigh, but a laugh quickly follows.  I hear my mother's voice admonishing me to marry a physical therapist.  At this juncture, I might adopt a carpenter.

New Year's Eve.  I'm thinking of all those midnights standing on our front porch banging pots and pans.  My brothers take to the stairs by the street shouting Happy New Year! at the passing cars.  My mother's silhouette in the front door holds a green melamine cup full of hot Lipton tea.  I'm on the sidewalk with a pie pan and a heavy spoon. My face flushes from too much hot chocolate or the excitement of the moment.

Fireworks start in the distance, just ahead of the ball-drop in Times Square which flickers on the black-and-white set in the living room. No one watches it.  My father has gone to bed and my sisters have all gone on dates.  Only my brothers and I see the turn of the year in Jennings, dancing in a gentle shower of silent snow on the icy street.  We shiver without coats; the pink rises high on our cheeks.

New Year's Eve.

Today I will clean my house and sort the papers that I've shoved in the drawers, junk mail mostly but also a clutch of Christmas letters from people who remain clueless about the drift of my life.  I run my fingers along the gilt edges of the greeting cards and put myself in their places.  I don't send Christmas cards.  I used to comb the stores for the perfect message and scrawl a personal note on each one, signing my name coupled with those of anyone else living in my house at the time.  I stopped a few years ago.  It doesn't seem bearable any more.  The physical act of addressing all those envelopes and writing my solitary name might kill me.  I think about my old high school friend Jan Lemond whose husband died last year and shake my head.  Stop your belly-aching, Corley, I say outloud, hoping to convince myself.

New Year's Eve.

I'm told that I'm remembered fondly and I guess that's good enough.  And Jeanne Serra said yesterday that I looked "ding dang cute".  To be fair, she said that Hope, Patrick, and I looked cute in our group photo taken on the balcony at Cindy's in Chicago, but I'll claim it as a compliment anyway.

I walk along the driveway and stare dejectedly at the brambles and the scraggly bushes in my yard.  I've let myself and my surroundings go to hell again.  I aspire to be memorable, at least for someone, at least for something.  But all I've got are the words on this page, and they run cold and meager in the end.

In a few hours, I'll have coffee with Jenny Rosen.  She'll tell me to get my act together.  She'll kick my butt and pinch my cheek.  And afterwards, I'll sweep the cobwebs from the corner and dust Joanna's piano.  I'll spray that sweet-smelling freshener on the green couch -- the couch I despise, the couch I never wanted -- and fluff the pillows.  I'll re-arrange my rocking chairs and sweep the kitchen floor.  By the time the new year rolls round, I'll be so tired that I'll sleep through the dawn of 2017.  In the pale light of morning on its first day, I'll bang my pots to herald its coming.  The old dog will cast her baleful eyes in my direction.

I'll tell myself it's a good enough start, and I think, maybe, it is.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

"Tell the truth about your wound, and then you will get a truthful picture of the remedy to apply to it. Don't pack whatever is easiest or most available into the emptiness. Hold out for the right medicine. You will recognize it because it makes your life stronger rather than weaker."

Post-script:  Next week, these Musings will be posted for the very first time at the new website. 
 You will be able to go directly to it and subscribe.  You will find it at:

Happy New Year, my friends. 
 Thank you for your patience, your loyalty, and your kindness.  
My wish for your 2017:  
Peace, prosperity, and joy.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Be well.

--  CC

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday Musings, 24 December 2016

Good morning,

On waking, I saw that I had slept through til nearly first light with my tablet lying on the futon beside my head.  I had been reading an odd novel poorly translated from Norwegian. Its premise had been promising, but I had read several earlier works in the series and steeled myself for clumsy phrasing.  It made for a good bedtime distraction but left me wondering if it read better in its native tongue.

I had thought the noise of the trains would bother me but I fought sleep for the time it took to settle.  Then at dawn, the intermittent rising and retreating thunder of the cars on the tracks sent a reassuring hum into the window. As I pulled myself from sleep, I remembered.  Christmas Eve. A stack of gold-wrapped presents stand on a table in a corner of my son's living room.  I'm nine hours from Kansas City and a lifetime north of home.

My mother and I stand in the doorway between the hallway and the living room where the lights of the tree wink their rainbow glow on the window.  I'm past the point of believing so I have spent the last hour wrapping the gifts from Santa to my little brothers.  At ten, I've already developed a slight maternalistic sheen towards my little brothers Frank and Steve, who at seven and six still reverently carried the plate of cookies and glass of milk for Santa.  Frank lit the Mary candle to light the way for the Christ child; Steve placed the baby Jesus in his spot in the creche.  I stood behind them feeling smug.  Then they got sent to bed while I rummaged in the wide closet between my mother's room and the breakfast room for wrapping paper, scissors, and tape.

My mother carried the gifts from the North Pole to her little boys and gently placed them on the breakfast room table.  She gestured to me to move quietly so the boys could not hear through the curtains on the French door to the sunroom where they slept.  A little thrill rolled through my body.  I felt so grown -- let into a private club of people who know that Mom is Santa Claus.

I made the corners of the presents sharp and crisp, securing each flap with tape as Mom taught me.  I averted my eyes as Mother wrapped the presents for me.  I knew that the labels would bear a special message in her writing:  "Merry Christmas to Mary Corinne".  She never forgot, like the little kiss before you go off to school in the morning with a belly full of warm cocoa.

It took a half an hour to carry all the boxes into the living room.  My father sat in his chair with the evening paper while we worked.  He had read the Bible story before the boys scampered off to bed.  His Christmas duty extended no further.  Mother and I arranged the presents, heaviest in the back, smallest on top, the ones from me to my parents to the side.  We kids drew names for gifts to each other, so eight small gifts already stood under the tree.  Mother carefully lifted those to make sure they could be easily found, for each gifter would present to each recipient.

When we had finished, we stood in the doorway surveying the lot.  My father hoisted himself out of his chair with a grunt and moved between us to go into the kitchen and rinse his coffee cup.  Mother lifted her arm and wrapped it around my shoulders.  Neither of us spoke.  The Christmas tree rose nearly to the ceiling, its shower of tinsel glistening in the warmth of the twinkling lights.  

I don't know what thoughts weighed heavily on my mother's heart but I  felt a long shuddering sigh course through her body.  She finally broken the silence and said, "I hope everybody likes their presents."  I turned and hugged her, nestling my face against her shoulder.  "Oh Mom," I exclaimed.  "They will!  They will!"  And so we lingered, mother and daughter, until my father came behind us and said he thought they should be getting some sleep.  

I lay in bed until I heard the older children trooping home just after midnight mass.  The murmur of their voices lulled me to sleep.  Right before I drifted off, I realized that snow had begun to fall outside my window.

Five decades later I know so much more about my mother, though not from anything she told me.  I've worked so long with domestic violence victims that her stress and worry have finally found  a name.  I've also met enough returning veterans to understand the trauma which my father suffered as he drove his mule through the muck and mud on the Burma trail in 1945.  The vagaries of war ravaged his young mind, sending his neuro-pathways in directions that his DNA had not been programmed to traverse.  I'm not excusing him.  Nor can I say that my mother should have rebelled against the milieu of 1950s America to leave her abusive husband.  But from this distance, I have a little empathy for them.  I have an inkling of the quagmire my mother's fears, and the mess behind my father's gruffness and his fury.  On some level, that sigh on Christmas Eve makes so much more sense.

As I lay in bed awake this morning, my mother's face rose in my mind.  I hear again her voice above my head that Christmas Eve so long ago as I stood snuggled against her slim body.  Merry Christmas, Mary Corinne, she whispers.  Merry Christmas, Momma, I tell her.  And God bless us, each and every one.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The commuter train on its way to Wisconsin, early this morning outside my son's window.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday Musings, 17 December 2016

Good morning,

As I drove home last night, I could not keep thoughts of my little brother Stephen from drifting into the dark interior of the car.  I parked and left everything in the footwell -- the bottle of wine from my process server Scott McKenna, the box of chocolate from Lori Hooten Roller, a small bag from Aquarius with a couple of little trinkets to augment a gift for my son's girlfriend.  I pulled my coat tighter around me, called softly to the dog, and climbed the driveway.

Nothing had changed in the house.  Its stillness hung over me.  The piles of abandoned coats had not been straightened, nor the shoes carried upstairs.  I thought about the last trial of the year, scheduled for Tuesday, and wished I could figure a way to ditch my duties and stay home all week to clean.  But that won't happen.  As I let the dog into the house, I could hear my brother's deep laugh.  The ringing of my cell phone startled me and when I saw my sister Joyce's number, I felt relieved.

But only for a second:  Dismay flowed into my heart as she spoke in low tones, the tones one uses from a hospital bed when one's iron has plummeted and no one knows why.  Did Ann call you? she asked and I shook my head.  Who knows?  I never stop for a moment at work, except to refill or reheat my coffee or stand over my secretary reconnoitering.  Santa Claus or his elves could have called a dozen times with urgent questions and I would have not known.

Joyce explains her situation.  She refuses my offer to come for the weekend and take care of her dog.  I watch the rice boil, turn it down, secure its lid.  I shake the gawdawful expensive food into the dog's dish and watch her gobble its morsels faster than I've ever seen any one or anything eat.  In the dining room, I clear a place for a small bowl and my tablet, mentally scolding myself for letting my obligations overwhelm me to the point that if I had a child and a social worker paid me a surprise call, I'd be hauled to jail or at the very least, offered in-home services.  The thought prompts a short burst of laughter and the dog glances at me, curious, before she pads into the front sitting room to curl in her bed and sleep.

As for myself, I finish my rice without really tasting it.  I stand in the center of the cheerless living room with its weary winter plants and mismatched pillows.  Dust covers the surface of Joanna's piano.  My eyes close.  My brother's face rises before me: the small smile, the strong chin.

I am sixty-one.  In eight days, on Christmas, my brother would be fifty-seven.  But he dances forever in my heart, young, younger even than his last age, as young as he was when I took myself from St. Louis to live in this town on the western edge of the state.  In my mind he will forever be twenty-one and have no cares.  Or at least none that have yet risen to claim him.

Before I slept last night, I rummaged in the boxes cluttering the built-in shelves in my bedroom.  Somewhere, I must have something that my brother gave me.  A piece of jewelry, a picture, a note.  I come away with nothing other than a smear of grey grime on the edge of my palm.  I fall back on my knees, ignoring the pain in my artificial knee.  Surely there's something left.  I used to have his coffee mugs, two of them, but I gave them to his daughters.  Small compensation for his absence from their lives but all that I could offer.  I cannot pay his debts.  I cannot resurrect him.  But neither can I let him go.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Stephen faces the camera on the right-hand side of the table, and I sit to his right.

In Memory:

Stephen Patrick Corley
12/25/1959 - 06/14/1997



(from Brokedown Palace, words by Robert Hunter, music by Jerry Garcia)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday Musings, 10 December 2016

Good afternoon,

A long time ago, fifty years or more, I invented a place which I called "the state of Me".  Its rivers and streams existed only in my mind.  I could amble without interruption or care.  In the world of terrifying sounds and sobs, my younger self closed my eyes and retreated into the gentle contours of the state of Me which only I could occupy.  I did not mind being alone.  The only other images which crowded my mind as I lay on the top bunk in the room which shared with my sister Joyce could send me into closeted hysteria so letting  myself sink into the clouds in the state of Me seemed harmless.

If I lost my focus, my mind filled with an imaginary yellow crayon, the fat kind, from the primary school box.  Broken, with a torn wrapper and black flecks, the crayon moved of its own accord, forming concentric circles.  I huddled in the middle, feeling the weight of its fat blunt point bearing down on me as it made the inner dot, hard and crude.

By comparison, the state of Me held endless stretches of green, dotted with clumps of cheerful flowers.  Tall old trees rose against the blue horizon.

After thirty-three years of practicing law, I understand what happened to me to send me into that daydream.  Nowadays we routinely send our young clients or our clients' children to therapists who let them role-play.  They toss water from cups and move dolls around in houses while the suburban housewives who went back to school after their children left home scribble in their notebooks about the poor kiddos.  Back in our offices, we cast judgment on whomever we decide is at fault.  We have our own notebooks, sometimes electronic ones.  We write a few paragraphs and hit send or hand the letter to our secretaries to mail.  When the condemnation hits its destination, somebody loses custody while somebody begins the process of adjusting to a new and desolate life.  We don't have a lot of in between in my world.

Outside the courtroom, the new wife or girlfriend or the new man paces, glancing in the window now and then.  A shrill judge, a pushy lawyer, a clerk without a sympathetic bone.  The last word falls into the recorder and the gavel follows.  The clean-cut attorneys pack their bags and snicker, pretending their amusement has some source other than the crestfallen parent.  The winners pack fast, while the loser sits in stunned silence.  Whichever professional has presented the unfavored case strains to hold back the post mortem until later, on the phone, with a cup of something hot on the table and a friend at the other end.  Meanwhile the parent whose child will never recover from the trauma of the changes about to unfold sits in a darkened living room wondering where life took a nasty irreversible turn.

A prospective client once asked me what my win/loss ratio was.   His earnest expression suggested that he could judge a book by its cover and an attorney by the number of ticks in the W column.

There are no winners or losers in this work, I told him.  Just a reordering of life for the children, and the relentless need to carry on.

Life's like that, even here, in the state of Me, with a week's worth of coats strewn around the living room and a pile of old paper coffee cups on the floor of the car.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

I had spent an hour in the chilly Pacific spring holding my cell phone, waiting for the sun to set.  Just as it began, this couple stopped taking pictures of each other and stood still, together, watching the shimmering of the ocean in the golden light.

March 2015, Pescadero, California

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Saturday Musings, 03 December 2016

Good morning,

Something I saw or heard this week awakened memories curled tight deep in my subconscious.  Was it the car fire that I watched with morbid fascination? The sudden cold snap? Photos of my old high school on a Facebook group page for the parish where any connection to religion shriveled under the unrelenting glare of angry nuns and the insidious leer of a lecherous priest?

The face which rose from the gnarled knot of images has gentle contours.  Rose Novotny.   Google tells me that this is the most common Czech surname.  Rose had a lilting accident.  Lithe and blonde, Rose wore her uniform with a careless grace.  Her hair grazed her shoulders.  Two pale blue eyes flanked a strong nose.  I envied her soft perpetual smile.

Rose lived in the little house on the school grounds.  Her father cleaned the buildings.  Another family occupied that house before or after them; I can't recall the sequence.  In fact, as I write, I question all of this.  It could have been a dream.  Perhaps she did not speak to me with kindness, or help me when I dropped my books on the stairs.  Perhaps her clothes did not sit easy on her shoulders.  But that is how I remember her.
On a cold afternoon the fire drill bell rang.  We filed outside, and formed a line with our classmates.  My bunch stood in front of the little house; its door swung open and Rose's mother stepped outside.  Her hands fell softly on the full white apron as she watched the students jostle one another.  Rose raised her own hand to greet her mother, standing sure and solid on the stoop in her heavy shoes.

Someone snickered.  I felt a flush rise within me and glanced around to see who might have been the one.  A quick whisper whipped through the line.  Faces turned to look at the lady from another country whose husband emptied the trash cans.  I turned to find Rose.  She stood without moving, her eyes locked with her mother's gaze.  Helplessness overcame me as I realized that she knew all too well what others thought of her, of her family, of their strangeness.  I stood apart from all of them and waited while the teachers walked back and forth with their instructions for our future fire drills.

The line fell silent and began its movement towards the building, back to our classrooms and our seats.  I lost sight of Rose.  Turning back, I watched her mother take up a broom and begin to sweep the pavement.

The alarm insists on my attention even though I've been awake for hours. As I cross the room to silence its bleating, my eyes fall on a headline on my tablet, a quote from the German chancellor encouraging her citizens to welcome immigrants.  I stand reading the story for a few moments.  I shake my head; I reach to silence the alarm and in the following quiet, I think again of Rose Novotny, living in that little house, crossing the parking lot every day for school.  I wonder if I've only imagined her and her sweet mother.  Did they exist?  Did they come from Europe to Jennings, Missouri?  And did they dwell on the grounds of my parish?  Did that derisive laughter ripple through a line of crowding children standing in the cold while the teacher counted us?  And if it did, was Rose the victim of that ridicule or was it someone else?

I let the memory fade and go about my morning, no wiser than an hour ago; no more certain.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saturday Musings, 26 November 2016

Good morning,

It seems that I have been writing these Musings forever but it's only been eight and a half years.  So much has happened in that time; so many stages of my life, so many losses and even a few gains.  I cannot decide if I'm in a river swimming against the tide or a bottomless pool struggling to reach the light, resisting a relentless pull downward.

The world pauses for a moment.  Today's early light falls gently on my shoulders as I skitter through the fallen leaves towards the curb with a small bag of trash to add to the larger one already piled there.  I wear my grandmother's house coat flower-side inward, snapped, a folded handkerchief tucked into its bric-a-brac trimmed pockets.  My son sleeps.  This day holds work for him, ten hours of it.  Tomorrow we meet friends for brunch and supper; Monday he returns to Chicago.

The visit has gone quickly.  He came with the intention of being a help to me and he has done that.  He walked the dog, cleaned the house before the arrival of our Thanksgiving guests, drove us around on all our errands, and listened to a friend and me tell stories of courtroom antics.  But he also showed some aspects of his mid-twenties self;  I discovered a lot about my boy.  He runs deep.  He still has little faith in himself, something he learned from me, I'm sad to say.  Yet I have not surrendered my belief in him and I have no intention of dying or relenting.  My mother thought that I could succeed in anything I tried.  Her death at 30 deprived me of my most faithful fan.  Without her encouragement I slid into mediocrity.

Yesterday morning, I watched a little family walk past my house.  Father, mother, sister, brother.  Their daily treks to and from their home began before the birth of either child -- newlyweds hand in hand.  I watched the bulge of pregnancy grow under the woman's clothing.  A baby buggy signaled the happy event.  Later a little toddler pushed that same buggy; and father walked along beside.  I don't know their names, or in which house they live.  I speak only small words to them -- 'good morning', 'happy spring', 'nice weather'.  The man nods or waves.  The woman does  not turn her head towards me, not ever.  She does not break stride.  But the children smile and return my greeting.

I measure my tenure here by the evolution of that family.  I've lived here since before the birth of either child.  I've watched their children grow from babies to scampering grade-schoolers in the uniform of the nearby Catholic parish.  Slightly older than them, my son has gone from a daycare baby to an M.F.A. since we first moved to this neighborhood.  I've married  twice.  I've staggered through the stages of grief for the loss of a brother, my beloved in-laws, and both marriages, both husbands.  I started this blog during the summer of 2008 when my son had gone to Mexico as an exchange student and my husband had decamped for his Ohio girlfriend's arms.  I've tried to be kind; I've tried to be thoughtful; I've tried to avoid the maudlin and the self-absorption that I see in other forums.

A lifetime of stories has fallen from me to these pages, into the little rectangular boxes, driven by the marching cursor.  Faces that I strain to remember dance here.  My little brother lifts me, twirling me around in an airport while my boyfriend stands as an eternal outsider nearby, holding my suitcase.  My mother walks through her front yard, sits beside me on the porch, and listens to my sobbing stories of the failed East Coast experiment.  Doctors, clients, friends, lovers, other people's children -- they all tramp through the paragraphs and pictures that I pour onto these pages.  I hit the "publish" button and hope for the best.  I don't want to embarrass anyone, though I can accept humiliation on the heels of my own candor.  Those who have loved me took that chance.  The gamble of potential revelation.  A roll of the dice.  A bargain:  You give me a few years of your time, and I acknowledge that I might appear in the pages of your life's story.

Except for this:  None of those people understood that whatever else I am, I have always been a writer.  Mediocre, perhaps; unambitious, certainly.  But from this vantage point, looking backward, I see that other than perhaps my father, every person in my life has seen me as something relative to them.  A friend.  Their lawyer.  A short-term employee.  A casual girlfriend.  A troublesome wife.  Mom.  Daughter.

My father though, for all of his terrible burdens and awful actions, understood what no one else acknowledged.  He wanted me to practice law, but he also knew that the writer's gene had gone from his father to him, from him to me.  Neither of them let their lives take that path and nor did I.  My grandfather had a family to support.  He went to law school, started an insurance exchange, and became a gentleman farmer.  The poems which he had written for the journals at Notre Dame give tribute to his literary bent.  My father, on the other hand, went to war and came back a damaged man.  All that exists of his writing gift are a handful of sentimental verses that he wrote about my mother in the five years between her death and his.

I am not much better.  I write these little essays and send a link to them around to a few dozen friends.  My immortality comes only from the annoying fact that nothing on the internet ever quite goes away.  You can do a Google search of my name and find both blogs -- My Year Without Complaining; and these, the Saturday Musings.  Otherwise, there's nothing to show that I lived as a writer, not even a stack of coffee table books in the remainder bin at a failing bookstore.

I tell myself, you're only sixty-one, you're not dead.  More importantly, I scold my son:  Don't do what your mother did.  Don't doubt your talent. Don't throw away your life on a career just to pay the bills, even if you sometimes enjoy it.  Follow your passion.  Believe in yourself.  He shrugs.  He'll make a little face when he reads this but I don't care.  He can be angry with me if he wants.  I'd tell anyone's child the same thing.  I told my stepson.  I tell you all:  Follow your dream.  And: Look inward for your validation; the admiring bog will drift away when a louder frog emerges from the muck.

Now the sun shines full upon the waning year, outside my crooked shades and rain-streaked windows.  The unforgiving blast of daylight reveals the meagerness of what I've garnered from my awkward life.  The fullness of time seems to have won the war.  But maybe not; maybe just the most recent skirmishes.  I take a deep, cleansing breath.  I wait.  And while I wait, I keep writing.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday Musings, 19 November 2016

Good morning,

Here and there the piles of clutter threaten to grow and overwhelm me again.  I sit in a flannel nightgown listening to a distant roar that could be a trash truck except for the day of the week.  The neighborhood resists awakening.  Only my dog barks.  A quieter hum speaks from the basement, of winter nights and the fireplace which must be cleaned if I plan to use it.  It has sat idle for the last few years.  Perhaps finally I will set a match to crumpled paper and kindling again to let its flame roar high.

Now I see the pale glow of sunlight on a brick wall across the street, dappled and daring against the shadows.  A line of stairs marches to the cracked sidewalk on which a cat stalks something in the leaves.  From my window, I watch it all, even the ghosts darting across my yard with their makeshift capes flying from their small shoulders.   A slender woman led by her blue-grey border collie moves noiselessly beyond the pane in front of which I stand.  I see her nearly every day -- narrow frame, razored hair, round black eyeglasses.  She  holds her eyes forward.  She does not know that I am watching; or if she knows, she pays no heed.  We learn this way of walking in our solitary world.

Thanksgivings of my past crowd round, begging to be told.  Cornish hens in a fire-fed pot-belly stove; names pulled from a Christmas-gift hat; chores divided by eight who scurry around the house when the bell rings.  I've talked of them so many times.   Each day of thanks; each turkey; each plate of pumpkin pie.  I shrug them off and keep my vigil.

Now the sun crests the line of houses to the east and sheds a fuller light on the scene outside.  Traffic increases on my little street.  Pale leaves drift through the fragile air, shed from the heavy crown of the maples overhead.  I cross my arms and hold my body motionless.   I stare through the window with its broken sash and sagging shade.  I could not tell you what I think will come. I only know that I still wait.  I still wait.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Saturday Musings, 12 November 2016

Good morning,

At nearly 8:00 a.m., a second pot of coffee simmers on the one-burner.  Breakfast dishes and mugs await the flow of water into the kitchen sink.  The bags of food for the high school's food drive stand on the porch.  Outside, the dog finally falls silent, having vanquished the wind or the crimson leaves drifting to the ground.  I see a stretch of delicate sky in the space between the broken slats of the blind.

My brother's family, or a fragment of it, has already trooped down the front stoop out to their truck and driven away.  I held my cell phone as they left, thinking to snap a photo at least of them.  But I couldn't stop smiling and the moment passed.  The teenagers slipped into the back seat, Frank and Teresa into the front, and off they went to the Swope Park soccer fields.

Many months have faded away since the last time young voices murmured in my home; since the pulling of a cork from a wine bottle after the sun has set and responsibilities have receded with the quieting of the neighborhood.  The grown-ups talked until midnight while the high-schoolers, Mark and Devin, the youngest of my brother's sons, watched flickering screens and savored their team's victory over Rockhurst under the Friday night lights.

As I watched Frank leave this morning, a hundred stories from our childhood clamored to be written.  The time he fell off the back of a pick-up truck at the end of a long line of cars involved in an accident.  His profile, standing in the kitchen, intently explaining to his siblings how you turn a styrofoam cup inside out without the thing imploding.  My mother's anxious vigil over the telephone, waiting the problematic birth of one of Frank's older children.  His wedding; his graduation from St. Louis University High School; the happy noise of Christmas Eve jambalaya.

My favorite memory of Frank involves me, and the terrible menstrual cramps which plagued me in my own teenage years.  I lay on my bed in the coveted front bedroom.  I heard Frank's voice in the kitchen, saying, she doesn't look sick.  My mother's low reply eluded me so I don't know what she said.  But a little while later, Frank brought me a tray with a plate of vanilla wafers, a cup of tea, and the comics section from the evening paper.

When we lost our baby brother, our number tipped from Even-Stephen to eternally odd.  Frank became the youngest living member of the once infinity Corleys.  I think it must be a daunting spot to occupy, holding the banner for four hands, two brothers, the little boys.  But his broad shoulders have borne the burden of raising seven children, standing as one with his college sweetheart.  He's proven himself to be capable, to be honorable, to be the best of what his parents' genes afforded him.

Frank and Teresa intend to come back tomorrow, between soccer games, to get an old desk that I think would look good in their refurbished schoolhouse, their weekend home out in the country lanes of Missouri south of St. Louis.  I bought the thing at auction more than a decade ago, intending to restore it.  I never have.  I think my sister-in-law will make it shine.  I'm hoping that even though they will have just a few minutes in the morning, we'll get a photo of my brother and me.  I'm feeling the fullness of time.  You never know when he will pass this way again, or whether, when he does, I will still be here.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

My nephew Devin tends to a crying doll, the purpose of which is to inspire teens to avoid having children too soon.  Given the example which my brother Frank has set, I expect his sons to be wonderful fathers.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Saturday Musings, 05 November 2016

Good morning,

It's half past five.  The back door stands open.  Little Girl, the old brown dog, wanders around the back yard snuffling the scent of other critters.  A warmed-over mug of coffee rests on the edge of the little table on which my computer sits.  In an hour, I will drive north to a hotel near the airport where I will serve as Sergeant-at-Arms for the 2016 District Conference of District 6040 of the Rotary Club.  I never expected to join anything, not in the south end of my middle-age.  Being a member of the Waldo-Brookside Rotary Club gives me something to which I can look forward, week on week; and crystallizes my life-long yearning to be of service.  I don't quite fit into the mix with other Rotarians, but their kind hearts move aside to accommodate my bumpy contours.

I'm thinking of the letter "J" today -- as in Jay, Jabez, my favorite curmudgeon.  Two years ago today, with the victorious Republican election still shimmering in his ears, Jay slipped from our grasp and went with his waiting Joanna into the divine circle of eternity.  Because I must be north before 8:00 a.m., I will not be able to visit his grave today.  I will take flowers tomorrow; but for today, only the devotion of my heart will give him honor.

As I fell asleep last evening, I thought suddenly of one of many afternoons when I sat by his side.  Into the pureness of our relate, a little barb intruded.  Someone did something nasty, something to hurt me, something small and unwarranted.  Who and what no longer matter, and I will not speak them.  But Jay reached his hand to mine, flustered, almost furious.  I'm so sorry, honey, he said.  Our eyes met and we sat for a few moments. I murmured something, it's okay, I don't mind, and he shook his head.  He understood what I felt.  He had no power to control anything at this time.  His power had waned, except for the hold over me.  I bent over and wrapped my arm around him and said, firmly, louder, It's all right, Jay; please, pay it no attention. I'm all right.  I felt a  wrenching sob and then his frail arms reached around my body and we held one another.

I desperately wished the person who had taken such pains to sting me with their superiority could see that the arrow had missed and plunged into his heart.  But I let it go.  I stood and raised the shade.  I found the book which I had been reading to him, and began the next passage.  His hands arranged themselves on the cover that lay across his legs, and his eyelids lowered.  A smile passed across his face.  Sleep overcame him.  I kept reading.

I only knew my favorite curmudgeon for five years.  As my father-in-law, he showed me a purity of compassion.  He did not approve of much about me -- my politics, my breezy way of relating to my son, my headstrong will, my housekeeping.  But none of that mattered in the end.  From the spring of 2013 when we began a tandem course of care for his wife until her final days, to the dark November of 2014 when he himself passed from the grief and longing for her that had come to consume him, Jay and I forged a bond that in  my own dark hours sustained me like no other gift.  In his last few weeks, I listened as he spoke of his feelings for his children, his grandchildren, his cousin Anne Jones, his nephews Tom and Steve, and most of all, his beloved Joanna.  He lamented his flaws.  He spoke of his mistakes.  He told the same stories, over and over, his body shaking as he laughed in the same places.

Between the memories, he spoke of regret and his unrelenting desire to have been a better man.  He greeted me at the start of every visit with the same questions.  Are you all right, honey?  Do you need anything?  Do you have enough money?    Other questions, more pointed ones of which I will not here speak.  I answered the same each time: yes, yes, yes.  He would urge me to tell him if I needed anything.  I promised that I would.  Neither of us put to words what I might need.  We let that go.

Last night, I hit a parking barrier with the Prius which I drive, the one that used to be Joanna's car, which I got after Jay died.  I didn't hurt it, as far as I know.  Fatigue had overcome me early in the evening.  I hurried from a fundraising benefit, desperate to be home, my eyes wonky, my legs hurting.  I backed off the concrete barrier, tears welling in my eyes.  I've put so many dents in the plastic of this little vehicle which I feel blessed to drive, which inexplicably seems to be my last connection with my favorite curmudgeon.  Sometimes I feel like parking it and wrapping my arms around its funny nose and wailing.

 It's time to go.  I have to shower and feed the dog.  Perhaps the sun will rise before I pull out of the driveway.  I'll see its crimson tinge cresting the horizon and know that I've survived another long and dreary night.  A little nugget of hope will struggle to the surface.  Perhaps I'll find a quarter on the sidewalk.  I'll lift it from the ground and run my finger over its edge, thinking of Jay, wondering if he's trying to tell me something.

I love you, honey.  I love you too, Jay.  I know you do, honey.

His last words to me, before he slipped away.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Jabez Jackson MacLaughlin

To read my Musing from the week of Jay's death, CLICK HERE

To read My Year Without Complaining about carrying out one of Jay's last instructions to me,

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Saturday Musings, 29 October 2016

Good morning,

I can tell the day will confuse me.  I awakened in the dark with the phone's alarm bleating.  I smashed my hand on the virtual button as though it had depth and texture.  I lay with tight chest and aching  legs, grappling with the gloom and trying to figure out why the alarm had sounded later than I intended.

But even so I fell back asleep for an hour, dragging myself downstairs when I heard the dog whining.  I brewed coffee and listened to the latest debate about whether some e-mails prove the Democratic presidential nominee should not hold office and a clip about the Republican nominee's lecherous conduct.  I shook my head and sat in the dining room, surrounded by nearly the same mess that I've been observing since September.  Outside the dog barked into the morning.  At the back door, I watched the tinge of pink spread over the eastern horizon, looking at my clocks, wishing my phone had awakened me as early as I planned. I remained baffled, worried about my competence. The morning had started without me.

Another half hour would pass before I figured out that my devices had re-set themselves to Pacific time.  Wishful thinking has infected everything around me.

A ghost slipped into the house and sat itself down at my table.  It's a woman, with a beaked Syrian nose and liquid brown eyes.  Her bald head rises above the starkness of her gaunt face and bony shoulders.  My mother's frail body barely caused a ripple beneath the sheet after her death.  I want nothing more than to remember how she danced through life.  If she insists on haunting me, I want her ghost to wear blue denim wrap around skirts and short-sleeve colored T-shirts, with a cross-body home-made corduroy bag slung round her plump torso. Instead her emaciated body trembles now, as her ghost surveys the clutter around her, the flotsam and jetsam of my depressed days.  She raises her hairless head to fix her gaze on me.  Her message sears my heart.   I pull my body from the chair and pour another cup of coffee.

During my grad school days, I frequently drove from the city where I lived to my parents' home in Jennings for Sunday dinner.  Those were my hard-core vegetarian days.  I ate what we'd call "vegan" now, no dairy, no eggs.  Eventually I'd settle into a "lacto-ovo" vegetarian phase which opened a lot of culinary doors.  But during those late 1970s, when I strove to cleanse my body of the toxicity of my year in Boston, I consumed fruits, vegetables, beans, and water.

My mother found clever ways to feed me.  While she and Daddy ate fried chicken, I'd munch a black-bean loaf shot through with sunflower seeds and avocado.  I think my Mom read every hippie cookbook that the library offered just to lure me to her table.  Still she'd simmer soup on the stove, hoping to tempt me with fat noodles and stop the downward plunge of my weight.  She mildly suggested that I consider an Orange Freeze from Steak 'n' Shake when my weight dropped below 100.  I shrugged her off.  I dragged out the chapter of my adviser's book which I had been assigned to write, and described my theories and how I intended to articulate them.  I showed her my wait-list letter for the Fletcher School of Diplomacy.  She didn't ask how I'd pay for a D.C. apartment.  She just listened.

Beside my laptop, on the desk in what has become the guest bedroom, the stack of papers from my mad dash to finish my 2015 tax return gather dust.  The top layer has drops of blood from the frenzy when I sank a knife into my left index finger that night.  Twelve days later, the cut has almost entirely closed.  My butterfly job  along with an entire packet of dusty wound sealant staunched the flow of blood.  The top of my laptop still bears the christening sheen of brown powder.  I barely feel the pain any more.  Like so many other wounds, the surface healing covers its malaise.

Now the sun has found its way high into the sky.  The ghosts retreat.  My weeks-on-end of unrelenting work should have abated, but late yesterday afternoon the other side in a settlement reneged.  I'm faced with going unprepared into a trial on Monday, having been fooled by the mediator's certainty that the parties had reached an agreement.  I'm taking one day for myself, to wash a load of clothes and unload the perennial over-crowding in the dishwasher for which I must confess enormous gratitude.  Tomorrow I will rise early and go into the office.  I will do whatever preparation one can do in ten hours, including meeting with my client and his family after their church and Sunday dinner.

But for today, I will heed the fine arch of my  mother's haunting eyebrows.  I will haul the cleaning supplies out and scrub the scum from my lovely fancy upstairs shower.  I will strip the beds of their wrinkled sheets, and throw away the moldy vegetables.  I cannot do much to please my mother now.  But I can clean.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Saturday Musings, 22 October 2016

Good morning,

On my walk to the car yesterday, I noticed the mock Rose of Sharon  still bore wild lovely blooms pushing towards the sky.  Untamed, untrimmed, it covers the bathroom window and rises towards the roofline.  I stopped to admire its resilience.  Usually, someone has hacked it to the ground by now.  I know that I need to get the bush pruned, but for another day or two at least, I'll let it be.

As I continued to the end of the driveway, I found myself thinking about the mulberry bushes on Pick-A-Chick, down McLaran Avenue and up Avis Avenue to the deadend.

I couldn't be more than five or six.  Joyce walks ahead, carrying a pail.  I've got a bowl.  I'm wearing an old shirt of my father's, buttoned over my shorts and T-shirt.  The bowl thumps against my legs as I scurry to keep pace with my sister.  She's five years older than I am and walks fast, intent, determined to get to Pick-A-Chick before the birds eat all the mulberries.

When we crest the hill she runs forward, shouting, and a flock of crows rises into the summer sky.  We move into the grove of volunteer bushes.  It sits in a patch of ground which breaks the course of the street.  On the other side, the abandoned truck with pictures of chicks stands at one angle.  Or stood.  It disappeared at some point but in my mind, rusted there forever, giving the spot its nickname.

Soon Joyce has filled her bucket halfway.  I move more slowly, picking one small berry at a time.  My fingers grow stained with the purple juice of the ripe mulberries.  I sneak a few into my mouth til my teeth take on a red tinge and my lips look painted.  The front of my father's shirt has smears of berry.  Joyce half-heartedly scolds me for eating instead of filling my bowl.  She shakes her head.   She knows who will bring home the bulk of our haul.  

And she does.  An hour later I start to whine.  Joyce relents and we begin the walk home, three long blocks carrying our harvest.  When we get to the kitchen, we rinse the berries and store them in a clean bowl in the refrigerator.

Later my mother takes them out and folds them into a batter for muffins.  I stand on the little bench to stir for her, careful not to break the berries.  We put them in cupcake papers in the muffin tins, then Mother holds the door of the oven and slides the pans into the warm cavern.  I bend over and look through the window.  We'll eat the muffins for breakfast after church on Sunday, with fried eggs and bacon.  Mother will take only half of hers, cutting it clean and spreading margarine with care.  She'll eat slowly, and pick up the moist crumbs with the end of her finger.  One of the boys will gobble the other half,  which I know without asking that my mother really does want.  But boys must be fed.

I close my eyes when I take the first bite of mulberry muffin.  It tastes like heaven.  I push away the memory of my friend Sharon taunting me.  "Mulberries are for poor people!"  I don't know why she said that.  I think they are divine.

A lifetime later, I still wonder at the thought that the delicious berries would somehow be worthy of a little girl's contempt.  I suppose her mother had told her that only those poor Corleys had to gather wild mulberries.  I can picture the conversation in their kitchen, Sharon asking if she can go to Pick-A-Chick with Joyce and me, and her mother replying, "We don't need to pick  mulberries on someone else's property, we can afford to buy blackberries at the store."  I can buy berries now, too; but I would give anything to walk back to Avis Avenue, and scramble on the dead-end picking mulberries with my sister, while the crows cawed above us, waiting their turn at the delicious feast.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Here is the Google Map picture of my childhood home.  This was probably taken a while ago, and even so, it's changed from when I lived there.  But seeing it still makes me smile.
I love you, J-Bear.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saturday Musings, 15 October 2016

Good morning,

Another Friday evening saw me at dinner with one of my friends who keep me young, a sister-from-another-Mother who shares so much of what I believe:  Passion for helping; liberal politics; independence; fierceness in her loyalty and  her dedication.  Patricia Scaglia has pursued her life in ways that I would have done, had I not taken a couple of unexpected turns. So dinner with Tricia livens my week, but she's a couple of decades younger than I am.  I come home later than this middle-aged woman probably ought to do, and sleep far beyond my usual hour of rising.

This morning as I stand dismayed at the front door, beholding the determined rise of the sun over the neighborhood, I spy a postcard peeking from a pocket of my purse.  I slide it from the zippered compartment and stand holding it, looking at the front, reading what it says on the back.  I lower myself into the chair by the secretary, take a sip of coffee from my crystal mug, and let myself drift back to the day that the postcard evokes.

I won't tell the whole story.  I've written of it before today.  A new job; a drive to Westport to celebrate; a step onto the street in my new suede pumps; a driver blinded by the setting sun.  Crash -- body flying into the air -- angel in the heavens saying, It's not your time. Law Student Run Over By Iranian, Film at ten, ooh, aaaah, ah.  But the days afterwards, I rarely think of them.

My first bed at Menorah that evening flanked three others in a six-bed triage area at the old Menorah Hospital in the city.  I lay beneath a thin sheet with my right leg cradled in a humongous contraption to stabilize the 32 breaks, splinters, really, you know? and the crushed patella plateau.  I could barely see without the contact lenses which had popped from my eyes as I flew through the sky, with no one to break into my apartment to get my glasses.   I lay in misery, at once furious and forlorn.  Nurses and aides fussed around me.  A doctor stood over me, explaining that swelling prohibited surgery.  A police officer leaned down, telling me something. I could not discern his words.  Somebody muttered over and over and over: Hail Mary full of grace.  Hail Mary full of grace.  Hail Mary.  Hail Mary.  It took me a half hour to realize that my cradle Catholicism had arisen but had been dormant so long that I could not remember the next line of the prayer.

A figure loomed, holding a piece of paper and a Bic pen.  Sign here, sign here, said the voice, with an accent so heavy that it barely penetrated the fog of pain.  Just then, one of the ambulance guys snatched the paper from the man's hands, and a scuffle ensued.  When the commotion quieted, the paramedic who had peeled me from the asphalt sat beside me in a folding chair.  He told me that the driver had been arrested, that he had been there trying to get me to sign a paper saying I had not been hurt.  Hospital security had escorted him from the premises.  A guard would watch over me through the night.   He held my hand as the nurse administered a redeeming shot and I slipped into darkness.

By morning, my parents had come and persuaded my landlords to let them into my apartment.  They brought my glasses, a nightgown, a book of Walt Whitman poetry, and the engulfing comfort of their love.  Visitors began to troop into my room.  Law professors, classmates, my landlady, a handful of the happy hour partiers who had comforted me until the ambulance came.  Summer Shipp, who had seen me fly past her window from her office on the second floor, sat by my bedside for hours that first day.  She told me about calling the police because she had seen my body on the way down and thought I had jumped from the roof of her building.  Law student commits suicide, Film at ten, ooh ahhh ah.  But I had not jumped.  I had been catapulted with such force that I flew more than two stories towards the heavens.

The man whose sunset-blindedness had caused him to hit me did not come back.  Maher Altalathina, his name.  He had told the officer that he came from Persia and had no insurance.  Persia.  I pictured his olive complection as I lay in my bed.  His dark hair, his stocky body, his urgency as he tried to get me to sign a hand-written release.  My Syrian grandfather raged against the fellow when he heard about it.  What kind of man won't accept the consequences of his actions, he asked my mother.  He gave her money to help with my bills while I couldn't work.  He called me from his home in Springfield and told me he loved me. He told me to let him know if I needed anything else.

Summer Shipp continued to visit.  She told me that she and other business owners had petitioned the city for some kind of traffic controls at the intersection near where I had been struck.  They've put up a flashing yellow light, she assured me.  They're dong a study.  We're going to get a real traffic light, we hope.  I don't remind her that I had crossed between corners; I had jaywalked.  I had parked at the curb halfway between Broadway and Pennsylvania on the north side of Westport Road, and stepped into the street.  Her exuberance stayed my words.  I had become the symbol of her crusade.

I spent the next couple of months being moved from one room to another in the hospital as we waited for the swelling to abate enough for restorative surgery.  My friend David Frye brought my textbooks and tapes of our classes.  Other friends gleefully invaded with contraband -- bottles of wine, slabs of cake, steaming hot pizza.  Roommates came and went as I enjoyed a respite from whatever my life had become that I could not handle.    I never wanted for company.  In some weird way, those two months did more for my self-esteem than the two preceding decades.

As spring approach, Summer Shipp continued to visit me.  One day she brought me the letter from the city advising that the traffic signals had been approved.  She sat by my bed and told me that nobody would ever have to go through what I experienced.  There would be a proper walk signal.  Her flushed and gleaming face conveyed her sense of justice having been served with me as its poster child.

I left Menorah Hospital in a cast from ankle to crotch, a bottle of narcotics, and a flutter of worried admonishments from the hospital social worker.  She thrust a list of phone numbers at me, placating her own instincts which cautioned that releasing me to my fourth-floor apartment could be a mistake.  My parents drove me home and stood behind me as I crutch-walked all the way to my door.  I fell asleep in the green recliner while my father unpacked groceries and my mother put clean sheets on my bed.

The weird thing about being disabled most of your life is that when you're made more disabled, it almost seems like just desserts.  From that time in 1982, my right leg slowly degenerated.  Twenty years after the accident, an orthopoedic surgeon removed my knee and replaced it with the last of the old-styled artificial knees.  Another fifteen years have gone by; that mess of metal and plastic has not worked right for years, and the leg which we once laughingly called "my good leg" struggles to keep pace with its weaker mate.  But since the function of my artificial joint sits far down on the list of things that plague me, I hoist it when it locks and rub it when its phantom ache rages.

Sometimes I use that accident to explain the way I walk.  What happened to you, lady? children will say, in Target, in the grocery store, on the corner downtown when I'm struggling into court.  I didn't look both ways when I crossed the street, I say, in a serious voice.  I didn't cross in the crosswalk, like we're doing now.  I didn't hold my mother's hand.  With wide eyes, they tighten their grip on the fingers of their harried parent.  That won't happen to me, they say, and hurry away.

Now the city has decided that the traffic signal at Westport Road and Pennsylvania "does not benefit traffic flow or pubic safety".  Thus, they "have determined that the traffic signal should be removed".  I can hear Summer Shipp spinning in her terrible grave.  The angels above Westport are preparing for double-duty.  They're standing by, waiting, to separate those whose time has come from those who must stay, here on earth, for at least one more day.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Saturday Musings, 08 October 2016

Good morning,

Yesterday I sat with my head slightly bowed, hands held still in my lap.  My eyelids lowered, not with the burden of my fatigue but with resolve.  I felt my body strain, fury rising from my belly.  A quiver ran through me, hard and fierce.  The shudder subsided and I listened to the drone of my opponent.

Later, after the judge had pronounced her reluctant ruling in my favor, I trudged to the car pulling my trial bag behind me and remembered a late night in Brookfield, Missouri, when I argued jury instructions, sweaty in my blouse and wrinkled suit.  The judge had long since shed his robe and loosened his tie.  Each side had commandeered a different private room.

My boss and law clerk waited in the county law library as I ran back and forth to the courtroom.  Piles of law books toppled with each careless slam of the heavy old door against its frame.  I kicked my silly girl shoes from my feet as soon as our cadre hid behind the oak to grumble about the judge's complaints.  Wording, sentence structure, whatever we did, the man criticized us while the defendant's lawyers, smooth and serene, let the judge do their work for them.

John Arens, the head of my law firm, seemed unaffected by the activity.  He jiggled a stack of Susan B. Anthony coins from hand to hand.  The coins had become a symbol of the farmers whom he represented.  In those days, family farmers hoarded those coins, even as they struggled to keep their land, devastated by drought and the burden of borrowing when cash flowed free in the 1970s. Banks and the Federal agricultural lenders, the Federal Land Bank and Production Credit Association, pushed foreclosures and litigation to collect deficiencies from defaulting borrowers.  Our firm and a handful of other legal teams around the country specialized in representing the families desperate to keep their old homesteads.  Farmers across the Midwest huddled in their farmhouses, angry at the government, predicting the collapse of the economy and the sudden devaluing of paper money.  They buried cans of coins in the yards as insurance for the post-apocalyptic tyranny.

As we fought to defend one of those farmers, night closed around the courthouse.  Exhaustion overcame me.  Sweat ran from my law clerk's brow.  Ron, over-weight and puffing from exertion, pushed the nearest pile of law reporters aside so I could sit.  We  looked at each other, and at our boss standing unfazed at the other end of the room, smiling, calm.  At issue was the fate of our client's family farm, which his family had held for three generations.  Did the bank promise not to call his note on the default which followed the over-extending of his finances?  An exhibit which Ron and I had enlarged for the jury showed a faint erasure, the outlines of which John had quietly, calmly, shown a witness as the man sat humble in the box.  Yes, the banker admitted.  That is my handwriting.  I did change those figures.  I did alter that document.

We thought we had him.  We thought we'd proved that the man had fiddled with our client's application in ways that made the bank liable.  But if the judge did not approve the instructions we wanted, and let us submit the case for deliberation, that stunning revelation would be meaningless.  The painted farmhouse, the tidy kitchen, the stacks of split wood, the beds with their worn quilts -- all would be lost to the auctioneer's gavel with the rusty tractor, the bales of hay and the cattle which that hay was meant to feed.

Long glances passed between the members of our team as the bailiff rapped on the door and bid us to come back to the courtroom for the judge's last pronouncement of what claims he would let stand.  I drew my jacket over my rumpled blouse.  Ron pulled his tie over his head and straightened the knot.  John looked as freshly shaved as he had twelve hours earlier when we first came into the Courthouse.  His short grey hair lay perfectly combed across the crown of his head.  The starch of his shirt had held through the heavy heat of the old building.  He led the way, with squared shoulders and an easy bearing.

The  judge sat over us, on his bench.  He had not taken up his robe but had assumed his jacket.  I felt his gaze linger on the sagging contours of my face before moving to the quiet features of my boss.  Mr. Arens, said the judge, addressing the man who had forged the way through the law's murky waters to this moment.  You seem remarkably unconcerned about these jury instructions.

John smiled, an act which triggered a ripple of concern deep in my gut. I knew that look.  He set the stack of coins on our table and spread his hands.  Your honor, he replied.  I already know what I am going to say to the jury.  It doesn't matter to me what you decide to tell them.

In thirty-three years of practicing law, I have never seen a more shocked look from the bench, not in any courtroom, state or federal.  The next morning, when that judge read the  very limited set of instructions to the jury, the weight of his revenge fell heavy on our client's shoulders.  He had gutted our case, taken all of the claims which could have garnered punitive damages and reduced the matter to a simple breach of contract.  We got the jury but not the verdict that would have paid our bill and made the client more than whole.

We saved our client's  farm.  The jury gave us enough for me to go into the courthouse conference room with my pens and paper, and negotiate a debt write-down.  My boss never lost his placid smile.  Afterwards, when we had gone across the square to the bank and signed the papers, when we had driven out to the client's farm and eaten lunch at his mother's table,  Ron and I excused ourselves to walk around the yard and feign interest  in the vegetable garden.  Inside, John closed the case by negotiating his percentage.  Ten percent?  Twenty?  We did not know, and did not want to know.  Thirty percent of nothing should be nothing but somehow, it would morph into something hefty that filled sackcloths in the hold of our private airplane.

In yesterday's courtroom I had no trouble holding my face inscrutable as the judge ruled in my favor.  My opponent had reckoned without the legal holdings which supported what I wanted.  She thought she had struck some crude alliance with the court, that I stood on the outside of their circle with my client while she and hers dwelt in the inner sanctum.  She calculated badly, but I did not gloat.

I thanked the judge, gathered my papers, and took myself home.  I've learned my lessons.  Indeed, right can make might.  But it can also become fodder for revenge, and so I step carefully in every patch of grass as I make my way across the farm yard at the end of the day. My clients do not pay me in huge piles of coins, in crumpled bills bagged and stashed in a cargo hold.  But I learned from someone who made his living like that, and I learned my lessons well.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Saturday Musings, 01 October 2016

Good morning,

The roller coaster month of September glided to an uneventful stop last night and I stumbled from the car, hands grimy from clutching the bar, stomach lurching, hair whipped into a mass of tangles from the ferocity of the wind as the car plunged and climbed.  I staggered to a corner and collapsed, bruised and battered from the ride but exhilarated.  I celebrated with a warmed-over gluten-free pasta and a half-cup of Talenti Sea Salt Caramel ice cream, both consumed amid the bedraggled, neglected plants on my porch with murmured promises of dead-heading, watering, and re-potting this weekend.

I think of my son's childhood in October.  I see him and his friends dressed in Batman costumes, Power Ranger uniforms, as creepy ghouls with painted beards.  Slinging bags for candy, they would set out down the sidewalk, first in our neighborhood, then in south Kansas City or Roeland Park.  An adult would straggle behind them.  Occasionally we'd trick or treat for UNICEF.  As they grew older, we'd let them go out alone.  We would watch them depart, standing on our haunted porch, cobwebs hanging down around us, Irish coffees at hand.

The worst Halloween was 1998, the year of the Brutal Diagnosis.  In February I had been told that I had six months left, maybe a year.  I had grown pale and weak with an undiagnosed ailment.  I struggled to keep myself and my son afloat, surrounded by friends, the new man in my life at the time whom I would eventually marry, and a host of doctors leaving instructions at the Emergency Room to admit me if I came within five feet of its automatic doors.

That Halloween, nurses brought buckets of candy around to each room.  Any occupant awake enough to converse received a stash for dispensing to visitors.  I committed to letting other patients' children bother me.  An aide helped me wash and struggle into street clothes.  We pulled the curtain clear across the sleeping form in the next bed, an old woman who hollered throughout my sleepless nights.

Mona brought the boys to see me, Patrick and Maher, my son and hers.  Seven and eight, still too young to really understand my countless trips to the hospital.  I barely understood them myself and I'm fairly certain the doctors didn't either.  The boys came into my room with slow steps and timid faces behind their Halloween masks.  They held out their pillow-cases for the candy which I dropped by handfuls.  Maher scampered out again, but my son moved closer to me and offered a piece of chocolate.  I took it with the same seriousness, thanking him in a voice pitched low to match his.

You unwrap it for me, I said, and he did, carefully, folding the paper and setting it on the bedside table.  I broke it in half and offered one piece to him.  I scooted over and let him sit on the edge of the bed, his small body barely disturbing the thin mattress.  We chewed without breaking the stillness of the nearly dark room, while the woman in the far corner slept beneath a mound of covers in her bed by the darkened window.

Patrick finally spoke, clearing his small throat, aiming for a stage whisper.  Are you coming home tomorrow, he asked.  He pushed his Red Ranger mask to the top of his head.  I could see his eyes, wary, sad.  I had no answer but I lied.  I'm sure of it, I answered.  The doctors say I'm already better.  They had said no such thing.  They didn't even know what was wrong with me and weren't the ones who would eventually figure it out.  But this was my son whom I had left alone with a man he'd known for a handful of months, who had moved into our home just two weeks earlier.  How could I tell him that for all I knew, he'd be living permanently with Auntie Mona by Christmas?

My deceit soothed him, I supposed, for he slid from the bed and moved towards the door, re-positioning his mask.  As he went out to join Maher in his Trick-or-Treating at the Nurse's Station, my son briefly turned towards me.  I'm being really good, he told me, the words falling in trembles.  I strained towards him but he did not see as he scampered into the hallway.  I let my hand fall, and closed my eyes, while the gloom gathered around me and my neighbor's gentle snores filled the room.

Eighteen years later, the crimson leaves have begun to float from the umbrella maple to settle on the front lawn of the house in which my son spent so many troubled days and nights.  All of those faces have gone from this  place now, leaving only their ghosts to keep me company.   The autumn unfolds and the days of the year grow short.  I pull my shawl close around my shoulders, pour another cup of coffee, and stand on the porch, watching those ghosts cross the lawn, smiling in the chilly air of a perfect morning.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Musings, 24 September 2016

Good morning,

In a few hours, I will turn the Prius eastward to St. Louis, abandoning the dog and house to the best house-sitter ever, a woman whom the neighbors have hinted should adopt our little old Beagle-Lab mix since she renders far superior care.  I've been mumbling about taking the dog to the groomer; Catherine actually took her and did not even ask me for repayment.  The dog stands in the hallway mooning towards the guest bedroom as she usually does after my son has visited.  I'm obviously more suited to the disdain of cats.

The madness of mid-September has abated. Stillness descends on the waning days of summer.  The umbrella maple in the front yard bears tinges of auburn in her crowning glory; the monkey grass has bloomed and the black-eyed Susans have dropped their petals.  Soon I will shake the mustiness from the woolen quilt and bring my coats out of the cedar closet.  Winter looms.

Last evening I drove thirty minutes to walk through an art gallery at which an old acquaintance had a display of her hand-made jewelry.  I don't usually venture to the hinterlands but this display needed my attention.  The woman suffers from advanced cancer and needs money to pay for her treatment.  I don't know her well and have not seen her for years, but the strength of my affection does not dictate the degree of my compassion.  Besides:  I can always use a source of gifts. So off I went.

The rush-hour traffic demanded most of my attention but in the space between lane-changes and slowing for semis, my mother's face rose to claim brief contemplation.  Her wispy hair, fallen to the chemo; her olive skin stretched across sharp bones.  But even in her waning days, at least until the cancer claimed her mind, the warm eyes danced and the familiar curve of her smile greeted me.  I'd drop my bags in the living room and walk through the doorway to the bedroom where she rested.  Sinking to my knees, I'd wrap my arms around her neck and breathe her fragrance, a mixture of tea and powder.  Then she'd speak in her low throaty voice, uttering the familiar cadence of my name, and I'd stand and start to do her bidding.  Lucy's word had become law.

I spent so many Friday evenings, Saturday mornings sitting in her garden or by her bedside, depending on her strength.  I would babble about my little life, the life in Kansas City without cancer.  I didn't talk about the arguments with my boyfriend or the hours hunched over a bar top.  I avoided the lameness of my limited role as a city prosecutor and the sparse work in my private practice.  Instead I talked about the walks around the lake in Loose Park and my attempts to take yoga classes.  She listened carefully, no doubt hearing between the lines, but nodding, patting my hand, and asking for another glass of water or bidding me to play the New World Symphony one more time.

When I stepped into the Gallery last evening, the woman whose work I had come to see had not yet arrived.  I stood in front of the display, fingering the fresh water pearls and the hammered metal.  When I had known her, this gentle creativity had been as yet unseen.  I knew nothing of her story since we'd parted.  I knew only of the grief through which I had once tried to navigate her; and the grimness that sharpened her anger in those days.

As I stood at the counter contemplating which earrings to buy for my sister, the door opened and Ruth walked into the room.  I saw at once that she bore the stamp of a difficult disease but gamely.  She had clipped her hair, let it go its natural grey, and lightly applied a layer of make-up.  Her shoulders squared above her spare frame, and only a slight pinch of her brow testified to pain.  We embraced; and we walked around the large open room, while she told me about the cancer and the abyss into which she nearly tumbled before a miracle treatment had been found.

I'm a super-responder, she told me, her voice tinged with the wonder that must never abate.  A year ago, I sat in a wheel chair and now, look at me.  I did; I looked so closely that she must have thought me odd.  I saw a woman game to try, to push, to stand and move.  She greeted others who had come to support her efforts or who had wandered in from the Oktoberfest outside.  She talked with the gallery director and the artists whose work graced the walls.  I watched, not speaking, until her circuit brought her back in my direction.

Then we stood together at the counter talking about her jewelry.  While I picked a few items to buy,  I felt my mother's spirit in the room, just briefly, just a whisper, so faint that it could have been that a momentary madness had overcome me.

I completed my purchase, and we sat talking on a metal bench.  Suddenly, Ruth turned to embrace me and I leaned closer to her, breathing in the fragrance of her fragile body.  After a few moments we parted and I said goodbye.  I went into the night and drove home, with something close to love settling lightly on the barren contours of my heart.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Visit Ruth Roberts' FACEBOOK STORE.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Musings Delayed


I am preparing for our annual benefit which is held this evening at 7:00 p.m. at my professional suite, 4010 Washington, Suite 100, KC MO.

Therefore, I will not be writing a musing today.

If you are in KC, please join us for an evening of food, fun, music, art, and raising funds and awareness for two local KC shelters for those experiencing family violence and needing help to survive and thrive.

Thank you.

Mugwumpishly yours,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday Musings, 10 September 2016

Good morning,

From an AirBnB in San Rafael, I search for pictures of my Mother to share on this, the ninetieth anniversary of her birth.  I have few.  I've scanned some; taken snapshots of others; and snagged a few from my sister Adrienne's Facebook page.  Someone might have more but all I have sit in space somewhere, grainy and awkward.

But she cannot fade from my memory.  Recently one of my siblings reminded me that Mom had her flaws -- and she did; we all do.  She allowed our father to commit atrocities on us which had no name then but today would be considered felonies.  While I understand what happened to her, and why she felt powerless to fight him, still, there it is -- leaving us scarred, damaged, different, disillusioned.  Some of us rose above what we felt and saw; some of us sank below the muck and mire.  None of us emerged from our childhood without a profound burden, however easily or awkwardly each of us learned to carry it.

However, my mother had magnificent qualities.  She gave me many of them.  She steadfastly endured, and I have leaned on her example through my own travails.  Mother could skip one moment and hold a troubled child the next.  Possibly this mercurial quality would be seen today as manic-depression, but I just thought of it as adaptability.  She had little tolerance for inanity, or cruelty, or illogic.  She protected her babies with an unparalleled ferocity in most realms, though at home, only by standing in the way of many of my father's blows.

At least, I remember her this way.  Others might have their own images, their own memories, their own opinions.  But I persist in my assessment.  Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley stands tall in my mind.  Not perfect, certainly.  Irreverent, often.  Tired -- most assuredly.  But present -- ever present, and unwavering.

It took me nearly 37 years to successfully bear a child.  My mother died six years before my son's birth.  I mourn the fact that he never got to meet her.  They would have had fabulous talks, Patrick and Lucille.  They have much in common, including an inner gentleness that happily came out in his genes though they skipped mine.

My first pregnancy ended in a bloody mess on the floor of my mother's bathroom in late winter, 1977.  At twenty-one, aimless and undirected, I would have been a terrible parent.  But I had known the child inside for a month or so, and desperately wanted the baby even if I had no earthly clue what to do with it.  I stood helplessly clutching the sink, pressing a wash cloth to my mouth to stifle the sobs.  My mother knocked on the door.  Mary, let me in, she commanded.  When she saw my face, she folded me in her arms.  She did not require a confession.  She led me from the room, stripped me, found a nightgown, and settled me in my old bedroom without making me answer for my actions.  I fell asleep with a cup of half-drunk tea cooling on a tray beside me.  Though I went back to my apartment the next day, my mother's love followed me.  I slept for days under my great-grandmother's quilt which Mother sent with me that morning.  It carried the heavy fragrance of home:  Mother's perfume, over-cooked coffee, and a curious blend of Pine-Sol and talcum powder.

In one of my many wooden boxes at home, I have my mother's defense medals, the bracelet she made from the baby beads of her first four children, and some pin that could be a Boy Scout den mother award.  I have little else of hers.  But every fiber of my being carries her stamp.  I would not be sixty-one and still relentless if I were not my mother's daughter.

In a little while, I will go to see the garden of a gentleman whom I met on my travels.  I will stand among the flowers in this temperate climate, remembering another garden, in Jennings, which bloomed beneath the tender care of a half-Austrian, half-Syrian, girl from Gillespie.  I will think of how much my mother loved her flowers, and her vegetables, and her children.  I will  not cry.  She would much prefer that her memory linger in my smile.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

In Loving Memory:
Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley
10 Sept 26 - 21 August 85


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Saturday Musings / Without Complaining

Good morning,

I did not write an entry in My Year Without Complaining yesterday.  My travels kept me away from a computer.  Here on the coast, the internet works when it wishes to work, in the house or room where it feels comfortable.  Cell service follows the same dictates of its whim.  But here I sit, in Dolphin House, in the kitchen.  A young man from Germany who had no breakfast food other than a peach now cooks two of my eggs for himself.  He might be the same age as my son; I hope if my son travels in Germany, someone's mother will spare him a couple of eggs and some butter for his morning repast.

I left Kansas City at 10:20 a.m. CDST and pulled into the parking lot of HI-Pigeon Point Lighthouse at precisely 5:00 p.m. Pacific time.  I had acquired a box of groceries in Pescedaro.  I set my basket on the counter and asked for butter.  A surly man gestured to the back case.  I walked over, rummaged, and found a pound for $5.00 or a stick for $3.00.  I went with the pound.  Back at the counter, I asked the man if they sold coolers.  He grunted, a sound which I took as a negative reply.  Instead he loaded my groceries in a leftover box, breaking off a stalk of celery in the process.  I smiled.  He evaded my eyes.  I broadened my smile and thought perhaps he softened his gaze.

Out at the rental car, I spied the trunk open but luckily my suitcase still rested within the small cavern.  I stood staring at the keys, wondering if in my fumbling I had pressed some wayward button.  I let my shoulders rise and fall and set to driving the rest of the way to the hostel, the ocean on my right, the gentle western slope of the mountains on my left.  With the radio silent  and the windows slightly open to let in the soothing air, I drove, and thought, and breathed.  Mostly I breathed.

Michael stood behind the counter at the hostel.  I swung around the doorway and broadened my smile.  Michael, you're still here!  I cried.  He matched my grin.  Why, it's the girl from Kansas City, he replied.  It might be a trick he has; to check the roster.  But I let myself believe he remembers me.  He might; I don't mind either way.

Michael helped me with my suitcase.  Had he not, I would have pulled a few things from the large bag and put them in a smaller pack, one brought just for this purpose.  We talked as we walked, me with my red walking stick, Michael carrying everything else.  As we entered the building, he asked me, Are you this happy at home? Or is it California?  I stopped and thought.  He waited for my answer.  I told him the truth as I know it:  This place brings out the joy in me.  He nodded.  He has his own story of redemption, behind a weathered face turned sixty-one last month.  He understood.  We continued into the building.

Later, I sat in the Adirondack chair and let my eyes play over the ocean.  A woman from Santa Cruz told me about her childhood in Kansas City.  She went to St. Theresa's High School, and then over to St. Louis University for college.  Our lives intersected in so many places that we sat together for some time at the kitchen table, she with a somewhat burned pizza and me with my apples and hummus.   She talked of some unpleasant things which had happened to her.  I steered the conversation towards happier memories and she talked about Imo's Pizza, the quadrangle at SLU, Minsky's Pizza in Kansas City.  I listened, hearing the loneliness between her words.  Then our voices fell silent and only the ocean spoke.

Later, two men traveling for the Labor Day Weekend gave me a couple of their stuffed mushrooms.  They offered pasta but I declined.  We sat at the same kitchen table with the ocean still sending its voice in waves towards us, right outside the window.  We talked of their jobs, and the election, and the artichoke bread that I had bought in Pescedaro.  One of them told me about teaching ballroom dancing in Long Beach.  The other spoke of moving to California from Amarillo in the 1990s, to find somewhere liberal enough to accept him.  We ate without speaking for a few minutes, the room around us heavy for a brief time with our thoughts, with the longing for a place to call home.

Then a couple of young women burst into the room, backpacks falling from their shoulders, eyes bright, faces gleaming.  I took my plate to the sink, and myself to bed.

I fell asleep easily, with the window open, and the sea air soothing the weariness which I wear like a shawl.  Everything fell away, to the floor, crumbling, whisked away by the breeze playing through the room.  I woke twice in the night; once to the sound of laughter in the hallway outside my door; and once with a start from a dream that I cannot recall.

When I rose at six, a fog had settled over the lighthouse; but the one surrounding my soul had cleared.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

PostScript:  My humility compels me to confess that Master Michael of the Hostel Realm confirms that he did indeed remember me; and he further honored me by telling me that he considers me a friend. My cup runneth over.

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.