Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday Musings(tm), 30 January 2016

Good morning,

I awakened early, long before the sun, long before the alarm, even earlier than the winter songbirds.  The surrounding silence soothed me, broken only by the illusory noise in my ears and the rare whisper of the furnace.  Morning in Brookside -- before the traffic's roar on Troost Avenue rises into the air -- silent and satisfying.

I lay thinking of the exchanges that have colored my week, the human, the real, the virtual.  I contemplated a week-long dance with the schedulers at Stanford who had promised to add a third appointment to the two set for late February.  I closed my eyes and sighed, letting the echoes of their apologies and assurances roll through me.  Monday, Monday, Monday, we promise we will get it done on Monday; never mind that I was hearing their promises for the second sequential Friday.

We promise; so sorry; we promise.

I'm thinking of my mother; of being a child, and visiting a doctor with her.  I've had three warts removed from my hand.  We've come back for the doctor to tell us what we know -- the small surgical procedure succeeded.  My mother is tense.  I do not understand but I know that it is so.  She holds her mouth in that funny way she has.  I see it when my father rages.  I see it at the grocery store when she counts her dollars.  I  know it means something has upset her but I don't know what.  It could be anything.

A white-clad woman ushers us into a small room.  She takes my temperature.  I think she's a little rough.  I glance over at my mother but she's not watching.  Her eyes are closed.  I don't say anything; I just submit.  Now the nurse tells me to sit on a tall table and she turns her back on me.  I stand in front of the table and wonder how I am supposed to get onto it.  The nurse has put a hard packet of papers on the end of the table.  I stare at it; I see my name.  I'm about to open it when the nurse barks, I told you to get on the table, young lady, and my mother jumps.

The nurse does not wait or  explain; she puts her hands on my waist and lifts me.  She makes that noise which I've come to learn signals displeasure with a disobedient child.  I sit up very straight because I have used the tactic with my father and I know it makes some grown-ups happy when you sit up straight.

But the nurse already stands by the door.  The doctor will be here in a few minutes, she tells my mother, and then she leaves.

My mother stands and walks around the room.  She works in a hospital; this room reminds me of the little alcove in her office where she does EKGs on clinic patients.  I like the white; I like the cleanliness.  I let my shoulders slump and lean back, against the wall.  My mother returns to her chair and we wait.

I don't have a watch and there is no clock in the room but I realize that more than a few minutes have passed when my mother stands again.  She approaches the door and leans her ear against it.  I think she's listening for footsteps;  I worry that the doctor will suddenly enter and my mother will get smashed backwards.  But nobody comes.

It shouldn't be much longer now, my mother assures me.

I'm feeling drowsy.  I settle against the wall and stare at my shoes.  I'm still in my school uniform, a heavy blue jumper. I'm wearing brogues, which I don't like.  My Nana buys me penny loafers when I visit in the summer, but my mother thinks I walk better with these tie shoes.  I'm swinging my feet against the table when I suddenly realize that my mother is crying.

At that exact moment she sees that I've noticed and she changes her small sobs to little hums.  Then we play a guessing game about colors.  I know she's letting me win but I still feel a little thrill.  After five rounds, she declares me the champion and we fall silent again.  And then I hear it:  A loud noise; something I would not think that you'd hear in a doctor's office.

The sound of a vacuum cleaner.

My mother hears it at the exact moment that I begin to feel afraid.  She opens the door and looks out into a dark hallway.  I hear a little scream and then the woman who has been cleaning the office comes forward and says What are you doing here? and my mother gasps.

A few minutes later, the cleaning lady has unlocked the front door of the doctor's office so my mother and I could leave.  My mother clutches her purse in one hand, and holds tightly to me with the other.  We get into her old Dodge, the one she bought from Nana and Grandpa when she finally got her driver's license, and my mother drives us home.

A few days later, my mother tells me that the doctor's office has called her and apologized for forgetting us.  She sounds as though she does not believe them.

When the scheduler at Stanford called me yesterday afternoon, gushing and remorseful, tripping over her words, I thought of my mother.  The woman had reached me on my cell phone while I was driving. I pulled over so that I could concentrate, even though the call came through the hands-free Bluetooth in the vehicle.  This is exactly what I was afraid would happen, I thought.  This is why I pressed this lady last week for a commitment, for a return call on Monday.  A call which never came, not even with repeated messages through the patient portal and on her voice mail, messages during which I tried to use my very best non-violent communication.

Now she's promised results by Monday.  The third Monday in a row when I'm to expect a confirmed appointment with this additional specialist.  I thank her.  I do not believe her but I thank her.  What else can I do?

The sun has risen and the rush of cars on the nearby boulevards tells me that my neighborhood has awakened.  I have high hopes for this day.  Fifteen or so women will gather at my home this evening.  It's a loose and ever-changing assortment of ladies from their thirties to mid-sixties, some married, some divorced, some widowed, some single.  I started this gathering two years ago when I needed a tribe around me.  I considered drinking; I considered despair; I considered suicide.  I decided instead to start a Women's Potluck Supper Group.   I have no regrets; I chose my comforts wisely.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saturday Musings(tm), 23 January 2016

Good morning,

A cup of English Breakfast sits by the laptop.  Coffee has Jenny Rosen to thank for its safety; the infuser which she gave me for Christmas brews luscious tea, dark and smokey.  I sit in the wooden thrift store chair, at the crude, charming workshop sewing table, also a second-hand find.  In fact the contours of wood surround me, here in my cabin retreat, a-top my urban bungalow.

I close my eyes and the tea's fragrance carries me beyond this time, before it, when my face in the mirror bore no lines and the wind howled across my Arkansas acreage.

My home spanned a third of the land.  I made my bedroom in a half-built extension which had no heat or closet but gave me 300 square feet of the house's total footprint.  Its ceiling rose far above me.  I slept beautifully, with the windows cranked open and the night sound soothing me, far into the winter.

When the mountain snows drove me to an interior room, I huddled near the Earth stove in a rocker.  I carried my son inside of me that winter, the winter of the creosote fire.  Despite the loneliness, maybe because of struggles that I faced, contentment blanketed me.  I moved through the interior house with disregard for the wind buffeting the walls.    I had plenty of wood, a full rick, neatly cross-stacked by the tight lipped country man who had delivered it and had stashed my cash in the front pocket of his coveralls.  Anything else needs doing, call me, he muttered.  He swung into the cab of his battered pick-up and pulled out onto old 71 while I watched.

That had been in October.  Now in January, pregnant, alone, the damage to the stove from the small careless fire repaired but still remembered, I carried wood in a canvas sling from the mudroom to the living room.  Double-split for my small hands, the wood fit easily into the hopper.  Warmth rose.  I dusted my palms together and went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

Broad sliding doors led to the back yard.  I gazed through the glass into the surrounding night.  I could not see to the bottom of my property.  I knew the river at its western edge would not yet be swollen.  Floods would come in March, but now its flat, flagstone bed would still be passable, sturdy, strong, a walkway for the deer.  I could see them picking their way through my yard.  One lifted its head and seemed to meet my gaze.  Neither of us questioned the other's stance.  After a few minutes the little herd moved beyond my sightline.

I shivered a little, wondering if I should use the electric baseboard heater spanning the kitchen wall.  Instead I took my tea and toast back into the living room and settled in the rocking chair beside the stove.

The cat which had kept me company all through the previous winter in Fayetteville did not survive the summer in the country.  She had brought baby rabbits to my feet through spring, proud and preening, but a car on the highway had nicked her and she did not live.  My friend Carl helped me bury her and then I had no other life in the home other than my own and, later, the one which grew inside me, though the unchecked mice skittered through the walls.

I did not mind.  I missed the cat but I had no need of any human voice.  The one which might have sweetened the air with its lilting notes chose to stay away and so, I contented myself with silence..

I knew that I should sleep, this winter night.  I had to travel on Monday and had only Sunday left of the weekend.  The day would dawn cold and dreary, struggling to push aside the heavy clouds.  I would drag laundry into the house's addition where the washer stood on concrete next to the bathroom.  I would drive into town to fetch the makings of dinner.  In the evening, I would pack a small suitcase and organize the documents for the hearing to which I would fly in the firm's small plane.

But still I tarried in the rocker, drinking strong tea from my mother's pink Haviland tea cup, nibbling whole wheat toast thick with butter.  I rested one hand on my belly.  I had no clear prescience of my life as a single mother. I did not know where the rocky road of my law firm's financial challenges would eventually take me.   Nor did I see, in January of 1991, pregnant and alone in my mountain house in Winslow, all that the next twenty-five years would hold.  I sat.  I rocked.  I dreamed.  Eventually, I slept.

Mugwumpishly tendered.

Corinne Corley

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Saturday Musings(tm), 16 January 2016

Good morning,

Yesterday I went to an estate sale at the home of a ghost.  I bought a coffee table very similar to one that I already have, a wooden utility cart, a wall hanging in German, an African letter opener, and five clean and neatly-folded bath towels in better shape than any in my cabinet.

Lise Koenig graduated from law school one year after I did but she never practiced law.  I'm not sure what she did.  She and her husband, a professor, lived behind me on Charlotte.  They rode bikes rather than drive. Their daily walks took them down my block most of the years that I've lived here, sturdy people, arm in arm.  They missed a few months -- her bout with cancer, his with heart disease.  Two years ago, he died.  Last year, her neighbors found her at the bottom of the basement stairs, still breathing, broken and battered.  The unopened newspapers on the lawn suggested that she had fallen three days before they discovered her.  She did not awaken.

Signs throughout the house admonished shoppers that the company tending to the sale did not carry purchases.  I stood looking at the wooden coffee table, thinking how perfectly it suited my front sitting room.  We are not Movers, Don't ask. I calculated that it might fit in the back seat of the Prius; that if I pulled into the driveway by the porch, I could maneuver it down the steps of this house; that I could repeat the process at my own home.

Can I pull in the driveway if I want to buy this coffee table, I asked the cashier.  A man around the corner, out of my sightline,  said something that I could not hear.  The guy at the folding table with his box of cash answered him then turned back to me.  This man will carry it for you.  I looked through the doorway and saw a tall man, with a shaved head, wearing a P-Coat.  I asked if he worked for the estate sale company.  No, came the reply.  I knew the Koenigs.

He told me his name three times while we loaded the utility cart.  I didn't understand it.  Then he said, I teach art in the elementary school at University Academy, as though, somehow, that knowledge would compensate for my poor hearing.  Oddly, it did.  I told him that my son graduated from UA.  We groaned over the ineptitude of the Upper School art teacher who admonished my son not to waste paper by drawing so small.  I asked if he knew Mark Landes, one of my fellow Rotarians, who had been a principal at UA.  Light dawned across his face; he nearly crowed.  He felt the same way that I do about Mark:  Just knowing him brings us joy.

At some point, each of us had to leave to go get cash.  It had not occurred to either of us that an estate sale might not take plastic.  When I returned, I strolled through the dingy, neglected rooms, examining the odds and ends remaining after two days of sale.  I stood before a tapestry vest hanging in the bathroom doorway.  I climbed the stairs and my breath caught at the sight of the bed, with a pair of slippers sitting underneath it.

 I watched my helper pay for the books he had collected.  I found the letter opener on a table full of sad little kitchen goods.  I fingered it, wondering if Lise and her husband (what was his name?) had traveled.  I asked my new friend to take the wallhanging down for me.  I don't read German.  Lise had immigrated from Germany.  She spoke with a gentle accent. I folded the fabric and carried it home in my pocketbook.

 I never spoke to them when they walked past my house.  I don't know if Lise remembered me.  I would lift my hand; sometimes I would nod.  Their faces remained impassive.  They continued walking, holding each other's hand; arms entwined; bodies moving as one.

Today I will clean my house.  I will situate the cart from Lise Koenig's house and her coffee table among my other castoffs from ghosts.  I have already put the towels in my bathroom cabinet.  The letter opener lies beside my computer, here on the secretary's slide-out desk.  I hung the embroidered piece on the only wall which could accommodate it, in the hallway.  It extends downward nearly to the floor.  I don't know what it says but my friend Sheldon Vogt speaks German and I'm hoping he can tell me.

Ever since my neighbor Jack told me about finding Lise, lying on the basement floor, she has haunted me.  After her husband died, she walked alone, trudging down the sidewalk in tightly-laced shoes with a scarf wrapped around her neck.  I did not make much effort to connect with her.  I still raised my hand; I still nodded.  She would lift her chin just a bit.  She kept her eyes forward, steady.  I swear: she wrapped her arm a little tighter around the arm of one no longer there.  And kept walking.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Saturday Musings(tm), 09 January 2016

Good morning,

All week I have had brushes with motherhood.  A prospective client shops for an attorney to file a paternity action before her maternity leave ends.  Friends bring their new baby to my house for a visit.  Another friend tells me that his wife strives to be the best mother possible to their lively three-year-old.  Did the prodigal son come home for the holidays, he messages.  Yes, yes, he did.

Driving the Prius through rain the other day reminded me of an April storm over Louisiana, a virtual lifetime ago.

Heavy with the child who would become my only son, I climbed into the Cessna 206, hoisted by the pilot, steadied behind by my co-counsel, Joshua Joy Dara.  The trial bags had already been stowed.  Joshua handed my pocketbook to me as I settled and swung himself into the seat beside me.  "Please, get comfortable, watch the baby, are you warm enough?"  I envied Elizabeth, Joshua's wife.  His lilting Nigerian accent flowed over me, soothing the tension knotting my shoulders.

I had already lost one child, the twin of the boy still in me.  I did not want to sacrifice the remaining baby to a rancher's two-thousand acres.  But I had a hearing to hold, a restraining order to seek, a bank to stop.  I would fly.

Our pilot spoke through the microphone, checking instruments, talking to the Springdale tower.  Soon we rose to the air and I leaned back against the seat.  I trusted this plane more than the others which our firm provided for these flights around the country.  The Cessna 150 seemed too small; its bolts rattled.  The big plane, the one which our boss bought from the governor's office, felt ponderous, too heavy for the light winds over Arkansas.  This 206 glided to and from the runway and skimmed the clouds.  And I trusted our pilot.  But still:  At 20 weeks, I had not yet gotten beyond the tricky bit of pregnancy.

And I wanted this baby.

We landed without incident.  Our client waited at the small airport and drove us to the courthouse.  There we met a banker and his lawyer, tense-faced, angry.  They felt entitled to foreclose.  We represented the era of farmers protesting the whiplash of the cash-flow decade, the droughts and land-value drops which followed the 1970s, the missed interest payments and failed crops.  We symbolized the liberal notion that debt should be restructured or forgiven, that farmers should get another chance.    They despised us.

An old grey judge lumbered to the bench.  Joshua and I had co-opted the table at the right -- the "bride's side".  The rancher sat beside us in his Sunday best: No jacket but a button-shirt and pressed pants.  The Farm Credit lawyer and his client wore somber black at the table on our left.

I did not hide my condition.  I wore a maternity dress, a long jacket, and a fake wedding ring -- this last, something I saw as a necessary concession to the conservative south.  My boss did not require it but I had found that judges did not respond well to the idea of an unwed woman with child at the Bar.

As the bailiff called the case, I felt the first twinge.  I turned to Joshua and whispered, "Don't panic, but I think I'm in labor."  His eyes widened.  I could not stop his alarm but I placed one hand on his arm.  I rose.  "Your honor, if I may speak?"  The judge nodded, clearly accustomed to the decorum, but certainly not anticipating my request.

"I will be conducting this hearing, but given my condition, may I have my co-counsel carry exhibits, and handle objections?"  I knew Joshua had the case law memorized.  I knew I could count on him.

My opposing counsel stood as though to protest but the judge waved one hand.  "Certainly, Mrs. Corley," the judge intoned.  "And Officer, please provide the petitioner's counsel with anything she needs while she is a guest in our Courtroom."  I gave the judge and the banker's attorney my sweetest smile and called my first witness.

The labor pains increased as the hearing progressed.  Two hours later, the judge granted my restraining order and I turned to my co-counsel.  "We have to get out of here, now.  Really.  Is the pilot here?"  Joshua gathered our bags and I started from the courtroom, our client ahead of us clearing the aisle.

The banker glared at me as I moved beyond the spot where he still stood with his attorney.  He turned towards my opposing counsel and spat his anger in tones loud enough to reach me as I exited the courtroom:  "I can't believe you got beat by a pregnant crippled girl from Arkansas."

A half-hour later our pilot went through his instrument checks as a storm gathered to the south of the airport.  I leaned forward, my voice quavering and weak.  "Joe," I said, to the pilot, whom I knew to be a grandfather.  "I'm not happy about having this baby in Arkansas.  I'm damn sure not having it in Louisiana.  Please get me home!"

The pilot smiled, his face crinkling, his eyes steady.  "Sit back, Corinne.  I'll get us there."

He started down the runway and I faced the window, watching the black clouds as we rose.  I felt the force of the heavy air, heard the pilot quietly assure the tower that he could clear the storm.  
Lightening flashed.  I heard Joshua praying.  "Mary, Mother of the Christ child, please protect us," he whispered, as the rain started and the Cessna climbed.

Our pilot worked part-time for my firm but full time for Sam Walton.  He radioed Springdale when we got in range.  He identified himself and asked them to call his boss.  "Tell Mr. Walton that I've got one of the Arens lawyers on board and she's about to have a baby."   I closed my eyes as another contraction hit.  I whispered, "hold on, baby, hold on."  Rain pummeled the craft as we slipped down the runway, a perfect landing, smooth as silk.

Strong hands lifted me to a stretcher and into an ambulance.  The last thing I saw before the doors closed, through the falling rain, was Joshua's broad face.  His lips moved.  I knew he was still praying.

It's eight o'clock on a Saturday here in Kansas City, nearly two-and-a-half decades after that eerie landing in Springdale.  Sometimes I wonder if I imagined that flight; the storm which chased us north; the kindness of the strangers who helped me that day.  Like much of my life, my time in Arkansas seems to have happened to someone else, or perhaps to have been a dream that I had.  But then I drag a box from the attic and sort through old papers.  I find the fading sonograms, the little bundle of hospital bracelets, the receipts for baby clothes, and a box of business cards bearing my name and an office address in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  I smile.  The prodigal son came into this world at 34 weeks gestation, smiling, laughing, three months after that hearing in Louisiana where a pregnant crippled girl convinced a Republican judge that the Federal Land Bank had over-stepped its legal rights.  I don't know what became of that rancher.  But for that moment, his life stabilized.  He clasped my hand as he helped me into the back of his Oldsmobile for the rickety ride to the Natchitoches airport.  You've no idea what this means to me and my family, he said.  I thought I did but  I did not contradict him.  I just smiled, and closed my eyes, and silently told my baby, Hold on.  Hold on.  Hold on.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

P.S.  I might have told this story before today, in a long-ago entry.  If so, my apologies for repeating myself.  On another note, if you want to learn about what happened to my dear friend Joshua Joy Dara after his time with the Arens & Alexander law firm, please click HERE.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Saturday Musings(tm), 02 January 2016

Good morning,

In the quiet of a Central West End three-story, I sit as the sun begins to bring herself over the horizon's edge.  The window before me faces south so I see the barest of tinge, a kiss in the sky promising warmth and glory.  My hostess sleeps one story above me, as do, presumably, her canine companions.

I've continued holiday celebrations for last two days, after a couple of necessary mid-week work-sessions.  The prodigal son headed back to Evanston yesterday, and I followed on his heels as far as Boonville, St. Peters, and St. Louis, my Prius acting like a local ferry as it took me to my sister Adrienne, then my sister Joyce, then la Puma, Joyce Kramer.

As I nibbled black-eyed peas yesterday, I smiled over Joyce's struggle to explain "this wonderful bean dish" that would be served at her block's New Year's Day Open House.  I should have known what it would be.  What is a holiday without tradition?  But Joyce, though long in Missouri, has never stopped being a New Yorker.  How would she know?

The memories of other New Year's Day luncheons crowd me as I sit at Joyce's table waiting for the sun to rise so I can walk to Starbucks.  But none jostles to the foreground.  Instead I am remembering the Christmas week which my son and I spent alone in Kansas City, in a two-bedroom shotgun apartment with mounds of snow piled on the balcony.  He toddled from one end of the house to the other, dragging a stuffed Barney, while I huddled on the folded futon which I used for a couch.  The wind howled outside.  Misery rose to claim me but I quelled its laughter.  One cannot show longing to a child.

We watched videos and sipped instant hot chocolate, his cooled in a cup and made with fake milk.  On the television, Belle galloped through snow heavier than the storm outside our apartment, saving her Papa hour after hour, time after time.  Patrick pranced around the small living room pretending to be the rescuer.  I burrowed deeper in the quilt which my great-grandmother made from tailor's scraps and closed my eyes, listening to the wind.

I almost missed the gentle rap on my door.

Patrick peeked from behind my legs as I peered into the hallway.  A tiny form stood in the glow of the overhead light.  Mrs. Gray, I said.  Patrick came out and raised his arms towards the little lady who lived across from us.  She patted his head as she handed me a plate covered in foil.

Cookies for New Year's Day, she said.  Happy New Year!  

Fragrance rose from beneath the covering, almond, vanilla, warm flour.  I cried in dismay: Oh Mrs. Gray, I have, nothing for you, but she dismissed my protests.  My mother made cookies for the neighbors every year, she replied, as though this excused my empty hands.  Now get this little one back inside, it's too cold for you, she told me, and she took her own thin body back across the hall, closing her door with a whisper.

I set the plate on the trunk which I had staged in the center of the living room, the same trunk which carried my clothes to college, to Boston, to Kansas City, to every town where I had fled on the heels of whatever I yearned to escape.  Patrick edged his body against my legs and turned a corner of the aluminum foil to see the cookies.  I lifted him onto the futon and settled him beside me.

Let's watch Belle again, I said.  We fell asleep  under my great-grandmother's quilt, with the sounds of Beauty and the Beast filling our home, and a spray of powdered sugar covering us.  Outside, more snow began to fall but we did not notice.

In a little while, I will head north, to Ferguson next to the Jennings of my childhood.  There I will (hopefully) sip coffee at my cousin Theresa's table, before continuing down I-70 to Hermann, and finishing my holiday festivities over a late lunch with my niece Amy and her husband Harlan.  Then I will  travel to Missouri's western edge, to my little airplane bungalow and my epileptic dog, in Brookside, in Kansas City, which I call home.

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.