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


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.