Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Musings, 13 September 2014

Good morning,

After visiting my favorite curmudgeon last evening, I sped northwards, on Quivera Road, deep in Johnson County, Kansas, with rudimentary directions and a strong sense of determination.  I had promised Penny that I would attend the showing of her Summer Love photographs, taken at Greene's Acre, an organic farm in Merriam owned by her friend Steve Greene.  Despite the threat of approaching dusk when my weak eyes lose their shy grip on functionality, I vowed to get there. I pulled into the parking lot of Jill Dutton's art space nervous, edgy, and certain that I would have to sleep on the floor.  I wedged my car between the driveway and a dumpster, nursed the cagey ignition into lock position, and slid from behind the wheel.  My feet hit the gravel just as the door to the old stone house burst open and Penny herself emerged, saying goodbye to one friend as I approached the entry way.  She folded me in an embrace that validated my decision to brave the potential of death by night-blind driving.

Three hours later, photos viewed, friends met, and caravan back to the house with one friend driving my vehicle and another following completed, I ascended to my cabin bedroom, laptop in one hand, bowl of grapes in the other.  As the cold of the room with its open windows hit me, I thought about all the cold rooms I have ever entered and the present gave way to the musty memories which rose to claim me.

Early January, 1988.  Jasper, Arkansas.  I'm six months into my first marriage, alone in Newton County trying to start a law practice while  my husband tours with a theatre company as their technical director.

The pipes in our rental house have already frozen, a phenomenon with which I've not previously dealt  in 31 years of living.  I've already made a frantic call to my father, and, at his instruction, gone to the local feed store and purchased a bale of hay to put around the above-ground pipes.  A farmer in a battered truck has already hauled the hay to the house and opened it for me, silent, grim, eyeing me with an unspoken question gleaming in his glance.  Who moves their city wife to the country and leaves her on her own?  It is a fair question but there is a fair answer:  We needed the money that Chet's job promised.

Now I've discovered the propane tank either doesn't function or has no fuel.  I don't know which, and it's Sunday; the company which we're told can fill it won't be open until the next day.  I had no idea it would be so cold in Arkansas, in the mountains but several hours south of my home state.  I had thought of Arkansas as a hot land, a different segment of the hemisphere, one with nothing in common with its northern neighbors.  But here, in Jasper, I find myself shivering in the living room as I struggle to get all of our belongings unpacked and put away.  My heart feels grim.

I abandon my task and drive, up the mountains to Murray Valley, with the low grey depths of the countryside  on my right as I climb the gentle rise to the mountains' higher points.  The land lies  still.  Most of its native inhabitants are down in the city at church.  I get to the Murray Valley Community Center in time for the nonsectarian Sunday Service.  My husband's friends, old hippies most of them, greet  me with broad smiles as Jeanne Ashworth begins to play and sing.  Her wide friendly face turned toward me, she lets her spirit wrap around her words as she praises the divine entity in whom I did not quite believe in those days when I still groped to find some faith.

After the song, someone reads some passage, not from the Bible but from something I did not recognize.  I mostly daydream, warm now in a room with heat, my muscles gradually loosening as the cold releases its grip.  Someone else speaks a few words about how we should manage our lives, our inner lives, our spiritual existence.  My mind drifts.  Then we sing another song which I do not know.  After the service, we drink coffee, and Mary Ann Ashworth invites me to Sunday supper.  This is the whole reason that I have driven to that place, sat through the service, strained to keep my disinterest from showing on my face:  To get invited to some one's house for Sunday supper.

Her home holds all the things you'd want to see in a dwelling built into the side of a stretch of rough untamed land:  Jars of preserves, flowered curtains, a mudroom with flannel quilted jackets.  The kitchen smells like every country kitchen everywhere, without perhaps the heavy odor of too much fried food.  It smells of freshly cut herbs, and cinnamon, and the smokey fragrance of well-water.  Mary Ann's younger children still live at home but they've gone off somewhere, and just she and I sit in the kitchen for a cup of tea while the chicken simmers in the skillet and the pie bakes in the oven.

Her face shines as she asks how I'm adjusting to this life.  Her eyes meet mine and they seemed filled with love though I cannot imagine why.  I've known her not quite a year, since she made the food for our March wedding, and for most of that time, I've seen her only  at church during our weekends staying at her ex-husband's house across Thomas Creek where Mary Ann and her children had once lived, before the divorce that they probably never thought could happen.  But Mary Ann walks the path of kindness.   I take the last few steps to dwell in her glow, if only for that hour.

Now she waits for me to answer her question.    I tell her about the frozen pipes, the empty tank, the boxes in the living room and the lonely midnight hours.

Oh honey, she says.  Stay here tonight, it's okay.  I've got plenty of room and it's warm here.  I pretend to resist the invitation but we both know that I will stay.  She gets up to fill our plates straight from the pots and pans, and we sit at her table, which she has covered with a flowered table-cloth.  We eat baked chicken, green beans that came from her garden  last summer, and potatoes from an organic farm across the valley.  Afterward, we have strong coffee and her freshly-baked pie, and I forget about the empty rental house down in town.  For a day, a night, and a morning before I leave to meet the propane company, Newton County feels like home.

Now it's Saturday in Kansas City half a lifetime later, and my house holds the chill which tells me that winter approaches.  I wear a woolen, hand-knit sweater over my pajamas and drink hot coffee from a pink checkered cup given to me by my friend Pat.  I had a rough night.  I don't know if the cold plagued my legs, or if I suffered from a day wearing worn-out shoes, but I found myself pacing, writhing, and finally groping for the midnight anti-spasmodic that I hoped would calm my raging nerves.  I stilled my anxiety with deep breathing, letting  my mind fill with memories of Mary Ann's kitchen, the fragrance of  cinnamon and basil, and Mary Ann's calm smile.  I could see her standing with her wide bosom covered with a gingham apron, handing me an extra blanket, a stack of fresh towels and a new bar of home-milled lavender soap.  I could hear her soft voice telling me, as I drifted back to sleep, that everything would be all right in the morning.

And so it was.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley





Saturday, September 6, 2014

Saturday Musings, 06 September 2014

Good  morning,

Another anniversary of my birth has come and gone.  Aching muscles testify that I enjoyed the evening's events but tasked myself over-much.  My professional suite's quarterly art reception coincided with my birthday, so I stood all evening in my customary place by the door, serving as guest book attendant and hostess, standing, smiling, greeting, marveling at the fifty or sixty folks who braved the driving rain to come see Heather Roman's extraordinary fabric scrolls and make a donation for SAFEHOME and Rosebrooks.  Each entity got $300 from the donation bucket, pushing them an inch closer in their battle against domestic violence.

The presence of the volunteers with their literature also cast a light into the dark mists of an ugly reality. Several people came to me and confided that they had, on some occasion in their past, needed the services of a shelter.  Among them, even before last night's event:  the manager at the store where I purchased some of the supplies.  She asked me what I was doing and when I told her, she said, quietly, simply, that she had been a client of Rosebrooks in the past - and then gave me a 10% discount.  She thanked me for helping an organization that had once helped her, and I left that store humbled by the catch in her voice and the lingering sheen of tears in her eyes.

As the reception drew to a close, I stood in my office and thought about people whom I have known in my practice who suffered abuse at the hands of a spouse or parent.  I understand their burdens; I feel what they feel; I taste what they taste.  I rarely speak of the grimmer moments of my childhood except by oblique reference or in reflecting on the healing path I strive to walk.  My silence on specifics honors both dead and living.  The dead cannot defend themselves; the living should not have to address anything which they prefer not to confront.  And so I leave the details of what my family suffered to the box in which I store them, and take them out one rock at a time, examining each memory when it rattles and demands to be touched or when something reminds me and I finger the wounds, massaging them with healing ointment, smoothing the ragged edges.  I admit that I have done more healing in the last year than in the previous fifty years.  I feel forgiveness warming me.  I wonder what my life would have been like if I had found this peace a long time ago.

On the wall in my newly painted hallway hangs a hand-drawn depiction of the expressions on Japanese marks.  A former client gave me this work after I completed her divorce.  Born in Japan, and here in America first on a student visa, this woman had married an America and triggered the start of a half-dozen years of hell.  Working with her immigration lawyer, I secured a judgment which enabled her to complete her permanent residency despite the divorce, based upon the domestic violence which she suffered.  Without specific findings about her husband's abuse of her, she would have been ousted from this country with the application still pending, no longer the spouse of a citizen, no longer eligible to attain the status.

My client also gave me a puzzle box, and years later, sent another one to me in the mail.  On a shelf in my office stands a Mrs. Potts teapot from Tokyo Disney World, with its corresponding Chips cup, also gifts from her.  The last time I saw her, she came to my home for Thanksgiving dinner, the year of her divorce and just before she journeyed home to Japan to see her family, secure in the knowledge that she could legally return to this country when she chose to do so.  When we went around the table doing our "thankful-fors", this beautiful young woman pointed to me, without speaking.  I have never forgotten her.  I never could.

Last night, someone asked me what I would do in the last year of my fifties if I could have my wish.  I considered "bring about world peace", but knew she asked her question with seriousness and wanted me to respond the same.  I voiced a couple of sentimental yearnings, but saw her arched eyebrow and fell silent. "I want to know what you want to be doing," she gently urged.  I reflected.  "I'd like to write," I told her.  "And I'd like to create something bigger than just my law firm, something that would do some lasting good so I could know that I made a difference, that I created something that would help a lot of people who need an advocate."  She nodded, as though to say, I expect no less of you, my friend.

On the radio, a group of children sing Edelweiss.  This song brings my grandmother to mind.  She was born in Austria and immigrated to America as a child.  A strong woman, assertive, independent, she had a gentle side.  I remember her visiting our home once when my mother was hospitalized.  I don't know why; perhaps my brother Stephen's birth, perhaps some other, terrible event.  I could not have been older than five or six.  I came upon Nana standing in my mother's room, over the bed she had just made.  She held something in her hands -- a book, I think; perhaps my mother's missal.  She did not see me.  Tears fell from her unblinking eyes, trailed down her cheek, fell to her blouse.  I made no sound.  Nana leaned down, set the book on the bedside table, and ran one hand across the pillow case to smooth it.  I've never seen such tenderness bestowed on an empty bed.  I can only imagine what she thought, at that moment, about the woman --- her oldest child -- who normally slept there.

The morning labors on while I linger over coffee.  I need to tear myself away from my thoughts, and do something constructive.  But with the sweetness of the morning air drifting into the house from the backdoor, I prefer to sit, thinking, wondering about the ways in which we treat one another; wondering whether the good outweighs the bad, whether the love conquers the fury of anger.  I think about my client, far away, in Japan, and hope that happiness has found her.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley



Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Musings, 30 August 2014

Good morning,

I'm blessed with a little laptop that has a touch-screen so I can make the words instantly grow to a size that accommodates my aging eyes.  I use that feature and still squint at the white square in front of me, the twenty-first century equivalent of the empty piece of paper rolled into the old Remington.  What do I wish to say, I ask myself.  I've time enough for most memories but they seem to elude me today.

Last evening, I attended the first hour of a surprise birthday party for a woman whom I barely  know but find intriguing.  With a wide engaging smile, a gardener's tan and an easy way, Leslie exudes natural cheerfulness without seeming shallow or arrogant.  The guests ranged from 2 to something old enough to require a walker and double hearing aids, all shapes, all sizes, all colors, in garb ranging from demure flower-print dresses to cut-off blue jean shorts.  The home where Leslie and her family reside sits at the end of a dead-end street, and the resultant secluded lot had been festooned with banners, balloons and dangling fairy lights.  A Zydeco group heralded every arrival including, with boisterous fanfare, that of the very surprised birthday girl.

I had intended to arrive at the dot of seven so as to make my escape before the sun set.  My finicky ignition switch trapped me in front of my office building for an extra fifteen minutes, until a fellow building tenant came and jiggled it with just the right sensitivity to find the sweet spot.  I'm sure I'll have to repair it soon enough, but last night I managed to get to the party -- and, later, home -- without a call to AAA.

Other than the guest of honor, her boyfriend and their children, I knew only one other person at the party, a former client with whom I exchanged somewhat awkward greetings and an update on his improved life in the several years since I got him divorced.  I sat in a rocking chair in the sweet evening air, eating a bit of food and listening to the music, having tendered the pricey gluten-free cupcakes that I brought and hugged Leslie, pleasant duties easily dispensed.

A young boy, whom I learned to be a fifth grader, sat in the chair beside me.  He declined an invitation from the host's son to play video games.  I asked him if he liked the music.  He acknowledged that he did.  I noticed a couple hovering beyond him, eyeing me, whom I took to be his parents.  I kept my distance but continued my delicate inquiry.  It's hard to be at a party where you don't know anyone, isn't it? said I.

He raised his eyes and peered full-force into my face.  Yes, it is, he admitted.  His eyes stayed on mine.  I noticed he wore a buttoned, collared shirt, neat khaki shorts, and shoes with actual socks.  I recognized him, then:  In this child, I met my younger, male self; my brother Frank; his now-grown son Rick at 10.  Perhaps my own son.  My heart contracted.  

I asked him about his school (French immersion) and his summer (a trip to Argentina with his father).  He warmed to both subjects, talking about a future field trip to France; the odd meat that his father tried in Buenos Aires which his father leaned down to identify as large intestine.  He told me that he wanted to have a job that allowed him to live in the United States but travel.  He said he wants to be a writer.

Ah, a writer! I exclaimed.  My son is a writer.  And I write, but I don't make my living as a writer.  What do you want to write?  He said he wasn't sure but he thought books.  I asked him if he keeps a journal.  He leaned forward, rested his arms on his knees and gazed at me with utter seriousness.  Sadly, no, he replied.  In those two words, I saw reflected many conversations he must have had, with himself or some external influence -- a teacher, a parent --  and all such exchanges that I have inflicted on my own writer's soul flowed back to me.  I knew his demons: the writer's blessing and the writer's curse.  

At some point, we stood so he could introduce me to his parents.  My cell phone rang; my son calling from Chicago; and I excused myself for a few minutes.  The boy ran off to get some food, and, my call completed, I chatted with his parents.  I noticed the sun had fully set and the danger zone for driving had now been breached.  I made my apologies and excuses to the couple, just as their son came back to stand beside his mother.  

I leaned down and offered him my hand.  It was a pleasure meeting you, I told him.  He shook my hand like a champ and then, just before I turned to walk down the driveway, he reached over and threw his arms around my neck in the most tender of innocent hugs that I've had in an eternity of tender, children's embraces.  I looked over his head at his mother.  I recognized what I saw there; I smiled at all of them as the boy disengaged.  I left before the tears could flow, while the unbidden joy still claimed my face.

A man about my age, a friend of my hosts, saw me struggling on the uneven boards of the porch and took my arm.  He guided me down the gravel road, and reached into my car to turn the key when I failed to get the thing to work.  Seeing my consternation at being hemmed between two vehicles in the narrow lane, he volunteered to back my car from its space, and turn it around.  When he had done so, I showered him with thanks, and asked his name -- Mark -- so I could be sure to hold it in my heart, among the names of other strangers who have stopped to help me since my car developed its stubborn refusal to instantly engage.

A half hour later, I sat on my porch, in the easy air of a late summer night. The neighborhood had fallen quiet.  I read my e-mail, wrote a few paragraphs to someone who harbors hurt because of me, trying to soothe the deep-set fraying in his psyche.  I talked a while to my son, listening to his weekend challenges, getting his insight about mine.  I made my night's blog entry, let the old dog out and in again.  I set the alarm, climbed the stairs, and sent a prayer from my heart to whatever being watches over serious ten-year-olds and their sixty-year old incarnations.  I fell asleep smiling.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Musings, 23 August 2014

Good morning,

I sit on the deck of the Holmes house, with the lingering chirp of crickets, or cicadas perhaps, trilling off to my right in the small patch of earth between this point and the asphalt of the driveway.  I hear the dog at the side of the house, barking, wanting to be granted entrance.  I'm trying to ignore her so I don't have to leave this comfortable scene.  I don't think the neighbors will waken.  Now she subsides; perhaps she has discovered that I filled her food and water dishes and left a chew for her on the back porch.

The neighbor's cat slinks up the stairs to nibble from our boycat's dish.  I would shoo her away, but rumor on the block says that my cat and she have something going, so I let her have a bit of breakfast.  I myself can't eat; my stomach  protests the unaccustomed entry of fried foods yesterday, reminding me:  don't put that junk in this belly, no matter how yummy it might seem to be.  I sip coffee, hoping that I won't make things worse.

The events in Ferguson haunted me this week.  My cousins lived right next to Ferguson and we in nearby Jennings.  I can picture the stretch of West Florissant described in the articles.  A high school friend recently returned to live in Ferguson, with her husband, joyous about the prospects of restoring their newly acquired dwelling to mid-century modern splendor.  The streets of North County had no terror in my childhood.  Riots occurred in Chicago; looting nowhere that we knew; tear gas and firing police officers shocked our parents when news of them flashed in black and white, scenes from somewhere far away, something brief and disturbing.  This violence did not happen here; it did not touch our home; it did not threaten us.

I visited my Aunt Della Mae in Tinley Park in July of 1966, just weeks after those Chicago riots.   Tinley Park, in the southern part of Chicago's metropolitan area, sprouted in the 1950s with split-level homes in three patterns, alternating, the King, the Queen, and the Princess.  I walked the dog and mentally tracked the three styles to find my way back to Aunt Dell and Uncle Dick's home.  My mother scheduled the trip to compensate me for a planned week in the hospital, soothing my resentment with descriptions of Chicago and what might await me there.  In reality, my aunt feared the city, especially that summer.  We never left her subdivision.  She talked about the aftermath of the riots, a tension which gripped the whole area, the fear, the uncertainty.  She spoke of divisiveness with a trembling voice.  She did not know what to make of the rage that had appeared on the pages of the nation's newspapers, and so she kept her children close and me with them.

I scoured news sites this week, straining to understand the facts of the Michael Brown shooting.  He fought with the police officer; the police officer accosted him; he ran; he turned; he fell; he begged; he threatened; he surrendered; the cop shot, the cop shot, the cop shot an unarmed eighteen-year-old who might have stolen some cigars.  I close my eyes and insert myself into each player:  the thick tall body of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown; the slender frame of his companion; the sturdy shoulders of Darren Wilson.  I read several accounts that describe Officer Wilson as having been "badly beaten" and others which deny the veracity of those claims.  I see a video which seems to portray Mr. Brown as having paid for those damned cigars, but read a statement from his friend's attorney, in which he claims his client confessed that he and Michael Brown did, indeed, steal.  A still photo of the officer shows no injuries; an Illinois newspaper describes him as having "an orbital fracture".

I take this all into my brain along with images of looting, and peaceful protest, and journalists arrested by nervous local law enforcement.  Overlaying the montage runs the sound of a minister's voice.  The Reverend Willis Johnson, whose image appeared in the Washington Post, snapped as Reverend Johnson confronted and calmed a young man named Joshua Wilson, spoke these words and I pulled my car to the side of the road to let them wash over me:

'I had not met [Joshua Wilson] personally, but I've met Joshuas. I was 18 once, and a young black male. I have a young man that I'm trying to grow. ... People may not understand, but many of us look to the eyes of young people — doesn't matter about color, doesn't matter about the things people assume. This is not a race issue, in and of itself. This is a human issue.'

I do not know the truth of what happened between that young man and the police officer, in Ferguson, two long weeks ago.  I do not believe anyone will ever know.  We have the account of many persons who saw the events from different angles; and a grand jury will, presumably, have the account of the man who fired that weapon.  By the same token, I do not expect to truly comprehend how peaceful protests about the killing created a vacuum into which criminals crept, to terrorize the town, taking advantage of its momentary vulnerability.  

But this I do know:  We have not overcome our fear.  The same conviction that caused a waitress to refuse service to my friend Joyce and me in 1980, saying, "We don't do salt and pepper here," lurks in our hearts and dangerously close to the surface of our many-colored skins.  Fear of those who differ from us stains our daily lives.  That fear leads us to shoot when we might otherwise soothe; and if that did not occur in Ferguson on August 9, 2014, it certainly occurs somewhere each dogged day of our lives.  What followed Michael Brown's death, on the streets of Ferguson, could happen everywhere.  Those who feel mistreated try to voice their message, and those who do not care about that message seize the jagged edges of the societal malaise and use it to their own perverted ends.

I see my neighbor walking down his driveway.  He is a solid sort, middle-class, a working man.  I remember when his young daughter became pregnant in high school, and his anger at the creamy chocolate of the baby's skin.  Now that child dwells in a holy place in my neighbor's heart, along with her sister whose skin matches her own, and the other girls, who have a different biological father and their mother's Irish freckles.  My neighbor's initial dismay, fourteen years ago, retreated with the rush of love that followed close on the heels of that first, more base instinct.

I recently completed a survey about the Kansas City school district, my attitudes toward public education here, and whether I chose the District for my child's education.  Only one question in the multi-page online form directly addressed race, the one which  asked me  to disclose  mine. Options A, B, and C, were, "White", "Black", and "Hispanic". A clickable box followed the fourth choice, "Other".  I selected that option and entered this word in the provided space:  HUMAN.

My heart aches for Michael Brown, for his family, for the officer who shot him and for that man's family.  I mourn  for the town of Ferguson, for its sons and daughters, for their sleepless nights and uneasy days.  I do not know what transpired in Ferguson on August 9th.  But this I know:  We are a people who judge each other by immutable features which have nothing to do with our worth, and until we abandon those faulty criteria for valuing each other, there will always be a Michael Brown, and a Darren Wilson, and looting in our streets when opportunists see the rift between us and step in with their terrible trouble.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley










Saturday, August 16, 2014

The crystal

Good afternoon:

I have had a lot of comments about my crystal from David Spencer, mentioned in today's Saturday Musings.

By chance, I am at the office where the crystal resides in a bowl. Here is a picture of the bowl of crystals.  It is the small one on the right, with brown/red veining and a little point.  The spark which I felt when I first touched it emanated from the point.

All of these crystals came from Arkansas.  The rock, also; and that might be a geode.  

Enjoy, all.

Corinne


Saturday Musings, 16 August 2014

Good morning,

When I first awakened, hours ago, I couldn't tell if the light above the tress was the sun or the city.  Hunger rumbled in my stomach.  The scar tissue inside my artificial knee had knotted itself. I could hear the dog pacing in the kitchen.  If I strained, I could feel the cat waiting on the stoop.  I ignored it all and drifted back to sleep.  My mind takes over.

I'm in a car, heading from Jasper to Murray Valley in the mountains above the town.  Chester drives.  We round a bend and he pulls into a driveway.  We're stopping to see friends of his.  The husband, David, works as a carpenter in town and I think Chester hopes to get a little work.  

Their dwelling rises above the roadway and nestles against the curve of a hillside.  We skirt the vehicles and pallets between where we have parked and the steps to their front door.  David's wife waits in the doorway, a small brown wren of a woman.  She gestures; we pass her and enter the pleasantly cluttered home with its hanging plants and many bookcases, no doubt hand-made.  Their shelves gleam; their contours fit the angles of the room.  I touch the top of one, feel the heat of the hackberry, the smooth of the finish.  My fingers linger until I feel self-conscious and hastily remove them.

I've not caught the wife's name.  I smile to cover my embarrassment.  Dave bounds around the corner from the kitchen, tall, with wild crazy hair, fuzzy hair on his chin, and an endless smile.  He wears a white T-shirt, jeans, and hiking boots.  His wife takes his place by the stove and pours coffee from the pot sitting on a burner.  I haven't seen a stove-top coffee pot since my childhood.  It fascinates me.  

Chester and David have fallen into the kind of talk that interests those who work with wood.  I like wood but I find myself drifting away, looking at the bits and pieces that comprise their decor.  Stained glass, pottery, weavings and crystals.  Lots of crystals.  I see a wooden bowl of them in the middle of a table pushed to the back of the small living room, a table on which I feel sure they eat their meals, write letters, and plan their adventures.  I stand, gazing at the lovely pieces, until I cannot resist:  I reach into the bowl to touch one.  I do not realize that David and Chester have fallen silent to watch me.

As I touch the topmost crystal, a flash emits from it and sends a charge through my hand.  I stop but do not pull back.  My eyes raise and meet those of my host.  "That crystal seems to be yours," he says.  He moves, lifts it from the bowl, and places it in my hand.  He tells me that some times a bit of electricity from the earth remains in the crystals, lingering, until something releases the energy.  He holds my gaze and says, gently, that I had been the catalyst for that momentary spark.  I ask him if it will happen again.  He says, "It's not likely, these are very small crystals and they don't hold a lot of energy."  I close my fingers around the crystal and feel its jagged edges.  We remain silent, until his wife moves towards us with heavy mugs of steaming, fragrant coffee and we all sit, on hand-made chairs, around a hand-made table, in the home of a carpenter with a deep understanding of the forces of our world.

Several years later, after my marriage to Chester self-destructed, after I met a jazz musician with dreamy eyes and became pregnant, when the child who would become my son lay heavily in my slender body, I visited Jasper.  I sat in the home of a quilter, Mary Olson, talking about the Ohio Star pattern that I wanted for my son's quilt.  David's wife, whose name I still could not remember and only now speculate might have been Elizabeth, came visiting.  We embrace; she touched my belly, as women do when one carries a child, and she told me that she and David would gift me with a cedar chest in which to store my baby's things.  I tried to dissuade her, though without much conviction.  

She asked me if I still had the crystal which her husband had given me.  I told her that I did, although, in truth, it was mixed in an oriental bowl with several others and I was not sure that I could distinguish it from any other.  She nodded.  I felt as though I had failed some test, but she had too much kindness in her heart to tell me.

David made the chest, and Mary made the quilt.  I have them both, still, in my second floor room with all of its wood and oddities.  The bowl of crystals sits on a table in my office, but here at home, amid the other memories, I keep these two gifts safe to give Patrick when he has a child, or when he settles somewhere.  Until then, their presence comforts me.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley





Saturday, August 9, 2014

Saturday Musings, 09 August 2014

Good morning,

The porch lured me, with its preening plants and the soft call of crickets.  Our stubborn boycat nibbles on food at the other end; I see he has a new battle scar but he wouldn't let me examine it.  Since he became an outdoor creature four years ago, he has gotten into some damaging scrapes but comes home nearly every morning to be fed.  I watch him settle onto the cool concrete for a morning nap.  He ignores my gaze.

Wakefulness claimed me at four this morning.  I rose, pace, pondered.  I don't  know which more troubled me: the spasming in my legs or the melancholy in my heart.  Eventually, I meditated myself back to quietude and slept until the sun kissed my eyelids through the open shade at half past six.

I found myself measuring the past this week, day by day, decade by decade, town by town, house by house.  I saw a picture of my first shared daughters, standing on either side of their father in a reunion for which I had long lobbied.  My spirit soared with gladness to see their image, the smile none had been sure would dawn with their coming together.  I studied in particular the younger daughter, Tshandra Michelle, now forty, with a beautiful daughter of her own.  I see her mother's face stamped there, though she carries her father's mark as well.  On the far left, little Gracie raises her arms and her face heavenward and I think:  Joy lives in that one.  I hope the child's joy springs back a generation and embraces her mother.

I close my eyes and see that mother's teenage face, spiked hair, black fingernail polish, defiant glare.  We're standing in the small lobby of the Springfield, Missouri airport and she's telling her father and me why her mother's sent her back to us.  Or why she believes her behavior got her shipped back to the wilds of Newton County, Arkansas.  We drive back to Jasper without talking much, with the radio playing, and Shelley -- as she was known then -- fuming.

We had had her for the prior summer, down in Little Rock, along with her cousin Sarah, she of the golden hair and the sunny disposition.  Her mother begged us until we agreed to tell her that she and her husband had separated.  The news had not set well with my stepdaughter.  She had been a toddler when her birthparents had divorced, and she barely knew her father.  Her stepfather had moved into the void left by Chester's parting.  Now she found herself living in Chester's home again, with his new wife again, and I feel certain, even now, nearly three decades later, that she dreaded the prospect.

She rummaged in her backpack and unearthed a plastic bag and handed it to me.  "Here," she said.  "I finished it."  I smoothed the wrinkles caused by a hasty hand and extracted the muslin still caught in the embroidery hoop.  "Live a little, Laugh a lot, Love enough".  A cross-stitch piece; I had bought it for her after much debate the prior summer in Little Rock.  I turned, I smiled, and I thought, for just one moment, that her steely countenance relaxed.

Back in Jasper, with the clean mountain air surrounding us, Chester settled her onto the sleeping room that we had made of the screened porch while I started cooking dinner.  I heard murmuring; her father's voice, then hers, rising, strident.  I quelled my apprehension and stirred the hollandaise, made the salad, set the table.  The three of us tendered small talk over the food, across the divide.  We didn't discuss what had happened back home; we didn't mention the differences we saw in her.

She stayed with us for just a handful of weeks, that time.  But in that month, I came to love her.  I didn't know if anything I did or said in that time reached her, but I got her under my skin and in my heart, that first shared daughter, and there she has stayed with her tender nature and her steely spine.

A couple of lifetimes later, Tshandra reached out to me on Facebook and we became steady correspondents.  At the same time, I started teaching a Writers' Workshop at the VALA Gallery, at which Chester had become a resident artist and general handyman.  He and I started a long, loosely choreographed dance number entitled How Can I Get My Daughters Back, with particular emphasis on Tshandra Michelle.  He led the dance but occasionally, I would send us into a spin.  His line:  "I Did My Best", juxtaposed against my chorus:  "She's Your Daughter, Chet, Just Apologize For Leaving Her".

Then their mother died and the dance accelerated, with the daughters out west now having their own places in our frenzied waltz.  Reclaiming Tshandra and Kimberly became an imperative.  The music rose to a crescendo now and again, with Chester banging on his drum and Tshandra trilling the gentle, elusive line of the flute above his bold bashing.  For my part, I turned the pages,  occasionally striking the triangle with its wand.

So here they were, in my Newsfeed on Facebook a few days ago:  One of three shared daughters who live in my heart, with her half-sister Angelica on her right, and her father and sister standing in the middle of the tableau.  My soul sang.  I studied the figure of Grace, Chester's granddaughter, Tshandra's daughter.  I saw that she carried no taint of two generations of angst which came before her making.  I saw the happiness on Tshandra's face, this brave young woman; and my heart, which has had its share of sorrow, felt  light and easy.  Remembering that picture now, I find I can let go of the melancholy, if only for a morning, because of  reunion in Colorado among people whom I will always love.

Here in Kansas City, the sun has fully risen but the air is still sweet.  The neighborhood has come to life and my coffee has grown cold.  Pablo, the boycat, has wandered off and workers on some nearby street have started a noisy project.  I rise, stretch, and move toward the house and another cup of coffee.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Missouri Mugwump™

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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.