Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Good morning,

At about three o'clock this morning, I heard thumping, banging and shuffling from the first floor.  This could have been Jessica, who's living in the basement room.  Jessica's father has been in ICU and though she could have come back to the house during the night, when I awakened, I checked and she had not returned.  But in the center of the kitchen floor, I spied a curious piece of Styrofoam, packing debris that wasn't on the floor when I locked the backdoor before retiring.

I assume our ghost had a party to which I was not invited.  I stood holding the piece of foam, thinking:  Did they unwrap those margarita glasses in the basement?  Early rising on Saturday befuddles my brain.

Thinking of our ghost reminds me of my grandmother's passing.  As I make the coffee, padding around in  my bare feet, I am transported back in time to 1974, St. Louis University.  A quiet dorm room.

I have come back to the residence halls early, something I have the luxury of doing since I live in town and work for the financial aids office.  Rank has its privilege.  I'm sad; my grandmother has recently died and we've buried her.  Nana showed me everything good about womanhood:  The power to work; the power to nurture; the power to choose.  She's less than a month in her grave and I am lost without the anchor that I didn't know she provided.

It's Saturday night.  Being the only one in the dorm isolates me not just from the palpable sorrow in my mother's home, but from the world.  The air carries no sound except what I generate, and I move slowly, touch little, skim my fingers on every surface in a whisper.  I do not want to ripple time.

I'm going out to Jennings, home, in the morning.  I've taken my mother's car into the city, using the desire to get unpacked before my roommate's Monday arrival as an excuse for escaping.  My grandfather will be there; he's coming from their home in Chatham, Illinois to show my family the new Cadillac he has purchased.  I feel ambivalent about this visit.  It will be his first since Nana died; and I cannot summon the energy to endure seeing his solitude.

I curl under the quilt on my bed, the quilt that my mother gave me.  Its top was constructed by my great-grandmother from tailor scraps.  I find this bedcovering to be romantic.  I've always been told that my grandfather's father traveled around Lebanon selling pots, pans and other oddments from the back of  a cart.  My mother's relatives came from Austria, but this quilt of tailor's samples somehow connects the two families in my mind.  It comforts me; it brings my lineage into focus.

I fall asleep amidst the soothing sound of silence.

At midnight, I awaken from an odd dream in a cold sweat.  I've seen my grandmother.  She's in the backseat of my grandfather's new car, except in my dream it is not a Cadillac but a Lincoln Continental.  She's whole and undamaged, free of the ravages of several years of debilitating strokes.  In my dream, I stand on the sidewalk outside my mother's home watching through the window as she smiles.  Only I can see her.  She rolls down the window as my grandfather opens the driver's door to get out, and says to me and me alone:  "Tell Cillekin I'm all right.  Tell her not to cry."

"Cillekin" is her pet name for my mother, Lucille.  I try to speak but words will not come and suddenly, I am awake and panting, with a cold sweat gripping  my body.  

I decide to take a shower.  For the life of me, forty years later, I cannot say why but I did and when I return from the communal shower room my grandmother is sitting in the rocking chair in my room with that same sweet smile on her face.  

I drop my towel on the floor, struggle into a flannel nightgown, crawl back under my great-grandmother's quilt and fall into a deep sleep.  When I awaken, sunlight streams through the uncurtained window and my towel has been neatly folded and draped across the back of my rocking chair.

Later that morning, I find myself standing in the spot that I occupied in my dream.  My mother stands beside me; we are watching for her father.  And then he is there -- not in the Cadillac we've been told to expect, but in a Lincoln Continental.  It seems something happened to the Cadillac that he had just purchased, and he found that fact so offensive that just the day before, just the day of my dream, he took it back and walked across the street to the Lincoln dealership to buy a different vehicle.  

I could not draw my eyes from the empty backseat.

Later that day, after we had eaten, after my grandfather had left for the hour's drive home, I told my mother about my dream.  I told her what her own mother had said:  that she was all right, and not to cry.  Mother did not question my sanity.  She knew, as I had known, that whatever I saw, whatever I heard, whatever I felt, perfectly comported with what Nana would have wanted.

Here in Kansas City my morning advances.  Jessica has come home.  She tells me of her father's current state:  The ventilator tube became clogged and without it, her father should have died.  The family gathered at his bedside and the chaplain came.  But her father lived.  And lives.  At least, at present; at least for now.   It is left for Jessica and her family just to accept, this matter of life and death, this question of when and how.   No one knows the answer except whatever angel guards him, and that angel will  not speak.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

My grandmother, Johanna Ulz Lyons; my sister Joyce Corley; and in the background, 
my great-grandmother, Bibiana Ulz.
I've shown the edge of the picture so my family can see the date:  June 1968.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Musings, 18 October 2014

Good evening,

Other than a couple of planned hiatuses, today marks my first failure to write my musings on Saturday morning.

I can almost recapture the mood which inhibited me.  Unsettled; reluctant; agitated.  I slept long but not well, tortured by dreams drawn from the fears which lurk in the murky recesses of my mind.  The interplay between self-pity and the "suck it up, Buttercup" attitude that my friend Ellen urges me to adopt stymied me.

Ellen and her children and grandchildren, churchfolk and relatives, bade farewell to her husband Charlie today.  I barely made the visitation, under-estimating the drive-time to Plattsburg.  I slipped into the funeral home, past the smokers on the lawn, and found myself enfolded in Ellen's arms as though I were the mourner and she the comforter.  That's Ellen.

I eased my small body into a chair between two older couples, and watched the people fill the aisles.  Finally Ellen and the rest of her family, both sides, took their seats and the preacher stood to open the service as the sounds of Amazing Grace surrounded us.  Later, between the prayers, we heard James Taylor and Pink Floyd: 

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell,
Blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?

How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl,
Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.

 Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here 

I never meet Ellen's husband.  He stayed mostly at their place at the Lake these last two or three years, and Ellen lived primarily on their farm in the northland.  I'd seen photos of him; heard stories; and listened to Ellen describe his tenderness, his bull-headedness, and his gentleness.  I know he had his troubles.  He reminded me of my father in many ways:  A man you love; a man who plagues and fascinates you; a man who lives life without restraint, who loves without hesitation, who lights a room.

His son and two of his grandchildren, as well as several friends and his first mate, Bubba, stood to speak of the man whom they had lost.  When his granddaughter Elizabeth, small and solemn, said, "I am sorry my grandpa died,"  I suspect every strangled tear burst forth around the room.  The catch in his grandson's voice, as the boy leaned forward to the podium microphone, stabbed my heart.  And the tall, strong, and shaking sight of his son, so much like the father, telling us that Charlie taught him to be a man, took my breath away.

Afterward, at the Stony Point Presbyterian Church in Trimble, the counter in the basement kitchen fairly sank beneath the weight of all the food laid for the dinner.  I knew only two or three people besides Ellen and her family.  I'd been to church there once, with Ellen, on an August Sunday.  I'd met some of the ladies, and their husbands, and the minister.  I found myself surprised to be remembered. A half hour later, Ellen drew me to the family table, and I had a lovely conversation with a fifteen-year-old, the daughter of a Carnie cousin.

Eventually, I made my way back to the city.  As I traveled south on 169, I thought about my failure to write Saturday Musings.  I realized, suddenly, that the musings waited to be written until I had had a chance to spend several hours with Ellen and her family:  Her family by blood, her family by marriage, and the family with whom she surrounds herself each Sunday.  I felt their love.  As I descended further, on 71, and then west to my home off 63rd Street, I thought about Charlie Carnie.  I never met Charlie Carnie, but today I met his legacy.

As I parked the car in the gathering gloom and walked to the house through the chill of autumn, I felt that Charlie would have been pleased at how he was honored today; and I felt grateful that I got to be a part of those gathered in his memory.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The best online version of the song that I found can be heard here:

Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here

Saturday, October 11, 2014

11 October 2014

Good morning,

I visited my favorite curmudgeon yesterday afternoon, clad in my new glasses, bearing Penuche fudge from Laura Little's candy shop.  He likes that fudge.  His preference always led me to buy two pounds, back in the day when I brought the little white boxes to his wife, at the Sweet Life, during her final months.  Now I come with a pound of Penuche which the girls at Laura Little's cut in thirds, nestling each piece in a little paper cup like a delicate flower.  I brought a bag of freshly-roasted cashews, too.  We talked about his cancer and I rearranged his room to be more comfortable.  Before I left, I held him in my embrace.  I love that man.

As I passed through the lobby of the facility where Jay lives, I stopped to speak to a man with whom I have exchanged pleasantries on prior occasions.  A nurse stood by him, holding a small water cup.  I bade him good evening.  He protested, mildly, a bit mockingly.  Not a good day with her making me take these pills, he told  me.  I smiled at him encouragingly, then made my way to the car.  As I did, I suddenly remembered my last visit to my aunt Della, who lives in a similar facility in Illinois.  I haven't seen her for six years, and my neglect of her has weighed heavily on my mind in recent months, as I make my way to visit my father-in-law two or three times a week, and visit my mother-in-law's grave with her favorite roses.

My son and I navigated the streets of the suburbs south of Chicago, in October of 2008, when we were on our college tour.  We had been told to look for an angular street at the end of which we would find the nursing home.  We didn't have a GPS, we hadn't been there, we weren't familiar with the town.  We came upon the place almost by accident.  We parked and went inside where an attendant showed us how to get to Della Mae's floor.

She recognized Patrick.  We had been frequent visitors to her home for most of his life, and in fact had been present the weekend of her first strokes.  Patrick had been ten that year; or maybe eleven.  He'd spent many days in Della's driveway, playing with his cousin Jacob, with the little boys, Tyler, and Colin, and Kyle.  They'd hauled out the army guys which had belonged to Della's sons Adam and Richard and played fort in her living room.  Now he stood five-ten at 17; but Aunt Della, even in her foggy state, knew him.  He bent down and she put her arms around him and said, Oh Patrick, you came to see me.

But she did not know who I was.  More to the point:  She saw me as my mother.  She called me "Lucy" and talked about our Daddy, gushing out a long garbled story that I did not understand.  I smiled, and nodded, and all the while fretted over getting her downstairs and out onto the visitors' patio, where I thought she might enjoy sitting in the autumn air.

But a cloud covered the sun and Aunt Della lasted only ten or fifteen minutes before she began to squirm under the jacket that Patrick shed to drape over her shoulders.  My hopes of an afternoon of outdoor visiting vanished, swept away by an unanticipated wind.  We took her back inside and sat in the lounge instead, with other residents wheeling themselves into the area to engage us with varying levels of coherence during our visit.

My aunt had been a vibrant, eccentric woman for all the time I'd known her.  She raised three children in the southern suburb of Tinley Park, in a split-level house with its mortgage and one-car garage.   She was a good wife, I think; but the marriage had its troubles.  She held her tongue until the children all left home and then divorced her husband in a noisy, determined manner which scandalized my mother's family.  She went back to school at 45, got a degree,  and opened a therapy practice, working with victims of domestic violence and also with abusers.  She saw clients in her home and taught a communications class at a local college.  I adored her.

In the nursing home, that day, she talked about  her husband Richard as though they had never parted.  She assured me that he would be coming for her any moment; that he shared her room; that he ate dinner with her every night.  She teased the men passing in the hallways, telling me that one was her boyfriend.  She cackled, and blushed, and hid behind her hand.  My son spoke to her in gentle tones and I stood helplessly by, trying to see my vibrant aunt inside the aging, disoriented woman before me.

I remembered one visit that Patrick, my second husband Dennis, and I had made to Della.  We took her to a restaurant that she particularly liked.  The waiter took a long time coming to our table. Dennis fretted, wanting attention, wanting to place his order, wanting to be noticed.  Della took a paper napkin, speared it on a straw, and waived it above her head saying, Yoo hoo!  Yoo hoo!  Waiter Person!  Dennis really needs some coffee!  Even Dennis laughed.

The fullness of time pulls us forward.  My father-in-law's cancer will claim him; and my sorrow will seem unreasonable to some but will clutch my heart and pull me into a slump from which only the knowledge of his personal tenacity will pull me.  I watch the seasons change.  I clean out my closets and my cupboards.  I turn the pages of the calendar and think about my aunt Della Mae, wondering if she would know me after more than half a decade, even know me as her sister.  I would not mind that now.  I would answer as a sister, as my mother.  I have grown accustomed to the changes which take me down the path that the women of my family trod before me.  I see them in the mirror every morning, in my eyebrows, in the slant of my cheek and the curve of my smile.  They watch from the blue of my eyes with the brown of theirs.  They guide my step, at four o'clock each day, to the room where my favorite curmudgeon lives.  They do not mind my visiting his Joanna's grave instead of theirs.  They gave me the love that I now give to others, and they rest easy, both the living and the dead, with the comfortable knowledge of their legacy.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley
Della Mae Rush, circa 2000

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Saturday Musings, 04 October 2014

Good morning,

The fragrance of French Market coffee fills the first floor of the Holmes house.  My morning has started with ten minutes of  Music from the Heart of Space, my radio dial set to KU public radio where it has been all week.  I've fed the cat, let the dog out and in again, and settled at the dining room table.  Now the  news drifts to me from a few feet away; I've positioned  myself so my one good ear can tilt towards the radio.

As I passed through the breakfast nook to the dining room, I noticed that the workers had regrouped some of the precious items on the keeping shelf.  I touch one of them, a little pottery cup, thinking about finding it in Arkansas.  Standing next to it is my mother's dinner bell, and suddenly I find myself transported back in time to September of 1991, Jennings, Missouri, a few days after my father had died.

The eight Corleys stand or sit in the living room, on the old couch, my father's recliner, the straight-back chair by the front door. My brother Stephen lounges against the wall.  A dumpster has been delivered and consumes the usable space at the end of the driveway.  My father's body lies on a table at the funeral home waiting to be prepared for burial.  I hold my infant son.  We have gathered to talk about the stuff accumulated in our parents' home, now that the second of them has died.

We've settled on a method.  Each of the eight Corleys will get to "reserve" three items that will be safe -- theirs no matter what anyone else wants or claims.  Then, we will travel as a pack through each room of the house, picking by "up rounds and down rounds".  Youngest to oldest; oldest to youngest -- in rotation, until everything has been divided.  

We make our protected choices youngest to oldest.  Stephen, Frank, me, Mark, Kevin, Joyce, Adrienne and last, though certainly not least, Ann.  I know what I want:  The china and the sterling silverware.  I don't expect that I'll get either through any traditional means.  I married in 1987 at a hippie church in Arkansas and our most elegant wedding present was the down pillows that one of the Corley aunts had had delivered from a department store in St. Louis. Everything else trended to the hand-made and the consumable.  I divorced in 1989 and had my son without benefit of a second marriage, in 1991.  I expected to live alone for the rest of my life but did intend to set a nostalgic holiday table. 

But Frank claimed the sterling before me.  So I went for the  china, the silver-plate, and the dinner bell.

"Oh....." Frank sighed but not so softly as to be missed.  I looked his way, quizzically.  He had not laid claim to the brass bell brought home by my father from Burma, with which our mother had summoned us to dinner.  A small silence descended.

"Teresa and I already have the dinner bell," he admitted.  "We took it when Mom died."  Six years before; and I, living in Arkansas for the  last four years, hadn't been home enough to notice.

"Well then...." I began.  "I'll think of something else."  But Frank shook his head.  "No, no," he told me.  "I'll bring it back."  I couldn't decide what to say next; he seemed earnest.  I let it go with a simple thanks, and watched Adrienne, our secretary, note my choices on her pad.  We moved to Mark and on up the chain.  Within an hour, we had done two rooms in up round and down round, laughing when someone picked something that the person ahead of or behind them in birth order had been waching.  Nobody bickered during those rounds, though in the cleaning-and-throwing-out phase of the week, later, enough alcohol got consumed to prompt some tense exchanges.  On that first day, though, we showed nothing but love and kindness.

Later in the week, Frank approached me with a little wrapped parcel.  "Here's the bell," he told me.  I saw him eyeing it; I felt guilty.  I imagined that it had been used to call his own children to the table for the half-dozen years it had dwelt in his home.  I tried -- perhaps feebly -- to decline.  But Frank had already moved away and I stood, in my parents' living room, holding the brass dinner bell, feeling a bit shabby.

The china that I got from my mother sat in boxes in my brother Stephen's apartment storage unit with her china cabinet -- which I had claimed in the breakfast room down round -- and a couple of pieces of furniture that I had claimed.  I packed to take with me the silver plate, the "stove lot" -- a bunch of mismatched grease-coated items from the shelf above the stove in my mother's  kitchen -- and the dinner bell, which flew home to Fayetteville in the diaper bag beside my sleeping son.  A year later, I called my brother Stephen to arrange to get my inherited items, and learned that his storage unit had been burgled.  The thief took everything but a box containing half of Mom's china.  The plates, the bowls, and the gravy boat.

I tried, once, to give Frank back the dinner bell but he wouldn't take it.  As my son grew, I made a half-hearted effort to deploy the bell at dinner time each night, but only managed to use it if his friends had come to visit.  With just one child, standing at the doorway to his bedroom does the trick.  But on the occasions when I summoned Patrick, Chris and Maher to the table with a shake of the brass bell from my mother's home, the ghost of the infinity Corleys followed them into the room, and jostled for their traditional places -- boys on one side, girls on the other -- at the table.

A singer croons on the radio.  I haven't heard her name but her song floods the room, sweet and soulful.  My muscles ache from the cold.  Last evening, I brought my porch plants into the house.   I will soon have to use the furnace.  Winter draws near.  I sigh, echoing my brother's voice.  Then I go to the kitchen to pour another cup of coffee.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Pictured:  On the keeping shelf at the Holmes House:
(hanging) A little angel from Penny Thieme; a bell ornament from my father's childhood; an antique glass ornament purchased at Waldo flea market.
The bells:  A silver Christmas bell; a traditional church bell; my mother's dinner bell, which my father brought home from WWII; a bell from Colorado which Katrina Taggart brought me; 
and a Christmas angel bell.  
The two-tiered keeping shelf in my home holds many mementos of a life well-lived. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

27 September 2014

Good morning,

I've shamelessly tuned to Lawrence Public Radio for the day, to avoid listening to the fall membership drive on KCUR.  I already give; I'm a lifetime monthly donor.  I don't need the pitch, and it annoys me.  Lest I be tempted to complain, I've found a way around it without losing the enjoyment of the morning radio shows.

I'm tired today, but feeling a bit more satisfied than usual.  I got a chance to see the Kansas City Actors Theatre perform Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead last evening, something to which I'd been looking forward for a couple of weeks.  My friend Brenda and I first dined at Eden Alley, a vegetarian restaurant that it turns out we both enjoy, and then on to Union Station and the play.  I had not seen a production of this work in so many years that I could not recall my last viewing.  It has not lost any appeal for me.  The deft acting of the members of KCAT did the absurd work justice.

My last thought before troubled sleep fell to the first time I saw professional theatre.  St. Louis, 1965 or 1966; I think it was Kiel Auditorium.  And as I drifted to sleep, I lost myself in that memory.

I'm nine, maybe ten.  I'm wearing a red plaid jumper and a white shirt with a Peter Pan collar.  My hair falls to the middle of my back in ringlets painstakingly formed by my mother while I sat on a wooden stool in the kitchen.  I had felt  a warm flush in my belly while I held still for her; my grandmother has given my mother two tickets to a play, and she has decided to take me.  

We take a bus downtown.  I stumble as we climb the steps; the driver looks down at me, a kind smile, a soft word.  "Take your time, Miss," he says.  His face looks worn.  I wonder if he has a little girl, someone who hears his patient voice every day.  I smile and slide into the seat behind him.  My mother settles next to me.  We've done this many times; the trips blur together.  

I hold her hand as we enter Kiel Auditorium.  The crowds frighten me.  I shrink against my mother's dress and cast a guarded eye at the men and women filing through the doors.  I see no other children.  But I don't feel out of place; I feel special. 

Our seats are high above the stage; it looks tiny but elegant, dark now, while the crowd settles.  I've been to plays but never in a room larger than my house, with strangers around me, way above the stage.  I saw my sister in "Carnival" at the high school.  She did props for "Bell, Book and Candle", and we all went because our neighbor's cat played the witch's animal.  But now I'm surrounded by women from whom wafts of perfume drift and men who smell of cigar smoke.  I settle into a velvet-covered seat and gaze down at the privileged people in the floor seats without envying them.  I wait.

The first strands of the opening song fill the auditorium.  I hang on every word sung by The Urchins:  "There is a beautiful land, where all your dreams come true. . ."  The lights rise to reveal the set:  A large, circular Game of Life, on which, for the next two hours, I will watch Anthony Newley as "Cocky" in this phenomenal touring production of "The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd".  I savor every note.  I slide forward to the edge of the seat and stay there, holding the brass rail, following the players' movements as they play a game in which the rules always change.

By the time Mr. Newley tells us, "My first love song, this is my first love song," I have fallen in love with him, with theatre, with the magic of pretending on a scale that I had never known and would never understand.  His vibrant British voice reaches our seats and lifts us into his alternating joy and chagrin.  

I want to go down to the stage and comfort Mr. Newley when he pleads, in the last song of the first act:  "Who can I turn to, if nobody needs me?  My heart wants to know and so I must go where destiny leads me.  And maybe tomorrow, I'll find what I'm after.  I'll throw off my sorrow, beg steal or borrow my share of laughter.  With you, I could learn to.  With you on a new day.  But who can I turn to if you turn away?"   His words, his voice, burn themselves in my mind and I know, at that moment, that I will never forget the sight and sound of him.

We don't leave our seats during the intermission.  I didn't know that in the lobby, people would buy drinks and some small snack.  I didn't know that we had no money for such luxuries.  I thought we stayed in our seats so no one would take them.  I did not want to miss one moment; I stayed in my seat so that I would hear the first note of the first song of the second act and each word after the first word.  

I feel a rush of excitement when The Negro wins The Game of Life, standing at the center of the board and raising his grand voice, finding his oneness with the world around him.  I close my eyes as he sings "Birds, in the sky, you know how I feel, River running by, you know how I feel.  It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life, for me."  

I want to know how he feels. I want to stand with him.  But I am far away, high up, in the last row of the house, a small child in a throng of grown-ups.  My chest heaves.

Sir and Cocky lock themselves in  battle, Sir wanting to control Cocky and Cocky wanting only a chance, only to be loved, only to be heard and understood.  I take my mother's little opera glasses to my eyes and see Anthony Newley's face as though I had been transported down to the first row.  His song washes over me as he and Sir realize that they depend upon each other:  "This, my friend, is only the beginning, such a sweet beginning too.  Now at last, I see a chance of winning, see a chance of breaking through.  Come on, my friend, let's send the whole world spinning:  Change, is what I recommend.  And so, my friend, let's see the sweet beginning through to the bitter end.  Through to the bitter end."  As the last note echoes through the hall, I feel my hands gripping the brass rail in front of me and realize that I have stopped breathing.

I don't see the passing streets as we make our way back to North County, back to our home in Jennings, back to my small bed, in a shared bedroom, in a house of many children, too little food, and too few dreams.  The strains of the closing refrain of "A Beautiful Land" follow me:  "And if you travel the world, from China to Peru, there's no beautiful land on the charts.  And you're full of the lucky gift, to discover it for yourself, for the beautiful land is in your heart.  Your heart.  Your heart."

I haven't heard the news, nor the first stories on NPR's Morning Edition.  My coffee has grown cold.  The dog has abandoned her quest to draw me to the kitchen and her food.  My neck creaks from bending  to see the laptop.  My wrists strain at the wrong angle for typing.  I have not noticed any of this.  I glance over the words I have written.  I squint a bit, partly because I have discarded my inadequate glasses in favor of leaning my face close to the screen, and partly because I am trying to picture that night, nearly forty years ago.  I ask myself, Was I really the only child who went with my mother?  Did Frank and Steve go, too?  Did we really take the bus, or was that a different trip, to Grandma's house?  I think I remember it as it happened; I've typed the words of the songs from memory; I feel more sure of that, then my recollection of the color of my dress or the feel of the opera glasses against my face.

The exact details do not matter.  What matters is this, and only this:  On that night, a little girl sat in a very big theatre, and found a way to let the cares of her troubled world fall away.  The world of acted make-believe would be a comfort for that girl many times over; and later in life, when the solace of escape did not seem so critical, the memory of that first experience would nonetheless linger.  Only a note would be necessary -- one note, one bar, of one song -- to bring that girl back to the seat high above The Game of Life, where Anthony Newley sang to her:  My first love song:  this is my first love song.  But it takes a poet to make a rhyme.  I'm not clever, I could never ever sing the praises worthy of you.  Each endeavor I may make to sing your praises may not sound as it should do.  But I love  you.  Please believe I love you, and I love the way poets do, to bring my love song, and sing my love song to you."

And The Girl answers:  My first love song:  this is my first love song.  No one's ever needed my love before.  You're like I am.  All alone like I am and in need of someone to care. . . If you love me, as you say you love me, I would be so happy to see you bring your love song, and sing your love song to me."

Mugwumpishly  tendered,

Corinne Corley

To hear a lovely rendition of "My First Love Song", go here:  

My First Love Song

Saturday, September 20, 2014

20 September 2014

Good morning

The day struggles to assert itself, just as I do.  Grey clings to the air; ache grips my muscles.  I stumble around the house, listening to Morning Edition and shaking my head, testing the cobwebs, challenging their stake to my brain.  I fall into a chair and raise the mug to my mouth, thinking, Coffee, coffee, surely all I need is coffee.  It's Saturday but it might as well be the day before Armageddon.  I slug the coffee down, heedless of my burned mouth.  I wait for it to do its work.

I can't make out what the lady on the radio tells me about the weather.  The radio sits just around the corner and I know the volume knob sits on too loud for most people, but the ringing in my ears obscures the sound which it emits.  More coffee, more coffee, you just need more coffee.  My mug says, "Northwestern University" on both sides.  It completes my collegiate collection:  Harvard, a DePauw "First Farm Table" cup swiped from my son, and now Northwestern.  I smile.  Ah, a smile.  Perhaps I will live!

I like awakening early but today, I would just as soon have slept past even the six-forty-five slot at which I finally shook myself to consciousness.  I'm getting old.  But I'm not complaining, as my friends know; I abandoned complaining at the first of this year, a choice that I've struggled to honor and often deeply regret.  Oh, dang.  That qualifies as a slip!  I smile again.  It's getting to be a habit.

Some Saturdays, my mind casts back to days that have already fallen from the calendar to clutter around my feet.  I step among the pages.  On their surfaces, notes in varied handwriting and different inks remind me that I made plans and held onto scraps of recollection.  Lunch, 12:00, one page might say.  I lift it from the ground and gaze at its month and year, trying to recall with whom I dined and where.  I let  the yellowed paper fall from my hand and watch it flutter. The fullness of time gathers around my feet, the days I have lived, the days I have lost, the days I have forgotten.  I drink more coffee.  I smile a third time; someone sings on the radio, with a soft round voice.

I never sit in silence.  The chronic tinnitus which has plagued me since childhood grows more insistent, more varied, more like a frenetic, wild symphony each day.  But other sounds crowd my mind and fill my ears:  Voices, laughter, sobs, the crash of a car and the blast of a shotgun.  Funeral music and rock 'n roll.  Bagpipes and harmonicas.   Harsh tongue-lashings and weak entreaties.  Lovers' whispers and children's cries.  I shake my head, the cobwebs still clinging and the ghosts crowding, clamoring, crying, Look at me, look at me, look at me.

I've squandered many days.  A few, I've spent wisely.  I can't tell how many pages remain in the calendar hanging on my wall; maybe twenty, maybe two-hundred, maybe a thousand.  A pen hangs on a string from the same hook, upside down, ready to mark the pages with events that I want to be sure to remember -- ahead, so I'll be on time; afterwards, so I won't forget.  I take another sip of coffee and feel a fourth smile threatening to dawn across my tired face.  I glance out the back door and see that the sun's bold rays have defeated the grey.  I check the calendar, Coffee, Pat, 10:30.

It's going to be a keeping day.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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

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.