Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Musings, 21 November 2015

Good morning,

An early Ping tells me that someone wants to communicate with me, and I reach for my phone.  Ellen wants me to know that she has the flu and I should not come to the farm today.  I had learned this from her friend Jerry late last night.  We exchange messages for a few minutes.  She says she regrets having to cancel my visit and miss Thanksgiving at the Stony Point Church.  I send little hearts and type, "Feel better" several times.  Then her little icon stands silent and I lie and listen to the wind blow.

I brought a new flag to the grave of my favorite curmudgeon yesterday.  The first one vanished, no doubt blown off its metal pole.  This time, I made a kind of lock from twine, something that should keep the flag from slipping off the end and skittering across the lawn into the lake.  I brought fresh flowers for Joanna, placing them in bottled water and a cemetery vase from Michael's.  The brass one has not yet been replaced.  I think to myself for the tenth time:  What kind of person steals brass vases from a grave?  I would really like to know.

Driving down Holmes Road after my cemetery visit, I suddenly think about my mother's grave.  She lies in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, with my father, my brother, my niece, and a host of Corley relatives.  I have not gone to visit my mother's resting place in many years, not since we laid my brother Stephen's ashes there, with a picture of his daughter, a pair of Cardinals tickets, and a Grateful Dead sticker on the side of the brass box.  I tried to find Mother's grave once but got lost in the cemetery.  On the other hand, I drive to Jay and Joanna's resting place by instinct now.  I cannot explain the comfort that I take from my visits.  I don't quite understand it myself.

But my mother's spirit haunted me yesterday, and a memory rises within me.

We're at a cemetery.  I can't say which one, we visited so many.  Mother collected graves like others collect glass, or stamps, or musical instruments.  Mom would stroll among the old raised stones and crouch before the broken angels.  She traced the names of dead children with the red raw fingers of a woman who has scrubbed too  many pots.  

I carried the wax paper and knife in a paper bag and walked beside her, waiting for her to decide which stone to memorialize with a wax paper rubbing that day.  I stepped between the graves, shuddering, apologizing in my mind to anyone beneath my feet who felt defiled.  Mother had no such qualms.  She sat with crossed legs on one person's grave while studying the Bible verse on the grave next to it.  I hovered in the background, her daughter, but not like her.  

"Mom, come on, you know I don't like these places," I said finally.  But my mother merely smiled and stood, shaking her head, beaming at me, continuing to wander among the dead.  

She found a baby's grave and reached for the wax paper roll.  "Oh look," she whispered.  "Just a few weeks old."  She leaned down and spread a length of paper over the headstone and held it in position while she rubbed the blade of the knife across it to make the impression.  Then the piece of paper went into a folder in the paper bag and we moved away, looking for someone else to visit.  I stepped around the baby's grave with care.  I felt my lips move; felt my heart cringe.  A prayer like a sigh escaped from me and wafted to the heavens.

When my mother had had her fill of visiting the long-dead relatives of others, we walked back to where she had parked the car.  She sat behind the wheel for a few minutes, not starting the engine, not rolling down the window.  She turned to me.  "Will you come visit me, after I'm gone, when I'm buried? When I'm in the ground?"

"Mom, don't be maudlin," I snapped.  "Besides, you know I don't like cemeteries.  They creep me out. Don't ask me questions like that."

She looked away from her teenage baby girl and gazed across the green expanse, with its dots of stone and its towering angels.  I don't know what she thought.  She did not say.  She started the car and drove towards the gates, pausing to look for traffic, illuminating her turn signal.

"It's okay if you don't come," she finally said.  

I did not believe her.  I shifted the paper bag to the floor of the car and turned towards my own window, away from my mother.  "You're not going to die," I told her.  "You're going to live to be a hundred and fifty, and you'll visit me in  my grave and say, 'Oh look Mary, the lady beside you is named Irene and died in childbirth.'"

My mother laughed. "I won't say that.  I promise.  Besides, a mother should not outlive her children, it's not natural."  I didn't answer her.  She pulled in front of our house and stopped the car.

"Thanks for going with me," she told me.  I shrugged.  "No, really -- I mean it.  Thank you. I know you think it's weird, taking these stone rubbings, visiting cemeteries, reading about the lives and deaths of people we don't know."  I turned to look at her then; I did think it was weird and I didn't understand it.  But I didn't say so.  I just said, as quietly as possible, "Let's have a cup of tea."

We left the car and went into the house, me carrying the bag of rubbings and supplies, my mother swinging her home-made corduroy purse.  We lingered on the front porch, talking only of the living, until the sun set and the dregs of our tea grew cold.  Then we went, together, into the kitchen, and began to make dinner.  

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The gravesite of my favorite curmudgeon and his beautiful wife.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 14 November 2015

Good morning,

As I listen to the NPR reports about the attacks in Paris, I feel a little shabby.  The deaths of so many people make my life seem trivial; the terrible suffering on the streets of Paris overshadow any small problem that might plague me.

Nonetheless, I sit drinking coffee, eating GF granola, and thinking about my Friday.

The day began as days begin:  Alarm rang, startling me from a terrible dream, but it was just a dream, and it quickly faded.  I threw together the accouterments of an ordinary life -- warmed over coffee, sweater dress, food dumped in the dog's dish on the back porch and the cat's dish out front.  Boots zipped, pocketbook draped cross-body, computer bag slung over one shoulder; out the door, down the driveway, struggle into the world's smallest rental car.

I drove north to my auxiliary existence in Liberty.  Once through the square, I slid into the handicapped spot on the curb by the courthouse.  I saw a hand raise on the sidewalk, and returned the greeting of one of the Clay County judges.

Ten minutes later, I mingled among lawyers who have adjusted to make a space for me at their Bar.  My friend Pat entertained me with an account of the case she would be trying later that morning.  Another female lawyer described her foot surgery, without seeming too disappointed at having to wear flip flops to in-chambers pre-trial conferences.  A clerk offered to get coffee for me.  I complimented a nattily dressed young male lawyer whose striped socks matched his pocket-square.

By 9:30, I settled  myself at  a table in Morning Day Cafe.  I couldn't get on the Internet so I moseyed up to the counter for password advice, and chatted with a cartoonist sketching while he ate his breakfast.  Ten minutes later, he stopped at my table and gently laid a sketch down,  For you, he said softly, presenting me with a depiction of a cat and a rabbit sitting in a coffee shop using a laptop which had a carrot for an emblem.  A giraffe peered through the picture window in the background, a window strikingly similar to the one behind me.

I put my hand out to touch his arm.  Wait, please, I begged, scrambling in my bag for something to give him in exchange.  My fingers curled around one of my more successful types of Law Firm pens, and I gave that to him.  That's me, I said.  Thank you for this picture.  He smiled and made his way out the door.

My friend Pat came after her trial and had a cup of coffee with me.  We argued over who would pay the bill; she claimed it was her turn but I demurred, since she had not even eaten. She let me buy  her coffee, swearing that she would retaliate by getting my lunch next time.  An ordinary exchange but I left smiling.

At the building where I've had an office for the last few months, I followed another lawyer into the building after parking behind Pat's car.  I discovered that someone had hung a beautiful blue wool coat on my office door, and left a bag of clothes.  I lifted the top item and gasped at the soft  beauty of a pale green shawl.  At that moment, Trish Hughes, another lawyer who had, until this month, owned the building came into my office.  You left me this beautiful coat, this lovely shawl, didn't you? And she admitted that she had.  I thought they looked like your style, and I don't wear them anymore.

A glint on the collar of the coat caught my attention.  It's an angel pin! I gasped.  Did you know about me and angels?  She said she didn't; the pin hid a little flaw which she showed me.  You don't have to keep the pin if you don't want it.  Ah, but I do.  I do.

An hour later,  a client sat in my office and cried about the difference between what her husband was telling her and what his lawyer had said to the judge and recited in the husband's proposed parenting plan.  He said he would not take my girls from me, she whispered.  I didn't even have a box of Kleenex to offer her.  I could only gently guide her to a state of calm with a strategic plan which might or might not work.  When she had left,  I stepped into Trish's office and asked her to help me load everything she had given me into the car.  Thank you for asking me to help you, she said in her lovely voice.  I could not reply; I would have broken down.  I hugged her though; and promised  that I would see her next week.

In the afternoon, I presented myself in the Outpatient Radiology department at North Kansas City Hospital for a chest x-ray.  Undress to the waist and take off that necklace, the technician directed.  I stood in front of her and contemplated making an admission; I did not like to do so, but I had no choice.  I can't unfasten this necklace, I told her.  If I need to take it off, you'll have to do it.  She looked at me with something that I felt wanted to be distaste.  But then, for some reason, she relented.  I saw the moment flicker across her face.  Maybe I reminded her of her mother; maybe she remembered what drew her to patient care in the first place.  She stepped behind me and undid the tiny catch of the chain holding the smokey topaz which I rarely remove, and laid the lovely thing on the counter beside her clipboard.

After the test, she just as carefully refastened the chain around my neck.

I got a tea in the coffee shop where I have, on several occasions, sat and cried.  But yesterday I felt no need for tears, only that bone-deep chill of approaching illness. The Earl Grey flowed through my body and warmed me, if only briefly.

Back south, in Westport, at the car repair place, I told the woman behind the counter that I would not drive the rental car again.  Can you call them, please, and tell them to come get it?  She asked if I had had car trouble as she dialed the number of Enterprise Rental three blocks away from her establishment.  Yes, I did; the cabin space is so cramped that I could not see over the steering wheel and I struggled to get in and out of the vehicle.  I fell out of it onto a parking garage floor.  She stared at me as though thinking, perhaps, that I had lost my mind.  But she made the call.

The manager of the car place transferred my bags and the lovely blue coat into the Prius and shook my hand just as the manager of the car rental outfit pulled onto the lot with a crumpled rental car.  He strode across the lot.  Mrs. Corley, he called.  I hear you had some problems with our rental car, I am so sorry.  We stood by the Prius while I explained the vagaries of having a spastic body, of shoving that body into a tight space.  It was not the end of the world, but I just reached my limit of endurance.  He apologized; he gave me his business card; he told me to let him know if I needed anything in the future.  Then he, too, shook my hand, and I got into the Prius for the drive home.

I pulled into my driveway, noticing the ten bags of collected leaves grouped around the tree on the parkway.  What nice neighbors I have, I said, out loud, to no one.  Earlier in the week, I had received a text from Scott Vaughn, one of the men next door, telling me that he would rake my leaves before the approaching city collection date.  And sure enough, he had.

I stepped from the car with the motor still running, my cell phone connected to the charger which I had left all week in the Prius.  I started toward the front porch with my two bags: the computer bag in my right hand, the bag of clothes in my weaker, sprained, left hand.  And I felt the twinge which tells me that I'm going to fall, and fall I did.  When my head smacked against the backdoor of the Prius, my first thought was this:  If I have to take it back for more body work, I want a bigger rental car.

I lay on the ground amid the few autumn leaves which had drifted down from the nearly naked tree, in the hours since Scott had done his work.  I peered at the grey-blue sky, wondering if it would rain; thinking about my cell phone eight feet from me inside the car, on its charger, sitting in the change tray.

I had inched my way as far as the edge of the vehicle when I heard a voice and knew that I  would be rescued.  Brian Martig, my fellow Waldo-Brookside Rotarian and the contractor working on my house, bounded down the stairs, scooped me from the ground, and steadied me against the Prius.

Eventually, the Prius parked, I made my way into the house.  I shook the leaves from my back, onto the living room floor.  I climbed the stairs to talk with Brian about the day's progress. I admired the finished plumbing and tested the LED lighting that will span the length of the attic closet that Brian designed and built.  I lowered the drawbridge entryway, marveled for the thousandth time over the ingenuity of its design.  I studied the amount of illumination cast from within the new closet. I voiced my thoughts about the position of the light switch.  Then Brian packed his tools and made his way home to his wife, his son, and the promise of his unborn daughter.

I watched an episode of Chopped.  I perused the Internet news of Paris.  I gave my son advice over the phone about refrigerated meat.  I listened to voice mail from my friend Brenda.  In the silence of the house, I thought about angels.  I have no lack of them.  In fact, I concluded, for such an ordinary woman, with such a mundane life, I seem to  have angels around me in abundance.

On the strength of that conclusion, I set the alarm, and went to bed.

Mugwumpishly tendered.

Corinne Corley

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm) 07 November 2015

Good morning,

This musing will be shorter than usual.  I'm typing with a sprained left hand which I'm told is riddled with arthritis.  I'll be examining voice-to-type software; it seems my wrists, like the rest of me, have aged quicker than the average human.  C'est la vie, I suppose.  At least I can see the computer screen again, with my new specs.  One lens has to be remade but even with one eye slightly off, my vision has considerably improved.

Struggling to my feet yesterday, something that grows increasingly difficult, I thought about my mother.  She's been gone half my life and I think of her far less than I do my father-in-law, whom I only knew for five years but whose death deprived me of a parental love of rare purity.  But nonetheless, my mother's voice echoes in my mind.

At nine years old, I tried to persuade my mother to enroll me in a dance class.  We stood in the kitchen nose to nose.  My stubborn nature compelled me to jam my little fists on my hips and glare.  I could not understand her refusal.  There was no charge for the first few lessons; I would have been willing to stop after that if we could not afford to pay.  I just wanted to try.

Mother pursed her lips.  She raised her hands and placed one on each of my shoulders.  Her eyes closed.  She drew me against her chest.  Mary, oh Mary, my sweet baby girl, she murmured.  I felt a sob run through her body.  A warm flush rose in me, spreading through my stomach, settling in my lungs.  I could not breathe.

I pulled back from her then.  What's wrong, Mom? I asked. I followed the path of two single tears dropping from the corners of her eyes down her olive cheeks.

She shook her head.  You'll never be a dancer, Mary, she told me.  I felt my eyebrows draw together.  But why? I asked.  Why can't I?  She did not answer.

My mother turned away from me then; she told me, go set the table for supper.  She lifted the lid of the pot on the stove and stirred its contents, letting the fragrant steam waft into the kitchen.  I did as she asked, getting the silverware from the cabinet across from the basement door and the plates from the cupboard hanging on the wall.  My brothers and sisters wandered into the breakfast room and took their places at the table.  My dad came up from the basement.  Mother and I sat down last. Neither of us spoke as the prayer was said and the food was passed.

When my mother had received her cancer diagnosis in 1984, all of us started spending more time with her.  Walking in her garden one Saturday, a soft autumn day much like the one outside my door today, I asked my mother if she remembered my yearning to be a ballerina.  She paused, then sank to the park bench.

I do, she admitted.  I deeply regretted not letting you take that damn class, she told me, then, for the first time. I should have let you dance.

We fell silent.  After a few minutes, she reached to take my hand and we sat together in the afternoon air.  I don't know what she felt.  She never said; and I never asked.

Mugwumpishly tendered.

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Saturday Musings, 31 October 2015

Good morning,

Scott Simon tells me that it's Weekend Edition on NPR news. I munch on a rice cake with chunky almond butter and eye my coffee with suspicion.  I have at least two medical conditions which will protest my ingestion of this French Market chicory roast, but it pleases me to drink it.  I take the risks.

Last night's loss by the Royals to the Mets only slightly dampened the gathering which I attended.  Hard-core  believers, Rotarians and their spouses, ordered pizza and blue drinks (on special) and chatted as only folks in their middle-age can chat.  I drifted between the clusters of four or five, welcomed at each table but staying nowhere for long.  I do not feel excluded but I do not feel like inserting myself.  I'm fine with flitting.

Now it's Halloween and the day of Game four of the World Series.  I've been invited to a costume party.  I don't have a plan but I have five or six hours to devise one.  I'll get a mask and wear a long dress.  People can ruminate over what I portray.  While I'm at the paper goods store, I'll buy a bag of candy to give the little kids who will knock on my door before seven, if any remain in the neighborhood.  Whatever is left, I will take for the children sure to be at the party with their parents.  I'm practicing to be a grandmother; grandmothers always carry treats for the kiddos.  Grandmothers and old maids.

I think about Halloweens gone by: My son as Batman; Power Ranger; a hobo; a zombie.  One year we trick-or-treated with his daycare provider in her neighborhood with her husband and their children.   She left a large tin bowl of candy bars on their stoop before we trudged away to start door-bell ringing.  I questioned the wisdom of that but said nothing.  What would stop the first kid to arrive from taking the whole lot?  Nothing, I supposed; nothing but manners.  I wondered about that.  I must have been more of a skeptic than Diane.

The last year that anyone went out into the neighborhood from my home must have been 2004.  I had a  rule that begging for candy stopped at 13.  That year, my son and his friends put on costumes and trick-or-treated for UNICEF with the Alongis, a family which lived on nearby Rockhill Road whose boys were near the age of mine.  Kathy Alongi came dressed as a lion.  I painted the faces of my son and his friends.  Dennis, my husband at that time, clipped a tail to the back of his wheelchair.  Kathy's husband Joe did not wear a costume but he carried a large flashlight.

I stood on the steps of our porch and watched them walk into the night, holding the collection cans.  Kathy wore a padded coat over her lion's fur to guard against the light rain.  The five boys scampered ahead:  Phillip and James Alongi, my son Patrick, and the friends who formed my son's village, Chris and Maher.  Kathy's frail arm linked through Joe's sturdier one.  Dennis in his power chair brought up the rear, twitching tiger tail catching a swirl of leaves from time to time.

A wave of tenderness washed over me as I stood on the steps of the Holmes house, watching that funny little group walk into the night to collect coins for charity.  When they had vanished around the corner, I went back into the house and raised the shades, so that any children who ventured into the night would know that they were welcome.

Now I hear a story of a man's death in one of our most recent terrible wars, described by his brother. U. S. Marine Rafael Peralta received the Navy Cross for shielding several Marines from a grenade in November 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  I switch over to a Wikipedia site and read about the varying accounts of Sgt. Peralta's death.  I think, It doesn't matter which version is accurate.  This man, an immigrant from Mexico who enlisted as soon as he had his green card, died fighting as a member of our Armed Forces.  When I realize that this man died two weeks after my family's UNICEF Halloween, I wonder about life.

While we were counting the money which the boys raised that day, Rafael Peralta prepared to go into a situation far from home.  He willingly strode out into the frenzy, into a fight which he did not inspire but in which he engaged wearing the uniform of his adopted country.  He took his last breath on the sands of Iraq, far from home, far from the nation which he embraced, far from my little house, where I now sit, furnace roaring, radio playing, autumn leaves drifting to the ground outside my open blinds.  What a world.  What a world.

Mugwumpishly tendered.

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 24 October 2015

Good morning,

Except for the ringing in my ears, the neighborhood has fallen silent.  Jackhammers assaulted our air far into Friday evening, shattering the silence, driving me off my front porch.  I closed windows and doors, turned the television volume higher, and called the police.  But progress evidently marches forward despite the ruination of the environment of those who've made Astor Place home for decades.

And now I am thinking of progress; of houses raised, of buildings demolished, of trees torn from their roots.  When I get back to St. Louis, I search for apartments where I laid my head after nights of drinking or late hours at the library but all have succumbed to the whimsical dictates of urban planners.  I wonder what my parents' house looks like now; I remember my house in Winslow, Arkansas which Brian, Trudy, and I saw a few years ago.  On Monday work begins on my upstairs bathroom here.  I'll take pictures before the contractor starts his work.  Future owners of this house will want to know where it began.

Where it all began.

A by-the-week apartment on Russell Blvd, east of Jefferson, St. Louis, Missouri.  Summer 1974.  I enter the stairwell with a bag of groceries, my pocketbook, a handful of keys.  The apartment door opens on the front stoop of the building into a stairwell the leads directly into my living room.  I kick the door shut with one foot, rattling the glass, and start my climb.  I'm 18; as strong as I will ever be, because I'm working as a camp counselor out in Jennings where my parents still live, using their address to qualify for the job.  The soccer coach has taken me on as a mission and is teaching me tricks on the weight machine.  The stairs to my apartment seem almost easy.

A little group of neighbors had been standing in the yard of the four-family flat when I parked on Russell.  My landlady stood among them.  They eyed me but offered no help.  I twitched the sheaf of hair on my back and smiled as I walked beyond them.  Their conversation resumed when I unlocked the door. They probably find me arrogant but I don't care.  I know I'm not.  I'm just  a different kind of person than they are.

It's that way, in St. Louis, in the 1970s.  If you come from the County, the folks in the City find you perplexing.  And vice versa.  North Countians like me don't evoke as much suspicion as those from West or South County, but we're still considered oddballs.  Outcasts.  Interlopers.

My friend Hank has invited himself for dinner.  I like Hank.  We met during my first year of college and became friends over drinks at the Pub.  He's strong and smart and funny, and we've never even hinted at dating or romance; we're just friends.  An eighteen-year-old girl who's moved from Jennings to the city to go to SLU needs man-friends; he's walked into a few tense situations and steered me out of trouble.

I need a friend more than ever, this particular evening.  I've ended my first-year-of-college relationship with a man who accused me of dumping him because of his race.  "You think I'm breaking up with you because you're black?" I asked.  He glared at me.  "Do you think it took me a year to notice?"  

Three days later, the exchange still stung.  Hank understood.  He listened for hours on the phone.  He knew first-hand that I had no prejudice based on skin color. He'd heard about Ray's insecurities, about my concern that dating me had lulled him into overlooking his medical school studies and his obligation to the Army which paid his tuition.  He knew that I had made my decision after agonizing debate, mostly with him on the receiving end of my logic.  He'd asked me, finally, the day that I did the deed:  "Do you want to keep dating him?  Because all that sounds like flim-flam to me.  You want the man?  Find a way.  You don't want him?  Let him off the hook now."

A rap on the door breaks my reverie.  I look down the stairwell, see Hank, start down.  I reach the entry just as the argument erupts.  The landlady and two men from down the street have confronted Hank.  I can hear the harshness in their voices as I open the door.

Hank looks at me.  I meet his eyes; grey to brown; knowledge passing between us.  He shakes his head just enough for me to see, slightly enough for me to ignore.

"Is there a problem," I ask.  Three voices start; two stop.  The neighbor men defer to my landlady.

"We didn't want this. . . guy. . . to bother you, Miss Corley," she simpers.  She doesn't say "guy".  She uses a word that never crosses my lips.  A word that starts with "N" and ends with "Not-Our-Color".

I gaze at her stocky figure, the lopsided hem of her cotton dress, the piles on her sweater, the stiff pincurls marching across her head.

"He's not bothering me," I reply, voice quiet.  "He's my dinner guest."

I  open the door wider and gesture for Hank to enter.  He shakes his head, touches my arm, moves to the stairs and start to climb.  He knows me well.  He knows both that I will say something and that it would do no good to caution me.

"Something wrong?"  Just two words, from tenant to landlady, spoken beneath her shocked stare and the snarls of the men standing with her.

"We don't like that kind here," she snaps.  She trembles; powder falls from her cheek to her bosom.

I assume the look of someone determined to resist.  "What kind," I ask.  "Handsome? Young? Smart?  Or is it cops you don't like; my friend is a police officer.  Which kind is it you don't like here?"

"A good girl oughtn't put herself out for one of them kind," she tells me, and her condemnation hangs in the air between us.

I hear my name called, and turn.  Hank stands at the top of the stairs.  "Come on up here, woman, I'm starved and you know I don't cook."  He's willing me to avoid the confrontation.  I let him have his way; I close the door.

At the end of the week, the landlady gives me a notice to vacate.  She's dumb enough or bold enough to state the real reason on the hand-written letter shoved in my mailbox.  I take it to the city.

She's made to pay my moving costs and a fine, which I offer to split with Hank.  He declines.  But he's proud of me. Funny thing:  The note she wrote complained that I had a black boyfriend.  And she meant Hank.  We both find that hilarious.  As for Ray, I don't get to tell him.  He drops out of medical school and leaves the area.  It's Hank who helps me pack; Hank who comes to the city housing hearing; Hank who carries my boxes up to my next apartment. 

Every young woman needs a friend like Hank.

Forty years later, I can still tell you Ray's whole name but I've forgotten Hank's surname.  I can picture them both: I see Hank most clearly standing in the doorway to my apartment stairwell.  The yard and the landlady and the neighbor men loom beyond the glass of the front door.  Hank wears a blue polo shirt, jeans, and a brilliant smile.  It occurs to me, now, looking down on him from this greater distance, that Hank might have been gay.   Wouldn't that have shocked the old biddy.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 17 October 2015

Good morning,

I challenged myself yesterday and as a consequence, every fiber of my being screams with a weird combination of fatigue and wonder.  In the midst of my third or fourth mid-life crisis, I joined the newly-formed Waldo Brookside Rotary Club, volunteered to be its secretary, and in that capacity, came to the District Governor's Conference for District 6040 of Rotary International.  Yesterday, I walked among Rotarians sporting years and decades of Service Above Self, perpetual smiles, and staggering volumes of palpable goodwill.  Now  I sit in my hotel room, at 6:30 a.m., two hours before the day's plenary session, paper cup of bad single-brewed coffee at my side, and ponder.  I cannot recall joining anything for decades and the experience confuses me.

This entry properly belongs in my other blog, "My Year Without Complaining", and perhaps I should post it there.  I have no lovely memory rising to be told today; no pithy lesson crowding to flow from my fingertips.  Just the weather report, more of what graced us yesterday:  Sunny with a slight threat of doggedly-determined, localized, salty rain.  Like Eeyore, my perpetual inner gloom breaks to the surface so often that I wear it like a coat of fur, in need of a thorough brushing, tangled with old burs and brambles.

When I arrived at the conference at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, a man strode forward with hand outstretched.  Welcome, welcome!  So glad you came.  I suppressed the desire to ask him why on earth my arrival would evoke delight.  I grasped his warm hand and let him pull me forward to the registration table.  Within minutes, I had been counted, labeled, and sent into the lounge to await the first session.  Soon other Rotarians began to gather, mostly in clumps of three or more; many pairs of spouses; all with easy smiles and pleasant airs.

A group of six pulled me into their midst; also from Kansas City, but downtown, an old club.  They greeted me with the mantra that I would soon hear from every mouth:  Oh, you're in the NEW club; we've heard about you all!  You meet at night!  In a bar!  And you have fifty members!  But these folks expressed no envy, nor apprehension that our success might threaten their clubs' images.   Their family grows with each addition and that pleases them.  It is not a competition.  It is a collaboration.

And here among these Rotarians, I have no failures to hide.  They do not judge me; and not just because they do not know me, but because judgment does not come naturally to them.  All day, people opened their groups to include me, or moved to my table so that I would not be alone, or took my arm to lead me to where their companions had gathered.  Here among these people, I might harbor feelings of loneliness but I could never say that I have not been deliberately included.  These people take me into their fold not because of anything that I have done or failed to do; nor because of any status that I have assumed.  Are they like this because they are Rotarians?  I suspect they are Rotarians because their natures compel them to be this open, and the core values of Rotary tolerate nothing less.

By evening's end, I found myself in the hospitality room sponsored by one of the St. Joseph clubs, eating a cherry mash and watching the Royals shut-out Toronto.  When the game ended, one of their members took a group photo.  I moved to get out of the way, being the only stranger in the room by that time.  Oh no you don't, get back there; you're an honorary St. Joseph Rotarian now! exclaimed the photographer, and I stood beside a man in a Royals shirt with a large grin on his face.

Many facets of my existence trouble me.  The looming shadow of my failures hovers overhead, a perpetual storm warming.  But  among these Rotarians, a new sensation begins to ease itself through the thunderous bank of clouds.  I do not recognize it.  It might be peace.  I'll need to muse on that a while.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Yours truly, with Mark Landes, Waldo-Brookside Rotary Club VP/Pres. Elect and Elizabeth Usovicz, the KC Plaza Rotarian who helped organize WBRC.  Both of these folks have been so kind to me that I wanted anyone who reads these musings to meet them.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 10 October 2015

Good morning,

In a living room just west of Main, in a home on our historic preservation registry, two musicians traded songs last evening.  One hailed from Chanute, Kansas; the other from down in Springfield.  I let their music roll past me, let the deft picking and the light strumming caress me but not linger.

One of them introduced a song by mentioning a small town with a store advertising sandwiches, beer, and bait.  His words caught my mind and sent me careening back in time.  I leaned against the tall back of the wooden chair, rested my hand against the grey soft fabric of my sweater, and remembered.

I squirm on the thinly padded, unrelenting metal of the trolley car seat.  My eyes close; I let the rhythm of the trundling train rock me.  We're above ground, now; but somewhere near Copley Square we'll go underground.  My unfocused eyes face the window but the images on the other side of the glass make no impression on me.  Piles of dirty snow battle with pedestrians on Commonwealth Avenue; the cars of morning rush hour nudge each other forward, downtown; and the opposite way, to Boston College perhaps, or maybe home, eagerly, after the graveyard shift.  

The massive line of ancient train cars screeches to a stop, somewhere, not yet underground, but I'm not sure where.  I press my face against glass tinged with the Massachusetts winter.  I wonder why I've come so far from home, just to languish in this wicked lonely place, this January of snow.

I see a sign on the far side of the roadway, spanning the top of a store which bustles with morning commuters.  The sign broadcasts the store's offerings:  NEWSPAPERS MILK FRIENDS DRUGS GIFTS ETERNAL LIFE. No punctuation.  Just a string of words.  I turn away.  The train moves forward and then, down below the surface, flickering lights signalling that we've engaged the underground.  Passengers begin to collect themselves to disembark as we journey to our last stop.

I see that sign every day.  I edit it in my head.  I add verbs; I make paragraphs; I write a poem.  When I come above the subway station at the stop for my dreary office job, I sit on a stool at the Mug n Muffin, writing haiku about finding friends while reading the newspaper, standing in the aisles of that store.  I imagine touching the shelves of candles, candy, and cigarettes.  I pretend that I've been invited to a party and stop at that store to buy a hostess gift.  What would I get her, this Boston lady who simply had to have me complete her dinner table in her elegant home on Beacon Hill?  Something fragile, something edible; a bottle of wine.  All available at the store which I see from my window as I make the commute from 27 South Street down the B branch of the Green Line towards what I did not want to do but which seems to be my destiny. Or at least, my fate.

One Saturday, I take the trolley to Copley Square and wander off Comm Avenue.  I stumble on a small string of stores with kitsch names and stylized window-dressings.  One bears the announcement, i natural, in large lower-case letters like an e e cummings title.  I push its door inward and step into a fog of fragrance.

The woman coming towards me clearly has her feet firmly planted in the sixties.  Her dress flows further than any dress I have ever seen except at a wedding; and her hair streams in long golden curls down her back.  I stop in the middle of the showroom and let her come to me.  

She does not speak but places one hand beneath my chin.  "Oh you are so young," she says.  I consider that she speaks more rightly than she knows but do not comment.  "Your skin needs these products!"  She cradles my elbow in the crook of her arm and draws me to the counter. 

She coaxes me to a chair and takes a series of bottles from beneath a glass counter.  A lid lifted; the odor of almonds; the scent of sea.  Cucumber scrub; flower petal lotion; citrus cleanser.  All the while she coos and flatters, quietly though, not too overwhelming, seemingly sincere.  I know I am being boondoggled but the cold of a Boston winter far from family sneers at me and this woman, this holdover hippie chick -- she stands between me and the icy silence of this frightening new world.

I leave with a little bag filled with the products which will keep me looking twenty-two, for which I've paid nearly a week's wages.  Before taxes.  I'm slightly ill when I board the trolley back to Brighton.

In the apartment which I share with Melanie and Marian, I stow the meager collection of skin-care products in my uncle John's old yellow suitcase which serves as my dresser.  It stands on a wooden chair inside the closet.  Another wooden chair holds a lamp and my journal, next to the bed.  I lie down, fully clothed.  I curl under the quilt that Mom Ulz made from tailor's squares and close my eyes.  

NEWSPAPERS MILK FRIENDS DRUGS GIFTS ETERNAL LIFE. . .I fall asleep reciting this mantra over and over, in the cold Massachusetts winter, in a room with no heat, not two months after finishing college.  No one disturbs me.  I sleep until Sunday and wake to an empty apartment and a note from my roommates who have gone to brunch.  "We tried to wake you," they had scribbled.  I'm skeptical but I make coffee and eat a cup of yogurt, watching the snow fall, wondering why the hell I came here.  

That afternoon, I take the trolley downtown and have my hair cut short, razored, shorter than Liza Minelli's famous style, shorter than a man's in the back with an upsweep of bangs that I had her paint blonde.  As I watch the winding locks of my natural auburn fall to the floor of the salon, I close my eyes and breathe the lingering fragrance of cucumber on my face.  It is a smell which I will never again be able to bear.

Jessica and Addao have already left for their camping trip.  The Holmes house fell silent as soon as we had the bundles of food, sleeping bags, and pillow loaded into the back of the Prius.  Now I have a day of possibility.  Laundry stares at me from two baskets in the bedroom; the winter sweaters still peak from their plastic bins.  I've had a half cup of coffee.  The dog is outside but she has not been fed, nor have I eaten breakfast.  But I sit at the secretary, feeling again the sway of the subway car, the frigid glass against my skin, the tightness of my muscles as I learn to pull myself inward during the crowded commute.  The stores flash past with their boasting lures:  NEWSPAPERS MILK FRIENDS DRUGS GIFTS ETERNAL LIFE. . .and I wonder, still, what the hell I'm doing here.

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.