Saturday, August 1, 2015

Saturday Musings, 01 August 2015

Good morning,

Shadows score the driveway's service.  From where I sit, the alternating dark and light spanning my yard and the neighboring lawns seems ominous.  Birds chatter high in the maple and the sun rises to my right, scattering the pillars of gloom as its glow expands.

I like my neighborhood because it reminds me of Jennings, the town in North St. Louis County in which I spent my childhood.  It's different now, I know; but then its streets were only a decade old, paving sections of farm sold for those early subdivisions.  My parents bought the old farmhouse, while its owner occupied a red-brick one-story to the south.  Our porch faced west towards the post-war ranch homes flanking the street running from ours to the majesty of the shopping mall at the other end of Kinamore Drive.  I would sit in a metal lawn chair, my feet on the low brick wall in front of me, my reveries interrupted only occasionally by a slow-passing car.

I close my eyes and I am there, I am fifteen, I am home.

Mother comes out from the house and sits to my right.  She sets an aluminum glass on the flat surface of the porch wall.  Mom's hair has been rolled around brush rollers, secured with plastic stickpins, tied round with a bandanna.  She wears a wrap-around skirt, one of many she made from the same pattern.

The summer heat settles on the yard as evening wanes.  I've been writing in a notebook but it now lies on the concrete floor of the porch.  Mother speaks, What are you doing, she asks, and I turn my head towards her.   Nothing, I say.  She nods.  We like doing nothing, my mother and I.  We rarely get the chance.

In a month I will start my second year of high school.  The summer still creeps slowly; the press of Labor Day does not yet loom.  I've been babysitting the Tobin children while their parents work at the restaurant they own in the city and scribbling my poems and stories.  Only half of the family remains at home.  Ann has gone to the Army; Adrienne finally got an apartment near the zoo; Joyce got married.  It's me and the boys now.

Mother and I don't speak much.  She drinks her lemonade and I gaze across the yard to the sycamore on the edge of the property near the street.  Mother says, finally, Is something bothering you, and I tell her, It's so quiet.  She nods.  She knows what I mean.  The silence which cannot be trusted.

My father has been gone for months.  She does not know where; she does not know how.  She's tried to find out, in the sick way that a child picks at his scabs.  She won't let herself heal, won't rest in the lull or move out of the way for good.  She stands in the center of the street, stretching her neck, straining to see if the bulldozer has swung round to return.  I feel the same.

I'm thinking of joining Junior Achievement next year, I confide.  My mother's thin eyebrows raise.  She wonders aloud if that's a good idea.  She asks about meetings.  I tell her about the mailing which had come that day, for entering sophomores, addressed to me.  I reach down to my notebook and slip the pages of the letter from between its covers and show it to my mother.  She checks for the cost, the meeting place, the parental involvement requirements.  Any of these could derail my plan.

I'll get a ride, I assure her.  My voice starts weak but I gather myself and forge ahead.  I won't be the only one from Corpus Christi, I plead.  Somebody can take me.  Maybe Patty Becnel, I guess, though Patty has too many responsibilities already, with her father being widowed and her little brother being so young.  I turn sixteen in the fall but won't take Driver's Ed until the following summer and so I will not be able to drive myself with my mother's car.  But I want this.  It's supposed to be good for college applications.

And in that quiet summer, with my father gone, I've begun to think about having what I've come to learn is a normal life.  I might have pajama parties.  I might get a full night's sleep without the terrible interruption of my father's arrival, late, angry, drunk.  The shadows might dissipate from under my mother's eyes.

The sun has fallen below the neighborhood.  Our house on McLaran Avenue, at the bottom of Kinamore Drive, sits in darkness.  Lightening bugs begin to cavort in the grass.  Crickets rise their evensong.  The occasional chirp of the robins settling for the night sounds from tree limb to tree limb.  My mother takes sips of watery lemonade.  We'll see, she finally says.  I know I cannot expect more.

By the first snow, on Halloween, my father will have returned.  He will have crashed through the door while I am at Junior Achievement, making trouble lights with my group which we will sell for five dollars to our aunts and uncles.  He will have smashed a coffee cup over my mother's head and my sister Joyce will have brought her husband into the house to try to tame him.  The police will have been called.   The boy on whom I have, by then, developed a crush, will bring me home in the light dusting of snow because my mother has inexplicably failed to appear to retrieve me.  My little brother will run out and give me a locked file box in which my mother stashed her wallet and car keys to hide them from my father.  As I sit, stumbling over an explanation, a patrol car will pull to the curb in front of our house, at the bottom of the Kinamore Drive hill, on McLaran Avenue, in Jennings, Missouri, where my innocence was lost long before that wintry Halloween.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Musings, 25 July 2015

Good morning,

A text from Texas startled me into taking my seat at my secretary, laptop open, mug by my side.  Coffee and musings.  . .? read the little blip from an old friend.  I smile and answer: Working on both, and sidle over to the keyboard, opening a fresh page, giving way to the memories which jostle, push, shove and plead to flow from my fingers to the world. Or to the small segment of the world's population which, along with my devoted friend in Texas, favors me with a few minutes of their mornings each Saturday.

I have one less reader today, unless Heaven has the Internet.  My cousin Paul left us on Thursday.  In my keenest memories, Paul sits in a wheelchair or runs in a field.  I think of him as a child, a young teen, and then in the last years of his life when ALS crept along his limbs and tried to own him.  I rarely saw him between times.  In fact, after I left St. Louis in 1980, until I began to visit my family with more regularity in the last five years, I might have seen Paul a half-dozen times, most often in funeral-black.  My mother, my brother, my father, his mother, his father.  And once or twice at cousin-gatherings.

Images of Paul rise unbidden and he smiles broadly in all of them.  "Paulos the baby bull", I remember calling him, though I don't remember why any more than I know why we called his brother Charlie, "Carlos the baby car".  Neither of them seemed to mind, Paul least of all.

My son and I visited Paul at home in 2013, and I went alone earlier this year.  I arrived at the house in St. Charles while he and his care-provider for the day were out getting lunch, and I stood in the driveway, in the still of a spring morning, watching birds flit from branch to gutter.  When the vehicle carrying my cousin pulled beside me, a stern man slid down to the pavement and asked my business, in a terse voice.  But Paul beckoned from the other side and the man's face relaxed into a friendly pose.

Paul and I embraced when he had exited in his wheelchair and landed beside me near the back deck.  He called me his beautiful cousin and held onto me as though it meant something.  When we had settled inside, after he had eaten, his attendant disappeared into the back of the house and Paul turned his full attention to me.  How is my beautiful cousin, he asked.   I felt beautiful when he said that, one of the few moments in my life when I have.  Paul's voice had that power:  he spoke only truth, truth as he saw it, and you had no difficulty believing him.

I shrugged away his questions about my tumultuous life.  We talked about his CD, his wife, his children, a baby on the way.  He spoke of his parents and my little brother.  Then he asked me something that I did not expect.  Do you believe in God, Corinne? 

I assured him that I did, not feeling that my belief had the force of his, sure that it did not.  He accepted my answer, though.  And do you believe in angels,  he continued.  I could respond with more conviction.  Yes yes, I certainly do, I proclaimed.  Angels in human form, angels in spiritual form, all kinds of angels.  Paul nodded, satisfied, unquestioning.  Then he told me a long story about a priest who had visited him and told him about a dream, or a vision -- something that included people and places that Paul knew to be in his ancestry.  Paul felt the clergyman foretold of Paul's impending arrival in the heavenly company of his long-deceased great-grandparents.  I did not dispute his theory; I have no doubt that some type of spiritual reunion awaits us.  I doubted even less, then and now, that if entitlement dictates our eternal destiny, Paul had enough credits to bring himself and many others into paradise.

We sat in silence for a few minutes after his story.  Paul beamed at me.  He asked, for the third or fourth time, about my son.  I told him another tidbit or two of what I knew of Patrick's whereabouts and doings.  He asked about my stepson, about my work, about my health.  He told me -- as Paul always told me -- that he loves me.  We fell quiet again, a peacefulness surrounding us.  I listened to the sound of the home -- its creaks, the whirring of some machinery in its bowels, stirrings in the backroom which told me that the care provider hovered near enough to come to aid but far enough away to respect any privacy that might need respecting.

When Paul spoke again, his voice had dropped an octave.  He startled me by mentioning my father.  I loved your Dad, he said.  His bright eyes met mine.  I had no response.  What Paul knew of my father's truth, I could not say and I would not destroy any memory that Paul might have had.  But Paul himself spared me from any need of disingenuousness.  I know your Dad was not perfect, he assured me.  We both understood that what he meant was, I know what your Dad did, or I think I know.  He leaned forward, his frail torso swaying slightly.  My father and your father had a great friendship, he told me.  My father never gave up on Uncle Dick.

He raised his eyebrows and turned his head, just so, to let me know that I should take a deeper meaning from my Uncle Joe's dedication to my father.  I could not stop the tears which rose in my eyes.  Then Paul changed the subject -- sort of.  You're a fabulous writer, Corinne, I love what you send me.  Paul and I gazed at one another for a few minutes, me wondering what he was trying to tell me, and him holding the brightness of his eyes right where my heart and soul met.

Then I noticed that his breathing had become labored, and I knew that I should go.  I rose from my chair just as the attendant came into the room, no doubt having heard the heaviness in Paul's chest.  Paul engaged the joy stick of his motorized chair and guided me to the front door.  I leaned down to put my arms around him.  I could not be sure that I would see him again.  Just before I left the house, we posed for the obligatory selfie, me holding my cell phone high, both of us laughing.  I swear he pinched me; I think he tried to do rabbit ears but I wiggled away.  Then he kissed me and told me, again, that he loved me, and I assured him that I shared the feeling.

I looked back as I got into my car.  He had not moved, nor had his smile dimmed in the least.

I saw Paul only one other time, at the cousin reunion on Memorial Day weekend.  I ran across the grass to meet him.  While his beautiful wife Kathy got their belongings situated, Paul and I hugged, and laughed, and teased one another.  My beautiful cousin! he exclaimed.  My beautiful cousin Corinne!  And in the moment, I felt beautiful.  I felt cherished.  And I felt a crowd of angels flocking around him, waiting, watching, biding their time but close at hand.

Those angels came for Paul again, two days ago, in the evening, at home, no doubt with those whom he loved close at hand.  I woke to the news on Friday morning and a grey veil closed over me.  Even though I know that Paul's earthly burden had been great in the last year, and his faith carried him to heaven, still, I felt sadness -- not for his death, but for my loss, and his wife's loss, and the loss of his children and grandchildren, siblings, nieces, and nephews.

I can tell you that Paul would be all right with my mourning him.  Though he expected to be reunited with those who have already died, he also understood that we cherish our time here on earth.  He never said to me at least, Do not mourn me.  I told Paul, on my last visit to his home, that it really hacked me off that he had ALS, that he had to suffer, that he would die so needlessly, so soon.  He shrugged, lifting his weak shoulders skyward.  What can I say, Corinne, he laughed.  I'm a great guy, I feel for you -- I'd miss me too, if I were you.

Our laughter carried me home that day, and it will carry me through his funeral on Monday, just as Paul would want.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley


Me and Paul, my beautiful cousin.


If you would like to know more about Paul, and buy his CDs, you may do so here.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Saturday Musings, 18 July 2015

Good morning,

The sky sheds tears today, whether of joy or sorrow I cannot discern.  I stand on the porch and watch my flowers shudder, raise their stalks and stretch into the nourishment.  I go back into the house and get the coffee which I have warmed in the microwave.  I leave the front door open so the breeze will stir the cobwebs and disspell the stale air.

I did a home visit yesterday to a young man who shares two children with the wife from whom he is divorcing.  The children, age 3 and 2, clung to their father through most of the visit, occasionally drifting to their grandmother or me.  The older child, a girl, does not walk or talk due to a chromosomal abnormality. She weighs only eighteen pounds.  Her prospects have not yet been determined.  Surgeries await her, far beyond even my imagination.  She peered at me with luminous eyes, and when I spoke her name, she reached for me, climbing onto my lap, clinging to my long hair.  Her father said, Watch out, she's stronger than she looks, she'll pull your hair hard, but I did not mind.  She nestled into the crook of my neck and against my chest, gazing at my face.  Her mouth curled into a cupid's bow.

My mother told me that my older brothers pulled me on a cart through the hallways of the hospital before my own first surgery.  My right knee, grossly swollen, could not bear even my slight weight.  I don't remember this.  But I do remember being made an honorary member of the Club of Children Who Eat Dessert First by my father, after some doctor told them that I had to gain weight.  Calories are calories, they told him.  Decades later, when my dear mother-in-law wanted only ice cream, I told my favorite curmudgeon the same thing.  Give her ice cream, Jay, I would say.  Calories are calories.  And he did.

Just as my father had.

When I saw this little girl, my gut tightened and I flashed to the judge who had appointed me as her guardian ad litem.  I think I know why I got chosen.  He knows I'll do right by this child.

I drove from that child's home to my Liberty office thinking about a piece of pie my father served me one time.  While my siblings ate tough, cold calves' liver, I nibbled the edges of my mother's flaky crust, letting the juices of the filling soak into each tender bite.  I sat to my father's left, on the girls' side of the table.  Some nights, my father raged, lashing out at elbows with the flat side of his table knife, sending one or the other of us downstairs with our plates to eat in the old coal room.  He took table manners seriously, did Richard Corley; and he took back-talk even less well.  Until my mother had the walls of that old coal room scrubbed clean and taken down to make way for modern heating, any child disobeying the meal time rules would spend some scary moments standing at the doorway listening for my father's tread on the basement stairs.

But that pie set before me by my father, how I savored it.  I ran the tip of my tongue over each tine of the fork, then took another minute segment of the wedge into my mouth while my brothers watched.  The onions on their plates congealed and our father scolded them for lingering.  Finally, I took the last bite and set my fork down on the plate, grinning around the room, meeting my mother's eyes.  She shook her head and my throat clenched.  Then she stood and told my brothers to clear the table; and she brought everyone dessert.

My father served a second piece for me.

One day early in my first year of law school, one of my classmates hollered at me to wait for  her as I got on the elevator.  Students were usually required to take the stairs.  The elevator worked with a key, and only faculty got one.  But  an exception had been made for me.

As this woman followed me onto the elevator, she said, I wish I had a key to this thing, you're lucky, Corinne. I faced her as we rode to the top floor.  I'll make you a deal, Deborah, I snapped.  You can have my key, if you take everything that goes with it. 

She asked what I meant.

 You've got to take the pain, the open stares, the leg cramps, the feeling of being different in a weird and awkward way, different in a way that you can never overcome.  You've got to take the nasty remarks of men, the laughter when you fall, the uneasy glances of people skirting around you in the hallway.  I stopped.  My chest had tightened.  My face felt flush.  The small space held the heavy burden of my resentful words.

The woman turned away from me, staring at the door, no doubt praying for it to open.  Well gosh, Corinne, I just meant I wanted to be able to use the elevator, you don't have to get all shitty on me, she said.  When the door slid back, she bolted.  I let her go while I tried to calm my breathing.  I waited until I felt sure she had darted into her classroom, then slowly made my way down the corridor, dragging my sad right foot, the weight of my bookbag  banging against my other side.

I hear the rain falling on my deck, hear the rumble of thunder and the whisper of wind.  I close my eyes as the storm overtakes my city, and lightening splits the sky.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley





Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saturday Musings, 11 July 2015

Good morning,

The newspaper could have depressed me this morning, had I been in the mood of being blue.  The charming story of a police officer buying shoes and diapers for a shoplifter's six daughters nearly got lost in the juxtaposition of the Confederate flag debacle down south and the Trumpeting of bigotry.  Omar Sharif's death occupied a smallish filler, and the resignation of a Cabinet member anchored the left side of the second page.  A lopsided world, the printed page -- and one gone to press too early for the scores of the rain-delayed game of my home-town team.

So I let the newspaper fall into the recycle bin and go to the kitchen for more coffee. I sit down at the secretary, the desk pulled out, the computer waiting.  I glance at a figurine on the bottom shelf -- a little boy playing a pipe.  I never asked my mother-in-law about the origins of any of the delicate objects which she kept in this secretary.  I'm regretting that now.  I check the bottom of the figure and see the words, Hand painted in Hungary.  I wish I knew where Joanna got this little guy.

Yesterday I confronted a decision which I must make on Monday:  Whether to recommend termination of the parental rights of a three-year-old's imprisoned father.  The violent and lamentable circumstances of conception prompt the child's mother to want to protect her daughter from the biological progenitor.  If a stepfather waited to adopt, I would have no problem with the choice.  But my client's twenty-one-year old mother simply wants the Court to sever all legal ties with the man.  While I agree that the child should have no contact with him, I hesitate to make the situation immutable.  What about Social Security benefits, should this man die, of which he has a greater chance in prison and back on the streets as a felon?  What about the little girl's thoughts on the matter, which no one would now ask and which will no doubt fluctuate over the coming years?  What about the chance of rehabilitation, which surely exists, however marginal?  Am I then the arm of God, to sever this connection?  Is it in the child's best interest?  That the man has consented -- should this be enough to convince me, if his horrific conduct were not?

Over a lawyers' lunch yesterday, one present spoke of a schizophrenic defendant's quest to gain release after hospitalization on an insanity plea.  Between that conversation and my meeting with the three-year-old's mother, I am reminded of a woman whom I once represented, whose paranoid schizophrenia resulted in her wholesale inability to provide for her children.

I might have written of her in these pages before now; but she still haunts me.  Please, forgive me if I repeat myself.

Children's authorities in Kansas took my client from her mother at age twelve, and placed her with an aunt who worked full-time and left her alone after school unaware of her emotional decline.  My client started roaming the streets all afternoon, searching for the family she had lost.  She told me the story early in my representation, when she still held a small thread of sanity.

She sat in my office and spoke of the migrant workers who tarried under a viaduct by the foster home where she lived as a teenager.  Her thin pale face tightened.  She raised a hand empty of the cigarette she craved in my non-smoking office.  She twitched her blond hair off her bony shoulders and pulled her shoulders together.  I realized that I was one of them, she told me.  I was Mexican.  I had to be.  Why else would I feel so good when I walked the streets with them? They had to be my real family.  I knew that.  It felt wonderful, to find my people -- to have my people find me.

She began to speak Spanish, taught to her by the drifters, one and then another, blurring together, seemingly the same people, week after week.  One of them fathered her first child before moving west for the winter harvest.  By the time her second son came into the world, she had completely disassembled and no longer even thought in English.  She stopped feeding her children.  Someone called the state; the children went to families able to care for them while the court sorted out the situation.

I got a guardian ad litem appointed to represent the interests which I could not get her to consider.  We made what choices for her we could -- agreed to services, insisted on psychiatric evaluation, got orders for therapy.  But our client's condition deteriorated.  She stopped eating, stopped visiting her boys, stopped appearing in court.  She came to see me once, bearing a large velvet cloth with gold fringe.  I wanted to give this to you, she said.  She presented it to me, draped it across my desk, peered triumphantly into my eyes.  Isn't it beautiful?  You've done so much for me, I just thought of you when I saw it.  Please take it!  I tried to demure -- a lawyer should not accept gifts from a client, particularly a crazy appointed one.  But she backed away from the fabric, dropped the bag in which she had brought it, and dashed from the room, muttering, You've been so kind.

I never saw her again.

I withdrew from her case, in time.  I could not do more for her.  Parental rights to both her children eventually were terminated, and I assume the families who fostered her babies got to adopt them.  Six months later, I saw her name in the paper.  Aurielle. . .arrested for snatching a little boy from his front yard.  The article recounted the event, including that the woman had a friend cruise past the house from which she took the child, telling him, that's my baby.  It was not.  The child did not even resemble her sons, but he looked like her:  Blond hair, blue eyes, porcelain skin.  The boy was reunited with his family, and my former client went to jail.

I sent an e-mail to her public defender, describing my dealings with the woman, urging him to get access to the Juvenile Court records of her sad decline.  He did not reply.

So the innocence of the children haunts me today.  The innocence of the children, and the sorrows of their parents.  Sometimes I leave work with an urgent need to stand under a hot shower until my skin shudders under the water's sting.  On other days, I just want to sit in my porch rocker and let the evening air soothe me.  I come home from court and call my son. I re-read my favorite Sara Teasdale poems.  I gently, carefully, open my mother-in-law's secretary and stroke the silken surface of the pretty things which stand on its shelves.

And then I make a cup of tea, go back outside, and let myself surrender to the stars.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley






Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saturday Musings, 04 July 2015

Good morning,

I hadn't seen our black boycat for several days but he ambled onto the porch a few minutes ago and now he's noisily eating.  Each time the catfood nears empty, I wonder, will this cat stop returning -- should I buy more? But I do; and he does; and now I'm in my rocker as usual, watching him nibble with one eye on the passing dogwalkers.

Morning: Brookside, Independence Day.  The day after I set the record for Corinne-Walking, going from David Jones' Gallery on Walnut to Ruthie Becker's Gallery at 18th and Locust; and back again, spurred by the crowds, by passing cars with blaring hip-hop, and Ms. Jessica Genzer's stellar smile.  Young friends might be my salvation.

But I am paying for my fun, aching and sore this morning as only befits a nearly-sixty woman long past her expiration date.  The sun warms my bent neck and trembling arms.  I cross the living room and stumble, almost dropping the last cup of coffee which I've warmed in the microwave.  I right myself, make my way back to the porch, sit in the cool air thinking of fireworks gone by, of children staring into the sky, of my toddler son clinging to my blue jeans, of blankets spread on lawns and cars parked at angles in a cornfield far south of here, where home fireworks are legal and the men of the family show the children how it's done while the women carry pies to the picnic table and wash the supper dishes.

Jessica and I shared a couple's table at Grinder's last evening, ordering veggie sandwiches, gluten-be-damned.  Dozens of people clung to their seats while hungry First-Friday-ers milled in the doorways.  The heavy scent of cooking meat and beer drifted through the room.   An easiness settled on my shoulders for no particular reason that I could discern.

At Gallery 504, Ruthie Becker folded me in her slim embrace and offered cups of Sangria.  We followed a friend of hers to the Alley and watched the dancers for a while before heading back to where we had left the car at the far end of the Crossroads.  Jessica took my picture in front of the robot that lives on a light pole at 18th and Grand.  We skirted the foodtruck crowds and the little girls sitting on the hoods of their parents' cars with paper plates balanced on their laps.

At David Jones' place, I stepped inside to thank the displaying artist whom I had met there at the start of the night.  A young woman born and raised in Iran,    Behnaz Miremadi stood before her paintings with the quiet elegance which reminds me of my mother's Lebanese aunts and cousins.  She made no apology for her heritage.  She acknowledged the troubles of her country and the terrible plight of women there; the incongruity of the country's stark beauty and awful history.  Her calmness spread to my agitated brain, and I let myself be pulled into her serenity.  

The night ended.  I drove us back to the Holmes house.  As I fell asleep, I thought about these Musings, a contemplation in which I rarely engage.  The stories of my past, the tales of my practice, the scenes through which my life has taken me, usually rise unbidden on Saturday morning as the birds call to one another and the sun rises in the east.  But this morning, the peace and glory of a night spent among the revelers at First Friday hovers in my heart, crowding out the memories, pushing away the indignation of social injustice which I sometimes feel compelled to share.

Independence Day, 2015.  The sixtieth year of my life.  Our nation's 239th birthday.  A flag waves from the Holmes house, the stitched flag we bought two summers ago and hung with such care.  Its pole has cracks and the heavy iron holder in which the pole rests has gathered rust.  But the flag still flutters, rippling in the soothing breeze, as the sun climbs behind me and caresses my tired limbs.  In the distance, the occasional blare of fireworks testifies that Kansas City has already started celebrating.  Here on my porch, the glad chirping of the birds hales the beauty of this day, and I am content with their pleasant song.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley



Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Musings, 27 June 2015

Good morning,

My blogs have become predictable, apparently.  A friend described these musings to someone by quoting my normal opening -- a description of my stumbling entry onto my front porch clutching my mug of coffee.  It rang true. 

These musings started as five a-m mutterings, the summer my second husband left for the last time and my son went to Mexico for six weeks.  Here at the Holmes house alone,  I found myself turning to writing as a solace and an exploration.  I watched the sun rise and shared stories, usually in a vein that one critic publicly described as feel-good fluff.

Perhaps. 

On the tails of my third divorce, yesterday seemed filled with irony for me.  I can't give you fluff today; I can only give you what flows from my heart.  These are, after all, the musings of a Missouri Mugwump, and musings do as musings will.

I heard the news about the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of marriage equality shortly after 9:00 a.m. while standing in a judge's chambers in Clay county, chatting with other lawyers there for pre-trial conferences.  All of us were family law practitioners, navigating clients through the disentanglement of their failed marriages, seeking guidance from the judge to whom their cases were assigned as to issues derailing settlement.  My phone buzzed.  I glanced at it:  A message from the HRC telling me that love had won.

I shared the news with the lawyer standing next to me, then drove to my satellite office a few blocks from the Liberty Square to meet with a twenty-one year old mother of two in the midst of her own divorce.  I've been appointed to serve as guardian ad litem for their disabled daughter amidst accusations of medical neglect by the father. 


I met with her and her lawyer for an hour, then headed for Kansas City and a meeting in my main office with a client whose case is set for trial on Monday over issues of custody and parenting of a second-grader whom she shares with a man to whom she is not married.  I understand this kind of case:  My son's father and I never wed.  In fact, though, he did not fight for rights -- rather, he vanished, sending the small court-ordered support check every month for nearly 18 years but otherwise doing nothing.  But this woman has a different problem.  Her son's father abused her but seems to parent reasonably well.  Hard to imagine letting a boy spend several nights a week with someone who treats the mother like uncherished property; but such will be the case.

I cooked dinner in the evening, for Jessica and myself.  Jessica stays at my house at present, back in Kansas City due to the return of her mother's cancer.  She's on the heels of a six-month stint in Hawaii where she worked as an under-water photographer.  Now she visits her mother daily, spends time with her son, and helps me here at the Holmes house.  We sat on the porch after dinner, eating sea salt caramel ice cream and talking about marriage.  I tell her that I think everyone should be allowed to marry.  She agrees.  My laughter is tinged with rancor as I mention my own inability to hold a marriage together.  She's gentle in response to that note.  She does not disparage me, she does not let me freely disparage myself.

As the night drew around me, as the lightening bugs flashed and the pesky little mosquitoes nibbled at our skin, I thought about the same-gender partners whom I have known.  I glanced across the street at a quiet house with an ivy-covered lawn.  There lives Freddie and Suzie, two women so alike that I've never been quite sure which is which.  I bought my house in 1993 and they were a couple then, and are a couple now, living with their now-grown adopted daughter.  They have weathered nearly twenty-five years together, including almost fatal cancer that one of them -- I honestly do not recall which -- suffered five years ago.

Next door to me, Scott and George wear wedding rings.  I think they got married in Iowa.  Their household includes a little dog named Poodle.  They mow the lawn, come home with groceries, visit parents, have dinner parties.

In Arkansas, Carla and Molly have been together several years more than a decade.  I'm so used to them as a couple, I can barely recall Carla in the years before Molly, though I have known her twice as long.  They married two years ago on the eastern seaboard.  They raised Carla's daughter together, my accidental name sake, Maria Korinna.  I visit them once a year, sharing Sunday brunch when I go to Fayetteville to get away from stress in Kansas City.  Their marriage seems so solid that I could not even fathom calling it anything but real.  Constitutionally protected or not, their marriage felt right.

 Years ago, two women lived in the house to the south of mine where now a young banker lives.  Patty and Terri shared a car, a bedroom, and a landline.  Patty worked from the upstairs room as an accountant and Terri had a medical practice nearby on 63rd Street.  My son saw them as a couple in his youngest years, before he ever had a stepfather, before any preconceived notions of marriage could infect his thinking.

When Patty told us that she and Terri had found a bigger house, one with a separate entrance for the room that would be Patty's office, Patrick listened with his normal serious expression.  The three of us stood in the shared driveway between our houses.  I felt a sense of loss.  These women had been good neighbors to me, comfort for the exit from that home of Marcella Womack who had been the last renter there before its out-of-state owner sold to Patty and Terri.  I would miss them.

Before Patty turned to go back into their house and resume packing, my little boy put his hand on her arm.  Can I ask you a question, Patty, he said.  She squatted down beside him, her face to his level, and said, Of course.  He lifted his small hands and put one on each of her shoulders.  He peered intently at her, their eyes holding each other.  I could not imagine what he would ask.  And then he spoke.

You and Terri love each other, don't you?

His gentle voice broke the stillness of the summer day.  Patty's eyes briefly closed and something electric moved across her face.  She put her arms around my son before answering, holding him to her.  She released him but kept him close as she replied, Yes, yes we do.  We love each other.  Patrick nodded.  He patted her shoulder; she stood and turned her gaze toward me.  Tears flooded her eyes.  A smile rose to my face.   We'll miss you guys, I told her.  She could only nod.

Before sleeping last night, I watched the entire video of President Obama's eulogy to Reverend Pinckney.  I listened to the strains of Amazing Grace as he led the assembly in prayerful song.  Then I scanned the Internet, gazing at photos of buildings and monuments lit with rainbow-colored lights.  Amazing, indeed.

I've lived nearly sixty years.  I've loved a half-dozen times, including one man who fathered my child and three whom I married.  I've mourned a brother, a mother, a father, parents-in-law who treated me like a cherished child, and the loss of love three-times over.  I've grappled health issues and personal insecurities.  I've driven my son to the Mayo Clinic for the last-ditch treatment that ended up saving him from malpractice and I've flown to the edge of the world to see a doctor whose efforts are either curing me or killing me, I don't yet know which.  And I've sat on my porch, morning after morning, for twenty-two years, watching the world change from green to gold to brown to white, and back again when spring broke through the bitter cold.

This morning I feel as though we've turned a click closer to paradise.  Love wins.  As it always should.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley




Saturday, June 20, 2015

Saturday Musings, 20 June 2015

Good morning,

The day weighs heavily on me.  I feel the rend in my back where I fell, backwards, suddenly, while dressing on Thursday.  Though I managed to prevent my head from striking the sharp edge of the platform bed frame, my posterior fared worse.  I landed on my scale --  a certain irony in that! -- and heard a crunch as I tried to rise.  Now those degenerated disks which I yearn to ignore  scream in anger when I walk.  And I must walk:  I've striven all my life to do just that.  So I remind myself:  it's not cancer, it's not MS, it could be so much worse.  I pull a half-dozen pairs of shoes from the closet, trying to find some which provide enough support and can cushion the blows as each foot strikes the pavement.  The pain plagues me but I keep walking.

My physical therapist, she of the bold spirit and beautiful French-Canadian accent, widened her eyes as I told the story later that day.  She guided me to the machine on which the day's session would start, all the while admonishing me to be more careful! Something about the widening of her eyes as she spoke reminded me of someone else but I could not place the look until the middle of last night when I happened to be awake, reflecting on my week, and a memory returned.

I had never had a job quite like this:  Day camp coordinator, for the city of Jennings.  I've gotten the job by using my parents' address, even though I live in the city.  It's 1978 and I am twenty-two years old.  I have no more experience with coordinating a day camp than I have with much else.  But I take the job anyway.  I need the money.

My staff consists of a handful of sturdy, tanned college students, both male and female.  They do the real work.  They organize the volleyball, the softball, the running around chasing dodge balls on the parking lots.  I manage the schedule and the arts and crafts, and make sure the supplies get locked into cupboards at the end of the day.

We also have  a soccer coach.  He tells me he's a refugee from a South American country.  He says he's a star back home.   I watch him showing the children how to kick a soccer ball and I can believe that he's a star.  It's in his bearing.  

At the end of each day, I hand out water to the children and make sure they're hydrated after their sessions in the sun.  They brush sweat from their foreheads and blow on each other's faces.  It's hot, sticky, and bright.  We stand under the pavilion and wait for their rides home.

My soccer coach tells me one night that he could help me, if I wanted help.  I'm not sure what he means.  The last child has waved from the car window and I'm locking the supply closet, shutting off the lights in the small office and the restrooms.  He walks alongside me.  When I turn to look at him, puzzled, his eyes widen and he gestures to my legs.  He can't seem to find a word for what he sees.

Ah, yes.  I understand.

He tells me, There's equipment at the high school, I could show you.  I search his face for signs of duplicity.  This could be a ploy to take advantage of me, after all.  But he seems genuine.  I shrug.  He takes that for assent and says, Let's go over there now. We drive in tandem.

For the next thirty minutes; for thirty minutes a day, five days a week, for the rest of the summer, we do the same thing.  We send the children home then drive to the high school and he works with me.  His voice is calm, sweet, encouraging.  He speaks to me like an older brother would speak to a frail little sister.  He guides my feet into the straps of foot pedals.  He adjusts the bent of my body as I strain against the lightest of weights.  He encourages me, in accented English peppered with his native language.

And I do, indeed, improve.   The tightness of my legs eases.  A bit of normal tone appears in my calves.  I wobble less.  My teacher seems pleased.

When August comes, when the camp session draws to a close, he suggests that we set up a time for me to work with him even though I'll be back in graduate school.  I have given him nothing in return for what he has done except my thanks, which he gestures away.  I don't really understand him.  I tell  him I will do that, that I will get in touch with him.

The fall passes and I do not call.  I'm busy.  I have a full load of seminars and my drinking buddies have returned from their summer pursuits.  I  fall into a routine of class, work, and clubbing with the occasional one-night stand thrown into the mix for distraction.  Whatever benefit I have gained from my summer activities dissipates.  

Around Christmas, I think of the man and wonder if there's a chance he might work with me again.  I phone the high school.  The secretary falls silent for a few minutes, then asks who I am.  I tell her my name, I tell her that I ran the summer camp.  I sense a change of mood on the other end of the phone just before she advises me that the soccer player had to go back to his country.  She offers no further explanation and I ask for none.

I have the decency to feel a little ashamed.

 In a few minutes, I will take my aging dog to the vet.  She'll have her annual check-up and I'll talk to the doctor about the weakness in her hind quarters.  At eleven o'clock, I'll present myself at the Y of which I am a new member.  I have an appointment with someone on the staff there, a "wellness" review, a free service offered to members in order to help them make the most of the facility.

I've had a long run, nearly sixty years.  I've had a lot of help along the way.  My first physical therapist, who also taught yoga, instilled in me the firm conviction that I should breathe.  The therapist in Arkansas guided me through pregnancy, figuring out how to compensate for the lack of medication which I could not take, lest I lose the one baby that I would ever have a genuine chance of birthing.  A brave young woman, a hospital therapist at St. Luke's Hospital, worked with me tirelessly through the seven weeks which I spent in the hospital after my knee replacement.  My French-Canadian, with her bright eyes and mischievous air, has taken up the baton. 

But of all of these, I owe the most to my South American soccer star, whose gentle voice and kind smile remain with me, even though I have forgotten his name.  He believed in me.  And he believed in me without asking or receiving anything in return -- which is good, because  I had nothing to give.

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.