26 August 2017

Good morning,

A song greeted me when I came out onto the porch a few moments ago.  The motion light flickered, struggling to decide between its restful daytime stasis and an acknowledgment of the lingering dark.  Into the gloom, the crickets’ pulsating call rose, surrounding me.

I set my coffee on the metal table and took my chair.  Though the deck extension didn’t exist in 2008 when I began the correspondence which would become these Musings, I sat outside to type that first entry.  Memorial Day Saturday, and I sent a poem around to my lawyer’s listserve, into the inboxes of hundreds of unsuspecting brothers and sisters at the Bar.

A little shudder in the symphony raises my eyes from the keyboard.  What distracts this chorus, I ask myself.  I’m not sure what their song means.  Is it a mating ritual?  Do they warn of danger, whatever poses danger to crickets in the wild? Do they make a joyful noise?

My sister called last evening to check on me, as I knew she would.  She senses my moods, the dark encroaching of my gloomy self.  I tell her of the day’s events, and we speak for a few moments about our childhood, a subject which we largely ignore.  Surprisingly, I find myself laughing.  The unfamiliar sound ripples through my empty house in pleasant waves.

Joyce and I shared a room for the middle third of my childhood.  I kept my half tidy; she barely had time to pick the clothes from the floor between school, work, and dates.  I still lingered in the promise of pre-teen while she learned to apply blue eye shadow with a deft hand and worked at the Kresge’s store in nearby Northland Shopping Center.

One Saturday, I staged a long ribbon down the center, between our beds.  The flimsy barrier blocked her from her side, marking my territory on the clean, doorway end of the long room.  I lay in the dark waiting for her to come home and find out that she couldn’t get to her piles of jewelry and cosmetics.  I fell asleep before the end of her shift, or her date, or whatever excitement kept her out past ten.

When I awoke early Sunday morning, Joyce lay curled under her quilt, having walked right through my little ploy, never seeing it.  She had eschewed the light so as not to disturb her sleeping sister.  Shame darkened my face as I coiled the ribbon and tucked it under my pillow.

My brothers Mark and Kevin got a tape recorder with S&H Greenstamps and went around for months recording some of the more embarrassing moments of family life.  They tucked the little machine with its whirring wheels under the couch during bedtime prayers.  My father snapped, Adrienne, get up on your knees, and the boys snickered.  Later, they taunted my sleeping roommate and chortled when she screamed, Get out of here!  They recorded a bit of song which admonished, You’re sooooo sleeeepppy!  They played the tirade back to her at dinner time and howled when she whined to Mom about their treachery.

I blushed again, knowing that I had stood beside them the whole time, despite the fact that I adored my sister and knew how tired she must be.

Last night, Joyce and I spoke with something close to dispassion of the damage we understand ourselves to suffer, and the choices we’ve made on account of the violence and chaos which we endured as children.  I found myself chuckling at the instant recognition which flashed between us.  Neither of us can tolerate a raised voice or the sight of certain objects, whose multiple purpose we ruefully describe.  We well recall the pattern; the angry shout followed by the sound of a telephone being torn from the wall and the whip of a belt through the air.

We note our childhood sounds like stuff with which movie stars bleed on endless  pages, garnering thousands in advance as publishers rub their hands together beneath their leering grins.

Joyce and I rarely venture into these waters.  Our decades of dancing this damaged jig have led us both to something close to peace.  We share so many other common threads.  We’re both alone; we’re both divorced; we’re both nesters sometimes bordering on the absurd, a need to surround ourselves with soft places to fall.  We love our only children passionately, care for them tenderly, and worry about them incessantly.  We collect useless knickknacks and too  many blouses; and cry without embarrassment in the same fragile voices.

We prize small steps towards whatever healing our lives will accommodate.  We take the pressure off one another with the soothing salve of acceptance.

A spider sends its gossamer web from somewhere over my head, the eaves probably, to the edge of the porch railing.  It skitters along the thin pathway.   I do not have the heart to disturb its progress.  I lift my coffee cup, not caring that the drink has grown cold.  As the  spider nears its destination, I sit back, listening to the call of the small creatures hidden in the wilted patch of Black-eyed Susans.  The sun rises.  My Saturday begins.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley


Kindly click on the picture to see the spider’s handiwork.


12 August 2017

Good morning,

The alarm rings at six a.m. because I’ve flood-cleaning to do and my sister left St. Louis just after dawn.  She’s rented an SUV and packed her little dogs, and will arrive here at 10:30 to rescue me.  She and I will muck the floors, pitch the ruined boxes, and haul the good stuff up to the dining room table to sort.  Down-sizing delay due to disaster, film at 11.

I hearken back 26 years to a hot July in Fayetteville when another sister appeared in my life.  Backpack over one shoulder, sandals securely buckled, with a wide grin and capable hands, my sister Ann spent a week on the couch, feeding me frozen yogurt and cuddling my newborn son.  Her staggering competence soothed me.  Usually I shrink in the presence of such capability but then, as now, I basked in it.  My own inadequacies stymie forward motion; with Ann or Joyce in the perimeter, all things seem possible.  Even motherhood.  Even pawing through twenty-four years of God-knows-what in flood-sogged cardboard.

And I get full credit for introducing Ann to Walmart.  She had never been; but in Arkansas, if you can’t find it at Walmart, you don’t really need it.  I’m not sure she agreed.  Every time she asked where she could go to buy something which she felt I needed, I gave the same answer.  I doubt she’s shopped at Walmart since July, 1991, when she stocked my cupboards and completed the nursery with  a plethora of purchases from its wide aisles,

Ann brought the basket in which I first bundled my son.  A few weeks later,  a bedside rocking cradle arrived, sent by Joyce to replace the rickety one which our father had tried to make for Patrick.  I lowered Patrick gently into Dad’s creation long enough to snap a photo.  I did not tell him that it could not sustain even the gentlest of pushes.  I used it to hold flowers on my porch and eventually sold it to a woman with a florist shop.  My son spent his earliest nights in the one which Joyce sent me, while I sank into grateful sleep nearby.

Standing in the kitchen of my office on Thursday, I told my secretary that I had finally convinced a tradesman to finish a job right.  I shook my head.  I have no problem charging into open court, brandishing print-outs of the damning evidence.  I’ll raise my voice and lob paragraph after paragraph of reason on behalf of a client’s cause.  But I shrink away from any controversy which might protect myself.  I think I understand the dynamics of self-loathing.  I hope to conquer my feelings of unworthiness before I die.

But in the meantime, I don’t have to believe myself worthy of my sisters’ love.  They offer it without question or expectation of repayment.  They call, they write, they appear at my door and envelope me with love.  I’m told that a thousand repetitions can teach any lesson. I’ve had 22,593 days to believe that I deserve the love which my sisters bestow on me.  I’m not there yet, but someday soon.

I’ve been a girlfriend, a wife, a mother, a lover, a lawyer and a lobbyist.  Of every role I’ve assumed, that of ‘little sister’ suits me best.  I’m good at it.  I intend to play it just as long as possible, for eternity, to the end of time.    If time exists on any other plane, I’ll wear the ‘little sister’ mantle even there, like a warm cloak on a winter’s day or a lacy shawl wrapped around my shoulders as I sit beside the ocean, watching the setting sun.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

From right to left, Lucy’s girls: Ann Lucille, Joyce Elizabeth, Adrienne Marie, and Mary-Corinne




05 August 2017

Good morning,

I look at the computer to see the time and realize that in thirty days, I will turn 62.  Surreal doesn’t half-describe this sensation.

I think back to a doctor’s office, a little room in a dingy building of which the doctor must have been inordinately proud in the way of specialists.  He sits hunched on his side of a small desk, wrinkled craggly brow thrust towards my mother and me.  He says something that I don’t understand.  He’s mumbling.

Hereditary spastic quadroparesis emerges from the syllables floating in the room, crowding us.  I look at my mother.  Her brow has furrowed to match the doctor’s forehead.  I squint through pink plastic cat glasses which I’ve worn since fourth grade.  I haven’t confessed their inadequacy because I know my mother doesn’t have any money to replace them.

She looks back at the neurologist.  Why don’t any of my other children have this besides two of my girls, if it’s hereditary? She doesn’t think he’s got the right diagnosis.  She hasn’t, for a decade, accepted the pronouncements that any of them have given her.  The first one, acute something sepsis something else, fell by the wayside when the antibiotic that they administered failed to safeguard against the wobbly walk and the night tremors.

The doctor shrugs.  The human body mystifies him but even I know that he won’t admit his ignorance.  My mother stands and reaches over the desk to extract some piece of paper that he had been offering her.  I let my eyes wander to the window.  His words don’t change anything about my life.

Downstairs we get into the little car that my mother drives to and from work and the grocery store.  She’s only been driving a few years.  Her father had tried to teach her a long time ago, but it wasn’t until necessity gave birth to invention that she forced herself to learn.  With my father prone to disappear for days or weeks at a time, and her job across town from our Jennings home, she had no choice.  The bus didn’t take her where she needed to be.

We navigate down Kingshighway in silence.  I feel her eyes on me once or twice but keep mine fixed on the moving cars outside my window.  I think she apologized.  I shake my head.  It didn’t matter; none of it.  They could change what they called  my problem every year if they wanted.  Boys would still make fun of me.  Girls would still twitter when I passed them in the hallway.  I’d still be alone, with only my sister Adrienne to understand what I felt, and she never spoke of it.  Not to me, anyway.

I’d spend the next fifty years trying to make my skin fit.  At age twelve, going into the eighth grade, with my near-sighted eyes holding back hot tears, I didn’t stand a chance.

When we get home, Mom asks me what I want for dinner.  I tell her, whatever you were going to fix anyway.  I go into the bedroom that had finally become mine by dint of all the other girls moving out.  I shut the door and lay on my bed, thinking about the week that I’d spent in the hospital and the week after that, when I went to Tinley Park to stay with my mother’s little sister.  The trip had been my mother’s attempt to compensate me for the hospital.  It had been fun but hadn’t really helped, since my Uncle Dick acted almost exactly like my father.  It must be the name, I think, just before  I fall asleep.

I don’t remember dinner that night.  Just the doctor’s office, his mumbled pronouncement of the new fifty-cent words to describe my crippledness, and the ride home.  I think it rained.  It’s raining now, here in Brookside, great drops which fell upon my computer and sent me scurrying to the covered side of the porch.  A plane passes overhead and crickets chirp.

I used to think that the little insect slept during the day.  Recently I tried to find something about the seventeen-year locust, and in my search, I learned that crickets aren’t nocturnal.  They’re quiet in waking hours because they’re stalking prey.  So now I think of crickets as sneaky critters, slithering through the uncut grass in my backyard, looking for something delicious to nibble.

Rain comes in earnest.  I go inside to get a jacket, to close the windows, and wrap myself in the warmth of my home.  I stand at the windows, watching the yard, waiting for something that might or might not ever come.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley