30 September 2017

Good morning,

The stillness surrounds me, broken only by the constant rise and fall of the perennial ringing in my ears.  I’ve let the dog outside.  Occasionally, she sends her short, high bark into the lingering darkness.  Sunlight filters through the trees in weak ripples.  Dawn edges over the distant trees, tinging the sleeping houses with its feeble warmth.  Through my window I can see the flag.  Its small motions tell me that a morning breeze moves through our neighborhood.

I look around me at the furniture which no longer seems to have function.  The people who moved through these rooms with casual intention have all continued their motion to beyond, to elsewhere, to other homes and other chairs.  Only I remain.  Someone called this move “bittersweet” in a message yesterday but I do not see how anyone other than I could feel that way, and I don’t.  Instead I dwell in a sense of rightness, almost of urgency.  This house and I have made peace with one another.  It needs me gone; and I need to be gone.  We’re ready to be quit of one another.

I’ve lived here since 1993 and I remember every moment of the life that I made here.  Yesterday I found myself thinking of the first time I stepped on the porch of this house.  Not the porch that it currently has, mind; but its original screened-in flat-roof porch, the one to which the steps actually ascended with seamless efficiency.  I stood looking at a wooden sign on the door, straining to decipher the word.  When I finally realized that the plaque bore a surname, and one which I recognized, I turned to the realtor and said, I know these people.  And so I did.

I had never been to their home.  Our children attended the same daycare at that time. I walked among their neatly organized possessions, wanting to run my fingers along the mantle and study the pictures on the wall.  They were short people, the prior owners, and they shared a small closet. His clothes hung from the top, hers from the bottom; beneath, a little step stool rested in a hollow space.  I wonder what they would say if they saw how I’ve finished the attic; the ten feet of hanging potential; the dresser spanning one cubby.  I think about his three suits, her four dresses, the color-coded Oxfords occupying  six meager inches.  I think they’d shake their heads and glance at one another, if they could see my excesses and the clutter in the kitchen.

The new porch rises high, majestic with its wooden contours.  I stand outside with my coffee and gaze through the upper windows at the rising light.  I hear voices now; children pushing wagons down the driveway, a husband calling to me from the van parked at the curb.  He wants a beer.  Send the cockroaches, he instructs.  It’s what he calls the boys playing in the backyard, Patrick, Chris, and Maher.

I beckon to my son, who cradles the bottle and opener against his thin chest.  He slowly travels up the sidewalk to his stepfather.  I see them speak.  A small earnest head bends over the tools with which the man gestures.  I find that I have not exhaled; I have not blinked; I have not released the clench of my right hand.  I stand in rigid expectation until the boy makes his way back to the house, serious, conveying messages that neither of us understand.

The voices have fallen silent now.  I’ve arranged two long shelves of belongings with which to enter the next phase of my life.  They’ll be joined by the smallest of my furniture:  Two Amish tables; two cedar chests; the Boy Scout trunk; the desk that I bought at a garage sale, the folding top of which makes it perfect for small spaces; two wicker sets of drawers, in graduated sizes; and one rocking chair.  Oh: and, incongruously perhaps,  my mother-in-law’s tall, ornate secretary, with the little chair in which I always sat during evenings in their living room.

Twelve  small boxes of belongings, the accoutrements of an ordinary life; and less than a room’s worth of furniture.  When it is loaded, when the last of the rest has been toted away by whoever needs it; when the dust has been swept and the fixtures have all been wiped, rinsed, and polished; I’ll turn the key and walk away, leaving the ghosts to fend for themselves.

Mugwumpishly tendered.

Corinne Corley


16 September 2017

Good day to you all.

I am on the coast with only sporadic internet.  Just now I am in Davenport, California eating at a small Mexican restaurant with the ocean just across the highway from where I sit.

I will not write a long Musing today, but you can follow my travels at:

My Year Without Complaining

Eventually, I will merge these two blogs.  I do intend to keep writing weekly stories of my life, but today I have taken time to enjoy what I see, to talk to others who share my love of the Pacific, and reflect on my evolving existence.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture shot on the boardwalk at Pigeon Point Hostel while I was whale-watching this morning.  I did not capture any of the whales which others who were quicker or had better cameras were able to photograph. But they were there and beautiful.

The gulls and I have become quite friendly with one another.

Take care, all.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

09 September 2017

Good morning,

I keep thinking these Musings have run their course.  I tell myself that I will soon have to write about the darker hours.  All the good stories have been told.  The newest days have yet to unfold.  But then, another Saturday dawns and I find myself in front of the computer, reaching out.  Perhaps I just need to connect.  Delete, please, or let the link float away in your inbox if the intrusion annoys you.

But if — like me — you scrounge for the thread you can pull to unravel your life’s mystery, keep reading.

Yesterday a buyer hauled away the buffet which has sat in my dining room since 1993.  I found the thing in the first house which I bought, in Winslow, Arkansas.  I called the seller and he gave one of those grunts over the phone for which country lawyers seem famous.  He told me he didn’t want the buffet, that a renter had abandoned it.  So I kept it.

Now that I’m trying to divest myself of the burgeoning belongings in this house, it found a new home faster than I would have thought possible.  When they came, I made them remove the decades-old mirror and carefully carry it to their vehicle.  I provided a swathe of bubble wrap for the beveled glass door.  I hovered over the transfer to the bed of their truck until I had assured myself that they’d take good care of it all the way home to Raytown, then I said goodbye on the sidewalk.  Back in the house, I stared dejectedly at the stack of vinyl that has been hidden in the buffet for three decades.

Behind the doors of my china cabinet, I discovered a baggie filled with silhouettes carefully crafted in the images of my paternal grandparents.  The little collection had fallen into a box of wedding pictures, and almost hit the trash bag without being unearthed.  I shuffled through the pack, running the tip of one finger over my grandfather Corley’s stern profile.  Behind Grandma Corley’s more elegant depiction, I spied one of Great-Grandmother Corinne Hahn Hayes, and a couple more of the first two or three Corley children in my father’s generation.

I fell back into a chair and held the bag against my chest.  How close I came to accidentally discarding the lot!  I slowed my pace then, examining each item, each piece of paper, each yellowed photograph and clipping.  Thus did I find my mother’s wedding announcement and the obituary of my favorite curmudgeon.  I kept them both.

I don’t need these thirteen-hundred square feet.  I can’t afford the upkeep, the headache, or the heartache.  A good stout broom will rid my psyche of the cobwebs that twenty-four years of stagnation have occasioned.  But Lord, how I loved this house!

Here my son toddled, from not-quite-two to nearly twenty.  Here I married and divorced twice, remaining behind when husbands and stepchildren moved away.  I watched my son pull out of the driveway in his first car and the tow truck take that car away after it got crunched between my son’s misjudged turn and a tipsy doctor’s speeding Mercedes.  Patrick drove my Blazer, then; while I slipped into the Saturn Vue which would take me through five satisfying years until I received the Prius.  That Blazer took us to a lot of places.  We went offroad in Wyoming and the Dakotas.  I drove it to Chicago in a snowstorm for my cousin Sabrina’s funeral.  I hope the Prius does me as proud.

On the porch, my plants have entered their fourth or fifth bloom for the summer while the air around them cools and the sun shifts on its trajectory towards fall.  The old rug on which the morning paper would land each day has more mud stains than clean inches, but I don’t take the paper anymore.  I don’t miss it, though I do regret not finding out if my carrier’s son got a football scholarship.  I can’t recall his name — not the father, nor the son — but wherever he is, I hope he got out of this town, as his father wanted.  He’s a good boy, my carrier told me, at five-thirty one frosty September, holding my paper towards my waiting hand.

In the other hand, I would invariably hold a mug of coffee.  I’d pull my robe close around my body and tuck myself into a rocker.  My glasses would be settled on the end of my pug Irish nose.  A cat would be curled in the other chair, and I’d hear a dog snuffling at the door, wanting to be let out but not realizing she had come to the wrong end of the house for her business.

I’d set the paper down and go back into the living room.  The dog would run ahead of me, and I’d open the back door for her.  She scamper down the stairs and into the yard. I’d pause to watch the first rays of morning sun shimmer over the neighbor’s garage and through the cedar trees which rise on the property line.

I did much the same this morning, though the cats have all died or decamped along with the various humans. It’s just me and the old dog now, and I had to bend to set her feet at the right angle.  We don’t know what causes her slight neurological damage.  It might be the press of the tumor which will inevitably bring her death.  It could be something else — swelling from her arthritis, perhaps, or maybe something that the hundreds of dollars already spent on testing has not revealed.  Either way, I understand her dilemma.  She’s got a proprioceptor deficit, and that makes two of us.  I pat her head and make her walk around the kitchen until she gets her bearings.  She’ll suffer no broken bones on my watch.

I’ve browsed through the New York Times online.  In a little while, I’ll go up to my office and hang the art for the  September 23rd benefit for SAFEHOME and Rose Brooks Center.  When I’ve gotten that done, I’ll drive to south Overland Park for Caitlin Taggart Perkin’s baby shower, and later, in the evening, back to the Plaza for dinner at Eden Alley.

I don’t need much.  A laptop, a coffee mug, a rocking chair, a few friends.  I’ve got too many possessions.  I look around me and wonder how many dollars I’ve spent accumulating all this stuff.  Then I make myself a little sick thinking of what I could have done with all that money, if I had not felt compelled to have the world’s biggest collection of second-hand furnishings and pocketbooks.

But what’s done is done.  The life that I have lived so far brought me to this day, for good or for bad.  I promised to live to be 103, so I have a few more chances to get it right.  I have a dust mop and I’m coming for those dust bunnies hiding under the table.  The old dog and me, we’ve got some  days left in us.  Don’t count us out just yet.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley



02 September 2017

Good morning,

This city looked so fine last night, wrapped in cool August air and strutting her skinny-arm pose under the dancing First Friday lights.  She tossed her wild curls over one sassy shoulder and threw kisses to the boys and girls on her sidewalks.  She made moon-eyes at the ladies and lads alike.  She had no shame.  She let them chalk her concrete surfaces and toss paperinto her gutters, knowing that in the morning she’d take a long hot shower and sweep the clutter from the front porch.

I love this town.  I came here in 1980 in a yellow Thunderbird convertible driven by the first in a long line of treacherous men.  His friend crawled down the highway behind us in a U-Haul truck carrying what passed for furniture.  Even then I craved broken rocking chairs and small cabinets which I could move by myself if nobody ever came to help.  And books.  Scads of books.  Novels only I would dare read, scrounged from the back rooms of dusty second-hand stores.  Old treatises in slim volumes with uncut pages and stately covers.  Spiral-bound yoga bibles with pictures of serene women in loose-fitting clothing.

The man had not yet betrayed me but carried my bed up four flights and through the narrow slatted door which opened to the long gloomy hallway.  We found a pancake house a few blocks away and watched the hookers who walked into the street without looking either way.  They put their bottoms in the air and leaned farther into the car windows than any of us thought safe.  Once I almost ran out to holler, You don’t have to sell yourself! at an impossibly young woman in hot pants and a halter top.  But my boyfriend stopped me, saying, Well maybe she does, are you going to let her sleep on your couch? My god Corinne you haven’t even unpacked don’t get shot yet.

He and his friend left the next day to go back to St. Louis, leaving me alone wiith my boxes of old crockery and new notebooks for writing  down everything which I thought I would learn in law school.  The next time I saw him, he’d gotten fired from his teaching job for pushing over an opaque projector in a tiff with a student.  He set his suitcase down on the floor and told me he thought he’d move to Kansas City and live with me for a while.  I couldn’t reply.  Me and the hookers had already made friends, though I hadn’t invited any of them to  a sleep-over yet.  I just honked and waved and they hollered, Hey girl.

I hadn’t started classes  so I told the man, You can stay for a while, I guess. Two weeks later, I caught him sleeping with a woman who had apparently followed him into town, leaving her husband at home with the baby.  I threw them both out and changed the sheets.  I swore that I’d never love again; never trust again; never open my heart or the front door no matter how sweetly someone said my name.  Of course, I have broken that promise over and over again but it sounded sincere on that day, that August, just five or six miles and a  million gallons of salty hot tears from where I now sit and write.

The bush to my right,  which isn’t a Rose of Sharon, has lingering blossoms and a smattering of crimson leaves.  When I bought this house in 1993, I let the kid who mowed  my lawn convinced me to create an English garden on the stretch of property where this deck now stands.  That bush, the not-rose-of-sharon, flanked a row of peonies carefully cultivated by the house’s two prior owners.  We planted Columbine and marigolds and a few other sprigs, tiny shoots that I bought over on Troost at Soil Service.  The kid  weeded the whole area and sprinkled something he said would help everything grow.  I stood in the driveway and felt like landed gentry.  Five years later we dug up the weeds and all but one peony and the not-rose-of-sharon to make the wheelchair ramp for that decade’s treacherous beautiful man.

The bush and its companion peony rise above our pet cemetery.  Tiger who got hit by a car was the first.  Patrick went out to get the paper one Saturday and came back into the house sobbing.  Mommy, Tiger’s lying in the middle of the street and he won’t get up.  We made a tombstone on which my boy’s stepfather carved the name, Tiger Tazmania Corley.  A fiercely loyal pet who adored my son.  Also buried there:  Our first dog, Chocolate, whose death I accidentally caused; the beloved Sprinkles, my son’s favorite cat; and a dear little kitten named Chief who lived to be nine months  old, staying mostly upstairs with Patrick because Dennis, the stepfather, had decreed No More Pets.  But when Patrick’s other Mom, Katrina, gave him the kitten for his birthday, what could we do?

My morning chorus has a new song today.  I’m thinking of learning the cricket language so I can talk back to them.  I’m sure they know a lot.  They hear the rapid fire of weapons gripped by careless hands, the sirens, and the fast cars at  midnight.  They feel the earth vibrating under each truck lumbering by while I’m just moving around in the morning.  The sneaky feet on the driveway when no one is home trample on their hiding places.  If I spoke their language, I could protect myself, I’m sure of that.  I’d be in the know.

A friend stopped by First Friday to see me last night.  We chatted with his daughter in the parking lot, then he walked me to my car.  Be careful going home,  he cautioned.  I assured him that I would.  But I had no such intention.  I stopped at every red light with my window open, hanging out with my cell phone camera held in front of my aging eyes.  By the time I got to my house, I had seen my city, really seen her, with her twitchy lights and bold disposition.  I’d given her a Kleenex and told her to fix her mascara and re-apply her lipstick.  I had complimented her new dress and flicked a few crumbs from the front of her sweater.  I’d given her a midnight hug and told her to stay away from fast boys and women who wouldn’t meet her eyes.  I’d told her, Don’t go with strangers, you don’t have to make your living that way anymore.  

But maybe she does.  When I woke up today, someone had posted on the Nextdoor App, Anybody awake and listening to those gunshots at 60th and Troost?  Just three blocks from me.  Oh Kansas City!  Take care of yourself; it’s a wicked world.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

From downtown to home.  I might have one or two out of order, but you get the picture, eh?