All posts by CC

30 December 2017: Of Banes and Existence

Good day — for it is daytime somewhere, though not where I am.

I’m writing here because MYWOC is “down” for unknown reasons. I have reached out to QWK.NET, my host; and they are working on the problem.

I’ve had an exhausting day here in Isleton.  I’m reminded of my favorite Isaac Beshevits Singer story.

His publisher called and told him that she had sold one of his stories.  He said, “Marvelous, ma’am.  Which one?” When she identified the piece, he said, “Oh, ma’am, I am sorry.  I promised that one to a group which is starting a new  magazine and cannot afford to pay for work.”

The publicist cried, “Oh, Mr. Singer, this is a catastrophe!”

And the man replied:  “No, ma’am.  It is not a catastrophe.  No little children will die from it.”

And so it is with my broken website, and the washer which keeps throwing its “not properly draining” code, and the flaws in my tiny house build.  No little children will die from these issues.  Though they might currently feel like the banes of my existence, they only temporarily annoy me.  I will overcome even the most gnarly of the difficulties now confronting me.

All will be well.

It’s late on the 29th day of the forty eighth month of My Year Without Complaining. When you read this, it might well be early on the 30th day.  I will be sleeping, in my nook, in Angel’s Haven, on Brannan Island, in the California Delta.  I will be dreaming of soft morning light.

Life continues.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

A few trinkets from my former home: The Brookside art fair drinking vessel which I got with Carolyn Karr and her husband; a photograph of my great-grandmother Corinne Hahn Hayes with her husband; my son’s Baptismal candle; Caitlin & Bryan’s wedding shower coaster.

 

My son Patrick gave me a “tiny house spice rack set”, which my friend Joe installed. It’s beginning to feel like home here at Angel’s Haven.

Greetings from NORCAL

Dear Family, Friends, and Fans:
Greetings to you all from Park Delta Bay.  Pardon this blanket one-size-fits-all missive.   I’m trying to get the word out to everyone about how I am and where I am as expeditiously as possible.  Whether you’re already in-the-know or not, I’ve included everyone in the BCC list that I think might want an update on my status — the scoop on where I am and how I got here.
But let me start with a simple:  Hello, from beautiful Isleton, California.  I’m here!  I’m nearly settled.  I’m a bit overwhelmed with the newness of it all.  But I’m feeling genuinely blessed and fortunate to have successfully relocated.
I could not have done this without a few people whom I would like to thank for everyone’s edification.
First and foremost:  Rick Diamond.  What can I say about a man who on the strength of four-month’s acquaintance, spends two weeks packing my home and my office, and helps me drive 1800 miles to deposit myself in a new living space with no more incentive than my thanks and a few left-over bits of furniture?  Not to mention allowing the boxes and bagatelle which didn’t make the cut to hang out in his living room awaiting his return, and in his basement on an indefinite basis.  If you know Rick or met him in the process of this move, you know how calm he is.  That serenity has sustained me for the last month through arduous and uncertain shenanigans.  Thank you, Rick; no words could quite convey the depth of my regard for you.
Many people joined with the affable Mr. Diamond to enable my smooth transition.  I’ll list them in no real order of importance or occurrence.
My sister Joyce Corley:  Flood duty; neuroses management; office-packing; decision-second-guessing; and general angel-in-the-wee-small-hours.  My sister, my friend.
Katrina Taggart:  Showing-up-and-pitching-in — last minute variety, strong, persistent, enduring.  And touching-Facebook-post of the Year award; tears flowed in all quarters.
Abigail Vogt, her fella John; and their friends Liz and Sam:  Piano-moving, kitchen-packing, and hugs-when-the-demons-roared.  Abbey, I cannot thank you enough, my dear, for being there at exactly the right time.  You made a very tense day when the devil bleated at my door into a bearable brief interlude.  Not to mention, single-handled packing the hardest room in the house!
Paula Kenyon-Vogt and Sheldon Vogt:  Everyone knows, I would not be alive if these two amazing people had not held my hand through a fiercely difficult year.  That said — my porch got cleaned, organized, beautified, and newly-railed because of them.   Paula spent six hours cleaning behind the cleaner whom I had already paid to clean and who did not (clean, that is) despite being paid.  It must said, Paula held me through some heart-wrenching hours.  Sheldon built the rail; made my live-edge cherry table; drove me to Polo to meet with the builder; and showed up whenever and wherever anything needed repairing, lifting, juggling, or finagling.  You K-Vs, you have my heart.
Chris Taggart and Ross Taggart:  The father and son duo who appeared at the eleventh hour with calm, persistence, good-natured willingness to work, and enterprising ideas about how to get bulky boxes where they needed to be and other annoying problems solved.
My son — Patrick — well, I won’t embarrass him too much, but suffice it to say that Patrick listened to every doubt; encouraged me to dream; and willingly spent more than his available PTO cleaning out the basement and sorting boxes.  Thank you, son.
Lots of people helped in amazing ways over the last few months.  Season Burnett:  The throw you made for me will be featured in the Facebook live that I’ll do next week.  Katie Elliott and Janette, along with Colleen:  Thank you for the Rotary going away girls-night-out.  Elizabeth U-C and Brenda:  Ditto for the “last Chai-Shai Wednesday”.   Dr. Karr and her nameless husband:  Yard and deck lights posted; garage cleaned (twice); Corinne-toted-around; moral support given.   Pat Reynolds  listened to every uncertainty and flat-out believed in me as no one else could have done.  Tricia Scaglia found the electrician and sewer guy extraordinaire; she also took me to lunch, dinner, coffee, breakfast, and new levels of stability, not to mention providing an office-away-from-Suite 100.  Ruthie:  the painting you gave me really touched my heart.  It has to be shipped for safety but I’m saving it a spot.   I could continue without relent, because I have some amazing friends, a marvelous family-by-choice and an awesome family.  The support which you’ve all given me has gotten me to where I am.
Which is:
Home:  922 West Brannan Island Road, Isleton, CA 95641.
My KC office address is: 3675 S. Noland Road, Suite 113, Independence MO 64055.
Official “work” forwarding address:  PO Box 669, Isleton CA 95641
My phone numbers remain the same:
Home — 816-444-0170, cell 816-520-9152, work 816-753-5556.
And they all ring to my cell phone, of course.
The tiny house has been parked on Lot G8 in Park Delta Bay.  This place is trying to cultivate one whole section which will ultimately be tiny houses.  It has ten now.  There are also RVs, campers, and trailers among the long-term residents.  One whole side of the park is vacationers or short-term parking, some who are in the Delta for work on short assignments in various industries.  It’s a lush, large park with mature trees located basically at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Mokelumne Rivers.  (RAD:  It’s the SJ in front of the park, not the M; I was mistaken).  I’m located about 77 miles east of Oakland, about 50 miles southwest of Sacramento.  I don’t have a job yet and I’ve been spending money like a fiend, but that’s my next big effort.  It will happen. I believe.
I’ll also be in KC three or four times over the next five months for trials or hearings.  I’ll try to see everyone at some point.  I have no idea when I’ll get to the Lou next.  You are all welcome here.  You can sleeping-loft-it, rent a cabin on site, or bring your own RV/camper.  The rental fees are fairly typical of the area.  There is also tent-camping.  There’s a pool, tennis courts, a nice shower / restroom building, and an off-leash park.
And that brings me to Little Girl:  Due to her age and cancer, Patrick and I, in consultation with Noah’s Ark, decided that it would be too much for her to make the trip.  The Taggarts are fostering her.  We hope she will continue to thrive, but we know that they will take good care of her for however long she has left.  Thank you, Taggs.
So:  Tiny living.  I love it already.  I’m calling my new home, “Angel’s Haven”.  Anyone who knows me will understand.
I’m thrilled with the house although we’re still in what Rick tells me is “the shakedown cruise”.  My builder did a really nice job of creating what I wanted.  It has a sleeping platform on the first level, a five-foot high on one side / 4-foot high on the other writing loft; a traditional sleeping loft for guests across the way; a nice kitchen; and a pretty bathroom.  Yes, it’s got a composting toilet.  That will enable me to eventually go off-grid.  It has electric heat, propane cooking, and on-demand propane-powered hot water.  With the two lofts, it’s about 313 square feet.  It has some internal issues but between Rick’s mad two-days of work and Joe the park handyman, I’m hopeful of getting those resolved.  They aren’t too major, things like calking not fully sealed, leaky faucets, and the washer not level.  Some of that results from moving a 24×8.5 trailer with a house on it, cross-country pulled by a pick-up.  Props to Kevin Kitsmiller of Country Cabin Village for seeing my vision and executing it.  And a huge hug to his angel wife, Kim, for her calm and continued support of this project.  We’ll get the kinks worked out, the universe willing and the creek don’t rise.  Joe will be building a deck so that I can have a rocker and safe steps.  Until then, he’s loaned me a set of temporary steps.
Speaking of creeks:  There’s a lovely one behind my house, and a huge weeping willow that puts me in mind of my brother Stephen.  One of his favorite GD songs, featured at his memorial service, was Brokedown Palacewith these haunting lyrics:
Fare you well, my honey, fare you well my only true one.
All the birds that were singing are flown, except you alone.
 
Going to leave this brokedown palace,
On my hand and knees, i will roll, roll, roll.
Make myself a bed in the waterside,
In my time, i will roll, roll roll.
 
In a bed, in a bed, by the waterside i will lay my head.
Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul.
 
River going to take me, sing sweet and sleepy,
Sing me sweet and sleepy all the way back home.
It’s a far gone lullaby, sung many years ago.
Mama, mama many worlds I’ve come since i first left home.
 
Goin’ home, goin’ home, by the riverside i will rest my bones,
Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul.
 
Going to plant a weeping willow,
On the bank’s green edge it will grow, grow, grow.
Sing a lullaby beside the water,
Lovers come and go, the river roll, roll, roll.
 
Fare you well, fare you well, i love you more than words can tell,
Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul.
Maybe it’s the season, or the approaching anniversary of his birth on Christmas Day but  I miss my brother  Steve more and more, not less and less.  I think he would like this place.  It’s close enough to the city to give him that shot of urban fire which he needed; but it’s the quiet country, like the land which he walked on his last day with us in this life.  Fare thee well, Stevie Pat.  I loved you more than words can tell.  I will think of you when I see the willow rising above me, by the creek with its simple footbridge and its gently flowing water.
Patrick plays guitar on the lower level while I sit in my loft writing.  Christmas nears.  If you haven’t read my ode to this holiday, you can do so HERE.  I’m thinking of each and every one of you.  I’m wishing you joy; and peace; and the warmth of love to surround you.  Wherever you are, this day, on Christmas, on Hanukkah, on every day that dawns and every day on which the sun sets, know that somewhere in NORCAL, there’s a Missouri Mugwump holding you in her heart.
Be well.  I’ll see you on the flip side.
Mugwumpishly tendered,
Corinne Corley

Mugwumpish Reminder

Folks — if you have not yet subscribed to My Year Without Complaining, I hope you will do so.

In the meantime, find today’s sage HERE.

Be well, everyone.  I’ll remind you from time to time about the hiatus and eventual rebirth.  Thank you for your loyalty and love.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Mugwump Moving

Dear Friends, Fans, and Family:

I gave myself permission not to write my Saturday Musings yesterday.  I found myself at a distant locale without my own computer.  Someone offered me a cup of coffee.  Thoughts that I had been entertaining of borrowing my host’s PC to write flew out of my mind, wafted to the wind on the fragrance of freshly brewed java.

I have written these Musings since June of 2008.  I found myself temporarily alone for the first time since 08 July 1991 when my son entered the world, laughing.  For that 17 years, I had been first a single mother, than a wife.  That spouse decamped  and my son embarked on his first major foray from home.  In the silence of the summer air, I turned to writing as a way of beginning the process of evolving which had temporarily halted when self met self’s eyes over a positive home test in the fall of 1990.

Now my world has turned a few more clicks to the west.  In the next two weeks, I’ll cram the last boxes of my belongings into a vehicle and hit the road.  When I surface, I’ll be living in 313 square feet in the Delta east of Oakland, California.  I’ll winter there.  I’ll look for work and commute back and forth, closing out cases and saying goodbye to my Midwestern haunts.  The Usual Suspects will gather for Christmas in January.  I’ll make one more First Friday at Ruthie Becker’s Gallery 504 if I plan my visits well.  I’ll let go, but keep one strong tap root in Missouri soil.

With this latest metamorphosis, the Musings will doubtless change as well.  So, I’m taking a hiatus from them.  I’ll still blog at myyearwithoutcomplaining.com.    You can subscribe to that blog to keep pace with my life, and the Musings will resurface in the fullness of time.

In fact, over the last eight years, I’ve amassed a plethora of work due to my weekly entry here.   I’ve decided to issue a collection of the entries in book form.  They will be joined in a volume with prints of visual art by Mary Pettet.  We hope to release the work by Christmas of 2018.  I’ll post news of the project here, so you should keep your subscription.

Thank you for eight years of loyal reading.  I will resurface here from time-to-time, and over on MYWOC.  If you want occasional social/political commentary from me, you can find it now and then at myeyesarewatchingyou.com.  I don’t post there often because, to be frank, I am so horrified by the erosion of progress in America, that I barely have the stomach for it.  You can read some entries also at myeyesarewatchingyou2.blogspot.com, to which I had to retreat when My Eyes Are Watching You got splogged.  There’s a link to that page on the main political blog.

I wish you all a lovely holiday season, and joy in the coming year.  Think of me now and then.  You can write to me at ccorleyjd@gmail.com.  All e-mail answered unless it contains profanity or pro-Trump rhetoric.  By now you should know that I think he’s the saddest excuse for a president that this country has ever seen, so don’t waste your breath trying to argue his merits.  Any other dialogue welcome, including videos of your cat doing tricks.

I thank you all for your faithful reading.  I will keep in touch.  Until we meet again, please know that you remain in my heart.  Somewhere in NORCAL, a Missouri Mugwump will be thinking of you, with all the Mugwumpitude she can muster.  Surely, that counts for something.

Be well.  I love you all.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Alert CHIPs. I’m taking a bit of home across the border.

 

 

25 November 2017

Good morning,

Two sentient beings still sleep, though I have already disturbed one of them.  Under the coffee table in the front bedroom, the old dog curls in her tattered bed.  I’d like to buy a new cover for it, but we want her to have familiar smells when she moves to her adopted home.  The boy of my heart, a grown man now, has camped on the couch because I woke at 4 and started trolling the internet in my boredom.  The sound filtered through the floor to the guestroom below me and drove him to the living room.

When I finally despaired of falling back asleep and came downstairs, I did not see him.  I made coffee, washed a few stray plates, and scuffed through the dining room to snag my laptop.  There he lay, under the soft throw that Jennie Taggart Wandfluh gave me for Christmas last year.  His penultimate night in the home of his childhood, and I drive him to cling to sleep in any loathsome corner.  A small shoot of guilt rises within me, but I tiptoe back out and pour a cup of coffee.

Night clings to the neighborhood.   Dark hovers at the window, broken only by the reflection of the spice rack and the cluttered shelf above the stove. The clang of my MedicAlert bracelet against the plastic tray on which I write reverberates in the empty rooms.   I pause, listening to the cheerful, low hum of the furnace.  Lists of tasks that must be done today scroll through my brain.  I reflect, for the thousandth time since waking, that I am insane to do what I’m doing.

With no more than whatever will remain after all the costs of closing and taxes get paid, and the tiny house builder gets his balance due, I’m heading to California in three weeks.  Today we’ll get the dog situated at Ross and Katrina’s house. I’ll spend an hour or two shredding old bank statements at my office.  Tomorrow I will shove whatever office trappings fit into a friend’s van and dump my files where I’ll be squatting for the next six months as I come in and out of town, evolving into a part-time lawyer and full-time writer / job-seeker.  I must be mad.

I’m leaving this house in the dead of winter just as I found it, though without the snow beneath which it huddled 25 years ago when I first laid my hopeful eyes on its porch.  My landlord, Jeff Jones, had dined with its owners and heard their tale of wanting to sell in June.  The husband, an architect, had decided to go to seminary.  The wife, a nurse, wanted only for the family to stay long enough for their oldest child to finish kindergarten.  They needed a buyer who didn’t want to close until June.  I had six months remaining on my lease and a house to sell in Arkansas.

The perfect match.

While Jeff worked the lock, I shivered on the screen porch, staring at a wooden plaque beside the front door.  “The Kanoy’s”, it read.  I turned to Jeff.  “Not Rick and Cheryl?”  He nodded.  I knew these people. Our children had been in the same day care    Other kids from “All God’s Children Daycare” lived two or three doors down, a boy and a girl with whom my son had gone on play dates.  I wanted the house already, a feeling which intensified when I walked its hardwood floors and gazed up the stairs at the knotty pine walls of the main bedroom.

We signed paperwork in January, and Patrick and I moved on Memorial Day weekend in 1993.

The pink counters have been replaced by the most God-awful beige synthetic stuff.  The white kitchen floor yielded to fake brown tile.   I didn’t pick these fabrications.  I wouldn’t have changed that pink for anything less than granite.  Unable to afford such upgrades, I would have left it, with its eighties vibe and its flowered wallpaper rising to the ceiling.  These weird improvements got put here by a well-intended soul in 2014, my lost year when i couldn’t stay out of the hospital or lift my head from folded arms for weeks at a time.

But I’m grateful for the new dishwasher, and the double-wide refrigerator, which I’m sure appealed to my buyer.  So I’ll give the awful upgrades a pass; thankful for the effort even if the result lacks a certain panache.

Other changes have been unmitigated blessings:  The capability of laundry on the first-floor; the shower in the upstairs bathroom; the walk-in attic closet; the gorgeous front porch.  I owe each of these to my two spouses.  Ironically, they  professed to hate this house but nonetheless  financed creature comforts.  I thank them.  Their efforts helped me cope here in these last, lonely three years.  I forgive whatever sins they might have also committed, as I hope they forgive mine.  I sweep the debris of our failed marriages into a pile and gently tip the dusty mess into a trash basket.  I leave their goodness on the make-shift table. I’ll carry it with me to California.

As the first light of the Saturday sun spreads across the neighbor’s roof, I stand in the back doorway.  Sounds of children playing in a three-foot pool drift through the years.  A Chocolate-spotted Beagle darts through the backyard, chased by a gaggle of little boys.  One of their mothers calls out; the chasing stops but the laughter echoes.  I call, “You kids get off that slide, you’ll break your necks!”   A voice says, “Do you want them to be afraid of you?” I turn, and the outrage of the gentlest mother washes over me.  “If it saves them from drowning, sure,” I mutter, but I lower my tone when I turn back to the children at play.

This house has its own actual ghost, a man, we think.  He walks about the place and sometimes talks to me.  He often pats my leg as I lay struggling with sleeplessness and pain.  If you do not believe in lingering spirits, then accept whatever explanation you need for the knives which stand themselves on their thin edges and the cabinets which fly open and disgorge dishes from time to time.  We’ve never figured out who he is, but even the most skeptical have seen him flicking by, a quick reflection in a mirror where no one stands.  I hope the new owner doesn’t mind.

Nor should she mind the lingering fragrance of birthday candles; the flowered valance over the sink which only I liked; or the weird concrete pad beneath the washing machine.  I’ve not left much of a mark in Kansas City.  But here, here in the Holmes house, I’ve washed the floors with  tears and pruned the bushes with loving, spastic hands.

I hope she’s happy  here, my buyer.  And as my son takes his backpack and his clean laundry out to his little Kia at the bottom of the driveway for the last time tomorrow, I hope he carries with him some sense of belonging with which to make his way in this often wicked world.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

18 November 2017

Good morning,

I balance the ThinkPad on a tray which itself rests on a half-open drawer.  I sit on a wooden stool, one of two left behind by someone who briefly tarried in my life and then sought a smoother path.  The radio plays as it always plays, intruding now and then into my thoughts.  Just now the story centers on survivors and I pause to listen.  I hear the words “every victim” and shudder.  How carelessly we contemplate “every victim”, “every mass shooting”,  every family member left to grieve.

I don’t know the prodigious burden of having a family member gunned down or blown apart.  My losses take a simpler path.  A brother who laid down his burden beneath a tree in a patch of columbine.  A mother who shriveled beneath the careless disinterest of an old physician who did not keep pace with medical knowledge and a surgeon whose knife slipped in a way so common that it does not rise to the level of malpractice.  A father whose life-time abuse of his body finally spelled his undoing.  A baby who never made it past the first three months in my womb.  Quiet losses.  Nothing mass.  Nothing global.  Private grief.

Winter shrouds my home.  I think of other winters, all in this house.  I remember Thanksgiving dinners with more than a dozen gathered at the table in a dining room which now holds only a few scattered post-it note pads and a china cabinet that no one wants.  I stand in the doorway and hear their voices.  Children dart around chairs.  The smallest one balances on a stool pulled to the corner between his parents.  Small fists clutch knobs of potato while larger ones tip wine glasses across the expanse to herald each other.

We go around the table saying our Thankful-Fors.  Youngest to oldest in the way of my childhood.  Here in the stillness of a nearly-empty dwelling, I remember each time that I stood in this same doorway insisting that I must go last.  I choked on my unexpressed sentiment.  I clutched my chest with folded arms, my apron bunching in my struggling spastic hands.  My list of things for which I was thankful grew every year, as did the unrelenting  strength of my emotions.

In this home, I raised my boy.  I married and divorced twice.  I welcomed two amazing stepchildren whom I can honestly say I will love forever.  Shared children, the children who comprised my son’s social set, brought their parents who became my friends.  Some of those friends still tarry in the river of my life.  We embrace.  We do for one another.  We send little notes by text and e-mail even when our respective lives take us into other eddies.  Their children and their grandchildren count me in the third or fourth perimeter of family.  I accept that with as much grace as possible, albeit with a slightly bittersweet nod toward the distant, near-forgotten days when we accorded one another daily ranking.

A sheaf of tender stories flutter to the ground when I open the last cabinet.  I sweep them into a pile and gather them into an empty box.  An occasional sentence catches my eye.  But I cannot take responsibility for anyone else’s pain, nor claim the glory for the days gone by which I did little to orchestrate.  I close the lid.

I’ve disappointed many.  I’ve satisfied few.  I’ve done as much as I can do and occasionally, a little more.  Now the dust of fallen leaves lifts and dances in the breeze each time I leave the house, unimpeded by furniture or clutter on the shelves.   The vague hum of the refrigerator echoes in the emptiness.  I take my sorrow and my joy with me, surrounding  my thin bones with softly spun cashmere to warm the brittleness which remains when all else falls away.

Some years, I had trouble opening my mouth to identify that for which I felt most grateful.  Other years, I could barely stop myself from listing every person at my table, every shining face, and some who sat elsewhere but never left my heart.  A doctor who saved my life by seeing through the complexity of my illness to a simple solution; a friend who sent a sheaf of angels cut from a magazine because my voice sounded lonely when we spoke long-distance.  A sister who unfailingly rose to every occasion.  With those who sat, poised forks in hand, each of the absent ones held their corner of my my life to keep it from dragging in the muck.

Nothing has changed but everything has.   Solitary after all; alone again; with a clutter of dishes in the drain basket and a shelf of dying plants.  I’m still here, still thankful, still overwhelmed with a flood of unresolved affection.  I can’t take my time to speak; I can’t rush; I’m caught between the urgent need to honor every life and the fear that I will omit someone whose presence meant so much.  I stand, listening to the distant lingering noise of yesterday’s Thanksgivings — the cheerful chatter, the clink of china, the fall of children’s feet on the dusty hardwood.

I’m thankful, finally, for all of it.  For the love and the loss.  For the better and the worse.  For the ups and the downs.  For the pain and the pleasure.  I’m thankful for the doctor who let me sink into decline and the doctor who breezed into a hospital room and rescued me.  I choke with inability to acknowledge the variegation within each person who entered this home.  My superlative life disintegrated and I learned to recognize that everyone who crossed my path held value.  I wouldn’t uninvite any of them to my table.  I’m thankful for them all.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

 

04 November 2017

Good morning,

Today I remember my favorite curmudgeon, Jabez MacLaughlin, three years after his passing from this life to whatever lies beyond the world we see.  I’m thinking of the first time that I drove one of the nearly-twin vehicles which he and his Joanna had.

We were to have met at his house and drive over to the restaurant together, but circumstances prompted him to call and say he would meet me. I did not question his instructions.  I understood from his tone that he had made a determination; I would follow what he wanted, as I had been doing since I first met him in 2009.  Besides:  a  man in his 80s should garner that allegiance.

I pulled into the parking lot ten  minutes early, but Jay had still arrived ahead of me.  I saw him struggling to the door, slow, hampered by the lack of air.  One impaired lung, one nonfunctioning; they wore at his body.  He had been hunched over since I knew him, but regal still, with a measured air and confident gait.  Now he forced himself forward with each tortured step.  I paused, watching him approach the front of the restaurant.  My heart clenched and I swung my legs out of my own car,  hurrying over to help him.

Where did you park, I asked. I had not seen his Prius in the designated handicapped spaces.  He gestured.  I saw the grey claim his complexion and put my arm around him as the host opened the door.

When we had settled him, I realized that he had not worn a sweater despite the chill of air conditioning still wafting in the cool of autumn.  I asked, Did you bring a jacket, and he shrugged.  It’s in the car, he responded.  I stood, saying that I would get it.  He looked at me, weary eyes telling me that we would not have many more dinners together.  I thought about the empty house, the wife of more than fifty years gone just a handful of months before this evening.

Shall I move the car, I suggested.   A flash of concern crossed his face.  He did not trust his notorious daughter-in-law with his treasured Prius.  But the weight of that awful walk won out, and he relented.  I stood beside the table, holding the key fob, patiently listening to his instructions.  Step on the brake, push start, watch the camera, and for God sake, honey, don’t wreck my car.  

He said that twice:  For God’s sake.  Honey.  Don’t wreck my car.

Notwithstanding his advice, I nearly did.  I found the brake in time; and sat, pulse racing, face flushed, while an outraged Johnson Countian whipped an opulent Mercedes around me.

When I had safely slid the vehicle into a spot by the door and retrieved his jacked from the pristine trunk, I slid past the same host.   I think he had watched the near-debacle in the lot.  He asked, Everything okay, ma’am? and  I shot a look towards him.  He smirked but only just; deniably.  I didn’t say a word.

I tried to quell my lingering panic and had nearly succeeded by the time I got back to our table.  I held Jay’s jacket for him, then took my seat.  Our waitress brought the two glasses of wine which he had ordered.  He would drink his and mine both; we played this game; we had for all the time we had known one another.  He raised his glass in  my direction, his eyes sparkling, the little smile playing across his face.

Is my car all right, honey?  I nodded.  He stared, long, hard, squinting a bit to look beyond my composure.  Then he met my nod with one of his own — firm, certain, crisp.  He understood.  I had not wrecked his car.  He knew the rest without  explanation.  He knew me so well, did my favorite curmudgeon.  I could hide nothing from him, least of all my love and admiration.

Winter beckons me.  In front of this house where I have been in turn happy and devastated sits a blue Prius that I came to own by way of my favorite curmudgeon’s death and the kindness of his son.  That vehicle has served me well. It has taken me from where I have been stuck to where I have needed to be.  What more can I ask of a faithful friend?

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Jay MacLaughlin

 

28 October 2017

Good morning,

I’m getting good at asking for help, so when my friend Richard said, do you want me to carry the plants into the house, I said, sure.

And soon enough:  I stood like a queen surveying her upper forty, surrounded by vibrant verdancy.  I told Richard about my mother and her 269 house plants, and then I made coffee.  Our conversation moved to other subjects — my son, his children, and onward, to Big Sur, to childhood.  But my heart lingered in the sunroom amid my mother’s shelves of plants.

My father stands in the wide expanse of the room at the back of our home.  He stares at the nine windows and the hanging ivy.  He steps forward, lifting one hand as though to pick at a faded flower.  It’s August.  The throb and hum of the air conditioning does not extend back this far in the house.  He’s tried to keep the plants healthy.  We’ve all tried.  But only Ann inherited Mother’s green thumb, and Ann lives in St. Paul.

They had taken Mother’s body away a few hours ago; over Steve’s protest, over my sobs, despite the gaggle of Dick-and-Lucy-Corley kids on the lawn with their terrible grim faces.  Daddy hovered in the back.  He’d forfeited his rightful place in the doorway of the funeral home’s van years ago.  We no longer even questioned his reluctance.  The mortuary guy spoke to Ann, to Kevin, maybe to someone else but lastly to Stephen.  They argued in loud voices.  Stevie wanted to ride in the back but the driver resisted.  He seemed to think he’d lose his job.  Or get a ticket.  He insisted that Mom would be all right.  We stared into the empty cavern where the stretcher sat and finally someone, Ann I suppose, said, “Steve, just let her go.”

He fell into my arms, my six-foot-two baby brother.  I held him.  Years later, I’d lament that my grip had not been tighter.

Daddy says, “What am I going to do with all these plants?”  I ask, “How many are there?”  He takes another step towards the nearest shelves. Again, he lifts one hand.  “Two-hundred sixty-nine,” he answers.   I divide by eight, then reconsider.  Ann can’t take any plants on the plane.  I recalculate and speculate as to how many I can get in my car for the ride back to Kansas City.  Then I think about Steve, whose marriage has faltered on the unlikely rocks of maternal care-taking.  He had moved into the house to be the night shift when the hospice nurses began reading hell-and-brimstone Bible verses and upsetting Mom.  

“Maybe Steve will water them,” I suggest.  Daddy just shrugs.  We fall silent again.  The smell of life surrounds us:  The heady fragrance of wet earth, the pungent herbs, the sturdy scent of begonias.  I hear a noise and realize that my father has started to cry.  “Oh Pops,” I whisper, as the warmth of the sun streams through the windows, and the plants rise to its caress.

Later, much later, when the body has been buried in its simple oak box and all the secretly spiked coffee has been consumed, we count the plants again.  The local siblings each take a share.  I pick three or four and load them into my car, with Mom’s stereo.  My father packs her pillow around the turn table to keep it steady.  I’m wearing the green socks that I took from her feet the morning of her death.  That was my last chance to touch my mother and I did it as gently as I could.  She always wore socks when she slept.  I felt like a traitor, but I needed something which had been close to her skin. I couldn’t send her out in public without her nightgown so I took the socks.

I wore them for years, until they finally disintegrated in the wash.

Looking at the lawn this morning, I see no signs of the early frost.  I stand in the breakfast nook, breathing deeply, taking the smell of rosemary and sage into my lungs.  I drink strong French roast from my purloined crystal mug.  I steady myself against the door frame, eyes closed.  I don’t have two-hundred and sixty-nine plants.  But the dozen or so which I’ve got would make my mother proud.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

21 October 2017

Good morning,

My body no longer serves as a temple, if ever it did.  It’s an efficient machine now, rejecting anything less than perfect fuel.  My usual two scrambled eggs with gluten-free toast fills me beyond comfort.  I walk around, stretching my weakened calves, waiting for the dog to wake so I can let her out before I start writing.

I’ve got a few scant weeks left in this house.  Time enough for packing what little more the tiny house will hold and giving away whatever remains that could be of use to anyone.  The three shelves hanging bare in the breakfast nook will find their way to wooden walls and hold the small allotment of mementos that I’ve kept.  A handful of precious knick-knacks still stand in the secretary.  These might go on Etsy, or maybe I’ll wrap them to give as gifts this Christmas.

I’ve got to clean the yard.  Last night when I came back from Third Friday on 39th Street, I caught a glimpse of the rat-trap that’s been lying under the deck for the last three years.  I never actually saw that rat, but I spied its droppings and cleaned away the chewed tomato on the counter.  I didn’t blame it.  The winter had turned sharp and bitter.  I would have tossed the fruit outside for the rat’s convenience if I’d known he needed it.  I just didn’t want him on my counter.

I saw a rat there once, in 1993, the first year that Patrick and I lived here.  He slept in the front bedroom, soundly, never waking.  I never had the same luck.  I got out of bed thinking to fix a cup of tea.  The breakfast nook had doors then, bi-folding slotted panels.  I pushed them open and snapped on the kitchen light, crossing to the stove.  A noise caused my head to turn, improbably, distractedly.

I saw the critter right away, and he saw me.  His eyes narrowed as he froze.   There I stood, on the far side of his retreat, and he just inches from the light switch on the other side of the sink from my clean dishes.

I thought about my toddler lying innocent and sweaty under his Mickey Mouse blanket.  Stories of children bitten in the night rose in my gut, bile like the agitated gunk from a bad Mexican restaurant.  I knew that the rat could not exit until I did.  He’d hold my gaze as long as needed to intimidate me so he could skitter away.  I had to turn out the light and dash out of the room in one swift motion.

I’ve never moved so fast.  As I stumbled into the dining room, I heard the mad clattering of the rat going across the drain basket.  I fell into a chair and cursed.  I’d have to wash those dishes a thousand times before I could use them again.  I’d throw them out.  We would wrap them in a plastic trash bag and put them in the recycle bin.

My next thought pulled me from the chair and sent me flying into my son’s room.  I turned on the overhead light and pulled the cover from his slight form.  The world stood still.  Then:  convinced that every inch of him remained unmarred, I sank to the floor, where, eventually, I slept, impervious to my own danger.

In the morning, I called the man whom I had been dating.  He sent around a worker to look for burrows in the ground around the foundation.  Patrick and I stood in the yard, watching the wiry man shovel rocks into holes which he thought the rats might have dug, impressions really, nothing huge but big enough for the flexible, spineless creatures.  After sunrise, an Orkin man arrived with sticky traps. I stared in horror.  He assured me that the rats would die quickly, soundlessly.

He lied.  They screeched in terror through the night.  I got no rest at all.  My son crawled under my blankets and hid himself against my flannel robe.  He drifted into a fitful sleep just before dawn.  I called the Orkin guy early on Sunday and insisted that he come remove the yellow pads and the shuddering carcasses clinging to them.

Home ownership has nearly conquered and exhausted me.  But at times like this, early, quiet, serene, I don’t mind it.  I sit on this blessed couch and stare out the window at the broad clipped crown of the Japanese maple.  I wonder, will I ever see a Midwest autumn again?  Leaves drift from the bigger maple  on the other side of the yard.  The fluttering red piles gather around the most prominent feature on my lawn, a sign announcing that a contract pends.

The old dog stirs.  I let her out, but without much thought, with routine and careless motions born of a decade of monotony.  I think about the cemetery, where my in-laws lie.  I’ll take some fresh flowers this morning.  They’ll appreciate that; and even if they don’t, I need a few minutes with my favorite curmudgeon.  Later, in the waning morning, I’ll drink another cup of coffee and watch the branches of the tall old tree dance in the rising wind.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

 

 

14 October 2017

Good morning,

Rain falls on Evanston.  I’m hoping it will abate soon, as we have a day of sightseeing in the Loop planned.  Patrick still sleeps.  He worked his evening shift, long after I retired.   I could never accustom myself to being awake while other people sleep but he has his father’s musician genes and a night-owl’s biorhythm.

Tears stung my eyes above curved lips as I left St. Louis yesterday.  I can’t predict when or if I will return.  My brother nailed my sentiment, standing  in front of his house on Thursday night.  As the dark gathered around  us, he asked me again if I was sure I would not be in Kansas City during their next scheduled trip for soccer camp.  I nodded, suddenly unable to speak.  He folded his arms and replied, Well I guess, I’ll see you when I see you.

Slightly bittersweet, it is; and so unexpected.  We’ve never been close but over the last few years, Frank has begun reaching out to his siblings as much as possible.   I asked about it once and he said, Maybe we’re all getting old but I can’t remember what happened to us.  I just want my brothers and sisters around me.  I know what happened.  Life.  An asshole father.  A mother dying far too soon.  A brother surrendering to his pain, leaning against a tree surrounded by columbine.  But I understood what he meant. Why did we not tighten the circle, instead of letting it splinter?

My phone buzzed every few minutes after the listing for my house went live.  The automated showing service demanded my attention but I have the text feature set to announce that i can’t answer when I’m driving.  I don’t understand, please respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to accept or reject this showing.   From a truck stop on I-55, I called my realtor in mild desperation and she said she’d stop it.  For the next few hours, the requests kept coming, asking to schedule appointments that evening, the next day, a week from Tuesday.  Laughter bubbled in the confines of the car.  Everybody wants to see my house.  I hope someone likes it enough to make an offer.

My family keeps asking, are you sure?  I’ve never nodded so much, so often, so hard.  No job, little money, few friends, why yes, I’m sure this move is right for me.  At sixty-two.  disabled, no California law license, moving to the Delta ninety minutes south of the worst wildfires in the state’s history.  Absolutely positive.  And not just to get away from my failures, but because when I stand on the Pacific Ocean, the agitation leaves my soul.  The rest is just details.

As I made the turn from Lake Shore Drive to Sheridan, I found myself remembering the day my son turned three.  I had taken him to McDonald’s so friends could assemble the swingset which I had purchased as his gift.  I asked him, as no parent should, what he wanted for his birthday.  He stood on the bench and banged tiny fists on the table.  He proclaimed, I want a father and a brother and a sister and a cat and a dog!  The lady behind him gave me a pitying glance as I leaned forward and told my son to sit down.  I got you a swingset, I murmured.  He reached for a fry and asked if we could at least get a cat.  We Corleys are nothing if not willing to compromise.

We went to Mission Pets the next week and found our Sprinkles, a black-and-white cat who carried him all the way through to his last year of college.  The next spring, a client gave Patrick a Beagle puppy, which  he named Chocolate.   I credit myself for marrying twice, partially in a misguided attempt to fulfill those other, desperate requests of my little blonde-headed boy.

The Eastern sky lightens now, despite the steady falling rain.  In a little while, the man whom my son has become will waken and we’ll figure out how to amuse ourselves despite the weather.  When Sunday morning dawns, I’ll pack my car and head to Kansas City by way of the diagonal.  Eventually, I will find my way home.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Holmes House, In which I raised my son.