All posts by CC

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.

07 October 2017

Good morning,

A tin of mixed nuts sits beside me.  I’m digging in it to find the cashews and avoid the pecans, to which I’m allergic but not so much that the dust imperils me.  I get lost for a silly few minutes in the label’s grammar.  “Less Than 50% Peanuts” sounds wrong; shouldn’t it be “Fewer Than”?  And who eats those peanuts, anyway?  I scatter them to the birds.

I walked through the First Friday crowds with a friend last night, studying the purple-haired girls and the torn T-shirts of the artists sitting on the sidewalk.  I took the business card of a man whose mock anime held no appeal for me.  He offered it, telling  me that he could do anything I wanted.  I doubted that but it seemed rude not to tuck the little square of contact information in my bag.  It dropped out later when I took out my phone.  I felt that I owed the man a penny.

On the sidewalk next to a display of jewelry, we ran into Jake and Angela, who leaped to their feet to give hugs and ask if we’d been to Ruthie’s gallery yet.  We started there,  I confirmed.  Angela and I moved away so I could meet her sister and look at the jewelry which the sister was selling on a card table.  I touched a pair of earrings made from what looked like washers.  I fell into a reverie about my son and a little plastic box full of nuts and screws which he called “tools” and kept under his pillow, back when he slept in a toddler bed on the first floor.

Now the only being which sleeps in the house other than myself is the old dog. I’ve made a little safe place for her under a wooden coffee table in Patrick’s old bedroom.  I find it difficult to believe that this is the same room which I decorated with Mickey Mouse for my son in 1993 when we first moved here.  Other than the table and the dog bed, the room stands practically empty.  An old chair that I got for five dollars at an estate sale in 2008 sits next to an eight-inch square table which seems to have no purpose in life other than holding a small lamp and the remote control.  I watch television in here some nights, listening to the strains of the Food Network theme echo off the bare walls.  Occasionally the dog whimpers in her sleep. Her voice fills the room, unmuffled by the vanished trappings of my existence.

As I drank my coffee on the desk yesterday, an unexpected memory assaulted me.  I found myself back on the old screen porch trying to lure my toddler into the house.  A swarm of locusts had battered through the torn screen on the far side and cornered his cat.  She huddled beneath the angry buzzing horde, growling, swiping at their fluttering bodies.  Patrick cried and begged me to save her and then threw his body across the few feet before I could stop him.  She leaped into his arms and clung to his pajamas.   He screamed, Open the Door, Mommy!  Open the Door! and then the three of us tumbled back into the living room: the cat screeching, my son sobbing, and me flailing to wrap my arms around them both.

I slammed the door as the cat loosed her grip and darted under the couch where she would stay for hours.  Patrick fell asleep on the floor with one small arm slipped into the dusty cavern where his cat cowered.  I let him be.  A knight in shining armor deserves his rest.

When I got home last night, after ten, the dog stared reproachfully through the chain link.  I said what I always say, Go to the back door, Little Girl, I’ll let you into the house, and walked up the driveway.  I passed the pet cemetery and the spot where that old cat had finally died, with me crouched down holding her and begging her not to go.  I had promised my son that none of the pets would die before he graduated from college.  She made it to September of his senior year.  She drew her last breath with my arms around her frail old body.  I cried when I called my son and confessed that I had let him down again.

Dawn has finished reclaiming my neighborhood.  Everything looks clean, blessed by the night’s rain.  I see my son’s last remaining pet picking her way through the grass out back, checking for strange smells.  I tap on the window.  She glances over her shoulder at me, briefly, standing still.  Then she turns her back and continues her circuit around the rain-drenched yard.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

 

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?