Monthly Archives: July 2015

A Rose By Any Name Should Still Be Cherished

At my cousin’s funeral I ran into a sort-of-cousin, Mary Mack, whom I had not seen for decades.  I say “sort of cousin” because the Macks were cousins of my cousins, but we all played together as children.  I considered them relatives.

Mary Mack voiced confusion at my being called “Corinne”.  You’re Mary Corley, right? she asked, quizzically, in a gentle voice.  I assured her that I was, indeed, “Dick and Lucy’s youngest daughter”.  But my parents always said that I started life as “Bridget Kathleen”, so really, what difference does it make that I dropped my first name later in life?  She agreed.

The conversation triggered another  memory:  Sitting on the stage at my high school baccalaureate, listening to my “class prediction”.  Written and delivered by someone whom I had thought to be a friend, the words stung me.  “Ten years from now, Mary Corinne Corley will still be signing her name, ‘Mary Corinne Corley’.”

Meaning, in 1973, that I would never marry and thus never have a chance to change my surname.

I’ve been married three times, and I never did change my last name.  Some have speculated that I “should” have, but I believe that the measure of love lies in accepting someone as they are, not as you want them to change to suit you.  Each of my husbands claimed not to care if I changed my name prior to marriage; each of them complained that I had not done so after marriage.

I keep plugging away.  Still Dick and Lucy’s youngest daughter.  Still striving to be kind, joyful, and the best version of my self that I can manage to attain.  If I ever changed my name, it would be to drop the “Mary”, which derives from “Miriam” and means “bitter”.  “Corinne”, on the other hand, is the diminutive of “Cora”, which means, “Rebellious maiden”.

I’d rather be rebellious than bitter.  As for complaints about the name that I use, my father always told us that there were two types of people in the world:  Corleys, and people who want to marry Corleys.  He would flash that Irish smile and add:  And you, my dear, are a Corley.

From birth to death.  I’m okay with that.  It’s probable that I’ll never marry again, but if anyone should be so bold as to suggest that I do, I won’t ask him to change his name.  I wouldn’t dream of it; I’ll take him as he stands.  A rose by any other name should still be cherished.



Morning challenges

Life can be confusing at times.

I’ve learned that when I wake in a certain mood, nothing will help except an hour at a cafe table with bottomless coffee and a delicate omelet cooked by someone else.  An air of hopelessness surrounds me today, so I take myself to one of my favorite cafes, pushing back my gut instinct against spending ten bucks on breakfast.  Cheaper than therapy, I tell  myself as I pull into the make-shift parking space that I always utilize, to the west of the one handicapped space at the angled parking.

A sign advises me to see the hostess for patio seating, and so I do.  I feel like an interloper at most restaurants, and this one, despite my familiarity with it, evokes no different emotion.  But I scoot through the doorway and dutifully stand by the hostess station, my laptop bag gingerly dangling at my side, my pocketbook cross-shouldered.

A young man at the counter turns his pale blue eyes toward me and asks if he can help.  I gesture to the hostess podium and mention a table outside.  He says, There’s no hostess on duty, can I help you?  and closes his face to further friendly exchange.

I quell my apprehension and ask about breakfast.  Not until eight, he sniffs.  I am confused.  He offers pastries and coffee and glances at the clock.  Breakfast does not start for fifteen minutes.

I don’t want a pastry and suggest that I order now, sit down, and drink coffee until the order arrives.  He considers.  His look clouds and he shrugs.  No other customers have come into the cafe since my arrival and the register makes no sound to break his silence.  Finally, he concedes that my proposal could work and I tell him what I want.  I get my own coffee.

Outside, I discover the table and chairs glisten with the morning dew.  I hustle back inside and ask for a bar rag.  The young man has finished with me now, and visibly rolls his eyes.  But I do not desist and he finally hands one to me.  I make no further comment and go outside to dry my seating area.

A few minutes later, three men who resemble one another, possibly multiple related generations, descend on the neighboring table.  I caution the youngest and hand him the towel that I had secured.  He dries everything that their oxford shirts and trousers might touch and graces me with a radiant smile.  I can see he has taken care with his attire; I can see his genuine gratitude at my assistance.  My mood lightens; and in a few minutes, my food arrives, and I am contented.

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Nineteen months does not a year make, either; or, throw the calendar away and just keep trudging!

I hate rats.

Here’s a complaint for you.  I live in a river bed and when we go through five solid weeks of soggy ground and dripping trees, the rodents creep into my neighborhood.  Normally the population stays out-of-doors, but once in a great while, a rat will dig the ground around my house’s foundation or flatten itself and slip beneath the garage door.

I suspected rats when I found a half-eaten tomato on my counter last Friday, and my suspicions gelled to gut-wrenching gunk this past Tuesday, with the discovery that something had chewed its way through the heavy-duty storage container in which I’ve kept dogfood on the steps to the basement for the last five years.  A pile of white shards cascaded from the lid to the top stair. I got on the phone to a long list of pest control companies.

Now here’s the tie-in with my quest to live complaint-free.  I don’t really think I’ve lapsed too much by grousing about the rats themselves.  But the failure of the technician to appear as scheduled in the allotted three-hour window yesterday?  The forty-five minutes wasted on the phone with the “customer service”, which it turns out, can do nothing but proclaim their understanding of your frustration?  The dismay at my wasted billable hours (about two) and personal time (another two hours)?  Those drove me to  complain, complain, complain!

So I’m lamenting my relapse, publicly apologizing, and acknowledging that at nineteen months, my year without complaining trudges on.  I did apologize to a lawyer for snapping at him today, and to another lawyer for doing the snapping in her presence.  So maybe my adoring public will forgive me, eh?

Tally-ho!  Back to the never-ending battle to proclaim myself an eternal complaint-free zone!

Right after we get rid of the rats.


Kickin’ it with Dr. Claude!

I’m ten weeks into this round of therapy and I am KICKING BUTT, people.  No complaints.  None.

I re-tested today in preparation for (a) report to the Insurance Company of whether or not their dollars have been well-spent; and (b) report to the new doc out at Stanford, the spasticity specialist.  My therapist, Claude Lamoureaux DPT, she of the French Canadian daring stare, put me through my paces this morning.

When I started with Dr. Claude, my performance in three critical tests was 1/3 of normal for a woman of my age (unimpaired).  Today, my scores put me at 2/3 of normal!  Take that, STATISTICS!  Pow-bang, VIRUS!  Even more tellingly, in two of the three areas, I exceeded Dr. Claude’s goals for me, and in a fourth area, I actually did the test whereas, ten visits ago, I got a big fat goose egg!

I’ve taken myself out for breakfast to celebrate.  When I walked in Rm 39, a favorite haunt of old, the manager broke into a wide smile.  Hey!  I haven’t seen you in a while, you look so young!  I love your hair!  What have you been doing for yourself?

Kickin’ it with Dr. Claude, that’s what.


Sometimes you just gotta say what the hell

Every once in a while I make a tactical blunder so profound that I find myself laughing for hours afterwards.  Two or three in one day is a record even for me.

I nearly made it through the funeral mass this morning without blubbering and might have, had my cousin’s careproviders not solemnly processed up the church aisle during the offering holding flowers.  Men in their forties and fifties do not normally don black and navy blue with conservative ties, and then grasp yellow carnations and march down a church aisle.

Much less, lay their flowers on a casket and join hands to bow, in tandem, to say goodbye.

My cousin Paul Orso always seemed to be a fairly good man, though I am sure that no one is perfect and he was just as human as anyone.  In the last three years, though, he resolved to live as good a life as he could and that was considerable.

I left the luncheon in the Parish Hall several hours after the burial.  I had greeted every cousin whom I recognized and a few whom I didn’t.  I met second cousins, fiances, spouses, and church members.  One woman approached me and said, Are you the lady that blogged about Paul?  It was so beautiful.  I didn’t know her and couldn’t figure out how she selected me from the dozens of people in the food line until Paul’s sister Theresa reminded me that I had included a picture of Paul and me with the blog.


A few miles outside of St. Charles County, I slipped Paul’s CD into the Prius’ player.  His voice and guitar strumming filed the cool air of my little vehicle, Joanna’s Prius, the car that makes me think of my favorite curmudgeon.  And then, when the tears had begun to flow, and I felt lonelier than ever, I spied the sign for the Wentzville Steak ‘n’ Shake.

I knew, without a doubt, that I had to have an orange freeze, in honor of my mother.  Mom loved orange freezes so much that in her last weeks, we would walk down the hill from her house to get one to use as a vehicle for her pain pills.  So I had to get one.  Never mind the white sugar, never mind the calories, never mind that I spent 30 minutes in the hotel exercise room last night, the good from which would be completely wiped out.

I cried for the next thirty miles, slurping the ice cream and listening to my beautiful cousin sing about the wonder of life.

I’m not complaining about my tactical errors.  Sometimes you just gotta say what the hell, and surrender to the sorrow.


My mother’s daughter

The road to St. Louis brought discovery, nostalgia, and not a few sad moments.

I did fairly well until the half-mile before the Watch for Fog bridge.  The stretch before the expanse over the Missouri river used to hold fields and crops.  Since the 1993 flood, the fields have yielded to scrubby undergrowth and untamed trees. I turned the volume down low, slowed my speed, and let my eyes stray over the grim expanse.  I wondered about the farmer who had once tilled the land.

An unfortunate mix-up with my room left me standing in the hallway of the hotel, frustrated and tired.  My sisters took seats in the lobby, drinking free coffee and assuring me that they were fine.  The front desk attendant kept promising that the room would be ready in five minutes, then ten, then fifteen.  He wheeled my bag down the hall, only to learn that the housekeeper had broken the bathroom door.  With multiple rapid apologies, the man bustled me into a room across the hall where we discovered the housekeeper standing in the corner texting on her iPhone.

I said, This is just unacceptable, and gestured to the old pizza sitting on the television, the crumpled towels on the floor, and the unstocked tray for those little bottles of shampoo and soap.  Sorry, sorry, sorry, the man kept muttering.

At the funeral home I stood in front of my cousin Paul’s casket, wishing that the two decades during which I had not seen him enough to know his children’s names had not passed too rapidly to be reclaimed.  Then my sister Ann arrived and after she had paid her respects, she told us the story of the telefloral customer service lady’s failure to do as she had been instructed by Ann.  I was furious, Ann said, laughing.  I was standing at the gate, about to board the plane, and I let her have it.  And in my mind, I could hear Bill saying, “And I have eight children and none of them will ever go to this school again!”.

Bill, her husband.  And the person with the eight children who would never go to the offending teacher’s school in Bill’s imagination?

Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley, she from whom all Corley women learned how to unleash our wrath.

I got the point of Ann’s story — both points, in fact.   Her frustration that the flowers from the Corley children had not arrived, and her acknowledgment that we have become our mother.

I’m fairly sure that my mother did not consider her chastisement of offending customer service reps, teachers, even doctors to be complaining. And yet: and yet — it is.  Oh mother.  I am your daughter, whether I like it or not.  You bore your burdens well, but the stress they caused, the cracks in your armor, let your pain slip out in ways that you could not foresee.

After a lovely dinner with my sister Joyce, I hit Walgreen’s for Extra Strength Tylenol, some Listerine, and a pair of tights.  After fifteen minutes in the exercise room, I found the sorrow of the day easing from my shoulders.  I gripped the handle-bar of the treadmill and happened to glance down at my wrist, where I again wear the blessings bracelet which my friend Jane Williams gave me.  I had put it aside, but somehow, I felt the need of it keenly, to help me make this trip to the Lou, to say goodbye to one of the best of us.


Yet another reason not to complain

I have another role model for uncomplaining natures, besides my dear mother-in-law Joanna M. MacLaughlin — and that is, my brave cousin Paul Orso about whom I have previously written.

My spirit might be moved to muse about Paul, and cousins, and uncomplaining natures when I rise tomorrow morning.  But today, let me say this:

God must really, really have had need of a new champion in heaven, to have claimed too soon one whom we cherished so tenderly on earth.  My dear cousin slipped away from us last evening.  I will not believe that he died from ALS, but rather that he died because God, and my aunt Dode, and my uncle Joe, and my brother, my Mom and my Dad, grew lonely for Paul’s beautiful smile.

When my brother died, I shared a poem which always after has meant “Stevie Pat” to me.  But today, it means “my cuz”.  In the worst of times, my words fail me, and I have to turn to the words of those who felt what I feel without losing their grasp of the perfect phrasing to express it.  And so, my friends, my family, until I can find words of my own, please read these of another, better author, and remember our brother, our father, our uncle, our friend, and — yes — our beautiful cousin, Paul Orso.

I cannot say, and I will not say
That he is dead- . He is just away!

With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand
He has wandered into an unknown land,

And left us dreaming how very fair
It needs must be, since he lingers there.

And you- O you, who the wildest yearn
For the old-time step and the glad return- ,

Think of him faring on, as dear
In the love of There as the love of Here;

And loyal still, as he gave the blows
Of his warrior-strength to his country’s foes- .

Mild and gentle, as he was brave- ,
When the sweetest love of his life he gave

To simple things- : Where the violets grew
Blue as the eyes they were likened to,

The touches of his hands have strayed
As reverently as his lips have prayed:

When the little brown thrush that harshly chirred
Was dear to him as the mocking-bird;

And he pitied as much as a man in pain
A writhing honey-bee wet with rain- .

Think of him still as the same, I say:
He is not dead- he is just away!

James Whitcomb Riley

Patrick Corley, Paul Orso, and yours truly

Patrick Corley, Paul Orso, and yours truly

Sons and mothers

I spent Sunday celebrating sons.

My friend Jessica and I traveled to Osceola for Visitors Day at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation.  Her son Addao joined Boy Scouts a month or so ago, just in time for his first-ever experience away from home and either parent.

The drive to Bartle reminded me so keenly of the Family Day visit to Bartle when my own son spent his ten days there.  Though the name of the day has changed — presumably in deference to the fact that some boys don’t have families — the spirit felt exactly the same.  Addao with his wide grin and Class B T-shirt pounced on the Prius with the precise energy that ten-year-old Patrick approached the Dodge Ram, fourteen years ago.

We ate food from similar tables, and after lunch, we went to the Trading Post and into Iconium.  Jess and Dao hiked to the caves, a similar  hike to the one that I took with Patrick all those years ago, though we went to the Point and anywhere that Dennis could go in his wheelchair.  Patrick wore his Class A shirt, serious, intent; but the feel was the same.

We  made it home in time to eat a quick carry-out dinner.  Then Jessica went off to carve wood, while I settled into a chair to follow my own son’s live-tweet of a camped-up SyFy movie, as the movie’s main character — part of his summer internship.  I followed the movie, his tweets, the tweets of others presumably associated with the show or fans of all things Sharktopus.  I even sent a few tweets of my own, and drew a “favorite” from whoever was managing the Twitter feed of Roger Corman, the legendary Hollywood producer for whose company my son is interning.

When the movie ended, my phone beeped:  Patrick texting thanks for my presence in an audience of thousands.  I found myself grinning wildly as I dialed his cell phone.  Odd that technology gives us such connectedness — all of us, mothers, sons, massive cult followers of B-movies, bearers of good news and bad.

Now Jessica has gone to Toganoxie to help her parents move, and my house again resonates only with the echoes of those who have tread on its wooden floors.  I rise early and think about the sons who have played here, and the mothers who have consumed cups of coffee and tea at my table and on my porch.  Those sons  have grown into men and gone into the world.  We mothers stay behind, pleased with ourselves, with the men we have given to wives, lovers, bosses, and the virtual world.

Jessica will take her place soon in this company of women whose sons have left home to make their own way, and her sisters will welcome her to our fold.

Addao Cochran and his mother, Jessica Genzer.

Addao Cochran and his mother, Jessica Genzer.

At evening’s end

When my son was still in elementary school, the Army Corps of Engineers convinced the powers that be in Kansas City that major changes should be made in the path of Main Street as it crossed the Plaza.  The purpose of this work somehow related to the storm sewer called Brush Creek.  It might have also impacted the flow of traffic south of the Plaza in the neighborhood of one of the City’s more influential Catholic parishes.  The reasoning no longer matters.

What matters now is what resulted.  Instead of Main Street stretching from the river to Waldo and beyond, it empties into another road, Brookside Blvd., with its sweeping curbs and lovely homes.    Main Street itself resumes on the other side of Brush Creek as a pitiful, small, ill-kept version of itself before the block where Visitation Church sits.  Beyond that, new islands have been constructed which cause the little remaining traffic to slow to an aggravating crawl.

Like most everyone in the city, I use Brookside Blvd. to travel to and from everywhere in Mid-town.  It no longer surprises; it has become commonplace.  I drive without much thought, making the curves, arriving home with little recollection of what I have passed.

But recently something has caught my eye.

On a stone bench at about 53rd, on the west side of the Blvd., a couple sits each evening.  I started seeing them several weeks ago but really noticed them last Friday.  The woman wears the traditional headscarf of a devout Muslim, though not a full burka.  I’ve researched the seven types of Muslim head-dress, and I’ve concluded that it is a hijab.

The rest of her attire consists of long-sleeved tops and ankle-length skirts, or so it appears at 35 miles per hour, late in the day, when my eyes no longer focus quite clearly. The man appears to be wearing nondescript Western attire, shirts and slacks.  Neither wear much color; they both seem dark, somewhat drab, and unmemorable.

Except for this:  Every time I see them, the woman is talking on a cell phone, and the man is gazing listlessly in the distance.

They wait at a Metro-bus stop.  A handbag sits on the concrete slab on which their bench is situated.  The two sit close, touching, the man’s arms folded on his knees, her idle arm lying quietly in her own lap.   Neither smiles.  From my car, in the brief seconds that it takes me to drive by them, they appear Middle-Eastern but they could just as easily be any ethnicity, really; the glimpses I have had of them do not clearly tell me either way.

Today as I drove down Brookside Blvd, they sat in the same place.  The man had a grocery bag; the woman, her customary pocket-book.  She held her cell-phone to the side of her head, over her veil.   She closed her eyes, briefly, and rolled her neck the way one does after a long, boring day at one’s desk, in front of a computer screen.

I felt a sudden sense of luxury, traveling south in my inherited 2007 Prius, with the dashboard indicator telling me that I’m getting 44.8 miles to the gallon, and four empty spots, where others might ride, surrounding me.  I turned off the radio and traveled the rest of the way home in silence.

What it is

When I joined the newly-formed Waldo-Brookside Rotary Club, Elizabeth Usovicz of our sponsoring club made me very welcome.  She overheard me talking with Dan Ryan about my upcoming fundraiser.  Elizabeth blurted out, “Why Corinne, You are a  natural-born Rotarian!”

But you see the problem is, I have spent 60 years searching for something lasting to contribute to the world.  I seemed to sense that I would fall short of my potential, just as I knew that whatever ailed me would keep me from being my destined  height.  I realized as a child that my feet had not grown in proportion to my legs.  I often pitch head-first into things, partly because my short feet don’t provide proper balance.  So it is with my personal effort.

I started doing volunteer work in elementary school and have never stopped.  I tutored GED classes for adults while in high school and college, and mentored children in high school.  I visited old folks’ homes with our parish, and raised money for poor people in the Bootheel of Missouri.  This proclivity continued as an adult, with foster-parenting, community organizing and also, with insisting that my son pursue volunteer activities.  In the last few years, as my body’s weaknesses began to betray my intentions, I’ve started browbeating others to donate to various causes, always for those in need, always for someone who has not had even my advantages however few those might have been.

I say all this not to brag but to set the stage for what it is:  A quest to truly give, genuinely orchestrate lasting good.  I might never succeed but I never let go of the ambition.

I feel inadequate for the task.  And I understand that true challenge has never presented itself to me, despite my life-long medical issues, my alcoholic father, the priest who abused me, the men who left me, my cursed personality, despite the viruses which rage within me.  I concede that life is an exhibition, not a competition.  But a greater challenge — oh, I thought it would arise to let me conquer it!

I just finished reading “Sky: A True Story of Courage During World War II”, by Hanneke Ippisch.  The author joined the Dutch Resistance as a girl of 18 during the German occupation of Holland.  I found this memoir at Yellow Dog Books in Columbia this past Sunday for four dollars.  It mesmerized me.  The author describes everything she did to help the Resistance movement, the Jewish people of her country, and her friends.  She tells in simple terms, the story of being arrested, imprisoned and, after months of living in a filthy cell with four other women, finally released.  In one of the last chapters, she addresses her “feelings”:

So often I hear the question, “How did you feel during the war, when you were in prison, when you were hungry, when you had such responsibilities in the Resistance?”

Let me try to explain the difference between then and now, the difference between wartime and peacetime.

We in Holland never talked much to each other about feelings.  It’s not that we did not have feelings, we simply kept them to ourselves.  The Dutch people were and are, in general, quite stoic.  I am often asked if I was afraid while in prison.  Of course I was afraid, of course I thought of dying, but those thoughts I brushed aside.  There are other things we had to deal with first and foremost, such as the daily survival of ourselves and others; such as the outsmarting of the enemy, which became our sport.

Nothing that  is normal in peacetime is normal in war, but all the horrible happening during wartime becomes normal eventually.

This morning as I entered the Family Court, the guard glanced at my security pass and waved me through while asking how I was.  I gave my stock response Well, I woke up today, which is more than a lot of folks can say.  He replied, as he often does, Well that’s the truth and that’s a blessing.

It is a blessing that I awaken each day; yes, it is.  But what it also is, more surely, more truthfully, more to the bone — is another opportunity to be my best self, which is part and parcel of my whole quest to live complaint-free.

I have not had to live in war, nor been called to lend my strength however meager to a huge, valiant, and possibly hopeless effort requiring stoic courage.

But I can do that which is within my power to do.  If I am content to live a lesser life; if I do not at least undertake whatever I can to make a difference; then I fall short of my best self, and I am worth not one wit of anybody’s time.

Here is the obituary for Albetine Hanneke Eikema-Ippisch.  


Hanneke Ippisch appears in the white dress, standing. This photo was taken after the war, when she worked to help restore destroyed houses in Holland.