Monthly Archives: December 2017


We made the circuit around Grand Island by accident.  We gawked at the bridge as we passed, admiring its structure without realizing that the GPS lady wanted us to traverse its span.  We went around, feeling foolish, bristling a little, but not complaining.  I kept assuring Richard that it would be all right.  He equally insisted that he had not doubted the outcome but that he did not understand why we had gone in a circle.  But we didn’t let it mar our trip any more than just that brief moment.

In Rio Vista, we parked the dusty RAV with its upper load of wood and went into the grocery store.  We found everything that a vegetarian and her vegan companion could need for a couple of days: Oatmeal, tofu, fake butter, the real stuff and eggs for me, soy milk for our Peet’s Coffee.  Then we stood by the car and I realized that we had no place for the groceries and I would have to let him take the wheel.  I could fit in the seat with his backpack and two of Lira‘s re-useable sacks; he could not.  I surrendered my hope of navigating myself to my new home with only mild grumpiness.

Richard slowed after the turn-off to Jackson Slough Road.  He gestured, There’s Mount Diablo, and I took a picture.  Then we made the hairpin turn and before I could really prepare, we slipped into Park Delta Bay and I had arrived.  I said, over and over, I wanted to be driving.  He was patient; he was gentle; he took no offense.  We stopped for the key and made our way to F2, where we would spend the night.

A bit later, Joe the park handyman summoned Pattie Whitaker from her cozy trailer and I got the hug that I wanted:  A homecoming.  She said, I’ve been following your journey.  I didn’t expect you this early.  She insisted on loaning us what we needed.  She admonished me not to make plans for Saturday because there would be a party on her lawn.  We held our flashlights to the ground as we walked back to our rental cabin, talking about the propane guy who would arrive at seven in the morning to set the gauge and test the line.  Just like that, I shifted.  I no longer hailed from Kansas City.  I became a California girl; a Delta dweller; a tiny house inhabitant, planning the deck that Joe will build and the railing which Richard will make from the knotty pine that we carried from Brookside on the top of my car.

I started dinner, moving around the place as though I had always lived here; and always would.

It’s the seventeenth day of the forty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Sunset on the Sacramento River at Isleton.

After all this time, again

We drove through the mountains, me at the wheel, my companion with his cell phone taking pictures.  I said, “we should get through the salt flats before dark” and he said, “watch the gauge”.  I pressed forward, remembering, after all this time, a harrowing drive across the flats in the unrelenting fog, Christmas 1980 with a different companion deeply sleeping in the seat beside me.

He said, “there’s a station”, but I couldn’t get into the next lane and exit, not at the speed I was going.  I felt a glimmer of irritation from the other side of the car.  But then the flats loomed ahead and I pressed the gas pedal to the floor in the stretch of highway where the official designation matches the designated limit.  He toyed with his phone some more, asking if he could make a hotspot with mine, looking for signs of life in the desolation through which we barreled.  I nodded but did not let my eyes stray from the road.  He tossed the electronics down, grunting in disgust but low, in keeping with his quiet persona.  I asked, “what’s wrong” and he told me he wished he had a map.  Still I drove.

I told him about the other time that I crossed the salt lake, how I couldn’t see past my windshield, about not knowing if I could stop.  I said, “I was twenty-five, just a kid really, and my boyfriend slept through the whole thing.  When I stopped at the far side, I had clutched the wheel so hard that I cut half-moons in my palms with my fingernails.

We made Delle before the final setting of the sun.  A clerk of indeterminate gender spread salt as I walked toward the door, my muscles too tense for much of anything but stumbling.  I found the bathroom and ignored its filth, standing in front of the mirror, wondering, for the thousandth time today, why I ever doubted my direction.

It’s the sixteenth day of the forty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

In the mountains east of Salt Lake City.

On the road

When traveling, one should always choose  a companion willing to drive further than you yourself feel capable of doing.  That person should also possess a certain cleverness in packing, and an understanding of the impact of wind on wood, should you be carrying, say, an assortment of 100-year-old pine on the luggage rack.  His arms should be strong, his hands steady, and his disposition inclined towards tranquility.

As we crossed Nebraska, the two of us agreed on nearly everything.  We knew we wanted to make Cheyenne, regardless of our fatigue or the earliness of our rising.  We had gotten a late start but neither of us complained.  I only felt a little regret about some of the things which could not fit in the RAV4:  My schomley (ph — Austrian for “little bench”); the clothes which he had washed for me the prior evening; most of my art collection.  Still, my next trip to Kansas City will provide a chance for shipping, and so, vehicle full with a peekhole to the back window left to spare, we travel west, toward the spot where my tiny home awaits.

Now we’ve stopped at the Best Western.  Hot cups of herbal tea rest on the bedside table.  A family chatters in the hallway but here, in this brown and beige room, silence settles on our aching bones.  We have seventeen hours left in this trip.  We hope to make Elko, Nevada, by nightfall on Saturday.  We’ll stop in Salt Lake City for a few pieces of hardware that we’ve decided we need for the projects which await us.  Then we’ll press onward, closer and closer to my beloved Pacific.

It’s the fifteenth day of the forty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Nebraska sunset

A glimpse of the city

I head north on Troost en route to my temporary home.  I could take the Paseo.  Certainly, that would be more direct.  But I crave  the vista which says Kansas City to me.  I pass Operation Breakthrough, then the health department.  Ahead I see the bridge with its burning globes.  I stop, glance, snap, and then inch forward with one eye on the rear view mirror.  God forbid that this vehicle should sustain impact three days before my departure.  No; the street stands empty, and then I freeze a nocturnal glimpse of my beloved the city, a solitary woman standing on the banks of the river, up to date with her towers, her spires, and her Christmas lights.

My path forward takes me through a stretch of industry, and a few blocks eastward.  Then I’m headed north again, past Admiral and around the sweeping bend where mansions bear a cloak of garland in honor of the season.  Soon I pull into the driveway of my incredibly tolerant host and I am home, or what welcomes me as home in my semi-homeless state.  A flutter of papers in the glove box tell the world that I live on Noland Road in Independence.  In truth I live nowhere, or everywhere, or anywhere, taking deep breaths and huge steps towards whatever plan the universe allows me to think that I’ve made.

I rap on the door, beneath the light, fatigue settling in my bones just as my bones in turn begin to sink into the cement under foot.  Then a smile greets me.  I skirt the pile of my belongings which crowds the foyer and dump my pocketbook on the chair.  My companion murmurs, a pleasant hum.  I think, Not for me, the happy life.  Happy husband, happy wife.  A bit of it perhaps:  A week of this domesticity before I venture into the wilds of California.  Water simmers on the stove for tea.  I take off my coat.   My host gestures to a chair, asking about my day, speaking of his.  Suddenly all that matters is the here and now.  Everything else can wait.

It’s the thirteenth day of the forty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Two or three rounds of sorting later, I’m down to calculating two variables:  What will fit in the RAV, and what will fit in the tiny house.

The idea of going tiny includes divesting myself of the accumulated possessions of sixty-two years.  I’ve moved so many times, moved over to accommodate others so often, that what I really face involves about two decades.  But that’s enough.

Out in California, Angel’s Haven already has a full complement of free-standing furniture.  Two Amish tables, my great-grandfather’s bookcase, my mother-in-law’s secretary and chair, a small desk and Cherie Meyer’s rocker fill the floors without tipping the scale to clutter.  The under-bed storage compartment already contains its fill of pictures and papers.  One large drawer destined for clothing now holds crockery which will need to be culled.  Yet to be utilized:  a couple of large cubbies, my Pier One wicker cabinet, twenty-one inches of hanging space that lacks a bar, and a rectangle of floor in the guest loft roughly the size of Patrick’s Boy Scout footlocker.  I have more than enough bedding for my use and that of one guest — or two, if they don’t mind sharing.  The rear storage shed currently holds storage tubs filled with bubble wrap and the sleeping bags we used to pad everything which made the journey west on the floor of Angel’s Haven.  Those will need to be sorted and given away to make room for ladders, tools, an anything that won’t fit when we unpack next week.

I know that the boxes now gracing a friend’s living room in northeast Kansas City exceed what I can take.  I have three more days for another pass-through, though a Wednesday trial demands my time.   A recollection of dumping a drawer into a bag haunts my waking hours.  My mother’s silver sewing scissors slid into its depths.  I haven’t found that bag yet.  I keep looking, hoping.  I’ve had those scissors for thirty-two years.  It seems a shame to lose them now.  They don’t take much space.

I have a designated shelf in the basement here.  My accommodating host hauls boxes down as I tag them for later sorting.  We’ve already taken scads of my clothes to the thrift store.  Prospero’s got my oak bench.  The wooden stools will find their way to Will’s bar later on today.  I took the ornate mirror to KC’s best stylist, Kelley Blond, and on Thursday will study my face in its beveled glass.  Here and there in this house, my temporary refuge from homelessness, pieces of my life have melded into the life of my host.  I plan to leave them, for his use, and for mine on my occasional visits.

A stack of old quilts rests on a box in my friend’s hallway.  My great-grandmother pieced together the top of one of them from tailor’s samples.  My mother made the backing.  It needs their loving ministration; I had thought to take it, but it will go into a storage box along with two Ohio Star quilts from my mother.  I’ll figure them out later.  Perhaps I will ship them to myself, or find someone to restore them here.  That problem will await me when I return.

But some things must accompany me to California.  Items so far making the cut include the pre-fab table that my son assembled for me twenty years ago as well as the tiny table which stood beside my porch rocker for the last eight years.  A dear soul lovingly refinished it for me, and it’s perfect for Angel’s Haven.  I picture it beside me on the porch which Joe the Handyman will build for me.  I can’t take my rocker, but I’ll find one out there, at some estate sale, and all will be right with my world.

Tucked into a box of towels, encased in a plastic storage container, a little piece of Patrick’s history will journey to California.  I don’t know what I’ll do with it at Angel’s Haven.  I have no upper cupboards there, so it cannot return to the lofty resting place which it has occupied since he carefully, tenderly, carried it home from one of our daily walks around the block, with his Beagle Chocolate tugging his arm and the neighbors calling greetings from their evening stoops.  Abbey Vogt gingerly lifted it down for me. I had not seen it since I put it in the cabinet, standing on Patrick’s blue step stool — the same step-stool which I accidentally left at the Holmes house, and which the new owner will bring to me when she comes for my china cabinet tomorrow.

I had feared this fragile souvenir of my son’s earnest regard for life had not withstood the brutality of time.  But it survived.  It endured, despite being in an open bowl, available for any critter which might have wanted to maraud it.  When Abbey rested it in my hands and I gazed down at its perfect integrity, tears fell.   What better reminder of those lovely hours with my son than something so precious, so perfect, as this?

It’s the twelfth day of the forty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I first met Will Leathem about twenty years ago when I filed a complaint against Prospero’s Books  for being inaccessible to those of us who have physical challenges.  Will responded by agreeing to make a computerized list of his inventory, which he might or might not have ever done.  Instead, we became friends and he would fetch, carry, and call out titles from the foot of the stairs.  Once he even carried me down the winding steps to the basement.  On another occasion, he sent a strapping young lad to fetch me to the second floor for Mark Zorn’s poetry reading.

I’ve watched him morph from his straight-laced younger self to the kindest elfin soul ever imaginable.  I’ve danced in his driveway and listened to his son reading aloud from a perch behind the register.  I’ve argued Scandinavians versus British with him, both of us having a proclivity from time to time for a well-written mystery.  I’ve set slim old volumes on his counter and listened to his tales of the authors as well as the acquisition of the book itself.  His eyes dance and his mouth curves into a smile.  His endless warmth blankets those around him.

He tells me that he’s angered some people.   I discount his self-disparagement.  I’ve seen him with his lady, Leslie; and her daughter; and with the slowest of customers.  He demonstrates profound patience.  I’ve read his own poems, and I’ve had his hand stretched out to mine when I stumbled..  I know this man.  I don’t see him half enough, but every time I do, his arms encircle me.  I know that our affection for one another persists.  It will transcend my leaving; and it will await my every return.  Parting from him, as with my other encounters this week, indeed evokes sweet sorrow.  But I bid him only au revoir, not adieu.   The words we exchanged today will not be our last.  We did not say goodbye.

Fare thee well, my friend.  Fare thee well.

It’s the tenth day of the forty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Synchronicity and Serendipity

It could have been ugly.  Ugliness certainly asserted itself, and in response to its sad bleat, I melted down and spat back a bit of venom of my own.

I don’t know why people have to be ugly,    One theory says that ugliness is the tragic expression of unmet needs.  This resonates with me.    Want and longing begat bitterness.  Unmet needs come out in the jackal speech of which Dr. Rosenberg gently spoke time and time again in the red shirt videos which my son shared with me.  Dr. Rosenberg divides speech into jackal (violent) and giraffe (nonviolent).  He chose the giraffe as his image because of all mammals, the giraffe has the biggest heart.

When one spouting jackal speech injected herself into my day yesterday, I had been running on four hours’ sleep for days on end.  Work, pack, maneuver, sleep for four frantic hours, repeat.  With the universe’s gift of gracious friends, I had made it as far as the last few hours before I had to be out of the Holmes house.  I could not see that I would make the deadline and begged for two more hours.  One, even,  Please.  But the jackal said that my request was not reasonable,  I fell an inch closer to complete collapse.

The appointed hour arrived.  I stood in the driveway, dread washing over me.  I had been told that I had to leave that moment, that the new owner would be arriving.  I signaled my friend Katrina to start getting anything critical.  She began to assemble a handful of items.  I urged her, Leave those, I need these. . .And then I stopped — my arms full of clothing, my heart filed with anxiety because of the stern admonishment, the rank condemnation.   I watched the buyer and her friends walk toward me.  Down the sidewalk, down the driveway, and then: There, in front of me, real.  The woman who had bought my home smiled and said, Oh, I’m so glad to meet you — look, we brought you cookies.  And we want to help you.

Help they did.  It turns out that the judgment of unreasonableness which had been stamped on  my request for two more hours had not come from this woman, nor from her musician boyfriend, nor from her side of whatever morbid equation we balanced.  I told my agent, we just wanted to be there before dark so we could take pictures, but that it didn’t matter if you were still there.  I told her to let you know that my boyfriend, my cousin, and I would help you finish.  I told her that I knew you had lived here a long time, and you probably didn’t realize how long it would take you to pack a lifetime.

She said that.  Those words, exactly those.  She asked, Didn’t your agent tell you that?  I shook my head.  I could not respond.  I knew that if I said anything, I would sob — that I might stagger and fall into her arms.  Her cousin stepped forward and took the burden from my hands.  She said, Where do you want me to put this?  I gestured, to the air, to the sidewalk, to the pile that we had started amassing on my neighbor’s lawn.  The woman who had bought my house told me that they would take their photographs and then work with me and my friends, until I got everything out.  I could barely utter two words:  Thank you, before the tears fell.

I admitted: I was so worried about this moment; and she hugged me.

They took their pictures, then shed their coats and started carrying boxes.  They urged me to leave the pile of thrift store donations.  They said they would take care of them.  We got the last of everything loaded into the vehicles of my loyal compatriots or onto the pile in the yard.   My helpers left but I stayed behind to watch the stuff on the lawn, the God-knows-what that I could not bear to have stolen.  I asked the buyer, Do you mind if I wait on the porch, thinking to be as little more trouble as possible. She replied, Come inside, we’ll wait with you, and help you load the rest when he gets back.

Then we talked.  She told me that she had wanted to meet me, to talk to me about furniture that I wanted to sell her.  She told me that she couldn’t afford to buy it but she liked everything that I had and would have taken any of it.  She said she had asked if she could just call me and had been told that she could not.

I showed her all the little nuances of the place.  I took her around and talked about the work which I had done to get ready to list; and the work that I had implemented after her inspector’s report.  We laughed about the clumsiness of dealing with the barriers which stood between us.  She shared her frustration with the realtor system; I told her, You’re preaching to the choir.

At some point, I said, We’ve got to stop referring to you as “the buyer”.  You’re “the new owner” now.  She beamed.  Her cousin practically cooed.  A warmth spread over me, the beginnings of acceptance, I think.  This woman had become the steward of the Holmes house whom I had wanted to find.  She already loved the house as much as my son and I did.  She would care for her.  She would cherish her.  She would add joyful memories to the ones which I had made in the twenty-four years of my own stewardship of the place.

As we went through the house, I kept gesturing to the letter which I  had left for her on the mantle.  I confessed that I had risen at four that morning to write the letter in the quiet, as I always wrote.  I did not try to squelch my tears, nor to hide them.  I referred to the angel hanging outside and said that I wanted to leave it for her.  She shared with me that she had told her mother about that angel when she had first toured the house.  I asked her if she wanted the wind chimes and she said, I’d love to have them.  Then we convened around the pile of items to donate and emptied the boxes.  She gushed over each item.  The Italian set which had been my ex-husband’s first wife’s mother’s dishes went right back into the built-in cabinets in the breakfast nook.  She exclaimed over a tea pot because she has a tea pot collection.  She even liked the Grateful Dead mug with its chattering teeth at the bottom.

We stood at the window watching for my companion’s return.  Her cousin told me that the rainbow flag on my house had impressed them.  We knew that she was moving into a neighborhood where the people shared our values.  I released a breath which I had not even noticed.  I explained my relief:  The agent had insisted that the flags, both of them — American and Rainbow — come down for photographs and just as forcefully, I had demanded that the flags remain during the open house.  I would not sell to anyone who couldn’t tolerate the concept of inclusiveness.  I would rather have burned the place for the insurance.

I finally told her about the jackal who had come to my driveway and insisted that my request for additional time violated the buyer’s legal right and was “not nice”.  I cried.  She cried.  I told her about the last gasp to get everything out.  She asked me if I had sold my china cabinet.  I admitted that I had not and offered it to her — as a gift.  I asked what she intended to do with the little bedroom.  She explained that her boyfriend wanted an office. I told her about the library table and the computer desk, that none of my friends needed them and no one had offered to buy them.  I gave her those, too, on condition that they come retrieve everything from the living room of the stalwart companion who had single-handedly moved all of my leftover furniture into his space.

Over and over, she expressed regret that the agents of change had not allowed us to meet.   So much could have been easier for each of us.  I would not have shipped boxes of china to Miranda’s storage unit or sold the wrought iron for pennies.  We would have worked out a way for her to keep what she wanted and pay me some nominal amount over time.  Each of us would have felt better about the transition.  She would not have worried about me struggling to get everything out because she and her cousin would have been there with coffee that morning.  We could have baked the cookies in the kitchen as we worked, using the cookie sheets that I had thrown in a box to donate.

As it happened, though, the hour in the Holmes house with me, the new owner, and her cousin erased all that jackal talk.  No vestige of its nastiness lingered.  Our hearts beat in synchronicity.  What could have been ugly became beautiful, because of her desire to help me, and my desire to sell the Holmes house to someone just like her.

It’s the ninth day of the forty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Saying Goodbye

After twenty-four years of witnessing firsts, the Holmes house tenders twenty-four hours of lasts.

My last make-shift supper, avocado on toast at ten-thirty, when all my helpers had hugged me and slipped into the night.

My last turn around the hardwood floors with a broom, as each room empties.

My last spin of the washing machine with a hodge-podge load of whatever has not been packed — the sheets from my bed, yesterday’s clothes, a kitchen’s worth of tea towels.

My last crystal mug of micro-waved coffee.

Eventually, thirteen hours from now, the last turn of my key in her door.

The ink has dried on my seller’s signature.  In a few hours, the new owner of the Holmes house will sit in the closing room, experiencing her own firsts:  A first mortgage, a first house, the first day of her new life.  I’ll write a note telling her about the alarm code, trash day, and a few little nuances of cabinet doors and creaky floors.  I’ll place the envelope on the mantel where my grandfather’s clock has sat for the last twenty-four years.  I’ll walk my tired feet to my beautiful porch for the last time.  I’ll turn, I’ll stifle my tears, and savor one last, lingering look.  Then I’ll take my weary body down her steps one last time.  I’ll try not to fall.  I’ll say goodbye to the Japanese maple; to the rise of the cathedral ceiling with its graceful arches; and to the angel which I’m leaving on its hook to welcome the new owner to the Holmes house.

Then I will say goodbye, for the last time, to the place which I have called home for so many wonderful years.

It’s the eighth day of the forty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Poetry and Pakora

Brenda hands me a slim volume of poetry wrapped in tissue paper.  Elizabeth insists on paying for my dinner, delicious pakora curry for which I’ll long  when I head west.  We don’t embrace; we don’t say goodbye.  We say, Happy Holidays.  Chatter over dinner mirrors so many other dinners at Chai Shai, different only in that it might well be our last.

But isn’t that always true?  I could step in front of a bus.   My call over the shoulder as I slip into the Prius could be the only echo that either of them will ever have by which to remember me.  The glimmering memory of my face could fade in time, never seen again, never brought to mind by the sound of my voice through the telephone.

Nonetheless I tell Brenda not to say too final of a farewell.  I have another week in Kansas City. I’ll be in and out of town for months, finishing cases and visiting anyone who has time for a cup of coffee.  I’ll carry the book of poetry with me, as I carry two others.  It will get just as dog-eared and worn as the one I’ve had the longest, that of my friend David Arnold Hughes.  A newer volume promises similar fascination, a collection by Will Leathem, owner of Prospero’s and a dear compatriot.  I zip the bag shut, keeping all that beauty from going astray.

Duty calls this morning, after which I’ll go to Overland Park and sign this house over to its new owner.  In the afternoon, I’ll slog away at the last of the packing.  My faithful companion, he who has taken away vanload after vanload, will play the piano for me one last time before that, too, makes its way to a new home.  We’ll sweep the floors.  Then the sun will set on my last night in this house.  Already I feel the tears gathering.

I am not complaining.  I made this choice.  I know it’s right for me.   But still.  But still.  I’ll miss this place.  I can’t deny it.  I walk the dusty floors and sob.  My son grew to manhood within these walls.  I found my voice here, in lonely hours, before dawn, on the porch.  I’ll take that with me.  I’ll find my comfort in the knowledge that without my life here with all of its crooked turns, the joyfulness of my life from this day forward could not be possible.

It’s the seventh day of the forty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Nearly midnight

Eleven o’clock draws near, on one of my last nights in this house.

I’ve spent an hour browsing yet another box of photographs.  My heart clenches and melts in turns. I’ve shed tears and burst out laughing.  And I’ve remembered.

Many of us can say where we first heard the news of Kennedy’s death, the moon landing, 9/11, or the start of war.  But I most clearly remember the moment when I found out my brother Stephen had killed himself.

Nick Corley, my nephew, had safely arrived in Kansas City for his summer’s visit.   Standing in my kitchen, here in this house, I telephoned my sister-in-law to let her know.  Through sobs, she gasped, “Call Mark,” referring to Nick’s father.  I snapped, “Kevin or Steve?”  She sobbed through the phone.  “Just call Mark.”

Vicky McKeever had found his body under a tree on their land in St. Charles County.  Just there:  leaning, where he had done the deed nearly a week before her visit to pick columbine.   Thus began my twenty-year lament:  Stevie Pat, Stevie Pat, I failed you — I am sorry!  Please forgive me.  Please don’t leave me.

A haunting passage from “Girl, Interrupted” gives me pause to reconsider my cries.  After the main character’s suicide, her friend wails her own sorrow to the group therapist.  He gently reminds her that the girl’s death is not about the survivor but about the pain which led to the final act of despair.  I’ve told myself that same thing for two decades.

As I cull out another few inches of treasured photographs, I lay my brother’s image aside to scan.  He did not see the lens pointed toward him.  He looked as he always did — composed, confident, calm.  Funny, how appearance can deceive.

It’s nearly midnight, on the fifth day of the forty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I’m feeling the turn of the season and the impending departure which I embrace, though not without a tinge of the bittersweet.  Life continues.