Monthly Archives: April 2018

Two Encounters

Today a man said something to me that I’ve articulated hundreds of times in my life, mostly to seemingly deaf ears and uncomprehending minds.

Isn’t it awful when you’re trying to walk down a hall and people come right at you, but because you’re swaying back and forth, neither of you can pass?

The man had already moved aside for me in the local thrift store.  When he did so, I perceived the staggering truth of our synergy in the lurch of his scissoring steps.  We mirrored each other.  I  apologized for inconveniencing him, but he dismissed my remorse.   He beamed and I chuckled.  We met each other’s eyes.  Then he continued out of the store, leaving me clutching a lace curtain. I stood in the aisle shaking my head and grinning. I had finally met someone who did not wince as I tried to explain my inability to dart around him.

A little while later, I wheeled a buggy from the Family Dollar store and loaded my purchases into the back of the RAV.  Before I could return the empty cart, a man approached me from the parking lot.  Let me take that, he insisted.  I saw you come out of the door.  I’m always ready to help a sister.  He reached over and gave me a half-hug, then limped away, pushing the cart.  I smiled and called out my thanks.  He lifted one hand without turning.

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



Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Always on my mind





I don’t pretend to understand my parents’ relationship even though I have a keen awareness that it defined me in many ways.  I once explained to someone who voiced bitterness for how badly our father abused us that if my mother could forgive him, how could I do less?  That person did not understand my willingness to see through my father’s treachery to his humanity.  I accept their rejection of my attempts to put what happened into perspective, but I still strive to do so.

By the time cancer and medical malfeasance claimed my mother two weeks shy of her 59th birthday, my parents had forged an existence that I consider allowed them a measure of happiness.  My father probably still drank, but it had been a decade since the post-war trauma plunged him into rage.  He did not have a job and had not for most if not all of my life but he woodworked in the basement and kept house after a fashion.  My mother’s income paid their bills.  They took trips and entertained their grandchildren.  They socialized with my aunt and uncle.  Whatever they could make of a life following the bad years, they made.

I visited my father in the days after my mother’s funeral.  Her death had broken him, shattering him into jagged splinters which would never restore themselves into even a shell of a man.  Some say he got his just desserts, following a life in which he visited pain and punishment on his wife and children.  I know more now about that tyranny; and the damage which some of us still strive to heal.  I suppose that I should hate him for what he did.   Perhaps if our mother had been fully aware of the extent of his conduct, she might have murdered him herself.  I don’t know.  I can’t say.

I recently gave my mother’s stereo to my niece Lisa, the oldest of her granddaughters.   Lisa has extraordinary memories of records played for her on that turntable by her Grandma.  I, too, recall hours spent listening to vinyl with my mother.  Most of my memories involve Willie Nelson, whose records we played over and over for my mother during her last illness.

I think my mother wanted to have had a good life with the man for whom she left nursing school months before graduation.  It seems to me that she strove to erase all the harm that he did, and retain the cheerful co-conspirator into which she molded him for what became the last days of their marriage.  I might be wrong about this, but I imagine that she did not want her forgiveness of him to have been offered in vain.  Yet she also understood that she herself had been maligned by him, even beyond the physical and emotional damage that he caused her children or the brutality which he visited on her body.  He failed to treat her in ways that would create a safety net to get her through tough times.  He was a poor guardian of her  heart.  I think she understood that regardless of what he wanted to be, his warped psyche, which I believe came from the terrible experience of war, would not let him.

When asked how I can forgive my father for what he did to us, I try to qualify my forgiveness by limiting my discretion to that which I myself suffered.  It is for others to extend that honor on their own behalf.  As for me, I think my father wanted to do right by me.    I think he wanted to do right by my mother.  I judge that he did not have the strength to overcome the scars on his psyche or pull himself from the dark places to which his nightmares dragged him.

Despite the grimness of my father’s failings, I believe that my mother was always on his mind.  I sat with him many times in the six years between her death and his.  I listened as he lamented. I read his maudlin poetry about her.  I heard what his soul harbored.  I often wish that I had not; but I cannot escape the lessons which his confidences brought me.   I have since learned more about his actions than I knew at the time; and perhaps what I now know might have then hardened my disposition towards him.  I can’t say.  But in the moment, listening to him, and remembering my mother’s gentle request to play her favorite Willie Nelson song “one more time”, led me to a place of peace with respect to my father.

Moreover, I cannot escape my own reality.   In a simpler manner, I have failed some whom I loved.  Though my failures did not take a violent turn, they cut just as deeply.   In many ways, I am not that different from my old man.  But I remain hopeful that I, too, have been forgiven.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Willie Nelson, “Always On My Mind”

It’s all relative

As I sat in the writing loft in Angel’s Haven, a fire engine’s urgent call washed through the open window.  I squinted and tried to focus on the screen.  The siren’s cry rose.  I heard a bleat, the horn of a chief’s cruiser.  That’s in the park, I said, outloud, to no one.  I ran downstairs.

As it happens, an RV on the row behind me had caught fire when its refrigerator exploded.  I kid you not.  Apparently certain years of certain models of RV have this dual-energy fridge, propane and electricity.  For some reason, that year’s technology put the flame of the pilot light too close to the source of electricity, to disastrous ends.

Now a couple that has lived here for more than a decade sleeps with borrowed blankets in a visitors’ cabin.  Someone went and bought towels; someone else got groceries.  In the morning we will doubtless hear of more needs.  A collection will be taken.  Updates will appear on the Park’s Facebook Group for long-term parkers, of which I am one.

Before leaving to join a neighbor for dinner, I checked the flame under the coffee; I unplugged the toaster; I stood in the kitchen scrutinizing my appliances for signs of impending mutiny.

In the face of such loss, my missing Amazon order seems irrelevant.  I called, though; and a new order has been placed.  The customer service agent apologized and gave me a little credit.  “It’s all right,” I remarked.  I told her about the exploding refrigerator.  She told me that she herself had just moved out of a home destroyed by fire.  She had been sleeping in the basement and ran for the backdoor compelled by the shrill nag of the smoke detector.  By the time she got across the street and turned around, the house had burned to the ground.

Her co-workers had gift cards for Target and other stores by the next morning, so she could at least have clothes until the insurance came through.  “You never know how good people are until disaster strikes,” she told me.  “I’m grateful every day.”

She expedited the re-delivery of my lost order.  I thanked her profusely.  She asked if there was anything else she could do for me.  “Yes, there is,” I said.  “For me, please, can you have a good rest of your night?”

“I will,” she replied.  “And you do the same, for me.”

Her name was Meredith.  If you have to call Amazon to report a lost package, and you happen to get Meredith, please tell her “hello” from me. Tell her that the rest of my night has been just fine.

It’s the twenty-sixth day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

The faint clacking of broken dreams

I stopped at the kiosk to ask Kim about lodging for a summer visitor whose little Yorkie wouldn’t be able to climb the ladder to the guest loft.  I saw Pattie Whitaker outside, holding a bag of ice and talking to Kim about the awning installation underway at G-18.  Pattie asked me if I needed help and I shook my head.  I explained that I was going to Lodi to see if they had knee braces at CVS.  “My artificial knee quit working right a few years ago, and it seems to be even more damaged now,” I explained.  Pattie said, “Was that the clicking noise I heard the other day,” and I sighed.

They agreed that the pharmacy in Rio might have what I needed.  I headed off to town, thankful for the advice which could save me an hour’s trip.  At the drugstore, a cheerful girl with purple hair and a Tree of Life tattoo on her arm let me open the packaging of the one option that seemed likely.  We studied the nurepreen contraption for a few minutes, then looked at each other.  She smiled hopefully.  I stuffed the thing back into its box and said I’d take it.  I mentioned that I liked her hair.  She said, “I’m really glad you told me that,” as though some one had expressed a contrary view.  The pharmacist raised his eyes from the counter above us.  I got the idea that he might have been the most vocal of the dissenters.

I’m glad I got to see your hair,” I insisted.  I shot the boss a daring glance before limping out of the store.

In Lira’s, the local market, I  pushed a buggy to the vegetable aisle.  A clerk stood near the avocados loading produce iinto bins.  “How are you today,” he asked.  “I can’t complain,” I admitted.  He didn’t know me and had no idea what I meant.  So he gave me the standard line:  “Me neither,” he vouchsafed, with a hearty laugh.  “Wouldn’t do any good.  Nobody would care.”

I turned my head for a moment and squinted.  “I disagree,” i argued.  “If I complained, you’d act like you care, and I’d leave the store thinking what a nice man you were.  That would do some good for me at least.”  His pleasant chuckle followed me as I moved over to the oranges.

I turned into Jackson Slough Road behind a red-winged blackbird.  The little thing guided me all the way to Brannan Island Road, where we parted ways, each headed to our respective homes.  I pulled into Park Delta Bay ahead of the UPS truck, and made my way over to my tiny house.  I sat in the parking space with my eyes closed, listening to the hum of the cooling engine.  The only other noise to penetrate my tired brain was the faint clacking of broken dreams.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

“Blackbird” by Paul McCartney

On My Mind

I have no cause to lapse into a pity party.  My sister-from-two-other-parents Lyne’t Gray would go wild if I let myself get crazy ruminating over what-ifs and what-fors.  A sheer expanse of vivid blue stretches high above my house, meeting its blue roof.  Outside the window in front of me, a speckled bird pecks for bugs on the pebbled surface of the California oak. What cause have I for being gloomy?  I live in paradise.

I’ve been awake since six, to be on standby for my friend Jeanne Foster who handled a hearing for me in Missouri.  I stood on the porch in my leopard print pajamas and filled my lungs with pure Delta air, dry, chilled, and clean.  I let the sunrise warm my face with its valiant rays.  I made a video about problems with the build of Angel’s Haven to post on YouTube for the many starry-eyed young folks who’ve toured the place lately, intent on “going tiny”.  I’m on my second load of laundry and it’s not even 9:30.

Yesterday I had two callback interviews for jobs in Fairfield.  I won’t jinx them by giving any details but I could do either of them and would enjoy each.  I’ve run into a lot of you’re-over-qualified flak, and a little quiet age-ism to boot.  But another Jeanne, Ms. Serra of Corpus Christi High School days, tells me that she changed jobs at 61.  I’m 18 months beyond that milestone but I’m taking her example to heart.  I know there’s a California niche waiting for me.  I will keep plugging.

Meanwhile, Kansas City sits lightly on  my mind.  I just returned a week ago, and will be back there in two weeks’ time for my penultimate work-related trip.  It’s getting increasingly difficult to swing those trips financially without an income, so the end will be a blessing for my slim pocketbook but a curse in the sense that ties will be attenuated and faces will grow dim in my memory.  Social media will provide what contact I have with the place which I called home for 37 years, if you don’t count the five that I spent in Arkansas quite by accident.

The weeping willow rises full and lush outside the window over my little make-shift art gallery. Two of my bigger art pieces have been boxed for shipping by Ross Taggart. I look forward to hanging them and giving the place a little more flavor of home.  Pat Reynolds sent a photo of the “Angel’s Haven” tile sign that she made for me.  I can’t wait to install it,, affixed to a piece of 100-year-old knotty pine from the Holmes house.

I miss my people.  But I’m happy here.  No complaints occur to me.  Another day closer to success with this mission.  I hope you’re listening, Mr. Above-Ground-Carrott.  The journey has proven challenging but I’m nearly there.

It’s the twenty-fourth day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Today I’m wearing my Waldo-Brookside Rotary Club St. Patrick’s Day shirt and Jenny Rosen’s purple smart-wool socks. #noplacelikehome

Georgia On My Mind, by Mr. Ray Charles

I’m sure that I should post something like “Kansas City”, but whenever I contemplate being homesick, the sentiment of Georgia On My Mind comes to me.

Either way, I’m thinking of that lovely small town which sits so sweetly by the muddy Mo, and missing my people there today.

Birds of a feather

Since I’ve lived in California, I’ve seen trumpet swans, red-winged blackbirds, honest-to-God blue birds, and a bunch of the most kick-ass crows imaginable.  I barely have to leave my porch to feel as though I’ve died and gone to the great aviary in the sky.

I’ve been thinking about feathers today — grey ones, and crimson ones; ebony hues and the breath-taking gold of a hummingbird that hovers near the neighbor’s RV.

Between bill-paying, client-emailing, and coffee-stirring, I spent a half-hour groping for words to explain why everyone should be empathetic to a bunch of strangers on Facebook this morning, all of whom seem intent on castigating me because of what they perceive to be my arrogance as a “white” person in the face of their oppression as “black” people or their enlightenment and willingness to make amends, in the case of several people who self-identified as “white”.  I totally understand the concept of “white privilege” and “black oppression”.  I acknowledge the impact of discrimination.   I firmly believe that bigotry has not abated and thrives.  But I personally have not done anything of the sort.  So.  Tell me again why birds of a feather are required to flock together?

I put aside that chain of abuse and read again an e-mail that I sent to someone explaining why Holocaust jokes are not my cup of tea.  Holocaust jokes.  I mean, seriously?  Browse my blogs, people; do you see anything in what I write to suggest that I would find Holocaust jokes amusing?  What on earth!  I’m not even sure why Holocaust jokes exist.  What type of person would ever find the relentless slaughter of millions of people because of their religious affiliation to be an appropriate subject for humor?  I just shook my head.  But then I turned back to the page of comments from people saying I should make reparation because I’m part of a “race” of people who oppressed another “race” of people and that asking for everyone to show empathy for each other might be over the top.

I pour another cup of coffee and realize that I’m caught between two worlds.  I’m not a bigot; nor do I perceive myself as better than anyone else; and I’ve worked hard since age 12 and have got not much to show for it, so I consider myself  a step or two ahead of just getting by.  I don’t really see myself as privileged or entitled, even though I know that as a “white” person, I do not have to face the prejudice that “black” people have to face, so I’m not complaining.  And as a “Christian” (eh) or let’s say, “a non-Jewish person”, I did not descend from people who faced extermination in Europe during the Holocaust.

I get how lucky I am on all of these counts, relating to access to resources, survival, and fair treatment.  But then, I try to get into an office building with a door far too heavy for me as a disabled person and I think, “Tell me again how lucky I am?” while I wait for a kind passerby, which takes about fifteen minutes.  I park in a handicapped spot and I’m grateful for that space, but it’s a half-block away from the curb cut because they presume that I’ll be in a wheelchair probably being pushed.  I can’t step onto the curb without risk of falling so I walk the distance, getting winded and sweaty.

There are all kinds of obstacles to success in the world.  But fortunately, nobody will shoot me because I’m disabled. . . though Hitler did, in fact, include disabled people in the Holocaust now that I think of it.  So I stand by my conviction:  We all should exercise empathy towards each other, regardless of the color of our feathers; or whether or not we can fly.

I go out onto the porch and remind myself that human relations defy easy understanding.  A mourning dove lands on the railing and we eye each other from a respectful three-foot distance.  When the bird flies back to the tree, I think we’ve reached an accord but it might take another cup of coffee for me to be able to articulate what it is.

It’s the twenty-third day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Another Day

I pulled onto the Antioch bridge with the sunset glowing in my rear-view mirror.  My neighbor Paul’s jeep came through the toll at the same time as I did.  I paused and let him travel over the bridge ahead of me.  I could not decide whether to take the long way home.  My inclination to enter the loop by way of Twitchell Island Road firmed into resolve when Paul illuminated his signal.  I followed him through the winding levee system all the way into our Park.

When I disembarked from the RAV, he stood by his vehicle waiting.  “I saw you as I came through the toll,” he called cheerily.  I answered on the same high note, admitting that I had been following him, knowing that the twisted route could be more safely traversed on his tail lights.  “I had you covered,” he assured me.  We parted on our respective stoops.

I brunched in Berkeley, browsed a used bookstore, and spent the afternoon sitting by the sea.  Another day in Northern California, fine and warm; as I left the coast for the Delta, my heart kept its joyful tone.  I’m finding the days here more conducive to this mission than the life back in Missouri.  It’s easier not to complain when the air shimmers with the salt of the sea and the glow of an early and lasting spring.

Now the darkness surrounds my tiny house.  The neon light on the neighboring RV glows steadily.  I hear an occasional call, an owl or a mourning dove.  Mild tension grips my shoulders, the kind I always feel when I’ve driven for too long.  But I don’t mind.  I got to see my friend Kimberley today; and to gaze upon my Pacific in the company of a jolly sort of fellow.  The aches and pains of my small and narrow existence can be borne, with such pleasures hovering nearby.

It’s the twenty-first day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

The unexpected sting of tears

A long time ago, someone who shall remain unidentified asked if he could finance little feminine excursions for me, facials and manicures. I stared at him uncomprehending before murmuring that I never got such things, thanking him, moving away to start sorting a load of laundry.  He stuttered but dropped the subject.  We never spoke of it again.  I avoided his glance for an hour, hoping he would forget, wishing that he would not take my refusal as a personal affront but knowing that he likely would.

Women like me don’t feel we deserve those rituals of girlishness.  Somewhere along the line, we’ve been given to understand that we should clip our nails and rub baby lotion on our sunburned arms.  We might occasionally buy a tube of lipstick but it will later gather dust in a drawer.  We’ll try it, once, an hour before dashing out to meet friends.  We wipe it off and twist our hair on top of our head with bobby pins.  We button our jackets over drab dresses and tie our shoes a little tighter before dashing to the car.

I started getting proper hair coloring a few years ago.   I ran into Robert, who had once cut my hair, outside my office.  “You look like hell,” he said.  “I’m right next door, come and see me.”  I peeked in the mirror later, stealthily, so nobody would notice.  I had let my color go because I thought the box job seemed too brash.  The grey looked worse, streaked and chunky amid the artificial red.  Robert had been right, of course.

He made it all better, shaping the mess of curls, evening out the red, massaging the back of my neck and exclaiming over my latest divorce as though I’d been lucky to escape.  I assured him it hadn’t been like that but he knew his loyalties.  “Girl, you’re gorgeous now, never you mind about him.  It’s his loss.”  Paying him a hundred bucks every six weeks seemed substantially cheaper than therapy, and it came with a glass of cold white wine.

But Robert died; and I let the grey grow back until his parents sent out a form e-mail encouraging me to try Kelley Blond, who owned the salon where Robert had been working at the time of his sudden and tragic demise. It felt disloyal not to go.  Her rates were a bit higher than his had been, but she was just as brash and just as spunky.  Also cheaper than therapy, and she served coffee with Bailey’s.  There was no denying that I still felt like an interloper in the world of real women, but Kelley made me welcome, even if I could never quite settle into the chair.  I clutched my coffee cup and stared over its rim at the other women, with their unabashed cleavage and their firm round shoulders.  They seemed so self-assured.  I had no idea why that gene escaped me.

Once in a while, I thought about getting my nails done, but I type for a living and that seems like a waste.  My feet though — there’s where the little indulgence could actually do some good.  I snuck a pedicure once in a while, daring myself to enter that sulky sultry world.  One time it came to disastrous ends.  The woman used some kind of whirring tool and I bled for days.  Another time, I paid seventy bucks with tip for a half hour’s work.  My feet felt like silk but I walked around stunned for days.  A hundred forty an hour to clip nails and smear a little oil on someone’s skin?

Today, I took myself into Rio Vista and surrendered to a Vietnamese woman who told me that her name was Kim. I didn’t believe her, of course — she spoke very little English in my presence, and her name could have been anything.  It didn’t matter.  I struggled trying to take off my shoes and socks.  Kim knelt, quietly, with a sweetness that stunned me into silence, and slipped the socks from my feet, setting them inside the shoes after smoothing their curled edges.

She studied my feet for a few minutes before she began her work.  I know what she saw.  The condition is called “hammer toe”, and in me, it is complicated by arthritis.  If that isn’t enough, the spasticity in my legs combined with the three ruptured disks in my lower back inhibits bending.  Draw your own conclusions about the state of my feet.

She said nothing.  She just went to work with a lightness of touch that I cannot do justice by attempting to describe.  An angel’s kiss might come close, or the flickering of a butterfly’s wings.

She spent an hour working on my crippled toes and spastic feet.  She held them with such soft hands, such tenderness.  I could not stop the tears which formed in  my eyes.  I lowered my eyelids.  The salty drops just barely trickled from behind my lashes.  I don’t know if she saw.  But I think she knew.

It’s the twentieth day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


What’s love got to do with it?

I’m back in the Delta.  I’ve spent six nights in KC, one in St. Charles, and one in Oakland.  When my head hit my scrunched pillows last night, I fell into a deep sleep from which I naturally awoke at 6:45 feeling fine other than a crunch in my lower back which can only be repaired with surgery that I don’t intend to have.  All good.

I haven’t slept for eight and a half continuous hours often in my life.  Last night’s consecutive tally leaves me feeling a lot less fatigued than normal. I tried to explain to someone yesterday why I’m always tired.  It has do with oxygenation and spasticity.  Much more escapes my clear understanding and hence my ability to relay.  Take my word for it.  I’m always tired and never refreshed.

But usually, I don’t sleep, either.  For a couple of years, the magic medication from Stanford impacted that issue.  I’d get six hours in a row and call myself lucky.  Seven astounded me; eight simply escaped my grasp.

So why did I stay asleep from 9:30 p.m. last evening to 6:45 a.m. today?  I credit an infusion of good vibrations.

I coffee-shop-hopped my way through Kansas City and had dinner out with people who love me, as well as dinner-in with my hostess, Brenda.  I drank chai in two out of three Crow’s Coffees with Kevin, Carolyn,  and Mark (they know their surnames); and discovered Monarch Coffee at the suggestion of Genevieve.  I even made it to Heirloom Coffee twice, once to get a thank-you gift for our vet and once to meet Elizabeth.  I lunched with Jeanne in Brookside and thoroughly enjoyed our conversation if not the food.  I sat at a table at a Johnson County swine-and-dine with a bunch of earnest artists talking about times both old and new.  I had dinner at Eden’s Alley with Brenda, and Krokstrom Klubb & Market with Genevieve.  I noshed at The Brick with Sara and David while listening to Jake, Angela, Jeremy, Jamie, and Ron rock the house on stage. I dined at Trailhead Brewery on the East side of the state with my son, sister, and niece.  At every coffee or meal, I laughed, smiled, shed a tear or two, and generally let the affection of my tribe wash over me.

When I hit Oakland yesterday, fellow-Rotarian Jim Carriere waited at the curb.  With his wife’s consent, we dined at Crogan’s in Mount Claire before I settled in their guest room.  The next morning, I made my way to Stanford and my quarterly treatment in the neurology department.  I  grinned all the way to Palo Alto.  Then I found myself yielding my appointment time slot to another patient because he yelled at the receptionist.  I wager he doesn’t get enough love.

It’s the nineteenth day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



This should be good.

I have stubbornly failed to bring my larger bag into the coffee shop, yet yearn to write. Thus, I peck this passage with one finger flying nimbly across a virtual keyboard on my 7-inch tablet. This should be good. Short and simple, precision born of desperation.

We have had two days in Saint Charles, another city by the river. We heralded my sister’s 68th birthday. We partook of the obligatory shared dessert. I forced my son and niece to sing in the restaurant. They tolerated the event with passable good humor. A fuzzy photo recorded the event. We all seem to be smiling.

Now my son has started his northeastern journey home. I burdened him with several more items than he anticipated, but there, too, he barely griped. We have so few remaining points of intersection that we do not flinch at the ones which remain. But this trip underscores his greater virtue. Where I tolerate the world’s weakness, he still rebels against it. I hope he mends some ripple in the fabric of justice.

In a few hours, I board a plane for Oakland. My sense of rightness rises with the spring sun, stronger in the sky with each passing hour. The glimmer of the day outside these windows reminds me of the California air.

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