Monthly Archives: July 2019

An Accidental Truth

About a year ago, I accidentally told someone the truth and paid a dear price for it.

I don’t mean to imply that I typically lie.  More’s the pity for it, too; I nearly always speak with the strictest of honesty, at least as far as I understand.  On this occasion, I had kept a difficult nugget from someone regarding a mutual friend who had maligned the person.  I didn’t tell the person because there was no point in doing so.  The only possible outcome would be pain.

I can be forgiven for blurting it out after six months of silence.  I had just knocked myself senseless on a sidewalk and then dragged a heavy suitcase upwards for three flights.  The other had arrived, ignored my disheveled appearance in favor of rummaging in the kitchen, and, apropos of nothing as far as I could see, casually asked about my lack of contact with the person whose malfeasance I had long kept to myself.  I spat out the truth, then watched in horror as a ripple of anguish flamed out to consume us both.

I paid the highest price:  The loss of friendship in the face of my unfortunate disclosure. I had been the hopeless unwitting instrument of malicious damage.  Denials could come later, from the source; I would be considered the evil-doer. I would bear the shame.  I saw it all in that instant; a clever and cruel plot; or just a nasty trick of fate.  I’m not complaining now; I understand.  Perhaps I should not have kept silent so long; perhaps the gravest offense was the sudden telling of an accidental truth.

Yesterday I walked along the row of tiny houses in the middle of which my own home sits.  The heat of our one brutal summer weekend shimmered around me.   My legs wobbled; I grasped my walking stick for support.  I stumbled, nearly pitching to the ground.  For that precarious instant, I traversed again the broken sidewalk of a Kansas City Street, clutching the air, crashing against the cement.  My mind froze.  The world went black.  My stomach heaved. 

I found myself standing motionless on the smooth surface of my California deck.   From the highest branches of the nearby oak, the low mournful cry of a dove echoed the clenching of my heart. I listened to her song, eyes closed, hand on my breast.   Then I went inside and started a kettle for tea.

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




I enjoy a good thrift trip but I don’t allow myself many given that I downsized from 1400 square feet to a house too small to swing a cat if you were so inclined.  But yesterday, I had an hour to spend as I pleased, so I shambled over to the Lodi Goodwill and browsed to my heart’s content.

As I wheeled my buggy toward the books, I paused in front of a stack of baskets.  I studied a few rectangles, reflecting on the disorganization of my open shelves and wondering if baskets might be the way to go.  Suddenly, a voice rose over the hum of the religious satellite station.

I’m cruising for a few last items before the flea market tomorrow, I heard.  I’ll set everything out on tables and put prices and people can buy ’em or not, whatever, at the end of the day, I’ll take whatever’s left and box it.  

The voice grew louder as the guy approached my spot clutching a black phone oddly evocative of the Blackberry which I carried in the 90s. The party on the other end cackled.   Yeah, yeah, found some good stuff here, these people got no idea what they’re selling for cheap.  The two shared a raucous laugh as the man muscled beyond my cart without excusing himself for having just bumped me.  

My eyes lifted and met those of the customer standing around the corner looking at movies.  He shook his head.  I smiled, no doubt a little ruefully.

Some people shouldn’t be allowed to use speaker phones, he opined, though mildly and without rancor.  I laughed in response and rounded the bend, gently easing myself behind his slender figure and positioning myself next to him.  I glanced at the DVD in his hands.  Looking for something to watch while you stay out of the heat, I asked.

His face crinkled into a gorgeous grin.  I studied the warm brown of his weathered skin, the lines of middle-age, the crisp white T-shirt and the faded, basic blue jeans over work boots.  Something in the way he stood seemed familiar, though not in the sense of personal knowledge.  He resonated with a familiar home-town vibe.  I took a chance.  

But these Californians, they’re kind of weather wimps, I said, flashing a brief smile to take the edge off my snobbery.  Where I come from, 102 would be an every day thing by May, not one weekend in late July.

If possible, he beamed brighter.  He gestured to his chest.  Chicago, he noted.  I chortled and exclaimed, St. Louis and Kansas City, but my son lives in Chicago!

We  established our mid-nation bonafides, compared movies with books, shared our relative lengths of time spent in NORCAL, and speculated about what drove each of us west.  At a certain point, the conversation felt right and I tendered my name.  

Arthur, he responded, and clasped my hand in both of his for a few precious moments.

After a few minutes, we said goodbye, wishing each other a good day.  I continued with my quest for something to read on a lazy Sunday afternoon while the laundry spins in the combo unit.  Too late, I wished that I had taken a picture of the two of us or given him my phone number.  Nothing provocative, mind you; just another friend of which, as I’ve always said, you can’t have enough if they’re quality stuff.

I bought a few things — a little cream-and-sugar set for $1.99 that turned out to be worth some real change when i later researched; five books; a bowl to replace one that I had thought might be china which turned out to be plastic and cracked.  I like the feel of certain shapes:  smooth stoneware, rounded and cool; a slender mug handle, easily grasped as I move out onto the porch in the early morning; and the sturdy grip of a fellow Midwesterner, in a chance encounter at the Goodwill, on a Friday afternoon while I’m stuck in Lodi again.

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


Note: As far as I knew at the time, I was only stuck in Lodi because I was waiting to run a time-sensitive errand.  Only later did I learn that the bridge over the Mokelumne had been closed all morning and I really was, in fact, stuck in Lodi again.  I got out during a brief spell of allowing traffic through before they closed it for repairs.  Island life means something different here in the Delta.

The bridge spanning the Mokelumne River just east of the turn onto Highway 12 from Brannan Island Road.



Things I Know About My Neighbor Jason

I don’t know a lot about my neighbor Jason, but I do know a few salient facts.

His face can flow from a quiet calm to a gregarious grin in the flash of a few seconds.

He favors noise-cancelling headphones which he wears slung around his neck for easy access.

He admires his father.

I don’t know his age, but he seems to be about the age of my son, who is twenty-eight.

He moves into a room with a surprising grace, given his height and sturdiness.

He fist-bumps each person in a room upon preparing to exit.

And this, too, I know about my neighbor Jason:  He’s happy that I had a good day yesterday.

I sat beside Jason at the community dinner last evening.  Eight folks staged around a large rectangle of table.  The hours passed in lively chatter.  We marveled at the weird yet workable assortment of food at the counter.  We laughed that last week we had 30 people and no one got to talk much to each other; whereas this week, with a third as many, we felt engaged and intimate.  We noted that we liked both types of gathering. 

We compared rigs, and houses, and home towns, and family structures.  We laughed at how well doughnuts, fried chicken, quiche, and pasta went together to make a meal.  One person talked about his partner’s cancer.  Another mentioned that he had a new job about which he was not yet ready to talk.  The vagaries and annoyances of government got a brief eye roll.  We colored with Ella, each of us depicting the earth at her command.  Ella’s mother, Shannon, showed the inside, cut on the cross-section and viewed from overhead.  Helix took an abstract approach.  I showed Santa and his sleigh at the North Pole.  Louis made me move his birth-nation of France so that its border met the sea.

Earlier, Jason had asked how my day had been.  I carefully contemplated the question, having learned that  Jason does not ask a question to which he does not seek an answer.  I finally replied that despite some challenges, I had had a good day.

I’m happy for you, he replied, and the smile on his face widened.

I believed him.  In that moment, I knew that Jason, son of Bill, who lives in the big RV at the corner of H and E rows on the circle which comprises the west side of Park Delta Bay, cared about me, the grumpy aging lady from Lot G8 up on Tiny House Row.  My heart swelled.  Those warm feelings carried me through a difficult night into the redemptive light of a Delta dawn.

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

In the House of Beauty

I walk more easily in beautiful places than I do in places of beauty.  Into the latter secret chambers I creep with trepidation, an interloper unsure of safe passage.  I stake not one small shred of claim there; not to the scents, nor the lotions, nor the little pile of tools upon the table.  Along the rutted lane I drive with abandon, gleeful grin on my smudged face.  But in the house of style, I disassemble like a frightened child.

Today a slender woman took the gnarled toes on each of my feet and tried to calm the redness.  She rubbed some grainy stuff into my heel.  Above  the mask which she wore for her protection, dark eyes peered into my pale gaze.  An eyebrow raised; she’d seen the damaged toes, the scarring.  She raised a thin finger and touched the side of my foot, then studied my face until I nodded.  I couldn’t speak but she knew that I did not fear her touch.

I do not have these ladies tend my feet from any sense of vanity.  The weakness of my torso and the tightness of my legs combine to prohibit self-ministration.  Though I dutifully pick the little bottle with the palest possible color, in truth my only need rises from the certain knowledge that disease can follow neglect of my feet.  I change establishments often, not because of sloppy service but from embarrassment.  

Sometimes the nail ladies cluck and seem to scold me for the obvious length of time between pedicures.  Other times, like today, they hesitate before proceeding, concerned about causing pain or worsening a condition that they don’t understand.  The crooked toes, the swollen balls of my feet — I see why they would pause.  Once or twice, a nail technician has refused service. I flee such encounters with scarlet cheeks and hot tears  flowing unchecked through the creases of my aging skin.

Nearly all of the patrons in these establishments casually stroll into the place wearing open sandals.  None of them want to mar the swabs of color.  I can barely walk in such shoes.  I always come in the same buckled Mary Janes that I wear every day.  This causes trouble, because I can’t just waltz away from the pedicure chair with barely dry varnish.  I also can’t stride across the shop and sit under the drying lights. Therefore I have to monopolize the station over-long.

Today the lady gently eased my feet back into my shoes after tenderly oiling my nails and wrapping my toes in a small square of plastic.  

I’ve never seen anybody do that before, the lady next to me gushed.  Nor had I, but the solution allowed me to rise from the chair after only twenty minutes. 

The technician patted my arm with the same soft hand that had just guided my crippled feet into my shoes.  She signaled her willingness to help me walk to the door despite the fact that I outweighed her by thirty pounds and towered over her by half a foot.  I silently declined, but stopped and smiled, willing her to understand.  Then  I made my way to the cashier, avoiding the stares of three young girls in the waiting area.  I paid, tipped twenty-percent and left.  In forty minutes, I had barely said ten words to anyone.

Later, as I drove home, I spied a hawk high above Jackson Slough.  I tried to photograph him but my trembling hands could not hold the camera still enough.  All the pictures came out blurry.  A pity, too; he had such lovely feet.

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




Time and Tide / Every Mother’s Son

I met Austin Simpkins for the first time today, though I have known of him for his entire life.  I first encountered his mother, Cheri, in a Jackson County Courthouse when she was pregnant with Austin, the older of her two sons.  i took an instant like to her, though we have little in common except our professions.  Cheri epitomizes grace, sophistication, and the easy, intelligent charm of the best of her generation.  

I never met Xander Wohlstadter, but I know his mother.  Beth Lewandowski and I also share our profession.  With Austin’s mother, Xander’s mother shares a certain poise; the perfect combination of empathy and intuition; and a dedication to excellence which I admire in each of them.

Today, the lives of our sons and the lives of their mothers intersected in San Francisco.  Beth lost her son four years ago.  Cheri’s son stood beside her on the wharf in the brisk Bay wind. Mine answered the phone a half an hour later, as I drove east towards home.  I needed to hear his voice, even though I could not articulate what drove me to call.  I miss my boy, I did not say.

Beth has made a Heart for Xander and sends the stickers abroad with her family and friends.  Her one request of us is that we place the heart somewhere Xander might have loved, somewhere he would have found beautiful with his creative, gentle soul.  I affixed one to the bumper of my car, so it will travel anywhere I go.  Today, Austin Simpkins put a Heart for Xander on a pole beside the harbor at Fisherman’s Wharf, so that Xander could be a little closer to endless peace, lulled by the song of the sea.

As I drove back to the Delta; as I talked with my son; as I listened to the news and left my Pacific, I could not help but lament the passage of time which takes every mother so far away from her sons.  Cheri will send her boy to college next year.  My son moved to Chicago in 2015 and owns a home there now. Beth — oh, I do not know how she can bear the pain!  Beth laid the body of her son to rest.  She is the bravest mother of us all, for now she does what she can to help his spirit soar, sending Xander’s heart to all the lovely, majestic places that his eyes will  never see.

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

Delta Mourning

The mourning doves have roosted atop the power poles again.  I had not noticed them in a while.  As I sat on my porch last evening, weary and lonesome to the point of tears, I saw a flicker of grey against the vivid blue.  With the zoom lens of my little Canon, I found her,  dark ring around her neck and a gleaming eye.   I remembered Dave Michaels and I watching them nest last year; him with his real camera, and me with nothing more to preserve the wonder but the eagerness of my writer’s heart.

Last night, the dove whom I watched seemed aware of my distant gaze.  I took shot after shot as she groomed her feathers.  She mostly faced the river but periodically, her heard swiveled northward.  She would pause, stare straight into my camera’s eye and study whatever she perceived.  I kept clicking, driven by a desire to get closer to this sturdy creature.

I couldn’t shake the sorrow last night.  I yearned to hear the cadence of familiar accents.  A friend from back home happened to message me.  As we chatted in that weird digital manner, I imagined the sassy tilt of her head and the warmth of her smile. 

She asked me if I regretted anything about my move.  The short answer is, no, I do not regret anything about the move itself.  I might wish that I had plotted the mechanics of the undertaking in a more deliberate manner, but coming to California? No regrets.  Sometimes, though — perhaps too often —  the sense of being an interloper overtakes me.

Sunday came easy to the Delta.  She cast her rays through my east window just after 5:15, blooming full near six.  I rose and stretched the cramped muscles of my spastic legs, wincing, reaching to let the blood flow and the nerves begin to awaken.  A veil of lingering sorrow eased from my shoulders as I moved around my tiny house. 

There are days like that; days when I just want to stroll down Holmes Street and wave to my neighbors; to hear the slight twang of Missouri in the voices of people whom I meet and breathe the peculiar fugue of Kansas City air in hot July.  The summer memories call loudest to my soul. With the screen door open, I’d summon my son and we’d go walking, with the dog on a lead and Patrick pushing the pedals of his Big Wheels.   He’d flush with concentration, then grin from beneath his little helmet as he propelled the vehicle around the block.

But that little boy has grown into manhood.  The woman six doors down, who always called to us on our walks, died last year.  Her son and daughter-in-law bought a place in Independence; and then her son, too, passed on.  Someone else owns my house now, and she lays claim to  whatever sense of home rises from the tender grass in the heat of a Kansas City summer.

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



05 September 2019, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. at Prospero’s in Westport: Corinne Corley’s Birthday Bash and Benefit for Rose Brooks Center!

Still, I Rise

For a person who spent three hours and forty-five minutes in her car last evening, I feel surprisingly cheerful today.

I turned the corner to Highway 12 at 5:40 p.m., right after a bad accident on the Rio Vista Bridge.  I debated for an hour as to whether I should try to inch out and go have dinner.  I texted a co-worker but didn’t get a reply until close to eight, by which time I felt vested in the wait.  I got home at 9:30 p.m.  For perspective, the drive would typically take twelve minutes.

I occupied my time posting to the Delta News Facebook group.  This little virtual corner cafe has given me some interesting connections.  I’ve met other transplants and some native dwellers.  I’ve learned about events, parks, history, and the trials and tribulations of boat life.  Through the Delta News, I’ve gotten to know a few of the twenty artists who are showing at an Art Fest where I live (tomorrow!!!) and at which I’m volunteering (you saw that coming!) .

As the car idled, I kept the group updated on what I saw.  When westbound traffic started over the bridge at 7:45, a surge of hopefulness flowed through my fingers and I cheered! though silently, with all caps, on the keyboard of my phone.  One or two folks posted replies, identifying themselves and where they sat in the same line.  Eastbound traffic didn’t start up until an hour and change later.  We commiserated via replies to each other’s posts.  A bridge-tender shared pictures of the crash taken by another member, a photographer.  When a guy in a pickup forced his way in front of my car and flipped me off, I posted his license plate and learned that the same vehicle has been seen speeding carelessly through the Delta.  (I laughed at his eagerness to get in front of me; he then sat, in the exact spot which he’d nearly hit my car to claim, for two hours.)

This morning, I made it to physical therapy before the scheduled time and brewed a cup of coffee with their little Keurig.  When the therapist arrived, she marveled that I was bright-eyed and bouncy.  I told her about getting stuck in traffic for four hours.  She shook her head.  “You amaze me!” she exclaimed.  I had to laugh.  I told her that sometimes, I amaze myself.

One of the coolest connections that I have made through the Delta News is with a local gal and photographer named Demi Stewart.  She astounds me; talk about a gal who rose from adversity!  You can read my profile of  her HERE.  You’ll read that she works as a bridge-tender.  Today I drove under the little house in which she works on my way to and from my physical therapy appointment.  I alerted her to my impending arrival on the return trip.  You have not lived until you drive under a bridge-tender’s house and see the bridge-tender’s smiling face and cheerful wave!  What could be better than the #deltalife?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my personal detractors.  They crawl out of the woodwork now and then, sometimes in the world around me, sometimes as spectres in my brain, old voices that I cannot exorcise.  I don’t have much going for me that anyone would envy.  But one thing about me cannot be denied.  As the Honorable Peggy Stephens McGraw once judicially noted, I am relentless.

It’s the twelfth day (sorry for the three-day hiatus!) of the sixty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

For an updated tour of Angel’s Haven, my tiny house, click HERE!

KANSAS CITY AREA FANS:  Mark Your Calendar! 05 September 2019, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. at Prospero’s in Westport — Corinne Corley’s Birthday Bash and Benefit for Rose Brooks Center!

The Story of a Birth

Of all the things for which I have to be grateful, my son ranks number one.

I very nearly missed out on motherhood all together.  Even when I finally stumbled into a viable pregnancy, catastrophe threatened.  I went into labor at the oddest times and places. 

I sent a Louisiana state court judge into a panic by announcing that I needed to sit through a contraction while cross-examining a witness.  Coming back from that hearing, the part-time pilot called his full-time boss, Sam Walton.

“I’ve got one of the Arens lawyers in my  plane,” he said into the headset.  “We’ve got lightening on our tail and she’s in labor.”  Mr. Walton sent an ambulance to haul my skinny butt to the hospital from the Springdale airport.

I walked off contractions two or three more times over the next month.  My friend Paula Fulcher twinkled her eyes in my direction whenever I called for help.  She came with herbal tea and cartons of fruit.  She brushed my hair and talked in the most soothing voice about fairies and other flights of fancy.

My doctor had promised to consider natural childbirth.  At my twenty-eight week check-up, she raised her head from beneath the drapes and stared intently at my eager face. 

“Who are we trying to fool,” she sighed.  “You miscarried a twin and your hips spontaneously dislocate at a moment’s notice.  It’s going to be a primary section, and I’m keeping you in-patient as long as your insurance allows.”  We both knew that the Clinton governorship had made certain that she could order anything she deemed medically necessary and it had to be covered.

She booked an OR for July 08th.  On the morning of the sixth, I woke in a dead sweat, shivering.  I called Paula.  “I feel funny,” I confided.  “Like I want to scream only I can’t.”

“I’ll be right over,” she responded.  “It sounds like contractions.”

By the time she got there, I had paced back and forth in the small living room about fifty times.  She made me sit while she dabbed my forehead with a cool cloth and looked at her watch.  “Corinne, the contractions are six minutes apart, we’d better call the doctor.”

Paula drove me to Washington Regional Medical Center, talking all the time in the calmest sweetest tones.  I wanted to slap her.  She offered to let me but I looked out the window.  I could never do that, I replied.  She laughed and squeezed my hand.

The Irish midwife met us at the emergency room and whisked us beyond all barriers and up to Labor and Delivery.  There I could pace to my hearts content as long as I took the blood pressure monitor with me.  Morag, the midwife, checked on me every twenty minutes or so, including taking “just a wee peek” to see whether my pains had been “productive”.  I gathered she meant whether or not I had dilated, which I had not done by the time they brought the dinner trays around.  

I lowered myself onto the bed and pulled the rolling tray toward me.  I lifted the lid, staring at the mush on the plate.  Liquid diet.  Just in case they had to suddenly wheel me into surgery.

Then I caught sight of the meal order ticket and the printed date.  07/06/91.  The next day would be July 07th.  I felt panic rise.  I rang the buzzer and Morag flew into the room.

“I am not having this baby tomorrow,” I announced.  “Tomorrow is the birthday of my baby’s absent father, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to go through life celebrating that day.”  I must have been crying.  My voice shook.  Morag put her arms around  me and patted my back. 

“It’s all right, love,” she assured me.  “If you haven’t dilated by midnight, we’ll be stopping that labor anyway.”

They let me go home on Sunday.  When I got there, I took the longest shower possible considering I had a bowling ball strapped to the front of my torso.  I laid out the nightgowns which I wanted to take for my hospital stay, and the books on breastfeeding that I had collected in case I needed guidance.  I stood for an eternity in the doorway of the green and yellow nursery which my friends had put together for me.  When I finally went to sleep, I dreamed of little children turning circles and singing a song with no words.

My friends Laura and Ron Barclay came to drive me to the hospital on Monday.  Laura scrubbed and gowned; she would sit beside me in the delivery room.  The contractions had completely subsided.  The floor had me scheduled for ten o’clock.  Word came that the doctor would be delayed.  I went over to the OR at noon.

Dr. Walker and Morag met me as the nurse wheeled me into the cold, bright cavern where my child would be born.  “I’m sorry I’m late,” the doctor murmured from behind her mask.  “My sewer backed up and I had to wait for the Roto Rooter guy.”  I shook my head.  What could I say to that?

Fifty minutes later, they had me open and I felt a great tug on my belly.  “He’s out,” Morag told me over my knees.  Laura made a funny comment about the baby that I promised her I would never repeat in public.  Then I heard a small laugh, and Dr. Walker said, “He’s a cheerful little guy,” and handed him over to me.

I’d like to say that my first utterance upon seeing my baby carried profound meaning, but it didn’t, and it, too, does not bear recording here.  But my second thought, oh, that I can claim!  “What a wonderful thing,” I said to Laura.  “What a wonderful thing!”  Laura tugged the mask from her face and grinned.  For some reason, my own face had not been covered.  I lifted the baby to my cheek and breathed the magnificent and singular fragrance of new life.

They took him from me, then; and recorded all the measurements that signify what follows from a birth.  He weighed a bruising 7 pounds, 10 ounces, which for a six-week premature infant meant a lot.  He measured twenty-one inches long. I don’t remember his Apgar score, but it sufficed.  

I heard all this in a haze, as Dr. Walker and the midwife stitched the many layers of my body back to some semblance of their original shape.  Then the gurney started to move, and I flailed my arms toward the pediatric nurse.  “My baby!” I cried.  “Don’t worry, love,” she assured me, over one shoulder, “you’ll get enough of him soon as we’re finished here.”

And I have, too — gotten enough of him.  Through the first days, the next years, the ensuing decades.  I’ve watched him grow from a scrawny thing to a calm and comfortable man.  I’ve done my best to stand by him when everything went to hell, and he has done the same for me.  

When I told a friend of mine that I was pregnant and the father had decamped, she grimaced and said, “Oh, single motherhood!  Your life is going to be very difficult!”  

I snapped back, “Good, then; the first thirty-six years have been sheer hell!  Very difficult will be a vast improvement!”

I was half-right in my prediction.  Life as the birth-giver of Patrick Charles Corley has been a vast improvement over life prior to his arrival on earth.  He has taught me much; and given me plenty, including worries and joys.  When I have needed a shoulder on which to cry, he has provided one without hesitation.  I have tried to do the same for him.  We’ve climbed mountains together.  We’ve launched contests, like the Best Park in Johnson County, Kansas; and the Best Fish and Chips Anywhere, Ever.  We’ve driven cross-country.  We’ve skidded through a blizzard.  We’ve gone to funerals.  He’s been the kind of son that any mother would be lucky to have.

Oh, he’s pursued the usual odd assortment of missteps.  But those got handled, one way or the other, and we managed to get through them all.  I did the same, to be sure, and yet he’s still willing to claim me.

I haven’t gotten to see my son on his birthday for quite a few years now.  He has created an entire world which I do not occupy on anything other than an occasional basis.  But that is as it should be.  What he does in that world makes me immeasurably proud.  I could not ask for a better son.  Nor would I want a different one.  There might, in truth, be things that I would do differently with benefit of hind-sight, but none of them would entail forgoing the enormous gift of being Patrick Corley’s mother.  It truly has been a wonderful thing.

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



Xander’s Heart

I did not know Xander Wohlstadter, but I know his story and I know his mother.  

Because I know his story and his mother, I know his heart.


I met Xander’s mother, Beth Lewandowski, more than a decade ago through a lawyer’s list serve of which we both were members.  We taught a course together at our lawyers’ conference that year.  Xander must have been a baby, since he tragically died in 2014 at the age of 20.   An out-of-control intoxicated driver ended his life.

Though I never met Xander, I can say this:  If he had his mother’s fire, it burned fiercely.  If he had his mother’s tenderness, it rested gently on his shoulders.

This afternoon, I retrieved my mail just before driving into the desolate little town of Isleton to interview one of the local artists for my community’s blog.  Among the junk, I saw a crisp white square from Beth.  Ah, I thought to myself.  Something official!  An announcement, perhaps?  A wedding invitation?  I studied the St. Louis address, then tucked the envelope into my notebook and journeyed over the country roads.

But after I had parked, I pulled the piece back out and slit the flap.  A photograph and a little clutch of stickers fluttered into my lap.  Oh, geez.

I had forgotten my promise to take one of the stickers that Beth had made and place it near the Pacific Ocean in memory of Xander.

I stared at Xander’s picture and the little pile of hearts.  Tears welled in my eyes.  I cannot imagine losing my son, who turns twenty-eight tomorrow.  What would I do?  How would I survive?  What meaning could I ever find in life, without that life in my life?

Yet Beth has done so.  Xander loved to use his camera to record the beauty of this world, so Beth takes photographs.  He rode a bike around St. Louis, so Beth does too.  I realize as I write that I have no idea if Beth had any other children.  I click over to her Facebook page and troll her listed family relationships.  I see no one identified as progeny.  I wrack my mind but cannot unearth that knowledge.  I make a note to ask.

It doesn’t matter, really.  She went on living, and I can tell from what I see that her life has been enriched by Xander’s heart.  Pictures of sunsets, and rivers, and flowers, and the streets of St. Louis pepper the pages of her social media.  In dying, Xander has drawn his mother’s eye to even more beauty than it might otherwise have known.

In a few weeks, I’ll be at the Pacific.  I’ll find a place where I can place a sticker for Xander.  It needs to face the sunset and the wide expanse of my beloved ocean.  It must be somewhat protected, so it will endure despite the ravages of wind and time.  I will get my friends to help me reach.  I will peel away the backing, and place Xander’s heart upon that place.  I will take a photograph for Xander’s mother.  I will pause, for just a moment; and then, I will retrace my steps, and leave the spirit of him there.

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

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)



One thing, two things

Join me in this, for today:  Tell me about one thing that bothers you. Describe one thing about which you would complain if you could.  Your one thing can be large or small.  Make it something immutable over which you have no control or something minor, that you can change with effort and focus.

But when you’ve done that, share two things for which you are grateful.

I’ll start.

One peculiar manifestation of my CNS deficit involves my hands.  They do not work unless and until I fully waken.  I have to move them for ten or fifteen minutes before I get out of bed in the morning, working them against something stable like a wall or the mattress.  The induced movement alerts my brain, I guess; or maybe triggers muscle memory.  Once I get the engines revved, my hands have moderate strength.  I’ve broken three or four fingers over the years, and one of my wrists.  My knuckles swell with the aftermath of these injuries.  If I forget to remove my rings and hairpins before sleeping, I struggle to rescue myself from the pain of metal against scalp or the grip of silver on bony fingers which drives me crazy.

I can’t change the disability which plagues my hands.  I have to live with it, but chart this on the mild end of the hardship continuum.  I inwardly grumble but then retreat, reminding myself that a person without shoes still fares better than one without feet.

There; I got that out of the way.  Now for the two blessings.

I worked a half-day yesterday, then went to do an interview for the Park’s blog.  By the time I pulled into my lot, fatigue had overcome me.  I sat in the quiet of the car for a few minutes before I struggled to the door of my house.

What I saw there erased the tiredness clinging to my bones and gladdened my heart.   Someone had tucked a little brown bag into the space between the screen door and the door jamb.  I can guess who; but the note carefully written on the bag had no signature.  Instead, it announced its contents:  Sunflower seeds from the garden.  The gifter had harvested, dried, and distributed the tasty little nuggets from tall flowers rising above the Delta Bay Community Garden.

I helped start the garden last year but haven’t been able to help much with the planting or tending since a small surgical procedure in August.  The general anesthesia threw me into a tailspin; and a hard few months without much exercise followed.  Young and healthy neighbors have done the work, and share the bounty.  My heart swells with happiness.

Then, this morning’s breakfast gave me an unexpected second shot of cheer.  I took down a mug that I don’t usually use and poured my morning coffee.  I realized that this vessel, which I purchased at a garage sale, comes from Starbucks.  As I scrambled eggs, I mused over memories of happy Saturday mornings in Kansas City with my friend Penny Thieme.  We met in whatever coffee shop tickled our fancy.  After she got a part-time gig at Starbucks, I’d often join her at the end of a shift.  We ruminated over our weeks, solved the problems of the world, and explored ideas for creative efforts.  Sometimes we cried.  Often we laughed.  In the spaces between, we just sat in comfortable silence.   I cherish the memories of my coffee dates with my amazing sister Penny.

So:  One step backward, two steps forward, on my never-ending #journeytojoy.

Now, it’s your turn.  Comment below this entry or send me an e-mail:  But remember:  One complaint; two blessings.  Go.

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