Monthly Archives: October 2021


When my son was in elementary school, he and his classmates read Holes.  The book explores manipulation, crime, punishment, and redemption.  I read it with him.  We talked about its lessons, about the holes that the main character and his friends had to dig and the motivation of the grown-ups who controlled them.

Last week, I discovered another kind of hole, ones nibbled in my fine wool sweater by moths burrowing in an unprotected storage cubby.  I got on the internet and searched for a local re-weaver, laughing a bit at my carelessness.  The incident called to mind the book from my son’s younger days.  As I browsed web pages, I thought about our discussions about the book around the dinner table. 

I messaged someone through an online site about repairing my sweater.  That woman did not respond, but my message apparently got forwarded to others and one of them did.  Last Friday, I drove to Stockton to tender my garment to the young lady, who had offered to fix the damage for a reasonable price.  She examined a second piece, but deemed it too riddled with holes to be fixed.   We arranged a pick-up date,  I thanked her, and then she turned to walk back into her home.

When she pivoted, I saw the back of her sweatshirt.   I called out, “Can I take a picture of that message?  It’s so great!”  She smiled over her shoulder, nodded, and stood still for me.

I might have this tattooed in reverse on my forehead so that every time I look in the mirror, I remind myself of this clean and perfect truth.  At the very least, I knew that I had to share this with anyone whom I could reach.  We all can use this gentle reminder, which I would never have seen if it had not been for a bunch of holes.

It’s the thirty-first day of the ninety-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Sunset on the levee

If I stand at the back of my parking spot, I can just see the edge of the setting sun.  The sky ripples with color.  I gaze upon the backlit trees, dark and dreamy.  A wind rises and wafts across the meadow.

The dawns and dusks in the California Delta dazzle me.  Only by driving seventy miles west and parking on the ocean would I see more beauty; and then, only by virtue of the endless expanse of water rippling beneath wide swathes of crimson.   Tonight I consider taking up my walking stick to climb the hill to the levee road and watch the full display.  But fatigue persuades me that a glimpse of the show will suffice.

Autumn will soon relinquish its lovely, gentle embrace of Andrus Island.  If we are lucky, we will have rain.  Last week’s record-breaking storm might foretell a return to rainy months.  My fourth year here draws to a close, perhaps simultaneous with the end of the three-year drought.   Either way, nights grow colder.  I’ve taken the fans from the windows and switched out my summer coverlet for the quilts of winter.  I’ve shaken the folds from my heavy clothing and knitted shawls.  My coats hang on the pegs beside my wool hats.  The sunbonnets nestle in the cedar chest, awaiting the return of spring.

I’m remembering the Halloweens of yesteryear; my son and his friends dressing as monsters, collecting candy for themselves and pennies for UNICEF.  We made the circuit in three neighborhoods, then settled at my dining table for hot chocolate.  The mothers made popcorn and drank tea while the boys sorted candy bars and traded for their favorites.  They’d fall asleep on the floor of my son’s bedroom clutching the plastic pumpkins and paper bags which they had carried from house to house.

Those days seem centuries past.  That woman who gathered boys around her might have been someone else.  I no longer see her in the morning mirror, nor do I recognize myself in the rare photos of that hopeful young mother.  Sometimes I yearn to fall into the pages of my photo album; to wrap my arms around those babies and beg them to stay small.  I want to take that woman’s face between my hands and plead with her to take care of what she says and does.  All of it matters.  All of it counts.  None of it can be erased.

I turn to go into the house.  Across the greenspace behind my house, my neighbor walks the circle with her dogs.  I raise my hand but she doesn’t see me in the dimness of the gathering night.  She continues walking; and when the light has fully faded, I go inside my tiny house and close my door against the chill.

It’s the thirtieth day of the ninety-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

About a bracelet

As I walked down the stairs of my tiny house today, a bracelet which I wear every day slipped from my wrist and clattered onto the floor.  I stooped to retrieve it and realized that I have a knack for losing jewelry.

My mother gave me her high school identification bracelet.  I kept it in my jewelry box for many years.  Every once in a while, I would touch its brass-colored surface and trace the name etched on the disk:  Cillekin, the dimunitive of her name, Lucille.  Dear little Lucy.  She told me that her Austrian grandmother had given her the nickname.  I started wearing her bracelet during my son’s childhood.  I thought of her.  I often yearned for my mother’s calm advice to waylay many of the mistakes that I seemed destined to make.  I would gaze at the bracelet and wonder, What would Lucy do, or her mother Johanna, or her grandmother Bibiana?  How would they handle the challenges of single-motherhood, of a blended family, of divorce and challenging illnesses?  

That bracelet slipped from my thin wrist at the Kansas City Airport on the day I put my son on a plane for six weeks as an exchange student in Mexico.

A few years later, I found a sterling silver Italian bracelet at a flea market somewhere between Kansas City and St. Louis.  I spied it through the glass case and instantly recognized it as something special.  I willingly paid $10.00 and later found it valued at closer to $200.00.  I wore that until it, too, slipped from my arm — this time, while I frantically bagged trash just after dawn as the sanitation truck lumbered down my street.  

I bought my Kansas City house in 1992 from a couple whose children attended the same daycare as my son.  The architect husband left his practice to become a minister.  When we moved into our  new home, I found a bracelet trapped between two floorboards. I called the wife and described it.  She couldn’t think to whom it might belong.  I kept it. Periodically, I tried to find its owner.

When my bracelet fell off tonight, I remembered that little gold circle.  I got it out and studied its charms.  A nurse who got her pin in 1948; probably with a child born in 1957; who owned a poodle named Baron.  Oh Jeanne’s mama, where can you be?  I thought of my own mother’s bracelet, long since swept into an airport dustbin; of that little string of silver flowers crunched at the landfill.  I let the delicate chain fall from hand to hand.  Is she still alive?  Does she wonder what became of her nurse’s pin?  Baron must have meant so much to her, that she would have a pearl embedded in the charm she picked to honor him.

The videos on minimalism which I tend to play during breakfast caution that we should ask ourselves whether particular items serve a purpose in our lives, right now, in this moment.  If the answer is not a clear “yes”, one teacher instructs, then it must be a “no” and the item must go.  I shake my head and gently tuck the golden bracelet back into a little cubby in my jewelry box.  Perhaps this item serves no purpose to me, right now; but I’m not quite ready to abandon my quest to reunite it with its rightful owner.  My mother would not want me to let it go just yet.

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

Of Mothers and Sons

When I was a little girl, my mother sent me and my brother Mark to my aunt Dode’s house for refuge when the chaos at home overwhelmed us.  My mother’s sister Joyce, whom we called “Dode” for reasons unknown to me, and her husband Joe had as full a home as we did.  Our houses stood in similar neighborhoods — ours in Jennings, theirs in nearby Berkeley.  Each set of siblings attended Catholic church and school — the Corleys in their home parish of Corpus Christi and the Orsos at St. Bartholomew’s.  My cousins went to St. Thomas Aquinas HIgh School.  We Corleys divided ourselves among Corpus Christi High School and various other options when CCHS turned all-girl somewhere between kid-three and kid-four.

Two similar families, bound by the love of sister-mothers; but so dissimilar in other ways.  In the calm Orso household, my cousin Theresa and I whispered confidences at night and played ball with the boys during the day.  Their school-teacher mother took us on summer picnics and to afternoons at the pool.  I stayed at a table with my aunt reading while my able-bodied brother dove into the deep-end with the boisterous Orso boys and my tall, cheerful cousin Theresa.

Theresa and I lost touch over the years.  We came together in August of 1985 during my mother’s last illness.  I heard of my mother’s death over Theresa and her husband John’s telephone line at 6:50 a.m.   Theresa and I had stayed up too late, talking about funeral scriptures and life in north St. Louis County where we had been raised and where she and her husband settled.  Theresa sang “Goin’ Home” at my mother’s funeral mass in a haunting, sweet a capella voice that I have never forgotten. 

Over the next two decades, we saw each other at funerals and the occasional family picnic.  Then in 2018, after I moved to California, I started seeing more of Theresa when I came to Missouri in the process of closing out my court-appointment family law cases.  For the first time, we talked about adult things:  Her successful marriage, my failed three, life in Ferguson, and, always, ever, our sons.  

Her son Johnny had gone into the service.  Mine had become a writer and then an activist.  Both struggled with health issues.  We talked about feelings of helplessness; of not knowing how to give guidance to our adult boys without seeming to mistrust them.  Our sons met at one of those picnics and took to each other.   I had a few conversations with her John in those years.  I admired his passion, his unique sensibility, and his determination to overcome serious obstacles. 

Most of all, I stood in awe of Theresa’s brand of motherhood.  Whatever she felt on the inside, she remained outwardly calm and supportive.  She rejoiced in her son’s accomplishments, bragged only quietly but with a definite maternal glow.  She exuded a determined encouragement.  She allowed her son to face life  as he chose while leaving open any door through which he might want to return for advice.  I felt more than a little envy at the deftness of the dance which she choreographed with both of her grown children as they navigated the wide and wicked avenues of life.

My cousin Theresa and her husband John lost their son three days ago.   I had seen talk of a heart issue on his Facebook page, of the implantation of a pacemaker.  I wondered at the scariness of such a serious condition in a man so young.  When I saw the post about the successful operation, I hit the “like” button and then scrolled through earlier posts: song lyrics, mostly; dark and intense, but with a certain promise.  I smiled and said a little prayer for his continued recovery and went about the day.  Not until my sister Joyce called me that night did I learn of his death.

I cannot possibly know the extreme pain that my cousin must feel.  I pray that I never do.  The loss of a child must be nearly unbearable.  Only her husband, her daughter, and her grandchildren can possibly stand close enough to bolster the crumbling of her body and spirit, a collapse to which she must yearn to succumb.  Mothers and sons have this bond, you know?  An inseverable, intangible fiber wound itself from his heart to hers.  I do not mean to denigrate my cousin’s husband, nor suggest that his loss is any less.  Yet mothers and sons — oh my Lord, my Lord.

I did not know my cousin’s son John as well as I might have.   But I know his mother.  I know her compassion and her joyfulness.  I know her strength and her fortitude.  I knew her goodness and her serenity.  I know her heart.  I know that her heart joined to his.  The nurturing love which my aunt and uncle instilled in their daughter grew into the jewel of her firstborn child.  I know that love flowed between my cousin and her son, nourishing both.  Whatever else might  be true of either, that much cannot be questioned. 

Tonight, there is a Johnny Smythe-shaped hole in the universe.  Please:  Fill that hole with every kind of beauty.  Hug your children, if any bless your home.  Call your parents, if you have not yet lost them.  Sit on the couch by your partner and ask after events of the day.  Knock on your neighbor’s door with a batch of cookies or a deck of cards and a folding chair.  Wrap a gentle arm around thin shoulders huddled in a worn jacket and walk that mother’s son on down the road.

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

Rest in Peace, John Smythe.  Rest in peace.

“We are all just walking each other home.” — Rumi

There But for The Grace; Here, Because of the Grace

You know me.  I do not pretend to be religious.  As a recovering Catholic and survivor of clergy abuse (an expedient phrase which I nonetheless dislike), I start and end my faith, such as it is, with a divine entity, angels, and the Book of Ruth.  But this week, a certain grace spared me and also put me in a place from which I cannot say that I want to retreat.

As I came home from work on Monday, doom gripped my soul.  Sirens rose into the autumn air.  A rolling plume of black smoke tumbled across the sky.  I turned onto the California Delta Loop where I live.  Unbidden, an old prayer escaped my lips:  Holy Mary, Mother of God. . . Please, I begged; please do not let that be Park Delta Bay.  I understand the nuances of the ten-mile circle on which we live well enough to know that it had to be close, if not our actual park.  I thought of my neighbors and friends.  I accelerated into the hairpin turn just as a text pinged my phone.  I did not stop until I had our marina in sight.  Not us.   I braked and looked at my phone.  My friend Tracy:  Rancho is burning my god it’s bad I’m going to see if I can help.

It was bad.  Fire would rage through a mobile home and RV park and destroy 50 dwellings and several administrative buildings.  One-hundred fifty humans would be left without a home, of whom thirty-five are children.  Another twenty RVs or trailers, though unburned, would need to relocate.  There, but for the grace of whatever divine entity you acknowledge, go I and my neighbors, a mere 3.2 miles around the circle of the Delta Loop and two miles across Andrus Island as the winter crow flies.

When I drove to St. Louis to say goodbye to my family before moving to California, my brother Frank said many tender things to me.  But one of his more blunt statements lingers.  Please, just tell me you’re not going to live in a trailer park, he urged.  I shook my head.  Okay, I replied, with what I imagine might have been a rueful smile, I won’t tell you.

The term “trailer park” has negative connotations in my state of birth, Missouri.  Common beliefs center on the poverty that most assume forces folks to choose insubstantial dwellings and transient accommodations.  In Kansas City, where I raised my son, tornado season ravaged the trailer parks of the southeastern suburbs.  Smug in our stable homes, we shook our heads and poured second cups of coffee as we lingered over the newsprint headlines.

My brother Frank is a good man.  He did not mean to disparage an entire segment of American population.  He only feared for his sister.  He worried that I might be alone, that I might have little comfort; that I might stumble on the rough ground of an untended property.  He may lay his fears to rest.

Before the fires died; before the second surge as the Delta winds rose; the community lifted itself and went to work.  Boxes and bags and piles of donated items accumulated in a local bar.  That same bar fed people without charge for days on end — residents of the impacted park, first responders, and volunteers.  Firefighters battled the blaze for twenty-four hours, many from our local all-volunteer River Delta Fire District.  People opened their homes, their wallets, and their hearts.  The bounty of this community flooded us with love as thick as that black smoke which so terrified me.

As the week draws to a close, the community room of the clubhouse at my own park groans under the weight of many of the donations.  The staff, management, and residents of Park Delta Bay, the Lighthouse Sports Bar, and area businesses have put aside their normal tasks and schedules to receive and sort an endless flow.  Major items such as trailers and mobile homes have been promised.  A local Facebook Group, the Delta News, provides a clearinghouse for information.  Schools, businesses, restaurants, and just plain folk keep giving, in a time when their own resources surely must already feel strained.  Surveying what neighbors and community members have given, I can only shake my head and wonder at the tireless generosity.

As I stood outside my home and watched the low-flying CalFire planes swoop through their circle for another pass at a saving airdrop, I could not help but mutter:  There but for the grace of God, go I.  In the coming days, my mantra changed:  Here, because of the grace of God,  dwell I.

It’s the sixteenth day of the ninety-fourth day of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

“Before Believing” by Danny Flowers.  Hauntingly performed by Emmylou Harris.

Winter; Summer season is taken over it’s quiet
Like new fallen snow
I told you summer stories but outside is getting mighty cold
I told you everything I could about me
Told you everything I could
How would you feel if the world was falling apart around you

Pieces of the sky were falling in your neighbors yard
But not on you
Wouldn’t you feel just a little bit funny
Think maybe there’s something you oughta do

Solutions that never lay down before you the answers are all around
Believing is all the friend you need to talk to
Believing in you
I told you everything I could about me
Told you everything I could

I told you everything I could about me
Told you everything I could

Hover your cursor over each image to see a brief caption.

Every Little Once In A While

Junk overran my car this week.  Piles of opened mail, abandoned sweaters and scarves, a broken walking stick, and empty water bottles shift to the floor if I have to make a sudden stop.  My schedule denies me the time I need to address this issue but it haunts me, piling on guilt like the extra ten pounds around my waist for which I cannot blame the pandemic.  I’ve just eaten too much and the fat has inched itself back into my life like the rubble in the RAV4.  Neither has yet reached critical mass but I’ve got to take control, and soon.

The last two days have challenged me as I have not felt for months, maybe years.  Alone in the back office of the firm where I work, I’ve waded through files with someone else’s bar number scattered through pages which I have indexed.  As a lawyer, an attorney, but without a California license, I serve as combination glorified legal assistant and voice of experience at least on the fringes of an area of law that I never practiced back home.  Occasionally my skills flash and I do something that I know, without a shred of uncertainty, rises to the level of my capabilities.  Most days, I just do what I can to not disgrace myself.  But with the “real” lawyer out of town, I’m slogging through tasks as quickly as I can to keep the boat afloat.

Looming ahead this coming weekend, an event two years dormant challenges my organizational skills.  On Saturday, swarms (we hope) of tiny house aficionados descend upon the community where I live.  My house must be clean by dawn; and all of the bits and bobs of presentation that I’ve scheduled must coalesce into an informative, engaging experience.  Signs must be completed and posted; models parked; banners raised.  I’m already tired.

It’s a life, I suppose.  For all of the commotion; despite the many emails and the frequent texts; I spend most of my time alone.  The fan whirrs in the upper loft and another in the bathroom.   Occasionally I hear the windchimes through the open window in the sitting room.  Otherwise only the constant noise in my ears provides any sort of company.  I admit to being rather lonely, considering how busy I actually am.  Most of the time, I shuffle about in a cloud of gloom.  I question whether I bargained well, trading my law practice, my 1400 square foot airplane bungalow, my art space, and a city of cohorts for a tiny life 90 miles inland from the Pacific.

But every little once in a while, I get the money shot.  I stop on the levee road at exactly the right moment.  I lower the window with sufficient care.  I raise my camera; and even though the hawk which I want to photograph senses my presence and lifts himself from the wire, I get him.  Then I see a car approaching in the rear view mirror, and I slip my foot from the brake.  I continue home, suddenly smiling, suddenly sure.

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

Dust Of Snow
by Robert Frost
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.

Sunday, Sweet Sunday

On Thursday, rather than merely waving to my neighbors Candice and Donna Jean, I pulled my car into Candice’s lot and invited myself to join their afternoon confab.  On Friday, I visited with Melissa,  a neighbor here on the tiny house row of the RV park in which I live.  As the evening drew to a close that day, I realized that it had been a long time since I had enjoyed a few minutes of respite with no responsibilities.  

Saturday found me scrambling with chores and preparation for the open house for tiny house aficionados taking place here at Park Delta Bay next weekend.  Posters, decor, directions, and logistics still must coalesce.  I’ve been honored with the task of coordinating the event.  Meanwhile, my own house will be open and I have to clean, declutter (an endless affair), and create a sign to display so that the young lady whom I have hired to show my house has a few facts at her fingertips.

Now Sunday has come — sweet Sunday, when most people relax and stroll to the nearest cafe for brunch with their family and friends.  My mind drifts to Kansas City, where I might be having coffee with Penny Thieme or driving out to see the latest progress on Genevieve and Wes Casey’s bus conversion.  Instead, I will sweep my porch and run into Lodi for additional supplies and groceries.  Laundry must be sorted and stowed.  The eternal gathering of dust on my window sill mocks me and needs a good swipe. 

Later, I will find respite on the porch.   A hummingbird will sip sugar water from the feeder on my plant stand.   Sweet autumn air will flow through the open windows of Angel’s Haven.   As dusk gathers, I will go inside and rest my aging body in the beautiful rocker which my friend Tracy gave me.  Eventually, night will wrap itself around me, and I will sleep.

It’s the third day of the ninety-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.