Monthly Archives: September 2022

Sunday Without Complaining

I got to Jackson, California, in time to stand in line for fifteen minutes to order at the counter of a local restaurant.  Shortly thereafter, I found myself at a miniscule table that purported to be for two.  Jammed into a corner beside the bathroom door and the bus-station-cart, the round table could not have held two plates, mugs, and sets of silverware.  I gathered the warm welcome at the register did not extend to solo travelers.

I watched a waitress serve the same plate of food to two different parties.  My own fare included a rotten peach and eggs cooked without so much as a grain of salt.  When the waitress asked if I had enjoyed myself, I mentioned these facts without rancor or wrath.  In the middle of her kind apology, the manager forced himself between us and scolded me for not talking to him.  I felt sorry for the girl; she had been handling the exchange with courtesy, professionalism, and honesty.  Her boss did not do her justice.  But I smiled and left.  I shan’t even mention the name of the place.  I’m biting my tongue on a Yelp review.  Would that be complaining?  I don’t want to ruin my Sunday record.

Across the street, I browsed a delightful antique shop, finding presents for the daughters of two friends.  I  happened to mention to the owner that my next stop involved delivering hand-me-down clothing for ultimate distribution to needy people.  To my great glee, she promptly donated a bag of baby items from her stash of secondhand buys.  A couple stepped forward with an offer of assistance to my car, which I gladly accepted.

An hour later, I pulled into the driveway of Kim and Ricky Martinez’s beautiful home in Farmington.  The smiling faces of Kim, her parents Wayne and Gerri, and their friend Carol warmed my heart.  I toured the lovely grounds and gorgeous setting to which Gerri, Wayne, and Carol had relocated after moving from their two prominent spots in the front row of the park in which I live.  One of our neighbors had mentioned how nice their new digs seemed.  How nice could it be, I asked myself as I drove south and east.  I found out today; a serene setting in the valley adjacent to gentle foothills, behind a low, long bungalow and a private built-in pool with several lovely seating areas for morning coffee, afternoon tea, or dinner al fresco.  

Over a bountiful lunch, these women whom I’ve known for just four years talked of their ministry serving pizza each week in the Modesto City Park.  I’m not a religious person, but their work impresses me.  My donated items will join many other contributions, spread on tables for people to take what they need.  GraceIsTheKey serves with humility and joy.  You don’t have to be Christian to admire their spirit of loving and giving.  You can be Muslim, Jewish, nonreligious, or atheist.  True charity has no dogmatic boundaries.

Towards the end of our visit, we shared a bit about the inevitable medical issues of the late middle-aged.  We stood in Kim’s lovely kitchen while Carol collected fresh eggs for me to take home.  I tried to summarize my latest rash of medical activity with clinical precision.  After my three or four sentence recitation, Kim beamed as though I had won the lottery.  All that, she proclaimed, And you still do not complain!

Ah, my friend; would that I could honor your lofty assessment of me!  But I try; I try indeed.  And, many thanks to all of you.  The memory of our lovely afternoon together has bolstered my resolve to achieve the goal which I set for myself so many Sundays ago.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the one-hundred and fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




Emotions roil within me; stark whites of pure joy, rich reds of abundance, deep blues of contentment, clinging greys of lingering gloom.  Explanation for their rise eludes me.  I breathe and wait for the tumult to subside.  I know that time will pass and my mind will settle into the dull browns of everyday existence but for now, I let the churning carry me forward.

For the past two weeks, a buoyancy born of the incredible gift of gathering has kept me afloat.  Voice after voice congratulated me for the release of my book.  In truth, I did little beyond the simple act of gathering ten years of thought into a collection and tendering the whole to a talented editor and a prescient photographer to package and illustrate with care.  I collect the praise and share it, for without my cohorts, the words might have lingered and faded in the virtual file drawer where I had stowed them.  

I always thought the book that I produced would reflect the turning of the seasons.  How else can we describe our lives?  We come into this world fresh, new, cloaked in nothing but hope and possibility.  Lessons come to us, as the sun radiates our days and the moon soothes our nights with her most poignant lullabies.  As the trees turn to shimmering golds we proudly survey what we have built.  Then the snows fall on our shoulders as we settle into our softest perch, ease our muscles, and lift our feet to a waiting stool. 

The seasons turn and gather on the earth as our lives unfold.  Genevieve Casey’s photographs carry the theme through the pages as they flutter and fall.  I could not have asked for a better workmate.  Her eyes see, in a single slide, what my words take pages to reveal.  Though she took her pictures over several years before agreeing to be a part of my book, she chose them with a keen understanding of what I wanted to do.  The images serve as stepping stones through the collection.  What a gift she gave me, letting her work so perfectly complement mine!

Now I see autumn in the rising of the wind on Andrus Island where I live.  Our one brutal week of summer fell upon the state while I lingered in Missouri.  The nights grow colder.  The air turns crisp.  The wildlife, they who came before us and will endure after we pass, moves into the space we occupy.  They look upon our intrusion as temporary.  The starkness of winter forces us indoors, while the hawks, the coyotes, and the egrets remain outside to greet the migrating flocks.  If we never emerged, they would not care.  They would simple expand their use of our feeble structures until the vines overgrew the last vestiges of our time.

I drive the levy roads with eyes wide open and camera at hand.  I want to see the creatures whom humanity dares displace.  I crave the chance to beg their forgiveness for our arrogance.  I long to acknowledge the brevity of our season, and the eternity of theirs.  I owe them my gratitude for the gift of this little hour in their world. 

I have so little to show for the sixty-seven years which I have spent on earth to date:  Memories; a funny little house; the certain knowledge that my son has made his way to something of which we can both be proud; a cherished clutch of comrades.  This time of living in the California Delta has given me a layer of understanding for which I only dared dream.  I understand the smallness of my existence and its insignificance.  But I also see that my piece completes the puzzle.  For that awareness, I shall forever give thanks.

It’s the twenty-fourth day of the one-hundred and fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Lone egrets forever fascinate me. This one watched over Andrus Island’s fields from the relic of a venerable tree on Jackson Slough Road earlier this month.


Evening respite

I woke with resolve.  I had delayed an unpleasant task long enough.  I hastened through morning ablutions, scrambled eggs, and the drive through the Delta to work.  At 8:10, alarm deactivated, coffee brewed, and computer booted, I dialed the number to my eye doctor.

I leveled my voice for the opening volley.  Glasses ordered in June, arrived mid-July, immediately reported as incorrectly made.  Confirmation; re-order; retrieval of the second, back-up pair.  Request for prescription re-check delayed due to vacation.  Now I’m back.

Let’s see.  You ordered your glasses in June and got two pair.  Now you want more?

I gritted my teeth for twenty-five more minutes before the demands of work summoned me.  At noon, I tried again.  Same recitation, different call-taker, same result.  It’s more than ninety days since you got your prescription, you have to pay again.  A stutter crept into my voice as I tried to control my frustration.  I repeated that they had taken six weeks to make the first pair; eight weeks to see me about the problems; ten weeks to get the second pair and it still isn’t right, and I still don’t have the remake of the first pair.  Stonewall.  

Finally, a supervisor came on the line.  Although she took the same position as Nameless Voice One and Nameless Voice Two, she at least condescended to make an appointment.  All the while, I held the frames of the second wrongly crafted lenses at a slant so that I could peer at the monitor through the bottom of my tri-focals, the place through which I should be able to read a book.  

At five-thirty, I got behind the steering wheel and headed home, after a brief stop for bottled water.  On Jackson Slough Road, I trundled along, a field to my left and Mt. Diablo on the far horizon to my right.  A utility truck lumbered past, followed by a rickety RV pulled by a shiny yellow Ford.  I slowed for a turn and chanced to raise my eyes.  A red-tailed hawk peered downward from a high wire.  I let my car roll to a stop and raised my cell phone.  He held still for the ordeal.  He did not flutter a feather or raise a wing.

A few miles later, I pulled into my parking space.  I sat for a bit, gazing at the empty lot to the east of my tiny house.  In the stillness of my car, I contemplated the vagaries of human migration.  Some of us choose to tug our roots from the ground and shake the dust away; some of us migrate to flee the rot which entwines itself around the tender shoots that we lift to the nourishing rain.   I thought about my traveling neighbor and his little bird.  For the months that I had them just outside my door, I spared them no more than a few moments of conversation.  Funny how we take people so much for granted.

I got out  and glanced to the west just in time to see a blaze of gold through the telephone wires.  The wind rose around me, sending a shiver down my back and tossing the leaves in the tall California oaks.  I closed my eyes and felt the evening settle soft and easy on my shoulders.  Then I went inside and closed the doors against the gathering darkness, resolved to make a simple meal and then to rest my weary body.

It’s the twentieth day of the one-hundred and fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Another klick forward

I woke at dawn to the sound of the man in the Class A to the east of me getting ready to head out.  We talked about his accelerated departure across the weeds in my lot a few days ago.  You weren’t going to leave until October, I pointed out, in the gentle voice that near-strangers use for exchanging subtle intimacies.  The weathered face crinkled into a smile.  He lifted his shoulders to shrug.  The job finished early, ma’am, he said, in his soft Louisiana drawl.  I wished him well.

As the sun rose, the sounds of his preparations grew.  I had seen him and his workmates coming and going with boxes all day on Saturday, as I moved around with a couple of cheerful media folks filming a tour of my tiny house.  But now he seemed to be fussing more than he ought, given all of the effort to get his rig ready by nightfall last evening.  I tiptoed around the side of my house, a woolen jacket over my leggings and nightshirt.  At the sound of male grumbling, I retreated into the house.  

Indolence overcame me throughout the morning.  I stuffed towels into the laundry unit, scrambled some eggs, and listlessly scrolled through social media.  Once in a while, I peeked between the curtains at my neighbor’s place.  About mid-day, I saw him standing at the back of his little car, which I knew he planned to flat-tow to his next job.  Debris from the car’s hatch lay strewn around its rear tires. 

I pulled back the curtain and slid the window open.  Everything all right over there, I called.  My neighbor stood.  No ma’am, he acknowledged.  I lost my keys and two silver things that I need for the tow, and now my battery’s gone dead.  I voiced my sympathy, then withdrew at the sound of a truck pulling into his space.  Help had arrived; no time for a chatty woman at one’s elbow.

Later, I tried to make a piece of toast in my fancy little oven.  A pop preceded the dimming of its lights.  On went the jacket and a pair of boots.  I scurried outside, startled by the buffeting wind.  I struggled with the doors of the back cupboard where the electric panel dwells, glancing at the peace flag frantically whipping above my house.  

The male half of the film crew had moved the flag to get B-roll of my mural and the contents of the cupboard.  A shudder of embarrassment rifled through me.  Do other people have flags lying around for months, forlorn, forgotten, gathering dust?  I can only ask people for so much help.  A friend had installed that flag when the muralist took its bracket down; the bracket which a neighbor had affixed to my house several years ago.  How many times can I prevail upon someone’s good nature?  When the Delta wind snapped the metal last December and sent the flag tumbling, I shoved it under the trailer where it has spent the last ten months.

But Mark and Marina, two nomads who wandered into my life at the behest of some famous tiny-house YouTuber, could not let the flag lie.  Mark called to Marina to take my ladder out of the cupboard.  He brought over a flag pole bracket and one of those mysterious pieces of machinery that allow clever hands to mend broken objects.  He climbed the yellow fiber-glass ladder which I bought at the Fayetteville Wal-Mart in 1990, and within minutes, my peace flag fluttered above my tiny house.

Today, though, an early winter wind threatened to send the flag clattering to the ground again.  I struggled with the cupboard door, eyes raised, watching the furious motion of the fabric and the aluminum pole.  My neighbor’s friend asked me if I needed help.  Would you recognize a thrown breaker when you saw one, I asked.  I stepped back.  And do you think I should take that flag down?  

He held the heavy plywood door back from my shoulders and opened the electric panel.  Darville said you’re from Kansas City, ma’am,  he noted, as he deftly flipped a switch.  I lived in Osawatomie for a few years.  His accent told me that he came from the deep south, as did the kindness he showed me.  He climbed on my ladder, released the set screw, and lowered the pole to my open hands.  Then he got the cupboard doors closed despite the rising wind, and secured the lock.    You should be all good now, ma’am, he assured me, turning back to help his friend.   I left them to it and went inside to rewarm my half-cooked toast.

A few hours later, I glanced outside again.  My neighbor had secured his car to the back of his rig but seemed to be reconnecting the electricity to the big RV.  You getting out of here today, I called through the window.  I reckon not, ma’am,  he admitted.  I could hear his little bird chirping inside the silver trailer.  Charley’s ready for the trip, now, don’t disappoint him, I cautioned.  My neighbor laughed.  We exchanged a few speculative thoughts about the virtues of a late start versus Monday morning traffic.  I asked the Google lady how long it took to make Fresno.  Not long enough for a stop, he decided; not with thirty more hours to drive.  He allowed that leaving early in the morning made more sense.  I wished him a safe trip.  He said it had been good to meet me.  Then he turned away, bent on checking his tires.  That’s the way it is here.  People come and they go.  Long goodbyes serve nobody’s interest.

Now night has fallen.  My three days at home draw to a close.  I have little to show for them.  I unpacked from the trip that concluded nearly a week ago.  I packaged and mailed eleven books to folks kind enough to purchase my little project.  I washed a load of towels.  I finished reading one book, and then another; and sat in my rocker doing nothing at all for a considerable portion of the weekend.  And for a few hours yesterday, I spoke into a camera and tried to be charming, rather than completely ridiculous.  Ah, well.  The world has turned another klick, and I’m still here; putting one foot in front of the other, living my tiny life.

It’s the eighteenth day of the one-hundred and fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



One day, I will not be able to walk.  I can’t ignore that fact any longer.  My calves protest under the onslaught of this newly identified disease.  I know that losing a few pounds would help, but not that much.  

The fact that I’m still walking at 67 bespeaks of the wonders of persistence.  Not for nothing did Judge Peggy Stephens McGraw take judicial notice of my relentlessness.  When a doctor told my mother that I would not live to graduate college, she rolled her eyes, took me by the  hand, and marched me out of his office.  When another physician cautioned that I’d be bedridden by 25, I gave him my best Miss Manners blank stare, paid his bill, and left.  At forty-two, I fired a doctor who gave me six months to live.  

But the tide swells.  The crack will swallow me whole.  I appreciate the time that I’ve stolen from the great leveller.  I stand as often and as proudly as possible, but the hand which I’ve been played mostly contains jokers and the Ace of Spades.

So from time to time, I gaze at the world from the driver’s window of my car, just to remind myself of the view that I will have for the last decade or two of my life.  It’s not a bad sight; I can see most everything if I roll down the window and lean outward a bit.  On my recent trip down memory lane, through the streets of Kansas City, I kept my new phone at the ready and my eyes wide open.  

Some amazing experiences awaited me during that visit.  My son came to Gillespie to meet my sister and me for lunch.  My friend Jeanne drove all the way from Webster Groves to St. Charles to leave a jacket on the porch of my AirBnB.  I spent an hour with a man whom I had not seen since our eighth grade graduation.  I drove across the state to spend a comfortable week in the home of my friend Brenda.  I had dinner with someone who knows a secret or two about me, and will never tell.  Dozens of people gathered to celebrate the release of my first essay collection, including two of my siblings and one of my sisters-in-law.  Everywhere, people hugged me — after assuring me of their vaccinated status, of course.

I had to drag myself on the plane to come back to California.

When I scrolled through my photo gallery a few days later, pangs of longing rose within me.  There really is no place like home.  If only the Pacific straddled the border of Missouri!  I’m sure the folks in Kansas wouldn’t mind.  

With the help of a walking stick, I can make my way across the meadow in the park where I live.  I can stand on the edge of the levee road and watch the sun send its shimmers of gold across the San Joaquin.  I can slip behind the wheel of my Toyota RAV4, and drive through the Delta.  But I can only see the streets of home when I close my eyes.  I won’t lose that when my muscles decline to the point of no return.  I will always have the memories.  I will never forget my drive through the city, in September, with a hint of autumn in the Midwestern air.

It’s the fifteenth day of the one-hundred and fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


For the last four or five days, I have maneuvered my rental car through neighborhoods of my memory, though I still have not driven past the house in Kansas City that I sold in 2017.  From St. Louis to the western edge of Missouri, scenes from my past have slipped by my window.   A sense of schizophrenia rises within me.

Nearly five years have eased themselves to the cutting room floor while I struggled to regain my footing on a plush river island in the California Delta.  I come and go, from work to home, with little sense of purpose or permanence.  Smiling faces herald me but I peer at them through a mist.  Now I huddle in the home of a friend just a handful of blocks from the house in which I raised my son, to which I moved in May of 1992.  Thirty years.  A half-dozen wonderful people hauled boxes and bookcases from my midtown apartment to my new dwelling in Brookside, where my toddler would have a backyard; where two husbands would come and go seemingly without a backward glance.  I still can’t bear to think of someone else calling that place ‘home’.

At dinner last evening, one of my dearest friends twinkled at me as he has done for nearly four decades.  Do you need anything, he asked, after buying a copy of my first essay collection and paying for our delicious repast.  I assured him that I did not.  I asserted that I want for nothing of importance.  I thanked him for a generous delivery of my favorite coffee beans via the marvels of modern online ordering.  He simply smiled, nodded with a knowing and thoughtful presence, and made some mental note that will doubtless materialize as a mysterious parcel some time hence.

This morning brought one of the serial notifications of my memories stored in Google Drive.  I rarely take the bait, but today I clicked on the link which took me to the stored photographs.  Images of a smoke-filled sky over the park in which I live filled my screen.  One of the deadly raging fires north of the Delta permeated the air with ash and grit.  I checked the date; September 2020, in the throes of the pandemic.  Unprecedented in size and number, the wildfires ravaged my adopted state.  I recall taking the photographs on that morning two years ago, standing in the gravel roadway which circles the west side of our park.  My lungs filled with smoke.  As I struggled to regain my breath, enormous pity for the people of the counties on fire overtook me.  As bad as our air became, we did not battle flames.  We had no need to evacuate or to seek shelter in makeshift dwellings parked miles from our ruined homes.  Whatever woes I might lament, my little house still shelters me, and even now stands waiting for my return from my autumn sojourn in the land of my birth.

It’s the ninth day of the one-hundred and fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Almost Feels Like Home

I landed at the St. Louis Airport in a misty warm rain.  After the usual squabble with the inefficiency of the system supposedly designed to help people with physical challenges, I found myself reassuring the rental car shuttle driver that I could scramble into the building without assistance.  I made it, greeted by a grinning young man who assigned a car and drove it to the curb with a minimum of fuss.

Five days later, I sit at the cluttered kitchen table in a spacious AirBnB, letting my eggs settle in my traveler’s stomach and my coffee cool in its cup.  By and by, the bags will be packed and dragged out to that rental car, which has performed admirably and taken me to Gillespie, Illinois and back without so much as a whisper of complaint.  I have yet to determine how to add fuel, and the friendly fellow at Hertz made no mention of the portal location.  But I should be able to figure that out.

After a couple of stops, I will be KC-bound.  From the bedroom, the twang of a text message urges me to abandon my lollygagging and get my act on the road.  The app on my phone plays the NPR station in Sacramento, causing only slight confusion as to the time.  Grey sky out my window reminds me that I have left the one-week-of-summer behind in California and come to the Midwest with its muggy days of looming autumn. 

The pleasant twang of St. Louis greets me in every store and restaurant.  I find my own vowels spreading in response.  This place almost feels like home, though I shook its dust from my Doc Martens forty-two years ago.  Now Kansas City’s strong pull beckons.  On the banks of the Missouri, my heart will no doubt flutter.  The next five days could be the undoing of five years of deliberate attempt at West Coast acclimation.  Oh California, California.  Will you take me as I am?

It’s the sixth day of the one-hundred and fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Me, my son Patrick, and my sister Joyce in Gillespie, Illinois, the city of my mother’s childhood; 09/04/2022.

Where There’s Life

As usual, I have come to Missouri without a jacket.  I had a lovely Eileen Fisher ready to throw over my arm and carry along.  I knew that the variable weather of the Midwest would plague me and I provided for that, right up until the moment of departure.  Alas.  

But I’m here.

Today I will see folks with whom I spent my first school years.  My recollections of that time vary like the weather here.  The four or five girls who treated me with kindness stand tall amidst the blurry images of jeering bullies.  Some whom I remember with fondness have died, one just a few weeks ago.  I missed last night’s evening gathering.  Today’s event takes place in a park.  That jacket would be handy, I tell myself, with no small measure of amusement.

Social media reminds me that I haven’t created a birthday fundraiser.  Ah, but I have!  I’ve published a collection of essays and the book release takes place next Saturday, with ten percent of the sales going to Rose Brooks Center.  I’ve been volunteering in various capacities for that organization since 1980, and I’m both honored and humbled that my friends keep making donations year after year.  We will also raffle prints of the accompanying photographs by Genevieve Casey to raise additional funds.

Last night as I slipped into sleep, a memory flashed through my mind.  I stood in front of a room filled with tired teachers, come to LIncoln College (now University) for my talk on pending legislation that would create an order of protection for victims of domestic violence.  I stood in front of their weary faces, wondering what my twenty-two-year-old-self could tell these adults that they didn’t already know.  I drew in a breath and disclosed my anxiety to them, watching those faces ease.  Many had doubtless been wondering about my qualifications.  When the ripple of laughter died, I assured them that family violence fell into the category of my knowledge.

I would be fifty before I became certified as a guardian ad litem to represent children of conflict and protect them from return to abusive or chaotic homes.  The courses that I had to take starkly contrasted with that single, nervy lecture I gave in a dingy basement classroom in 1977.  Over the years in which I tried to help the children assigned to me, I came to deeply understand the neurobiology of trauma.  My education gave me some understanding of my own challenges as a survivor, perhaps too late to pull myself from a lifelong tailspin.

But maybe not.  As I like to think my mother actually said, Where there is life, there is room for improvement.

So:  to the point.  I’m not creating a separate “Facebook Fundraiser” this year.  But I do invite my friends to find a program in your respective communities to which you can make any donation that you are able.  In my adopted home of the California Delta, I can suggest WEAVE.  For Kansas Citians, of course, I encourage you to attend my book release if you can, but if not, please consider an independent donation to Rose Brooks Center.  Anyone living elsewhere can search this site for centers near them.  I note that October draws nigh, a month dedicated as National Domestic Violence Awareness month in 1989.  I have mixed feelings about “months” for commemorating disease and ugliness, but if that motivates you to donate, I’m all for it.  Of course, if you cannot donate, you can always volunteer.  Most agencies have some work that you can do.  Any effort augments the slim resources of such programs.

For my part, I’m going to make some scrambled eggs in the spacious kitchen of an Airbnb into which my tiny house could fit three times over.  I’ll make my way to that reunion by and by.  Tomorrow my sister and I plan a drive to Gillespie, Illinois, where my mother spent her childhood.  My mother often sent one or two of her children at a time to stay with her parents, to keep us safe, and give us a chance at some semblance of normalcy.  I credit her for that.  

On Monday, I turn sixty-seven.  I have no plans other than continuation of my nostalgic tour of St. Louis.  Tuesday morning will see me driving across the state to Kansas City, where I will begin the preparations for our book release event on Saturday, September 10th, on what would have been my mother’s ninety-sixth birthday.  I think she would approve of the party that I plan to throw in her honor.

It’s the third day of the one-hundred and fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

A bloom from my gardenia bush last year. A late frost damaged it this spring but I’ve nursed it back to health. Gardenias were my mother’s favorite.

There Is Always A WayYou Are Not Alone.