Monthly Archives: May 2023

Memorial Monday

Fifteen years ago this weekend, I started to blog.  My first entries went out to the Small Firm Internet Group (SFIG) via email.  That listserve later morphed into a managed venue owned and operated by the Missouri Bar Association.  In 2008, it belonged to Karl Timmerman and Dave Browning, both lawyers, both friends, both rebels, and both since deceased.  Time passes.

In that first, timid entry, I sent out a reflection on my conflicted feelings.  My angst centered on  war, Memorial Day, and my father, who considered his two-year stint in combat on the Burma trail in WWII to have been the uncelebrated highlight of his life.  As a pacifist and one of his eight children born well after he came home from the Army, I found that unquestionable fact to be mildly disturbing at best and saddening most of the time.  On Memorial Day weekend 2008, I tendered a post to SFIG quoting from a volume of World War I poetry, including some probably maudlin sentiments long since lost in the transfer and crashing of servers.

Today I find myself in a remarkably different setting, having had coffee on a porch located 2300 miles west of the splendid porch on which I sat to write that first missive.  Cool breezes necessitated a shawl over my cotton kimono and Merino sleeping attire.  In 2008, I wrote from the perspective of a Midwestern mother whose son had just disembarked for Mexico and a wife whose husband had decamped to Iowa or perhaps Ohio, I’ve forgotten now to which one he went that year.  Now, with the son grown and walking his own path in Chicago and that husband — and a subsequent one — permanently gone from my life, I dwell in a tiny space on a levee road next to the San Joaquin River in the California Delta.  Time stops for no one.

On Saturday, I fully intended to make a quick tour of secondhand shops in nearby Lodi and Stockton looking for a suitable old rocker for my new deck.  As I headed east on Highway 12, the annoying, persistent GPS lady told me to take the Highway 4 exit for Stockton.  Before I quite realized what I had done, I accelerated into the subsequent fork headed eastward to the foothills and Angel’s Camp.  An hour later, I lunched on a weird dish that purported to be vegetarian pasta at a restaurant on Main Street before making my way to Nellie Lou’s Antiques.

The lady told me she had two rockers in stock.  One appealed for different reasons than would serve my objective.  A reproduction of Victorian ladies’ traveling rockers, it reminded me of one that I’d sold at a garage sale to a woman who wanted it for her daughter’s first apartment.    It’s very nice, I remarked.  And priced too low for what it is, I added, causing her eyebrow to twitch.  We chatted about its value for a few minutes, which I knew from research a few years back.  Then she said, And I have this blue one over here, and my heart skipped a beat.  Blue!  Perfection!  A half-hour later, after finding an old wicker and wooden log holder and some silver jewelry that I could not resist, I thanked her husband for carrying it all to my car.  Then I headed west.

Through small town and countryside, I made my way back to the Delta.  Occasionally I stopped for photos or to gaze at the spectacular scenery from the relative safety of my car’s front fender.  Eventually, I pulled into my lot and sat gazing at the willow tree’s rise above the meadow behind my house.   I closed my eyes and contemplated the holiday, its purported purpose, and the absence of an American flag which I used to regularly fly.  I thought about life with my father, who had suffered unimaginable horrors as he and his cohorts tried to clear the Burma Road to enable the safe passage of supplies. 

I realize that war impacted my father in ways that I cannot fathom.  If his service had been a few decades later, he might have gotten help for its devastating psychological impact.  I do not excuse his alcoholism or his violent and damaging behavior.  But on this Memorial Day, I find myself yearning for a conversation with the Richard Adrian Corley whose intelligent brain and poetic soul succumbed to the horrors of war.  What might he say to his future, youngest girl?  What cautionary tales might I impart to his teenage self?  I sat with my daughter’s grief for a few minutes, while the engine cooled and the sun began its slow descent on the distant horizon.

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

Spring in War-Time BY SARA TEASDALE

I feel the spring far off, far off,
The faint, far scent of bud and leaf—
Oh, how can spring take heart to come
To a world in grief,
Deep grief?

The sun turns north, the days grow long,
Later the evening star grows bright—
How can the daylight linger on
For men to fight,
Still fight?

The grass is waking in the ground,
Soon it will rise and blow in waves—
How can it have the heart to sway
Over the graves,
New graves?

Under the boughs where lovers walked
The apple-blooms will shed their breath—
But what of all the lovers now
Parted by Death,
Grey Death?

A few photos taken on the road.  The chair atop the RV identified the entrance to a wedding venue, also show within this small gallery.

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Week’s End

Every once in a while, a week ends with a perfect moment.  You finish a truly crackerjack novel, letting the book fall into your lap while your mind drifts through the cadence of the last, lovely, poignant sentences.  The joy of its magnificent writing carries through the next day, inspiring you in your own work.  As the afternoon ends, you turn off your computer, having completed all of the items on your task list.  The office door clicks behind you with a satisfying snap.  A half-hour later, a friend pulls into your lot with a lovely chair that complements the color scheme and feel of your small sitting room.  

Sometimes I feel as though I could be that old fashioned type of manic-depressive that got recast as bi-polar disorder.  Sometimes I waft on the clouds, joyfully partaking of each tender moment.   Then life overwhelms me; hopelessness overtakes me.  My only proof that I don’t’ suffer from the disorder lies in the objectively difficult nature of my days.   (Full disclosure:  Some days pose more challenge than others; and I understand that my life holds many riches especially by comparison with, say, those living in poverty, war, or famine.)

Two nights ago, as I read the last chapters of that stunning novel set in Iceland, my glasses and phone slid from my lap to the floor.  The room had dimmed around me as evening faded into night.  I can’t read while wearing my glasses because I’m incredibly near-sighted, so they had been lying on my lap.  Forgotten, they eased themselves downward.  My phone followed, leaving me unseeing and with no way of summoning assistance. With no light and no sight, I had to lower myself to the floor and grope.  

One second before I despaired, my friend Tim called to see when I wanted him to bring the chair.  His call lit my phone, which I spied and quickly grasped.  Laughing, I thanked him; giddily choked out an explanation; and made arrangements for delivery after work the next day.  Then, using my phone’s flashlight, I located my glasses.

I could see again.  But I still had to haul my crippled, thirty-pounds-overweight body from the floor.  This took me twenty-five minutes, during which my friend Kim Dealy-Carlson texted about plans for the theme of the next Sunday Market.  I tried to attend to her queries, but had to confess that I couldn’t chat in the moment.  I could picture her response to my disclosure:  I’m on the floor, struggling to lift myself; I can’t talk right now.  As usual, the thought of her chagrin prompted a cascade of giggles.  Invigorated, I commanded myself to get off the damn ground, and within a few minutes, I did just that.  Thanks to Tim’s timely call and Kim’s imagined horror, I managed to salvage my evening if not my dignity.  All good.  I survived to enjoy the weekend, and I intend to do exactly that.

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

Still Me

Fair warning:  This is an account of a recent, profound, and uncontrolled regression into complaint.

Today I found myself filled with nearly uncontrollable fury.  I live in a conservative pocket of a liberal state.  Staid, traditional folks surround me.  They have the same hearts that I have — the same amount of goodness, the same amount of irritability, the same measure of clumsiness.  None of them surpass me in worth, virtue, or that ration of peculiarity which characterizes the human nature.

They just happen to espouse patriarchal traditions that drive me mad.

I cannot fathom why anyone would want to perpetuate traditions that symbolize the ownership of women by men — first their fathers, and then their husbands.  Changing your surname and adopting the “Missus” title mark you as property.  “But it shows unity!” cry the women who tout these features and flash them in your face like diamonds on their left hand.  When asked why only the women must publicly label themselves as unified while a man remains rigidly unidentified with his original name and unaltered title, these married gals have no answer.  It’s because men weren’t property and didn’t have to be branded as such, I inform them.  They scoff and proclaim me a bitter old hag that no one wants.

In fact, after the third of my 300 husbands left me (for another woman), he proclaimed that if I had only changed my name, we would still be married.  Sighing, I replied that if I had known it was that important to him, we wouldn’t have wed in the first place.

My collapse into complaint over this issue today sprang from a form completed by a male client of the California attorney for whom I work.  He entered his own birthdate and social security number, but for his wife’s data, directed us to ‘see above’.  Either he interpreted the form as only requiring his identifiers, or he couldn’t see past himself.  And in completing the form, he had soundly circled “MRS” for the preferred title for her, and identified her former surname as her “MAIDEN NAME”.  All of these antiquities left me gasping.  The sheer, rank patriarchal nature of the rhetoric astounds me every time I see it.

My own uneasy place in this local society compounds my frustration with a world that I strove to escape all of my life.  With no partner, no California law license, and no professional reputation here, I find myself falling between some wicked deep cracks.  I quite literally get no respect from anyone; no invitations to dinner from my married acquaintances who seek couples with whom to socialize; and repeated slaps in the face from my employer’s clients with remarks such as one recent observation that “for a secretary”, I seemed pretty smart. 

I did this to myself by not taking the California Bar, although truth told, I interviewed for about fifty not-for-profit jobs striving to enter a new field.   I spent all of 2018 being repeatedly told that I was overqualified or that the interviewer would be uncomfortable with me on their staff due to my superior experience.  These statements masked obvious ageism, which brought me to finally seek a job in the back office of a California attorney, where at least my skills would earn an income, even if at the occasional expense of my self-respect.

At the end of a day when numerous small occurrences reminded me of both frustrations, I sat reading an Icelandic novel and nibbling small squares of dark chocolate.  I don’t feel much better, but getting these words on the page has lightened my mood at least a fraction.  Sometimes finding joy requires me to rummage in the muck beneath the seemingly sunny surface.  I can toss the debris into the trash can, and recognize that whatever others think, I’m still me.  First published at fifteen; made law review, AmJured in two subjects, and graduated from law school “with distinction”; saved more than my share of family farms and forgotten children; birth-giver of Patrick Charles Corley, whose compassionate values might one day prove to be my best legacy.  I’m an adventurer in the world of life after divorce at sixty.  Unabashedly ambulatory and relentlessly liberal, I still put my best foot forward and keep walking, every day of my life.  Occasionally, I might take a step or two backwards, but I gather my wits, square my shoulders, and regain my onward stride.  

It’s the twenty-third day of the one-hundred and thirteenth month of My [Endless] Year [Trying to Live and Thrive] Without Complaining.  Life continues.


You Should Be A Writer

At sixteen, I cringed under my mother’s pronouncement that I would need to have a profession because no man would ever marry me.  She typed my poetry on her old manual, but nonetheless encouraged me to “get a real job” so that I had “something on which to rely”.  I followed her admonishments.  After several years of submitting my poetry, essays, and short stories to literary magazines, I finally went to law school and pursued a personally rewarding but financially lame path to semi-retirement.

The four poems, half-dozen essays, and clutch of newspaper articles that made their way to print in the 1970s comprised my entire portfolio until Will Leathem’s Spartan Press helped me fulfill my life-long dream of being what my once-brother-in-law JD called “a real writer”.  Self-published but glorious, my book contains the best of me.

This week, I have had the amazing opportunity to present a three-session series of writing adventures with Linzi Garcia, a Kansas poet, and Will Leathem.  As I cavorted in front of the small but enthusiastic group on the first two nights, I wondered what my mother would think if she lurked in the back corner of the meeting room.  When a fifteen-year-old asked me to read some of his poetry, I nearly fainted.  I hope my words encouraged him in a way that I did not feel anyone afforded me at that age.  

You might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can definitely resurrect the muscle memory with which that aging creature once leaped with wild abandon over fence and field.

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

Click here to learn about my fundraising passion and/or purchase a copy of my book.

Click here for information on the release of the Orphan*age, in which I am honored to have a piece.

The Best Mother’s Day Ever

The moment of revelation seared itself on my brain.  I stood in the bathroom at my house in Winslow, Arkansas.  The fake wood paneling bore a long, frameless piece of mirror.  I gripped the little stick and strained to see the window.  I don’t recall if a line meant “positive” or if a word appeared but whichever, there it was.  I lifted my eyes to their reflection and held my own gaze.  In that instant, my life forever changed.

This evening I ate leftover salad and pasta that my son and I prepared for last night’s dinner.  The Airbnb does not have a dining set-up, so Patrick and my sister had moved the rickety desk from the downstairs bedroom into the small living space.  Patrick chopped vegetables while I boiled gluten-free pasta and made a mushroom sauce.  We sat on a weird combination of chairs:  An odd white rolling number, a pink glam thing, and a tall iron bar stool from beneath the 8-inch plank nailed under the front window to make a breakfast bar.  Joyce had Panera’s soup.  Patrick drank cold O’Doul’s that I bought from the nearby Schnuck’s.  I had my usual: natural spring water.  The fanciest restaurant had nothing on our shared repast.

Miraculously, I managed to bludgeon the electric stove into submission this morning to turn out perfectly scrambled eggs and pan-toasted bread.  Patrick got out the goat’s-cheese and I peeled an orange.  We perched on the barstools and worked the NYT spelling bee, with Patrick listing all the words and hints in his notebook and me entering our guesses into my tablet.  At ten, car packed, upstairs bedroom surveyed and wallet located, my son pulled from the driveway and started northward, while I got ready to meet my cousin Kati and her daughter Aimee for lunch.

Later, I drove to a local park to seek out my niece Emily’s fabric work on display.  When I pulled in the driveway, a sturdy woman leaned into my car window to inform me that all of the ADA parking had been filled in the closest lot.  I’d have to walk from the farther spaces.  I met her eyes.  Here’s the thing, I began.  I’m disabled; I’m visiting from California; and my niece is a vendor here.  I can’t walk as far as you suggest that I would have to do.  Is there some way that you and I can solve this problem together?  She studied my face.  Then she turned and walked back to her place, and consulted her co-worker.  I heard her repeat my assertions.  The other woman gestured to the nearest spaces, all marked “reserved for this person or that person”.  My lady waved her arm towards something that I couldn’t see.  They fell silent.  Then I heard the other woman’s voice, clear and strong:  “Oh the hell with it,” she said.  “I’m not getting paid to be rude.  Let her park here.”

A little while later, as I struggled down a set of stairs panting from the distance that I’d thus far traversed, a group of visitors approached me and offered an arm.  We slowly descended.  Then one of them asked, Where are you trying to get?  I explained; and she told me that I still had a while to walk.  Just then, a volunteer on a golf cart passed us, and my savior flagged it down.

My niece wasn’t at the display in which her work was included.  I talked to her collaborator.  He showed me the jackets that she had made out of old quilts and army half-tents.  Without having planned to do so, I bought one of them.  I also bought one of the collaborator’s aprons, with his company logo which he said that my niece had designed. I spent a fair bit of money but I had no regrets.  Afterwards, he directed me to the artist relations tent, where I found another golf-cart volunteer, who got me a bottle of water and gave me a ride all the way to the entrance.  

Back at my rented abode, I drank the rest of the water and scrolled through the news.  By and by, I rummaged in the refrigerator and put together my simple meal.  With no dining table, and the desk returned to its original location, I stood in the middle of the living space, confounded, thwarted.  Then I saw the silly rolling stool, and suddenly knew what to do.  Now I’m well-fed, and quiet, sitting in the small bedroom at the back of the house.  Beside me is the ring dish that my son thrifted and gave me for Mother’s Day, with its coincidental, symbolic giraffes and its contrasting design suggestive of balance.  I tucked the accompanying card inside the cover of my tablet.   I’ve re-read its message enough times to know it by heart.  My heart.  His heart.  Whatever the miles and memories between us, they will never part.

This has been the best Mother’s Day ever.

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

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The Month Of May

My neighbor tells me that she, too, has a trip to her home state planned.  Idly I ask, Where was home?  Her answer surprises me:  Harrison, Arkansas, she says, smiling, and suddenly I recall my three years of life on yet another river, the Buffalo.

Later, I scroll through my phone, looking for an image that I want to send someone.  A series of three quick shots of a heron that I took this afternoon catches my attention.  He seems to be posing.  I strain to see which way he’s looking, but a shadow fell across his face.  I took it just around the corner from my friend Tim’s pig farm.  A moment later, I saw Tim cutting the thick growth on his side of the levee.  I stopped to wave, tapping my horn just enough to cause him to lift his head.

The warmth of the afternoon folded itself around me as I moved through the rest of the day.  I tried to focus on packing, on plans, on deciding which jacket to take on the plane.  But my neighbor’s remarks returned to me, bringing a wave of memory.  In Arkansas my first marriage had started and ended.  I met my son’s father.  I lost my son’s twin; I gave birth to the surviving child in a cold surgical delivery room with my friend Laura behind me, holding my hands.

South of Fayetteville, I  waded through chilly mountain run-off in springtime and walked along flat flagstones in summer.  I stoked the fire in a wood stove as autumn’s chill yielded to winter’s cold kiss.  I came to Arkansas as a bride and left its venerable mountains as a thirty-seven-year-old first-time mother.  With my toddler strapped in a car seat and everything I owned crammed into a friend’s truck, we caravanned northward, in a May much like this one, three decades ago.

In a handful of hours, I will fly back home.  My son is coming from Chicago to meet me.  I have no idea if he realizes that Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I could not care less.  It’s enough that he has decided to make the drive to St. Louis.  I won’t even mention it.  We’ll make dinner together, and perhaps share conversation.  In the morning, before he leaves, we’ll have coffee on the patio at the AirBnb.  I’ll hug him, and send him on his way. 

At some point during my three days in St. Louis, I might even visit my own mother’s grave.  I will sink to my knees, pull the grass away, and study her name.  I will run my finger over the carving on my brother’s headstone.  I will trace the letters on Corinne Hahn Hayes’ resting place, wondering if I am at all like the great-grandmother after whom I am named.  I will stand and study the graves of my people.  And they will say nothing, nothing at all, but somehow, it will be enough.

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

May Night
Sara Teasdale

The spring is fresh and fearless
And every leaf is new,
The world is brimmed with moonlight,
The lilac brimmed with dew.

Here in the moving shadows
I catch my breath and sing–
My heart is fresh and fearless
And over-brimmed with spring.

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Before returning

The seasons have once more slipped around a corner.  Vines burgeon with verdant splendor in the surrounding fields.  Outside the backdoor of the office in which I work,  tender leaves spread across a crumbling wall.  These could become delectable yebra, if I pick and brine them now.  My gardenia bush bears no buds, only yellowish leaves the cause of which no one seems able to diagnose.  But the Japanese maple flourishes, nurtured by the rainy winter.  

In the old trees on Jackson Slough Road, hawks stare down through my windshield as I pass.   It seems that I’ve photographed hundreds of these by now.  At a recent event, someone asked me, How long have you lived here?  I had to stop and count the years.  This is my fifth spring.  I parked my house in November of 2017.  My car first shuddered to a stop in its spot just before Christmas that year.  Not until March did the beauty of this place begin to assert itself.  By May of 2018, my spirit had embraced the Delta splendor.

In a few days, I will take an early morning flight back to the Midwest.  In St. Louis, I will — perhaps — attend a funeral, see my son, have lunch with one cousin and breakfast with another.  I will undoubtedly laugh with my sister; and perhaps shed a few tears, too.   I might stumble upon a brother or two.   Then I will head  to Kansas City, which, despite the passage of time, always seems to welcome me. 

On the west side of Missouri, I will sleep in my friend Brenda’s spare room, just blocks from the house that I owned for 25 years.  There will be coffee dates, and restaurant meals, and perhaps a drink or two in haunts that look vaguely familiar but have new names and new owners.  In Will and Tom’s bookshop, I will touch dusty covers and slide slim volumes of poetry from crowded shelves.  I will shyly, silently, try to find my own book.  I will browse its pages, not letting on to other shoppers that I wrote it.  I will secretly count how many volumes remain unpurchased. I will try not to be disappointed.  On three different days, I will talk to people about my life as a writer, and the life that they could have, if they chose.

After a week playing the prodigal daughter on the banks of the Missouri, I will board a flight and come back to the San Joaquin.  I cannot say, now, here, how I will feel.  But I can confirm one immutable reality with absolute certainty:  I agree with Dorothy.  There’s no place like home.

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