Monthly Archives: September 2023


I heated a bowl of leftover pasta last night and thought, wouldn’t this be lovely out on the porch.  The sun had slipped far enough in the western sky that the broken rope of the umbrella wouldn’t ruin my evening.  The useless sunshade awaits repair or replacement; but I didn’t need to contemplate its short life.  I could just pretend that I had it closed so as to maximize enjoyment of the evening air.

So I poured a cold glass of soy milk and set a fork on the counter.  Book in hand, I glanced at the door.  I needed something; a tray, perhaps?  Don’t I have one of those?  I lowered the steps on the old stool for which I paid too high a price on eBay, perfect though it is.  Standing precariously on the highest of two slim red painted treads, I eased a silver, wooden-handled fake-antique from under the cabinet perched on top of the built-in washer cubby.  

Then I saw it, nestled inside the larger item:  A tray that I found in a thrift store years ago, the match of one from my childhood.  I had forgotten its existence.  I held it for a few minutes, leaning on my washer-dryer combo-unit.  I wondered which of my siblings got the original in the up-rounds and down-rounds by which we dispersed the flotsam and jetsam of our parents’ sad lives after my father’s death in 1991.  Oldest picks first then down to the baby; youngest picks first then up to the biggest sister.  Ann, Adrienne Joyce, Kevin, Mark, Mary, Francis, Stephen.  The infinity  Corleys. On and on we went, through each room.  Up round, down round.  In the middle of it, one of those lucky bastards got the tray on which one of my brothers — Mark? Frank? — brought me vanilla wafers and hot tea the first time I took to bed with menstrual cramps that he didn’t understand.

I loaded my dinner on this gallant pretender and tucked a book and my phone under one arm.  Cruising along the perimeter of my narrow house, I scooted out to the deck without benefit of gait aid or fanfare.  The sweet evening breezes indeed freely flowed around me.  I opened my book, lifted my fork, and took a deep breath.  Suddenly, an unbidden flash of deja vu overwhelmed me.  I’ve passed this way before now, I whispered, to nobody, to the haunting spirits, to the memories that I would not stop if I could.  

Someone recently asked me if I had a normal childhood.  I felt one eyebrow raise, surely the most automatic mimic of my dead mother that I could have employed.  “Normal?” I played the word back with incredulity.  “Did you?  Did anyone?  Does that even exist? Is that really a thing?”  I shifted my face into a fair imitation of a rueful, humorless smile.  “Maybe,” I finally admitted.  “That entirely depends on your definition of normal.”  Then I turned away and left the speaker to regard my haughty, prideful back.  I didn’t snap over my shoulder, yeah, except the fifteen years of violence and chaos.  I let it be, for once.

Within the days, and weeks, and months of that seemingly relentless turmoil, I did have some moments of normalcy.  Like the time that one of my brothers poured boiling water over a Lipton tea bag, shifted a pile of cookies onto a small plate, and headed out of the kitchen towards his ailing sister.  Like the moment when that brother carried the steaming mug, sweet comforting treats, and the comic pages of the day’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch on a black metal tray into the front bedroom where I lay clutching a heating pad to my midsection.  Like the pause as he stood in the doorway and asked, Do you want this? before coming into the dimness of the front bedroom and setting his gift on the bedspread within easy reach.  Like that.  Surely, that was normal.

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


At the table

Here’s the thing about hostels.  You can skate through, head down, backpack slung over one shoulder.  You avert your eyes, deny a grasp of English, and flick your fingers sideways as you click the front door closed.

Or you can share your butter, sit at the kitchen table, and introduce yourself.  That’s me.  Now I listen to a climate journalist and her partner who live down the street from my friend, whose house they think they might pass on dogwalks.  I don’t know anything about the city and the steps that take you down its hills.  But their animation intrigues me.  So I pour another glass of water and keep alert.

Earlier I chatted with a man from Northern India who recently moved to San Francisco from Oregon.  He admitted that he came to Pigeon Point to escape a houseful of relatives.  We traded slightly witty repartee about self-help books and the relative merits of iPhones versus Androids.  He favors the former and, in fact, just worked through the exhausting release of the most recent iteration.  He promised to convince me before the sun set.  As it happened, we stood in the doorway of the dormitory together, watching the crimson orb slide into the ocean.

Now darkness sits on the sea.  The conversation continues.  I’ve eaten my mushroom pasta and consumed enough cold water.  Peace surrounds me in this magical place.  I dread the dawn and my inevitable return to civilization.  I have another night, and a morning.  I intend to make the most of it.  After breakfast, I plan to carefully pack the car and head south to Davenport, then east into the mountains by way of Bonny Doon Road.  Another guest  warned me that the redwoods sustained a lot of fire damage and I might be disappointed.  But I will drive to the summit and gaze to the west, at the wide expanse of water, before turning towards home.

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

Once More, With Feelings

Here I am, again.  At a kitchen table in the hostel at Pigeon Point.  I’ve had dinner, a long conversation with a stranger, and a cup of contraband wine.  Through the open window, gentle air carries the sound of the sea.  

The doctor appointment that should have brought me first into San Francisco got cancelled.  I came on the diagonal into Half Moon Bay and down the coast.  As I drove, the irritation loosened its grip.  Certainly, I will regret the missed meeting which might have led to a fix of the poorly made spectacles that I’ve had to shove in my glovebox for another few weeks.  But I do not lament the ability to come to the sea without dragging my feet through the grime of the City.

My friend Joyce writes on her laptop at a table in the living room.  At the kitchen counter, a Parisian clears the clutter of his small repast.  Nothing has changed, except the dishes which I believe the hostel replaced during lockdown.  We didn’t know how long the virus would linger. We all discarded the blouses that we wore during our own bouts with Covid.  We shuddered as we burned the kerchiefs we wound around our heads.  Only later did they tell us, it doesn’t work like that.  We shrugged and told ourselves, better safe than sorry.  

But all of that has ended.  The hostel re-opened, and now I have returned.

I’ve written at this table on so many occasions.  I’ve made breakfast with people from New Zealand, and Santa Cruz, and Boise.  I celebrated my 63rd birthday here.  The poster on the wall has not changed.  I recognize cracks in the tile on the floor of the accessible shower.  The old Adirondack chairs behind this building maintain the perfect position to gaze at the cove over the long expanse of ice plants straddling the flood wall.  The cant of the evergreens might be more stooped; but the rocks stand sturdy just beyond the buoy. Seagulls fly low as the waves lap the shore, maybe the same ones that I’ve striven in vain to capture on other cell  phones, just as I did today.

Here is where my love affair with the coast line began. When I arrived,  I eagerly claimed the bed by the window and dragged the slatted chair to a closer position so I’d have somewhere to sit while I dressed.  I’m sure it’s the same chair.  Perhaps the sheets have been replaced; and the pillow shams; and the quilts.  But it all looks the same.  It could have been just yesterday that I last visited.  Perhaps Genevieve from Down Under, whom I met here and with whom I drove into the redwoods on that birthday five years ago, will come around the corner.  She’ll sit with a cup of tea and tell me about her new life in Canada.  Maybe Michael, who worked here for at least two decades and retired in 2019, will saunter down the sidewalk smoking a joint.   I could swear I saw him, just a glimpse in profile, down at the point watching for whales.

The sun has set in a soft gathering fog.  It will rise in eight hours and find me sleeping, soothed by the sweet voice of my Pacific.  Pigeon Point, same time, this year; once more, with feelings.

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

If There Is A Heaven

I know that if heaven exists, my mother sits in an old metal porch chair with a cup of coffee, watching her granddaughter Rachel grow to whatever an infant can be in the eternity.  Her sisters Joyce and Della will join her from time to time, with my Aunt Dode’s grandson Johnny and Aunt Della’s daughter Sabrina.  I’m sure my uncle Joe and my dad trade stories from a comfortable couch just inside the door, because nobody accepted my father, with his fatal flaws, like Joe Orso.  My cousins Jim and Paul provide the background music on their guitars, while my little brother Steve sits nearby on the banks of a lovely river, resting his tired spirit.

If there is a heaven, someone will carry a birthday cake with ninety-seven candles into the breakfast room, while the gathered angels sing happy heavenly birthday to my mother.  Aunt Dode will have made mostaccioli.  My grandfather’s contribution would be sweet corn from a neighboring field, yubra, and a strong liquor in a tiny glass of which my mother will not partake.  She’ll smile, watching her father Delmar and his twin Elmer drink.  If there is a heaven, there will be no sorrow in paradise this day.

The sorrow lies in my heart.  I watched an undertaker’s van carry my mother’s body from the home of my childhood some thirty-eight years ago, just two weeks before her fifty-ninth birthday.  Every day since then has held some memory of her, in a single bloom on whatever porch I had to a cardinal landing on a nearby branch.  I hear her husky voice singing low, soothing one of my younger brothers or, later, a grandchild.  She had a way of comforting the ones whom she loved for which I yearn in my grimmest hours.

My mother’s life held much for which she herself needed empathy.  She left nursing school to marry, just months before graduation, which she would come to regret.  Oh, she did not for one moment lament her eight children!  But the husband, my father, gave her much anguish even though she loved him.  A damaged World War II infantryman, Richard Adrian Corley would have been diagnosed with PTSD and given help two or three wars later.  As it was, he found his therapy in alcohol, and it must be said, he was a mean drunk.

My mother brought the sparkle to days which followed nights of terror.  We walked the streets of Jennings singing church hymns, awaiting my father’s inevitable collapse after a rage.  In the morning, she would fix breakfast and encourage us to take our noisy selves outside.  If it were Sunday, breakfast would wait until we had gone to Mass and taken Holy Communion.  On Saturdays, she would send us to Northland for the dollar movies, or to the nearby public school to play on the merry-go-round.  She made what she could of the slim budget.  She kept a clean house.  She nurtured potted plants and, later, a vegetable garden.  She provided as well as she could between her husband’s violence and the normal challenges of raising a large family on her small salary.

If there is a heaven, the deity surely rewarded my mother for her tolerance of my father’s fury.  She will also have found forgiveness for failing to protect her children from her husband’s wrath.  Perhaps they will have been given a small cottage beside that river, on the banks of which their baby boy lies sleeping.  If there is a heaven, surely Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley has a place in the ranks of the eternally cherished.  She certainly earned first-tier accommodations.

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

Gone But Never Forgotten

Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley

10 Sept 1926 – 21 Aug 1985


Come Monday

The sunset did what the amber glow on the horizon always does.  I sat on a concrete step, a few feet from others with the same goal as I.  We clutched our cameras.   We held our breath;  we waited and watched.  A long sigh rippled among us when the last ray eased across the distant bank of clouds.  Sunday ended with a lovely feeling of rightness.

A squabble with the desk agent at checkout threatened to crater the joyful spirit with which I strove to embrace Monday.   Slightly disgruntled, I drove north to Pacifica, where the waves crashed against the flood walls and the mist rose in the morning air.    I parked in one of the accessible spots at Nick’s at Rockaway Beach with an appetite and a hopeful mood.

A friendly smile from the window washer prompted me to check the time.  Just twelve minutes until they opened.  I leaned against the door and watched a small crowd gather, folks as eager as I to partake of good, simple food and hot restaurant coffee.  I chatted with a couple who told me that they had met at Nick’s twenty years ago at a ballroom dancing event.  The wife beamed; the husband looked sheepish.  He seemed to be about seventy, perhaps a good ten years older than she.  We shared stories, though for some reason, none of us mentioned our names.

Breakfast did not disappoint, with fluffy scrambled eggs, a reasonable portion of potatoes, and extra fruit.  The server kept my coffee filled.  When I asked for the check, she leaned down to whisper that the couple by the window — they of the twenty-year marriage — had paid my bill.  I stood to thank them, to the man’s blush, and the woman’s radiant smile.  I still did not get their names.

I drove further northward, to the Pacifica Pier, where I watched a man scatter  clumps of bread to the seagulls.  After a peaceful hour, I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in a fog bank and made for Sausalito and then, eventually, home.  I haven’t yet decided if I made the wisest choice to spend two days and a few hundred dollars on the coast.  But I hope to carry this pleasant feeling into the dawn of my sixty-ninth year.  The kindness of strangers and the song of the sea will certainly help.

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

Come Monday, by Jimmie Buffett; RIP, sir; thank you for the music.

Labor Day Sunday

I confess that I entered the world on Labor Day Monday, 09/05/55 at 9:05 p.m.  My mother claimed to have found the coincidence less than amusing, though she also admitted to an easy birth.  I should be grateful.  The rest of my life has been middling difficult.

This week marks my 68th birthday followed by what would have been my mother’s ninety-seventh.  Each dawn brings another gift, though sometimes I feel as though I squander these precious hours.  As my birthday nears, the solitude seeps into my pores like poison.  Deep within my soul, an old malaise stirs.  So I got online, made a last-minute hotel reservation for which I paid too much, and headed west.

I spent an hour sitting on a picnic bench at a state beach, reading and letting the ocean’s voice soothe me.  The poor fare at the restaurant where I had a late lunch nearly derailed my mood, as did the unhelpful desk attendant at what must be the worst inn in Half Moon Bay.  But I still believe that this sojourn by the sea will ultimately raise my spirits.  My lips tremble; tears threaten; but I intend to drive north a few miles to see if I can watch the sun set on the Pacific.  It can only help.  It certainly will not make anything worse.

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

There are five pictures in the gallery; it might lag.  My apologies.

To read about my September fundraising effort, click this link.

Sweet September

My birthday looms.  I turn 68 this year, against all odds.  Of course, the doctors all got it wrong.  

Since age two, I’ve been given a myriad of diagnoses and prognoses.  From bacterial to congenital to viral to we-don’t-know, the labels bombarded me.  My mother called my condition a “walking problem”.  I laughingly acknowledge that whatever it is, I had it before the term “disability” became the politically correct label for those of us with ambulatory challenges.

Every disease that some doctor thought explained the pain, spasticity, and proprioceptor disruption has been ruled out through labwork or biopsy.  It ain’t this, it ain’t that, it ain’t the other.  When doctors at Stanford retreat behind a presumptive diagnosis, you know a certain one cannot be had.  Long story short, we can’t fix it so what difference does it make what it’s called or what caused it?

I could tell them the difference it makes.  Did I pass it to my son?  Will it progress and cause a horrible ending? Can I cough and spread it?  As far as I know, the answers are no, no, and no.  So I keep moving forward, a human Energizer bunny whom sleep does not refresh and for whom speed-walkers never linger.  See me plodding down the boardwalk; watch me climb a small hill; observe as I awkwardly dangle out my car window trying to photograph the scenic Delta; listen to the voice of the ocean in my clumsily filmed home-spun videos.

Sweet September dawned in a cool haze of smoke drifting from a distant wildfire, maybe in Canada, possibly in Oregon.  I feel it in my lungs (atypical asthma) and in my pale blue eyes.  But I don’t mind.  I recently met someone with only one lung training for a marathon.  I hate to say it, but on the continuum of difficult situations, I’m closer to the easy end despite my occasional lapse into a self-pity party.

You’ve heard this before now, but it bears repeating.  When my son started kindergarten, I found myself struggling with some very odd health issues that I still don’t think anyone understood.  As we trudged up the stairs of his elementary school, he asked me, quite seriously, if I would die before he got big.  I looked down at him and said, “No, Buddy, I’m going to live to be 103 and nag you every day of your life!”  He paused on the penultimate step and contemplated that avowal.  Finally, he replied, in a serious voice, “Okay, then I’m going to ANNOY you every day of YOUR life!”  And onward we went.

I’ve got 35 years left to keep my commitment to my son.   I have failed him in many ways; I intend to keep this promise.  Feel free to stick around and watch me.  

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

This month only:  Make a donation of $25 or more to Rose Brooks Center in Kansas City to receive a free copy of my book.  Click here to learn about this fundraiser.

If you or anyone you know needs help breaking out of family violence, please call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 800-799-7233; Rose Brooks Center at 816-754-6876; Safe Home at 913-262-2868.  

If you or someone you love is experiencing thoughts of self-harm, please call: 

 Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988

There is always a way.  You are not alone.