Monthly Archives: May 2024

Oh, Auntie Em! There’s No Place Like Home

I moved to California at Christmas-time in 2017.  I had planned to live in Sonoma County, but the RV park where I had a reservation burned in a devastating fire that October.  I scrambled for another spot, first talking with a person who had private property.  Ultimately, that place struck me as too isolated – a choice proved prescient.  That land lay in the mountains above Paradise, which burned just a year later in November of 2018

A tip from a stranger led me to Park Delta Bay.  Folks with RVs displaced by the Tubbs Fire fled to another park north of the Bay, the managers of which came from Missouri.  Seeing my useless reservation on the books of the destroyed park, they called to say they didn’t have room for me.  They suggested “this place in the Delta that wants tiny houses”.  Speaking over the phone from Kansas City, I expressed surprise.  “’The Delta’,” I repeated.  “Isn’t that in Mississippi?”

“Not that one,” they laughed.  They gave me the phone number and manager’s name of Park Delta Bay RV Park & Tiny House Resort, located on Andrus Island, adjacent to the San Joaquin River.  Two months later, I stood in front of Lot G8 waiting for my builder to arrive and back Angel’s Haven into her new home, where she – and I – have dwelt ever since.

Having dodged two of the worst fires in California history, I chose to believe that my future belonged to the California Delta.  When people asked me why I moved here, I would utter some variation of a standard evasion.  “Why not?” I would counter.  Or I would smile and simply say that it was a long story.  Few probed more deeply.  I spent my first year flying back and forth to try cases “back home”, a term that I still use to describe Kansas City.  A week in Missouri; a month in California; three weeks back home, two weeks at Park Delta Bay.  I had no chance to form attachments. 

Yet by the time I settled in earnest, as 2019 bloomed, I seemed to have established myself.  We started having community dinners.  The park management recruited me to do occasional blog posts and monitor the Facebook page.  Tiny House Row grew from three to fifteen.  Moreover, I got to know people in other types of dwellings, learning what differentiated a “trailer” from an “RV” and how to distinguish a Class A from a fifth wheel.  I came to understand that sustainable, small, self-contained living came in many shapes and interesting sizes.  Folks pursued this life for a multitude of reasons, from wanting to live more simply to craving mobility.  No two stories followed the same path to the Delta.  My new community defied stereotype.

When the pandemic hit, we long-term dwellers upon these fifteen acres existed in a bubble.  Though I work in an essential industry and continued going to the office each day, many of my neighbors stayed home.  We moved our weekly gatherings outside.  We started a market in the central meadow, staging the vendor tables six feet apart and distributing masks to visitors.  We tried to continue our lives, though some of our closest cohorts left the park between lockdowns.  

As the global health crisis waned, we noticed that we had grown closer as a community but also reconfigured.  New folks pulled their rigs into spaces from which beloved faces had decamped.  Vacationers came and went, occasionally participating in our events.  The garden we had started in 2018 died during the pandemic but got rejuvenated in 2022 and thrives today.  New people took over the organization of our dinners. 

All the while, the river flowed, the cars rolled by on the levee road above us, and the sun set over the old abandoned crane at the hairpin turn on Jackson Slough Road.

We’ve lost some friends whom we still salute, and for whom tears still flow from our half-closed eyes. I picture Candice’s father John driving away on his golf cart after stealth-weedeating my lot.  He lifts one hand,  without stopping, to acknowledge my thanks.   Other friends moved away; some lost touch, some still return to our joyful embrace.  My heart leaps as Spike comes down the driveway on his bike or Gerri and Carole alight from their car.   We remember them all.  They live in our hearts.  Our DNA evolved because of them.  We hear their voices; we recite their names; we can still picture their smiles, hear their jokes, treasure their advice, luxuriate in their compassion.

In 2017 as I prepared to leave the Midwest, I made a trip to see family and distribute trinkets that I’d accumulated from various relatives over the years.  I traveled to rural Missouri, then to the east side of the state, and eventually to my son’s place in Chicago.  One night, I stood with my brother Frank outside of his house near Tower Grove Park in south St. Louis.  We drank cold beverages and stared at the sky, knowing that soon, three days’ travel would prohibit the frequent visits that we could barely orchestrate with only four hours between us.  Finally, Frank said to me, “Just tell me you aren’t going to live in a trailer park.”  I laughed.  “Okay,” I quipped.  “I won’t tell you.”  He put his arm around my shoulder and we fell silent again.  “I hope it’s a good place,” he said, so quiet that I barely heard him.

It is a good place.  It’s got faults – what old facility doesn’t?  It’s plumbing requires constant attention.  The electricity had to be overhauled in my first year here.  The restoration of worn cabins that pre-date the current ownership screeched to a halt when material prices skyrocketed during Covid. Moreover, being in the Delta means that if the wind rises or too many migrating birds land on the wires, we could lose power for days.  In February we endure weeks of torrential rains but the rest of the year, we fret over drought that could kill the fruit crops.  

Yet with all of that, I cannot help but feel that those Missouri folks steered me right when they sent me to the Delta and to Park Delta Bay.  Each morning when I leave for work, Candice at the Kiosk waves and tells me that I should have a good day.  I watch as staff members who are cherished friends toil to get the pool ready for summer.  I toot my horn at Marje, who walks the Delta Loop each morning despite her 80+ years.  Dia from the east side of the park flashes a grin as she trots past with her dogs on training leads.  A sign tells me that there will be an art class in the community room this Saturday.  A camper pulls up to the office and I think, “Ah, we have visitors,” and then laugh to myself.

Visitors, I repeat, this time out loud in the car as I circle the Loop and pause to photograph a lone egret at the edge of the river.  Those are visitors, but I live here.  It might be – as a neighbor once observed – a land of broken toys.  If so, I have happily made my place among the old stuffed bears and the bedraggled shoeless dolls.  After all, who better than a Midwest ex-pat to understand that in the final analysis, there really is no place like home.

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


A Wall of Gratitude

On January 05th of this year, I woke at 4:00 a.m. with a crazy idea of how I could appeal to customers in the little shop that I founded in historic Isleton, California.  I forced myself to sleep for another hour, and texted my cohort Michelle at 6am, babbling about this wall that we could build.  She calmly replied, “Get to the hardware store, here’s what we need, I’ll meet you at the store as soon as I’ve fed the goats.”

I stood at the door to Ace in Rio Vista waiting for it to open at 8:00 a.m.  A young clerk admitted that she had no idea what “cork board” might be.  We used her device to search the store’s inventory and found two bulletin boards in stock.  I bought both, some pushpins, the hardware Michelle had instructed me to buy, and a bag of cashews to replace the breakfast that I’d skipped.  Then I dashed back across the bridge and headed to Isleton.

Michelle and I rendezvoused at 8:45 a.m. at the first location of the shop.  Michelle has mad skills and can figure out how to fabricate anything.  By the time we opened at 10:00 a.m., we had a Gratitude Wall.  Our first customers wrote their notes, and we never looked back.

In April we found out that the shop had to move.  I texted Michelle and she drove over to my house.  We ate soup, bemoaned our fate, and then started plotting decampment.  It took a few weeks to find a location, but find one we did.  As soon as I signed the lease, I called Michelle again:  Can we move the Gratitude Wall?

We could.  Between Michelle and our cohort Ruthie, the Wall got moved and reinstalled in our new space.

At the end of each shift, I stand and study the new notes which sprout over the hours.  My heart sings.  We have notes from people in English, French, Italian, and Mandarin.  People express thanks for their family, their faith, their health, and the beauty of the California Delta.  Once in a while, two people express gratitude for each other — spouses, partners, siblings, friends.  They express thanks for surviving cancer, finding a job, and their very existence.  They even express thanks for the chance to leave a note on our Gratitude Wall.  

We have kept all of the notes beginning with that very first day.  Our collection of gratitude notes continues to grow.  From time to time, I leave another note of my own.  My thank-you’s nestle among those of the many visitors to Mubdie’s: A creative collective.  They are in good company.

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

Ode to My Mother

As a child, I had four ambitions:  To get a poem published in the New Yorker; to be a kindergarten teacher; to live happily-ever-after; and to have six children.  I accomplished none of these goals, although I’m still working on that third one. 

My mother supported my dream of being a writer.  In her earlier days as an EKG technician at St. Louis County Hospital, she took one or the other child to work with her during the summer.  Of course, her goal focused on having fewer bodies in the line of my father’s hungover wrath, but I gleefully volunteered whenever I got the chance.

There, I would cut EKG lead strips (in the days before computers) to mount them on report pages, organize storage shelves, and, joy of joys, use her typewriter without interruption from a curious little brother.  That hospital office, with its curtained cubby for walk-in clinic patients, saw the first stacks of paper bearing the transcribed scribblings of a poet wannabe, before I realized that my feeble attempts at verse barely rose to the level of amateur.

Mother praised each short, structured missive.  When I had a project to submit some of them in English class, she organized and typed them herself, deeming herself superior in the hammering which produce clean copy.  The heavy strokes necessary to force key to page challenged my small hands.  She got a yellow three-pronged folder from the cabinet and showed me how to use the hole-puncher.  We created a book of my poetry.  I cherished that folder until it finally succumbed to the vagaries of time or too many moves.  

Over the years, I dabbled in poetry.  Eads Magazine in St. Louis published three of mine as a trio.  My mother insisted that I bring multiple copies of the edition to her.  She mailed them to unsuspecting relatives who feebly thanked her, I’m sure, and threw the issue into the basket on the floor by the couch.  I often wonder how shocked they would be to know that the imagery of the third verse referred to a miscarriage that I had in my mother’s bathroom.  “A child, once real, then gone” read one line.  My mother and I never spoke of it but she herself had nursed me through that episode just months before I submitted the lot for consideration.

I wrote several poems about my mother.  She never read them.  One I wrote during a period of uneasy alliance between us; another I composed after her death.  I do not know how she would have felt about the approach that I took to these odes to her resilience and my affection for her.  But every fiber of my being sings of her legacy.  All that I am; the choices that I’ve made; the way in which I make decisions; rises and falls on the strength I inherited from her.  Even my mistakes echo some that I realize she herself indulged.  My faults come from her but so does my endless capacity to forgive others, to nourish even the tiniest flicker of hope, and to open a window wide enough to allow healing breezes to fill the cramped space of my damaged heart.

Although I did not raise six children, the universe gifted me with one.  Some would say that I emulated my mother’s clumsy parenting in both its virtues and its flaws.  I do not speak for Patrick on the issue.  I struggled with parenting, though I unquestionably experienced the unbridled, unconditional love that a better poet might more deftly describe.   Perhaps that love drove me to fear loss so intensely that I fumbled the rest.  Perhaps my own damaged spirit never stood a chance to truly excel at raising any child.   Either way, I do not excuse any remission by blaming my own childhood.  I only pray, to paraphrase the words of Murry Burns, that my son speaks well of me when the opportunity to speak at all arises.

 I can honestly say that I see a lot of my mother’s gentle spirit in my son.  If a village helped me raise Patrick, my mother’s genes supported his psyche as he navigated the white waters of the home that I created.  For my part, I tried to channel the humor and perseverance of my mother’s style.  I realized early in my son’s toddlerhood that I could never have raised six children.  My admiration for my mother’s determination to bring the eight Corleys from infancy to adulthood bloomed as I struggled with just the one.

My mother’s greatest strengths revealed themselves in crises, large and small.  When a car struck me during my second year of law school, consigning me to a two-month stint in the hospital, Mom used all her vacation time to move herself and my father from St. Louis to Kansas City.  She camped in my apartment, made friends with the neighbors, and collected notes from my professors.  She dragged my father to my hospital room and greeted my visitors.  When one teacher asked if the accident had damaged my good leg or my bad leg, she loudly informed him that she hadn’t known I had a good leg and then uproariously laughed at her own joke.

Mother’s Day provides an opportunity to honor my mother.  But I try to let my admiration of her shine in everything I do.  I hope the best of her endures in me.  I certainly strive to bring it forward.  Time will tell if I have faithfully credited my mother’s example.  Until then, I shall just endeavor to put my best foot forward.

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

From A Daughter

What do I say to this woman
sitting across from me
over a society lunch?
What do I say to one
who changed my diapers,
and coaxed me through a pre-adolescent limp
and post-pubescent cramps?
How do I treat someone
who learned to drive at 40,
fought the maybe-giants and
organized picnics
When she wasn’t at work,
or scrubbing floors
or despairing?
There are no words for one
who is too familiar
with emergency rooms,
airports, and
So I sit, choking on idle conversation
about the silver market
and over-sprouted beans,
neither of which I understand.
If I appear tense
it is because I also choke
on unexpressed devotion
and overwhelming sorrow.

© M. C. Corley, 1980, 2024

Pain in my heart of hearts

Most days I understand that any problem with which I struggle can be characterized as petty.  In my heart of hearts, I recognize that my bank account rises and falls at my own discretion, my pain substantially abates if I rest, and the awkwardness of my body does not inhibit a fulfilling life.  Occasionally temptation lures me to self-pity.  But I know the truth.

The powerful images of this historic time struck my senses and wrenched sobs from my defenseless psyche.  In the midst of my workaday hours, a CNN alert drew me to open a browser.  A stunning photograph of professors standing with linked arms, holding the line between two groups of protesters, greeted my disbelieving mind.  What is this, I asked myself.  Who are theyI read the caption, my immediate obligations forgotten.

I scrolled other sites, studying terrible pictures of wounded children wailing in fright on the streets of Gaza.  I am neither Palestinian nor Jewish.  I am in fact half-Irish, a quarter Austrian, and a quarter Syrian.  But I am a mother; I have taught; I have studied.  I have walked a protest line.  I have gone to jail for taking a stand in defense of civil rights and against inequity.  However  for most of my life, I have been a thoughtless middle-class American with a reasonably comfortable existence  Today I keenly understood the principle that silence equates to complicity.

I want to stand in that brave line of faculty.  I long to fly across the world and gather those children to my breast.  Instead I can only raise my monthly donation to World Central Kitchen in the hopes that my dollars will suffice to fill a tiny, empty belly.   I shed hot tears, lamenting my feeble stand against the senseless tragedy devastating that small sliver of someone’s precious homeland.  

When I came home tonight, my fingers had swelled from the constant typing during eight hours of work.  I shrugged and thought about my favorite Isaac Bashevis Singer anecdote, the last line of which defines catastrophe as an incident in which little children die.  If I accomplish nothing else in my time on this earth, I pray that some act of mine will forestall catastrophe, here at home or in a distant corner of this troubled world.  I stand with those who protest yet another senseless onslaught of the innocent.   In the old way of my oft-lamented catholic childhood, I pledge to silently endure my suffering that theirs might somehow thereby lessen.

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

–Lorraine (née Art) Schneider

My friends:  I do not usually talk about current events in this blog.  I have a social-political blog though it currently has been rendered inactive for technical reasons.  Because I lack that forum, and because my observations dovetail with my journey to joy, I chose to use this platform for these comments.  Take them as you will.

Between the House of the Living and the Land of the Dead

A phrase snagged my attention during a mindless social media scroll the other day.  Land of the Dead.  I didn’t catch it with sufficient speed to read the article. Its specific reference escaped me.  But the imagery stuck.  I feel that.  I dwell in a pool of memory.  Its ripples take me farther and farther  from the safety of a sturdy shore.  The pool meets a river and the current hastens.  I cling to a log, a floating pile of driftwood, a flat expanse of board from a long-forgotten shipwreck.

In the middle of the river I come upon a small island.  I grab the brambles and drag myself to the muddy edge of its uncivilized contours.  Half-submerged, half-saved, I cast my eyes into the woods.  Then I see them:  Their eyes fixed on my weary brow, their hands reaching for my trembling fingers.  I recognize each face.  I have come to the land of my dead, and I can only escape by making my way across its wild woods.

The arduous task nearly overwhelms me.  My head falls.  The spirits whisper my name in voices that I can never forget.  “Mare bear,” says one, low and calm.  A figure that endlessly hovers below the age of forty, the youngest of my siblings who surrendered to his own struggles.  “Oh my baby girl,” whispers a small shape in a throaty voice.  The cadence reminds me of an old country that I shall never see but somehow regard as home.  I close my eyes.  

A lovely cottage sits just beyond the untamed forest. I sense its nearness.  In that house, the living wait for me.    My clumsy hands force heavy branches to part so I may pass.  I do not yet see the light streaming from windows as lace curtains unfurl in the soothing breeze.  But it cannot be far.  I draw a breath and forge ahead.

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

February full moon over Andrus Island.