Author Archives: ccorleyjd365

How does your garden grow?

I did not do much of the labor which has resulted in the bounty of our Community Garden.  I had the idea, requested the allocated space, secured the cooperation of the Park, and encouraged the young and the able-bodied in their efforts.  Most evenings I go down to the garden to water or do some mild weeding.  Other women carry the weight of the effort.  Sarah, Jessie, and Ken built two of the beds; John from the park built the first of them and hauled the good rich earth for us.  Sarah fashioned the bean trellis from willow branches, and carved the signs which mark each row.

But I share the bounty.  I eat the lettuce in my salads and saute the chard.  This evening, I will toss fried zucchini with butter and mushroom for my dinner.  I breathe the air which seems sweeter under the rising bows of the living trellis.  I let the western light bathe my face as the soaker hoses do their work.

We have a little patch of flowers.  Rose contributed the seeds.  Sarah opened the packets, spreading the contents with wild abandon.  We’ve all pulled creeping grass to protect the tender growth.  I bought a stone plaque from the local potter.

Walking back from the garden, my neighbor Jessie keeps her arm extended.  I know I can lean on her if I need assistance over the rough ground.  That knowledge sustains me, like Dumbo’s feather or Dorothy’s ruby slippers.  Or, for that matter, like the slender whip which I retrieved from the ground today, before Jessie arrived.  I found myself teetering on the hillside by the water spigot.  With the meager guide of a long thin branch, I scooted to safer ground.  That stick could not have held my weight.  But somehow I felt assured, gripping it, letting its tender tip drag on the ground beside my stumbling feet.

Our garden grows with grace and glory.  It drinks the water which we provide and soaks the rays of the afternoon sun. Rich Delta soil nurtures the roots.  The stalks rise higher than we could have imagined.  Despite my meager contribution to the creation of this place, I take much comfort from its burgeoning contours.

It’s the twenty-third day of the fifty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

The Sleep of Seeds

It didn’t rain all summer.
Instead of water, my father used prayer
for his garden. Despite his friends’ laughter,
he planted spinach and lettuce,
countless rows of cucumbers
in beds lined up meticulously
ignoring old people’s warnings
about the drought.
Every afternoon, he pushed his hat back,
wiped off his sweat,
and looked up at the empty sky,
the sun scorching
the acacia trees shriveling in the heat.
In July, the ground looked like cement.
Like the ruins of a Roman thermal bath,
it kept the vestiges of a lost order,
traces of streams long gone.
He yelled at me to step back
from the impeccable architecture
of climbing green beans,
the trellis for tomatoes,
although there was nothing to be seen,
no seedlings, no tendrils,
not even weeds,
just parched, bare ground—
as if I were disturbing
the hidden sleep of seeds.

— Lucia Cherciu, from Edible Flowers


Flag City on Fumes

The shimmering light drew me around the Loop, from the 5-mile mark at which Delta Bay sits to Highway 12.  I turned east, towards Lodi, gambling on the ten miles to Flag City and the direction in which my morning appointment took me.  I could have gone west, a half-dozen miles to Rio Vista and gas.  The glowing icon on my dashboard chided me for the gross oversight of forgetting to stop before groceries last night, after my appointment, on the Solano County side of the bridge.

I headed east.  I don’t care for back-tracking.  Move forward.  Always.

I made it to Flag City on fumes.  Two pumps had canvas covers and signs apologizing for their unavailability.  I stopped next to the third and struggled to see the screen in the dazzle of the day.  A man by a red Ford truck bigger than my front porch smiled as I fooled with the nozzle.  I chose to assume that he liked my look and wasn’t laughing at me.

A pleasant hum greeted me back on the highway.  My gauge thanked me for the stop as the car surged forward, into traffic.  I found myself smiling.  I had put 13.5 gallons into a 15-gallon tank.  I could have gotten all the way to Lodi.  Once more, I had beaten the odds.  My record improves by leaps and bounds.  At the rate my luck has been changing, I might buy my first lottery ticket soon.

It’s the twenty-second day of the fifty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Tomorrow, I don’t have to rise at 5:30 to be someone for somebody else.

Tomorrow, I can do laundry, neaten my storage cubbies, and water my succulents.

Tomorrow, I can stroll down to the Community Garden, pick lettuce, and take sentimental pictures of the weeping willows.

Tomorrow, I can drive north of Rio Vista to find the farm with fresh eggs.

Tomorrow, I can throw out the circulars, junk mail, and paper copies of statements that I get online.

Tomorrow, I can answer moderately significant e-mail, decide if I really need to drive two hours each way for physical therapy, and examine the requirements for registering my car in California.

But that’s tomorrow.

Tonight, I will finish this delicious locally-grown pear; wash the dishes; then get into a pair of cozy pajamas.  I’ll close the windows against the chill of an autumn night on the banks of the San Joaquin.  I’ll open my tablet and summon the novel that I’m reading.  I’ll snuggle under my quilt and lean against my pillows.  I’ll pause, gaze around my two-hundred square foot house, and smile at the incredible gift of #mytinylife.

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

What I learned today.

Traffic on Highway 5 clogs at the I-80 exchange.  The slow-down lasts for hours.  I had thirty minutes to sit in the mess going to and coming from a meeting.  I used the time to cogitate on my day and what I’ve learned.

I started with the certain knowledge that the River Delta Volunteer Fire Department works tirelessly for the people of the Delta.  I got a first-hand view of their effort.  I considered taking a photograph, but last night I watched a video with Anderson Cooper explaining why he didn’t rush after flood victims with a camera.  “We respected their privacy.  We didn’t want to stick a lens in their faces.”

So you’ll have to get an idea of what I saw from my description.  I came to the intersection of Jackson Slough Road and Highway 12 at 8:20 this morning.  I saw the commotion as I drew near.  A tow truck had backed toward the front of a crumpled car.  Five firefighters grouped around a man lying on the ground  His legs twitched.  Shards of glass and hunks of twisted metal clattered on the road as the vehicle ahead of me inched through the scene.

I lowered my window to ask, in a hushed voice, whether I could pass.  The nearest first responder measured the gap between the prone victim and his battered car.  “Okay,” he instructed.  “Go straight across; don’t turn left or right; and watch yourself on that side,” he added, gesturing to the tow truck driver.  I followed his instructions.  Another rescue vehicle approached the scene from the west and waited while I crept through the accident’s aftermath.

I replayed that experience many times this afternoon. I’ve been in similar collisions.  I’ve been wrenched from a car by the jaws of life.  I’ve been gingerly pulled from the street and cradled in a stranger’s lap while we waited for help.  I have sat dazed in the narrow space between a jammed steering wheel and the seat back.  I’ve smashed into a window.  I’ve broken an axle ramming against a curb.  I’ve flown three stories into the sky, landed on a hood, and shattered the windshield as I smacked against it, folded in a tight ball, desperately straining to protect my head.

I lived through all of that.  I barely even shed blood.  I sustained, at the worst, multiple fractures in my right leg.  Even when I had to be pried from beneath the twisted door of the Gremlin in which I had been riding when an Oldsmobile broadsided us, I suffered nothing worse than a dislocated hip.

This morning I crossed myself out of habit and said a prayer for the man whose brown shoes struck a tender chord in my heart. Late in the day, I shielded my eyes from the glare of the setting sun and decreased my speed.  I squinted to see the curving levee road in the shimmering light.  I let a motorcycle pass.  He clearly had somewhere to go, but I had  no need to arrive at home five minutes sooner.  I could take my time.

What I learned today will not surprise you.  Life is fleeting.  A heart beat separates our sojourn on earth from an unexpected reservation at heaven’s threshold.  We can be knocked across that gap without notice.  On any given day, someone’s life will end without that person having a chance to reaffirm their love for family and friends.

One moment, we strive to leave the California Delta Loop by beating the oncoming traffic on Highway 12.  The next second, five earnest first responders lean over us, fighting for our very lives.  Perhaps a divine plan dictates the timing of such moments; perhaps not.  Either way, they shall come.  Best be ready for them.

I love you all.  I appreciate you all.  Now spread the word.

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

In which I thank my sisters.

Take a deep breath.  You’ll get through this day.  It’s kind of lumpy, I know; but you have so many sisters who love you.  Think of them.  Focus.  You’ve come too far to falter.

I repeat this mantra over and over on days such as today.  As the sun settles on the far horizon, over Mt, Diablo, I feel drawn to thank all of the amazing women who have gotten me through the last four years.  Bear with me.  This could take a while.

Here’s to you, Brenda.   You came late to my life but just in time to rescue me from a bitter nugget on which I had been choking.  You strode past the porch where I sat molting and pulled me into the sunshine with your practical  good cheer. In your honor, i went today and got a library card in Rio Vista.

I raise my glass to Katrina, who dug each hole in which I buried a broken splinter of my heart.  You planted columbine, impatiens, and lilies in the soil where my spirit slept.  You awakened my joy with your persistence and your patience.  I nurture the plants in my tiny garden thinking of you.  And lest you think that I have forgotten, you also shared your daughters with me, Jennie and Caitlin, and opened my eyes to the special bond of women in another generation.

I owe so much to you, Pat, my Yorkie-loving friend.  You give me your faith, your admiration, and your attention.  Your saucy tongue and your understanding dance across the wires with such keen timing that I often wonder if you have a portal to my soul.

And Miss Jeanne. What can I say to you? It seems our friendship grew more after I came to California than it did in all the years we knew each other in Missouri. You believe in me in ways that I have never done and no one else has ever done. I did not forget you.

No sister-tribute could overlook Lyne’t, my twin sister from a darker mother.  Your robust laughter, your warm embrace, the twinkle in your eye, the sure step of your vibrant dance — these sustain me, even now, even two thousand miles from your best intentions.

A quiet nod across that same distance to Elizabeth, who knows what I do not; who often sees what I overlook; and whose quiet, careful regard for me shone like a candle in more than one dark hour.

I can’t find the words for my devotion to Paula K-V.   You have shown me so much tenderness.  By your words, in your silence, with your arms and hands and eyes, you have brought me from the brink and kept me safe.

Penny — no, I would not omit you.  You often knew that my pain could not be soothed with words, and so you poured another cup of coffee, another mug of tea, and sat yourself down to glow in the gloom of my desperation.  What’s more, you brought me into the circle of your world.  Through you, I met so many other sisters, including sweet Angela, whose music calms me even when I only hear the notes inside my head. And Cindy, beside whom I never fail to smile.

No tribute list could be complete without Kimberley, my sister leopard with her charming spots.  You placed your feet upon the same path where I now walk with more conviction because your spirit abides with me even though our roads diverged.

To Jane, I send undying gratitude.  You knew that you could not give me solutions, but you offered steps, and methods, and an unbroken life line.  You cannot be blamed for my failing hands, or the blind eye with which I shunned your kindest suggestions.

Genevieve turned her lens on beauty which I still find difficulty acknowledging.  She held her arm out in just the right way to break my fall.  She showed me that love defies definition, and that I have, in fact, added value in the lives of others.  Along with Genevieve, Samantha gave me sweetness and the delicacy of her images.  I raise my eyes and feel the peace in each flower.

Lori and Kristen showed me that I can walk a foreign path and find a comforting oasis.  The two of you have encountered so much sorrow.  And yet, you rise!  You rise!

Ruthie offered devotion even though she knew that I strained to accept my worthiness.  And something more:  A vision of life after devastation.  Ruthie, my lovely friend, thank you for your example of believing.

Mary never forgets to tender a message of love, and light, and acceptance.  I read those messages, my friend, even when I cannot bring myself to answer.  Your constant presence comforts me.

And oh, Jenna — did you think that I could perform this recitation without recalling our wild trip across the state?  You were the first to lay eyes on Angel’s Haven!  Oh no, my girl; you too receive my gratitude.  You showed me a new way of viewing life, for which I am so much the richer.  As did all the ladies of our Rotary Club, come to that.  Season, and Laura, and Katie, and Janette, and Bayley, and the other Jenna, and Robin.  And even, through her mysterious husband, the indomitable spirit of Dr. Carolyn Karr.  There is no way on earth I can remember all of them.  They know.  They remember everything we shared.

Stretching back — to St. Louis — Jeanne Serra, who came back into my life after decades and brought angels with her; and Diana, who left so long ago but never forgot, even to welcoming my son into her home despite the decades and distance between us.

This list could continue.  I fear that I will forget someone.  It could include the new women in my life — Sharon and Ellen, who share the ocean with me; and Pattie, Macrina, and Christina, and all the other ladies of this place which I now call home.  And it must expand by three.  So many women have become my sisters-by-choice, but I have three other sisters:  Ann, Adrienne, and Joyce — sisters to the core, by our blood, by our shared DNA and the fabric of our childhood.  I can barely breathe for measuring the ways which each has loved me.  Not a day goes by without a call from Joyce, or a little note from Adrienne, or a gift from Ann.  I never once regretted being the youngest girl.  My big sisters keep me sane, if sane I can even claim to be.

I’m not dying; nor have I decided to throw in the towel.  It’s just this:  As I drove down Jackson Slough today, the light glinted off the old cultivator which I’ve longed to photograph in the fullness of the western sun.  I drove past, telling myself, today was not the day.  Then I made a sharp turn in an old culvert, turned around, and pulled into the farmer’s field.  I don’t know yet if I got anything decent enough to share.  My sight blurred with the sudden rise of tears, thinking of home, of my tribe, of the women who wove themselves through the rich fabric of the shawl with which I warm myself each night.

Thank you.  Thank you all.

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


Just a few of my sisters, by choice and birth.

A new road traveled

I’ve been doing some contract work in Elk Grove.  This endeavor takes me out of the house earlier than had become usual, and onto the loop while the morning traffic makes its way off the island.

I’ve seen folks and sights that I would otherwise never have beheld:

A woman walking her labs — one blonde, one chocolate — from behind the wobbly front wheel of her mountain bike on the opposite side of West Brannan Island Road, with the same line of trucks straining their idled motors behind her parade every day.

The morning crew of road-workers on the draw bridge at Walnut Grove, who hold their signs admonishing me to SLOW or STOP with an air of certainty that I will comply, and an easy, strong bearing to shoulders flexing beneath Flourescent-green vests.

A grizzly-bearded old hippie who nods his head at each slow-moving vehicle on the river road near Locke, his thin body wrapped in a tattered flannel shirt, and a cigarette dangling from worn lips.

A tiny Chinese lady wrapped in a pink silk shawl, picking her way along the river bank as I journey north to the Twin Cities Road cut-over.

A herd of goats nibbling at weeds behind a wire fence, guarded by thin, wary dogs who glare at me through the open window with angry eyes above their open jaws.

And oleanders:  Miles and miles of glorious bushes, rising above the landscape, sending the heady fragrance of their sweet  poison  onto the wafting breezes of chilly Delta air.

I arrive at the office building just before nine, and sit for a few minutes listening to my motor cool.  I marvel anew at the striking differences between where I now live and the places that I previously called home.  Neither surpasses the other in my esteem; but this new road upon which I have set myself brings strange and wonderful vistas.  My horizons have broadened.  I’ve opened my eyes to the world on this unexpected and intriguing leg of my journey.  I take my time,   I don’t want to miss anything.

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


Five Difficult Things

Whenever I skip a day in this blog, I hear from at least one, often more, of my friends who read my entries.  To them, now, here, I say:  Thank you so much for caring.

To you all, I make this disclosure:  Now and then, the words write themselves in my head but my body will not cooperate and record what my mind creates.  Last night saw that stubbornness.  I collapsed on my bed and read until I finally felt drowsy enough to turn out the light.  I woke at 4:00 a.m. with words rising from consciousness.  Now I should be showering and dressing but instead I’m letting them flow.  I might be late.

Here’s what I want to tell you — five difficult things about me.  I articulate this list to encourage you to turn to your spouse, or partner, or child, or sibling, or friend, and disclose five difficult things about yourself.  Take my example, only take it down to an intimate level. If the person truly cherishes you, the disclosures will strengthen the bonds.  If the person’s affection for you cannot withstand the disclosures you make, you will stumble past the encounter with an understanding that you must seek new relationships which can sustain your darkest hours.  I pray the former result for you.

Either way, you will strengthen your own faith in yourself.

So, here, then, are five difficult things about me.

  1.  At the age of eighteen months, I sat down on my bottom and refused to keep walking.  For the next several decades, I would suffer under a different diagnose with each change of health insurance providers.  Nobody believed my symptoms until a physician named Joseph Brewer at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City.  He saved my life and probably my sanity.  Every once in a while, less often now because of a new medication that I take, I became so ill that I cannot function.  That happened to me over the last few days, culminating in last night’s exhaustion.
  2. I’m afraid of people who shout.  My father shouted at my mother and all of us, all the time.  His shouting terrified me.  It opened wounds in me that have not healed.  His physical punishment of us did not frighten me as much as the sound of his raised voice.  I’ve begged people in my adult life not to shout at me.  I cannot endure yelling.  I become cold and closed.  I acknowledge that I often regret not resolving this fear and further, that professional help might have facilitated its resolution.  But I frankly consider my request that people not shout to be extraordinarily reasonable.  As with the fear of poisonous snakes or people with assault rifles, my fear of shouting helps me recognize dangerous situations from which I can hastily extricate myself one way or the other.
  3. I don’t like opening mail.  This distaste extends to all mail.  Bills, junk, birthday cards — all invoke queasiness deep in my belly.  I think in another life, my death sentence must have come by post.  I often push unopened mail in drawers and extract them one letter at a time over a period of days.  If I don’t acknowledge an invitation which you sent via mail, consider calling me.
  4. Oh — but wait.  I don’t like talking on the phone, either.  I can’t hear well and I depend on sketchy but constant visual cues to help me follow what a person says.  I watch their mouth, eyes, hands, and the way they hold their shoulders.  My ability to complete the dropped syllables which my brain did not decipher drastically declines over the phone.  (Try e-mail if you really want to reach me.  But not text; my clumsy fingers rebel at the difficulty of the virtual buttons.  Heh heh.)
  5. I cry at Hallmark commercials.  I can recount the script of most of them.  The one which gets me the quickest and the fiercest involves a brother coming home and slipping into a family group singing Christmas carols at the piano.  His younger sibling looks adoringly into his face.  I can’t say whether that’s the moment which I found so touching.  It could be the impossible scene of a family harmony that I never experienced.  Songs around a piano, for goodness sake.  Did people actually do that?  My tears mix joy with sorrow.  I’m happy for the young child whose beloved brother has returned in time for the holiday.  I’m crushed for myself.  I love my siblings.  I loved my mother.  And we did sing, I know we did; but never around a piano and never with that delicious abandon of the Hallmark family.

So that’s five difficult things about me.  If you don’t have a loved one to whom you can make your Five Difficult Things confession, you can e-mail me at  I’ll listen.  I’ll care.  I will be here.

It’s the thirteenth day of the fifty-seventh month of My Year without Complaining.  Life continues.

One Last Whisper

When my day has not gone according to plan, I reach for the words of other, better writers.  I leave you with this work by an exquisite poet, with a fond glance backward and my best wishes for a good night to you all.

“She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways”, by William Wordsworth

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
—Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

My Aunt Dode on the left and my mother, Lucy, on the right. “Dode” was our name for my mother’s sister Joyce.

“I’m Still Your Mother”

Stop me if you’ve heard this story.

On 18 August 1985, my mother spoke the last coherent words which I would ever hear her say.  Although she did not die until three days later, I had to drive back to Kansas City on the evening of the 18th because an opposing counsel would not accept my verbal assurances that my presence would not change anything.  I needed a continuance.  He would not ask for one on my behalf.  I appeared in Jackson County at 9:30 a.m. on the 19th and made it back to St. Louis late that day.  By that time, my mother’s mental state had deteriorated to the point of incoherence.

But on Sunday, she asserted herself into my psyche with her usual aplomb.

I strove to coax her weak pituitary gland to function.  My brother Stephen had taught me to liquefy her pain medication; I didn’t question the source of his knowledge.  I put it down to his nursing school experience.  With the pulverized pill dissolved in water, I stood over my mother’s frail form, letting the solution trickle into her mouth. I stroked her throat, trying to avoid the obvious parallel to the cat whom I nursed in the last days of feline leukemia.

Swallow, Mama.  Swallow. I kept my voice soft and gentle.  Come on, Mama.  Swallow for me, please, Mom.

My mother pursed her lips.  The focus in her eyes tightened.   She fixed them on my face and snapped, I’m still your mother. Don’t patronize me.

The order startled me and I dropped the spoon, spilling the medication on her gown.  She didn’t flinch; she had already subsided into her vague trance.

Yes ma’am, I whispered, too late, always too late.  I got  fresh nightclothes and started the process over again.  I stumbled through the administration of the drug which kept her calm and eased the anguish of the cancer in her brain and bones.  She slept.  I put the New World Symphony on the turn table and held her hand as the morning waned.  I left around two.  I never heard her voice again except raised in a heart-breaking wail when I got back the next night.  She died on Wednesday, August 21st, a victim of medical malpractice and the failings of men.

My mother died two weeks before my thirtieth birthday and not quite three weeks before she wold have turned fifty-nine.  I miss her throaty laugh, her cheerful skip, her sharp tongue when she perceived injustice, and the knowing look in her bright brown eyes.  I miss her reassurance, her intelligence, and her willingness to take on impossible causes armed only with her tenacious spirit and prayers to Sts. Anthony and Jude; and to Theresa of the Little Flower.  I miss the sight of her many wrap-around skirts, all made from different fabric but the same pattern.  I miss her denim pocketbooks, similarly created.  I miss the comfort of knowing that if I stumbled, she would hasten to my side with a quiet word, a plan of action, and a humorous story to ease the tension.

For all of her virtues, my mother made mistakes.  Some went with the times.  She stayed married despite the awful conduct of her husband because that’s what Catholics did in those days.  As I sit here, I can’t think of too many other examples of my mother’s imperfection, though I will concede that time has blurred the lesser memories in favor of the tender times.

My mother took us to musicals, ballets, picnics, and her work.  We cut EKG strips and pasted them on the forms for the patients’ charts.  Especially for the three younger children — myself, Frank and Steve — my mother made time for learning and enjoyment.  She read my scribblings, though she encouraged me to pursue “a real career”.  She forgave us when we trespassed and held us when we grieved.  She cleaned the blood from her bathroom floor when I lost my first pregnancy in a miserable flood of tears late one January night.  She never judged me.  She tucked me into my old bed and brought me hot tea and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup with Saltines and Vanilla Wafers.  She let me cry.  She did not demand an explanation.

I know that I have some of my father in me, but I carry my mother’s stamp.  My goodness comes from her.  She taught me to value other people and to give them a chance.  She did this by example.  But she also taught me not to take any guff from those who would judge me.  Her tart tongue would lash out at anyone who asserted themselves against one of her children in ways that she found untenable.  She would defend the weak and helpless. She would harbor the weary. Ask my older brothers’ friends, they’ll tell you.  They often sought refuge in my mother’s home.

Whenever anyone chastises me for being overly conscientious with my manners, I shake my head.  “I’m sorry, this is is how my mother taught me.  If I didn’t let you go first, my mother would roll over in her grave,” I tell each one.  “And my mother had a hard life.  She needs her rest.”  They laugh and let me hold the door, or pay the check, or whatever it is that I think my mother’s version of courtesy would dictate.

Nobody told a story like my mother.  She’d stand and gesture, roll her eyes, and mimic the cadence of the story’s participants.  My personal favorite involved someone asking her for directions to the lab at the hospital where she worked.  Accustomed to guiding patients who often needed simple instructions, my mother said, “Okay, you go way down the hall.  Way, way down the hall.  It seems a long, long way but KEEP GOING.  You’ll pass a room that LOOKS like a lab but it’s NOT A LAB, it’s a BLOOD BANK.  Then you come to a set of DOUBLE DOORS, that’s TWO DOORS TOGETHER.”

And the person said, “Doors.  You mean those things with handles?”

My mother was about to say, “No, these are swinging doors,” when she noticed the stethoscope around the man’s neck.

I laughed until I peed my pants every time my mother told this story, waving her arms as she said, “WAY, WAY DOWN THE HALL!”

Doors.  I feel as though many doors slammed in my mother’s face.  She quit nursing school to marry the dazzling Irishman who turned out to be an alcoholic.  She bore eight children but had to go back to work without a college degree, for a dollar an hour, because her husband could not support the family.  She endured his drinking, his fists, and his nasty tongue.  She shielded her children as well as she could, though of course, it could not be enough.  Just when she got her life together, with her sad wreck of a semi-sober husband, she started having symptoms which her doctor should have, but did not, recognize as uterine cancer. He diagnosed “female troubles” and gave her Premarin, a known aggravant of the imminently curable cancer which afflicted her.  It caused the tumor to metastisize, almost certainly hastening or even causing her demise.  Ah, life.

She died too soon, but in the state to which her ravaged body had declined, not really soon enough.  She needed to be free of the pain which no amount of liquid Demerol could ease.

My mother liked Dvorak, Willie Nelson, the Grateful Dead, Livingston Taylor, and Broadway show tunes.  I hope there’s a damn good sound system in heaven.  Maybe Anthony Newley and Willie Nelson would sing a duet of Happy Birthday for her.  She’d like that. Afterwards she would walk down to the banks of the River Jordan with her youngest son Stephen and her granddaughter Rachel.  They could sit beneath a willow tree, and say nothing at all.

Nothing at all.  Nothing at all.(n)

It’s the tenth day of the fifty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  For Lucy’s little girl, life continues.

Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley and yours truly, at the Bissell House, c. 1971. My favorite picture of me and my mother.  Rest in peace,Hot Lips Mama. See you on the flip side.



09/10/26 — 08/21/85



(n) For those who don’t know:

In the Gillespie, Illinois cemetery there’s a stone chair on  a grave near the street.  My mother would ask us, “Do you know what that chair says when you sit on it?”  Of course, we’d shake our heads.  Then she’d intone in her very best spooky voice:  “Nothing at all.  Nothing at all.”



Survival by Default

As my strength returns, I begin to sense that I had been ailing for some time.  Though the doctors never found the source of the bleeding, one theory credited my interruption of the blood thinner for the swift correction.  Finding the polyps and cutting them away came as a happy bi-product of the mysterious malady.

I picked my way along trails on the bluff above Seal Cove and in the forests above the sea.  I can walk to the garden again without a cane.  My morning stretches again invigorate me.

One of the young folk staying at the hostel greeted me on my birthday by asking how I fared.  “Any day that I awaken counts as a gift,” I told him.  I gave a short version of a twenty-year survival by default.  “On 14 February 1998, a doctor gave me six months to live.  I told him that I had other plans.”

Putting my best foot forward, accepting each day that dawns, never forgetting to breathe; my strategy seems to be working.  This evening I sauteed chard and zucchini which I had a hand in growing.  I cleaned Delta silt from the leaves of butter lettuce from the community garden and nibbled Thai basil flowers culled from a bountiful plant which stands adjacent to the broccoli.  I feel my mother’s DNA fighting for ascendancy.  I’ve been an Irish Corley long enough; my  sturdy Austrian blood mingled with the passion of  Syria can carry me for the next thirty years.

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