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Remembering One Who Served

By rights, I should head over to my other blog and talk about Veteran’s Day.  But I have a different focus tonight, more personal.

I wanted to post a picture of my father in his uniform to commemorate his service.  I do not have one.  Moreover, I acknowledge that many remain conflicted about my father.

I recognize that his alcoholism and abusiveness probably stemmed from post-traumatic stress related to his combat service in World War II.  I do not excuse him; I do understand him.

I have a dear friend, Jeanne Foster, who tells me not to cut him any slack.  Some of my siblings feel the same way.  But my anger towards him weighed me down for decades.  i let it go.    I see what happened to him.

I don’t deny that we children and my mother survived unfathomable brutality at his hands.  He had choices, though not as many as our society currently offers.  In his war, you served or you got branded as a coward.  The generals apparently did not understand what war does to the human psyche as they now do.  No mental health services existed for veterans in those days.  You came home, you slipped back into life, and you tried to make a go of it.  The lucky ones could fully engage.  A middle group sat taciturn behind their newspapers.  The wretched few took to drink and all of its twisted foibles.

My sister also served.  She became a nurse through the Army’s Walter Reed Institute of Nursing program. She spent a tour in Korea, possibly tending to the wounds of soldiers flown to her hospital from Vietnam.  But she never talks of that time — at least, not to me.  What I remember most of her Army days is the refrigerator that she bought for us with her accumulated pay when she got back stateside.  Our old fridge had long since died, and we desperately needed its replacement.   My mother quietly cried when the new one arrived, from gratitude and relief, I suppose.

In the movie version of The Prince of Tides, its narrator utters a phrase which I could not find in the book but nonetheless cherish.  “In families, there is no sin beyond forgiveness.”  Perhaps because I know what my father suffered on the Burma trail, I have come to forgive what he did to me. I do not presume to forgive the injuries he inflicted on my mother or my siblings; that falls to those still among the living, or, if heaven allows, then on the other side of eternity.  I can, and do, provide absolution for my part.  In the final analysis, I thank him for his service.  It cost him dearly; and paid him next to nothing.

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

In Memory of:

Richard Adrian Corley, 12/27/22 – 09/07/91

Luck or something like it

My home had been scheduled to be completed in September of 2017.  The builder agreed to drive it to California on Labor Day weekend.  I would go ahead to secure the parking spot, planned for north of the Bay near Santa Rosa.

The delay irritated me.  I haggled with the builder to no end:  Delivery would now be in November.  I went on to California for my quarterly treatment.  Over the weekend, I discovered that I couldn’t hold the Napa Valley spot until November.  They pleaded demand.  They suggested that I try the Delta.  I came out this way, liked what I saw, and tendered my application.

On 08 October 2017, fire flared in Napa, spreading across five counties and eventually burning nearly 300,000 acres.  I watched in horror from Kansas City.  Had my tiny house been ready as scheduled, it would have been destroyed.

Instead, one year ago today, Angel’s Haven completed her 1800 mile journey.  She entered the California Delta Loop and took the last five miles, halfway round, to Park Delta Bay.  She moved down the driveway, paused where I waited at the kiosk, then entered the 1/4 mile gravel circle and landed at G-8, where she still sits.   

Luck or something like it saved me.  I think of that as I gape at news clips of this year’s fires. Grace surrounds me.  Fortune protects me.

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

A Tale of Two Cities

This entry started out as a long-winded explanation of how I invoked the REPORT BAD SERVICE TO SAVE FUTURE VICTIMS exception to the “not complaining” rule.  But then a man named Gabriel B and his little dogs reminded me that for every outright abuser, a nice guy awaits to offset the negativity.

Let me explain.

On a recent visit to my son in Chicago, I wanted to ship some items to myself in California, the last of the personal belongings which I desired to add to my tiny life.  My son hauled the lot into a UPS store in Andersonville, and left me in the seemingly capable hands of a clerk so he could run a few other errands.  A half-hour later, I staggered from the store in tears,   The clerk had changed pricing, back-tracked, stumbled through a variety of maneuvers from ignorance or insolence, and generally treated me as dispensable or inconvenient.  When I decided to retreat and regroup, he refused to help me get my burdens through the heavy door.  Eventually, I shamed him into coming forward, but he didn’t pay attention and pushed the door open as I leaned against it.  A precious memento of my son’s childhood shattered on the sidewalk.

I ruminated over the event for a week.  The desire to save other souls from a similar experience bumped against my dedication to stifling complaint.  Was this ‘small stuff’ that I should refuse to sweat?  Should I instead castigate myself for letting the dish which Patrick made in kindergarten lie in a storage unit for months, and then for carrying it unprotected into the UPS facility?  Or should I report the experience and urge UPS to train the staff, so that the next middle-aged disabled person needing help will not suffer?

Eventually, I chose the last approach. But after two weeks of back-and-forth emails with a very strange supposed-manager claiming to work at the only UPS headquarters in America, I got nowhere.  They either did not care, or did not believe me, or both.  I stewed in my juices for a day or two.  With no true contractual relationship, and senior management evidently unconcerned, what impact could I have?

Ahhhh.  Of course.  Yelp.

I got online, wrote a review, and sat back in satisfaction.  I had worded the review as crisply as possible, without undue sentiment.  I channeled Joe Friday:  “Just the facts.”  I hit “post”, and felt that I had done something potentially helpful to other  unsuspecting victims.  I’d steer them away from UPS, and they’d never know the confusion, loss, and frustration that I had experienced.  They wouldn’t have to dialogue with “Monic” (probably not her real name) who couldn’t care less and didn’t even pretend.

An hour later, I heard from Gabriel B, owner of the UPS store regarding which I had posted the review.  He was horrified.  He expressed the somewhat misguided belief that UPS management would take my complaint seriously, which they did not, but he also authoritatively confirmed that I had reviewed the wrong store.  Apparently, there are two UPS facilities on N. Clark in Andersonville.

But Gabriel B. did not stop with those thoughts.  He assured me that he lamented what happened to me.  He said,  “We at UPS on Clark at 5655 N Clark, Andersonville Chicago are appalled at the situation you describe in your review. We are sadden to read about your ordeal at a location that attracts customers as a UPS representative.”

Oh. My. Gosh.  Gabriel B!  That is exactly what I longed to hear!

So now, my friends — and especially my son and anyone who lives on the north side of Chicago, please, for my sake — If you need to ship something, I urge you to go visit Gabriel B and his two little dogs at the UPS at 5655 N. Clark.  When you get there, I would like you to make it known that, sadly, my reluctance to patronize UPS in the future continues.  However, I can say without hesitation that on my very next visit to my son, I intend to come to Gabriel B’s establishment, shake his hand, and ship the items that currently sit in a closet at my son’s home in Roger’s Park.  (Except, sadly, the little dish he made in kindergarten.)

Behind the grimy soot of each bleak city, a Gabriel B awaits with two cheerful pups.   He cares about your impression of his company and his city, and he apparently intends to insure that you feel well-received and valued.

That San Diego UPS account executive owes Gabriel B. a tremendous favor.  I intend to send her this link and suggest that she make good.

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

Pigeon Point Perfection

I crested the hill at Route 1 just as the sun set.  With ten miles left until I got to Pigeon Point, I traveled in the glow of the western horizon.  Then I had arrived, and the manager carried my bags and tendered me to Joe at the counter.  Michael appeared, ready to greet me and be sure of my safe passage to my usual bottom bunk in Dolphin 3.

Later, I shared my potatoes and peppers with a young man biking to San Louis Opisbo.  We convened in the kitchen to talk of the journey here with Caroline, a teacher whom I’ve met on other visits; and Jaan (with two As) who had escaped the election returns in favor of the ocean.

That’s how we roll here at this hostel.  No one who enters a stranger leaves quite the same.  People talk of where they have been, why they came to this place, and what they might do when they leave.  They arrive on bikes, in cars, and by means that no one understands.  A few of them teletransport on the wings of angels.

Tonight I will sleep with the sound of my Pacific drifting through the window. Shortly after sunrise, I will fix a simple breakfast and drink my coffee outside.  When the time comes, I will say goodbye to the sea and journey north, then east, then back to my home in the Delta.  But I intend to retain the sweetness of this place as long as humanly possible.

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

Another Wednesday

Despite my best intentions, I hovered over election returns until so late that I ache this morning.  I find myself grateful for escaping the crimson tide that deluged my Show-Me State.  But I digress.  It’s Wednesday, I’m Palo-Alto-bound, and thinking of the ocean.

Sunday screeched into the heels of Monday, which slipped its arm around Tuesday and faded into the grimy night.  I walk around the house with my mug of warmed coffee, ruminating over whether to buy a few groceries en route to South Bay, or pack a cooler.  After my 90-day appointment at Stanford, I’m escaping to a night at Pigeon Point.  I feel reckless and energized, for no apparent reason other than Wednesday.

I think the man on the sidewalk grinning just before the piano hit must have felt as I do today.  I’ve always suspected that I have a touch of mania.  I’m not giddy, precisely; just unreasonably hopeful.  I dwell in a state of perpetual acceptance of doom most of the time, despite whatever enthusiasm you might infer from my smile.  I like the world but don’t expect too much of it.  I have a sixty-three-year record of disappointment, after all.

But the little electric heater hums.  The sun shines.  I can’t see the river from this vantage point, but I sense her sleepy sojourn around the contours of Andrus Island.  Constancy soothes me.  Tonight I will wrap myself in a shawl and curl in an old wooden chair, gazing at the sea.

I have no reason for optimism other than a boundless suspicion that possibilities still exist.

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

 

COlfax1-2554

I wanted to call my mother so many times this week.  If landlines figured in my life, I might have lifted a receiver and dialed the number which I’ll never forget:  Colfax 1 – 2554.

Hello, Mom?

I need some advice. This is so hard.

I drag myself around some days, my joints and muscles resisting any semblance of function.  But worse:  My heart weighs so heavy in my chest.

I miss you, Mom.  You left so soon!

My mother died more than half my life ago.  I held her hand as she slipped into her last coma three days before she went home.  I had to go back to Kansas City for a day or so, and when I returned, she didn’t know me.  She wailed in fear and pain.  I felt helpless.

Days, weeks, months, years later — I felt that way again, but for myself, for my siblings, for our children.  She had a fierce and feisty wisdom which at times we desperately need to navigate our lives.

She took stands and planted trees.  She visited the graves of other people’s infants.  She went braless before that became a fashion.  She picketed the convent because the nuns scolded my long-haired brothers for being freaks.  She liked James Taylor and the Grateful Dead.  She taught me loyalty, even beyond reason.

I think my mother would like the place where I now live.  She’d stand on the docks and gaze at the mountain with as much reverence as I feel.  She would sweep the leaves from my porch and the cobwebs from my windowsills.  Willie Nelson or Dvorak would waft from my little Bluetooth speaker while she made more efficient use of the storage spaces below the appliances.  She’d donate my extra suitcases and the plastic bins that I’ve squirreled away, reasoning that if I ever move, I can get a few more.  She’d organize the neighbors for holiday dinners and make dolls for their children.

I crave her wisdom more than ever.  I listen to my son, my friends, the people who call me for advice.   I don’t know what to say.  I study my writing and wonder if I can ever hammer it into a book.  Each step of the way, I strain to pull my mother’s voice from ancient memories.  She died before the dawn of this century’s full panoply of modernity, but her basic values would translate so well to the complex problems which confront me.

When my mother died, I had no clear direction in my life.  Without  her guidance, i stumbled.  I staggered.  I fell.  Alice’s rabbit hole opened and swallowed me.  Now I’m in the open air, and looking for Lucy.  The operator tells me that the number which I’ve dialed is out of service.  I hold the phone close to my ear and whisper, Mama, where are you?  Come back!  I strain to hear an answer in the echoes of my aching heart.

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

My mother Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley (“Lucy”) gave excellent advice for free.  She liked the “Peanuts” cartoon character who bore the same name as she.  She often read “The Gospel According to Peanuts”, and described her advice to us as “The Gospel According to Lucy”.

My cousin Theresa sang the spiritual “Goin’ Home” at my mother’s funeral. Here’s a haunting version.

Coming home

You head out of Lodi just as the sun lowers itself down the western horizon.  Dazzling yellow glows against the fragile evening air.  You start to climb the bridge beyond Flag City, the luxurious trek which lifts you close to the shimmering gold.

You struggle to balance a lens on the curve of the steering wheel but the river spans below you now, and you can’t take the chance.  You could hurt someone if your attention wanders.  So you tell yourself, Just enjoy this momentand you ease yourself down the other side, still traveling west, towards home.

The sky has settled into crimson by the time you reach the draw bridge and slow to make the turn onto Brannan Island Road.  You start into the circle.  You’ve never tired of telling people  whom  you left behind in the Midwest that you live on the California Delta Loop.  You feel that same sense of wonder as you glance across the wide expanse of Andrus Island.  You marvel at the casual way that you navigate levee roads which once frightened you.

Now the mountain which keeps its constant watch sits on your left.  The dying light of the setting sun caresses the river.  You cannot help yourself; you pull onto private property and lean out your window.  You think someone has slowed to challenge you, until you realize that the same majesty has drawn him to the curb.  You turn back to the water.  Your greedy eyes devour the sight of dancing light on wispy clouds.

You know you cannot truly  capture this enchantment but you surrender to the mad effort.  When you can no longer see well enough to focus, you start the motor and turn your car around.  Like a reluctant lover leaving her beloved at the gate, you slowly continue the circuit.  The last glimmer dies in the distance, as the gulls rise and the crows call and your pulse settles. By the time you descend into the driveway of the park, you’ve already started plotting your next wild dash to record the glory of the setting sun.

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

 

Hard lessons

Yesterday someone walked into a room where I sat working and began a conversation with another person without glancing in my direction or considering the impact of her presence on me in any way.  The two people in the room carried on their discussion, a completely casual conversation unrelated to the work of the office, in loud tones punctuated by laughter.  Neither made a move to either invite me into their conversation or adjust volume or behavior to account for my continued efforts at productivity.

After about ten minutes, my focus had been completely destroyed.  I hoisted my laptop from the table on which I worked and carried myself into another room, where I could complete the task at hand in silence.

An hour later, the same two people came into the second room  to share a meal.  We had ordered carry out.  At that point, the visitor held court at considerable length, during which she called several people rude and used dismissive tones about someone whom she believed had insulted her.  The guest controlled the conversation.  I interjected a few comments, including voicing the possibility that the alleged insult might have been innocent.  My remarks held neither sway nor interest.  I finally subsided.  Clearly my opinion had no merit for this individual.

I got home last evening after the gorgeous Delta sunset.  I made a small meal.  I sat looking at the news online, texting with my son, and drinking cool water.  I thought about the person for whom I served as a mild annoyance.  She knows nothing about me, nor does she care to know.  If she knew about my sixty-three years of living, would she value my observations?  If she saw me in my native state, with my law license on the wall, would I be visible to her?  What of my emotional reaction to her complete dismissal of my existence?  Is that argument enough to throw this paraprofessional work to the curb? Should I just get a job doing something wholly unrelated to my past life, but where I can garner some semblance of respect?

That’s unfair, really.  In the other office where I work, I’m given a large measure of due.  I’m no longer the Empress of the Universe, it’s true; but I’m regarded as intelligent, capable, and worthy of someone’s time.  I rise to that expectation.

I’ve learned a hard lesson.  I have always believed that I made a terrible boss, but I didn’t think I treated anyone as less significant because I was a lawyer and they were not.  If I yelled, my anger rose from fear that we would fail our clients.  If I did not heed someone’s suggestions, it was not because I thought myself superior, but because my methods had proven successful enough to warrant repetition.  But still, a nagging feeling lurks.  Did I ignore people who by some artificial standard might be considered less accomplished than I?

I’m dragging a crumpled page of phone numbers from an old pocketbook.  I might have to make some apology calls.

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

Don’t Praise Me

Don’t praise me, friends, fans, family.

Four years ago, I set out to travel through the span of 365 days without voicing complaint.  I have yet to accomplish that objective.  In sixty days, my sixth twelve-month period will commence.  .  I do not necessarily deserve your praise.

But:

Laugh with me, for I have discovered much humor in the contortions of my face as I speak through gritted teeth.

Shrug with me, because, as a greater poet than I once said, ‘What can I do but laugh and go?

Stretch out your arms with me, for like that ring of angels, I find myself teetering on the head of a pin, nearly falling so many times into the abyss of complaint.  Only balance can save me.

Throw your  hands into the air even as I wring my own.  Incident after incident frustrates us in our navigation through life.  Nothing remains but my capacity to accept the foibles of humanity.

Be bold with me, striving forward with a gleeful heart, a tender smile, and a warm embrace.  Evil scowls melt with the unending and exuberant application of good cheer.  This I know because I am a woman of whom judicial notice has been taken that I am relentless.

It’s the first day of the fifty-ninth month in my never-ending Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

Milestones

As I made my way from the park this morning, a graceful arc of blackbirds rose from the fields behind my house.  The sun shimmered on the dusty air, glinting from the edges of fallen branches.  I slowed for a semi at the Jackson Slough turn, then followed the stubbled fields to the highway.

Evening settled on those same fields as I came back.  The call of the migrating flocks cut across the mist.  On the road’s edge, I activated my flashers and rolled down the window, wishing that I had even my most basic of real cameras.  My phone would have to do.  I barely breathed, although if I had startled the wide expanse, their rise toward the dying light would have been astounding and beautiful.

We brought my house to the Delta one year ago next week.  I watched her descend into the park from the manager’s kiosk, eager and excited.  I spent the next few days unpacking, a rush to make the most of my short visit here.  I would not myself move for another six weeks.  But I think of November as the first and most critical of a spate of milestones which surged around me as last year drew to a close.

The holiday season begins soon.  Another Thanksgiving, another Christmas, the turn of another calendar as its pages fall.  As I closed my work day yesterday, satisfied with my efforts, I felt, for the first time, that I have settled.  I live here now.  I miss my friends.  I miss that little blue airplane bungalow in Brookside, and the rustle of leaves in the yard from the umbrella maple.  But the soar of the blackbirds above the river comforts me.  The echo of their evening song tells me that I have made it to my home.

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

“Blackbird” — Paul McCartney