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Nighttime on the California Delta

My eyes flutter open before sunrise these days.  I stretch and ease myself down to the first floor in the lingering dark.  A kind of numbness grips my mind.  The grinder whirrs.  I lean against the counter til the kettle boils.  Then I wrap my hands around the mug and wait for the heat to reach my soul.

At the other end of my nine-hour day, the car rattles over the broken pavement of the levee road.  In the field below me, a boy lets the leash out farther and farther, skipping behind his pooch.  I pull over to the side and push the lever to park.  When the door opens, a thousand bugs frantically assault my face.

Later, when I’ve talked to a friend in Kansas City and eaten a bowl of rich potato soup, I stand in the yard with my face raised to the darkness.  The night air fills my lungs and seeps into my weary bones.  I wave to a figure strolling past me in the darkness.  Whoever it is tells me to have a good night.  His unseen smile wraps itself around me like a silk shawl.  Three lots down, my neighbor Noah quietly hovers behind of his kids as the boy tries to light a fire.  Noah murmurs in a soft, deep encouraging voice.  An owl hoots overhead.  Out on the river, the egrets settle to sleep.    

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

Moment by Moment

For nearly six decades,  I catapulted through life.  Fear drove me — fear of punishment, fear of anger, fear of ridicule.  From the terror of an abusive father to the dire pronouncement of callous and unknowing doctors, I learned that my days could be numbered and most certainly would be short.  I stumbled forward on the broken road.

In later years, a kind of emotional short-sightedness plagued me.  I spoke and thought and reacted in superlatives.  My ragged nerves had touched the stove once too often. I shrank within myself.  Despite unearthing a few shiny stones as I dragged myself through the muck and grime, I never paused.  I let the scenery slip past in the gloom of night.  I leaned my head against the dark cold glass as the towns rolled by.  I made no move to disembark.

For a brief moment, fifty-five and fragile, I let myself dare to believe that I could slow, at long last; maybe even rest.  The feeling did not endure.  When I finally shook free of the immobilizing sting of disappointment, I fled.

Here at the edge of the earth, as I creep into my last act, I have no more reason to run.  The demons seem to have shuddered to a halt.  They do not venture into the river valley.  The Delta winds drive them back.   The ocean sits an hour from my doorstep.  Though I do not seek its comfort as often as I would like, the song of the Pacific has soothed me in some immeasurable way.  I know she waits for me.  I take my time.  Meanwhile, here on the banks of the San Joaquin, my life unfolds moment to moment, one frame at a time.  My heart slows.  Breathe in, breathe out.  And repeat.

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

P.S.  Somewhere along the way, I have lost track of the months.  This is my seventh year of this journey.  Math is not my strong suit.  Six times twelve being seventy-two, October 2020 is the EIGHTY-SECOND month, not the ninety-second.  Any blog entry with the leap into the future stands corrected.  My apologies.

One For The Ages

In May of 1992, my eighteen-month old son and I moved into a 1252 sq. ft. airplane bungalow on the east side of Brookside.  A handful of friends dragged my boxes, rocking chairs, futons, and Patrick’s toddler bed across the polished hardwood floor.  By mid-morning I had come to realize two salient facts which would have a powerful impact on the coming months:  I did not own enough furniture to fill the house, and I would be sharing a driveway with an amazing woman whom I would come to regard as a treasured friend with a boundless heart and an endless smile.

Marcella Womack had two children, one grandchild, and a myriad of devoted friends.  She had a full life, rich and complex.  But she made each person the center of her attention.  She never took her eyes from your face as you spoke.  She’d gesture to the couch and hand you a cup of herb tea.  She would settle next to you, and open her space to whatever you offered.  Each hour that I spent with Marcella improved my attitude beyond measure.

She had lived an amazing life and eased into middle age by the time I met her.  She had succeeded in a series of phenomenal and impactful careers, most recently by teaching people how to do their own jobs with more empathy and compassion.  Her spiritual journey had deepened her connection to the physical world in ways that I still do not quite comprehend.  Marcella touched lives with a powerful but gentle hand.  I spent hours in conversations with her, on my porch, in her living room, on the back stoop while my son played with her grandson Austin.  

That first year in my new house posed many challenges for me, from rats to flooding to a sudden loss of income with a car payment, a mortgage, and challenging health issues.  Once Marcella fielded a nosy repo guy for me.  A couple of times, she watched Patrick while I scrounged for contract work in the months when my new law firm did not yield enough money to support us.  In the deep winter, when I fell on ice in the driveway, she opened her door to my toddler and followed him through the dark to the place where his mom lay battered, sobbing, and desperately unable to stand.  Marcella dragged me into the house and poured hot tea down my throat, made dinner from my meager groceries, and held my hand while she rocked my little boy to sleep.

Marcella moved from our street a few years later.  We kept in touch, though not as often as either of us would have liked.  She came to my wedding in 1998, and to several gatherings.  Mostly she and I met for coffee or lunch.  Those times became less frequent in more recent years, as I weathered a divorce, my son’s departure from home, medical issues, another failed marriage, and, ultimately, my own decampment from the Midwest.

I last saw Marcella just before I sold the Holmes house.  We shared a meal and strolled through a public park.  She brought an angel for me, which I hung on the house and later left for the new owner.  She encouraged me.  With her gentle ways, and boundless enthusiasm, she promised that my life would only get better, that I would find comfort and peace, that my spirit only needed rest and it would soar again without fail.  

On one of my visits home in 2018, I planned to visit Marcella but had to cancel.  In a flash of prophecy, I feared that a bad head cold might pose an issue for her, given her age and her own health issues.  We spoke on the phone, her voice still lilting and cheerful.  For the next year, we communicated by messages on social media, comments on each other’s posts, and the occasional email.  Marcella’s love for her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson shone in every facet of her existence.  Her passion for justice, peace, and harmony; and her incredible enthusiasm for new ideas; never abated.

Marcella died during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Her faithful family strove to be with her as much as the lockdown allowed.  I watched for posts about her.  I followed her journey from this life.  I mourned the world’s loss of her.  I cried because I would never see her face again, though I know her spirit endures.  She is truly a being for the ages, an old soul, an indispensable part of the eternal cosmos.

Tonight, at the end of a long and challenging work-week, I came home to a parcel from Marcella’s daughter, Diane Womack Leff.  When I lifted the note from the box and saw the lovely objects beneath, tears slid down my cheeks.  A string of hearts which I vividly recall at Marcella’s home; two angels that I had seen in the photos of the estate sale items; a pretty pin.  And a smiling photo on the program from her memorial service, which I had seen live online. 

I held Marcella’s photo in my hands for a long, lovely moment.  Then I lifted the angels to see which ones I had been sent, since I know this line and I know that each has a special purpose.  My heart was made glad; and I smiled through my tears.

Angel of Healing.

Angel of Miracles.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Memory of MARCELLA R. WOMACK

 

Flashback

I pulled out of the parking space in front of the office where I work, intent on making a quick U-turn to get an important letter to the mail before 5:00 p.m.  My guardian angel stayed my hand and I looked again, into the street where there had just been a clear path.

A girl on a bicycle had stopped in the middle of the two lanes of traffic, her back to me, her head bowed.

I gazed at her form.  I noted a slight chubbiness and thought, Good, she’s getting out after a long summer stuck inside, pedaling off the #pandemic15.  My third glance saw two adorable pigtails bob on either side of her head.  She seemed to be thirteen or fourteen, old enough to know better than to tarry in the road.  I frowned, wondering if she had hurt herself, or slipped the chain if that’s still even a thing.  

I inched around her, realizing that she had actually stopped in the opposite lane of traffic.  I started to worry, and moved forward a little more to see if she needed help.

But no:  She had stopped to read something on her phone.

I thought about rolling down the window and suggesting that she move to the sidewalk.  I considered a light tap of my horn.  I studied her face, with its tight brow and slight frown.  I wondered what could be so important that she had to hover in harm’s way, balancing her bike with the tips of her toes and the tightened muscles of her calves. She could not wait to get home to read the text; she had to respond from Second Street, while the rest of the town went on about its business.

As I maneuvered my car around her, and edged into a driveway to reverse my direction, I thought of all those evenings when I huddled over a book, the silent phone on the breakfast room wall testifying to my unpopularity.  I remembered walking home from a night of babysitting, the father of the household too drunk to drive me and my own father himself long since passed out.  The street lights shimmered their broad pool of light every six feet.  Darkness claimed the realm between.  Bats flew overhead; rodents skittered through the bushes.  Silence surrounded me.  With six dollars in my pockets for ten hours of caring for a family of nine, I was an inch closer to a new dress that would hang in my closet until it went out of style.

I drove to the post office, thinking of the girl on the bike, and the allure of the boy at the other end of the telephone.  Life will hold a lot of heartache for that lass.  I hope it brings a little joy along the way.

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

 

The Gift

I could not sleep last night.  The neighbor turned her floodlights out early; the night critters fell silent; the moon fled behind clouds. I remained alert.  Mistakes and failures haunted me.  Ripples of spasticity coursed through my legs.   Eventually exhaustion dragged me into the abyss.

I woke before the alarm rang, in the darkened room, no glimmer of sunrise dancing on the grim, smoky horizon.  I struggled downstairs and staggered through my galley kitchen.  Coffee defied me.  I cracked an egg and made a slice of toast and sat at my table, staring at the whirring blades of my little fan.

I left for work a few minutes late.  I missed the cheerful old couple who walk along the levee in their BlueBlockers, swinging their arms and gathering trash.  I slowed for the hairpin curve and strained to see around the berm, hoping for a big ship.  Nothing; not even a little skiff.   A wisp of sorrow rose in my breast.

But then:  I turned onto Jackson Slough Road.  And an angel whispered:  Life sucks, we know, but here’s a tree full of egrets.  

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

Being Heard

I do not pretend to like physical therapy.  I demand it, though.  For decades, the ability to ask for a yearly refresher course in keeping my limbs active justified outrageous direct-pay insurance premiums.  Now I have passed the magic age after which the medical care which should be the right of every US citizen comes to me at a lesser premium.  I therefore jumped on the chance to again submit to torture in the name of Living To Be 103 and Walking Every Day of My Life.

Here’s the thing:  Big buildings confound me.  Such monstrosities cannot be truly accessible for mobility impaired humans.  They can merely proclaim themselves “ADA compliant”.  Deity-of- Your-Choice bless the authors of the ADA, but for someone who busts her behind to remain ambulatory without the cumbersome, brain-confusing burden of a “gait aid”, minimum compliance standards with all of their associated exceptions just do not make the grade.

I inch my way down a long hall twice-over to get to the newest torture chamber, once on the first floor, then in the opposite direction on the second.  I grit my teeth as I strain to remember all of those muscle movements which most folks carelessly execute:  Turn your feet out; drop your shoulders; swing from the hips; heel to toe; and breathe, damn you, breathe.  Frankly, neither cane nor walker would help that litany or serve its goal of correcting six decades of spastic ambulation.  If I am to remain vertical, I must walk “correctly” — I must beat the pronation, the rotation, and the discombobulation.  A walking stick interferes with the process of forcing my brain to get it together and stay focused.  

On Friday, I nearly collapsed in the hallway outside the suite.  The whole time, images of my husband Dennis in his manual wheelchair surrounded me.  I heard his voice, grumbling, demanding that we never again patronize any facility which he could not independently navigate.   My chest constricted.  Echoes of his pain seared my heart.   The indelible scarlet of shame stained my face.   I discounted his complaints.  Worse; I allowed myself the sinful luxury of embarrassment.   Twenty years later, complicity in his sorrow dragged on my weakened muscles.

But I persevered in my journey to my therapist’s office last Friday.  I made it to the far end of the second floor.   When I gained access to the inner chamber (Covid questions, temperature, new mask, check check check), I stared in dismay at the obstacle course which the therapist expected me to surmount: Weights on the floor, stack of exercise balls, four other patients with their workers, rolling laptop stands.  I stood for a moment, watching her walk ahead without a backward glance.

She made it halfway across to her office before realizing that I had not followed.  She returned and said, Is something wrong.  I gestured, groping for my calm voice and summoning Marshall Rosenberg to guide my comment on the obvious and absolute absurdity of the unrelenting barriers.  

She seemed to understand.  She chose a closer platform for the day’s effort.  I started to speak, intent on articulating my dismay but in a peaceful manner.  She cut me off, snapping, I don’t have any control over that.  I tried again, and again she interrupted, You can use your cell phone to call us and we’ll bring a wheelchair down next time.

Then she started instructing me in the day’s routine.  I remained motionless, my eyes fixed on her face, until her words faded.  I sat; she stood; no one spoke.

Then I said, quietly, so none but she could hear:  First, as a disabled person, I can tell you that I do not want you to bring me upstairs in a wheelchair, to steer me past all this rubble in that same chair.  I want you, and your employer, to give some thought to the environment which you are creating and my need as an independent human being to be able to move through that environment as close to alone as possible.  Second, as that human being,  I just want to be heard.  I want to know that you hear me.

My voice fell silent.  Neither of us moved.  Then she blinked  and whispered, I hear you.  The world shifted.    She turned away.  But I had seen, and she knew that I had seen.  The knowledge of that solitary second sufficed to carry me through the rest of my day.

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

My fascination with the birds of the Delta continues. Could they, like me, long to be seen and heard?

 

 

Dedication

Disclaimer:   I do not hold myself out as a photographer.  I take pictures only because a certain videographer gently chided me for stealing photos from the internet to illustrate my blog entries.  He mildly noted that I would not want someone snipping those entries to provide captions to their pictures, now would I? and no, probably not. So, then.  Take your own.

Since purchasing my plug-and-play basic Canon, I’ve found that I can barely make the ten-mile drive to work without stopping to gawk and snap.  I see everything framed.  The images freeze for a split second and I murmur, Oh, that’s the money shot.  I know nothing about the technical aspects.  I could never sell my images because they lack the crispness which manual settings afford.   I just share what I record.

By the same token, the running inner monologue has not stopped.  I still write the narrative of my days.  I keep mental journals, editing, swapping strong verbs for muddied split infinitives. I insert paragraph breaks in my constant whispers about the scenery which passes my windshield.

If I grudgingly credit my paternal genes for the writer’s mantra by which my days find rhythm, I must thank others for whatever deftness of vision I can claim.  Penny Thieme, first and foremost:  she who stood in the middle of a crowded city street for fifteen minutes waiting for an old man to step into a crosswalk, her camera held aloft, her body poised.  But others — Genevieve Casey, whose photograph of leaves steals my breath whenever I come downstairs; Samantha Bessent, with her charming flowers and her poignant snippets of rusty machinery; Scott Anderson and his serene ladies; Dave Michael, who hauls his equipment down embankments with dogged drive seeking a precise angle; Kimberley Kellogg, who sees beauty in the smallest treasures. And the ethical videographer, who dragged me to the exact path of totality in 2017, to a farmer’s field, and a date with history.

I do not pretend to be qualified to even hold their camera bags, but each of them taught me something.  They opened my writer’s mind to the possibility that words could share a stage with pictures.  They reminded me that I describe what they see.  They broadened my horizons. 

Because of them, I can enrich my offerings.  I dedicate this entry in their honor.  I give thanks for their inspiration.

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

 

As fall unfolds

My mood gravitates between edgy and hopeful as fall unfolds.  If the political darkness hides a dawn, I have yet to see the merest glimmer on the horizon.  But my tiny house has come to be a comfortable haven.  I spent a handful of happy hours puttering around the place yesterday; another declutter; a few more honest assessments of what I do not, after all, need on the counter.  

The birds begin to show themselves with greater boldness at the river and in the trees overhead.  I watched a heron launch herself from a high wire the other day, catching a shot just as her strong legs pushed from the metal in the easy morning light.  I did not get a picture of the egret in a nearby tree.  A truck roared past between my lens and the branches, startling her, sending her aloft.  I watched with something close to envy as she glided down the course of the slough.

A quick flick of red tail launched a hawk from a telephone poll just ahead of my clunky shutter.  But in the next moment, a crow held still while a single shaft of light glinted from her wing as I watched.  

Soon I will celebrate my third anniversary here, just before Christmas, when the year’s end looms.  By then our destiny as a nation will be written.  I will not speak of my fear.  I will walk with gentle steps as the finch flits overhead and the mourning dove coos.  My soul has found some comfort here, amid the quiet strength of nature and the migrating birds.  I sit on my porch, close my eyes, and listen to the wind in the trees while my coffee cools and the sun warms my tired face.

It’s the twenty-sixth day of the ninety-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

If you want to see videos of #mytinylife and learn about #mytinyhouse, Angel’s Haven, visit my YouTube Channel HERE.   I am not a frequent poster.  The videos are only about my house and my life as a tiny house dweller.  Nothing else.  I’m not trying to be an influencer, just keep a few dozen people informed.  You can subscribe.  I post about once a month.  I do not professionally edit my videos; I barely edit them at all.  They are purely amateur attempts to document the process of living tiny.  I have a new one in the works, so watch for that in the coming days.  Enjoy.

#ForRuth

Dear Friends — 

I don’t mean to complain, but 2020 has been brutal for the world and for the USA most particularly.  I couldn’t bear to post something cheerful in the last week, devastated as I have been by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the contemplation of a locked 6-3 conservative Supreme Court or a nominee that believes that women should not have a choice as to what to do with their own bodies.

I will reel in the whining as soon as I can. When I do, I will try to upload some of the egret photos which I have been taking over the last few weeks.  In the meantime, please head over to my other blog and read last night’s post:

In Which I Confess to Taking My Heritage For Granted

In the coming days, I shall take myself by the scruff of my neck and force myself to soldier forward.  After all, it’s what the notorious RBG would do.

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

The Isleton Bridge, Isleton, California

Renting a Room at the Happiness Hotel

Those of us who live on the islands resist gong Over The Bridge unless absolutely necessary.  We’ll take 12 to 5 and comb the outer limits of Stockton’s shopping district for what we need.  We troll Amazon, upping our searches at the midnight hour, convinced that We Can Find It Online.  We drive our friends crazy asking about hairdressers, doctors, restaurants, and grocery stores in Lodi, Fairfield or even — gasp — Sacramento.

Eventually, inevitably, we drag through the bottom of our bags for dollars to pay the toll on the way back from Brentwood.  Then we head out Twitchell Island Road (only a tourist takes the 90 degree angle; the rest of us cut across the middle).  We hang a left at the river and make our way to the Antioch Bridge and the commercial quagmire which tells us that we’ve begrudgingly left the Delta.

I made the journey yesterday, though after two-and-a-half years, I’ve finally bitten the FasTrak bullet since the pandemic has taken away our toll booth operators.  I sailed through a bank of lingering smoke and landed on 4-East, then Balfour Road, and finally in the parking lot of the John Muir medical complex where I met my latest Nazi Physical Therapists.

I had my temperature thermally gauged and gained admission upon a flashing green analog announcement that I had PASSED PASSED PASSED.  I proffered my newly minted Medicare Supplement Card and took a socially distant chair after smiling behind a fresh disposable mask at the young lady protected by the Plexi-glass counter shield.  Fifteen minutes later, I settled in front of a slew of measuring gadgets.   As she gently encouraged me, I strained to prove that I could squeeze clay as well as the average sixty-five-year-old, which it turns out that I cannot.  

After an hour with the Handmaiden, I got deposited in Room Two (In Use For Patient Consultation, Do Not Enter) where a man of indeterminate age behind a space-age face shield asked me what my goals for physical therapy might be.  He put me through the paces that I’ve come to know so well before gently asking, Now, Can You Stand From That Chair Without Using Your Hands?

Well, no.  But in all fairness, I never could.  His eyes looked sad above the cloth covering what I gathered must be a frown.  Then he uttered a phrase that I dread every time I go through one of these new patient evaluations:  Will you let me see you walk?

Three hours after my car had descended on the Brentwood side of the Bridge, I started the climb towards home.   I texted Louis, the young Frenchman who lives with his husband Helix in my tiny house community.  I’d arranged for him to help me with some chores beyond my strength.  “Almost home”, I typed, while waiting for one-way traffic to let me over the Three Mile Slough Bridge.  I turned onto the western end of Twitchell Island Road just as the you-need-gas-woman icon flashed.  I grinned.  Them’s fighting words, I muttered, and set the pedal to coast.  

A couple of hours later, Louis and I drove into Rio Vista to get sand for my front walk, take the car to the self-serve car wash, and fill the tank.  While there, Louis fixed my fussy gas cap door after exclaiming over the inconvenience of the two-person-and-a-flathead-screwdriver method which a kind stranger had devised the first time it failed to open.  Louis grinned as he demonstrated its restored functionality.  When he resumed the driver seat, he noted that the tank took 15 gallons.  I laughed at my daring but accurate assessment of How Far I Can Drive After The  First Glimpse of the Warning Light.  We headed home through the ashy air, back to the twelve-acre park where I’ve rented a room at the Happiness Hotel, Come On In, We’re Glad You Finally Made It.

It’s the twelfth day of the ninety-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.