My mother’s grandfather made little benches. We called them “shamleys” though searches on the Internet show no explanation for this name. Dad Ulz came from Austria; I always supposed that “shamley” meant “bench” back home.
These little benches have a hole on the top shaped like the number eight. We called them an “infinity” sign (∞). Somewhere in my early childhood, my brother Mark began to call us The Infinity Corleys, since our family had eight children.
Yesterday, I had a pleasant afternoon with a friend, ostensibly meeting to discuss a project relating to Art @ Suite 100. He shared the story of meeting his sister for the first time, after his mother passed, when he was thirty-two. I came away with a sense of wonder — how would it feel to find a sibling so late in one’s life, to integrate her into the fabric of your days, without having shared the joys and sorrows of childhood?
I don’t always get along with my siblings. In fact, I’m sure one of them has no use for me. But I’m not complaining about his scorn, nor about the scramble to share one chicken among two adults and eight children, the drawer full of hand-me-downs, the tears when my dolls became missiles for my brothers’ war games, the tattle-tales, the teasing, or the sense of loneliness in a crowd of Corleys that I often felt as a young woman.
I’m still a bit miffed about my brother’s suicide, though. Dagnabbit, Stevie Pat, I wish you had not left us!
But I love my siblings. Here’s a poem just for them, just for you, just for my friend with his sister in Germany to whom he’s sending vegan chocolate chips because she can’t find them where she lives.
We Are Seven
BY William Wordsworth
———A simple Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?
I met a little cottage Girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.
She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
—Her beauty made me glad.
“Sisters and brothers, little Maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.
“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.
“Two of us in the church-yard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the church-yard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”
“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet Maid, how this may be.”
Then did the little Maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”
“You run about, my little Maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five.”
“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little Maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.
“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.
“And often after sun-set, Sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.
“The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.
“So in the church-yard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.
“And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”
“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little Maid’s reply,
“O Master! we are seven.”
“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
’Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”
It’s the thirteenth day of the twenty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues. Rock on.
When I was about nine, my mother took us to the Vincent Price Studios and had a family portrait taken. Over the years, we posed again, informally, trying to recapture the photo. In the framed picture on the right, my brothers Frank and Stephen occupy each other’s place. If you look very closely at the photo on the left, you can see the original portrait on my mother’s living room wall above us.