Monthly Archives: May 2018


Over coffee at Starbucks, Penny and I talk about our differing points of view.

I don’t start with the obvious:  We’re at a store which I have been actively boycotting.  It’s in Prairie Village, not Pennsylvania, to be sure.  She works at the place which is why we’re having coffee there.  I would not have otherwise chosen to break my pledge.

She tells me that when she decided to work as a barista, she chose this particular location to challenge herself.  It draws its clientele from a conservative base — which we both interpret as meaning supporters of the current administration.  She says she wanted to force herself to see the humanity of people with a differing perspective from hers.

I tell her she’s a better man than I am, Gunga Din.  I don’t mention the racist manager at that Pennsylvania Starbucks.  We do murmur about the president’s misogyny, and his disparagement of Muslims.  We shake our heads at the increase in hate crimes about which we hear on the news most every night.  I think about my hostess for the week, my one remaining Conservative friend, if you don’t count my ex-husband and my second-oldest sister.  She asks, “That’s not Joyce, is it?” and I shake my head.

We talk about my family then, and which of them she knows from the two of my 300 weddings which she photographed.  After that quick sojourn down memory lane, we veer to safer subjects, or seemingly so.  From talk of her recent decision to return to college and the scholarship she’s won, we somehow stroll over to the subject of artists putting donation buttons on their websites.

She’s in favor; I’m philosophically opposed to doing it myself, which she suggests as a way of making money on my blog.  It’s clear that I think of such endeavors as tantamount to begging.  She has a different thought.  She sees art, including writing, as a contribution to the healing of society.  The donation buttons, the Go-fund-me campaigns, she considers support of the effort  made by artists towards the betterment of the world.

We fall silent for a while, lost in our differences perhaps or maybe just drinking our tea before the ice melts.  I notice the time.  I rise; we embrace.  She raises her phone to take a quick selfie and then I’m in my rental car and moving away, with the light of the afternoon sun falling soft across my windshield.  As I cross town to my scheduled home-visit of a five-year old client, I turn on the radio and listen to the news of deaths in Gaza.  I sit at a red light, lost in a sudden conviction that I have failed to understand something crucial.

When the light changes, I move forward, leaving Kansas behind without a backward glance.

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



Sights and sounds of an other-world traveler

Standing in Jeanne’s kitchen. . . she in the chic tan attire of a summer lawyer. . . drinking Mr. Coffee and talking about runaways. . .

. . . driving down Broadway, the rental car making curious beeping noises that I do not understand, cars passing me and the sun radiating from the dashboard. . .

. . . the swell of voices in Monarch, a weird cold coffee drink ordered. . . high scrolled ceiling rising above me, Roaring 20s tiles under foot. . .

. . . babies in strollers which double as car seats, a row of USB ports on board, pushed by their thin mamas who wear tight blue jeans and carry little leather handbags smaller than a cell phone. . .

. . . and always, the slight dizziness that being back in Kansas City neither causes nor ameliorates.  . .

. . . waiting for my friend Cindy, speaking to no one, writing about nothing, hitting hard on the recalcitrant “i” key and laughing, outloud, which not a soul notices in the rising din.

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

Reflections in a Daughter’s Eyes

My mother died just before her 59th birthday and my 30th.  She had been ill for a year, taking her sweet time dying in one sense and going far too soon in another.  But for the doctors’ mistakes, she might have lived many more years.  There you have it, though; we lost her, and with her died any hope of my truly understanding which parts of her dwell in me.

I can infer some of my heritage, especially the physical.  I have her eyebrows, her hair, and her physique.  Though my face bears the stamp of my Irish father, I see my mother in the curve of my shoulders, and the round of my belly, and the slant of my bosom.  I did not get her brown eyes, or her Syrian nose, but I have the slender firm shape of her calves, tortured only by the intervention of my nasty virus.  Perhaps my body blends my parents, though if you knew her, you could see the look of her in the tilt of my mouth and the set of my jaw.

Like my mother, I can’t stand tight clothing, or sweaty blouses, or wearing anything more than once.  She came home from work every evening already shed of her bra, from which she could extricate herself at a red light with perfect aplomb.  I completely relate to that need.  She would cross the living room, move through the hallway, and take a shower before saying hello or starting dinner.  Then she’d pad around the house in my grandmother’s flowered house-coat, perhaps the very one which currently hangs in my tiny bathroom.

But most of all, a lot of what I believe comes from my mother.  The fierceness of her loyalty for those whom she loved dances in the fibers of my being.  I trust long and without hesitation.  I flinch just as wretchedly with any betrayal.   Like my mother, I speak my mind in clear unrelenting tones, where others might steadfastly cling to silence.  I understand, at the ripe age of 62, that sometimes not speaking might serve me.  However, even my willingness to crouch within diplomacy fades under a direct question.  “If you don’t want to know, don’t ask.”

My mother would give a person every benefit of the doubt right up until that person plunged a knife in the back of someone under my mother’s protection.  My little brother Steve came home from first grade complaining about a bully.  He also had brought his class picture.  My mother studied it for a few minutes, then asked him, “Who’s this well-fed, jolly-looking boy?”  On being told that the child was the very one who had been pushing Steve down on the playground, my mother snapped, “You mean this fat little kid is the bully boy?”  Of all my mother’s faux paus, that seemed the most cruel, and the most like her at the same time.

My mother protested the war in Vietnam.  She readied cash and a backpack for my brother Kevin to escape to Canada on learning of his low draft number.  She made a bumper sticker protesting the conflict and endured the scoldings of the Personnel Office for her government job.  She talked to her children about abortion, and prejudice, and the need to help those less fortunate than we were.  We gave our pennies to the mission collection even though we had little enough at home.  I once saw my mother literally crying over spilled milk, on her hands and knees amidst the broken glass of a milk bottle, trying to salvage the puddle by using a straw.

Stories of my mother pepper the pages of my blogs, this one and the weekly Musings which I circulated for eight years, and which now await my careful editing.  I read paragraph after paragraph, marveling at my mother’s stamina and resourcefulness.  She fed ten people with one chicken (two halves of the back; two each of the breast, wings, thighs, and drumsticks).  When I came home from eighth grade complaining that my Dress-Up Day clothes embarrassed me, she found some money to buy me a pant’s suit.  I never told her that the girls ridiculed me.  “Yesterday’s Style”, they called it, but I wore it with pride.

She treated my acne, my hurt feelings, my sunburn, and the agony of both my first menstrual cramps and my first miscarriage.  She learned to drive at 40, got two of my brothers out of jail, and organized camping trips to Meramec State Park.  One time she came out of the breakfast room where she had been agonizing over bills.  She said to my older brothers and me that she had kept wincing because we were playing music too loud.  “I told myself, ‘Lucy, don’t get upset, they could be out robbing banks.'”  She laughed a little ruefully then, before continuing.  “And then I looked at my bank balance and said, ‘What’s wrong with those kids, they could be out robbing banks!”

And yet, once a teller gave her $200.00 extra when cashing her paycheck, and she drove all the way back to the bank to return it.  “I just kept thinking of that poor clerk, having to account for the shortage,” she told us.

I’ve read that women whose husbands abuse them often suffer the judgment of their children for not getting the kids to safety.  My mother did not leave my father, but she did take us out of  harm’s way many times.  We walked the streets of Jennings singing church hymns, often with coats over our pajamas.  My mother would send one of the older children to peer in the windows to see if my father had gone to sleep, waiting for a safe moment to bundle us back in bed.  Small comfort, perhaps; but it was a different time.  She did as much as she thought she could.

I knew I had my mother’s love, but I didn’t get far enough in life before she died to earn her approval.  I’ve started and stopped so many endeavors in my life, often puzzled over whether my mother would agree with my plans.  She would be sad about my divorces, I think; and understanding of my financial struggles.  She’d fully support my work with children.  After all, this is a woman who wanted to be buried in the unbaptized baby section of a local Catholic cemetery.  “Those children need a mother,” she told me once, bending over to take a wax-paper rubbing of one of the little angels’ headstones.

My mother agonized over my sorrows, but secretly, without my knowing.  Outwardly, she would spur me to rise above whatever troubled me.  One time she visited me in South St. Louis when I’d gotten food poisoning.  When she arrived, I was standing on my balcony hollering at a group of noisy children in the street.  Their voices had carried through the open windows of my unairconditioned apartment where I had been trying to rest.  She stood beneath me, listening, then leaned back to call to me.  “For heaven’s sake, they are just children.  Take your grumpy self inside and leave them alone.”  She stunned the kids into a moment of silence, then threw a smile over her shoulder at them as she entered my building.  The sounds of their chortlng followed her to the second floor.

Whatever else my mother would have thought of what I’ve made of my life, I do not doubt that one accomplishment would gain her unconditional endorsement.  She would completely approve of my son.  His tenacity, his gentleness, his social consciousness, and his political acumen would all make my mother smile with the contentment of a woman who sees her legacy unfolding.  She would admire his writing and the conviction with which he speaks of his beliefs.  His tendency to scold his mother’s occasional lapses would prompt her to raise one eyebrow and laugh.  “He’s my grandson, all right,” she would observe; and she would not be wrong.

That my son never got to meet my mother seems so terrible, so cruel.  He reminds me more and more of her.  I can picture them in league with one another.  They’d walk the line together.  It would be so grand.

A few days before my mother died, I had an afternoon of bedside duty with her.  The cancer had claimed her bones and her brain.  Her pituitary gland had failed.  We had to coax her to take water and medication when there wasn’t a nurse around for injections.  I liquefied the pills and put them in a dropper which I held to her mouth.  I stroked her throat and said, “Swallow, Mama, swallow”, over and over.  “Swallow, Mama.  Swallow, now, swallow.”

Suddenly, her cloudy eyes focused, and she fixed them on my face.  “I am still your mother,” she snapped.  “Don’t patronize me.”

I could only stutter in reply, “Yes, ma’am”, in the instant before her eyes blurred again.  They were the last clear words I ever heard her say.  

Once in a while,  I find myself thinking about calling my mother to tell her something.  Invariably, I remember a phone call we had when I still lived in St. Louis.  My apartment telephone had a very long cord, and I was wandering around the kitchen as we talked.  After a while, I got bored, but once my mother started on a subject, you couldn’t really interrupt her.  I looked back and saw that my cat had gotten a hold of the telephone cord and was twisting it in his paws.  “Mom, I gotta go,”  I exclaimed.  “The cat’s on the wire.”  I hung up the phone, relieved to have found a marginally plausible excuse.  A few minutes later, she rang again.  “I assume you’re having barbecued cat for dinner, then?” she asked.  Ever after that, when one of us needed to get off the phone, we’d just say, “Cat’s on the wire,” and we’d both laugh.

Nobody sang like my mother, or danced like her, or held a crying child quite the way she could.  I tried.  I read the same stories to my son that my mother read to me.  I made her Schmarren for Patrick, and sang the Christopher Robin songs which she invented.  I put candy in his shoes on St. Nicholas Day which was her tradition.  I hung Christmas stockings and rang her dinner bell.  I tried to channel her strength and her tenderness.  I tried to show my son the world through a daughter’s eyes.

On Mother’s Day, we would buy a single gardenia for my mother at the florist near Corpus Christi Church in Jennings.  We would take care to do what she wanted all day, and to behave like the good Christians which we knew she wanted us to be.  She always told us that when we walked down the street, she wanted people to look at us and say, “See those Corleys.  How they loved one another.”  Whatever we were the rest of the year, however we acted, whatever we lacked or failed to do, on Mother’s Day, we set it all aside.

Just before one of my mother’s cancer-related surgeries, the eight of us gathered at her bed.  The doctors had gone through informed consent, with my mother waving her hand in my direction and telling them to let her lawyer daughter read it.  They were about to wheel her out of the room, when she stopped the orderly.  She gestured for us to come closer.  She had something to say.

“From this day forward,” she told us, “My word is law.”  Her deep chuckle lingered in the room as they pushed her down the hall.

If there is a heaven, I have no doubt that my mother occupies her own corner.  She has gathered all the children around her, especially her granddaughter Rachel.  She has my brother Stephen at hand, and so many others.  She reads stories, and skips, and plays music, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Willie Nelson, Anthony Newley, and “Peter and the Wolf”.  She will have a garden.  She will walk among the flowers and vegetables, wearing a denim wrap-around skirt and a head scarf, carrying a basket.  She’ll rise early, call out to my father, and take her cup of coffee out to a celestial porch.  Her endless, radiant smile will warm the heart and calm the fears of even The Littlest Angel.

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


10 SEPTEMBER 1926 — 21 AUGUST 1985






In which I invite peace back into my heart

Living in the Delta, one forgets that negative people roam the earth and inject uglness into the lives of anyone who crosses their paths.  The same delightful escape happens here in Jenny Rosen’s lovely tree house apartment.  She surrounds herself with positive energy, from the inspirational artwork to the lush jade in blue clay pots.   My soul calms, hiding here.

Yesterday reality bit, drawing me into its seedier side. I  rummaged through the flotsam and jetsam of my life, the last few boxes hastily packed by my friends while I dealt with a mess caused by the remissions of others.  The flood of anxiety over the clumsy closing of my house sale; the desperation with which  I had to seek legal intervention to offset the failures of those who should have been helping me; the chaos during what could have been an exciting time — these rose to claim the quietude which the last four months has allowed me.

But offsetting my clumsy fall onto the floor of the storage unit and the stark reminder of that last month in Kansas City when I trusted some untrustworthy souls, a few shimmering pockets of strengthening silver emerge.  I found the missing papers for which  I had long sought, tucked into my mother’s book on needlework.  I visited with a client, hearing of how well she is doing post-litigation.  I spent a couple of hours curled on Jenny’s couch, reading.  At eleven, Jenny came sashaying home, with groceries, Winstead’s tater-tots, and her sunny smile.  I remembered how blessed  I am.  It is impossible to be here in this island of serenity and not keenly feel the bounty of compassion.

So this morning, I invite peace back into my heart.  I gather it like the fine lace of a lovely shawl and wrap my body in its tender embrace.  I forswear complaint anew.  I let those nagging recollections fall away, pinching the dead leaves from the new shoots and taking nourishment in the rich soil around me.  I feel myself unfolding, ready to bloom.   Forgiveness and release cannot be far behind.

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



My Edward Albee Moment

I had a sort of Edward Albee moment in the airport yesterday, and I’ve been ruminating over it ever since.

I assume that anyone who reads my funny little scribblings might well have also heard of Edward Albee, a playwright whose ability far exceeds mine.  I channeled one of his characters as I sat in a wheelchair in the Oakland airport.

If you haven’t ever let yourself be pushed through an airport in a wheelchair, let me say that you must do so some time.  It can be exhilarating and aggravating in turns.  You often whip rapidly through the crowds, quite at the mercy of the carters.  Your attendants make you give them your driver’s license and your boarding pass.  They step away from you for long stretches of time, talking into their cell phones.  They leave you completely undocumented, with your carry-on luggage piled in your lap.  They speak to each other in passing, often in foreign languages.  They laugh but not at anything you’ve said.  Often-times they holler in your ear, as though the reason for your needing a wheelchair has something to do with your hearing, or the feebleness of your brain.

I haven’t yet gotten to the point where the humiliation of the wheelchair assistance has abated, I still find it nerve-wracking, which might account for why a fellow crippled person’s taking note of the color of my shoes  startled me.  She rested comfortably in her chair, beneath its red bar.  These protrusions sail into the air to be sure we don’t steal the thing or get lost in the crowds.  She sat happily under hers, doubtless satisfied with being noticeable.   Her bright eyes darted around the area where we had been parked, under the sign announcing that we were PRE-BOARDERS.  She wore a light, short-sleeve silk blouse and crisp, short pants that I think she would, if asked, describe as pedal-pushers.

She gripped a portable walker in one hand and her knitting in the other.  Her fingers bore the heavy jewels of comfortable widows.  She told me that she was eighty-one, with a little shake of a finely shaped head beneath precisely cut hair.  On cue, I disavowed belief.  “Oh yes,” she said.  “I walked everywhere on my own and even hiked until I hit seventy-five.”  She positively gleamed.

She asked me, then, what brand of shoes I wore.  “Dansko”, I replied.  She pointed one delicate foot in front of herself, in its open-backed sandal, her painted toes peaking out from under the top strap.

“I’ve never seen black soles on brown shoes before,” she commented.  She looked back at my feet, then raised her eyebrows.

“Oh no — ” I assured her.  “My shoes are black — ”

That’s when the Edward Albee thing happened.  So I closed my mouth and let the moment pass.

If you don’t know the play The American Dream, you might not understand.  It’s about Mommy, and Daddy, and the Van Man, and Grandma, and the Lady from the Adoption Agency.  It’s about desire and disappointment.

In one scene, Mommy recounts a story of buying a hat.  She wants it to be beige, but she runs into a woman outside the store who observes that the hat is actually wheat-colored.  She bustles back into the shop and demands a substitute.  “I got satisfaction,” she assures Daddy and Grandma.  “You know it was the same hat,” one responds.  “Of course I know that,” she snaps.  “But the point is, I got satisfaction.”

I thought about the wheat-colored hat, staring at my black (or possibly brown) shoes as I waited to be dragged down the jetway to the plane.  The sprightly grandmother in the chair next to me sparkled.  Her pink toes twinkled.  I cast my mind back to the day that I had ordered my Danskos.  I felt certain that I remembered them being listed as “black Danskos, European size 37″.

Yet as I stared down at them, I couldn’t help thinking that they might, after all, be brown.  All of a sudden, I didn’t like them quite as much.  I turned them this way and that in the yellow light from the overhead fixtures in the waiting area.  I stole a glance at the old woman and discovered that she was watching me, grinning.  I have no idea whether she knew what I was thinking, but I have a pretty good idea of what was on her mind.

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



Parking has never been easy on the Plaza in Kansas City.  I pulled the rental car into a space across from Jenny Rosen’s apartment and thought, At least my parking karma still holds.  Then I saw the flash of Jenny’s wide lovely smile and we were laughing, talking about dinner, and moving away from the curb again towards 39th street.  Just like that:  I’m back.

A few hours later, Jenny made chamomile tea and put a little box of delicate chocolates in front of me.  The sound of traffic subsided as the weekday evening ended.  Jenny’s jade garden oozed serenity from the shelves and window sills.  We chattered without stopping, despite the months that I’ve been in California, despite the changes in our lives. Our relate flows like an endless river, an infinite stretch of stars into which I find myself gazing with a mild wonder.

In Jenny Rosen’s dining room, with the quiet of morning around me, I have no complaint.  My jobless state notwithstanding; the bruise on my hip from an embarrassing fall in the restaurant aside; life seems possible.  Even likely.  Doable; even golden.  I’m not sure where I’m going, but this is where I’ve been.  I’ve had some happy times in Kansas City.  I can find a bit of comfort here.

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

Dark descends on the Delta

As I walked back from my evening’s visit with Pattie, I stumbled and hit the ground.  Don’t tell Pattie — she’ll be  horrified.  I landed as I’ve been taught to land, carefully not using bended wrists to catch myself.  I broke  bones that way in 2013, splintering my finger so badly that I had to endure surgery to restore  functionality.  I’ve not made that mistake again.

On my knees, trying to push myself upright, I began to bargain.  Not with God; no, God and I don’t play those kinds of games.  My promises and threats extended only to myself.  You will get up off this g– d— ground, right now, I muttered.  If anyone had been near an open window, they would have heard a few expletives that one might not expect from a five-foot, 110-pound lady in her sixties.

I lack the strength in my legs to just simply stand from the floor.  This prompts me to do adaptive yoga rather than the regular kind.  Adaptive yoga divides the upper halves of traditional poses from their lower halves, which I skip.  I can’t coordinate the two portions of my body nor rise from a prone position.  Because of this inability, my friends Ellen Cox and Sharon Alberts, a mother-and-daughter duo, have helped me devise a sun salute that doesn’t include the floor routine.

So there I found myself, for the first time, lying on a stretch of gravel in Park Delta Bay.  For reasons I cannot recall, I had not taken my phone with me.  I never carry a cane or walking stick, not that either would be useful for propelling myself straight upward.  Dusk gathered around me and would soon overtake the towering oaks that run behind the tiny houses, trailers, and RVs of G-Row on which both Pattie and I live.  Standing became imperative, as did maintaining control of my keys and my temper.

When I got hit by a car during law school, a social worker did not want to release me to my apartment.  I had been in the hospital for three and a half months, and could not tolerate another minute.  My parents had come to visit.  My mother had brought clean clothes for me to wear home.  They would spend a night or two with me, then  take themselves back to St. Louis.  The social worker insisted that I should go to a rehab unit; just as forcefully, I rejected her proposal.

The worker said to my mother, “She lives on the fourth floor with no elevator.  What will she do if there’s a fire?”  My mother had laughed then, and shook her head.  “You don’t know my daughter, ma’am.  She’d not only get out, but she’d take you with her.”

As dark descended on the Delta,  I glanced around the empty lot on which I had fallen.  I  realized that I would have to navigate the ground to a tree or one of the picnic tables.  So I did.  I scooted on my bottom, fifteen or twenty feet, holding onto my keys so I wouldn’t lose them with the fading light.   When I got to the old oak with its wide base,  I found a stake someone had left — a tent stake perhaps, about fifteen inches tall and made of iron.  I grabbed that thing, stuck it into the ground, and used it to propel myself against the trunk of my new favorite tree at Park Delta Bay.  I gripped its rough surface with my other hand, and hauled my sorry ass to a wavering but upright stance.

On shaky legs, I walked the rest of the way to Angel’s Haven.  I have never been so glad to see my front porch,  just barely visible, strong and sturdy.  I climbed the four steps and let myself into the house, thinking, as I did, that Pattie Whitaker is going to be absolutely furious when she finds out that I disobeyed her constant admonishment not to dare fall.

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


The joys of being an almost-mother

Being a mother to my son brings enormous joy, possibly the pinnacle of my life.  Motherhood satisfied me as no other role could do.  I didn’t make it as a wife; that needs no elaboration.   I stumbled through daughterhood with blind unawareness of my parents as real people. I lost both parents before I had found myself enough to be able to appreciate their complexity..  I attained marginal satisfaction from college, graduate school, and law school; more from practicing family law.  But  motherhood pulled something from the depths of my soul.  Being a mother awakened an indestructible, enduring passion which entwined itself around my psyche.  Its fibers keep me whole against the onslaught of each shattering blow from an otherwise diminishing existence.

I have one biological child, Patrick.  I  nearly had three more.  The joys of being an almost-mother started at age 22 when I got pregnant by a man whom I dated off and on through high school, college, and graduate school  We both knew that we did not belong together.  Our relationship suffered from an unrealistic overtone.  I never knew how he felt about God, taxes, or eating vegetarian.  I admired how he treated his parents  but we kept ourselves apart from each other’s social set, never speaking of the future, sensing that we had none.

I lost that baby in my mother’s bathroom in January of 1977.  I bled out on the black-and-white tile floor with the door locked, sobbing as quietly as I could.  She cajoled her way into the small space and folded me into her arms.  We said nothing.  She helped me clean myself and guided me to my old bedroom. I slept for two days.  When I awakened, the urge to give birth lay heavy on my heart.  But I did not cry.   I did not mourn.  I simply let the knowledge that I had been an almost-mother cleanse me.  I understood that my time had not yet come but that it would.

The next almost-child slipped from my body during my first marriage.  We wanted to be parents so intensely that babies haunted each of our separate dreams.  A kidney infection ruined my chances that time, something sick and vile that left me shaking on a gurney at the local health clinic.  The doctor kept saying he was sorry, as though he should never have given me the pregnancy test results.  Every time he apologized, I automatically said, “It’s not your fault, don’t worry”, while the catheter drained dark urine from my body and antibiotics flowed through a needle into my arm.  I can’t remember what he did after that; I might have blacked out.

A third child didn’t make it to my arms as part of the pregnancy which gave my son to me.  I miscarried his twin in March at about four months.  When I spread my legs for the post-miscarriage procedures, my ob-gyn unexpectedly exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, there’s another baby.”  Astonishment surged through me.  I had been redeemed by a tiny, tenacious creature clinging to life.  I felt a smug satisfaction.  I had known that I would be a mother from the first moment.  I had never doubted.  The miscarriage brought brief, intense confusion which dispelled with the doctor’s startled revelation.

Possibly the thrills of being an almost-mother attached themselves to the one child whom I bore.  In some ways, though, just being pregnant stirred the capacity for joy within  me.  That same sensation bloomed when I got the privilege of sharing other people’s children:  Caitlin, Jennie, and Chris Taggart; my stepchildren Tshandra, Kim, Cara, and Mac; and the smattering of kids who have called me “Auntie” or treated me like a second mother over the years — Maher, Abbey, Colin, and Sam, to name a few.  Though some of them have wandered away, I do not regret any of the love which I invested in them nor would I pull their gossamer threads from the fabric of my life.

I staggered through many of my days as a mother.  I did the first eight years alone in the house with Patrick though just outside our door, a village welcomed us.  So much would have been different if I had given birth at 22, at 33, or to both children at 36.  I hold onto all of it though — the good with the bad; the almost with the actual.  Every second of my life as a mother contributes to the person I have become.

Through the open door, I hear baby birds raising their voices on the crisp air of a Delta spring morning.  The palest blue soars above me as I gaze through the big window with its long lace curtain.  Sleep eluded me for hours last night, but whatever bothered me has now receded.  I feel whole and clean.    Hope endures, despite the downward turns that my life has taken along the road from there to here.  I’ve made it this far, against immeasurable odds.  Anything can happen now.  I close my eyes and listen to the call of life.

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




My Day In Davis

The UC Davis campus allows no easy passage.  Its arboretum follows suit.  Although the Visitor Guide online suggests that the west end of the Arboretum might be “more accessible” than the rest of it, none of it yields to clumsy penetration.

The Arboretum provides a downloadable map for those of us who don’t have iPads with which their interactive map apparently has exclusive compatibility.  I studied the PDF at length before I got to Davis and set my GPS for the “visitor center”, conspicuous by its prominent designation on said map and its absence in real life.  After 30 minutes of driving around town, I pulled over and called “Arboretum Headquarters”.  Roxanne told me that the visitor center didn’t exist, though conceding that one appeared on their map. She insisted that I could find “Headquarters” and she would provide a paper copy of the map.  She could not tell me how to locate her building, though she did tell me what its sign said — should I find the spot on the road where the building sat.

I stumbled on it twenty minutes later, on the far side of a busy campus street with no apparent access and no obvious parking.  Throwing most of my caution out the window, I drove a little way further and parked beside a building that crouched within a grove of trees near a waterway.  I sat in a handicapped parking space grappling with hunger, fatigue, and rising tears for five full minutes before I composed myself enough to disembark.

I crossed a bridge and peered towards the front of the lodge, at which a conference could be seen to gather.  A man in a green apron asked if he could help me.  When I explained my dilemma, he urged me to go into the building and find “Sheila”, whom he identified as “a UC Davis employee who knows everything and is really nice who will help you”.  I thanked him and continued forward, clutching my reviled walking stick in one hand and my phone displaying the Arboretum map in the other.

Sheila behaved as advertised.  She provided verbal directions accompanied with references to the PDF on my phone.  She also gave me a bottle of water, for which I would find myself grateful more than once over the next two hours.  Thus fortified, I sallied forth.

By happy chance, I had gotten myself in the western third of the Arboretum walkway, that which the map had proclaimed to be more easily navigated in the event of disability.  I found it still difficult.  With its wide, paved asphalt surface, the walkway did not trip me but the curbs in front of its benches proved daunting.  Nevertheless, I kept trudging until I arrived at the Gazebo and the White Flower Garden.  Exhausted,  winded, but victorious, I sat and let the beauty comfort me.

As I rested, I checked e-mail to be sure that I had not overlooked anything client-related.  There I found a message from a woman whose case I had just finished on my last trip to Kansas City.  The words she wrote meant more to me than she can possibly know.  I share them here not to brag, but so that each person reading will understand how deeply she has touched me in a time when only an unsolicited message of this sort could possibly hit the mark.

She wrote:

When I made the decision and took the step of faith to change my situation/life, I had no idea how I was going to do it alone, how I could afford to. Nevertheless, when I took the first step the path started to reveal itself with every step I took forward. The first step was making the decision and the second was finding you. You did not have to take my case but you did and for that, I am extremely grateful.

I have had to learn that I am not going to make it very far unless I focus on the road ahead and quit looking behind me. I am determined to continue cutting loose all of the people and things (guilt, shame, anger, hate….etc.) that I have allowed to keep me from moving forward.

I cannot adequately explain how keenly her message struck home.  The gratitude justly belongs at my end.  She has given me exactly what I needed in one of the more fortuitously timed e-mails of my life.  Doubtless, many others have tried to convince me of what my client discovered for herself and shared with me.   But apparently I needed to receive this advice while sitting in the gazebo of a splendid garden which I had struggled to find, with the scent of white flowers wafting around me, on a sweet spring day, in Davis, California.

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



Thankful for the Ten Percent

Pattie says, I know what  you mean, and we fall silent. We’re facing west, sitting on her deck beneath the awnings.  I have taken the first steps of my afternoon walk.  As I rounded the corner, Pattie’s voice drew me to a chair.

Pattie lives on the first turn of my quarter-mile circuit.  We spent a pleasant fifteen minutes ruminating about life as each of us has experienced it.  She’s seen five or six more years than I have but we’ve navigated similar currents.  Marriage, divorce, childbirth, loss, disruption, difficult choices.  Each of us remembers periods of our lives when we could barely stand to let someone see a dirty coffee cup, and other long stretches where we gave ourselves permission to grieve.

Pattie’s one of the ten-percenters, the fraction of people whom I have met that I know would never purposefully disappoint me.  She’d finagle, and ferret, and fret, and get whatever she’d promised done.  I like that about her.

The ninety-percent of the world which either can’t be bothered or wouldn’t keep their word might be ten-percenters to somebody else but not me.  I don’t occupy the intersection of their Venn diagram.  They have no liability to me, or they had it and abdicated.  I accept that.  At times it enrages me, when the ninety-percenter who fails me had invited me to trust them.  But then I go for a walk, now on my quarter-mile and in the old days, around a 2-square-block circuit in Brookside.  By the time I make it back home, I’ve let go of the anger.  \

Some people can’t help themselves.  They’re always angling for a better deal, and I just don’t make the cut.  Like the college co-ed who says they’ll spend time with you unless they get a date, never realizing that you relied on the plans which you made with them.  If I tell you that I’ll have dinner with you, it doesn’t matter if someone dangles a more tempting tryst in front of me.  Let your belt out a notch; we’re chowing down.

It’s hard to be upset in the dappled light which plays across the park.  As I walked, I remembered the evening when I stood outside my brother Frank’s house talking about moving to California.

“For God’s sake, tell me you’re not going to live in a trailer park,” he groaned.  I shook my head and laughed.  “That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” I admitted.  “At least for a while.”

He gazed out on his street as darkness settled around us.  “Okay then,” he finally sighed.  “As long as you’re happy.”  He’s one of the ten-percent.  He loves me no matter what.

I finished my walk just as the shade overtook my little deck with its chilly air.  Inside Angel’s Haven, the European washer unit had finished its dry cycle and pleasantly hummed in the anti-wrinkle phase.  I stood gazing at the glow of the sun over the river road for a few minutes, then went inside to pour a cup of coffee.

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

“You’ve Got a Friend”, Carole King and James Taylor