The night grows quiet. The hum of fans mixes with a chorus which could be crickets or the noises made by my broken brain struggling to make sense of its surroundings. Occasionally the neighbor’s dog whines. Continue reading
A long stretch of newly baled hay adorned the field to my right, filling the air with a heady fragrance. Wind-swept clouds danced across the sky. Traffic abated long enough for me to reach the bridge at a clip. As my front tires eased onto the metal, I glanced at the river. Waves rippled away from the unseen expanse above which I traveled. On the western edge, I took the long slow exit down to Front Street, passing a worker in his yellow vest. He raised a thermos in my direction. I smiled and lifted my fingers from the steering wheel in reply.
I could make this trip on any morning. The field would be tall with grass or ready for harvest. The worker would bear a jacket on his shoulders or short sleeves beneath dusty coveralls. Big rigs would barrel past, heavy with a load or empty, headed home. The bridge would rise, bringing traffic to a stop, or remain steady for workaday folks journeying by land.
Morning, Rio Vista, June 2019; my life in seven minutes, warmed by the summer sun and sheltered beneath a tender sky.
From The Vision of Sir Launfal
James Russell Lowell – 1819-1891
And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays:
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there’s never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature’s palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o’errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,—
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?
Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop over-fills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
‘Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes, but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For other couriers we should not lack;
We could guess it all by yon heifer’s lowing,—
And hark! how clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!
It’s the twenty-sixth day of the sixty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
In the stillness of morning, I take stock.
I hear the dove outside, nearby; mournful and low, repeating her call to a silent mate. Something twitters; a nuthatch or a finch, high and happy, if I can be forgiven my assumptions. I close my eyes and let the coolness of the morning wash over me.
I start with my toes and ask myself, Can the feet move? Not yet, comes the whispered reply. The searing pain in my right hip reminds me of the Oldsmobile which parked itself just there, on top of a shattered Gremlin door. One firefighter held my hand as the other worked the jaws of life. “It’s a good thing you hadn’t buckled your seat belt,” he murmurs.
It would be years before I could bring myself to wear one.
Between my spastic toes and my degenerated hip, the operated knee has swollen through the night. Funny thing to call a few inches of metal. “Operated knee”, it says, on my chart; but that was two or three procedures ago. For the last sixteen years, I’ve had this hunk of twisted, broken machinery, with a knob of cartilage inflamed in the center of the faulty joint. It’s not ready to bend, just yet. I flex it, wince a little, then go back to my mental inventory.
The sun sends its creeping tendrils through the slit in the curtain. The light rises in my little house. I reach one hand towards the ceiling of my daybed cubby, running my fingers across its rough surface. For the hundredth time, I lament the screws sticking through the loft floor. I’ve got to get someone to fix that, I tell myself.
A little tap on the metal roof distracts me. A scrub jay, perhaps; or a woodpecker. I’ve never seen a squirrel in the park. I’m not sure they live here. But the woodpeckers! Oh how they love to hammer away at the California oaks rising above our meadow!
Now I raise my feet. My calf muscles demand attention; they’ve grown even more taut as I slept. Funny thing, the brain. It keeps me moving all day despite the limits of its tortured pattern. As soon as I fall asleep, all hell breaks lose. I strain against the pain. Bend and stretch, reach for the sky.(1)
In a minute, I’ll swing my legs out and steady myself with the edge of the cabinet. Then I’ll pull myself to something like a sitting position, and hold my breath. I’ve fallen on the floor more times than I care to say. But this time, I make it, and soon I’m in the kitchen putting the kettle to boil.
And through all of these machinations, one thought shines: “Ladies and gentlemen, I woke up today, which is more than many people can say. So let’s get started.”(2)
It’s the twenty-fifth day of the sixty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
(fn 1) The linked clip does not feature “my” Romper Room. We had Miss Lois in St. Louis. But I couldn’t find one of her doing this song. My apologies to my St. Louis friends from childhood for the substitution.
(fn 2) I served as a courtroom prosecutor for the late Hon. Leonard J. Hughes, Sr. in the Kansas City Municipal Court from 1983 – 1985. He started each day’s session with this announcement.
Today I have done nothing more taxing than fold a load of clothes and cook rice.
A few hours ago, I showed a carpenter neighbor where I wanted three shelves built. He bent to measure the depth of the cabinet and talked about the weight load capacity of drawer runners. We agreed on a day for the install, and he strolled off the porch, whistling. One sandal flopped from his foot and I cautioned him about shoe-related injuries.
Oh, I know, he assured me. But these sandals have been around the world with me, even to Cambodia. I can’t bear to part with them. Then he dialed my neighbor’s number and sauntered towards her house, to bid another job.
Heat settled on our park. Inside my house, the temperature climbed but the fans kept the air comfortable, at least for this Missouri girl. I puttered about, occasionally reading a page or two in my Kindle app. I poured hot water over fresh grounds and took my mug out to the porch.
Last year, I had no job except the closing of my Missouri cases which drew me eastward every month or so. I spent my days sending out resumes and driving the levee roads on the Delta Loop. I found bends around which broad fields lay fallow in the winter months, and burst with life as spring unfolded. I spoke to very few people. I drank Kombucha at the local beer room, and tea at the bakeshop in town. Occasionally, I strolled by the broken walkway at the river’s edge and smiled at the occasional person sitting on the benches in the afternoon air.
I never thought of myself as a loner until the last few years. Now I understand that I somehow failed to build a life which could sustain itself. I do not know if I have left it until too late.
This afternoon, as I sat in the rocker on my porch, a hummingbird sought out the feeder which hangs on a bracket attached to my house. It buzzed over my head and briefly perched. I held as still as possible. As the sound of its wings tickled my ears, I opened the camera on my tablet. I reversed its orientation so I could watch the little bird flutter over the pool of nectar. I didn’t get a picture; it moved too fast. But it returned over and over again; again and again I raised the camera and studied its flight until it zipped beyond the reach of my feeble lens.
Later, as I sat at the computer, a knock summoned me downstairs. My neighbor Helix had brought a present; a bracelet of his own design and making. He clasped it around my wrist and then took a photograph to show his husband Louis. I hugged him; I thanked him; and I offered to pay for the lovely thing, He demurred. If you ever see something and think of me, you can get it for me, he told me. A gentleman’s way of saying, This is a gift.
Then he gave me an Oreo; told me to drink lots of water — Promise me! — and continued on his evening’s stroll. For my part, I went back upstairs, feeling less lonely by half.
It’s the twenty-third day of the sixty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
Summer quietly crept into the meadow behind my tiny house. Days shimmer under the sun, temperatures climbing to the eighties, nineties. The heat drops to sixty when evening falls. I still do not regret choosing not to have air conditioning. With a few small metal fans and open windows, the house stays comfortable.
I walked to the garden this afternoon, steadied by the walking stick which my friend Katrina brought from Colorado years ago. Its unfinished surface has weathered and darkened. I grip the natural curve of the handle, a protrusion cut from the limb above a knot. The leather strap rests on my wrist.
I don’t like using a cane but the long expanse between my house and the garden holds surprises that might trip me. Tree roots linger in the loose soil. Moles lurk beneath the surface; I see fresh mounds where they’ve ventured from below in the cool of night. I walk slowly, carefully, enjoying the warm air tempered by the Delta breeze.
The sun shines full and steady at the far end of the park. I lean my walking stick against the living trellis which one of my neighbors made last year from discarded willow branches. The height of it amazes me. We know it has taken root. It sends out new green shoots in the spring, healthy branches from which its leaves still grow. I run my finger along the softness of a handful of those leaves as they sway in the wind. I recall how we diligently stripped the thing last year. I like it better this way, unchecked, rising in cheerful defiance above the tomato plants.
We’ll have strawberries soon. I briefly check on them before gingerly stepping down to the peppermint plants. I’ve done some reading about the spider mites on my Fuchsia plant. The internet gurus recommend peppermint oil and dish soap. I plan to try that concoction before I surrender and order some pre-fab product. The first step involves crushing peppermint into olive oil and letting that sit for a few days. I’m game to try; It’s what my mother would do.
As I walk back, a finch lands on one of the old water spigots at the edge of the meadow. I stop to watch it flick its feathers. It seems to be singing to something high above us. I crane my neck and search the blue stretch of sky for its partner. While I’m looking away, it rises from its perch and flies into the trees. I pause for another moment or two, then resume my slow journey home.
It’s the twenty-second day of the sixty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
Dear Friends —
For the last two years, I have delayed the official announcement of the closing of the Corley Law Firm. Of course, most everyone knows that I stopped taking new cases in the summer of 2017 in anticipation of the move. But my guardian ad litem cases kept me traveling back and forth. Though I had left Suite 100, a friend loaned an office to me. For all of 2018, I could ignore the fact that the vision which Alan White and I first imagined at my dining room table in March of 1992 had finally faded, or had been fulfilled as much as we would ever manage.
I finished my last case in February of 2019 by transferring it to another lawyer. Since that time, though I remain a licensed Missouri attorney in good standing, I have not been practicing. I had my last art show; I packed my last box; I shuffled the last list of stored files into the scanner.
Confronting this change has not been easy. Though I ultimately made the choice, unforeseen and unwelcome circumstances of my life demanded a new configuration. The public art space, Art @ Suite 100, had brought much joy and satisfaction, but the situation which gave birth to that dream had also been irreparably altered. I simply had to find another path to walk.
So I did. Determined to live a more simple life, I commissioned the build which ultimately became my tiny house, “Angel’s Haven”. I sold my home in Brookside, gave away most of my material possessions, and headed west.
I consider myself a Missouri gal. My tribe still lives on the banks of one of the state’s two big rivers, the Missouri or the Mississippi. Many amazing people in the Midwest still hold me in their hearts. I miss them all. I miss my son, my siblings, my cousins, and the Usual Suspects on whom I depended at the very center of my quivering core. I crave the twangy cadence of their voices and the sun-kissed crinkles in the corner of their eyes.
The lights of Kansas City haunt my dreams. I fight the dark gloom of fearful regret. I want to park on 39th Street and amble into Prospero’s, where Will presides over an alluring assortment of genuine, analogue reads. I’d make my way to the stairs and take any offered arm, the store’s genuine insistence to my personal accommodation. On the upper story, a drink would await and music would wrap itself around me, the sweet strains of Angela’s cello with Jake’s guitar, maybe; or the raw rapid rasp of a deftly wielded fiddle.
One fine day, I’d head down State Line for a gluten-free vegetarian lunch at tLoft, with its sure-fire wi-fi and its funky teas. I’d sit for hours, writing, ruminating, humming. There would be no need for a second round; your table’s secure on just that one order, stay as long as you like — we don’t mind.
But no, it’s First Friday, so let’s sign off and head to the Crossroads, where if we’re lucky, we’ll get one of Ruthie’s give-aways for Free Art Friday. And so on, and so forth. There’s Paula’s invitation to lunch; and Katrina’s garden to visit. Brenda will walk by any minute on her way home from work. Penny gets off work at 2:00 and has an Americano waiting. Farmer Steve, well, he’s got fresh eggs, maybe, or a bag of greens and a sit-down on the front porch in one of the rockers, because that’s just the way we roll.
At the community dinner here at Park Delta Bay this evening, I tried to find a way to tell my neighbors how I feel today. Today, of all days. The day that I finally sent my closing copy to the best web mistress in the whole damned country, Annie Wilson. My goodbye went live a half-hour later. But I couldn’t find the words. These people — these Park Delta Bay folks, they have good souls. I’m sure they would have shown compassion. But how could I describe the bittersweet memories which suddenly overtook me? How could I share the loss of something that none of them had ever known, or seen, or experienced?
So, here it is. I took a fork in the road, either of my own accord or because I had no choice. With many backward glances, I left Missouri behind me. I won’t pound my chest and wail about any of it — not the difficulty of the decision, nor its ultimate inevitability. I paid my money, and I took my chances. I got a bunch of fine door prizes, even if I never quite snagged the brass ring. Who knows? I might go ’round again, and get another chance.
It’s the eighteenth day of the sixty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.
Life continues.CLICK HERE TO READ MY CLOSING COPY.
A large amount of my complaining over the last sixty-three years has just been rendered moot.
When I started high school, I stood 5-2-1/2 (oh, that awful extra half-inch that kept me from being “five foot two, eyes of blue). I weighed about seventy pounds at age thirteen. I stayed that slim until my second year of college, when a Missouri brown recluse savagely bit me. I fell gravely ill and nearly died. Doctors pumped me full of Prednizone. I ballooned practically overnight.
For the next few years, I yo-yoed. One year — twenty pounds overweight; the next, ten under. Each zig met an even greater zag. I plummeted below a hundred during my third year of law school. My mother threatened commitment. I rolled my eyes and sipped my grapefruit juice.
Through my thirties and forties, I struggled but stayed fairly slim. Somewhere south of my second marriage, the numbers marched in a steady uphill journey to double my body weight. My artificial knee cracked. I limped to the doctor.
The elderly surgeon who inserted my old-fashioned replacement joint had retired. A handsome “sports doctor” chided me for becoming obese. “That joint is weight-rated, ma’am, and when we gave you that knee, you weighed 70 lbs less than you do now.” I didn’t point out that no gifting had been involved. I just slunk on home and put myself on an austerity diet.
Over the next two years, I would lose all of that girth and more. In early 2011, I walked down the aisle for the third time in a size zero, weighing 103 lbs and standing 5-3-1/2 (I’m not sure how I gained an inch over the years; probably from standing straight).
But life happened, and again, I started that old depression eating. Faced with emotional trauma, I either succumb to a bleeding ulcer or consume nothing but potatoes and doughnuts.
The relevance, counselor?
Through all of this, I have loudly, long, often, and annoyingly complained about myself.
I’m too fat.
I’m too thin.
I’m incapable of exercising to lose weight because of multiple health issues.
I could exercise but I don’t.
I can’t sustain a diverse diet so I have to eat whatever stays in me. (This part is actually true but I don’t talk about it in a constructive way.)
I’ve recently started watching YouTube videos with body-positive messages, such as Carrie Dayton. While I’m not particularly concerned about fashion and thus don’t like all of the videos from these ladies, I can relate to the tears, the frustrations, and the determination of a generation half my age and even younger. I experienced all of what they recount in their extraordinarily forthright stories about body-shaming, eating disorders, and their journeys to body acceptance.
Then something really strange happened. I bought a dress from a thrift store that I stuck away in my twenty-one inches of hanging space and promptly forgot. I got it out this weekend and considered wearing it. Fearing that it might not fit, I glanced at the tag. Medium. Oh, that should work. Then I looked again. Petite medium. Ohhhhhh. Am I a “petite medium”? I don’t feel petite. I don’t even feel medium.
And yet, it fits as though it were tailor made for me. NO tautness, no scrunching, no tugging, no pulling. And suddenly, I find myself thinking, Well, well, well, little missy. After all that bitching about yourself, here you are. Sixty-three, and a petite medium.
And who cares, after all? Who really cares? Am I a healthy weight? Yes. Can my disabled legs carry the weight? Not quite, and I’m not as strong as I need to be. So, I’ll work on that. But am I less valuable as a human being with a few extra pounds? Certainly not.
I took six decades to figure this out but I’m damned proud of myself anyway. Better late than never.
It’s the seventeenth day of the sixty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
I woke yesterday with an unshakable sense that the winds of change had set themselves upon my tiny home.
The peacock has left the park, I thought. I lay by the open window and listened for its shriek. A finch twittered overhead, flitting from branch to branch in the towering oak. But I heard no cry from the meadow; no lingering anguished squawk.
I shuffled through my morning ritual, then drove the long way out of the park, straining to find the shimmering green of the long tail feathers beneath the willow tree. Nothing.
My friend Catherine Kenyon came to visit today. The cadence of her speech sounded like home to me. We lunched at Korth’s Pirate’s Lair and drove west of Rio to see the wind mills. She entertained me with an account of the whale which once drifted too far east and had to be rescued. We sat on my new deck and studied two maps — hers on paper, mine on the google-tron. I dashed inside to grab the Jake Kimbrell “House by the River” postcards which I had just purchased. I thrust them into her hand — the perfect souvenir. She tried to demure but I insisted. I want her to remember the beauty of this place; I want her to take a piece of my new world back with her.
Then we embraced and she made her way off the island and over the Bay. On Monday she flies back to the Midwest, where the seasons turn as the Missouri River meanders through farmlands and winds around the City.
Finally the moment which I have been dreading all week could not be forestalled any longer, despite my dogged determination. I had to say goodbye to Sally and Bill. I cannot stave off the tears.
Sally says, we’ll see you in late September, though Bill mutters under his breath, “or early October, if she finds one more turn to take”. Bill secures the wobbly banister to my writing loft, which he had been meaning to do all spring. Sally and I sit on the deck talking about our respective experiences in physical therapy. The little dog Buddy curls at her feet.
They carry their fire pit around to the back of my house. See? Sally assures me. We’re leaving our fire pit here. We have to return.
My storage shed still houses a box of discarded belongings, for the retrieval of which no footsteps ever trod a remembered path upon my stairs. I do not trust this particular guarantee.
Bill hugs me and then drives the car to their side of the park for one last night. Sally wraps her arms around me; then she and Buddy walk away. I’m desperately texting her before they make it to their rig. Tell Bill the railing is so secure! It’s fabulous! Thank you for everything! Take care of yourself! (*crying emoji*).
Sally sends a heart and repeats for the twentieth time, “We’ll be back.”
The sun sets. I slump over the table, weeping into my dinner. I do not have so many friends that I can easily say goodbye to three in a single day.
It’s the fifteenth day of the sixty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
On the way home from yet another lengthy trip to a distant medical facility, I finally snared several shots of a hawk on Jackson Slough. Through my windshield, with my motor running just in case of an oncoming car, I clicked through several frames before the bird grew skittish and lifted from his perch. Even from several car lengths away and far below, the sound of my engine must cause him distress.
Later, I heard the neighbor’s dog barking and then the telltale shriek of the feral peacock. I dashed outside with Canon in hand, and recorded the bird’s attempt to cross Brannan Island Road. PresumablY the heat drove him to seek the river. Not a minute after I went inside, I heard a lone cry. I scurried to the yard in time to see a pick-up stopped on the road right where I had last seen the peacock. I don’t know if it hit the bird or stopped to let it cross. A few seconds later, a motorcycle accelerated due west, followed by the truck. I haven’t heard the peacock since they barreled away.
Now I’m sitting in the warm air of my writing loft, wondering about these birds and how the throb of humanity impacts them. #Deltalife seems tame and lonely, but our cars rattle the rocks and boats cause the river to wash ashore where it might otherwise drift in gentle currents.
My ears remain alert for the sound of the majestic bird which has cried all night for the last few days. I hear nothing but the steady hum of the fan and the low growl of the dog outside my window.
It’s the tenth day of the sixty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
Late yesterday afternoon, I drove around the quarter-mile circle on which my tiny house sits, nestled among the dozen others here. I wanted to see the wild peacock that has established a temporary residence in our far meadow.
I watched him move with a heavy grace beneath the willow tree. He tarried long enough for a few clicks of my camera. At the last, he turned to face me before stepping beyond the reach of my lens, into the brush behind the back row of cabins. I sat for a few moments,wondering what lay behind his steady gaze.
Later, as I shook the last three Tylenol from the bottle, I remembered that I promised to have blood drawn in Lodi on Friday. I sat on my porch in the falling light and listened to the wind moving through the towering oaks. Next week, I whispered. My heart fluttered; I closed my eyes and let myself believe that I could feel each irregular beat.
This morning I took my breakfast on the same porch, in the same rocker, rich black coffee in a crystal mug and soft scrambled eggs. I zipped my Sacramento Delta hoodie against the nip of the morning air. Later in the day, I sat in the bow of an old glass boat while three of the tiny house dwellers threw a line to a sailboat stuck in a shallow channel. We towed it past the abandoned crane, while egrets spread their wings wide and skirted along the shoreline.
Night again descends on my tiny house. Outside, the birds have nearly fallen silent. I cannot see the moon, but she must be somewhere overhead. From the far end of the park, a brief shriek signals that the peacock still wanders in the meadow, keeping his solitary counsel under the wide soft branches of the weeping willow.
It’s the ninth day of the sixty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.