If There Is A Heaven

I know that if heaven exists, my mother sits in an old metal porch chair with a cup of coffee, watching her granddaughter Rachel grow to whatever an infant can be in the eternity.  Her sisters Joyce and Della will join her from time to time, with my Aunt Dode’s grandson Johnny and Aunt Della’s daughter Sabrina.  I’m sure my uncle Joe and my dad trade stories from a comfortable couch just inside the door, because nobody accepted my father, with his fatal flaws, like Joe Orso.  My cousins Jim and Paul provide the background music on their guitars, while my little brother Steve sits nearby on the banks of a lovely river, resting his tired spirit.

If there is a heaven, someone will carry a birthday cake with ninety-seven candles into the breakfast room, while the gathered angels sing happy heavenly birthday to my mother.  Aunt Dode will have made mostaccioli.  My grandfather’s contribution would be sweet corn from a neighboring field, yubra, and a strong liquor in a tiny glass of which my mother will not partake.  She’ll smile, watching her father Delmar and his twin Elmer drink.  If there is a heaven, there will be no sorrow in paradise this day.

The sorrow lies in my heart.  I watched an undertaker’s van carry my mother’s body from the home of my childhood some thirty-eight years ago, just two weeks before her fifty-ninth birthday.  Every day since then has held some memory of her, in a single bloom on whatever porch I had to a cardinal landing on a nearby branch.  I hear her husky voice singing low, soothing one of my younger brothers or, later, a grandchild.  She had a way of comforting the ones whom she loved for which I yearn in my grimmest hours.

My mother’s life held much for which she herself needed empathy.  She left nursing school to marry, just months before graduation, which she would come to regret.  Oh, she did not for one moment lament her eight children!  But the husband, my father, gave her much anguish even though she loved him.  A damaged World War II infantryman, Richard Adrian Corley would have been diagnosed with PTSD and given help two or three wars later.  As it was, he found his therapy in alcohol, and it must be said, he was a mean drunk.

My mother brought the sparkle to days which followed nights of terror.  We walked the streets of Jennings singing church hymns, awaiting my father’s inevitable collapse after a rage.  In the morning, she would fix breakfast and encourage us to take our noisy selves outside.  If it were Sunday, breakfast would wait until we had gone to Mass and taken Holy Communion.  On Saturdays, she would send us to Northland for the dollar movies, or to the nearby public school to play on the merry-go-round.  She made what she could of the slim budget.  She kept a clean house.  She nurtured potted plants and, later, a vegetable garden.  She provided as well as she could between her husband’s violence and the normal challenges of raising a large family on her small salary.

If there is a heaven, the deity surely rewarded my mother for her tolerance of my father’s fury.  She will also have found forgiveness for failing to protect her children from her husband’s wrath.  Perhaps they will have been given a small cottage beside that river, on the banks of which their baby boy lies sleeping.  If there is a heaven, surely Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley has a place in the ranks of the eternally cherished.  She certainly earned first-tier accommodations.

It’s the tenth day of the one-hundred and seventeenth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Gone But Never Forgotten

Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley

10 Sept 1926 – 21 Aug 1985


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