A few months after the crushing diagnosis which confirmed my mother’s cancer, she and I walked in her backyard. Summer had waned. Autumn hung over the quiet suburban neighborhood. Her garden had finished its bloom, and lay under a blanket of mulch. Mother stepped sure-footed across the grass and lowered herself to the park bench. I sat beside her.
An angel came to me in a dream last night, she began. She described its form. It had no wings; just a white faceless body. I remained silent. The angel said, ‘You have less than a year to live. All your children will gather before you die. Afterwards you will come home.’
I still hear my mother’s voice, thirty-two years later. I hear her say, I’m okay with that. Another year. I can live with that.
She died on 21 August 1985. Just one more Thanksgiving, just one more Christmas. One more Easter. She did not make it to her next birthday. But all of her children had been there; her eldest sat beside her as the angels took her home. Before the mortuary folks carried her body from the house, we all gathered. We stood on the porch, on the concrete steps, in the street. My youngest brother tried to climb into the back of the wagon to ride with her. I had to hold him back.
On Thanksgiving Day, before the first fork rose to stab a bite of turkey, we went around the table saying “Thankful-Fors”. I know I’ve spoken of this before now; surely you remember all the funny stories. My mother would scold the boys for being “thankful-for” turkey legs or pumpkin pie. Something serious, she’d remind them. Eventually they’d mumble, my mother, or my good grades. And the round would continue, youngest to oldest, ending with my father.
Two weeks ago, my brother Frank, his wife Teresa, and two of their seven children, Mark and Devin, stayed at my house. I would not have expected the tender feelings which rose in me when I sat with my brother, drinking wine and talking, until midnight. My sister Joyce texted me last evening, Happy Thanksgiving, I love you. She and I are close but still, the flush of joy on seeing her message surprised me.
Of course I am thankful for my son, who drove eight hours to spend this day with me. I’m thankful for the Kenyon-Vogts, who will sit at our table to share the meal today, along with their daughter, her fiance, and Abbey’s two sons. I’m thankful for a young lawyer, who would likely prefer to be unnamed, whose company and perspective has been an indispensable boon these last few difficult years. My friend Brenda Dingley brings relentless cheer to dreary days. My neighbors — Scott, George, Chris, Debbie — rescue me again and again; they often check on me “just because”. And Pat Reynolds — well, when it comes to Pat, I’m thankful for everything.
I could continue. I could name all of them, and when the naming finished, I could mention a myriad of other gifts, including the very talent which allows me to write this.
But if I must pick just one thing, as tradition had it, then today, I am thankful for being sixth of eight. So, as a group: I am thankful for my siblings, who carried me during the first two decades of this long strange trip. I will name them here: Ann Lucille Corley Fox; Adrienne Marie Corley Johnson; Joyce Elizabeth Corley, Kevin Richard Corley, Mark Louis Corley, Francis Joseph Corley, and Stephen Patrick Corley. And me: Mary Corinne Corley.
During difficult nights when my mother gathered us into her arms for safety, she would tell us: When you walk down the street, I want people to say, ‘See those Corleys. How they love when another.’ And we do. We do not always show it. Sometimes one feels angry with another. I don’t speak much to one or two of them; we seem to have little in common. But I love them all fiercely — my brothers, my sisters, here on earth and one in Heaven. Without them I would be a party of one, instead of a gang of eight. I’m thankful for each and every one of them.
It’s the twenty-fourth day of the thirty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
Back row, left to right: Adrienne, Ann, Joyce, Kevin
Front row: myself, Steve, Frank, Mark
There would be much controversy over the years as to the order in which we sat in this original picture. But here it is. See how innocent we look. See those Corleys: How they love one another.