Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Friday, May 22, 2015

City of Champions, Red Hats and Pious Women

I was totally wiped out the day after my day trip to the Underground Railroad on Tuesday. And that wouldn’t do. I still had places to go and things to do the rest of the week before I could hang up my walking shoes. Wednesday my Red Hat Society Chapter went to the small town I'd like to move to someday where we had lunch and went shopping at a consignment mall. I didn’t find a single thing I wanted to buy---thank goodness---but a few others did. One sister can always be counted on to buy a purse at these places and she lived up to her reputation this week. Me, I hate the hassle of changing purses and I only do it for motor coach trips like I did on Tuesday. Then, I use a light weight purse that I can hang around my neck and be hands-free for disembarking and boarding the bus. I strip down on what I carry in that purse to: an ID card, money, comb, lipstick, emery board, Kleenex, my cell phone and a nylon bag that opens up big in case I buy things along the way. My every day purse has everything in it but the proverbial kitchen sink. If logic played a bigger part in my purse choices I’d reverse my options and carry my Healthy Back Bag on trips and the stripped-down purse in town where I can always buzz home, if needed. I have so many things in the ‘back bag’ that I could defuse a bomb or sterilize a port-a-potty.  Slight exaggeration, but I could replace a screw in my eyeglasses, change the batteries in my hearing aids, and apply emergency first aid to someone who just lost a finger---assuming I won’t pass out at the first sight of blood.

Thursday I was on the go again. I went to a lecture titled Detroit: City of Champions about the 1935-36 seasons of the Detroit Tigers, Red Wings and the Lions in which they all won their 1st Championships. The lecturer/author (Charles Avison) was intensely energetic, funny and fun to listen to. I’ve never played sports, don’t follow sports and I was always grateful that my husband and I shared the same level of disinterest. Okay, let’s be brutally honest here; one of my deepest fears is one day I’ll end up in a nursing home with a roommate who follows all the games and she’ll has control of the TV remote. And I’ll be catatonic and unable to scream, “Turn that damn thing down!” That’s how much I dislike hearing games playing in the background. So why did I sign up for this lecture?  If you’re guessing I was trolling for old dudes with thinning hair and pants pulled far up above their belly buttons you’d be wrong. I viewed the lecture as social history and it never hurts to learn something about the hobbies and passions that other people enjoy. 

I got to this lecture twenty minutes early so with coffee and brownie in hand, I sat down a few rows in front of a couple other women who’d just struck up a conversation. Yes, I admit to being an eavesdropper. It wasn’t long before the Woman A asks, “Do you believe in the Lord?” 

“Yes,” answers Woman B and while I’m trying to figure out how I would answer that question in a place where I was not the only eavesdropper in range, Woman A replies, “He’s coming back to earth soon.”

“I know,” says Woman B. 

“I can hardly watch the news anymore,” adds Woman A, “Not since the White House got infested.” I see that phrase often on the website where I go to debate politics and in case you don’t recognize it, that’s code for ‘since a black man got elected.’ In my world you don’t talk that way if you respect the Office of the Presidency. Like Obama or not, like his politics or not, the First Family aren’t roaches that need to be “exterminated from those hallowed halls,” as people like Woman A believe. 

Sensing she may have overstepped a boundary with the stranger she was talking with, Woman A abruptly switched topics to a few years ago when her house burned down and she walked out with just her beloved Bible in hand. “The fire,” she cooed, “was the Lord’s work. Now I have an old lady friendly house that I love.” 

I couldn’t process that her Lord would make a family go through a fire just to give them a new house. My brain was still back on the “infestation at the White House” and I was wondering how someone so pious could be so unaware of her own Sin of Prejudice. To paraphrase the great Sojourner Truth, “Was not the God that made her skin white the same God that made other people’s skin black? Does it not cast a reproach on our Maker to despise part of His children, because He has been pleased to give them black skin?”

I turned around in my seat to take a good look at Woman A. I wanted to memorize every detail of her face, to make sure I never, ever sit next to her on a day trip or at a luncheon or anywhere else that would cause her to ask me, “Do you believe in the Lord?” ©

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day Trip to Secrets and Accomplishments

Growing up, I knew about a house four or five blocks from where I lived that was rumored to be a stop on the 1800s Underground Railroad. As an adult I got to tour the inside of that house when I started using a tax service that worked out of that old, stately place. Like many houses on the Underground Railroad it had a tunnel between the house and a barn where runaway slaves would leave false bottomed wagons, make their way into the basement of the house via the tunnel where they’d be fed and get some rest before going on the next leg of their trip to Canada. 

I don’t remember when or where I learned about how quilts were supposedly used as signals for those helping the fugitive slaves along the ‘railway’---hung on clotheslines or slung over windowsills to point the way to safe houses or warn of danger. Although the use of ‘quilt codes’ is now controversial among historians, it seems like I’ve always known about them (or their rumor) and it never fails to surprise me when I find out that this kind of thing isn’t common knowledge. Tuesday was one of those times. I went on a day trip organized through the senior hall that was billed as a tour of the Underground Railroad and I couldn’t believe that one woman actually thought we’d be seeing real railroad tracks underground! How does a person get old enough to collect Social Security and not know the basics of American history? Our tour guide, by the way, said, “There’s no evidence that quilt codes were ever used in Michigan.” Bummer! 

The day trip took us to Battle Creek, Michigan, to the home of Sojourner Truth, a former slave and important historical figure by anyone’s standards, an activist in both the Abolitionist and Woman Suffrage Movements. From the time we left the senior center and got to her house, our tour guide gave us a crash course on the Underground Railroad, the Civil War and the Quakers. This started at seven o’clock on a coffee-deprived morning so my head wasn’t quite awake enough for such heavy topics. I didn’t know what I expected on a “history trip” like this but it was intense and I was glad we weren’t expected to pass a test when we stopped for lunch. A couple of facts stuck with me, though, one being that an estimated 50,000 slaves passed through Michigan via the Underground Railway. And I already knew that thousands of x-slaves were resettled overseas in what is now Liberia. But I didn’t know that what I was taught in high school---that x-slaves after the Civil War were all given 40 acres and a mule---is not entirely true. The Acts that made that happen were reversed in the courts and the land was returned to its pre-war owners. Very few slaves were able to hold on to that land.

Lunch was at a vintage railroad-station-turned-restaurant and the conversation with my three table mates was one that author Robert Fulghum of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten fame would be proud of---we shared in equal proportions with no one person dominating the talk. It was great. It was entertaining. It felt like we’d known each other for years.

After lunch was the highlight of the trip for me. We went to a funky little museum where a self-proclaimed hero worshipper of Sojourner Truth crowded all fifty of us together and gave us a robust and interesting talk about Ms. Truth, who had lived just down the street for the better part of two decades. I already knew quite a lot about Sojourner including her activism on the lecture circuit, her friendship with famed suffrages, and her meeting with President Lincoln. She was reported to be such a charismatic and popular speaker traveling nation-wide that when she died over 1,000 people came to Battle Creek to attend her funeral. After leaving the museum, the woman who gave the talk hopped on our bus and we went to see Sojourner’s simple gravesite, a bigger-than-life monument of her in a small park and to see another spectacular monument commemorating the Underground Railway.

Looking around our world today some people think it’s “going to hell in a hand-basket” as my mother used to say. But a day trip to past secrets and accomplishments tells us that’s always been the perception for those living through times of changing values. Depending on which side of the struggle you fight or root for determines if you see societal struggles as hopeful for the future or a threat to your whole way of life. It has always been that way and it probably always will. ©

Photo at the top is of the Underground Railway monument. Pictures can't do it justice. It's huge and has a lot of details on all sides. The photo at the bottom is of the top portion of Sojourner Truth's 12 foot high bronze monument. In 1993 the town raised $750,000 to have it made.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

In Hot Pursuit: Movie and Lunch Day

Before our monthly movie date, my club went to brunch at a place that was a favorite of my husband’s. I call it the Breakfast Only Café because, 1) they’re only open between 4 AM and 2 PM, and 2) they specialize in breakfast food with a few token items thrown in for those who don’t like eggs or gluten. The tables on one side of the place are crowded close together and striking up conversations with fellow customers is the norm rather than the exception. On the other side it’s like the old-school diners with its long counter and line of stools where you can sit and watch the ten waitresses and five cooks hustle. And I do mean hustle. I’ve never been there when they weren’t swamped with customers. If you don’t like waiting in line you don’t go there because getting seated usually takes a half hour or more. They have fantastic food, but it’s not a good place to go if you’re not going right home in warm weather because they serve twice as much food than any one person can eat. Knowing this, I came prepared with a cooler and ice packs in the car. No way was I going to pay a fortune for brunch and see so much food go to waste. And did I mention the bakery goods you have to walk by to pay your bill?

The cafe was a terrible place to bring a person in a wheelchair, though, because Don’s chair bottle-necked the place even more than it naturally gets. There are only three tables that a person in a wheelchair can even get to and use, so our wait was often longer than other people’s. But how do you say ‘no’ to a guy who lost so much of his life with the stroke? I rarely could. If he wanted to go to the Breakfast Only Café we went even though I felt guilty doing it. I must say, though, the waitresses and other customers never, ever once showed annoyance of him being there clogging up the place. He was treated like royalty by the owner/hostess who, no doubt, set the tone for the others. I can’t say that about every place we’d been to over the twelve years of me pushing a wheelchair. Some people treat the disabled like they hate being reminding that life is fragile. Movie day was only the second time since Don died that I’ve been back to the place. I swear a widow would have to move to another city if she needed to avoid all the memory triggers. 

The movie we saw was Hot Pursuit with Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara. IMDb sums up the plot like this: “An uptight and by-the-book cop tries to protect the outgoing widow of a drug boss as they race through Texas pursued by crooked cops and murderous gunmen.” Don’t you just love how some people can sum up an entire movie or book in one sentence like that? I could never do.  The reviewer at Rotten Tomatoes called the movie, “shrill and unfunny” and “bungles what should have been an easy opportunity to showcase Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara's likable odd-couple chemistry.” The New York Times review said, “We are in the midst of a comedy boom, and within it an explosion of feminist and woman-driven humor, but the news has apparently not reached Warner Bros. headquarters. Hot Pursuit is cautious and tentative in its pursuit of laughs, and almost entirely unsure of how to go about being funny.” 

Personally, I think both the reviews above were a little harsh and I suspect they were being pickier than they’d be with males in the leading roles. But I didn’t go into the movie expecting to see a classic in the making. It’s a genre film, after all---slap stickiest and silly and dependent on the kind of humor you’d see in a Paul Bart (Mall Cop) movie. If I wanted to see smart humor, I’d stay home and watch The Big Bang Theory on TV or reruns of Frasier and Barney Miller. I like both Reese and Sofia---what I know of their off camera lives---so I won’t bad-mouth their acting in anyway. The characters they played weren’t the type that gave them an opportunity to stretch their craft like Reese's character in Wild did. And who cares? They’re making a living doing what they love and how many of us can say that?

How did the other fourteen ladies in my group feel about Hot Pursuit? Pretty much the same as me. We agreed it was lighthearted and funny enough to give us a break from the type of movies we usually see and we all found things to make us laugh out loud. But at the same time it's a forgettable movie that I doubt any of us will be adding to our video libraries when it comes out on Blu-ray. ©
See the movie trailer here.