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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

When the Past Connects to the Present


He was in his mid twenties with long, Braveheart-style hair only clean and looking like a photographer's fan should be blowing it back away from his perfect face. He was tall, muscles in all the right places, flat mid-section and his eyes---heck, I’d be lying if I said I noticed what color they were but I’m assuming they were like pools of dark chocolate. Let’s cut to the chase; he was tall, dark and handsome and I picked his checkout lane at Lowe’s because...well, his was the only one open but if I were inclined to embellish this story I’d say I picked it because he made my heart go pitter-patter. 

He took my check and stared at it for the longest time. I thought maybe I’d made a mistake and put the year 1967 down instead of 2017. I’ve been living in that year every day since I started re-reading the letters from the fifty penpals I had back during the Vietnam War. Finally he said, “You have beautiful handwriting.” Oh. My. God! That’s exactly what made so many G.I.s I had sent Christmas cards to want to write me back. That and the Avon Unforgettable perfume I sprayed on the envelopes. But I digress. “It’s nearly perfect,” he added. It wasn’t and I had an urge to say, “That’s my in-a-hurry writing. I can do better. Let me write you another check.” I didn’t. I kept that thought in my head.

“Did you know that Steve Jobs studied calligraphy with a monk before he started Apple?” he asked. “I do,” I replied and then he said, “Isn’t it ironic that a guy who credited his love of calligraphy for the fact that computers now come with lots of typefaces would become the very guy who is making cursive writing obsolete.” Wow, that’s mind blowing! I thought but I replied something about how they don’t even teach cursive in schools anymore and how someday there will be scholars who will do nothing but translate cursive. The guy was clearly in love with my handwriting and he seemed reluctant to put the check in his drawer. If I had been his age, I would have written my name and phone number on a piece of paper and slipped it into his shirt pocket. We made that kind of connection. Well, not exactly. I was in lust with his mind and body and he was fascinated with the mathematical precision of my penmanship and how Jobs could write coding for that, but it’s my story so if I want to suggest our connection could'a run deeper in a boy/girl kind of way if only that age thing hadn’t been an issue, I can. 

I came right home and googled Steve Jobs and I found an article about a speech he made at Stanford’s 2005 graduation ceremony. He talked about his time spent learning calligraphy and how it influenced how Apples were built to include different fonts and typefaces and how that in turn influenced Microsoft to follow suit. "You can’t connect the dots looking forward," he told the grads. "You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something---your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." 

Being the age I am, I saw the truth in Steve’s words. When we’re young we try a little of this and a little of that, haphazardly tasting what life has to offer. It’s only through the passing of time that we can see the trajectory our lives took, how all the parts fit together. I see that in the letters I’ve been re-reading. I was so young and innocent back in 1967 and not afraid to take on the world. In 1967 and 1968 I saw both the highest and lowest points in my entire life and who would have thought that 50 years later I would go to a lecture about war letters that would cause me to revisit that pivotal era in my life and in such a close-up and detailed way.

I’m three quarters of the way through the letter reading project and it finally dawned on me to get out the journals I kept during that time frame and compare them to the copies I kept of the letters I wrote to my G.I. penpals. Two sentences jumped out at me and they changed the watercolor memory of a serviceman I dated for a year after he came home and who broke my heart and spirit in ways I’ve never written or talked about. It went something like: “He scares me sometimes. When we’re horsing around he’s not quick to let me go when I tell him to stop.” Those sentences sent chills down my spine. There's no way of knowing where that aggressiveness would have led if we had stayed together but I do know I'm on a cathartic journey that is connecting all the dots in my life.

Steve Jobs said you have to believe in something and I pick destiny. Destiny put me in a checkout lane for a brief liaison with a young guy who loved my penmanship. He might have loved it for an entirely different reason than my G.I. penpals did, but his expression as he studied my check could have been the same mesmerized look that stared at my envelopes at Mail Call back in 1967. Having beautiful penmanship changed my life.  ©

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Saving the World and other 21th Century Dilemmas

I am going to start living in an alternate universe of my own making. Yup, screw the fact that nuclear annihilation is a real possibility and that my schnauzer would make a better statesman than some of those running the world. Screw the fact that sexual predators are coming out of the woodwork and that some people are using the story of the Virgin Mary and Joseph in an attempt to normalize pedophilia. I’m designating my worrying time, my advocacy time, my resistance time and my time to help save the world to the weekends and during the week I’m going to play hooky from reality. No more going to the grocery store, for example, and peering into my cart to discover that it looks like I’m stocking a new-age ark. Two bags of ethically sourced coffee, two cartons of Liberte` organic yogurt, two boxes of bio-degradable trash bags and how did those two bars of Endangered Species Dark Chocolate get into my cart? I can’t even shop without trying to save the world! 

And can we all agree that I’m not in charge of other people’s conscience? Like at the grocery store when a guy in his thirties and I were both putting groceries in our vehicles---mine in environmentally friendly cloth bags, his in plastic. When it came time to walk our carts to the cart corral he watched me go and I could see the electrodes in his brain firing back and forth, one side telling him he should follow my lead and the other side was telling him, “Screw doing the right thing!” He took his empty cart and parked it on the other side of his truck where it was temporarily out of my sight. Until he drove away. That was funny all by itself, but it was even funnier when paired with the fact that I had debated with myself about taking a thirty foot detour and offering to take his cart along with mine but the selfish side of my brain spoke up and said: I’m more than twice his age. He should be offering to take my cart! Gosh, was that the start of my alternate universe where every man is out for himself? It was Friday so I was okay. In my new universe I only have to care about being nice and socially responsible on the weekends. 

Speaking of grocery stores---again---my favorite one spent the entire summer remodeling. They got new flooring, shelving, lighting, bathrooms, checkout stands and carts plus freshly painted ceilings and walls and they moved entire departments clear to the other side of their store. The parking lot covers 10 acres and it had 25+ semi-trailers lined up for the work crews. Shopping in that 250,000 square foot store during construction was like going on a scavenger hunt. But every month they sent me coupons for free stuff that I usually buy in the brands I like so it was like getting paid ten bucks a week to continue shopping there. The biggest change is they nearly doubled the beer and wine department. It was already pretty big so what does that say about our society? It says they quit stocking Hershey’s syrup in cans and other old school stuff to make room for people to have more choices for getting drunk! I’m in mourning over that. I have a can in the refrigerator and when it’s empty I’m washing it out and keeping it. Hershey syrup in cans have been in my life since I was born so I’m hoarding that last can for my nieces to throw out when I die. 

I’ve also been trying to buy d-CON to feed the mice who like to winter over in my basement. The shelf at the grocery store where it’s supposed to be was empty three weeks in a row. I went to Lowe’s and found the same thing there. Time to order it from Amazon, I thought. Wrong. Every Amazon.com vendor, in every size bag of d-CON I tried to buy, said they were temporary out of stock. Mice are going to rule the world! What’s going on? Google had the answer: “The 12 d-CON products being canceled do not meet EPA’s current safety standards. All 12 of the products are sold without a protective bait station. Bait stations are required for consumer products to protect children and pets from contact with bait pellets.” Oh. My. God! I need to find a black market source for outlawed d-CON! I refuse to use those sticky, mouse pad thingies. They look like cruel and unusual punishment for just wanting to live in a nice house. And the spring-style traps? In my neighborhood the mice have figured out how to out-smart them.

After my unsuccessful trip to Amazon I went to a mama/papa hardware store known for still having stock on their shelves from the last century and I bought the last bag of off-brand mice blocks they had. I felt sleazy, like I should have been wearing dark glasses to fool the satellite imaging that was no doubt tracking my illegal purchase. But I was doing it during the week, keeping my commitment to myself to only try to save the world on the weekends. So all is well and good in my new alternate universe. Hey, I wonder if that hardware store has any cans of Hershey’s syrup! ©

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Laughing, Over Sharing and Passing the Baton


Six days under my belt this week and three of them were spent in Nirvana and two more days spent basking in its afterglow starting out on Monday when we Gathering Girls got together for bunch. We laughed so loud and often that I thought we’d get kicked out of the Guy-Land Cafeteria. In a study done at Stanford University Medical School they established that the average adult laughs seventeen times a day and I’m not over stating the truth when I say that we Gathering Girls got our quota of laughter in over our eggs, bacon and pancake specials. I read another article recently in Psychology Today that said, “Both sexes laugh a lot but females laugh more---126 percent more than their male counterparts.” I don’t know how they go about measuring a thing like that but I can say I’ve never seen a table full of guys having as much fun as we do.

Wednesday a guy I’ve known for nearly a half century and I met for lunch at a tavern in my adopted home town. I don’t drink except for hard cider. They don’t serve it but they have the best white fish bar none in between here and the east coast. When the waitress first came to the table I told her, “Separate checks. We just met on internet and this is our first date.” (I was a silly mood.) Her face lit up the way only a young person’s face can do when they love their grandparents and they think we old people are “cute” when we come in pairs. But I had to confess, “I’m just kidding. We’ve known each other for decades.” She laughed but I wasn’t finished. “We’re not a couple, so we still want separate checks. My husband and my friend here went to high school together and I’m babbling. I don’t have to tell you my life story to order the fish.” “I’ve got the time to listen,” she said, a huge grin on her face. But I said I was too hungry to tell her about my years as a CIA agent. By then we were all laughing including a couple of eavesdroppers sitting at the bar behind us. I couldn’t blame the eavesdroppers. It was a bar after all and when the situation is right, I don’t mind being the designated eavesdropper. It’s a wonderful pastime for bloggers.

Gary and I have been having lunch together twice a year---spring and fall---since my husband died and we talk on the phone maybe once a month. We’re each other’s bitch-to-person when something ghastly happens in the Trump administration. And don’t make the mistake of reading anything romantic into our relationship. I’d rather eat dog poop and he probably feels the same way. We both know too much about the skeletons we keep in our closets. Okay, I’ll admit it. He kissed me once, shortly after my husband and I started dating all those years ago, but he apologized profusely afterward and there hasn’t been anything remotely out of line since. He and I are all that’s left of our old gang who live close enough to get together---him divorced and me the long suffering widow who likes separate checks.

Friday I went out for lunch again but I didn’t win the war over who pays for lunch. I rarely get to pay for my own meal or buy my niece’s when we go out together. I usually drive out to her rural area where she knows everyone and their brothers so she conspires against me with the waitresses or waiters. And with those she doesn’t know she speaks in that confident teacher’s voice of her that makes the wait staff listen. When I protested, “You bought my lunch the last time!” she said, “You brought me gifts today.” I did but they weren’t gifts that cost me money.

I brought her a wicker suitcase that my grandfather used in 1895 to carry all his worldly possessions when he immigrated to America and an oil lamp that came from my dad’s boyhood home in Illinois. She’s been lusting after that suitcase a long time and I decided she should have it now rather than when I die because I know she’ll pass the suitcase's history down to our newest crop of babies in the family. I'm thinking if these little ones grow up associating that suitcase with their grandmother or great-aunt's stories the more likely someone in that generation will want that wicker wonder someday. Her mission, I told her, is to figure out who should get it next when the time comes---who cares the most about genealogy and family trees. After lunch, we went over to the family cottage where we found the perfect place to show it off. She owns the cottage, now, but it was the background for a huge chunk of my best memories growing up. 

According to vocabulary.com ‘nirvana’ is a place “of perfect peace and happiness, like heaven.” All the laughter, teasing and sharing I did this week brought me perfect peace and happiness. It was like taking a vacation in Nirvana and I wish I didn’t have to come back. ©

My grandfather's suitcase that came through Ellis Island in 1895