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

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Passion and Parents



“Old people talk about the past because they have no futures and young people talk about the future because they have no pasts.” I’ve probably shared that Ann Landers quote before because it’s one of my favorites. The older I get the more I understand the scary truth in those words. Sure, I’ve got plans that go beyond daily living but none of those plans go beyond where my 2016 day planner ends---unless we count my 2017 colonoscopy, assuming I can find a ride by then. With so many decades in my rearview mirror and only one, maybe two decades in front of me, thinking of the future doesn’t come with the same optimism that it did in the past. Ya, I know it’s all in my head. There are people my age who are doing exciting things. Climbing mountains, jumping out of airplanes, running for political office, traveling the world, helping to solve the world’s problems. Developing a passion for projects and adventure can happen at any age. On the other hand it’s very First-World, New-Age of me to wish I could find my muse and live happily ever after wallowing in a passion project---that certain something that lights my fire every morning and makes me quit thinking about the fact that I’m drifting. How long should it take to retool a widow’s life? 

My dad always gave credit to my mom for the assets they were able to accumulate in their lifetimes. Not that accumulating assets is what anyone should use as a measure of success. However, setting aside the obvious----the love and caring my parents gave to whoever came into their lives, the examples they set regarding good values, humility and humanity---I’m amazed that they managed to accumulate not only a house in a middle class neighborhood but a cottage as well and all the creature comforts that went with them including two cars and a motor home. Both of my parents grew up dirt poor in hard times and without mothers in their lives from an early age. They both entered the work force before their teens and when they got married Dad was a machinist and Mom was a waitress. They lived in an apartment, often taking in my mother’s father who from all accounts was a penniless drunk dating back to the time his wife died fifteen years prior. 

My parents bought their first home at a time when the banks were eager to sell off all the houses they’d accumulated during the depression and couldn’t sell until the WWII came along, so they were able to buy it without a down payment. My mother was a long-range planner. She convinced my dad to turn the house into a two-family and rent out the upstairs apartment. I don’t remember that house but over the years I’d heard plenty of stories about it. My brother used to tell about all the mice that were in it when they first moved it. It was his job to whack them with a board when they came up through the heat register while my dad was in the basement making them scatter. Mom hoarded the rent money for a few years until she had enough for a down payment on a house in a better neighborhood, just in time for me to start first grade. And while they were landlords, my parents also bought a lot on a lake, contracted to down a house and used its lumber to build a cottage. 

When I look back over the first twenty-five years of my life, it seems like I was always living in a house that was either under construction or a project was in the works. Mom had remodeling plans running in her veins and Dad, over the years, taught himself how to do the plumbing, electrical, roofing, carpentry and cement work involved. And when my folks were winding down from their remodeling---they’d just finished upgrading the cottage for year-around living---Don came into my life with his newly acquired, little run-down house with a pink stove, another rental house and a four family apartment house and remodeling came on the my stage, again, for the next fifteen years. A lot of our earlier “dates” involved putting up drywall and painting. The pink stove, by the way, was the first thing Don moved out of the house and he never replaced it. The kitchen in his little bachelor pad was just a room he walked through to get to the garage and where he kept his coffee maker and a massive collection of coffee cups. It was a big deal to pick out a cup because it reflected his mood. If he used the “Don’t Let the Turkeys Get You Down” cup I knew something on the news was bothering him. But I digress. The point is my folks could see the same Remodel-the Nest genes in me that they had. 

Parents probably spend less time than me obsessing about the legacy they'll leave behind. They can see their families before them---their passion projects, so to speak. The years of work it took to guide their kids and how those traits and values are getting passed down to the next generation must be gratifying to see as you age. That gives me an idea. I wonder if I could find a vet to reverse Levi’s vasectomy. There’s a sweet Schnauzer that comes into the groomer on the same day as Levi. They could make cute little grand-puppies that I could train, spoil and knit sweaters for next winter and I’m not too old to accomplish all that before I die. ©

NOTE: The circa 1947-8 photo above is the front of the cottage my folks built. The boy on the tree on the left is my brother, the woman on the right is my mom and the guy kneeing is my dad. They were taking down a huge tree so they could add a porch on the cottage.

26 comments:

  1. Fascinating. Remodeling runs in your blood and always has its eye to the future. What interesting nests your parents built, and rebuilt and rebuilt. Their DIY cottage built from the former home's lumber was genius. Was that common, because of the depression? I know my Dad, same era, kept every nail, screw, empty container, etc. because it might be useful again. His collecting turned into hoarding and dangerous jerry-rigged electrical wiring, but to his youngsters he could imagine the world and make it happen. His imagination gene sure rubbed off on his kids.

    You have a lot to be nostalgic about. I wonder if that has some role in making the past more alluring than the future? Given my own UNalluring childhood, I grew up believing the future can only be better, that I can only rise from the whales--t I believed myself to be. I've generally been the eager ever-ready bunny.

    The photo above is fascinating. I'm curious what they're all looking at. Is it the remaining trunk? These old eyes have trouble with that tiny photo!

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    1. Don's parents were like mine and your dad in that they made use of everything. It's a bi-product of living through the depression. I don't know if it was common to tear down a house to build a house but I do know they've had places that recycle/sell building elements since '60. I used to love to go to architectural warehouses with my dad.

      I have often wondered what they were all looking at in that photo as well. I should ask my brother if he remembers. It was a huge tree and they had to get the trump out.

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  2. My Mother could walk into an empty house, and see how it would all turn out after a remodel. My Dad was only interested in his farm equipment and he repaired it over and over. Everything they did was on a cash only basis, so things had to last while money was saved for the next most needed thing. My sister has my Mother's talent at "seeing" the finished product. I do not, but I know how to repair things. :-)

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    1. My parents didn't buy on time or use credit card either...a sign of the times they grew up in I suppose.

      Don got his mechanical abilities from living on a farm and having to rebuild equipment too.

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  3. When I was a teenager, my best friend's parents bought several small houses over the years, remodeled them and rented them. They continued to live a modest lifestyle. When they died, my friend and her siblings were surprised to learn they had far more money/assets than anyone suspected. We had a good laugh about it.

    I think remodeling is one of the most hopeful, forward-looking professions/hobbies ever. I don't love living in it, but I do love the results. My neighbor in MD had great vision for remodeling projects, and always had a something going on or in the pipes. I lived vicariously through her.

    You're parents sound interesting and interested in life and work. They also sound compatible. Great things can happen when a couple is compatible. I love the part about them using scrap to build their cottage. Using almost "nothing" to make "something" is a real talent and so satisfying.

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    1. The things that my parents did with that cottage over the years is kind of astonishing, looking back, including putting a basement under it many years after it was built. I wrote about it once before here: http://misadventuresofwidowhood.blogspot.com/2014/08/going-home-again-cottage.html

      I have a good eye for remodeling too but way too many people re-muddle instead of remodel. I've seen it many times when looking at real estate. Bugs the heck out of me. LOL

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  4. Jean....again....so much of how you describe your parents could apply to mine as well. Do we have parallel lives? My mother often said they started their life together with $8.00 in coins in an old Velveeta box. Their first house was a ramshackle wreck in a blue collar neighborhood (my dad was a textile factory worker, my mom a seamstress for Formit -- remember Formfit corsets?). They basically rebuilt the house around them and yes, added an upstairs apartment. I lived in that house until I was 16 when my parents bought a lot in a "nicer" but still very middle-class neighborhood, and had a new house built -- of my mother's design. My husband grew up similarly. He and I have renovated old homes throughout our marriage, and while we have had the privileges of education and careers that boosted our financial well-being beyond what our parents could have achieved, we continue to live a relatively frugal life. My husband buys all his clothes at Costco -- a running joke with our sons, who tease him mercilessly about his bargain hunting ways. I think we all pass on the legacy of our family and personal values every time we interact with others. As for kids adopting our values? Some do; some don't. No guarantees. So many competing influences and changing times contribute to who we each become. The lesson I'm trying to learn is to let go of a desire for "legacy" and just live my life the way I want to, in a way that I feel is good and right and helpful in some way. Others will follow suit, or not. Not my business. Thanks for this lovely post.

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    1. It is interesting how many parallels run in our lives, values and thinking! If we were closer in age, that would explain some of it but we're a decade a part, I think.

      Let me know if you figure out the key for letting go of 'legacy' and just living. That is something I struggle with a lot.

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  5. You have given me my laugh of the day in your comment just above. I suspect most of America is feeling like "they [have] to get the trump out." We all obsessed, whether we want to be or not.

    I think about my remaining time a lot, though I don't worry about leaving any legacy. I have friends who are in my situation (e.g., no kids) and we all agree that it shapes our approach to things a good bit. For one thing, with no one to pass items on to, it makes decluttering a whole lot easier. It also makes it even more important to get arrangements made ahead of time. There's no one else going to be making those decisions.

    In January, I didn't make any firm "resolutions," but I did mention to a friend that this was going to be a year when I didn't put up with the stupid, the irrelevant, or the boring. That helps to create a little space for those passion projects.

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    1. You had me scratching my head since I didn't mention Trump above, then I remembered I did in my last post when I replied to Libby in Austrailia: "Easy for you to say about Trump. You don't have to live in the same country as him should he actually get elected. I may have to come visit you for four years." LOL

      I love your plans for this year! Not putting up with stupid, irrelevant or boring sure is a great goal.

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    2. LOL ~ it was a (Freudian?) typo in your comment up above: "I have often wondered what they were all looking at in that photo as well. I should ask my brother if he remembers. It was a huge tree and they had to get the trump out."

      That's just funny!

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    3. Gosh, you've got me laughing. HARD! That really is funny.

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  6. You'd have already figured it out by now, but the mention of "trump" in conversation above was, in your reference to "trump" - as opposed to "stump" - in your response, second paragraph, to the first comment. I too noticed the freudian slip - as said, don't many people want to get T out! - and had a chuckle.

    My parents too lived a frugal life. My mother didn't work, and my dad was on a modest salary. Yet they accumulated assets - it was a notion of save for the future, and never enjoy life's pleasures - which they will pass on to us children. I can see me doing the same. Difficult to break a lifetime habit of keeping an eye on the money (needed when money was tight and wants many) but I should now change when that's not so much the case. I have seen it done and admire people who can spend money after a lifetime of thrift. ~ Libby

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    1. Trump, Stump. Not much difference. LOL

      You could do it, Libby. Find some travel opportunities to spend down some money. I see women at the senior hall who buy new condos and new furniture to go with them. They seem to be having a good time doing it.

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    2. and you said it's difficult to have a conversation through a blog! thank you for remembering my earlier comment re travel, that was kind of you, as also the encouraging comment. You're a good woman, Jean R. and brought up well by your parents. ~Libby

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    3. Thanks. I try to be good. LOL

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  7. Your parents sound a lot like my parents. Salt of the earth people. I was just speaking of this to a friend yesterday. With my parents surviving the Great Depression as children and then surviving their first three married years with Daddy in Europe during WWII, we were taught to not be whiners. That is something I find so lacking in the US today. As for how long should it take to retool a widow's life; let me know when you find out. I am at 2 years, 3 months, and although I teach and live and function, most times I feel that I am just filling time until My Love comes to get me.

    **blows kisses**
    Deborah

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Deborah. People who went through the Depression and WWII were cut from different cloth than the kids today, weren't they. We can both be proud of our parents.

      I hate that "filling time" feeling! That's a good way to describe it. I have high hopes that that can change though.

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  8. Growing up in an apartment meant that "handyman" skills were not needed because there was an actual handyman. It does mean that anything useful that I wanted to know, I needed to teach myself and I didn't get the benefit of elders passing down good advice. I always wanted to work with wood and so I built shelves and cabinet doors but there was a lot of trial and error that could have been avoided if I had been taught the fundamentals! In middle school, we, the girls, were taught sewing and knitting while the boys were doing shop and woodworking. Oh well...no regrets!
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. I actually got to learn both...sewing and woodworking. But I was the only and first girl to do it in school.

      The only thing I actually liked about living in an apartment the one year that we did it was the maintenance department. One call and with 48 hours things were fixed.

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  9. we missed all this, lucky us that we still have great story tellers around to share it!!

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    1. Aren't we lucky as a generation to have missed the hard times of the Depression!

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  10. Every time we thought about purchasing a rental ... I'd remember that old movie Pacific Heights ... a psychological thriller about a demented renter ...

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    1. Rental property is way too much work but demented renters were few and far between. Ones who don't want to pay their rent are more common. LOL

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  11. I think "happily ever after" only happens in fairy tales. Real lives are more complicated than that, including both good times and bad, happiness and unhappiness. My theory is that, without periods of unhappiness, we wouldn't recognize happiness when we lucked into it.
    Although I have not had children, I don't feel any urge to leave a legacy -- maybe because of all those generations of students whose lives I influenced. -Jean

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    1. All good teachers leave a legacy. I sure see that in how the community and x-students react to my niece and her husband. They are highly respected and changed lives and you did too, I'm sure.

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