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, July 30, 2016

Run Away From Home and Come Back Happy



In 1910 the Art Institute of Chicago established a summer artist colony near a sleepy little town along Lake Michigan. Over the next ten years many gays, including a prominent Chicago interior designer, bought summer homes near-by and thus a secret movement was born. A private gay-friendly beach was established as well as a gay friendly bar in an era when it was actually against state law to serve liquor to openly gay patrons. Fitting with the times they kept a low-profile, unbeknownst to most of the locals and tourists who flocked to the town for summer fun and sun. Don and I both spent time there in our teens and ‘20s, before we knew each other, and after we met it was our favorite place to go for a day trip. The art galleries, beach, marina, restaurants and festivals were and still are fantastic. We were not aware of the town’s “secrets” until one of the town’s residents got angry when he found out that several of the local businesses were listed in a guide for gay travelers (circa late '70s?) and one of those businesses mysteriously burned down. Things got tense over the next few months, another arson was attempted and the media picked up the story. The closeted gay community was outed. Fast forward to now and many businesses that are owned by gays fly a rainbow flag by their doors and no one walks into a gay bar by mistake.  

That was not always true, though. Not long after the story broke we had some old friends visit from out of town. The couple had gone to high school with Don and those three had a long history of playing practical jokes on each other and since they no longer lived in Michigan they were clueless regarding the recent stories about Saugatuck. One night we all decided to go over to Lake Michigan to sample the night life and Don took us to a gay bar---without telling our friends ahead of time. When we pulled into the parking lot I recognized the name of the bar from the media coverage but I got 'that look' from Don that all women know and it said: “Don’t say it!” In other words, the jokerster was back in practice. 

The place had a long staircase you had to walk down to get to the club and we were all busy watching where we were stepping in the dim light when a bunch of people broke out singing, “You’re in the wrong place, at the wrong time!” We took the only table open, smack-dab in the center of the place and as our friends were looking around, trying to make sense out of what they were seeing, a guy came over to our guy friend and said, “Would you like to dance?” Talk about a pregnant pause! It took forever for Ron to reply, “Thanks, not right now. Maybe later?” A waiter came over next, took our order and served us quickly---the four of us trying hard not to laugh as we talked about everything but where we were at, sure our every word was being monitored for mocking or insults from the "sightseers." We left after one drink and back in the car Ron said that it took him so long to answer the guy who asked him to dance because he knew he’d been pranked and he was thinking about saying "yes" as an attempt to prank Don back. Saugatuck is full of memories of all descriptions and Don was a master storyteller. Over the years, when he'd tell the story about the gay bar it often took longer to tell than the amount of time we spent inside the place.

Wednesday I got a wonderful surprise. My oldest niece and I had lunch in Saugatuck. We originally had planned to meet for lunch on the south end of town, but the night before she proposed a change in plans and I couldn’t have been more elated. We'd still meet in the same place but we'd hop on the highway headed toward Lake Michigan. It was just what I needed. For four hours we talked about family, politics, women’s history and how fast things have changed for the LGBT community nation-wide. We also had a good laugh over the fact that the restaurant at the marina where we ate lunch had liver and onions as a special. “It’s got to be a sign from Grandma!” she said. “How often do you see that on a menu?" My mom used to cook it once a week and on liver night I had to sit at the table until bedtime because I couldn’t eat it without gagging. My niece loves it and ordered it after I promised the smell wouldn’t bother me. Thankfully, it didn’t smell because I lied. For a fleeting moment I was tempted to taste her liver to see if it still makes me gag, but I was afraid my mom’s laughter would ring for the world to hear out if I didn’t spit the liver out and try to give it to the long-dead dog who parked underneath the table on liver day. That is until my brother snitched on me and the dog.  

During the outing, my niece took me to see her daughter’s house, an American Four Square, circa 1910/20, that my great-niece and her husband have gutted and are in the process of updating all the mechanics, the wiring, plumbing, plaster, etc. My niece knows that Don and I loved looking at fixer uppers and that I’d be able visualize what the place will look like after the rehab. As I stood surrounded by all the dreams in progress it brought back marvelous memories of a house Don and I had put an offer on, a brick farmhouse with a round barn that never had indoor plumbing or electricity and probably hadn’t been cleaned since the day it was built. The bathroom fixtures sat in the basement still in their late-1800’s Sears and Roebuck shipping crates. That house would have been an adventure and I sometimes wonder how restoring it would have changed the trajectory of our lives.

Running away from home on Wednesday was just what I needed. My niece and I looked backward and forward and we enjoyed both views on a beautiful sunny day. ©

31 comments:

  1. A day trip, what fun! Interesting story about Saugatuck. I've lived a very small, sheltered life and wasn't even aware of LGBT communities or bars during that time. I knew there were gay people, though I never met any. We hardly ever went 'out' into the 'nightlife' as we were economically challenged and my life was the house and the kids until I finally left. That was a funny prank that Dan did on Ron. (If it had been me, I probably would have asked, "What?")

    Remodeling or building anything is pretty stressful on a marriage. It takes a great couple to handle what goes on. I was lucky with H#1, he took my word for everything as far as what was necessary, but his ideas in size and materials were delusional. He put us in deep debt. H#2 is delusional in what was possible structurally. Let's just say, we disagreed on everything. (The shed kit we did recently is a prime example, ha ha) My aunt Wilma always said that if you want a divorce, build an addition or a house. I've always wanted to restore one of those Victorian beauties ... We almost did a few years back, but it was understood that a contractor would do the work. Ha Ha.

    I'm glad you had that special day! Sometimes we all need a day trip like that.

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    1. I seriously don't think I had met any gay people at that time in my life or they closeted really well. I didn't get out much until 1982. Ha Ha! After my emancipation, yes, of course. That is a thought about the center table. :)

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    2. I dated a guy in my early twenties who years later came out of the closet. I didn't know it at the time though. I consider myself lucky that I didn't marry him---we were headed in that direction---as many gays did marry back in those days and their wives didn't know they were in the closet until after they'd spent years together. Can you imagine how that would effect yourself esteem in the bedroom? I think of him when people say that gays should stay in the closet. No, it ruins not only their lives, but the lives of innocent people who get caught up in the deception be it wives, parents or siblings. We should all have the right to be authentic.

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    3. I've often wondered if the gay bar we went left that table in the center open for the occasion straight people who wandered in and if it was the job of the best fighter in the place to ask for a dance. I'm sure you've met gay people but just didn't know it.

      I know what you mean about remodeling and building causing stress. I come from a family who is not afraid to knock walls but Don didn't. The first time Don and I did a project together on a little house he owned he drove me crazy with his timidness. But he learned and we went on to tackle rehabs at a four family apartment house where he learned confidence in his abilities. He could do anything with vehicles but had to overcome a fear of plaster board. :)

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    4. NOTE; THESE REPLIES TO S.J. ARE OUT OF ORDER BECAUSE I DELETED ONE OF MINE TO REPOST AFTER CORRECTING SOMETHING. I DIDN'T REALIZE IT WOULD GO ON THE BOTTOM INSTEAD OF BACK UNDERNEATH THE FIRST POST I WAS REPLING TO.

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  2. Good to read of your walk-down-memory-land and the trip to Saugatuck. Just googled the place and it looks beautiful. Fried liver wouldn't be to my taste either (neither is belachan - made out of dried fish etc that some asian cuisines use). That said, there are veggies and other stuff that I disliked as a child and now love, eg marrow, papaw. I've noticed the same change in my adult kids (an oxymoron?!)~ Libby

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    1. Isn't it a pretty place!

      I wasn't sure what marrow and papaw are but after looking at them up on google it looks like they are what we call papaya and zucchini in my part of the world. I wouldn't have eaten the papaw either as a kid. I wouldn't eat anything orange without being force-fed. I was 40 before I finally learned to love orange veggies. However I've noticed lately that pumpkin and squash are hard to swallow for some odd reason.

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  3. It sounds like a wonderful day and just what the doctor ordered. I used to fantasize about renovating an old house. We never did, and it's way too late now. I've had enough of renovating and maintenance. :) But I still love the idea of it.

    Hilarious prank story. Isn't it amazing how things changed for the LGBT community and how fast it seemed to happen? So many years with only small advances and then bam!!

    I love liver and onions, especially chicken livers with onions and gravy over rice.

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    1. My favorite HGTV shows are about renovating old houses. I can watch them back to back all day long. But I now longer want to do one...too old for a project like that.

      Only people who know each other well could pull off a prank like that and have it turn out okay. If you did that to someone who was homophobic they'd never speak to you again.

      Deep fried chicken liver is somewhat popular in bars around here, but what my mom cooked and my niece ordered was cow's liver. She claimed it tasted like bacon and I'm pretty sure my mom boiled hers to death. :)

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  4. My gosh. I haven't thought of fried chicken livers in forever. That was the piece I always wanted at Sunday dinner, at Grandma and Grandpa's house. I didn't realize for years that they were my dad's favorite, too -- but he let me have them.

    I never order beef liver and onions, but it's standard at a lot of restaurants here. It does look fairly appetizing, since they tend to slice it thin, fry it crispy, and pile on the onions. Shoot -- I've almost talked myself into it!

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    1. That's the way the beef liver and onions was prepared when my niece ordered it. It's rare to see it on a menu up here. She claimed it takes like yummy bacon. I love bacon which is why I was almost tempted to try it. "Baby steps," she joked. It was enough that I sat at the same table while someone else ate it. LOL

      You had a good dad to let you eat those chicken livers at your grandma's house. :)

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    2. That should read, "tastes like yummy bacon" not "takes like..." I'm having a bad word day.

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  5. (sorry, couldn't insert reply above).
    Your reference to "orange" (its become a Pavlovian reflex to relate it to a particular person) and non-palatable till later years made me smile. Who knows, it may play out in real life over the next few years, unlikely as it may seem now. ~ Libby

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    1. Libby, the comment section is possessed today, a mind of its own. :)

      You know what, I have always hated anything orange---not just food---and still hate that color in clothing and decorating. Color theorists label it the color of extroverts and flamboyance. And there is no way D.T. will ever be palatable to me over time so don't hold your breathe. LOL

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  6. What a lovely day for you. A renewal for your spirit! I love liver and onions and fried chicken livers. As a child, a doctor told my mother I HAD to eat liver once a week. I was so tall and thin and rather anemic. I kept that tradition and my kids all love liver and onions. About 10 years ago, I was told not to eat it anymore. My hemoglobin is a bit too high and I need to stay away from anything with Vitamin A in it. When I get up to Frankenmuth, which is like every 5-10 years, I DO order a side order of fried chicken livers!! So there, Doc.

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    1. My mom was anemic and was also told by a doctor she HAD to eat liver weekly. When liver pills came along even the smell of those made me gag. I'm surprised at how many people like it.

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  7. I used to really like liver and onions that my mother made when I was a kid. We ate it with mashed potatoes and the onions were almost burnt! I've been a vegetarian for over 15 years so it hasn't crossed my mind or palate in a long time!
    Regards Leze

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    1. It's interesting that liver and onions seems to be a common thread in people in our age bracket...probably because of what Judy mentioned about it being prescribed by doctor.

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  8. A good friend has a house in Saugatuck and I've met lots of her neighbors, married gay guys who are wonderful to party with. We do have the same bleeding heart liberal view so that makes it easier.

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    1. A few years after we went to that gay bar our friends moved to a place where they had a gay couple for neighbors and our friends said they threw the best parties with the best food. They all became good friends. Our/my friends are not liberals but they are such fun to be around that we bleeding liberals can overlook that tiny flaw. LOL

      If I win the lotto I'm buying one of those old houses near the center of Saugatuck.

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  9. Oh my how much our lives change as we go through life. I used to like to go away for a day or two because I came back with fresh ideas for changing things around in my house or doing something different.

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    1. I still like day trips but long trips like I did when Don was alive I doubt I'll ever do again.

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  10. Your memories of liver dinners triggered my own memory of the night we didn't have to eat liver (I hated it, too) and got to go out to eat (a rare event in our lives) because the cat got up on the kitchen table and ate the raw liver that was thawing out there. I loved that cat!
    I was interested in the name "Saugatuck,' because it contains the same elements as many Native American place names in new England. I was surprised to learn that Native American tribes in all these places were part of the same Algonkian language group. -Jean

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    1. I love your liver story. I think a person could compile an entire book of liver stories complete with recipes and it will sell to foodies.

      We have a lot of places named for Native Americans here in Michigan. Pontiac is probably one that most people will know, he was a Chief. Saugatuck translates to "mouth of the river" and was first encamped as a trading point by Ottawa and Pottawatomie Native Americans. The Ojibwa language, originally used where I live is a dialect of Algonkian group. At a lecture I went to last year the speaker said the languages around and fanning out from the Great Lakes and their feed-rivers are all related because they used the water as trade routes and the various tribes have shared histories way, way back. Not sure if that's true but it makes sense. When we went to New England we were fascinated with street names.

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  11. Sounds like a terrific journey and time well spent together.

    Mr. Ralph LOVED liver, bacon and onions .. once he got gout ... no more organ meats. He would sneak it once in a while and then pay the price.

    My high school sweetheart (both proms!) broke up with me after graduation with no reason except that it was FOR me. Finally, two years later he told me he was gay. Even now I don't know very many gay people .. mostly women.

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    1. Did your high school experience soften or harden you towards the gay community? Having spent many years around florists and artists I got to know three gay guys quite well and they were so much fun.

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    2. Interesting question. I think I just like people regardless. He was a college friend of my older brother and he and I introduced my best friend and his best friend ... who are still married 40 years late. But I don't keep in touch directly with him. He wasn't interested.

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  12. Love the Title of this post! OMG...that practical joke you and Don played...It's had me speechless for days. Still am.


    I lived in the village (Greenwich Village, in NYC)in the 70's, amongst the gay scene. Being an art student, then commercial artist, mingling with this community WAS my social life. I went to Studio 54 with a couple gay men who dressed me in a wedding gown we'd bought at a flea market in SoHo. Or they tried to...I chickened out and instead wore tight pants and a white top that then festooned with jewelry and scarves. These were the days when admission to Studio 54 required a certain look, a certain alternate fashion look that village people had (evidently) and Brooklyn or NJ or CT prayed to emulate so their feet could cross the doorstep into that throbbing celebrity haven.

    The sad part of the story, of course, is that Aids came along, snuffing out some of their lives, along with my heady gay hedonism. I can certainly understand LGBT pride, and the special places where you're 'normal' for wearing your colors.

    So neat that you visited Saugatuck, and it took you out of your funk! BTW, I wooed my husband with liver and onions.

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    1. It takes me forever to come up with the titles so I'm glad you mentioned this. Don used to name all my paintings and stories.

      Oh my gosh, your memories of Greenwich Village are fun and belong in some posts in your blog. It's a part of your life, part of who you are and became who you are.

      There's that liver and onions story again! I can't believe so many people like it.

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  13. I am so grateful that the LGBT community of people can be out and open and celebrated by flying their flags instead of hiding behind closed doors. Saugatuk sounds like great fun!

    Liver and onions? I can see my grandma with a plateful. I'm grateful my mom hated it so it never was on OUR dinner table. I think I'd be a gagger like you!

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    1. I'm always glad to meet another liver hater! LOL

      Me, too, on the LGBT issue. I'm always highly amused when people in my age bracket claim they've never met a gay person. They have, they just don't know it. But sadly, one of my friends says that, not knowing that and her grandson is still in the closet with most of his family.

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