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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

One More Thanksgiving on Widowhood Lane



Like so many of women’s contributions to our country they usually got omitted from the history books in past centuries because the publishers, back then, were an all-boys club and they didn’t play fair with women and people of color. For example did you know that we can thank a woman---Sarah Josepha Hale---for the entire United States celebrating Thanksgiving on a fixed date? Before her forty years (yes, FORTY YEARS) of lobbying politicians including five presidents, each state celebrated Thanksgiving on a different date between October and January. Finally, she persuaded Abraham Lincoln that a national day of thanksgiving would foster a sense of national unity. Thus he proclaimed it so and we’ve all been celebrating Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November ever since. 

Sarah was an American writer and an influential editor of Godey’s Lady’s Magazine but today, unless you’re a women’s history buff, most people might only know her as the author of the nursery rhyme, Mary Had a Little Lamb. If you’ve dug deep into the history of the Bunker Hill Monument you might also know that Sarah was instrumental in its completion by organizing fund raisers and using the power of her pen to raise $30,000 to make sure the 221-foot obelisk got built when the men in charge ran out of money. And if you’re a stalker-like women’s history aficionado you might even own a bobble head doll created in her likeness by the New Hampshire Historical Society. Give a woman a century or two and maybe she’ll get the recognition she deserves. 

Three of my grandparents were dead before I was born and the forth one died a few years after so I don’t have memories of going, “over the river and through the woods, now Grandmother's cap I spy! Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done? Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!” My memories of Thanksgiving don’t come into focus until the ‘60s when I was in college and we’d all gather at my brother’s house in the country for a the traditional celebration. He and my sister-in-law had three small children and it was easier for them to host than to bring the kids into town where our parent’s house wasn’t big enough to fit everyone around a table. I never had much interest in helping in the kitchen and by default I’d be the one to take the kids outside to play while the “women’s work” was going on. If there was snow that meant sledding, if not there was a woods in their back yard and forts to build.

Over the years families and traditions change. By the time my brother and wife divorced, my parents had remodeled our cottage for year-around living and it became our holiday destination until my mom died in 1983. After that, my husband and I were anchorless for a year or two until Don’s sister-in-law’s started including us in with her large family and I shared Thanksgiving with them right up through my first Thanksgiving after Don died. That was the last time they all got together as one cohesive family. As a widow I got a few invitations in years two and three post-widowhood but I turned them down because they would have made me feel lonelier eating with mostly strangers. This year I’ll be having Thanksgiving dinner at my youngest niece's house on a lake. Her two year old grandson and my brother will be there and as the second oldest in attendance I won’t be allowed to help much in the kitchen. It feels a little like I’m coming full circle. My niece always loads me up with left overs when I go to her get-togethers so I will have turkey sandwiches in the days that follow and that hasn’t happened since my mother died.

Coming full circle isn’t, of course, the same as going home again. Thomas Wolfe was right, we can’t do that. Even if the same houses are there to go to, families are fluid. People die, babies are born. Some marriages fail, new people come into the fray and new traditions evolve. But there is one thing I hope doesn’t become a tradition; this year, I’m hearing people online say that because of the election they aren’t looking forward to Thanksgiving. So If you need a bit of trivia to change the topic of a conversation that's heading toward fisticuffs at your dinner table, try sharing the story of Sarah’s forty year campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. But you might want to leave out the fact that you learned about her from a Born-Again Feminist lest the snipping and sneering starts in all over again. Feminist get a bad rap in some circles. ©

28 comments:

  1. That's interesting about Ms Sarah. Never too late in the day, to learn something new.
    Thanksgiving was always spent at my paternal grandparent's home. Big crowd there, lots of cousins. Later on, we had our family dinner at my parents home. Then we had the big dinner at my house, until it became too much for me to cook and clean-up the whole thing. Now, the two of us spend the day alone or he will go to his family's place for a few hours.
    Enjoy your dinner at your niece's home!

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    1. As much work as it is to do a Thanksgiving dinner, it's a wonder the tradition has lasted so many years. Even with everyone bringing a dish the host still works hard. Still, everyone seems to has good memories of the holiday.

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  2. I'll always remember my family dinners long ago before I was even married...such happy times. Now most are all gone and I'm at the mercy๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š of friends who include me, but I'm grateful for that. This time of the year sure makes missing my husband and our life more poignant. I read something today about we have NO control over the universe and what happens...we are just along for the bumpy ride...so true!

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    1. The Big Three---Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years---effects most widows with melancholy or worse. I try to stay focused on what I still have instead of what I've lost but I can't help looking back and enjoying the memories.

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  3. Hooray for getting invited out! Dark meat here you come.

    How do we widows muddle through these big holidays? This week has been tearful for me, for sure. He was the inviting guy. There was always a new employee who needed a "family." In 30 years I think we had just the two (of three) of us just once. It's the same amount of work to make everything, so we may as well invite. While I enjoy all the work behind it.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

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    1. You guys were great entertainers, I'm sure. I'd love to have half your confidence in planning little parties now in your widowhood.

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  4. Thank you for this history of Sarah. I have a couple of Godey Ladies hanging in my living room. I found them in a little place on the Eastern Shore of Maryland years ago. I had no idea that Sarah Hale was responsible for us celebrating Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of November. Leave it to a woman to organize all of us and to realize how unifying it would be if we all sat down to give thanks on the same day every year. And I do have so much to be thankful for this year.

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    1. I have some Godey Lady's Magazines, too. Sarah was the editor for a LOT of years so chances are good that ours are both edited during her reign. I love women's history. I just wish it hadn't taken so long for it to get researched and documented for public consumption.

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  5. And have a happy Thanksgiving, Jean. So great to get leftovers.

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    1. You too. With your new heart "overhaul" you sure to have a lot to be thankful for this year.

      I love leftovers and it kills me to see someone throw them in the trash.

      Happy Thanksgiving, Bella, and everyone else reading this!

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  6. I like this post. Very interesting. Thanksgiving was my mother's favorite holiday so she cooked the dressing. Then she up and died one year shortly before Thanksgiving leaving me to deal with entertaining the family and making the dressing. She was a hard act to follow but my daughter and I did pretty well. Now I've stepped aside and daughter is the official dressing maker.

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    1. Everyone's mother makes/made dressing differently. My favorite was one my cousin made with chestnuts in it. Gosh, that brings my memories back to my pre-teen years when she and her kids were included in our holiday dinners. Thanks for causing that memory to pop up.

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  7. I love that I learn from each of your posts. And yes, appreciate what one has, rather than mourn one's loss.

    I just read, on your blog roll, Helen's wonderful Thanksgiving post - I agreed with every word. ~ Libby






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    1. Helen is quite the firecracker on politics isn't she. One year my sister-in-law on my husband's side beside to write of rules for a lake party like Helen wrote about for Thanksgiving. Ohmygod did she make some people mad. LOL

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  8. We all have so much to be thankful for--even if it is only the fact that we still on the topside of the sod!!!

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  9. A foot of snow dropped here between Sunday and Tuesday so although I was considering a trip to Toronto (which is where I spent Thanksgiving last year) , I am not traveling. I have decided, instead to accept several local invitations (one today and one tomorrow) to dine with friends. They are both pot luck style so I will be baking some bread as soon as I finish my morning coffee!
    Have a good holiday.
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. Traveling during the first big storm of the year would not be my idea of a good time. Glad you found local places to go tonight and tomorrow. Have fun!

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  10. Hi Jean. Thanksgiving in Canada was going to my parents home, enjoy the food and just sitting down and enjoying one another. After my dad died, everything changed. I tried to have Thanksgiving at my house but eventually that died and now I just have a regular dinner and if anyone wants to come, they can. ( usually it;s just my wife, my daughter AmyLynn and my daughter Nicole and her family )I haven't seen my son & family ( my grandchildren especially ) for three years. So Thanksgiving for me is being thankful for life and everything else is a plus.

    By the way Jean. I've had to change my blog. For some reason my old blog wouldn't work so I've had to change it.
    If you want to check me out, I mean my blog, here it is:

    cruisinpiet.blogspot.com

    It will take me some time to figure how to get everything I had in my old one. I'm not to brain when it comes to computer stuff.
    Have a great Thanksgiving my friend. See ya.

    Cruisin Paul

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    1. When a parent dies so do all those traditions we've known from childhood and we have to give birth to new ones. Glad you'll have time with your daughters.

      My blog dashboard is changing lately. I hold my breath that the blog will still be where I can find it. Wish bloggers would leave things alone! I'll check out your new location and bookmark. Have a great Thanksgiving.

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  11. Hi Jean:

    I learn so much from your blog that it has been my favorite for more than decade. you are well rounded person & thanks to you I learn history, spirituality, & how to go through life with humor even when you are going through good bad & ugly changes life throws at you. Anyway I am thankful for my stroke which allowed me to meet great people like you.

    have blessed holiday with your family.
    love
    Asha

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    1. Knowing you has enriched my life, too, Asha. I love learning new things and from you I've learned a lot about family love, devotion and sacrifice. I wish we lived closer so you could also teach me about the foods from your country.

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  12. Thanks for the Sarah story! I had no idea. Yes, women often worked tirelessly with no recognition; still do.

    When I was a kid we always gathered with either at my house or my aunt's (mom's sister). They switched off Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. After my grandma died, that ended (guess their mother was the common denominator) and it was just us at my parents house, with my two brothers, their families, and me and mine. Then, eventually, with dad's death, and the death of my older brother and people moving across the country from each other...well, by the time my kids were elementary school age it had dwindled down to just the four of us out here in Washington and other family members flung far and wide.

    I always regretted that we didn't have a big bash -- a huge family celebration like you see in the movies with aunts and uncles and cousins and friends. But my sons LOVE our little family gathering and when we did go to my niece's one year for a huge family and friends Thanksgiving in Arizona, they both said they preferred our quiet little day at home. So you grow to love whatever tradition you make, I guess.

    This year my younger son is in California with his girlfriend (almost finance) and her family; he said he is a little sad. It's the first time we won't all be together and I miss him. But my older son and his wife and the grand girls will be here and I know we are creating new memories for those girls.

    Our meal is a replica of simple, traditional Thanksgiving fare that started with my mom and maybe her mom before her...and so it goes.

    I am grateful for so much this year....including you, Jean. So happy to have your online friendship. And another born-again Feminist!

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    1. I don't even remember what I was looking for when I ran across Sarah's bio but I'm glad I found it to share.

      The holidays are such a natural time to look back, not in regret and longing but in memory of those who were once apart of our circle of love.

      I, too, am grateful for my online friendship with you, especially in this election year!

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  13. I knew about Sarah Josepha Hale and Godey's Ladies Book, but I didn't know about her role in the creation of our Thanksgiving holiday. Thanks for the history lesson.-Jean

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  14. Here I am, late as usual, but when I read this piece in the Paris Review about Sarah Hale, I thought about you. I didn't know lickety-split about her until I read about her here, and then to find even more information was great.

    I'll bet she'd like turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce sandwiches!

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    1. Thanks for the link! That was an interesting read. I love the fact that researchers of woman's history are still able to find documentation for things like Sarah Hale's part in our Thanksgiving tradition.

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