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, December 30, 2017

Alexa, are you Listening to me?



I have started out so many new years with written declarations and goals for the coming months, but for some reason known only to The Shadow, this year was different. (If you know who The Shadow was congratulations, you’ve passed the age requirement test for reading this blog entry.) I wrote down nothing for 2018 Resolutions. Nada. But I do believe in having them. And I believe in having all my bills paid by January first and writing those last minute donation checks to charity when I can afford it. Both of those are checked and off the list in my head. I do believe in declaring that I’m going to lose all that weight I gained between Halloween and the last day of the year. Checked and we’ll see how long that promise to myself will last. My track record predicts I’ll make it to my bi-annual doctor’s appointment in April before that goal falls by the wayside. I do believe in setting goals for self-improvement and that we need that January first reset button to kick us in the butt because we humans are slackers when we’re doing stuff for ourselves. At least this human is. 

For the past eight or nine days I thought I’d die of boredom. If I talked to anyone it was one of those foreign scammers trying to get me to go to my computer and give them remote access so they can gobble up all the passwords to my bank accounts while pretending to save me from hackers. I do enjoy acting like Dolly Dumbbell that has them thinking they’ve hooked their fish before I press the button on my phone that cuts them off mid-sentence and blocks their number from calling again. But I’m not sure if those blood suckers count as human contract. 

I did have human contact last week by text, e-mail, Facebook and blog comments. While that’s very nice it’s not the same has hearing a voice or exchanging hugs in person. And I worry. It’s what I do best. I worry that someday I’ll think all the human contact that come through computers and devices aren’t real, with real people sending them. I mean already we find ourselves trying to have two-way conversations with our “intelligent personal assistants"---Siri and Alexa. That tells me we’re getting closer to someone creating a nanny app that keeps old people from getting lonely. (Remember the Saturday Night Live spoof “commercial” for the Echo Silver for the Greatest Generation?) It could/would be so easy to believe “friends” that are Wi-Fi enabled are real or that actual friends who use devices and computers to communicate are not real. 

Have you ever gotten annoyed with Alexa? I do it on a daily basis when she says, “Sorry, I don’t know that one.” Her tone of voice is so dismissive and I have to remind myself that Alexa is not a real person. It’s probably some software engineer with a peach-fuzzy chin that I need to direct my annoyance at when Alexa does something like recommend spinach and salmon sandwiches when I asked her how to fry fish. By the way, I didn’t really want to know how to fry fish; I like testing Alexa’s knowledge base and two times out of three when I asked if the world is round, she knew the correct answer but the last time she said she wasn’t sure. Yup, I managed to badger and bully Alexa into doubting her language processing algorithms. I told you I was bored. But it's kind of scary human-like that you can trick a computer into processing the very same information differently just by repeating it. Moms do that all the time, “Did you break that window?” “No!” “Look at me! Did you break that window?” No, Mom! “Jimmy, don’t lie to me! Did you break that window?” “It was an accident!” I guess that's not exactly the same thing, but humor me anyway.

Back to New Year’s traditions: One of my favorite movies to watch on the last night of the year is a 2011 comedy romance titled New Year’s Eve and it centers around the ball dropping at Times Square on New Year’s Eve. It gets stuck and the woman in charge of the drop steps forward and makes a touching speech and I’ll finish this blog entry by quoting it here. They're words we’d all do well to take into our hearts and try to live by: “…As you all can see, the ball has stopped half way to its perch. it's suspended there to remind us before we pop the champagne and celebrate the new year, to stop and reflect on the year that has gone by, to remember both our triumphs and our missteps, our promises made and broken, the times we opened ourselves up to great adventures... or closed ourselves down for fear of getting hurt, because that's what new year's all about, getting another chance, a chance to forgive. To do better, to do more, to give more, to love more, and to stop worrying about what if... and start embracing what will be. So when that ball drops at midnight, and it will drop, let's remember to be nice to each other, kind to each other, and not just tonight but all year long.”  

With the New Year, we each get a fresh start, a second chance. Are you listening, Alexa? Maybe I’ll start by being nicer to you. © 

 * Above photo: Orson Wells, the radio voice for The Shadow in 1937-38. The video below is the spoof commercial for an Amazon Echo Silver for old people.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Cards, Cows and Another Year Under my Belt



Christmas has come and gone and not to brag but I got some nice comments written in cards that came in the mail. One of them said: “I really enjoy reading your Christmas letters. You have such a great sense of humor. I think you should have been a writer for a comedy show.” Instead of taking the compliment for what it was I thought about calling Allen on the phone and joking, “What’s with the SHOULD have been? I AM a comedy writer, I just have an exclusive audience limited to the names on my holiday card list.” 

Allen went on to say, “I always have great memories of the New Year’s Days we spent with your family. Your dad was so friendly, always a smile. I remember him doing magic tricks…” Yup, my dad was that guy who pulled quarters out from behind little ears and did magic tricks with cards to entertain himself and our friends. I tried to learn a few---and he was a patient teacher---but my sleight of hand moves were more like crawling up the rungs on a ladder. They got me where I needed to go but no one would mistake my moves for “smooth.” If there had been videos back then mine would have been labeled how-NOT to do False Cuts, Double Lifts and Pinky Breaks. My brother, on the other hand, did master the hide the quarter trick. I saw him do it with his two year old great-grand son recently. Not sure he’d fool anyone over ten years old but by that age if a kid knows how the trick is done they’re smart enough to keep quiet about it so they can keep collecting those quarters.

Allen’s mom and dad and mine were life-long friends and I can’t think of New Year’s without remembering the many sleep-overs he and his sister and me and my brother had together on New Year’s Eve when our folks and four of their friends would go off to another place for a house party or out on the town. Then they’d all gather in the morning where we kids stayed the night to cook a huge brunch before taking us kids to the roller rink for the afternoon. That tradition marked over a dozen New Year’s in my life. 

When I remember how close my folk’s circle of friends were I have to admit to being jealous. But it was a different era where people were less apt to move out of town, making it easier to nurture life-time friendships. They played cards every month for decades and took vacations together. Allen’s folks and mine also both had cottages on the same lake. Ohmygod, do I dare tell you about the time five or six Holstein cows got out of their field and Allen and I ended up in a tree to get away from them? We were up there so long that he had to poop. Yup, he did it, hung his bare butt over the branch of the tree and dropped his "little logs” down to the ground to the delight of the cows who all took turns smelling what fell from the sky. I thought we’d die up there in the tree but eventually as cows apparently all do, they did go home at milking time. 

So now you know the backstory on why I love my vintage De Laval advertising tin cows that are grazing on top of the doorway molding in my kitchen. For years I had to walk past a cow pasture on summer days to get to the grocery store where we spent our magic-trick quarters on ice cream cones and I was very brave so long as the cows were behind their electric fence. But after that day in the tree I swear the cows knew us and a few would come greet us and walk the length of the pasture with us from their side of the fence. In the animal kingdom when you’ve smelled another creature’s poop it means sometime and wouldn’t we all like to know that they were thinking. It probably went something like: “Hey, there’s that kid who eats Wheaties and bananas for breakfast and loves drinking our milk!” Allen ought to count his lucky stars that I didn’t become a comedy writer because I’ve got other stories about him I could exploit for cheap laughs. He was a supporting character in many of my childhood adventures.

Here I am with just New Year’s Eve left to get through in my fifth year of holidays as a widow. And I fared just fine. No ghosts in the house to haunt me with what-ifs, no bad flash-backs or pity parties. And I’m hoping to fill New Year’s Eve with good memories, a little sparkling cider, a few great movies and a small platter of party snacks that won’t make me fat---or fatter I should say, since on January second I start a take-no-prisoners diet that will have me begging for someone to put me out of my misery. ©

* Above - Pastoral Scene Cows Resting, painting by Janette Marvin. Below is my advertising tin cow collection. The three on the left are over a hundred years old. On their backsides they advertise cream separators for farms.



Saturday, December 23, 2017

Widow Running out of Words



‘Flash Back Thursdays’ and ‘Wordless Wednesdays’ are bloggers’ tricks for taking a break from writing a post. Since my box of ideas was as empty as holes in Swiss cheese I thought, why not try that! So this morning I got lost in my old Planet Aphasia blog and in my first few years of this blog looking for something I could repost to save some time and effort. It took me so long to read and discard one post after another that I could have written Moby Dick….at least its syllabus. Not finding anything that fit my current frame of mind but a few puff pieces about how well “this little widow” is doing trying to make omelets out of the broken eggs in her Basket of Life Events, I turned to Facebook to distract me from my widow-ran-out-words problem and maybe find something to solve my gotta-write-something dilemma. 

The first thing I saw was a meme quoting J. Iron Word that was posted by a great-niece. It said, “The problem is you see yourself every day. So you don’t realize just how amazing you are.” I had no idea who J. Iron Word is so I googled him and along the way I landed on a photo of Jeremy Irons instead. He was all polished up looking like the successful English actor he is and I thought, if I had that face to look at in the mirror I’d be in love with myself. It didn’t take long to discover that poet J. Iron Word and Jeremy Irons are not one and the same, so back to Facebook I went. This time what caught my attention was a meme posted by another great-niece: “They don’t serve champagne at pity parties,” a quote by Cara Alwell Leyba. I’m sorry, life-coach Cara, but that simply isn’t true. I’ve read enough pity party posts written by widows to know that drinking too much sometimes come with the territory. Champagne doesn’t care if it’s invited to a celebration or a wake. Sparkling wine is sparkling wine if you’re grabbing what’s in the house to drown your sorrows. (If you're doing that, stop it! It doesn't help.)

It occurred to me that when I was the age of my two great-nieces I was getting my philosophical thoughts from reading Dr. Seuss to children. “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” But after fact checking myself I discovered that’s not exactly true. When I was their age I was studying the late, greats Socrates---“An unexamined life is not worth living.”----and Aristotle, “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” Crap! Of all the quotes by Aristotle, why did I have to run into that one right out of the gate? Pass the champagne, in case a pity party breaks out as I digest those words. 

It’s no secret that I love Country Western music, more precisely I love how the artists who write in that genre are able to tell stories using so few words. This afternoon I took myself out to lunch and on the way home I heard Lee Brice singing I Drive Your Truck. It’s about grieving someone and how driving that person’s truck makes the narrator feel closer to the deceased. I don’t remember ever hearing the song before and at first I wasn’t really listening to the lyrics and by the time I tuned into them I mistakenly thought they were about a man missing his wife. I’ve had pickup trucks on the brain recently---missing the one I used to drive---and it never occurred to me that a man would be singing about another man, his brother as it turned out:

“I leave that radio playing that same ole country station where ya left it. Yeah, man I crank it up. And you’d probably punch my arm right now, if you saw this tear rollin’ down on my face. Hey, man I’m tryin’ to be tough. And momma asked me this morning if I’d been by your grave but that flag and stone ain’t where I feel you anyway…..I find a field, I tear it up, ‘til all the pain’s a cloud of dust. Yeah, sometimes I drive your truck.”

The minute I got home I googled the song and I learned that it was co-written by three people and it was inspired by an interview of a Gold Star father who mentioned he drove his son’s truck to feel closer to him. From that one simple sentence a whole, award winning song immersed, a song that touches people where we live. And it’s easy to understand how driving a vehicle that belonged to another can make you feel closer. Many things that my husband loved make me feel that way…like his fleece-lined, rubber rain coat that I wear from time to time. It’s several sizes too big but when I’m folded inside it, protected from the elements, it doesn’t matter if others might mistake me for a bag lady. I feel his presence inside that coat. And I felt his presence inside his beloved 1978 Silver Anniversary Corvette before I sold it, a heart-breaking transaction of epic proportions. “Of epic proportions”---I can’t believe I’m going to end two blogs in a row with that phrase. I guess I really am running out of words.  ©

"These days when I'm missing you so much, I drive your truck."


Jeremy Irons