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, October 28, 2017

Fun and Fastinating Days Mixed in with the Rest



The “Leaf Peeping” half-day trip sponsored by the senior hall finally took place and it started out at a brewery with lunch off their traditional Bavarian menu and it ended with us having homemade ice cream at a place with 300 Giant Bull Elk, reindeer, whitetail deer and Tibetan Yaks, raised to sell their breeding rights and babies. When the owner first started his “alternate animals” farm, he spent a month living with Eskimos and a month in Tibet to learn how to care for reindeer and Yaks. The color tour was all but forgotten as we rode through the 100 acre farm in a “stagecoach” while we got an interested and laugh-filled education about DNA proven blood lines, breeding, breaking up fights, birthing babies and keeping the animals fat and happy. We stopped at several places so we could hand feed adolescent Bull Elk and adult reindeer. The reindeer had soft, gentle lips as they ate. The guy said you could put your whole hand inside their mouths and they won’t bite. If you go in the spring, you can book tours timed so you can help bottle feed 40-50 babies. One of his Giant Bull Elks has won so many prizes that all his off springs are sold and pre-paid through 2020. 

This week I also had go back to the hearing center and the inside of my ear was pronounced completely cured of its infection. But getting there in the rain was not fun. It was the kind of rain where the cars in front of you seem to disappear in a foggy mist and the windshield wipers had to go at a rate of speed that makes you feel its hypnotic pull. You’ve gotta be careful about what’s playing on the radio when the wipers are going with the beat of the music: “That old Wacky Tobaccy, kick back and let it do what it do.” No, Toby Keith! I won’t “puff it in a pipe, twist it in a stem” or bake it in some brownies. I’m changing the radio station.  

Yesterday I was supposed to go to a cardio drumming class at the senior hall but it got delayed by three fire department guys who were running over their allotted time to teach a class on using an AED defibrillator. It actually looks pretty easy to use but I hope I never have to do it. There’s been a push in our area to get these machines in all public and private buildings and considering they cost well over a thousand each the project has been going well in the community. One tip I learned is if you are in a place where you have a choice in using a landline or a cell phone to call 911, using the landline because they can find you easier. If you don’t have your GPS turned on in your cell phone, their switchboard will show the address of the cell tower that picked up the call.

By the time the firemen were through our time for the cardio drumming class was cut back---so much so that a Gathering Girls friend and I played hookie and we went out for breakfast instead of working up a sweat. Even then we couldn’t linger long because I had to be back to the senior hall for the long awaited lecture about the Million Letters Campaign. It was a fascinating lecture that brought laughter and tears and more than a few “WOWs!” One of the ‘wow letters’ the speaker/curator showed us had a bullet hole through it and another was from the Revolutionary War. He also shared a little known fact that all the Native American “code talkers” used during WWII were so important to the war that each one was assigned a bodyguard to protect them and to also kill them if they were captured. 

During the Q&A period I raised my hand and I explained that I was pen pals with over fifty guys stationed in Vietnam and I still have a big box of letters plus carbon copies of the letters I sent to them. “Is there any value in donating the entire collection,” I asked, “or should I go through them and sort out some I think are interesting?” The curator, Andrew Carroll, of the Million Letters Campaign got rather excited and said they’d love to have a collection like that. “Would I include the copies of my letters too?” “Absolutely! That’s a unique collection,” he said. “Would you feel comfortable donating them?” I told him I want to read them one last time but, “Yes, I feel comfortable donating them.” And I will. So now I have a wintertime project lined up. 

He gave me his personal address afterward as well as the address to the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in Orange, California. I’m both enthusiastic and finally at peace about my decision and about what the university is doing with this legacy project---to archive a quickly disappearing piece history that both honors our soldiers and makes the letters available for research material for writers, film makers and historians. It’s too late in my life to write the “penpals” book I envisioned coming from my box of letters---and to do it justice---but someone else might do it someday if they are archived at the center.

I brought the box up from the basement today and one of the first letters I pulled out to re-read from Vietnam, went like this: “If you were here, I would recite your last letter out loud. Your words are pressed in my memory like the purple violets my mother kept in her Bible. I read the letter so many times because the serenity of the woods you described was so real that I felt as if I was there with you. The quietness of home is one of the things I desperately miss. The sounds of being in a war zone are sounds I don’t think I’ll ever be able to erase from my mind. Incoming and outgoing mortars, men dying, and the bullets as they hit metal, dirt and human flesh are sounds unlike anything I have heard before. Last year I thought death was something only people with gray hair had to think about. Now I’m over here, and I can’t seem to think about anything else. If it weren’t for your letters, I don’t think I could make it. They are like a rope that keeps pulling me back to the world. The world where I was once a carefree boy who spent Sunday afternoons playing in my grandpa’s woods.” Reading this sent a chill up my spine knowing that, oh yes, there is a "penpals" book waiting to be written from that box. ©

Andrew Carroll’s twelve books based on War Letters

 Toby Keith and Willie Nelson, Wacky Tobaccy

31 comments:

  1. Sounds like an interesting wildlife tour. Might be fun to return to feed the young ones.

    What a moving letter your soldier pen pal wrote. Wonder what happened to him? Expect his family would treasure his words whatever his situation. Your words to him certainly made a significant impact on his life there.

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    1. I want to go back in the spring. Several us do and hopefully will follow through.

      I think he died over there, but it would easy enough to check against the Memorial Wall list of names. However, I doubt his parents would still be alive. They'd have to be their mid ninety.

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  2. That sounds like quite the outing, playing with the animals. I'd like to be there in the spring to bottle feed those babies!
    Don't you just dislike those rainy days when you have to go out for an appointment? I'm happy to hear that your ears are cleared up now.
    I think those AED defibrillators are such a marvelous invention. Good thing if you can work one!
    So, you decided to share your letters. I hope (In the case that you want to write a book) that you can make sure no one will 'steal' what you have to write their own. You have your work cut out for you!

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    1. Those animals were fun to see. I especially loved the Yak. The owner says they are his favorites, too. I guess they are pretty gentle.

      When you donate letters to the center there is a form you fill out that deals with copyright issues. You can keep them or sign them over fully to them or keep them but allow others to use them with permission. I will pick the latter. That way if I change my mind about doing a book of my own, I can still do it but the door is open for someone else, too. When I opened the box I realized that I had copied the letters decades ago so I will keep the copies. But I don't think I will ever write the book because to flesh it out it would take researching where some of these guys were stationed and the battles, etc. they wrote the letters about. I don't want to spend that much time looking back when I have limited years ahead of me.

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  3. P.S. I did find one batch of letters tonight that are too personal to send, but I doubt I'll find many like that.

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  4. Some cultures wear their marriage ceremony ring or rings on the third finger of the right
    hand, not the left.

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  5. The soldier’s letter sent a shiver up my spine. Pray God there is no WW3. If there is, the progeny of those who declare war should be in the frontline. ~ Libby

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    1. I agree. I stayed up reading letters until four in the morning. Gotta learn to pace myself because it's emotional even when they are not about the war itself.

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  6. I bet that was a fun trip. I had no idea that a reindeer's mouth was so soft or that they would never bite you.

    I'm so happy that you found the right thing to do with your letters, and I do believe this is the thing to do. The lines from your soldier's letter are poignant and poetic. I can feel his yearning. Who would not be moved by his words, and obviously he was moved by yours. You made an impact.

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    1. Some passages of my letters were so naive and "patriotic" I'm slightly embarrassed about that. The passing of time and understanding of history changes how you view things. But it was the common things I was doing everyday was what they wanted to hear about most.

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  7. My niece goes to Chapman College! I love what you are doing!

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    1. Wow! Small world. I love what THEY are doing by making room the Legacy Project. The goal is to get all the war letters online but it's going to take years. The curator didn't say this but I'm guessing at some point they will could get a grant to help with that. That's how so many public records for genealogy research was made searchable online, done under a grant program that Obama put in place. It paid college kids to do it.

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  8. Oregon has an elk farm also! I'm going to look into if they have bottle feeding in the Spring.

    You are an amazing pack rat! I don't save much of anything. I do take a lot of photos and maybe for Christmas I'll make a photo book for each boy. I used to love to look through our photo albums growing up. Now that everything is digital, kids miss out on that!

    Good for you for playing hooky!!

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    1. People who never move, live in a big house and love historical things become "pack rats" by default. LOL

      A few years ago I started three albums---for my two nieces and nephew---and I divided up photos I have of them, their parents, etc. I haven't given them to them but that will be a nice surprise for them when I die.

      I didn't even feel guilty about playing hookie because the time left for the class didn't seem worth it.

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  9. It gave me chills also. What a touching letter and how wonderful it must make you feel to realize how important your letters were to him. Yes, you must produce that pen pal book.
    I'll bet Ken Burns would have loved to have seen those.

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    1. Back when I was 25 and writing the letters I really didn't have the same understanding of what I was doing and how they are filled with iconic things that happened in the sixties, like Kent State, the war protestors, etc. One exchange I read last night cracked me up was a discussion of the model Twiggy and mini-skirts that had just hit England.

      I'm thinking it will be a "Ken Burns" from the next century who will mine the Legacy Letters Project the most. I'm comfortable with the decision to let someone else use what I preserved for whatever purpose they might serve. It's going to be enough of a project for me just to get these letters, re-read organized to donate.

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  10. That really is a wonderful destination for your letters. And I understand your comment about using the years you have left to look forward, not back. Starting a project like that at age 40 would be one thing. Today? Choices do have to be made.

    The young man's letter to you is so touching. It made me think of all the young men today who are fighting in places no one can pronounce: nearly forgotten. They are at war, while we live out our lives quarreling on social media and living lavishly -- even those of us who hardly qualify as wealthy, or even well-to-do. It's cold here tonight. I can turn on the heat. I'm out of milk. I can go to the store. Those young men of ours who are "out there" not only lack many of life's necessities and most of its luxuries, they don't even have our country's recognition. I'm not a ban-all-wars sort. Sometimes, they're necessary. On the other hand, there are too many in Washington who enjoy war precisely because they don't suffer from them.

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    1. You are so right! I'm so conflicted about the places we have soldiers in today...some 126 countries!

      I read one letter today that talked about going without food for four days because they were cut off from their unit. I am using a post-a-note to mark anything like that I think is particularly telling. Might make it easier for the archiving as long as I'm reading them anyway.

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  11. Congratulations on your decision to donate the letters. It sounds like the best choice you could make. What a great gift to give, these letters will have a big impact on many people. No wonder the speaker was excited---you have quite a treasure there.

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    1. I feel good able it but there will be far more interesting ones than mine among the million that is their goal and they are closing in on that number. Just boggles the mind to think of that many letters all in one place. The Speaker even read a letter written by a field surgeon working in a mobile surgical hospital during the Korean War who, after the war, went on to write M.A.S.H. He was the Hawkeye character in the fictionalized account of his war experiences.

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  12. I'm impressed that you were writing letters to soldiers when you were 25. I was too much of a dolt to do anything that unselfish when I was that age. What got you started? Do you still write soldiers?

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    1. I wasn't doing it for altruistic reasons. I was an unattached girl looking friends of the male persuasion. Our local newspaper, back then, was printing the addresses of local guys every week and I sent cards to over 325---most without return addresses, though. I stopped writing them when started dating a guy seriously.

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    2. It was a noble effort nonetheless, and look what a gift you'll be giving! It's historic altruism now!

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    3. Okay, I'll buy that. LOL I've been reading letters all evening and many of them really shouldn't be lost in the dust. I can see so many ways they could be cross indexed and used. Plus the farther and farther we get away from being a society of letter writers the more intriguing these exchanges between strangers become.

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    4. P.S. I'm intrigued and I wrote half of them! LOL

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  13. Oh, Jean, I'm so, so happy to learn that your Letters Quandary has been resolved and in such a satisfying way! How very wonderful for you! It was Destiny.

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    1. It really was Destiny. The lecture I went to was not originally on the schedule but our senior hall director heard that he was speaking in a near by town and was able to get him to come to our place without the normal lead time that most of our lectures require. Plus I'd been struggling for a few years on what to do with the box of letters. I've read through 7 letter exchanges this week, only 43 to go. My goal is to get the in the mail after the Christmas rush at the post office.

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  14. You must have been a kind and thoughtful twenty-five year old to write to 50 soldiers while they were in Vietnam. I am glad you found a home for these special letters, and it must be so satisfying to know that they going to be saved where others can read them. The letters you quoted were beautiful and haunting. Ann

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    1. I don't know about that but it consumed all my spare time while it lasted. I'm so glad I decided to reread them before sending them off. I'm being reminded of things about myself that I'd forgotten. Some of those guys were so homesick and a few of them were really good writers.

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  15. I know two men whose lives were saved because, when they suffered sudden cardiac arrest at work, they were in buildings with automatic defibrillators and with other people nearby who knew how to use them.
    What good news that you've found a home for your Vietnam letters; some historian will make a wonderful book out of them.

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    1. Those things walk you through every step including telling you if it's not appropriate to use it on that particular person. Very impressive.

      The more letters I read the more I know I made the right decision. Someone who knows Vietnam War history and can read military addresses will be able to tie these guys/letters to what was going on at the time. They seem to understate a lot. For example, I found out this week one of the guys got a purple heart for something he called "a little scratch" that took him off the battle field and he ended up to make his career in the military.

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