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, November 4, 2017

1967, a Year of Lost Innocence




Re-reading copies of letters I wrote back in 1967 I hardly recognized that starry-eyed, flag-waving girl I was back then when 'she' was on a mission to write to as many guys stationed in Vietnam as she could. Troops over there, that year, increased to a total of 475,000 and peace rallies turned into war protests erupted around the world, becoming more and more intense and frequent. I was clearly on the side of Uncle Sam and by the end of the year the country and many of us in it had lost our innocence---me in more ways than one.

1967 was also the year when Twiggy was a fashion sensation that started women on a path of viewing our bodies in an unhealthy and unrealistic way and we are still dealing with her legacy all these years later. It was also the year when 7,000 National Guards were sent to Detroit to put down the race rioting and looting in the streets and those scenes were repeated across the nation, including right in my own back yard where one of my co-workers couldn’t go home for nearly a week because her whole neighborhood was blocked off by the police.  

In 1967 the Beatles came out with their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band album and I have two hats in my closet, bought in the ‘60s that I affectionately call my Sgt. Pepper hats. One hat is white fur and the other is red velvet and the latter one is what I wore when I got my picture taken so I’d have photos to send the servicemen I was penpals with. By the second or third letter I received from a G.I. a picture was usually requested. Also requested was the name of the perfume I sprayed on my envelopes. It was Avon’s Unforgettable and I could probably write an entire essay just quoting the various comments I received about that perfume. One guy said at Mail Call the guys would pass my letters around before he could even open them. Another guy said any girl who "smells like that and has such beautiful handwriting has to be pretty." Several guys said they carried my letters around in their helmets so they could smell the perfume---in one case, when the smell of jungle rot got too much and in another case, the guy wanted to “remember what girls smell like.” One guy said he was charging ten cents for a quick sniff---probably a joke since the guys don't use cash in the military.

Yes, I’ve been staying up way too late reading the letters I’ve decided to send off to the Center for American War Letters. The servicemen’s letters are in good condition, but unfortunately my letters will all have to be redone because they are carbon copies on cheap paper that did not fare well over time. But since the curator of the legacy project said they will welcome the back and forth of pen pals, and since they do accept copies, that’s what they’ll get from my side of the exchanges---if my fingers hold up with all the typing I’ll be doing over winter.

After I read a complete set of letters between me and a particular guy, I look him up on the index of names listed on the Vietnam War Memorial. What a heart-pounding task that’s turning out to be! With one guy out of the thirty I've read so far, I took it a step farther and found him on the internet living about fifty miles away. We had a brother/sister like exchange of eight to ten page letters about every subject on earth including Twiggy. He had a girlfriend back here in the States who was planning their wedding and he had his whole life plotted out. Near the end of our letter exchanges, he was giving me dating advice. (I wasn't give guys a fair chance. Who knew.) Re-reading his letters brought on an urge to send him a note with no return address on the envelope. I’m not sending it until Christmas---IF I do it at all, a full circle kind of thing since our penpalling started at Christmas 1966. I can’t decide if a note could cause trouble for the guy, or not. What do you think? I’ve never been the jealous type so it’s hard for me to predict how a wife would react. If I do it, this is what I'll say:

"If you’re not the ______ _______ who was stationed at Da Dang in 1967 please disregard this note. If you are, you may (or may not) remember a brother/sister type penpal friendship we had back then. Either way, recently I went to a lecture about war letters and it reminded me of our exchange and that I’ve owed you a letter for the past fifty years. That war was a defining era for so many people. I hope the plans you had for your post-military life came to pass. As for me, I found my soulmate a few years later and as they say, we lived “happily ever after.” I hope you find the intended humor and sentimentality in me sending this note all these years later. Sincerely, Jean _______ (the floral designer)  ©
My Sgt. Pepper Hat, 1967

27 comments:

  1. You look very pretty in that Sgt Peppar red hat - the pic would have gladdened many young men’s hearts (and their parents! as you look like a model daughter-in-law).

    Time takes its toll on us all. Last year my kids (adults) came upon old photo album. Their comment on seeing me in my 20s was an amazed “You look pretty, Mum!”.

    Re your look backwards, I wonder what people will think looking back on today’s scenes 50+ years’ hence? ~ Libby

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    1. I have changed so much since that photo was taken in more ways that looks. Even the words I used back then and my sentence structure has changed.

      That looking back will be so much easier 50 years from now because people will find the bloggers and Facebook users as well as the media. I doubt they will look upon today as the good old days. God, how bad would it have to get if they did!

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  2. You must send the note to your soldier pen pal. If he has a wife, she will enjoy it, too. That photo of you is priceless. You look like someone famous, but I can't put my finger on it. It feels a little strange when I look at photos of myself back then. I was a different girl. Oh, what life does to us, and how we do change, and how the times do change. Love the perfume story. They were so homesick.

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    1. I was hoping you'd weight in on my question since your husband served in Vietnam. We were all kids back then and my current self feels guilty that I didn't answer his last last. LOL

      Oh, gosh, the homesickness does come through in a lot of the letters. I'm so glad I've decided to take on this project and send the letters off when I'm finished. I did a search of that perfume and people are selling vintage bottles on eBay. I doubt it would be the same. Otherwise, I might bid on a bottle.

      I think a lot of us looked like someone famous back in those days. LOL I would kill to have my 1960s complexion back again. I think that was my Audrey Hepburn pose.

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  3. Wonderful post today, and the picture is a bonus.

    I'm confused about you retyping the letters. Did you just send one mass letter to everyone, or what? Please forgive my stupidity.

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    1. I hand wrote all my letters on nice stationary using a carbon paper underneath so the end result was I was able to keep the carbon paper copy of the letters for myself. They are hardly readable now, and quite smelly. That's what I'm throwing out and making typed copies of, but not with all the sets just the ones that have iconic things in which is about 1/3 of the sets. My letters were 90% personalized to each guy but I did have "form paragraphs" I used to describe ski trips etc., if the guy liked skiing. That sort of thing. I kept index cards of their likes and dislikes.

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    2. Jean--Thank you for being so patient and gracious with me. I really am such a dimbulb sometimes. Of course you would not have the Original of any letters you sent! Those would be with the recipients. Sigh. That you have copies is a testament to your amazing foresight.

      I will blame this a bit on my ongoing B12 deficiency. But honestly--I'm too young for this severe of a Senior Moment!

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    3. No, I blame it on my not writing clear enough for someone to understand. I used to have to write how-to instructions for using a website for people who had strokes so I prided myself on being clear. I've lost my touch. At least you're old enough to understand what carbon paper is. I'm not sure young people know. LOL

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  4. gosh, the days of writing letters, of pretty or unusual stationery, heck, of ANY stationery! Thanks for the flashes from your past.

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    1. Another flash from the past is how long we had to wait for film to be sent in to the developers and get photos back. My how that's changed!

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    2. No kidding! I still have negatives laying around! :)

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  5. You are amazing! What a great hobby and wonderful thing to do for our servicemen. And of course your writing would have evolved over time ... one would hope you have learned and evolved over the past 50 years!

    I love this project. You were very forward thinking to make copies ... and to have BOILERPLATE sections! Smarty pants!

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    1. My spelling, back then, embarrasses me now. I've always known it was bad but it's having me shake my head at my "creativity" now.

      I don't know if it was forward thinking. I just knew I needed a way to know what I wrote to who.

      I wish I never would have given up skiing and my little sailfish. That's what I was doing in all my spare time back that year.

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  6. I think this project is a pure winner. Can't imagine how you kept up with so many guys and kept them all straight. Guess the carbons helped with that.
    I say put your address on the letter to him. His wife should appreciate the person who gave her husband a taste of normal during a horrid time.

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    1. I'd withhold a return address on it for my sake more than his. I don't want to complicate my life. Besides, I'm not hard to find online for anyone looking. I know, I tried to find me recently just to see. LOL

      I hope the project is a winner because before I'm finished I'll probably blog about it at least once more. The cover letter I'll send with the letters to the 'center' will summarize the highlights, for example, and I'll probably share it.

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  7. Looking forward to the next blog about it. I think it's amazing that you wrote to that many too. Wouldn't it be something if one of those guys saved all the letters you wrote to him and donated them to the project. I'll bet some of them still have the letters. Could happen.:)

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    1. I was wondering if guys kept that sort of thing. I think it's less likely than a woman doing it. I didn't move out of the house where I was living in 1967 until 16 years ago and I had an attic to keep things in. I hope no one kept them! I'm so embarrassed reading my bad spelling. The only saving grace is a lot of the guys couldn't spell either.

      I found another guy on Facebook, a really nice kid back in the day. He looks like he's had a good life and that made me happy for him. No desire to contact him like with the other guy. Makes a difference on who was the last person to stop writing and why it went that way, I think.

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    2. I'm having fun tonight. I just found a third guy on Facebook. He wrote the funniest letters and his Facebook posts are the same way. Made me happy as heck. All his letters were written from a hospital bed, having been shot in a tunnel in Vietnam. No desire to contact him either.

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  8. I absolutely love this post Jean. Wonderful to have the records of a snippet of your life.

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    1. Thank you. The project has been too rich not to share.

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  9. Oh heck yes--send him that note.
    Wait--wouldn't it be something if he were widowed and he got in contact with you and then you met and, and, and................

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    1. Why do we always want fairy tale endings? My google search found that he lives with a woman 4 years younger with the same last name. Besides, we were so argumentative in letters we'd probably kill each other in person. LOL

      I did find another set of letters that made me fall in love. Be still my heart but, dare it, according to his Facebook page he's happily married. I think this project is sort of like going to a high school reunion after not having any contact for 50 years.

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  10. What a FABULOUS project (and HAT!) I say write to the guy, but protect your privacy. 50 years is a long time...anything could happen. (I'm paranoid that way.) We have a box of letters my husband's father wrote to his mother during WWII. I have not yet gone through them, but our oldest son is a history buff with a strong sense of family and I have it in my mind to make a book of them...likely retyping most of them since they are written in pencil (!) and have faded over the years. It's such a big project that I keep procrastinating. You've given me inspiration.

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    1. The Center for American War Letters would love your WWII letters, too. Originals or copies. I am making really good time on retyping my letters but maybe yours could still be scanned? There's value in preserving the handwriting. I'm pacing myself typing 7-8 letters per night and I think I'll be done before Christmas. It would go faster but I keep googling guys to see what happened to them. Hint: WHEN (not if) you do yours don't edit or omit the letters you think aren't relevant or interesting. Times change and what isn't relevant now will be in 100 years. For example, after reading a few of mine it dawned on me that we were waiting two weeks to get film developed---sent away for processing---and two weeks for letters to come in the mail. Most of us were penpals almost two months without knowing what each other looked like. Today the guys overseas, can see a photo almost instantly! I hope I do inspire you because it's a project that will touch your life. It not all doom and glum either. Descriptions of USO shows, the land, the people, R&R, hospital care, etc. sneak in.

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    2. Thanks, Jean. I've started reading and it's like watching a WWII movie...the references, the language, the jargon. It's a daunting task, but I've got them in chronological order and starting to catalog the main topics of each letter. Fascinating since I never knew my father -in-law. I've only heard stories of him, which in some cases are confirmed by the letters,but in others I'm seeing a whole new side of him.

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    3. I'm so happy you're doing this project. You're going to learn a lot.

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