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, September 21, 2019

A Penny Saved

It was five months after my husband’s stroke when my friend Tim and I were cleaning out one of the two basements we had to empty out to get the houses up for sale when we found two, ten gallon milk cans filled with pennies. I knew Don saved pennies but I had no idea he had so many in the basement in addition to the five pound coffee cans full we found in the garage and in his office. Tim and I had a rule that everything we brought upstairs had to be run past Don who sat in the driveway in his wheelchair before anything could be put in either in a trailer headed to an auction house or in the back of our pickup truck going to a storage unit. 

Don only had a two word vocabulary at that point in time---"yes" and "no"---but neither was reliable so it took asking the same question a few times before we’d get the right answer. ("Are you a girl?" "Yes." "Are you a girl?" "Yes?" "Are you a girl?" "No!") I’m pretty sure Don thought he was going to make a full recovery and resume his prior life so he didn’t want to let go of much. Tim and I knew better. He’d lost the use of his whole right side and his ability to speak and write so Tim and I didn’t want him to think he’d also lost total control over his ‘stuff’ thus 'The Rule.' It was a long, stressful process for all of us because Don had to be cajoled into letting go of quite a few things. That was Tim’s specialty. But no matter what either one of us said to Don he wouldn’t let those milk or coffee cans full of coins go off to the auction house or the bank. 

Nope, Don had other ideas. The coffee cans came back to the apartment. (Neither house couldn't be retrofitted for a wheelchair, in case you're wondering...) He wanted to look at every single one of those pennies before I was allowed to roll them up and take them to the bank. I made a list of key dates to look for, set up a card table and I rough sorted the coins one batch at a time by decades, then by year at which point he took over looking for mint marks and error strikes. We had quite the operation going. When the coffee can coins were finally all sorted, I’d take trips to our storage unit to scoop more batches of pennies out of the milk cans.

This went on for months in our spare time which was in short supply because most of our days were filled with outpatient physical, occupational or speech therapies plus doctor appointments. Not to mention when Don was down for his afternoon nap I was back at the houses packing and cleaning or meeting with our builder. When the last shoe box full of rolled pennies was taken to the bank and all the collectible ones set in collector albums and sleeves, I rejoiced. I made a vow I’d never let pennies accumulate in the house again. And I still don't; I'm that old person in line who counts out the exact change for purchases whenever possible, but I also don’t just throw my pennies in dish by cash registers either. They add up! I’d forgotten how much green money I got from the bank for all those pennies but it was measured in thousands rather than hundreds. 

Fast forward to today when I went to a lecture given by a guy who won a $200,000 cash prize for making a piece of art out of all pennies---24,576 pennies. Oh! My! God! Could I identify with his process of sorting and taking pennies back and forth to the bank by the poundage he could carry. Only he was sorting by a range of colors instead of dates---burnt umber, rosy brown, russet, chocolate, auburn, bronze and sepia. WWII pennies which have no copper in them because it was needed to make the shells of ammunitions the artist had to buy because he didn’t find a single zinc coated steel penny, but fifteen years earlier in our sort we found over a dozen. He used them for the shirt on his eight by twelve foot portrait of Abraham Lincoln. 

1,347 art pieces had been entered the year A Lincoln won in our annual Art Prize. 327,814 votes were cast from the public to narrow it down to the top twenty art pieces then the voting started all over again. The top 20 drew 72,000 votes with A Lincoln taking the grand prize. Art critics snubbed the people’s choice. They always do so one year they chanaged the rules so that a panel of five professional art critics picked one winner and the public vote picked another each with its own cash prize. Only once did the art panel and the public pick the same piece and that person got an obscene amount of prize money. I didn’t get to see A Lincoln in person but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying this lecture. Hearing about the process from how a jar of coins on a dresser inspired the idea to carrying out the logistics of working on something so large and heavy was fascinating. The artist figured he had about $4,000 invested in making the piece which isn’t bad considering it brought him a $200,000 check for his 465 hours of gluing pennies into a portrait. 

One of the benefits (or curses) of growing old is the way things in the present can bring forth so many memories of days gone by. I’d grown used to seeing pennies without being reminded of the Great Penny Sort but spending an hour listening to another person talk about his fascinating of the copper coins was a reminder of how I got the penny albums I’ll need to sell at some point in my downsizing venture.   ©

close up of how the pennies were glued, every date they were made is represented

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Oh But it was Worth it!

I knew downsizing would get to me eventually so when an invitation came to go to an out-of-town wedding, I sent my RSVP card back marked ‘yes’ before I could change my mind about giving myself a mini vacation. It was close enough that I could have done it without an overnight stay but that would have had me driving after dark which is something I’ve been avoiding for a couple of years now. So I went with Plan B which involved me inviting myself to stay the night at my niece’s cottage. The cottage is ten minutes away from the wedding venue so I got to see both sides of my family on the same day, killing two birds with one stone. To be clear I’m talking in metaphors here. No bird died even though a flock of wild turkeys looked death in the eye by crossing my path while I was driving in the boondocks. It was touch and go there for a few minutes while they took their sweet-ass time and I was jamming on my breaks. 

I’ve always enjoyed being in the country this time of the year. Seeing the Canadian geese squawking their way across the sky, the wild turkeys and pheasants that for some crazy reason seem to like being alongside the roads, and the Sandhill cranes out in the fields looking for corn left behind from the harvest are common sights and signs that summer is giving over to fall. I even got to see a family of deer crossing the road not fifty feet in front of my car which sounds like there should be a joke involving about why they did it. But the punchline isn't that funny; there was water on the other side of the road.

It was an out-of-ordinary venue for a wedding---an Indian casino---for the bride’s third wedding and the groom’s first. The place was picked because the location was central to the guests who had to come from different parts of the state. She’s a great-niece on my husband’s side of the family and she had a tumultuous first marriage and a second marriage that ended tragically. There are decades in between us but her widowhood came close on the heels of mine so we often got seated next to each other at family parties. Funny how that works out. Together but alone in a crowd. Then last year she showed up at the Christmas party with the man she just married.

Back to my side of the family: I spent my summers growing up at the cottage my niece now owns, so my inviting myself to stay overnight was not a stretch of etiquette. Since the day she bought it, I’ve had a standing invitation to use the place anytime I want. I went early so we’d get some visiting time in before I had to leave for the 5:30 ceremony. I was only at the wedding a few hours before I had to leave or be forced to drive back to the cottage after dark when small, furry animals would have risked becoming my road kill, but it was enough time to cover the wedding basics. The casino has a huge buffet where we ate and ate and ate. And after the wait staff cleared the dishes away and the cake was cut they gave us each a ten dollar coupon to play the slots. That emptied out the private room they’d rented of just about everyone but the bride, her three her kids---who weren’t allowed on the casino floor---and the asthmatics. 

Smoke has been known to give me asthma attacks and although smoking is no longer allowed in any other public places in Michigan, Indian casinos are exempted. I’m guessing this 147 acre place has become a mecca for sucking on cigarettes. Just getting to the private room from valet parking where I was told to park, I had to walk the entire length of the casino---past all 2,000 slots machines, a wifi café---whatever that is---all the table games and the glass-fronted poker rooms. The smoke was overwhelming and the people sitting in the dim-lite casino in front of the slot machines with their dancing neon lights didn’t look like they were having fun. Their glassy-eyed stares made me feel sorry for them. And I kind of felt sorry for the bride when her guests scattered like roaches once they got their coupons. 

When I got home I found a message on my answering machine from Levi’s kennel. “Levi is okay,” the owner said right out of the gate but they’d lost their power and a few trees on their wooded acreage. There had been tornado warning that forced everyone down to their basements and a neighborhood in between where I live and the kennel had lost some roof tops to straight line winds. Less than a mile away from the kennel a wide path of trees had been mowed down like grass in a public park, but the kennel has sound-proof walls so the boarders didn’t hear the wind whipping through the pines, or so the kennel owner assured me. Levi was glad to see me and even happier to get in the car to leave. 

Money Spent: $96 for two nights and three days for Levi's kennel, $40 for a wedding gift, $5 to tip the valet and $40 on a new blouse. Now I have to get back to my downsizing to help defray the cost of my mini vacation. Oh but it was worth it, just seeing the morning come across the lake of my youth slowly revealing the sailboat masts and the docks extending over the water whispered to my soul and reminded me of how grateful I am for the childhood my parents gave me and my brother. Now my granny-nanny niece is doing the same for her two grandsons and I got to see them interact up close and personal during my time spent at the cottage. But I'm lucky I didn't come home with teething marks and slobber on my shoes. The baby loved my shiny Mary Janes. ©

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Road Maps and Joyful Noises

Hallelujah! I finally sold my last batch of gas station road maps. My husband had ten collector’s albums full of maps from various oil and gas brands, close to a 1,000 maps---a different brand in each of nine books and I’ve been listing one album a week. I didn't want to list them all at once because I figured map collectors would bid higher if they could replenish their bank accounts in between albums, not to mention they were too heavy to haul them all to the post office in the same time frame. All of the maps were dated between the 1920s to the 1960s and if I had sold each one individually I could have made a lot more money, but to photograph each map and write up its listing would have put me in Road Map Prison forever and I don’t like maps well enough to form a personal relationship with them. Nope, I’m happy to have two empty bookcase shelves in my library. Have I cheered, “Hallelujah” enough times to express my happiness? The tenth album that I just sold was the best in my opinion because it was an album of mixed, oddball and obsolete brands but it only sold for $245.00 which was disappointing but, hallelujah they’re gone! 

I say I didn’t have a personal relationship with maps but I really did. My husband bought and sold them for ten years before his stroke and guess who got to clean them, put them in plastic sleeves, price them, enter them in our inventory software and restock our mall booths when needed and guess who packed them in our motor home when we went to gas and oil memorabilia swap meets and conventions. That would be me who did all that if you didn't pick up on my clues. He was the Shopper and Salesman in Chief for our booths and I was the worker bee.

Cleaning maps or any antique paper, by the way, is done with a piece of white bread with the crusts cut off. Gently rub the bread across the item. The bread crumples but you’d be surprised at how much it brightens up grimy paper. If your paper or book has a musty smell put it in loose a fitting plastic bag and put it in the freezer for a couple of days. That kills the mold that’s causing the odor. But after you take it out of the freezer you’ll need to put the item in an airtight box with charcoal bricks or baking soda for 48-72 hours to absorb the moldy smell. Too many people skip or don’t know about putting moldy smelling paper goods and books in the freezer first so the odor eventually comes back. There was a time when I was in love with turn of century books and my freezer had more books inside than food.

Gas station road map collecting isn’t just about seeing how many you can accumulate. Some guys collect by brand names or by brands within certain state. (Most of us today couldn’t name more than 6-8 brands of gas, but there were dozens back in the boom days before the smaller ones got bought up and consolidated.) A few people collect maps done by famous illustrators, others who own antique and classic cars want period maps that match the ages of their cars. Still others collect maps related to the World Fairs---my favorite---or Route 66 maps during its heydays which happens to coincide with the heydays of architectural design of gas stations and roadside amusements. The man who bought the above mentioned last album said he’d been looking for one of the maps in that book for 35 years and he was willing to buy them all to get it. He’ll sell off all the rest and he’ll probably make good money doing it. He was one happy man! I could hear the "hallelujahs" when I opened his e-mail.

But the most satisfying map I’ve sold on e-Bay wasn’t a map like most of us would recognize. It was a 1,050 page book printed in 1916 that covered the entire United States and it read like Google Maps text descriptions of how to get from here to there. (See the page photographed at the top). There was no such thing as standardized road and highway signs back in those days so maps printed in the era when automobile trips were just becoming a ‘thing’ are fun to read. “Turn at the church” or saloon or stone wall were common directions as were warnings to down shift on certain hills or “if it’s raining don’t attempt this road.” 

In good condition I’ve seen these automobile map books go for $50 to $200, but my copy was in very poor condition. The cover was not attached and the binding was loose. I listed it with close-up pictures of the damage and as needing a new home to save it from going into a recycling bin. A guy working on a historical novel won the bidding for a whole five bucks plus shipping. "Hallelujah!" I was elated and I chalk this transaction up as another success story from Jean’s Antique Adoption Center (as opposed to Jean's e-Bay Central sales). It would have hurt to throw that book out. But if I was a nice person I could have told the new book daddy, who e-mailed ahead of bidding to ask if it had silverfish damage----which it didn't---that he could read the book online. It’s historically significant enough that a university has the entire book posted. ©