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

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

They're Watching Us: Apps and Conspiracy Theories

Last week I was sitting in the dealership’s waiting room while they put new tires on my Chevy Trax when I got an alert on my cell phone. It said that I had three flat tires and I needed to get my car serviced immediately. Spying devices might know a lot of things but they don’t know everything. That alert still cracks me up. 

From where I live I need to drive along a river to get to most of places I have to go. I’ve always feared sliding off the road and being submerged under water and no one would ever know what became of me. I suppose if I did end up underwater some day I'd get a text alert advising me that driving conditions are too wet to be driving. 

The off topic paragraph: (Have you noticed how often I write them?) Anyway, I was telling the service manager when I paid for my tires that I’ll only be back one more time before I’ll have to find another service center and he asked where I was moving. I told him. He handed me his card and said, “We’re down in the area every day. We can pick up your car and deliver it back to you.” We’re talking a distance of over 25 miles. This thirty-something guy always calls me ‘dear’ and sitting in the waiting room on more than one occasion I’ve paid attention to his conversations with other women waiting for their cars and I’ve never heard him call them ‘dear’. What’s up with that? It doesn’t matter, I would never do that---have my car picked up because I’ve seen those young ‘parts chasers’ that work there. When one of them drove my car from the front of the building to the back and he changed my radio station and moved my seat while driving my car a whole 200 feet. If one of those parts chasers took my car on a 50 mile round trip my Chevy would come back pimped out with a cell phone holder sticking to the dashboard, my Bluetooth setting changed and new faux zebra fur seat covers. Front and back.

Recently I got my Google Maps Monthly Timeline Report which told me I had been to 16 places in March, to three cities, drove 135 miles and spent 10 hours in my car. Intrusive? Yes, but think about how handy that would be for a controlling stalker husband or for old people who forget where they’ve been or you turn up missing because your car has been submerged in a river for weeks. I didn’t include how handy it would be for tracking your teenagers because they’d probably know how to turn off the Google app when they go to places that are not parent approved, then turn it back on again when they leave. Still, I hear there are other apps that will give real-time reports. You could be sitting at home in your underwear watching an episode of Fly Fishing in Alaska and your cell could alert you to the fact that your son and his girlfriend are rocking the back seat of your Ford Explorer in the parking lot of Walmart. “Wally World?” you’d grumble, “couldn't they find a more romantic place to park than Wally World?”

Speaking of spying on people I just read an article about the conspiracy theory regarding Bill Gates putting microchip tracking devices in the Covid-19 vaccines that the likes of Roger Stone and the Russian Communist Party had a heavy hand in spreading. It all started from a grain of truth about a study being funded by The Gates Foundation. It has nothing to do with micro-chipping or tracking people but the study is about the use of a special ink that’s being developed that can hold data and potentially be used like an invisible tattoo given at the same time a vaccination is injected. It would act like a digital certification that you’ve been vaccinated and could hold all the same information that we have printed on our vaccine cards. Welcome to the future where you get your temperature taken and an ink reader held up to your arm before being allowed on airplanes, into the Superbowl stadium or mega-large music venues. Fine by me as long as I get to proof-read the info in the ink before they put the invisible tattoo on me. Every time the doctor's office calls in a prescription I try to get them to correct misinformation in my file about which pharmacy to use and half the time they still get it wrong.

Not to fear, they haven't rolled out this technology yet so no one has been marked with an invisible ink tattoo, however the technology to do it is not far off. But reading about it got me to wondering why they don’t just give every vaccinated person a distinctive mark like the scars we got with our smallpox vaccinations. Mine is still visible after nearly 70 years, but I’m guessing pandemic experts don’t want to trust that some dimwit bubbas wouldn’t fake their vaccination scars thus helping to spread every Tom, Dick and Harry virus that comes along. (Not to mention the fact that those smallpox vaccination scars were caused by using live viruses which they don't make anymore.) 

Pandemics are going to be sweeping the earth more and more often, according to world health organizations, for reasons that have to do with human encroachment on nature and global warming and isn’t that just peachy-keen. There goes the lipstick industry as we all hide behind our masks? Do you think I could get a grant to study how young people will adapt to flirting without the use of their mouths? But seriously, I for one, admire Melinda and Bill Gates for using their money to help improve the health, sanitation, water and agriculture in developing countries---helping them helps us all---and for studying and funding solutions for controlling diseases and pandemics around the world. They are true Humanitarians and don't belong of the Enemies List of the Far Right. And that's all I'm going to say about that. ©

I didn't know you could make invisible ink this easily or I would have as a kid to keep my brother from reading my diaries. I did have a bottle of invisible ink that came in a spy kit but it got used up rather quickly. So the Gates ink tattoos really fascinate me.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Loss, Love Affairs and Old Movie Lines

One of my Gathering Girls pals has a daughter who volunteers at a place that’s like a food pantry only instead of giving away people food and goods the store-front charity gives away pet foods and gently used pet supplies to people living on the edge of poverty. The idea is to help them keep their dogs and cats from being surrendered to animal shelters. I have not disposed of much of Levi’s stuff---not ready for that emotional roller coaster yet. But that first week after he passed I did, however, drop off everything with an expiration date...food, treats, medications for fleas, ticks and heart worms and water additive for dental care to the above mentioned charity.

Fast forward to now when I just dropped off three baby/pet gates and two dog beds. I know in the long run it would be easier to pull the band-aide off and get rid of all of Levi’s stuff at once, but I can’t seem to do it. Before this turns into a Country/Western song about a girl whose dog died and she lost her pickup truck in a poker game and she feels low enough to do a duet with a whippoorwill, let me say that I haven’t owned a pickup truck since 2002, we don’t have whippoorwills in Michigan and I haven’t played poker since my teens when all I owned of value to lose in a card game was my roller skates, a bike I rarely rode and a bunch of diaries that my best friend and I occasionally used to play Diary Roulette. The key to winning that game was to remember key dates in each other’s daily activities…say when I knew my friend got a phone call from a boy she liked and there was a good chance she’d rambled on in her diary about Harold or Stan or whoever was her current crush. We can’t all have poignant, Anne Frank-type diaries and thank God for that.

Not even in my twenties when I was dating a guy who’s idea of going on a date was to spend Friday nights at his married sister’s house playing card games was poker among the games we played. Those people and their endless, empty-headed chit-chat that went with the card games drove me crazy but that was back in my Be-a-Chameleon days to get a man so we played cards every Friday night for a year. If we hadn’t broken up we’d still be playing cards on Friday nights and there would never had been a Levi in my life because he didn’t think animals belonged inside the house. I dated two guys from farm communities and while I'm not sure if the other one felt the same way about turning animals into household pets, his stick-up-his-butt father surely wouldn't have approved.

Aaron. Ah, yes, that other country boy: Remember the Grant Wood 1930s painting of the gloomy farmer with the pitchfork and his equally gloomy wife? Had we gotten married, that would have been me, living a life where I disappointed my in-laws because I’d never won first prize at the county fair for my apple pie or anything else for the matter. Not much call for an art major on a farm. My lack of interest in all kitchen related activates didn’t put the odds in my favor of marrying a guy in line to inherit the family farm. If I had known that going into that relationship maybe I would turned up my Chameleon Charm and brought his father a few casseroles. But I didn't and one day Aaron took a severe beating from his father when he got a little too dreamy-eyed over having a future with me, "that ‘college girl’ who was unsuited for farm life." Nothing breaks up a sweet, cream-and-sugar romance faster than a few cracked ribs and a lot of black and blue bruises from a leather belt.

He came to see me a couple of days after that beating, before hopping on a bus to Chicago where he’d planned to get a job that didn't involve milking cows and plowing fields. A few weeks later he was back on the farm. His physical wounds had healed but I doubt his spirit ever did. Gone was his sexy smile, his sweet touches and our easy-going banter and laughter. I didn’t see him again for 5-6 years and he introduced me to his perfectly-suited-for-farm-life-and-father-approved wife. If that chance introduction had happened after instead of before the movie, The Way We Were was released I would have quoted Barbara Streisand’s character Katie when she said, “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell.” And after we parted Aaron, like Hubbell with Katie, would have given me a longing, last look from across the street that telegraphed he wished things could have been different while his wife looked like she had a thought bubble drawn over her head that read, Ohmygod, that was HER wasn’t it! 

And maybe it did happen that way. After 50 years memories and imagination tend to blur. All I really know for sure is that life is messy and our summer romance would have made a great country/western song about a guy with a pocket full of regrets who was haunted by his memories of laughing and singing and being silly with a city girl. Or maybe that song would be more along the lines of Garth Brook's Thank God for Unanswered Prayers where a guy and his wife have a chance meeting with a girl he wanted way back when, before he found the true love of his life. 

I don’t even remember Aaron’s last name. It doesn’t matter. He’s a single thread woven into the Tapestry of my Life, a rich tapestry of people and events that sometimes make me wish I'd quit reading romance books and write a couple instead.

And by the way, if you think you're hearing the theme song to The Way We Were about now, you'd be right. That's me singing...  ©

Light the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were
Scattered pictures
Of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were

May be beautiful and yet
What's too painful to remember
We simply to choose to forget....

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Roll Top Desk and other War Stories from Downsizing Street

The son-I-wish-I-had came over recently to fix a drywall tape that had come loose on the vaulted ceiling in my garage. We keep a running tab of how much each of us owes the other…me for his labor and him for things he buys from me. Money rarely changes hands. This is nothing new. We like to barter and have been doing it for decades.

I had a cool tourist rooms globe, circa 1910, that's easily worth $900 that’s been in our virtual lay-away department since last fall and I asked Tim if he still wanted it or should I put it up for sale. “Where do we stand on our running tab?” he wanted to know. I got out the book and I owed him $563. Tim pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket, counted it out $437 and says, “I’m taking it home today.” Like I said, money rarely changes hands between us and I have strict orders not to tell his wife what he paid for the globe. Tim knows the guys who wrote the collector's guide on globes almost as well as I do and a quick phone call would get it sold, should he ever want his money back. Those guys are like head-hunters for globe collectors. They know who is looking for what.

The tourist globe is an interesting piece of Americana from the days when automobile travel first became popular and tourists were looking for rooms to rent as they used the then newly connected interstate roads. Motels were still nonexistent and travelers often pitched tents in city parks with their blessings. Enterprising people rented rooms out in their homes along the routes and got listed in guide books that were put together by entrepreneurs and visionaries. These globes were hung in the windows of private homes and if the light was on that meant their room-for-rent was vacate. (Motel-6's tag line is a throwback to those early days.) Cross-country auto races were also a gimmick to promote auto sales and auto travel in the same era and newspapers all across the country covered them. I had a small collection of circa 1910 early tourism stuff…mostly photos of auto-campsites and races, a travel guide and a how-to auto-camp book---all of which I sold on e-Bay. I still have a full, disposal paper towel dispenser with cool graphics on the front showing an auto-campsite that I’m keeping for God knows why. It doesn’t offer the same opportunities for show-and-tells as when I had more early auto tourism stuff. Yes, we were that couple who had endless stories about those 'madcap days' when horseless carriages and touring cars caused life as they knew back then to change forever.

That day Tim came over we had already made a barter deal for the drywall repair and fixing a couple of other small things around the house in exchange for an antique Morris-style oak chair that was made by the Royal Easy Chair Company that was patented in 1899. It has a push button, back recliner with seven settings and the only one who ever used the chair was Levi. It sat by the window in the library where he waited every day for pee mail from the canines out for their morning or afternoon walks. It had been his chair since puppyhood. I still catch myself momentarily forgetting he's gone. But I'm digressing from telling Tim stories.

Don had a roll top desk that he bought when Tim and his wife were living across the street as newlyweds 35-ish years ago and while he was here I told him my April goal was to sell the desk and its match filing cabinet. We started looking it over and Tim grabbed the handle to pull the rolling top closed and before I could stop him, it was locked. With the key to open it locked inside the desk. The swear words that came out of me shocked even me. He never swears. Ever. So I’ve always been careful around him not to let even the mildest swear words like ‘crap’ slip pass by my lips. And my swear-fest started the Circus Hour. He kept saying, “Don’t panic!” while we both panicked. “We’ll get it open!” He called a locksmith and got instructions on what he could try and a $90 quote to come out to solve our problem. The suggested credit card trick didn’t work. We googled the brand of lock and found keys online for $9 to $15. We tried pulling so hard that the screws were coming out of the wood until we were afraid we’d split the oak. We even considered filing those exposed screws in half.

At one point Tim looked at me and asked, “Are you laughing or crying?” “A little of both,” I replied. “This reminds me of the time Don took the drawer out of an antique National cash register and couldn’t get it back in.” The elderly man who ran the antique store where the register was up for sale was freaking out and so was Don who spent the next hour trying to get it back in place. He took the drawer out to show the guy that on the underside of those old Nationals was the date it was built, the model number and other interesting things only the release latch on this guy’s register wasn’t working properly. It was working by the time Don took it apart and put it back together but the old guy's daughter had to be called in to calm shop owner down while Don worked on it. After that day neither Tim or I would let Don touch an antique cash register which wasn't easy because it was one of his favorite "parlor tricks." Tim was with Don that day and, thankfully, I wasn't but the story had been retold so many times I felt like I was.

Back to the roll top desk. “Don’t you have a bunch of skeleton keys around here we could try?” Tim asked. “I had over 250 keys and I sold them all on e-Bay,” I told him and then I got out a 4"x"6"x1" tin box of extra keys for things I still owned to show him how few keys I still had left. Don and I took a lot of kidding over the years about the volume of our keys. We both had every obsolete key to every single thing we ever owned plus we bought skeletons whenever we found them. Not to mention we had keys for 15 vehicles that we used for business---all with locking gas caps---a four family apartment building, a storage pole barn, padlocks on gates, 3 houses plus keys to our parent's houses, 2 snowmobiles, countless tool chests and filing cabinets. We also had keys to the maintenance rooms at a shopping mall and a multiplex theater where we had to go when we needed to turn on the parking lot lights when we did snowplowing, power sweeping, fixed potholes or painted yellow lines in the middle of the night. And did I mention we had locking showcases in our vendor spaces at several antique malls? For Christmas one year I made Don a fancy wood key rack and tooled leather key tags to ID and organize all the business keys. Took me forever but it was worth it. Don loved it!

And guess what we found in the tin box I showed Tim at the end of our Circus Hour. a key carefully labeled "extra key for Don's roll top desk." I apologized up one side and down the other for wasting an hour of Tim’s time and putting us both through a lot of stress. I even offered to credit him for an hour of labor on our running tab and he says, “I got another great Don and Jean story out of it so I'm good,” and he ended by saying he wants to buy the desk and filing cabinet. He just needs to work on his wife a little bit because when he came over that day, his wife said to him as he was walking out the door, “Don’t buy any more of Jean’s furniture!”  

I offered to give Tim the $563 I owned him if it would make his wife happy to come home from my place with something other than a barter---keep the globe in lay-away a little longer. But I think he was afraid with all the people coming to pickup Marketplace purchases someone will see that tourist globe, offer me more than the $900 and I'd cave. It already happened, twice---not the caving part but the rest. Tim is restoring a vintage Airstream camper up at his cottage with all mid-century vintage kitsch stuff. Apparently, there's a whole network of retro travelers who seek out and pay good money to go back in time to vacation like we did back in the 40s, '50s and '60s. The tourist globe will serve a similar purpose to the way it was used back when it was made only it will go in his cottage window instead of the Airstream's window that is permanently parked next door. When he gets it finished I'm going to reserve some time to stay there. ©