Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

Welcome to my World---Woman, widow, senior citizen seeking to live out my days with a sense of whimsy as I search for inner peace and friendships. Jeez, that sounds like a profile on a dating app and I have zero interest in them, having lost my soul mate of 42 years. Life was good until it wasn't when my husband had a massive stroke and I spent the next 12 1/2 years as his caregiver. This blog has documented the pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties and finally, moving past it all. And now I’m ready for a new start, in a new location---a continuum care campus in West Michigan, U.S.A. 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. Stick around, read a while. I'm sure we'll have things in common. Your comments are welcome and encouraged. Jean

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Years Eve: a Time to Remember, a Time to Begin Anew

New Years Eve and Day comes with many traditions that vary in scope from family to family. I’ve always been grateful my New Years Days didn’t include the tradition of having a bunch of armchair jocks sitting in front of the TV set. I would have hated being a ‘football widow wife’ like my neighbor whose house is party center every time there is a game playing anywhere in the world of professional sports. Growing up, my parents and 2-3 other couples had a New Years Day tradition that involved watching television. They were very rare back then so it was a real treat to be invited over to view its tiny screen no matter what was on the scheduled lineup. But after a huge brunch that included us kids, they shipped everyone under seventeen off to the roller skating rink for the afternoon so the adults could crowd around that black and white TV set.

By the time I started college we still didn’t own a TV set and skating had faded out of my life, but fast forward 25 years to when Don and I found our selves at an adult roller skating party. He could literally skate circles around me while I had lost the skill and my confidence. It didn’t help much that he teased me, saying I skated like a refrigerator on a dolly, “Pick up your feet and glide!” How could I? I was sure I was going to fall, break a hip and end up in a nursing home before I even started menopause.

Parties---I’d been to my share of New Year’s Eve parties in the ‘60s before I met Don and in the next few years afterward. But Don didn’t like going places on New Years Eve because, he said, the service was always bad and the places were so crowded. And since he owned a snow plow service, we often spent the night on snowy parking lots. One memorable night after a storm had ended and the landscape was sparkling white and beautiful one of the other snowplow drivers got out of his truck at midnight and made a snow angel in the headlight beams of his truck. Before long all five of us had parked our trucks in a circle and we all made snow angels, laughing at our silliness. We’d never done it before---or since---but it was magically that night to get in touch with the child in each of us.

Now that I’m a widow, there is something positive to be said for not having to mourn the loss of a holiday tradition that rang in the New Year in style and mayhem that included champagne and fancy dresses. Watching Dick Clark and the crystal ball dropping at Time Squares on TV was about as festive as we got over they years. But I do have a tradition that I’ve followed faithfully on New Years Eve or day for over a half a century. (Wow, I’m old!) I get my old diaries out and read random pages. This got started at a New Years Eve slumber party when I was barely into the teens. We played a game called ‘diary roulette’ which was a variation on spin-the-bottle. A date was called out, the bottle was spun and where ever it pointed when it stopped that person had to read whatever was written on the corresponding date in her diary. I remember spinning a few tall tales on the spot, not wanting to share the words actually written in my diary.

New Years Day is a time to make resolutions and many of my old diaries include a list resolutions and/or grandiose introductions the way only a youthful pen could write. I was going to make a resolution list this year, too, until this morning when I picked up an idea from another widow’s blog. For her second year of widowhood she had used a one word mantra instead of making resolutions---brave---and for the coming year she’ll use ‘believe’. The idea is to pick a word that expresses your intention for the coming year, like an inspiration to apply to your life. I used a four-word mantra during my caregiver days and it really helped me through a lot of tough stuff so I fell in love with the idea of picking one word to inspire me throughout the coming year. Therefore, I am declaring that my word for 2013 will be ‘courage.’ If you read my last blog, a Widow’s Letter to Myself, you’ll understand why I am embracing this word (and the Cowardly Lion) as my 2013 inspiration and mantra. I even found a ‘courage’ charm and a Cowardly Lion charm to wear on a chain. I love eBay. You can find anything there.

It doesn’t matter if you follow the same tradition each New Years Eve or you start a new one. It doesn’t matter if you laugh or cry at midnight. What matters is it’s a time for acknowledging the power of starting anew, of making promises to your self. Call those promises resolutions or a ‘word for the year’ but whatever you call it I hope we all have a better 2013 than the year we’re leaving behind. ©

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Widow's Letter to Myself

Are you tired of crying? Are you tired of feeling sorry for yourself? What are you waiting for? A committee of friends to bind your wounds or maybe a White Knight to come riding in to save you from the perils of your own thoughts?

Don’t cry over the past, it’s gone.
Don’t stress over the future, it hasn’t arrived.

Yada yada, yada we’ve all heard that two-line platitude before. It goes around Facebook like a round-robin. Whoever coined those words knows jack-squat about widows. We cry over the past. It goes with the title. We stress over the future and if a White Knight did come riding in I’d probably tell him to go kiss the frigging wind as he rides off to live in the fairytale where he was bred. The only one who can fix what is wrong with my life is me, the solutions to all widows’ problems has to come from within.

“Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.”

Yup, we’ve been through a cyclone. But wait. There is something to be said for living in the moment, for straddling a line in between yesterday and tomorrow. Mindfulness has always served me well when the past was too painful and the future was too scary. Live in the moment. Concentrate on those vegetables I’m chopping up for soup. Drinking coffee? Pay attention to the taste, the smell, the color and way the steam curls above the cup. Live in the moment, fully engaged in whatever you’re doing. Jeez, I’ve sold that platitude short. Living in the moment is a rational way to cope and isn’t that what those two lines are really saying? Don’t think about the past, don’t think about the future. If you don’t have the courage to move forward, coast in the middle.

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure," Oz said.
“All you need is confidence in yourself.”

Are you tired of crying? Are you tired of feeling sorry for yourself? Are you ready to begin the process of rebuilding your life again? How do I start? Where do I begin to identify the route I’d take from the starting gate to the goal on the far side of tomorrow? We are all defined by the decisions we make. Time to decide: am I tired of dying inside? Moving forward means change. Moving forward means packing my past up in a clothe covered box---a box that can live in the back of the closet next to my ruby red shoes, magic and memories side by side, waiting in case I need them again. Don’t cry over the past, it’s gone. Is that where I start?

“It’s always best that you start at the beginning,”
Glinda the Good Witch from the North advised Dorothy and Toto.

Don’t stress over the future. I think we can all agree that’s much harder to do than tucking the past on a shelf. Some widows have too many choices, some too few. Do I move and if so where do I go? Or should I stay and if I do will the ghost in the house still help me feel rooted in something important? Some widows have children to consider; I only have a dog the size of Toto. And money, who doesn’t wonder and worry about that? Live in the moment when it gets to be too much to think about. Chop those soup vegetables up in nice, even slices. Chop, chop, chop until I get stronger and stronger.

“Look at the circles under my eyes,” said the Cowardly Lion.
“I haven't slept in weeks!”

Try to remember, dear cowardly widow and lion alike, that choices can’t hurt you, plans don’t bite. No one ever died from choosing between one thing or another---well, unless I decided to take a leisurely stroll in a war zone and I’m way far from being suicidal or stupid. A widow’s choices may not be as easy as plastic or paper but by finding our courage, as Glinda would say, it makes choosing doable. Choices are just a catalog of ideas that can be edited and revised over and over until the path forward is as plain to see as a yellow brick road in a forest. Don’t stress over the future; it hasn’t arrived and as sure as sure can be, plans don’t bite. ©

 “All right, I'll go in there for Dorothy,” the cowardly lion said.
“Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I'll tear them apart.
I may not come out alive, but I'm going in there.
There's only one thing I want you fellows to do.”
”What's that?” the Tin Man and Scarecrow asked in unison.
”Talk me out of it!”

Quoted text is from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz which was based on a 1900 book by L. Frank Baum

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Believing in Things we Can't See

As widows, there is a great deal to be gained by believing in the unseen and unseeable world. None of us knows what is on the other side of death, what connection our spouses may still have with those of us left behind. But I feel it, the presence of my husband's love still around me. This I must accept on faith and I ask: how does that differ from before his passing? Love is not something you can hold in your hand or weigh on a scale or photograph. Love always comes on faith, an intangible force you can't touch or taste. So believe in the spirit Santa Claus, believe in God if that is your way and most of all, believe in a love that transcends time and space.

 Below is a timeless letter that speaks to the young and the old. It was published in New York Sun over a 100 years ago and answered by their editor, Francis P. Church

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Francis P. Church

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Where Have You Gone, Christmas? (Newtown CT)

In a year of firsts for widows, probably the hardest first is not the same one across the board. Some might say their wedding anniversary; others might say the birthday that can no longer add a number to an age, still others would name Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years Eve. For all widows the holiday season, as a whole, is full of painful reminders of long standing family traditions that can never be the same again. Each holiday song heard in a store, each light on a neighbor’s house, each card in the mail screams, “He’s gone, he’s gone!” Happiness is all around us and even the friendliest festivities only magnifies our loneliness. We are alone even in a crowd.

In the wake of what happened recently in Newtown, Connecticut, my loneliness at Christmas time pales and it almost makes me ashamed to even be writing about it. But I write when I have things on my mind. I can’t help myself. If I don't, I can't sort out my thoughts and put them to rest. I start by getting the raw emotion out (ramble writing I call it) and by the time I've honed the technical aspects of sentence structure, word choices, spelling and editing---well it’s better than going to a shrink which I’ve never done but I have a good imagination.

I don’t have to be alone on Christmas Eve or on Christmas day. I had choices but I turned down two invitations because I don’t want to pretend, to carry on as if the invisible place setting at the table isn’t there. If I need to cry on the eve of Christmas, I will. If I need to wallow in a memory of a past Christmas day, I will. Like the time Don decided to give the dog an entire box of Bonz biscuits. If one is good dozens must be heaven on earth, right? Wrong. He spread them all over the floor then watched in horror as Cooper went into panic mode trying to protect them all. It seems trivial to treasure a memory of Don feeling so guilty over a pile of dog biscuits but it is what it is---a silly but endearing reminiscence. Our Christmas mornings often went to the dogs. They opened gifts, tore paper apart and played with their new toys like real kids do after Santa’s arrival.

The parents of the children who died so violently in Newtown no doubt have much harder choices to make about Christmas Eve and day than whether to go some place or stay at home with their grief. They have other children who still believe in Santa, a community of support outside their doors, and hearts that are seriously scared by sorrow. My heart aches for them, for all the Christmas mornings their children will never see. How do they heal from something like that?

Where are you Christmas
Why can't I find you
Why have you gone away
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me

Unfortunately, those poor parents know where their Christmas went, who took it away and they have to live with that painful knowledge for the rest of their lives. I only have to live with the fact that a good man---an old man---ran out of time on earth. My husband lived the life he chose for himself, did most of the things on his Bucket List. The little victims in Newtown probably didn’t even know how to spell the word ‘evil’ but they came face to face with it on the day they died.

I am a firm believer that everything on earth has a counterweight---a yin for each yang, a positive for every negative, a woman for every man, a shadow for every light, and if nothing else the evil event in Connecticut brought an enormous outpouring of goodness and love from around the world. From casket companies donating child-sized coffins to Ann Curry’s 26 Random Acts of Kindness Project to the teddy bears, flowers and balloons that lined the streets in Newtown the expressions of kindness are overwhelming. That collective caring is like a candle flame in the darkness. It symbolic but I hope it’s also prophetic predicting that the twenty children and six teachers didn’t die in vane, that their deaths will become a catalyst for real change.

And how will I survive my first Christmas alone in the shadow of what happened in Newtown? I will watch Miracle on 34th Street, bake myself some bacon wrapped chicken and be profoundly grateful I got 42 years with my husband. I will also shed a few tears for the parents in Connecticut and every where else on earth who will never get to see their precious children grow up.©

(Lyric above from the song, Where are you Christmas?)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Mouse in the House

`Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not ever a mouse. Nope, I caught the little sucker and I didn’t even need to rent that flame thrower I was vowing to do. It’s been decades since I’ve had a mouse in the house and when I went to the store to buy me some traps I could only marvel at the new invention d-CON had come up with. Bait it from the bottom, turn the dial and in theory the mouse goes in the side door, it slams shut behind him and you never have to see the little squatter again.

A few hours after setting it, I heard a clicking sound come from the trap. Sure enough the red mark had moved indicating that a mouse was shut inside. But worry wart that I am I got to wondering if maybe a vibration could have caused the trap to spring and it was mouseless inside. I was wishing there’d been a window where I could see the little varmint mouthing the words, “Help me!” So I got out my postal scale and weighed a trap I hadn’t set yet, then I weighed the other. Sure enough it registered just under an ounce difference. But wait! That was on the heavy side for a mouse according to the internet. Oh, my God, I’d probably killed an expectant mother and broke up a family just before the holidays! In case I was right, I set the second trap where the first one had been thinking if there a daddy widower mouse was wandering around I’d see to it that they got buried together in the same batch of trash. It’s the least I could do.

When I was growing up my folks had a summer cottage and it wasn’t unusual to find mice when we cleaning it out in the spring. My first memory of seeing a mother mouse with a litter of nursing babies was a teachable moment for my mom. The nest we’d found was in a dresser drawer and the panic-stricken mother mouse was so devoted to her family that she didn’t even try to run away when she saw three pairs of eyes starring down at her. My mother, though, didn’t have the heart to kill them. No, she told us kids to take that drawer out to the woods and find a safe place to transfer that nest. “All baby creatures deserve a chance to grow up,” she said. Over the years there were other nests with babies that got transferred to the woods and there were many more adult mice who died by d-CON. But of all the memories of have of my mother, one of my favorites is of her chasing mice around with her trusty, mouse killing broom.

When Don and I first met he had a cracker box of a house that was so “porous” there were tons of places mice could walk right in and hang up their Home-Sweet-Home signs. He was brought up on a farm and barn mice, to him, were no big deal. I’d tell him, “Don, you need to get some d-CON. You’ve got mice in your house” and he’d say, “They don’t eat much.” This went on for a few weeks until one day when he was lying on the floor reading the newspaper and he finally decided it was time to declare war on the mice. Two of them chasing each other had run right up his pant leg! His cat, seeing them go up was determined they weren’t coming back out the same way they’d gone in. It was off to the hardware store within minutes of stripping off his pants and Don set up a trap line that would have made Grizzly Adams proud.

Another memory my mouse-in-the-house triggered is one of an old bachelor Don knew from work. He lived on a farm that he’d inherited from his folks and he was a postcard collector. At the time I was trying to build a set of woman’s suffrage cards and had been at it for several years. I had just one card left to complete the series and Don’s work friend claimed to have several of them. He wouldn’t sell one, he said, but he’d let us come look at his 1909 Dunston Wellers.

This guy turned out to be a hoarder---but a hoarder with a purpose to his madness. Every room in that old Victorian farm house was filled with filing cabinet after filing cabinet full of postcards. In many places you had to turn sideways to pass through but sure enough, he had a whole drawer full of the exact, elusive card  I needed and lusted after. At the time they were valued at upwards of $100.00, but even the offer of $200.00 wouldn’t get that guy to sell us one. After the haggling ended unsuccessfully he invited us into the kitchen for coffee. Oh, crap! And I’m not cursing; it’s a statement about what we saw. There was mouse droppings every where and it was thick from lord knows how many months/years of build up. Mice were running back and forth on the counter top and when the guy saw me watching the mice he said, “Oh, don’t mind them,” and he pointed to a white sheet of 8” x 10” paper, adding, “as long as they leave that place for me to eat on, they can have the rest.”

I woke up this morning with a start. I’d been dreaming about a mouse that had moved a baby Jesus out of a manager in nativity set and was giving birth in it with a bunch of plastic animals watching. The first thing I did when I was fully awake was check the second trap that I’d set last night and I was ever so grateful to find it empty. ©

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Color Coding Widows

I wish the world would go back to color-coding people, or rather the clothing society requires us to wear. You know what I mean---make all the widows wear black for a year, have all the harlots wear red to advertise their wares. Protect all the virgins with pale pink. We could even take the color-coding a step farther and put all the hot heads in neon orange and the people into Zen could wear sky blue. Think how much easier life must have been when the good guys all wore white hats and the bad guys wore black---well, at least they did in the movies of my youth. I suspect in the real Old West it wasn’t quite that simple. But then again, stereotypes some times are based in fact and in the case of color, also on the availability of dyes for clothe. There was a time in the history of the world, for example, when it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear purple because the dye was so scarce. Another example of dyes dictating status or occupation could be found in turn-of-the century coal miners who only wore white because the dyes from colored clothing would get absorbed in their skin when they sweat, making them sick.

What got me to thinking about color coding widows is the general topic of insensitive things people say to us. This is a common complaint in widow circles and usually I can chalk up the insensitive remarks I hear as people just being inept at wording their concerns and attempts to comfort. Maybe that’s because I much prefer to put words on paper when I have something important to say. On paper I can edit and hone the message; in person I could very well be one of those people who unknowingly say something too blunt, too cheery, too stupid or too crass. So when I hear someone else say something insensitive I’ll rewrite it in head to what I think they really mean. But what I struggled to rewrite today came as a note in a Christmas card. It said, “I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas now that you don’t have Don to take care of.”

Why, yes, I am! I’m out singing Christmas carols in the streets every night. I’ve rented a sleigh and I’ve been delivering gifts to orphans by day. I’ve stocked up on champagne for the dozen parties I’ve planned and I have a tree up in every room. Oh, and guess what! It’s not because I feel “Free at Last, Free at Last” it’s an attempt to fill the giant, frigging hole Don’s absence left behind in my heart.

If I was wearing widows black people might be reminded that I’m still experiencing my first year of firsts and holidays are anything but joyous. If I was wearing widows black I’d have an excuse if I wrote a reply like above and dropped in the mail. If I was wearing widows black others would understand why I got up in the middle of a Christmas luncheon at the senior center and rushed out of the room in tears. But I’m not wearing widows black and people don’t say insensitive things to be mean. People do care and when I’m in the mood to be fair to the person who wrote that Christmas card note I’ll rewrite her note in my head to read something like this: “You spent so many years caring for Don. I hope you are taking care of yourself during this difficult first year without him.”

I’ve become obsessed by the skin on my forehead. It feels like the pair of lizard skin shoes I used to own in 1970---who am kidding? I still have those high heels tucked in the back of my closet. No, I’m not a shoe hoarder. Not even close. Also in the back of my closet is one memorable outfit from each decade of my life. Those heels are part of an ensemble from my man-shopping days; the time of my life when I first met Don, then I traded my high heels in for tennis shoes. When I earmark an outfit to represent this decade of my life I think it will be all black. In the meantime, does anyone have a good cure for lizard skin foreheads? ©

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sex With a Ghost

We all have dreams about sex---whether we remember them or not---but last night was the first time I had sex with a ghost, more precisely with my husband’s ghost. We were both wearing L.L.Bean nightgowns that I doubt has changed in style since they first opened their store 101 years ago. I wear that style in the winters but Don wouldn’t have been caught dead in a nightgown or anything resembling pajamas when he was alive so I’m guessing my subconscious mind found it quite amusing to dress his ghost that way. Those L.L. Bean nightgowns are floor length and heavy flannel and this morning I woke up believing that back in the days when men wore them to bed as well as their wives they must have found them to be an effect form of birth control. They aren’t easy to manage in a dream; it must be twice as hard to do when you’re fully awake. Not to mention they do nothing for the seduction portion of the program. In my dream we kept getting them tangled up and twisted and it was nearly impossible to find the bottoms and buttons. We laughed as much as we made love.

I woke up briefly part way through that seduction phase of my dream and I remember thinking I’d better make this the best damn sex we ever had so Don would decide to stay here on earth rather than go back to where ever ghosts go when they aren’t haunting their widows. I also remember thinking that I’d damn well better fall back to sleep because that dream was too good to let go. Two hours later I woke up again with a smile on my face. I like the word 'damn.' Can you tell?

As fun as it might be to write about some of our most memorable intimate encounters while Don was still alive, I’ll resist the temptation. But I already did share the memory of getting poison ivy in my “Blue Berry Hill” entry and in my dog’s blog I may have already shared the story about the time he thought we were having so much fun he got out his rubber ring toy and looped it over my foot that was hanging off the bed. Don and I got to laughing so hard that all thoughts of romance went out the window. Jeez, I think I may have even written about the time we made love then slept overnight in the bed of the pick up truck. Unbeknownst to us we had parked right in front of a police station. In our defense it as late at night and foggy and the town was so small it didn’t even have a stoplight. What a surprise we had in the morning, people walking by and smiling down on us.

At one point in my distant past I entertained the idea of writing a romance novel and when I’m dead and gone my nieces will probably run across a notebook I kept back then of euphemisms. I hope they’ll find it parked next to the book, How to Write a Romance Novel, and will put two and two together before making any judgments. Back in those days of my Great Writing Obsession I had read a physiology-based article about how certain kinds of sex preformed in a certain order causes couples to imprint them selves on each for life. Chemical changes in the body and brain were involved, yada, yada, yada. I know I had one of those all consuming love scenes with Don but I’ve forgotten the technical terms for the different kinds of sex that has to occur over a short period of time for that imprinting for life to happen. In non-technical terms two of those encounters could be labeled ‘hot and wild’ followed closely by ‘slow and tender’ and ending in a flood of emotions that washes over the couple to the point of bringing tears. One or two additional kinds of pairing are thrown in there, too, but they escape my mind at the moment. I’m thinking they involve laughter and all five of our senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.

We widows all miss the arms that held us, the words of love spoken and the tender smiles of caring so we dream about them, wish for them and cry over their absence. Unfortunately, I have no clever or logical way to end this the blog entry so I’ll just say this instead: I sincerely wish all of my widowed friends will soon have sex with their spouse’s ghost and more importantly I hope they’ll wake remembering all the details the way I did this morning. ©

Friday, December 14, 2012

Who Shot the Cheyenne?

My husband had a couple of life-long friends and when they got together the stories would fly back and forth, laughter would bounce off the walls. If you look up the word ‘buddies’ in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of the three of them. That’s how close they were. Back in 1978 Don and one of those friends went out west together on a hunting trip in Don’s brand new pick up truck with duel gas tanks and a custom leather interior. And when I say it was brand new I mean he literally picked it up from the dealership a few hours before picking up his friend.

Every where they went since they hit the state line of Wyoming people were staring at them so they decided to scout out a western clothing store. As naive as it sounds now they thought leather cowboy boots, Stetson hats and western cut shirts was going to change that. It didn’t, of course. They were Easterners who walked and talked too fast compared to the locals and new clothing wasn’t going to mask that. They might as well have bought t-shirts imprinted with the words: Two Guys on a Holiday!

After hunting a couple of days without success they decided the reason the antelope weren’t impressed enough by their marksmanship to do more than just look at them with amusement was because they needed to sight their rifles in for longer distances. So out in the middle of no where, with no witnesses around, Don sighted in his Winchester then stepped aside for his friend to do the same. Ron placed his Browning 30.6 across the hood of Don’s truck ever so carefully so he wouldn’t scratch the finish and then he pulled the trigger.

“Did you see where the bullet hit?” Ron asked.

“Right there,” Don replied in a deceptively calm voice as if what had just happened was an every day occurrence. He was pointing to a bullet hole in the hood of truck. Then Don did something that drained the color from Ron’s face and frozen him in place. He slowly drew his .38 pistol out of its holster and for a few seconds Ron saw his life flash before his eyes. Damn, he’d shot Don’s brand new Chevy Cheyenne and he was going to die for it! But Don had other plans. He plucked the new Stetson off his friend’s head, threw it up in the air and deftly put a bullet hole in one side of the crown and out the other.

“I’m just getting even with you,” Don said and if he was mad he sure didn’t show it. Then he put his pistol back in his holster and after some blustering and teasing back and forth Don told his friend not to worry about it, the dealership could fix it.

Ron, of course, was embarrassed and offered to pay for repairing the bullet hole---many times---but when they got back home Don had one excuse after another for not getting the body work done. Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years. And it wasn’t until Ron ran into a guy who was a co-worker of Don’s that he learned the true reason why that bullet hole never got repaired. Everyone who’d see that hole in the hood and would ask about it was an opportunity for Don, the master storyteller, to be at his best. The story of who shot the Cheyenne had become a legend, the ultimate hunting trip tale. With his great comedic timing and ability to turn a five minute event into a half hour hilarious story, the tale of the wounded Cheyenne always had Don’s listeners splitting their sides with laughter.

When the truck finally out-lived its usefulness and was loaded up on the back of a flatbed truck ready to go off to the junkyard it was missing a chunk of the hood. Don had cut a piece out, memorializing the bullet hole that inspired so many how-the-heck-did-that-happen questions.

The thing that was so amazing about my husband wasn’t his ability to tell a good story—although that was pretty amazing---it was his ability to adjust to not having any speech at all. In the 12 years after his stroke his working vocabulary consisted of a couple of dozen hard-earned nouns and the phrases, “Oh, boy!” and “Oh, Shit! and Oops!” But he didn’t let his losses him turn him bitter. He stayed good-natured, and he especially loved it when his life-long friend would come over and tell their two-buddies-on-a-hunting-holiday story. Over the years Don, Ron and I had all put our own spin on the minor details but one thing remained the same: none of us ever got tired of hearing the story about the day the Cheyenne got shot. ©


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sitting in the Back of the Room

When I was in grammar and high school we were seated alphabetically and since my last name was near the end of the alphabet I sat near the back of all classrooms through my entire childhood and teens. That is except for one semester in the 3rd or 4th grade when a teacher put all the left-handed kids up front where she could smack us with a ruler every time we broke one of her penmanship rules. The lines on your paper need to go from left to right, not up and down. Keep your wrist straight, not curled around the pen. She even went so far as to tape our papers to our desks in her mission to rid the world of the sin of writing in a vertical direction. To this day whenever I see one of those “Golden Rule” rulers I think about that old bat. She always wore widow’s black and would send religious tracts home with me and the other so-called heathens in her class. She also gave me an E in penmanship causing my mother to go to the principal’s office and raise holy hell. I had beautiful penmanship when I could write on lines pointing straight out in front of me and I still write that way thanks to a principal who took one look at my writing and made the teacher move all us lefties to our rightful places in the alphabetical seating order.

I was reminded of all this recently when I went to the senior hall for a lecture and as I walked in I said to a woman I had met on several bus trips: “Why you’re easy to find. You’re always sitting in the front row.” She laughed and told me her maiden name began with an A “so I always figure that’s where I belong.” It’s funny how childhood routines can stick with you for so many decades. I realized that subconsciously I’d been doing the same thing, picking the back of rooms to sit in my entire adult life. That day I was tempted to sit next to the woman but the impulse to flee to the back was even stronger. I guess I still associate front rows with getting smacked with rulers…or with college co-eds accidentally showing off their panties. It’s too bad those two actions never got paired together---probably because no one was ever sure whether the co-eds should be smacking the professors for looking or if the professors should be smacking the girls showing. I see London, I see France. I see someone’s underpants. Oh, my!

Alphabetical seating aside, I don’t have a sense of belonging anymore. I’m like a fish out of water in the couple’s orientated world, the Caregiver Club is closed and so far the senior citizen hall---where most conversations center on grandchildren and church---is leaving childless and churchless me with few things to add to the discussions. And sometimes I feel like I might get stoned when I voice an opinion at a widow’s support site. Like a few days ago when 7-8 women in the chat room were complaining that their friends and family members weren’t calling them. They felt abandoned. Feelings were hurt. Anger was building up. Vows to break up friendships were made without the other parties even knowing the widows were mad. I was the lone voice of dissension when I said the phone lines run both directions, meaning we need to learn how to reach out when we need support. Others can’t read our minds like our spouses usually could. Sure, I’d like to get more calls and social invitations, too, but how can I blame my friends and family because I have a giant void to fill? They didn’t cause it and it’s not their responsibility to fill it.

I’ll admit I do believe most widows will lose a few friendships but it won’t be anyone’s fault or failing. Why do I say that? Because let’s face it, there is a difference between knowing Don-and-Jean the couple and knowing Jean the individual---or any other couple-turned-individual. I am different without Don at my side. The topics of conversation are different; the give-and-take of our dialoguing is different. Entertainment and restaurants choices change. And who plans parties with an odd number of guests? China sets come in sets of six or eight for a reason. Why would anyone think the world isn’t going to notice things like that? But then again, I went my entire adult life without connecting the dots on why I always sit in the back at movies, lectures and meetings. Jeez, I sure can be clueless! I need to remember that the next time I’m tempted to be the odd man out in a group of grieving widows. Tonight I will take out a sheet of paper, turn it so the lines point straight out in front of me and write one hundred times: From now keep your opinions to yourself. ©

Monday, December 10, 2012

Shopping at the Widowhood Village Grocery Store

At the grocery store today an old guy was checking me out so I examined my shoes to see if I was dragging toilet paper from the bathroom where I’d just been. Nope. Maybe my hairdresser was right, I thought. Low lights in my hair really are old geezer magnets. Well, she didn’t exactly say that but she did say they make me look younger. But as quickly as that thought came and went I realized I was wearing a red sweatshirt to show union solidarity against our governor’s Right to Work legislation and so was my ‘admirer’ who, as it turned out, really wasn’t one at all. I smiled. He nodded back. And now we were union buddies who’d just exchanged the “secret handshake.” So much for flirtatiousness in the septuagenarian set. As I walked away, though, I decided it was much better to be admired for my political action participation than for my hairstyle.

Have you ever been shopping and spotted something that you knew would change your life if you could just take that item home? And, no, I’m not still talking about the bench-sitting guy at the front of the grocery store. I’m talking about a product. A new product---well, new to me at least. I’m talking about Weber Beer Can Chicken Seasoning for “grilling enthusiasts.” Oh, my! I don’t know why it was love at first sight. I don’t drink beer and I gave away my outdoor grill a month ago, but having a spice to give a “robust punch” to the chicken I rarely cook---well, like I said, I just knew my life would be perfect if that bottle of spices jumped into my shopping cart. Maybe it was the design of the cap that makes it easy for arthritic or clumsy hands to open that made me fall in love. I like good package designs. Whatever the reason, $1.89 for a few minutes of entertainment in a grocery aisle is pretty cheap.

Shopping is sure different without Don. I’ve had eleven months, now, to get used to shopping in the Widowhood Village grocery store compared to twelve years of shopping in Caregiverville. Anyone who’s done that knows you don’t have time to read labels and fall in love with products with handy little tops while shopping in Caregiverville. Nope. It was hurry up so I didn’t have leave Don too long at the front of the store, sitting in his wheelchair next to the bench were the man in red was perched today---the wife-waiting department. Don would drink Starbucks, people watch and thoroughly enjoy both and I’d have to get my shopping done before he needed a trip to the bathroom which he couldn’t do on his own. Flossie and Fred in the handicapped bathroom stall---if you don’t catch the dark humor in that reference you’ve never read The Bobbsey Twins in a Radio Play or The Bobbsey Twins in the Mystery Cave or any of the other 135 books in one of the longest running children’s series ever written.

Flossie and Fred Bobbsey and the other set of twins in the family, Bert and Nan, will go on forever. Too bad life doesn’t follow the same path as fiction. When Don and I was doing our Bobbsey Twins routine, though, one thing could have been written in stone. Don would have enjoyed seeing the guy on the wife-waiting bench checking me out. He would have thought that man had good taste no matter how gray and old I look. I miss being loved like that. ©

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Guilt and Grief on the Pantry Shelves, Dusty Bunnies under the Bed

I need a job. A reason to get up in the morning other than I might wet the bed if I don’t head for the bathroom before the clock strikes nine. Bedroom clocks, of course, no longer strike the time. They display it. Saying the clock strikes nine dates me---but I’m getting side-tracked here in old people-speak. Back on topic: sometimes I stay in bed until the last possible minute trying hard to hold on to a dream. I like my dream life even though it often leaves me wondering why that, why now? Lately Mom, Dad and Don have been coming to visit in the night. What does that mean? Sometimes I’m so busy in my dreams it’s a wonder I don’t wake up needing a nap. Last night I was riding in the back of a windowless bus with Don, trying to get the driver’s attention so she’d let us off.

A job isn’t really on my wish list. Human contact is what I’d tell Santa I need if he asked and could actually deliver. Let’s face it, when you find yourself listening to more than a few seconds of a Robocall you know it’s time to get out of the house and find out if you still know how to exchange meaningless chit-chat with strangers. Thus yesterday I found myself out Christmas shopping, kind of a pitiful excuse since I don’t have anyone to buy for now that Don is gone. Woo is me, so I bought myself a small crock pot in honor of living alone, and a magenta bathrobe that is guaranteed to leave a trail of colorful dust bunnies where ever I go. And that’s no joke.

A few years ago I took the dog to the veterinary because he had a bright purple nose. I was really worried. The diagnosis was “it’s a fungus” and the cure, he said, “was worse than the disease.” He was a quack! The next week our dog groomer picked all the crusty, purple stuff off the dog’s nose and showed it to me. A light bulb went off in my head. It was exactly that same color as my new, purple chenille bathrobe. Turned out the cure for the “fungus” was a good vacuuming. Apparently, colorful dust bunnies are more fun to smell than the run of the mill nondescript color. The vet was right about one thing, though. It did end up costing a lot because the whole episode made me realize I needed a stronger pair of eye glasses. Old people, what are you going to do with us? You can’t take us all out behind the barn and shoot us. Well, you could but that would be cruel.

I’ve been cleaning and rearranging my kitchen cabinets but when I got to the pantry shelves I got bogged down and stopped. I don’t cook much since Don died so I have a lot of pantry stuff that has either expired or is about to. In the first few months after he died I wouldn’t let any visitor leave the house without a “door prize”---something from the pantry that Don loved but I knew I’d never fix again. I had more door prizes than visitors causing several irrational panic attacks thinking about that food going to waste. Now it’s starting all over again…those guilty feelings over wasting food. My mother really did a number on me growing up. She still has me believing kids in China will starve to death if I don’t clean my plate and in the adult version that dictates you must use up pantry goods before they expire. Waste is bad. Jean is bad for wasting food! People in third world countries would kill for my expired flour, macaroni and baking power. I wish I could dial 1 (800) HELP-ME! and someone would come purge my pantry.

Oh, I’ll get my cabinets done by the end of the year but not without more dreamed filled nights. My subconscious mind is trying to send me a message about guilt, grief, discontentment and lack of control but my darn kidneys won’t let me stay asleep long enough to decipher it. But one thing I do know. I’m going to check under the bed for magenta colored dusty bunnies on a regular basis. There will be no more “nose fungus” in this house! ©

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Coming of Age versus the Coming of Wisdom

We are all visitors to this time, this place.
We are just passing through.
Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love
…and then we return home.

Australian Aboriginal Proverb

I went to bed last night on Saturday and woke up this morning on Friday. At least that was what my atomic clock said. Why do they do that to old people? Don’t they know we’re liable to believe that nonsense? After all, atomic clocks are supposed to be the most accurate time pieces on the face of the earth. They magically synchronize themselves each midnight from Boulder Colorado’s National Institute of Standards and Technology using mambo jumbo I couldn’t understand if I was younger and actually wanted to know how it works. All I know is someday that clock is going to be wrong again and I’m going to go some place I’d just been to a few days beforehand. And when I get there some bubble gum chewing receptionist is going to say, “poor woman is getting senile” because there is no way she’s going to believe my atomic clock actually told me it was yesterday instead of tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking of writing a blog about coming of age books written for adults, one of my favorite genres. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, and Spencer’s Mountain by Earl Hamner Jr. all fall into this category of fiction. But this morning, having woke up on “yesterday” got to thinking there should be a term for what people go through late in life, a term to describe the kind of epiphany senior citizens have when we suddenly realize why we’ve been passing through this world---what it all means, and how we make peace with our past missteps and mistakes and inevitable demise. I suppose they call books like that autobiographies or non-fiction like Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom. To bad. I’d like to coin a new phrase like the coming of wisdom books.

I’ve always felt cheated because I don’t have a coming of age story to tell. There was no sudden transformation from childhood to adulthood for me, growing up the way I did in a 1940s and ‘50s household. It’s a stupid way to feel, of course, because in order to have a coming of age story I would have had to live through a trauma that took away my innocence or left me seeing an uglier side of life. Nope, I had a childhood where I came home from school to cookies and milk and parents who were determined my brother and I would have more opportunities in life than they had. My parents, if they had been inclined to write, could have told good coming of age stories. They both grew up dirt poor and without mothers in their lives. Actually, that fact had a big influence in how I was raised. Since my parents didn’t have mothers to model typical gender roles that were common back then they didn’t pass those values on to my brother and me.

It wasn’t until I transferred to a state school for my third year of college that I faced my first bias against women when my academic adviser wouldn’t approve my curriculum leading to a degree in architectural design. “Women only go to college to get an MRS degree,” he said. “You can’t take up a limited place in that program; that would deny the slot to a guy who needs to make a living.” Older and wiser now I realize I should have fought for myself back then, but I wasn’t a trail blazer. I didn’t like it but what could I do? At the end of that school year, I dropped out of college and didn’t go back to finish until twenty-five years later.

That was 1963 and that year at college planted the seeds of unfairness and when Betty Friedan’s classic book The Feminine Mystique came along later the same year those seeds grew. I became a card carrying member of NOW and all through the rest of ‘60s I could have been Exhibit A for work place unfairness. I was holding a job where I got paid half of what my male co-worker was getting because, as my boss put it, “He has a family to support.”

Since this is a blog about widowhood, I need to bring my late husband into this entry. He came into my life in 1970 and early on he actually read The Feminine Mystique at my request and more importantly when he started hiring women to work for him plowing snow he paid us the same as the guys. What’s not to love about an enlightened guy like that? God rest his soul. ©

Friday, November 30, 2012

Wife and Caregiver to Widowhood Transformation

Back in 2008 one of my attempts at article writing got published in a website’s humor section. They’ve since been bought out by Yahoo Contributors and somewhere along the line my article got moved to the beauty section. I can't imagine what people think when they start reading it, believing what I wrote was meant to be serious make-up advice for older women. Beauty treatments that involve cloths pins? No Way!

Little did I know back then that I’d be in hot pursuit of real beauty advice now that I’m no longer a caregiver and have the time to treat my face, nails, hair and wardrobe like the serious fixer-uppers that they are. But aren’t I worth it now that I have the time I used to spend helping my disabled husband, filling pills bottles and being a taxi service to an endless list of specialists? “Hell, yes!” the left side of my brain says while the other side laughs and claims it’s a lost cause.

My second venture into the world of spoiling myself consisted of an express pedicure and manicure. (The first was a deluxe pedicure and foot spa treatment.) The manicure didn’t even make it home before it was a mess and I had to remove all the polish. I won’t be doing that again, but I did manage to give myself a French manicure for the first time since the 1960s and I got two complements on my nails from complete strangers. So I’m thinking this old lady did good on nail pampering but, darn it all, the stupid things grew out. Who knew you’d have to get manicures all over again?

My third venture into the realm of self improvement involved getting low lights put in my hair. My hair stylist---I guess they don’t like the label ‘beauticians’ anymore---has repeated the low lights a few times, now, and I’m still not sure if I like them. No one has mentioned the new look so I’m thinking the color is either too fake to bring it up or it’s so completely natural looking that no one can tell I did anything. Either way, I keep scaring myself when I walk past mirrors. Who is that person?

“Who is that person?” Exterior changes not withstanding, I suppose that’s the question all widows are trying to sort through. Who are we without our other half? The titles of wife, caregiver and best friend (to Don) no longer apply. What is my title now? Don’t we all need titles to define how we spend our time and energy? Widow? Elderly Woman? Noted and discarded. Those are states of being, not of doing. Seeker of Truth and Beauty---that has a nice ring but how would that look on my calling card? Pompous, that’s how. That’s something that belongs on the Dali Lama XIV’s business card. He has the credentials to back up a byline like that, not me. But he probably has something selfless like: “God loves Tibet” or something low key like: “Bringing balance into a hectic world.”

I wish I could find the balance in my world. Instead, I have a kind of restless anticipation not unlike getting ready for a blind date set up by someone you don’t entirely trust. I am falling into a routine, though, but that’s not balance. Not the kind of balance that leaves you falling into bed each night as happy as a cat in an Amish milking barn. If a social opportunity comes along, I go whether I really want to or not. I talk to the dog every day and I welcome Robocalls just so I can hear a human voice. I feed my woodpeckers and finches and try to discourage the chipmunks from sitting two feet from the window where the dog takes up sentry duty. And I’ve taken up knitting again. I am progressing well compared to other widows I see at the widow’s support website. Still, I want more out of life than routine and busy work. The real me that got lost in my caregiver years, is she still out there waiting for me to find her? The Dala Lama once said: “When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways--either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.” I’m challenged and I am working on that inner strength…and on finding the right coffee blend in k-cups for my Keurig.  Did I mention that widowhood makes you buy new things? ©

 My humor article....   Money Saving Tips for Old Ladies

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sunday Dog Talk

Parked on the living room chair, the dog looked at me with incrimination in his soulful, dark eyes. When are you going to leave that computer keyboard? they seemed to say. Levi was bored. Heck, I was bored! So I put my coat on, grabbed the leash and shouted: “Let’s go get the mail.” It was Sunday but what does he know. A trip to the mailbox always tricks him into thinking I’m not such a bad old person after all.

At the mailbox Levi discovered he’d gotten some pee-mail from the dust-mop looking dog that lives down the street. He lifted his leg to leave a reply then checked his spelling and lifted his leg again to add a P.S. I hope he told him to get a haircut. That dog is a walking paradise for dust mites…unlike Levi with his sleek $45.00 haircut and perfectly trimmed, regulation schnauzer beard. I wonder if he appreciates how frigging much money that is! Probably not. He’s a dog with trashy tastes. He’d rather play with paper towel that accidentally gets too close to the edge of the counter top than to play with his veterinary recommended Kong toy. He hated his designer coat last winter and when Levi goes shopping at Chow Hound he always picks up those disgusting pig’s feet no matter how many times I put them back and show him something else.

After going to the mailbox the dog did what he always does afterward. He took up sentry duty in the library chair where he has a full view of where he leaves his pee-mail. Sure enough, it didn’t take long before a set of Golden Retrievers came by and intercepted his mail to the dust-mop. From the noise he was making you’d think an axe murder was outside the window trying to get inside. Lord, no wonder I couldn’t find the concentration to write my way out of my boredom!

Over Thanksgiving Levi and I watched the 2012 National Kennel Club Dog Show---both of us lying on our stomachs kitty-corner across the bed, giving the screen our full attention. I felt like a teenager again watching the Miss America Pageant only without the popcorn. The show was hosted by John O’Hurley, the guy who played Elaine’s boss on the old Seinfeld show. He strikes just the right tone of pompousness to go along with all those Barbara Doll show dogs. Every once in a while Levi would let out a woof-woof as he watched and he seemed pleased that the Wire Fox Terrier won. He probably knows they both come from common ancestry, the terrier group of "feisty dogs once trained to hunt and kill vermin."

Levi would hunt vermin if I’d let him. We argue about that all the time. Late every afternoon he sees a cat walk through the back yard and he goes nuts trying to get at it. Please, Mom! Just once let me chase that flea bitten, black vermin! Thank God he finally quit barking at birds that come in the yard. It only took him six months to learn a very important house rule: Birds are good and cats are bad.

So this is what my life has reduced to…talking to the dog. Talking about the dog. Talking to myself. Talking to the ghost in the house and wishing I got as much mail as the dog does. He even gets Sunday deliveries! How cool is that! ©

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Candle in a Widow's Window

There’s a dollar store close by and sometimes when I’m out running errands I’ll stop there because I don’t want to go home just yet. A few days ago as I wandered the aisles I came across a box of battery operated Christmas candles, the kind people put in their windows through the holidays. It’s an ancient tradition borrowed from many cultures. In Ireland, for example, during a time when Catholics were persecuted, a candle in the window signified that it was a safe house for priests to visit. In Christianity one candle in the window symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem---three candles, the Holy Family. But it was a tradition of Colonial Williamsburg that triggered a tear to roll down my cheek as I stood in the dollar store. They would place a candle in the window when a family member was off traveling, to welcome them home. Don is never coming home, but for whatever crazy reason my subconscious mind was dreaming up I had an overwhelming compulsion to buy one of those candles…for him.

I stood there for the longest time fighting the compulsion. I had decided not to do any decorating for the holidays this year. What’s the point? My first Christmas without Don is not a time to celebrate, not a time to walk through the motions of hanging ornaments and tinsel. My dad died on Christmas, my mother died on Easter. I know all about grieving through the holidays. I’m a veteran and if you look hard enough you can still see the Band-Aids on my soul. But this time is different. I don’t have Don to help me through it like I did with Dad and Mom’s passing. Call it crazy but it occurred to me that a candle in the window could be a signal to Don’s ghost that he needs to come haunt my thoughts and tell me everything will be okay. Yup. Crazy old widow lady thinks she’s living in Colonial Williamsburg and that a candle in the window will bring back her deader-than-a-doornail husband.

In the end, I bought the candle and if people going by the house think it symbolized the Star of Bethlehem or it’s an ancient sign that travelers are welcome, so be it. But to the saner side of my brain each day when dusk comes I will focus on one special memory as I go through the ritual of turning the candle on. I have no idea if my new tradition will make me feel more or less alone over the holidays. What I do know is that turning that candle on and off through the holidays seems like a good way to face my grief head on---akin to fingering prayer beads, the repetition bringing the message home: life changes and avoiding those changes only makes them hurt more.

Last night’s candle lighting memory was of the first Christmas after Mom died when no one in the family wanted to get together. (She was Christmas. It was her house everyone went dashing through the snow to find on Christmas day.) So that year instead of heading for the countryside, Don and I packed up thermos of chili and coffee, a little wine and cheese, and we headed to the ice formations along the shore of Lake Michigan where we picnicked in the snow. It was a short-lived new tradition of going to the beach on Christmas. By the third year out from mom’s passing the family started getting together again. “To everything there is a season….a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ironic isn’t it. My non-Christian ghost-in-the-house was whispering that Bible verse in my ear to comfort me through my first widow’s candle lighting ceremony.  ©

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dance Montage: Let's Dance

circa 1950, I'm 2nd in line

We all get chain emails---some annoying, some enjoyable. The enjoyable ones often include video clips featuring cute animals, beautiful scenery or photos with humorous captions. But rarely do I get one that brings joy to my heart as much as the one I’m going to write about today and is linked below. It’s a dance montage called Let’s Dance and its set to the music of All These Things That I’ve Done by the Killers. The montage was put together by Barbara Collins and includes clips ranging from Charlie Chaplin to the present day Dancing with the Star’s Maxim and Mel. Of the twenty-six clips there was only one that didn’t evoke a strong memory for me. I guess you’d call that an advantage of growing old. We old people know stuff. We’ve been there, done that and came home with tons of t-shirts that we think about making into quilts.

A lot of women in my advanced age bracket got put into dance classes at a very early age. Shirley Temple movies, no double, being the prime motivator of many parents including mine. Plus the Arthur Murray Dance Studio franchises made it so easy; if you didn’t have a studio in your town they sold dancing lessons by mail. Send in your money and you’d get a set of “footprints” on paper that would teach you the steps. In my town, the local Arthur Murray Studio was also selling poise and self-confidence for any child who’d take their golden trio of tap, ballet and acrobat. I don’t remember how many years I took lessons but judging by the recital photos in my album I’m guessing around five. I washed out of ballet and acrobat early on but I passionately adored tap dancing and I worshiped the greats of my era---Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. The little no talent kid that I was wanted to grow up and marry Gene Kelly. Jean and Gene Kelly has a nice ring don’t you think. (A few years later I had a five alarm crush on Gene Autry, but I digress.) Fast forward many decades later and I have trouble just walking to the bathroom without tripping over my own feet. I guess that Arthur Murray acquired poise and self-confidence didn’t stick.

I’m writing this blog entry for my nieces in hopes that some day if I'm too old to remember how to use the computer that they’ll show me this YouTube montage from time to time. And if it puts a twinkle in my eyes or brings a smile to lips while I’m watching it they’ll know I’m thinking about how these great performances wove in and out of my life. For example, when the Elvis Jailhouse Rock clip appears I remember the little movie theater in a town near-by our summer cottage where I first saw that film back in 1957. When I see the ballerinas performing Swan Lake I remember the college semester I took music appreciation and studied Tchaikovsky (1963). When I see the Michael Jackson clip it reminds me of the day I made Don go see This Is It and he slept through the whole thing. That was 2009. If I had to name a favorite memory this dance montage brings me it would Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain (1952). For some hazy reason beyond my grasp that song, that dance, always reminds me of my dad. Patrick Swayze, The Three Stooges, the cast of the Wizard of Oz---I can’t image anyone not finding a few memories while watching this montage. 

After you view Let’s Dance you’re going to want to see the lineup of performers in the video, so I’ve posted it below. You might even want to know which dance number I had never seen before. That would be Jimmy Cagney dancing down the staircase in the 1942 film, Yankee Doodle Dandy.  I think seeing that movie should go on my Bucket List, don’t you? ©

1) Svetlana Zakharova - Swan Lake  
2) Riverdance - Reel of the Sun
3) Michael Flatley - Lord of the Dance
4) Michael Jackson - Beat It
5) Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse - Singing in the Rain 
6) Elvis - Jailhouse Rock
7) Charlie Chaplin - Modern Times
8) John Travolta/Olivia Newton John - Grease
9) Jimmy Cagney - Yankee Doodle Dandy
10) Debbie Reynolds - Singing in the Rain
11) A Chorus Line
12) Patrick Swayze - Dirty Dancing
13) Natalie Wood/Richard Beymar - West Side Story
14) Al Nims & Leon James doing the Charleston
15) Maxim & Mel B - Dancing with the Stars
16) Elvis and Ann Margret - Viva Las Vegas
17) Michael Jackson from TV Special
18) Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers - Swing Time
19) Gene Kelly - Singing in the Rain
20) All That Jazz
21) Three Stooges get a dance lesson
22) Flashdance
23) Shirley Temple & Bill "Bojangles" Robinson - Just Around the Corner
24) Anne Reinking - All That Jazz
25) Nicholas Brothers - Stormy Weather
26) Wizard of Oz

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lincoln the Movie: a Widow's Impression

Watching the new movie, Lincoln, I fell in love with James Spader’s character W.N.Bilbo, a real-life figure from history. One reviewer called him a “rapscallion” who “worked under the table to sway delegates in the House of Representatives.” I’m not sure what that obscure word means in this century but he was a colorful character with a kind of cockiness that only comes from a healthy dose of self-confidence and he kept me guessing about his moral character and values. Another reviewer called W.N. Bilbo a “charismatic political operative” who worked for Lincoln and by today’s standards would be akin to a lobbyist. Regardless of how you describe the man, he was part of the “Gang of Three” that put pressure on lame-duck Representatives to get them to change their vote on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to end slavery and without the Gang of Three, the course of history would have been vastly different. It wasn’t a huge role in the film compared to some of the other parts but I was fascinated enough to come home and google the guy and read book reviews at Amazon, trying to decide if I have the concentration to tackle the 944 page paperback the movie is based on: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

I saw the film with the movie-and-lunch club from the senior hall but I had to skip the lunch in order to be at home for some scheduled warranty work on the house. That was a big mistake. It made me feel so alone not to have anyone to discuss the movie with. The dog didn’t care that I enjoyed the politics of how Lincoln pushed the amendment through and ended the Civil War, the arm twisting that went on and the unexpected warmth of Lincoln’s personality. The dog didn’t care that I was shocked to see the theater was filled almost to capacity at 11:30 on a Friday morning. The dog didn’t care that when Lincoln was pronounced dead at the end of the movie I had a flash-back to Don’s last day on earth and I had to fight back the tears. And the darn dog didn’t care that I will never look at another penny again without thinking of Lincoln’s passion for and skill at ending slavery.

It’s been a busy week----several appointments, shopping, the movie and lunch with my in-laws. At lunch I was telling my sister-in-law that trying to find and build new friendships is now my biggest challenge in widowhood. In truth I’m very lucky in that regard. I don’t have any of the more common widowhood challenges: financial hardship, being helpless about maintenance issues, dealing with the grief of children, or clinical depression. And I haven’t dealt with feelings of guilt since the first few months---the ‘shoulda, coulda, and woulda’ syndrome that applies to so many life-altering events. In the Lincoln movie they brought out the fact that Mary Lincoln suffered a great deal from feelings of guilt over the death of one of their four sons. Throw in her migraines, chronic depression and possible bi-polar disorder you have a woman whose life was not all it shoulda, coulda, woulda been had fate dealt her a fairer hand. Even so, she lived an extraordinary life during extraordinary times.

Mary Lincoln became a widow in 1865 and it took five years of her lobbying Congress before they granted her (by a narrow margin) a life pension---the same as the widows of Civil War soldiers had been getting since 1861 which she felt she deserved, her husband being the “fallen commander”---in her view. I find it mind-boggling that it took so long for Congress to agree. She was preceded in death by her husband and three sons and in widowhood she even spent time in an asylum for her erratic behavior. All this wasn’t brought out in the movie, of course, but if you’re history or political science buff and you go see the movie keep it in mind. Lincoln won’t disappoint you, but then I say that about all of Steven Spielberg’s movies. I don’t think he knows how to make a mediocre film. ©

Interview with James Spader on Lobbying for the 13th Amendment can be found here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Imperfect in Life, Perfect in Death

We widows tend to put our spouses on pedestals. And why not. There’s nothing to be gained by cataloging the things that used to annoy us when our husbands were alive. It would only make us feel petty or ashamed to remember the hissy-fits we had over things like a forgotten anniversary, tracking snow in the house and toothpaste caps that didn’t get put back on. When our husbands were alive, most of us never would have acknowledged there could come a day when we’d give anything to have one of those little annoyances back in our lives. Not us! Widowhood happens to other people. We were going to live happily ever after. We had our heads in the sand.

But it didn’t happen to someone else. It happened to me. I had no special immunity that protected me from the widowhood word. My imperfect spouse died and my memory of our time together on earth became like a watercolor painting that blurs the details and brings the focal point to the foreground to stay frozen in place for all eternity. But I remember the details. I touch them on my watercolor painting like I’m reading Braille. Those quiet conversations in the night, the smiles that could light my soul on fire, the scent of his after shave, and the shoulder I leaned on when times were hard. I remember in a water color hazy way our whole lives together and I mourn what was and what still could have been.

It’s hard to be alone when you’re used to being half of a whole. It’s hard to think of the future when your arms ache from hugging emptiness and you have so many unspoken words bottled up inside. It’s hard to face the long days and nights. And yet there are many times when I feel his presence still around me, telling me I can do this, telling me I will never be truly alone or have thoughts he doesn’t hear. Maybe it’s because I knew my husband so well that I’m imaging I can hear his voice in my ear. Or maybe I’m just turning into a crazy old lady who wants to believe a ghost is living in the house. A ghost who, in my head, is highly amused that I now picture him not old like he was when he died but young and healthy and ready to slay any dragons that cross my path. A crazy old lady and a knight in shinning armor in love. What’s so funny about that? I tell him. It’s my watercolor memory. I’ll paint it anyway I want.

In the quiet of the night, if I’m totally honest with myself, I know I will eventually come to terms with widowhood and moving forward. I can’t dwell forever in the land of dark and ugly grief. Well, I could but what would that prove? Prolonging grief beyond its nature expiration date won’t honor what my husband and I had together. And the love we shared demands that I must honor him. If I were from another time and place I’d have to throw myself on a knife and die to honor him. But my husband would laugh at that antiquated, drama queen idea and tell me to carve out a new life for myself. “Live, love, laugh and be happy,” he’d sing in my ear. Did I ever tell you my husband had a rich, deep voice like a country western legend?

He’d also tell me I have one year---one year from the day he died before he’d come back and start kicking ass if I haven’t taken enough steps toward finding a future of peace and acceptance. Death wouldn’t have changed my perfect, imperfect spouse’s values and that’s how I know that his ghost wants to see joy and happiness back in my life---sooner rather than later. He was my biggest fan, was always proud of me, and that is the focal point in my watercolor painting that will be frozen in place for all eternity. So I will do the mental work it takes to get me through to the other side of grief. The bottom line is we widows should accept no less for ourselves than what our spouses would want for us, if they still had a voice in our futures. ©

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Holiday Blues in Widowhood Land

It had been four days since I’ve talked to another human being so today I decided to go to the gas station and while I was pumping gas I saw my first 18 wheeler full of Christmas trees, going through town on their way to some southern state. It happens every year about this time, of course, but seeing them today sent me instantly to a place of pain. For the past twelve years we had a tradition of counting all the Christmas trees we’d see on the top of cars during November and December. On the weekends after Thanksgiving we’d even grab a coffee at Starbucks and sit at an intersection where there are Christmas tree farms in three directions. It started out to be a speech class exercise, for Don to get out numbers, but it evolved into a wheelchair friendly activity that we could do to get us in the mood for the holidays. Most years we chalked up on our little chart, over 125 trees. Seeing the 18 wheeler today made me realize I need to avoid the “tree farms” corner until after Christmas. I don’t need 125 reminders that Don is gone and I’ll need to build new traditions.

The last day of October I sent an e-mail reservation in for a Christmas luncheon at the senior center next month and I got a message back saying, “Sorry, we’ve filled our quota of 115 reservations already.” I didn’t think going to that party meant all that much to me until I got the rejection. Damn, it’s going to be a lonely season! At least the pet store won’t let me down. I can still put ‘reindeer horns’ on Levi and take him in for their humane society fund raiser and photo shoot with Santa. He will snack up and down the aisle of bulk treats that I’ll end up buying, pick out a new toy for his Christmas present and greet the other dogs all doing the same things.

I was looking at a photo album a week or two ago and found an old black and white of a Christmas tree with presents underneath. It was taken back when I was six or seven years old. At the side of the tree was a child’s table and chairs my parents got at the Salvation Army store, plus a doll with her array of homemade clothing. Can you believe it; I still have all that stuff! I’ve been planning to put a new coat of paint on the table and chairs so I can use the set as a coffee table combo and to frame a few of the doll’s clothing for my dream condo when I downsize next year.

Fast forward to one of the first Christmas’ after Don and I met. His idea of decorating back then was taking a full string of Christmas tree lights and making a ‘crown’ for the deer head hanging on his front porch. This was at a time in my life when I was spending 14 hour days decorating rich people’s houses and clubs for their holiday parties. I guess the point I’m trying to make to myself is this: time marches on and holiday traditions change---sometimes by happy choice, other times out of necessity. Traditions this year will be non-existence in my widowhood world so I’ll need to ‘cowboy up’ to get through the season. Can I do it without spilling a few tears? Heck yes! Whenever I feel those pangs of regret and missing Don coming on I’m going to pretend I’m Daron Norwood and start singing at the top of my lungs: “I can make it on my own. These can't be tears in my eyes 'cause cowboys don't cry. Cowboys don’t cry.” ©

Christmas is a time when you get homesick - even when you're home.
Carol Nelson

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Christmas Craft Show Tour in Widowhoodville

I must be a glutton for punishment with no more sense than an amoeba living in a back yard pond. Today I decided to do the annual craft show tour, hop scotching around town to see what the various fairs had to offer to the early Christmas shoppers. It was a tradition Don and I acquitted to support the union retirees at one place and the senior citizens hall at another and it grew from there, adding three more stops on our tour. Don loved the crowds and the homemade baked goods for sale and we’d always ran into people we knew.

As I backed out of the driveway the radio was set on the Prime Country [cry-your-eyes-out] station and as the Chief Glutton for Punishment in the car I didn't switch the channel. When will I ever learn? It wasn't long after that Dolly Parton was singing:

“Why'd you come in here lookin' like that
In your cowboy boots and your painted-on jeans
All decked out like a cowgirl's dream
Why'd you come in here looking like that?”

Damn it! Those words reminded me of Don all dressed up in his favorite attire and that was enough to put his ghost riding shotgun in my passenger seat. By the time I got to my first stop, the senior hall, I wasn’t even sure I could go in. But I did because I’m a super-duper trooper, don’t you know, and who cares if you're misty-eyed at a craft show? Inside, I collected a hug from the center’s director---she cared---and I bought an item from their garage sale room for fifteen cents. It was a wire wreath to hold Christmas cards. I came close to buying one just like it, only new, a few weeks ago but I didn’t like the $25.00 price tag. Okay, that didn’t turn out so bad, I thought. Things were looking up.

The next stop was to the retiree’s hall where I knew quite a few people and several mentioned missing Don. One vendor who had sold Don a handmade item last year that I hated on sight couldn’t say enough nice things about him and that made me feel guilty about giving the piece to Salvation Army a few months ago. Another vendor who is old enough to be my mother talked to me about finding someone else, “It doesn’t have to be the same kind of romance or love,” she said. “It’s just nice to have someone to be with.” “I know,” I replied, “but I’m not ready for that.” Darn those damn tears! They started in again and I had to leave her booth. Whose stupid idea was it for me to go there today? Oh, ya, that would be my own stupid idea.

Back in the car the cry-your-eyes out radio station was blasting out Mickey Gilley singing Stand by Me. I sighed deeply. Instead of bringing tears, though, that song brought a wave of peace over me as I listened. It's always had that effect on my emotions.

“When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me”

For months on end I played that song every night at bedtime and Levi knew that was his clue to do our version of dog-dancing. It served several purposes one being human-to-canine bonding, another being human and canine exercise, but the most important reason---at least now in hindsight---was that our antics never failed to make Don laugh. Gilley’s version isn’t my favorite cut of Stand by Me, but I can honestly say I’ve never heard a version I didn’t like. When the piece ended this afternoon in the car, I looked over at the ghost riding shotgun in my passenger seat and I said, “Let’s go home. The Christmas craft shows suck this year.” ©

Below is a link to my favorite version of Stand by Me. I love how it keeps building as they add street performers from around the world. If you're not award of the 'Playing for Change' project here is what they say on their website: "Playing for Change is a multimedia movement created to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music. The idea for this project arose from a common belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. No matter whether people come from different geographic, political, economic, spiritual or ideological backgrounds, music has the universal power to transcend and unite us as one human race. And with this truth firmly fixed in our minds, we set out to share it with the world."   Playing for Change