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

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Old Women and The Butler


The movie and lunch club I belong to through the senior hall picked the movie I was hoping we’d see this month---The Butler with Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey in the leading roles of a large ensemble cast with many celebrity cameos. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact I feel safe speaking for the whole group when I say we were all emotionally affected by the film and we all loved it. At lunch the movie and our own personal experiences observing racism dominated the conversation. With other movies we’ve seen we'd usually make a few comments about the film and then go on to other topics. Not this time.

For those who haven’t read the reviews or seen the promo trailer of The Butler, the storyline is based on the real-life accounts of Eugene Allen, a White House butler who serviced through eight presidential administrations. From 1952 through 1986 he had a unique view of notable events in the Civil Rights Movement---the Freedom Riders, sit-ins and voter registrations drives in the South and the tear gassings, attack dogs and fire bombings designed to try to stop them. But as the New York Times movie reviewer so aptly put it, “The genius of ‘The Butler’ lies in the sly and self-assured way it connects public affairs to private experience. Early on, Cecil Gaines, the character loosely based on Mr. Allen, is taught that he, like every other African-American who wants to survive in a white-dominated world, must have two faces.”

I am white. I think you all know that from the photo in the right hand column. But what you don’t know is I am a white woman who was raised in a white neighborhood, went to an all white grade school, high school and college. In all my years in the work place I never had an African American co-worker. I do, however, have vivid memories of watching the news with my father that came out of places like Birmingham, Alabama, of the non-violent Civil Rights sit-ins that were met by high pressured fire hoses and attack dogs. It affected my dad to his core and we had a lot of talks about race after that. He was raised in southern Illinois and had witnessed the “handiwork” of the Ku Klux Klan---hangings and cross burnings---and his father had experienced racism as an Italian immigrant working in the coal mines where Italians were paid less than the whites but more than the blacks all doing the same job. Dad had even been to a funeral where he was shocked to see their neighbor reposed in his coffin all dressed up in a white sheet and hood. Dad said it was the only time a Klansman would reveal his identity to the public. One sign-of-the-times he grew up in always stuck in my mind. He said even as a boy of 8-10 years old he could never understand why grown black men always stepped off the sidewalk to let him pass by.

Fast forward to a time when Dad was dying of cancer and Tiger Woods had broken the color barrier in professional golf to go on to win the 1999 PGA Championship. Dad was so proud that he had lived long enough to see America’s race relationships change that much. I wish he could have lived long enough to see Obama get elected. Eugene Allen, the butler, did and he was invited to be an honorary guest at the Obama’s presidential inauguration.

We often think the times we grew up and live in are nothing special or noteworthy. We think what happens in the news is just part of the daily stress or white noise of living in a complex society. History before we were born always seems more important, more interesting and more dramatic, then a movie comes along showing news clip after news clip that proves otherwise. I lived through the booming post WWII 40s, the idyllic (if you’re white) 50s, the turbulent 60s and 70s and so on. I didn’t have a part in helping to change the world regarding race relationships in this country. It was only through my association with my dad and his hope-for-the-world-to-change that I had the table set for me to look beyond race when people like Barbara Jordan, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Barack Obama and countless others living ordinary lives came along. Thanks, Dad, for that. America is growing up---still has a long way to go but we’ll get there eventually. That’s what The Butler gives to those who see the movie…a gut wrenching emotional experience at first, then pride that meaningful changes can be documented over just one man’s lifetime. At least that was the consensus at my all white movie and lunch club. Black movie goers might not agree. They might wonder why it took so long. One thing I do know for sure is the movie isn’t just about black history---quote, unquote---it’s about everyone’s collective history.  ©

Movie Trailer


  1. I love this Jean! Paula

  2. Thank you Paula! I really feel this is a great movie that needs to be seen. It has it all...love, hate, history, a touch of humor, family,White House settings, good acting and it leaves you haunted for days.

  3. Jean :

    we also this movie, theater was full of senior citizens along with us lol. we loved the movie. I am grateful that America has grown up into such a responsible young adult. Even though I was aware of civil rights movement & other things this movie made huge impact on me, and now having black president shows to every one how far this country has come, and I feel proud to be citizen.


  4. Asha, when I saw the movie it was 11:00 in the morning on the first day of release and I was amazed at how many people were in the theater. Glad you were as impressed by it as I was. I've been telling everyone I run into to go see it. Thanks for sharing your views!

  5. I have been waiting for the release because I want to see it too. Although, a lot of my "friends" on Face Book are going to boycott it because of Jane Fonda--which is idiotic to me. The Reagan's and the Fonda's were friends in their Hollywood days and Mrs. Reagan is pleased that Jane is playing her part. HOWEVER--just as in the movie "Lincoln" there is a bit of mis-information. In Lincoln, it was portrayed that the representatives from Connecticut all voted against the Emancipation Proclamation--which is absolutely untrue. In this film, they show President Reagan being more concerned with World events and communism then he was with Civil Rights--which is also false. I guess I think historical fiction, should still get the facts straight. I just dislike the fact that people who aren't knowledgeable about history will see a movie and base their "ongoing" knowledge on it.

  6. I've seen the threads on the political site I go to about boycotting the film because of Jane Fonda's involvement in Vietnam. I, too, think that is a stupid reason not to see it. For one thing, she's only on screen for a minute or two. For another thing if we get into boycotting films because we don't agree with something someone in a bit part did in their lives we'd never get to see any movies.

    I've also seen threads about the so called mis-information in this film and I've also seen the rebuttals. In my opinion the rebuttals win on three of the four counts that are circulating on Right Wing sites. Changing the name of the butler, for example, isn't mis-information. The movie isn't a documentary of his life, it's based loosely on his life. Big difference. On the forth point of contention---how Reagan is portrayed I think that is an honest difference of opinion. Reagan's legacy certainly is more about communism---"take down this wall!"---than it in Civil Rights. All and all both Reagan's come off well in the film.

  7. Right on, Jean! In the U.S., black history is everyone's history! I really appreciate your own personal, family take on it. Thank you!

  8. Fichereader, I'm trying to be brave and write about edger topics and experiences that turned me into the 'flaming liberal' that I am. LOL

  9. I haven't seen it, but I'm looking forward to it. It sounds like some of the performances will bring Oscar nominations. I'm old enough to remember what it was like. The clan was still pretty significant where I lived when I was a teenager and even a young woman. I remember a meeting that took place one night in a field near my grandmother's house. Everyone knew about it. Scary times. We've come a long way but still have a way to go.

  10. Bella Rum, thanks for sharing that! It really wasn't that long ago, was it. Scary indeed!

    I've often wondered what my life would be like if I had been raised in the deep south, whether or not my views would have been influenced more by peer pressure than family. The story of how my grandfather got his family up north is quite extraordinary. As an immigrant he'd been through many things but still was very much in love with American his entire life.