Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Charm Bracelet and the Devil at Book Club


Women's fiction writer Debbie Macomber says The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman, is “Utterly Charming!” And another back cover blurb sums up the story this way, “Through an heirloom charm bracelet, three women will rediscover the importance of family, love, faith, friends, fun, and a passion for living as each charm changes their lives.” 

The story centers around a 70 year woman, Lotty, who lives in rural Michigan, close to a small town that everyone in my book club thought was patterned after Saugatuck, a popular tourist place on Lake Michigan. Her daughter gets a phone call from someone who’s worried about Lotty so she and Lotty’s granddaughter take vacations to go to stay with Lotty for a few weeks to assess what’s going on with Lotty’s memory loss and while they’re visiting they learn the stories behind the charms on the bracelet that Lotty hasn’t taken off since she was a teenager. I found it hard to believe that a person could get that old without having already told those stories to her daughter and granddaughter, but a book has to have some structure to hang its chapters on so I could overlook that head scratcher. All but one person in the club thought it was a nice, light summer read, an unabashedly sentimental story. The odd man out called it “corny” and note it wasn’t me. I found it fascinating, though, that three others reported crying through out the read while the book didn’t milk even one tear out of my eyes. The only emotion it stirred in me was a burning curiosity about where the author lives and an increased fear of not having family closer by if dementia shows up at my dinner table.

A google search turned up the fact that the author is actually a guy---a gay guy who lives in Saugatuck. His ‘Viola Shipman’ pen name belonged to his grandmother, and he’s a critically acclaimed author with nine published books---six of which are non-fiction memoir-style under his real name (Wade Rouse) and three fiction books under the pen. I’ve probably mentioned before that I have a love/hate relationship with my book club and I couldn’t wait to share this detail on book discussion day, knowing several members belong to churches that condemns homosexuality. Ya, I know. That’s Mean Girl thinking, isn’t it, wanting to taunt them with reality, but on the other hand I could talk myself into believing I had an altruistic goal of illustrating without words that you can’t judge a person’s worth by their sexuality. You be my judge---devil or angel. If I had to put a label on my big reveal I’d called it passive aggressiveness. 

I didn’t bring the pen name thing up until after everyone had shared their opinion of The Charm Bracelet. Then I told the group I had tracked down one of the author’s memoir books and it covered a period of time when he and his partner bought a cottage near Saugatuck and he quit his job to write full time. The cottage was the same one he described in The Charm Bracelet. I never got to the part about how they occasionally referred to Saugatuck as Gayberry, a nickname that’s been around since the 1920s when it first appeared in an underground tourist guide of gay friendly places. (The things you learn when you collect antique maps and travel guides, like my husband did!) But I never got a chance to mention Gayberry---the open secret most tourists don't know about---because another book club member challenged me by saying, “Oh, no, the author is married and has four children! I’m sure I read that somewhere. Can't be gay.” I replied, “I just finished reading one of his memoirs and at 40 he’d been in a ten year relationship with his partner and he didn’t have any kids.” She insisted again and she started talking about the son in the book at which point we all knew she had her books and authors mixed up because there was no son in The Charm Bracelet

After that little “oops!” I shared the fact that Wade Rouse’s memoir had me laughing out loud so many times that the dog got up and left the room, giving me a dirty look for disturbing his sleep. Before the move to rural Michigan, Wade was a city guy who, like me, loved his Starbucks. Even his dog, he wrote, was so citified she didn’t know how to walk on a leash without cement underneath her feet. The book---titled At Least in the City Someone Would hear me Scream---was one of those books I didn’t want to end. When I finished sharing these last few sentences, no one said a word. Not. One. Word. It’s not unusual for us to talk about other books besides the one we’d all just read, so that wasn’t it. They just stared at me, looking like goldfish waiting for someone to drop some floating food pellets into their tank. The little devil on my shoulder laughed, but the angel on the other shoulder felt guilty for shocking the ladies speechless. Either way, I couldn’t help it. I found this author’s memoir humor to be too good not to share. (Humor was all but absent in the book club selection.)

On Wade’s website I found out he does library talks from time to time in my hometown and you can bet the next time he’s in town to hawk a book or host a workshop for to would-be-writers, I’ll be there. And I’ll be wearing my charm bracelet with its fifteen silver charms. ©
 
Note: the photo at the top is my bracelet, started when I graduated from high school and finished ten years later with the love birds---Don and me. Now, that's what corny looks like.

33 comments:

  1. Sounds like a real good author! Wish I could read anymore ...

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    1. I go in streaks---reading everything I can get my hands on and then only reading what I have to. Right now I'm hoping to cut down on reading to do other things.

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  2. It certainly seems that you took your book group out of their comfort zone into places that they didn’t want to be! So was that polite silence: we will let this moment pass and then we can discuss more palatable topics again?

    My sister and I both had charm bracelets when we were kids: given to us by our grandmother and every year on our birthday she used to add another charm. She died when I was 10 so I am not sure if it stopped then or that my mother and grandfather continued until it was filled. I still have it too.
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. I think you hit the nail on the head. Several ladies for sure would have had trouble wrapping their heads around the fact that they read an entire book written by a gay guy and that I so sought out his memoir to read willing. I have always loved that town and read the memoir because I wanted to know what it was like to live there. The humor was totally unexpected.

      In our generation charm bracelets were quite the fad. Now they have the Pandora charms and the keepsake necklaces you put little charms inside a clear medallion. We all wore our charm bracelets to the meeting and that was fun.

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  3. Good for you, Jean. Make those straitlacers reckon with their prejudices. Way to toss their tuffets.

    I think I need to be in that book club. How far of a drive would it be, do you think? LOL.

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  4. Not sure but you'd have to stay over night. LOL

    It's one of those things about creative people that I think some people in the club might have faced, too. If you know too much about their personal lives (like in the case of John Wayne who was a strong supporter of the NRA)it's harder to like what they create on screen or in literature. My husband loved John until he became the spokesperson for the NRA.

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  5. perhaps it's time to seek out another book club

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    1. Would a book club where everyone thinks exactly the same way be any fun or lead to growth in our own way of looking at the world? I doubt it. We read to expand our mines and talking about books should do the same.

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  6. Not sure the Charm Bracelet book would appeal to me though yours looks interesting. However you have me interested in his memoir. Love humor though it appears your club doesn't.

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    1. I honestly would not recommend The Charm Bracelet but if you're open mined enough to be curious about what life is like for a gay couple or moving from a busy city to a very small community, I promise the "...Hear me Scream..." book will make you laugh.

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  7. This is exactly the reason I avoid book clubs. I try to stop and think but I’m not good at pausing for anything. I try to consider that if I’m just itching to set someone straight about something I’m probably not the one that needs to do it. Ulterior motive usually present in there somewhere. As you know, it’s a struggle for me not to set straight the ‘super saints’ of the world. Knowing that’s impossible I generally try to avoid them. It’s very hard to set things straight when the other person is not working from a base of fact.

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    1. I like book clubs because they force you to read outside of your comfort zone and sometimes that leads to either great discussions or finding authors or books you like. The only kind of book club I avoid are the ones where they concentrate on the Bible or books that come Christian Publishing Houses. Those kinds of book clubs are common around here.

      Ulterior motives do matter when presenting a fact that others might not like knowing. But in this case I absolutely loved his memoir-style writing and figured a few in the group would like reading about life in Saugatuck, since it's such a popular place for people where I live to visit. Heck, even our senior hall (who sponsors two book clubs) takes bus loads of people to Saugatuck for restaurant hops ever couple of years.

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  8. I will have to read his Scream book! Ah ha ha ha! I love how smart you are ... waiting to tell them after they commented!

    We are going on vacation next week, about a 4 hour drive. I finally figured out how to get audible books from our library and play it through blue tooth in the car. So I've got "A Walk in The Woods" by Bill Bryson. Although not read by him, so not nearly as good!

    I always wanted a charm bracelet but I couldn't decide on a "theme" ... places I visited? Gifts from Mr. Ralph? Christmas only? Mine would fill up to fast without limiting somehow.

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    1. I'm glad someone came along that knows Rouse's "Scream" book!

      Learning to get audible from the library is one of my tech goals, too. I have read "A Walk in the Woods" by Bryson and enjoyed it. I'm kind of drifting to reading more biographical books lately.

      I never knew people had charm bracelets with themes before our book club and, of course, reading this book. In the book all the charms were bought to inspire something in the future where most of us had charms collected as gifts or souvenirs. One woman had a western theme that was near. Her dad bought all the charms when we was small and he traveled. And one woman had enough charms on her's that you literally couldn't see any of them...100? Her's was a travel and life event themes. Two women at book club each had 12 holiday themed charm bracelets, one to wear for each month. They were colorful but the least interesting of all the bracelets there.

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  9. My Charms: Two charms are from colleges I attended; the two dogs because I’ve always been a dog person; the cat my mom probably bought, she was a cat person; I think she also bought the ‘happy birthday’ sign on my 21th; the Statue of Liberty and Boston sailing ship were from a vacation out east in the ‘70s; the flowering can represents I place I worked a lot of years; the camera, sewing machine and paint palette were serious hobbies, (I used to have a pair of skies charm but it was too big and I took it off after the guy who gave it to me was out of my life); and the hope chest, key and birds are all romance related.

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  10. I got quite a chuckle from this. You gave your book club members a real dose of reality. I’m glad you’re able to continue in the group as you surely give them something to think about. Interesting charm bracelet filled with memories you have.

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    1. There is always one lady in the book club who comes up to me afterwards and whispers that she agrees with what I said about this or that or to say she's glad I spoke up. When I talked this week I looked at her broad, smiling face and I knew she knew the gay connection was making waves with a few of the others.

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  11. You are making my book club look positively progressive, my dear. We tend to have all different perspectives on all books and are not afraid to say so. Having said that, a gay author would not be cause for distress, lol. In fact I think we loved the German Girl, all of us- at least the first half, and isn't he living with his partner?

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    1. I was in another book club that was more "progressive" than this one but we do have some good discussions. A disproportional number of the ladies were school teachers and that creates a kind of pecking order in MY mind but probably not in theirs. One lady was a minister and 3-4 were nurses.

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  12. My first thought was: how do you cope up with that group?! and still don't understand how you can be you (or Don) in the environment you both grew up in, and found each other!

    But, like you said, not good to be in cookie-cutter group, and differences are definitely good. ~ Libby

    PS - am I the only one that has to tick zillion pix to prove I'm not a robot?! makes me feel really, really stupid.

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    1. Very true about growing up in this environment. It's a LOT more progressive now than when we were in our teens through our 40s. Both Don and I got rejected a lot on the dating scene because we weren't members of the church choir, so to speak.

      When I go to other blogs on the Blogger platform I only have to click once prove I'm a human. I wonder if because you're coming in from overseas if they make you jump through more hoops? I know since I added the feature I haven't gotten a single piece of spam and most spam comes from out of the country. Sorry it to make everyone do it but thanks for being persistent and getting through!

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  13. Good Sunday morning Jean. After reading your blog about the book that you were talking about I thought it wasn't the type of book for me but when you continued and the author I got more interested about him and him. He seemed a very knowledgeable guy and I might check on his other books. I laughed when that other person in your group said that he must be married with 4 children. Why do people always think that way?
    Mary Lou had a charm bracelet and I gave her many charms throughout our marriage and today I have no idea where it's at. Oh well. I believe that you would be a great author writing a book. You are great with words and I would buy and read your books. Give it a try. Enjoy Sunday my friend in Michigan. See ya.

    Cruisin Paul

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    1. Paul, a person would have to be open minded about the gay community to enjoy Wade's memoirs. I, too, don't understand why people think a person who is gay would not be married with children. Happened all the time when more gays were in the closet than they are today.

      Mary Lou is not the only one who doesn't still wear their charm bracelets. We all had to dig to find ours and a few ladies couldn't.

      I can't write books, I tried. I found my writing niche in 1,000 wrote essays that I then blog.

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  14. Thanks for that book recommendation (At Least in the City Someone Would hear me Scream). I like books that make me laugh, especially these days. I just ordered it from Amazon, will let you know what I think of it.

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    1. Like I told Paul up above, you have to be open minded to appreciate reading a memoir about a gay couple's big life changing move. I just got his dog book last night on my Kindle. We can exchange book reviews later on.

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  15. You crack me up! No that bracelet of yours isn't what "corny" looks like; it's what love looks like.

    I'm not really interested in the Charm Bracelet book I don't think, at least right now. But Wade's memoir sounds great and just up my alley..I'm a sucker for a humorous memoir! Thanks for the heads up.

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    1. The Charm Bracelet isn't one I'd recommend. Part of its charm---no pun intended---for us was because it was set in places we thought we'd been to but with factional names. Reading his memoir cracked me up. I hope you have the same sense of humor, if you try it.

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  16. I'm definitely going to check out that book and author, Jean. You are a (mean) girl after my own heart. I would have done the same as you - let those tightasses give their reviews, then reveal that they were complimenting and enjoying the writing of a gay man. Doesn't sound like you opened any minds, but you certainly shook them up and you get 12/10 from me for doing so. Rock on, Jean!

    Deb

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    1. I think when they went home and thought about the story and who wrote it, it will work on their minds. It did with me and I'm accepting of the gay community. There are probably a few others in the group who are too but they didn't show themselves in that moment.

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  17. I don't wear my charm bracelet anymore. It seems to catch threads on my shirts, or it just gets in the way. I should sell it. It would probably be worth enough for groceries for a month!

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    1. If you have real silver charms it might be worth taking into a place that buys gold and silver to see what they'd estimate its worth. No one in my book club wears their's anymore either.

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  18. I've heard of him! He gave a talk and signing at the local bookstore here in Gaylord -- they had a whole table devoted to his books. I didn't see him (it was the week I had to go home) and I'm not sure I would have gone just because it sounded a little too Hallmark Movie for me, but now that I know about his memoirs, I would have gone and probably bought one.

    And good on you at the book club. People need to be shaken up a little bit and realize that people are people, all different but that doesn't make them bad or wrong.

    I think you should come to Lansing and join our book club. We are a lively group of very liberal women who bring great food, don't require the book be read, read all kinds of stuff and usually have more than one political discussion during the evening. Our book club's resident lesbian, Penny (aka the Commotion) would have done exactly what you did in that situation. Although it doesn't sound like she ever would have been invited to join. Pity. She brings a lot to the table!

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    1. The Hallmark Movie comment is a perfect way to describe his Viola books, which are a tribute to his grandmother. According to his website he'a all over the state and writes for travel magazines about Michigan.

      I would love your book club! What's not to love? My book club members we don't get to choose. They come from a waiting list of people who signed up through the senior hall. They have two and I used to be in the other one that was a better balance but I had to drop out when my husband go too sick near the end and by time I signed up again my slot was filled.

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