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

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Code Talkers and the Trump Fan


I got to the senior hall early on Thursday because I wasn’t born yesterday and if you want a prime parking space that’s what you have to do. Heck, if you want a parking space---period---in the winter when snow piles are everywhere you need to get there a half hour early or you’ll be hiking in from the street. I guessed from the lecture topic we’d be hearing about that all 160 seats would be filled and I wasn’t wrong. A lot of people wanted to hear about the Code Talkers, the Navajo Indians who were mostly 15/16 year old kids living on Reservations or at Mission Schools when they were recruited to join the Marines during WWII. Yup, the same Mission schools where Indian kids would get their mouths washed out with soap for speaking Navajo were recruited to use that same language in the Pacific Theater.

The Code Talkers started out with just twenty-nine guys. At the time, there was no written Navajo language and it had no alphabet and only a scant handful of people world-wide spoke the language who weren’t Navajo. The teens were tested against coding machines passing communications back and forth and the Native Americans could do in minutes what it took the military equipment two hours to cipher. Over the next 30 days they developed 450 new words for military equipment and terms which they had to memorize plus they had learn to use Morse code and how to use wire and radio transmission equipment. The program proved its value quickly and more Navajos were enticed to enlist.

Encyclopedia.com says, “Over 540 Navajo served in the Marines during World War II, nearly 300 served in the field as code and communications experts. Navajo code talkers operated in all six Marine divisions, and served in every major Pacific battle between 1942 and 1945. At the battle of Iwo Jima, a small unit of six Navajo code talkers, under the command of 5th Marine Division signal officer, Major Howard Connor, transmitted and received nearly 1,000 messages in 48 hours.”

I already knew that each Code Talker had two Marines assigned to them to protect them from harm and who were supposed to kill them if the Code Talker had been captured. That was to protect the code from being tortured out of one of them. But I didn’t know they also had to protect them from being shot by other Americans who occasionally mistook the Navajos for Japanese individuals who they assumed were wearing a stolen uniform.

Our speaker became interested in the Code Talkers because her daughter lives on a Navajo reservation in Arizona and she had a patient who was one of the original twenty-nine. The last of the Code Talkers died this year and our speaker did a slide show of many of these guys, telling us what became of them after the war. Many of them suffered from what we call PTSD today, made all the worse because they were forbidden to talk about what they did in the war. The Code Talker program wasn’t declassified for 23 years because the military thought they might use it again. Most of the Code Talkers also didn’t get any military veteran’s benefits because they weren’t considered American citizens of the U.S.A. since they lived on Reservation land.

Reagan, Clinton and G.W. Bush all found ways to honor the Code Talkers and Obama left his legacy, too, by signing bills into law that help Native Americans. Then came Trump who, at a ceremony in the White House where three Code Talkers were being honored he joked about “Pocahontas.” That was bad enough but worse was he held the entire ceremony in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, the president who signed the Indian Removal Act, leading to tens of thousands of Native Americans being forced to relocate, many dying along the Trail of Tears. Was Trump sending a veiled, racist message or is he just that tone-deaf or uneducated that he nor anyone on his staff understood the poor optics he was sending out into the world? Was there was nowhere else in the White House or even in the same room where all the news coverage didn’t have to include Jackson in the photo-opts?

According to our speaker the people on the reservation where her daughter lives were upset about the Jackson portrait and they had no doubt it was a purposeful act of disrespect. (Note how the podium was placed.) When the speaker shared that opinion a person sitting behind me said, “You just had to go there, didn’t you!” I turned around to see who said that and it wasn’t hard to figure out since I always sit in the next to the last row. The woman had a sour look on her face that made me want to laugh at her discomfort. I turned back around quickly so she couldn’t see the smile I was sure was growing on my face. And I don’t want to examine that smile too deeply because I’m pretty sure it’s a character flaw to enjoy another person’s anger. ©

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Mary Sunshine versus Gloomy Eeyore


In the same week my book club handed out our March read, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks---a story involving a woman who died of cervical cancer---one of my Gathering Girls pals announced that she has stage one cervical cancer. That announcement came within days of me reading, “Doctors examined her inside and out, pressing on her stomach, inserting new catheters into her bladder, fingers into her vagina and anus, needles into her veins.” How's that for dark-side serendipity? In my friend’s case her lady parts had been removed a month prior but at the time she was being vague about the reason for the hysterectomy and dumb me, cancer never entered my mind. It wasn’t until she’d had the first of six chemo infusions that she was ready to talk about the “C” word to anyone. She had to process the information herself first, she said. 

Other than my dad who died of lung cancer in 1999, I’ve never known a single person with cancer and over the seven months between his diagnosis and his death, Dad often doubted that he actually had it. He choose not to get any treatments and other than being on oxygen his life didn’t change much over those months except my brother and I set up a share-care schedule to give him a lot more oversight and help around his house. My friend’s son and daughter have also stepped up to the plate to give her the kind of support that anyone in that situation couldn’t help but be grateful for and proud to get. Or maybe mothers just expect that kind of pay-back as their due and why not. I’ve never been a mother but I’ve seen enough of them in action to know how much time and energy goes into raising good kids. 

All of my Gathering Girls pals have kids and all but one of them lost their husband’s when their kids were young and they never remarried. The ‘but one’ lost her second life-partner last year but he'd been living in a nursing home a long time. Sadly, I doubt our little social group will still be around in five years. One lady is diabetic and does dialysis at home, another has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a third has been known to pass out for reasons the doctors can’t pin-point, one lives with chronic back pain and, of course, there’s our newly anointed cancer patient. I’m one of the two left, and neither of us has serious medical issues going on. But at our ages, we’re only a fall away from a broken hip and ending up in a nursing home like a woman I asked about recently who was absent from the monthly lecture series. (Her kids sold her condo so she can't go back and she was such an active, vibrant woman.) Egads, I'm doing it again! I'm borrowing trouble from the future, but I do wonder if I'm doomed to wander the earth looking for new friends like Eeyore looking for his lost tail. Am I going to be that person who hangs around the lobby of a senior-care facility with an invisible sign around my neck that reads: Will you be my friend?

On the other hand, I love how Winnie-the-Pooh tells Eeyore, “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” It’s basically the same thing Ann Landers told me when I wrote to her advice column back in my twenties when I thought I’d never meet my forever-guy. I could probably find her letter to quote accurately if I bothered to look in my old diaries but as near as I can remember she said, “Get out and do things you enjoy doing and it will happen.” So I signed up for every leisure time class I could find and I joined a bowling league. The rest is history. And then a few years ago my forever-guy died and I was off again, looking for friends. This time down at the senior hall and the Gathering Girls group was born. Like Eeyore rebuilding his house in the forest that keeps getting knocked down, we have to keep rebuilding our social circles. It never stops. I wish I could see that in a sunshiny way but I can't.

Eeyore’s Poem (by A.A. Milne)

Christopher Robin is going.
At least I think he is.
Where?
Nobody knows.
But he is going –
I mean he goes
(To rhyme with “knows”)
Do we care?
(To rhyme with “where”)
We do
Very much.

Christopher Robin was presumably going off to school but the lesson in the story could apply to any loss of friendship or love. Back when I first set up this blog I found that lesson in the Winnie-the-Pooh quote that is at the top of this page: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” Little Miss. Mary Sunshine couldn’t have said it any better. But today it’s raining in my Eeyore-like world. Processing the “C” word---even in others you care about---can do that to you. ©

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Books, Jell-O and Sentimentality


Our senior hall has a once-a-year book presentation given by a storyteller/librarian and anyone who’s been to one of her speeches never wants to miss the next one. She picks a batch of books from a certain genre and her excitement over their plots and authors is infectious. I could listen to her all day. The funny thing is I get her book list hand-outs but rarely read any of her picks which just goes to show you don’t have to be a reader to enjoy a great book talk. This week’s presentation was titled ‘Chillers and Thrillers’ and it included the following books: In the Kingdom of Ice, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Those Who Wished me Dead, Under a Flaming Sky, The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, On Desperate Ground, The Woman in the Window, Enemy of the Good, and The Plea. 

Right now I’m reading two books. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Homegoing by Yaa Guasi. The first book is a true story of a poor tobacco farmer whose cells were taken without her knowledge and they became the basis for developing a wide variety of medical advancements. That one is for our March book club discussion. The other book, Homegoing, is one my great-niece highly recommended to me, telling her mom, “I thought of Aunt Jean the entire time I was reading this!” How could I not download that one on my Kindle? I haven’t gotten far enough into it to understand why my great-niece sees me in the pages but I’ve read enough reader reviews on Amazon to know the book gets heavily involved in genealogy research. I’m at a point in the book where one African tribe is helping the English capture another tribe’s members to sell in the slave trade. I’ve never uncovered anything remotely that dramatic or tragic in my family tree but the mystery and thrill of the hunt is what keeps most genealogy hobbyists going.

I took two clothe grocery bags full of books to the library’s semi-annual book sale this week. They were all cookbooks. I don’t cook. I never did. Still, it was hard paring down my collection so that all the cookbooks I have left fit on two running feet of shelving. As I was unloading the books on the library donation cart I had second thoughts about a book on making desserts with Jell-O. I put it on the cart and I took it back off several times, then I held it midway in between trying to understand why I cared about that book. It was from an era when ladies in TV commercials served Jell-O with the same flare as the chefs on the Food Network do today, but I hadn’t opened that book in decades. Did it remind me of my mom? The day before, my niece and I had been looking through my family photos and that made me overly sentimental, I thought. Still, I wanted to keep that Jell-O book so badly but I didn’t and I regretted it all the way home. Why on earth Marie Kondo didn’t pop into my head and tell me to keep the darn, joyful little thing is a mystery I’ll never understand.

What makes some of us more sentimental than others? I’m guessing somewhere out in the world is a person who was born at the exact moment I was and that person has a cold disregard for anything remotely sentimental because I got a double dose---part of which belongs to that moment-of-birth twin. There was a story on our local news last night about an old man who walked into an antique store and found his WWII era Army uniform hanging there with all his metals and name still attached. He burst out crying. It had gotten lost during a move and the owner of the antique store gave it to him, wouldn’t accept a penny. Why is that kind of sentimentality celebrated and worthy of a human interest story but an old woman who wants to stay attached to a Jell-O cookbook is viewed as silly or too sentimental for her own good? Ya, I know, we’re allowed to be sentimental over uniforms and wedding dresses but there’s a line to be drawn somewhere down on the chain of other innate objects. 

Wikipedia says, “Sentimentality originally indicated the reliance on feelings as a guide to truth, but in current usage the term commonly connotes a reliance on shallow, uncomplicated emotions at the expense of reason.” That’s a charitable definition compared to one I found at Vocabulary.com: “Sentimentality is a quality of being overly, dramatically emotional — sad or loving or nostalgic. Your sentimentality on her eightieth birthday might make your down-to-earth grandmother roll her eyes.” Roll your eyes all you want but without sentimental people in the world there would be no museums full of obsolete and curious oddities to visit and amaze you. Now, I’m going to go check out e-Bay sales to see how much I could have gotten for that vintage Jell-O cookbook. ©

 Johnny Carson makes an ice cream pie with Jell-O

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Handy Tools, Chickens and Family Visits


Do you know what a chicken catcher is? I didn’t until last Saturday and now I’m the proud owner of my very own poultry catcher leg hook and, no, I don’t have any chickens to go with it. It’s a 4 1/2 foot long pole with a rubber handle at one end and a hook at the other, a fancy model compared to some I’ve since seen online. My niece and her husband live in a county south of me and they drove up to present me with my new prize. I’m pretty sure he made it, judging by the wood burnt label on the smooth wood because it matches the work on the walking canes that he makes and sells. They don’t keep chickens anymore but at one point in time they used to have a dozen chickens---each a different, fancy breed that laid various colors and sizes of eggs. But at least three of my brother’s grandchildren keep chickens. Chicken talk in the family amuses the heck out of me but we have the best deviled eggs and potato salads at parties. They didn’t grow up on farms but they are prime examples of a growing phenomenon of backyard and urban chicken hobbyists in their generation. There are five magazine publications on the market now devoted to raising backyard chickens!

So what am I going to do with my new tool? Hope I’ll never, ever have a need to use it but if I experience another power outage, the chicken catcher hook is the perfect tool to pull the manual override cord on my garage door. It’s such a simple concept and a solid solution for those of us with bad bones who don’t get on ladders. I got curious about how the tool works for the purpose it was invented and all the videos I found online are so quick you can’t really see what’s happening. But this description from UIUC Poultry Farms explains it: “What this tool does is it catches a chicken by its leg and because their legs bend forward (and not backwards like ours) their leg gets stuck. From there, I lifted it up and grabbed it by both of its legs. I was then told that the proper way to hold a chicken is by splitting my fingers into a live-long-and-prosper sign, then sliding that along the chicken's stomach. This allowed me to hold both of the chicken's feet as well as support its entire weight in my hand.” The guy who wrote that was learning how to catch and band chickens but I assume other people catch chickens to cook for dinner. That was one of my husband’s job as a kid growing up on a farm. I can’t even buy and prepare whole chickens from the grocery store without them remaining me of a living creature and that turns me off to eating them. I can’t imagine killing dinner with my bare hands. 

My niece is a grannie-nanny to her a four-and-a-half year old and a newborn. She, her husband and their daughter are all teachers---two of them retired, of course, but once a teacher always a teacher. They genuinely enjoy interacting with young people and I’ve come to believe that it’s also an art form that if I ever had it, I’ve lost it along the way to sprouting gray hair on my head. When I try to make conversation with little ones or pre-teens I feel like a sea lion preforming for a fish they never deliver. I didn't had that trouble relating to my nieces and nephew when they were growing up. Heck, I was still half kid myself. I was only twelve when the first one came into the family. 

Playing in my nieces and nephew’s fort in the woods, swimming, boating and fishing at the family cottage, snowmobiling, raking leaves, sleep-overs, planting gardens, walking country roads and me bugging them with my camera are some of my best memories. My brother thought I was spoiled because I wasn’t in the kitchen doing ‘women’s work’ before and after meals. Instead I was in charge of entertaining the kids. But who was I to question the wisdom of my mom who wanted us out from underfoot when serious meal preparation and clean up was under way? My mom and dad set great examples for how loving grandparents should interact with their grandkids and I like to think I set a good example for how aunts interact. However, I’m the official godmother to my oldest niece---and maybe my other niece, too, I can’t remember---I fell down on that job. Do godparents take that of roll of spiritual guide seriously? If so, I'm not dead yet. There's still time for that conversation. I'd probably quote something cryptic like Echart Tolle's, "You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself." Ya, I know what you're thinking. What was my brother and sister-in-law thinking when they picked me to be a godmother?

My niece and her husband and I had a wonderful, long visit. They helped me track down a problem I was having with my hot water return line since last week when all my pipes were drained during the power outage, then we went out for brunch and came back here to look through old photos. And, of course, I had a show-and-tell with the stuff I’ve bought for my upcoming bedroom redecorating project. Show-and-tells have always been one of my favorite activities and when you think about it, the blog world is full of writers and readers who also love them. ©