The Kindness of Strangers

I asked the advice of about 6,700 of my closest friends, all of whom are strangers….

“I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.”

…Blanche DuBois

Another easy one for Thankful Thursday: today I am grateful for the kindness of strangers.

A little freaked out by it, too, but grateful.

Allow me to explain.

I asked about 6,700 of my closest friends, strangers all, for some advice. How can strangers be friends, you ask? Well, it’s a Facebook group of people with a shared interest in my favorite books. I thought they might have some insight as to why my charming profile on those dating sites, which included mention of my love for those books, was getting me nothing. Crickets. Lots of scams (“I’m doing this for a friend. Here’s his email. Contact him, go ahead!”) and and a surprising number of fake or hacked profiles (really? three pictures three different men, in one profile?) but no actual interest from anyone I might be interested in back.

I mentioned I was a widow having lost my husband (first lieutenant, chef, coxswain and most particular friend) to cancer, and I was trying to find someone new to be my boon companion. And my surprise that mention of loving these books got me nothing.

This set off an exceptionally long thread of commenting, where I received much compassion, many helpful suggestions (“perhaps start off a little slow, and introduce the love of  these books later?”), lots of support (“don’t dumb yourself down!”) a few private messages and a long, really lovely compliment to me that would have made my day if it hadn’t been based on a lengthy, unkind comparison to the author’s wife.

And then things veered off into complaint about the off-topic nature of the thread (hey, c’mon, not really – I’m looking for the dating sites you guys would hang out on!) and then the thread seemed to inspire another one in which the author confessed their own cancer diagnosis and in the most poignant terms, asked for help identifying music for the eventual memorial service. I sent my love and prayers, and all those kind strangers sent their support and suggestions not just for great seafaring-related music, but also for not giving up, fighting it, employing non-traditional healing methods, etc.

These two threads have been, in my experience with that group and others, the longest, kindest, most personal and most supportive I have seen in any online environment in which I’ve spent time, ever.  They were filled with authentic concern, great good humor, and personal commiseration.

Which gave me the courage to re-activate one of my online dating accounts and, after softening my profile a bit (I took out mention of using multisyllabic words unapologetically, the aside about never missing a chance to overdress when going out, the mention of my tendency toward sudden outburst of song, and the bonus points for knowing the difference between “effect” and “affect.”), I sent direct messages some likely fellows.

None of them have responded.

So, hell with it. I put all that stuff back in (except the “effect” and “affect” stuff – it really was getting too long). I reminded prospective suitors that I liked to laugh, and had been trained in improvisation, which has weakened my inner censor and causes me to say what I’m actually thinking. Meaning if you can’t take a joke, take a hike. (And, come to think of it, take a hike if you don’t know what the word “suitor” means, in this context. But that’s not in there, because I’m not thinking about getting married again. Just need some kind, respectful, fun-loving male companionship). Honesty is the best policy, Right?

As soon as I published that final version of my profile and made myself visible again, wouldn’t you know it? Almost immediately I got a fake profile response. The one with three different pictures of three different men, and a canned profile (“I used to be shy but now I’m a social butterfly”) that I’ve seen attached to several other guys.

Sigh.

Someday my prince will come, but until then, I remain,

Your devoted, humble, obedient, etc.

Ridiculouswoman

Thankful Thursday: Good day, Sunshine

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day
to the last syllable of recorded time….”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 5

Today I’m just grateful the sun came out.

Because if it hadn’t I might have spent another day in bed.

God, I hate January. It drags on and on, first frigid, then gray and damp, mushy, slushy and then frigid again, grey, fog, rain, snow, slush, mush, on and on and on, seemingly until the last syllable of recorded time. I feel days lost and lost, time passing with no purpose, no joy (except the joy of our child, the best human on the planet, and the person for whom I must go on, keep the chin up, keep calm and carry on etc.)

Depression runs in the family on my Dad’s side, but I never thought I’d be the one. And I’m fighting it.

But I did quit a really good job because of it. I found myself crying spontaneously at unpredictable moments in a job that requires a lot of public contact. So nope, no more of that.

I suppose I could give myself a break and stop beating myself up for doing that – I really loved the job but I really did need the time. The reason I keep bursting into tears is that I missed my best work buddy, who died about 7 months after my husband Mike died. Mike was two years younger than I. (Yes, “I,” not “me.” You wouldn’ t say “he was younger than me was.”) My work buddy was eighteen years younger than I at the time he died. That sucked.

And I realized I was also letting other stupid things at work get to me in a really outsized way, and I knew I needed to do what Mike told me to do before he died. “Take some time, Anne,” he said.

He was right, as usual, and I didn’t listen to him, as usual. Until I quit.

Which was at the end of July.

I set goals, many of which I achieved. Start this blog, clean the house, write the book. Not quite done with the book yet, but getting close. The book explains ridiculousness, phase one and is the reason I named the blog ridiculouswoman.

But I was also supposed to try and have a new job by January.

Not even close. Haven’t even really tried at all. Not feeling it. But I have to, I have to, one foot in front of the other.

Why do employers make it so damn hard? Every online application is different.

Hey, if colleges can come up with a common application that a kid only has to fill out once with all the usually required stuff, why can’t employers?

There, app developers. I just made you a billion dollars. Come up with the common job app and sell it to employers to make applying less like driving knitting needles into your eyes. Let me know when you’ve got it ready. And hey, gimme a cut of the IPO. I gave you the idea so t’s only fair.

But Tuesday it just all sort of caved in on me. Cabin fever, loneliness, lack of purpose, feeling like each day is just the same as the last.

I had every intention of writing my “non-toxic Tuesday” blog post that day. I dropped our child off at the train and received the text that confirmed safe arrival at the destination. I ate a quick mess of eggs, drank my coffee and went to yoga class.

And I came home and sat down in Dad’s chair. (Dad’s drinking chair. Now mine. But never in the day, except the day I found out my work buddy had died. He was such a good guy, who had faced so many struggles, and he would not have approved.)

No, no day drinking. But consumption of mass quantities of chocolate. Not good.

And I got up an hour later only to go upstairs and go to back to bed.

And I got up only to go back and pick up our child at the train station, and to cook the tacos for taco Tuesday. (Chicken this time, really good. I think I’ll use chicken from now on with Rick Bayless’ pre-packaged sauce for chicken tacos. So there’s that, anyway. Some left over for lunch today, too.)

What brought this on? Just the endless drag of January? The grey, the slush, the fact that the chickens hate it too?

I don’t think that was it.

I think it is Ridiculousness, phase two. (I’ll tell you about phase one tomorrow, if I can get my courage up.)

I put myself on Match.com and OurTime. Which has turned out to be pretty ridiculous.

I don’t think I was ready. But not being ready to do something hasn’t stopped me lately from doing it anyway. (See chickens, above.)

And it has been SO, so depressing.

Misspellings and semi-literacy galore. Guys of a certain age who put shirtless pictures of themselves on their profiles. Guys who didn’t read my profile and seem oblivious to the geographic range I’ve specified.

No less than 6 scammers who wrote to me claiming to be representing a friend who either can’t figure out how to use Match.com for themselves or who is too shy or some such bullshit, giving me an email address to contact said friend, which would only then give the scammers my actual email address, which Match.com does not do. How stupid do I seem? Apparently identifying myself as a widow tags me as that stupid and makes me a scam-magnet.

Smokers, bikers and guys with haircuts from the ’70s.

I tried “Plenty of Fish,” but they required me to disclose income, which I found really offensive, and then they wouldn’t let me delete my profile for 24 hours.

And wouldn’t you know it, right before I deleted it I saw a wonderful profile of a wonderful guy, a guy who quoted Lewis Carroll, but it was too late. Please, Lewis Carroll guy, join Match.com so I can find you again.

But then this morning the sun came out, and I took my vitamins yesterday, including my vitamin D, and I’ll be able to go for a walk today and get some naturally-generated vitamin D.

And I decided that if a guy I like doesn’t quite have the balls to contact me, I’ll go ahead and contact him, and I did. Two guys. Both educated, liberal and funny. And I’m not going to let it get me down if they don’t reply. I’ll just try, try again until someone who likes the same kind of music as I do, who doesn’t mind my frequent use of multi-syllabic words, and who defines himself as liberal but likes to treat a lady like a lady, is willing to talk.

I’ve revised and shortened my profile on Match.com about eight times already. I put the “I’d like to ski again and I’d love to learn to sail” back in, because a guy who seemed kind of OK wants a woman who skis, and his pictures indicate he likes to sail. So we’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Because I remain, your humble, obedient etc.,

Ridiculous woman.

The Attitude of Gratitude – Thankful Thursday 2

This week’s easy: I’m grateful for old friends, and a hometown that guarantees that I will run into them every decade or so, if not more often, and we can pick right up where we left off.

This town, my hometown, has its issues, just like anyplace, but I brought Mike and our child back here for a simple reason: I knew that there are some things in this town that will never change, and that for the rest of our child’s life, there will be people here that have known and cared about our child since elementary school.  Any visit to a regular destination like a local grocery or pharmacy is a pretty sure bet that we will run into someone we know, and every Fourth of July dozens of peer-aged people will return here, and our child will have a happy reunion or two, if only for a few minutes. It’s worth it for that.

This is the kind of place where people you have known since kindergarten, people you grew up with, who share history and memories, will be around, even if you don’t see them often. When you do see them, you’ll take right back up again, wherever you left off, and it just feels good knowing that can happen, at random, any given day.

I’m grateful for the reconnections I made in the summer at my high school reunion (the decade marked to remain unspoken here!) and that I’ve managed to sustain. As my classmates and I cross into new decades, aging into numbers I’m still in denial about, losing parents and spouses, watching kids grow up and leave, or adult children with disabilities take on new challenges, gnawing our nails with nerves but enduring, because we have to, because it is our job as parents, I’m grateful to know I’m not alone in this – that we remember what it used to be like, whose house that was, what the kids looked like when they were small, what the parents looked like when they were young, how they partied, how we did, and how we survived. How we keep going.

And how many of you are thriving. I’ve seen old girlfriends recently who never looked better – who have endured loss, grief and estrangement but who have rallied, reinvented, not just endured but gotten better and stronger. I’m so proud of you, and so grateful that you call me friend. I admire you and hope to be more like you if I can.

So here’s to you, old friends – see you ’round town, soon. Keep up the good work, the strong living, the moving forward. I’ll try to keep up!

The Attitude of Gratitude – Thankful Thursday 1

The chair wasn’t empty after all – it was imprinted with the form and memory of Mom, Grandma and still more Grandmothers before…

It’s the chair my Mother sat in every day, watching television, when she could still make it from the bedroom out to the family room to sit, on the days when she could just tolerate the frustration of the walker and the tether of the oxygen line.

It has been in my house since Mom died, nearly four years ago. For three years it sat in our little “library” room (a room probably more appropriately called a “den”) and I never sat in it.

Predictably, that cat commandeered it, claiming it as yet another spot she owned in this small house.

It still had the blue seat cushion that Mom used, and I could see her there, scowling, angry, frustrated, fed up, tired, defiant.IMG_20180103_220530955.jpg

On the day I was ready to finally get rid of Mike’s chair, the beat-up glider he had used in that den, I noticed that the cat’s occupancy of Mom’s chair had destroyed that blue seat cushion. It was past salvaging. So after I dragged Mike’s old brown glider, the one that managed to absorb crumbs and dust on its rails in a way that made it impossible to clean and thus also unsalvageable, out to the street as our one allowed “bulk item” for our weekly trash pick-up, I took the blue seat cushion off Mom’s chair, and threw it in the trash as well.

I moved the chair from one corner of the room to another, in a position across from my Dad’s chair (that’s for another post, another day) and slightly more toward the window.

And I sat down in it, for the first time in more than thirty years.

Immediately I noticed how well the chair fit me, as if it were molded for me, or on me. The meat of my palms at the base of my thumbs was cupped exactly by the rounded ends of the chairs’ arms.

The chair hit me in just the right place in my back. My feet rested perfectly on the floor, with my knees at a comfortable right angle, instead of dangling as they usually do from most all the other chairs in the world that seem to be made from some universal measure for people six inches taller than I.

The seat accommodated my, let’s say, “ample” behind like it had been waiting just for me.

I suddenly felt gently immersed in a kinship with generations of women in my family who had used that chair before me – not just Mom, but Grammie, and Grammie’s Mom, and her mother before her, if I remember the history of the object correctly.

That chair has a sort of genetic memory, and sitting in it gave me a moment of that memory.

These were tough, no-nonsense, New England women. Mom, a nurse. Grammie, a schoolteacher who like me, was widowed early. Grammie’s Mom, both a farm wife and shopkeeper’s wife, in early twentieth century Maine.

My relationships with Mom and Grammie couldn’t really be described as “warm.” Loving, yes. But filled with the kind of petty struggles that seem never-ending between Mothers and daughters, generation to generation. Stand up straight, comb your hair, set the table, hem that skirt, sew on the button, shuck the corn, can’t you do something about that hair! Call the men to dinner, dry the dishes, get your nose out of that book and go outside!

But when I sat down in that chair, I felt a depth of kinship, a physical kinship, with these women that was never so apparent to me before.

We were the same physical size. We walked through the world with nearly identical hands. Their hips were broad, like mine, and they liked to sit up straight, as I learned to do after all those little struggles.

I am grateful for that. The chair brought me close to those ancestresses in a different and deeper way than I had felt or considered before; as a teenager I had simply taken it for granted that my Grandmother’s dresses fit me and I never really thought about what that meant until I sat in my grandmothers’ (plural, at least three generations of them) chair.

Here is some deep connection, I thought. Their hands rested here, just as mine do, on short armrests of just the right length for them, and now, for me. The back of this chair supported their lower backs after long, long days of housekeeping, farming, nursing, just as it supports mine now.

The top of the back of the chair, covered in the picture with the cashmere blanket Dad gave Mom when she was expecting my oldest brother, her first child, is quite ornate. It is not comfortable for resting your head on – HA! No matter how exhausted these women were, they still sat up straight, heads high.

And now that my hands are starting to resemble my Mother’s hands, with hints of the same kind of arthritis, and my joints creak a little more, the way hers did, I feel a deeper kinship with these women, and I sense a message from them – they didn’t expect me to understand this while they were living, but they left a message, in that chair, for me, for after they were gone.

You are not so different from us. You have us within you. You’ll be ok. You can make it, no matter what life throws at you. Rest and rock a bit, but keep your head up.

I hope that means I have at least some of their toughness, their strength and grit, their endurance, their resilience, their clarity and longevity, their practical, no nonsense get-on-with-it-ness that got them past 85, to 89, to 90.

We weren’t demonstrative enough with each other – not enough hugs or endearments. But they did everything they could to transmit practical wisdom to me. 

Mom whispered when she sewed, drawing me in as she showed me the careful stitches to shorten the hems of every new skirt or dress, stitches that would be necessary for every new garment before “free alterations” or the new era of “petite” sizes. 

And I am grateful for that. And for the chair that reminds me of that.

Grammie was fierce with the rolling pin, brisk with the homemade doughnut dough (which she got up at 5 am to make for us on our summer visits to Maine), and I remembered that when rolling out the cookie dough this holiday season, using Mom’s wooden rolling pin, which she wielded with similar ferocity against any pie crust that dared defy her.

And I’m grateful I got to watch and learn from them, skills that seem old fashioned and forgotten, but that give me some small pride and pleasure still.  I’m grateful for the sense of shock I felt when an acquaintance casually confessed that she was walking on the cuffs if her trousers because she did not know how to shorten them.

Well, as a descendent of those hardy New England women, I’m grateful that I know how to thread a needle, measure and shorten a hem, sew on a button, roll out a pie crust or follow the rules of ICE (ice, compression, elevation) after a sprain. There is so much more they knew that I didn’t pay enough attention to – but I’m grateful for that chair that reminds me of those strong women who came before me, small as me in stature but richer by far in practical skill. Somehow when I sit there, in that chair that fits me perfectly, I feel a bit of their wisdom and experience coming through – remember – remember what we could do. What you still can do, if you put your mind to it.

So on this first post for my “thankful Thursdays,” I’m sticking to the basics like that chair.

I’m grateful too for the den in this little house where that chair resides, in the spot where Mike’s glider used to be, where memories of evenings listening to music with him remain vivid.

And for the little house itself, in these frigid January days, that has light and heat  and food and blankets within it. And pipes that haven’t frozen through years of winter as harsh as this.

I’m grateful that so far, the chickens have survived the subzero cold, while ceasing to lay eggs, as expected.

I’m grateful that the car starts, that the plumber came on Christmas Eve (time and a half, but hey, he came) and that I found the right part for the dishwasher, even though I’ll have to pay to have it installed.

I’m grateful to live in a place that values open, natural spaces, or as natural as they can be remade to be, to walk and breathe in, and to see the late afternoon winter sun paint the grasses and the ponds a glowing rose-gold while hawks soar and circle above.

I’m grateful and humbled to be the mother of the most amazing human being I’ve ever met, whose kindness, compassion, and cheerful perseverance in the face of a loud and confusing world is an example I continually hope someday to match.

I’m grateful for that silly cat, who gets nose to nose with me each morning, insisting I get up, get going, hop to it, rise and shine, there’s work to do here, feed me first of course and then you can deal with child and chickens. 

And I’m grateful for two more nights with the loveliest, freshest (and cheapest – free! delivered!) Christmas tree we’ve ever had in this house, which has shed not a needle since I won this year’s Battle of the Tree, and glows there in this den, giving me a little more time to be grateful for the peace and hope of this season and an excuse to linger and rock a bit longer, gently, in my Mothers chair.

Good China or, the Thanksgiving Rules

We’ll use the Good China anytime we want.

We brought it out at Thanksgiving and created a resplendent table with it, and the silver, and the stemware. Once a year.

Although I am a child at Christmas, full of anticipation and wonder and the magic of the tree lights sparkling in the dark, Thanksgiving is really my favorite holiday.

All I have to do is cook, drink, eat. Not necessarily in that order.

At the end of the meal, after the coffee and pie, and the signature mashed potatoes that only Mike could make, we shared a marathon session of dish washing, by hand (in the dishwasherless days before the remodel) and then the plates would go back into the round, plastic, zippered bags with the quilted floral pattern, separated by those little foam circles that were supposed to keep the plates from chipping.

And the stemware went back in its box, each glass with its own little cardboard compartment, stowed carefully on the shelves in the cubbyhole at the top of the basement stairs.

But when Mike got sick, and we knew that each upcoming Big Holiday would likely be his last, we decided, fuck it, let’s use the good stuff now.  Any time we want.

And we wondered, why did we keep it all packed away all year anyway?

The whole idea of bridal “china patterns” now seems sort of quaint, or twee, or adorable in that way that brides are allowed to be adorably annoying, observing the rituals that really belong in the nineteenth century and before.

We have ten place settings. Ten. And we never had more than four family members over for dinner, and that, very rarely (long story, book, I’m working on it).

But really, who uses ten formal place settings anymore, in their home? Most homes now without formal dining rooms? (although I hear they started making a comeback with builders and their clients a few years ago. Sounds good to me. Invite me as a companion for your extra man – I’m a lively conversationalist and I never miss a chance to overdress!)

But now our child and I continue to use that fancy china regularly, two place settings at a time.

And I try to use the Good China as a reminder to be thankful, not once a year, but daily.

Another widow has “gratitude Fridays” so I’m going to try “thankful Thursdays” – and one of the exercises I want to commit to observing is writing a thank-you note a week to someone. Just to express gratitude in a concrete way, and maybe to share those here.

Recipients of thank-you notes I’ve written tell me I’m pretty good at it. I’ve even thought of turning that into a side business – to help those hapless, adorable brides who’ve gotten themselves in too deep and can’t come up with a single original thing to say to the gifter of the tenth full place setting. I can help her with that.

(I’ve also written a few thank-you notes that I never sent, on the order of, “Dear Mrs. Moneybags: How gracious of you to respond to my phone call with a letter, informing me that the organization I had hoped you’d support deserved its demise for its silly habit of asking poor families to pay only what they could, and instructing me that such foolishness should be abandoned posthaste, and good riddance to those poor folks. Right here in our town! The nerve!” Or something like that.)

But since we have The Big Holiday in the area of thankfulness coming up, I think I’ll save the weekly notes for after the holidays, when people aren’t expecting them.

In the meantime though, there are some Thanksgiving rules, which, unlike the practice of using the Good China only once a year, cannot be abandoned.  To wit:

  1. No Christmas stuff, especially NO CHRISTMAS MUSIC, until the day after Thanksgiving. We will not bury Thanksgiving in tinsel, or wreaths or red bows, or early-bird Black Friday deals, nor will we deafen ourselves to it by subjecting ourselves to Mariah Carey screeching, “All I want for Christmas is You” or Michael Buble crooning, “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Puh-leeeze.  (We will address the subject of acceptable and unacceptable Christmas music on THE DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING. Which will not be spent standing in line outside a WalMart fighting over who gets the biggest big screen TV).
  2. Cranberry sauce must be homemade, from whole berries. No can-shaped gelatinous blobs on a plate, for God’s sake. Have some RESPECT, dammit. It’s EASY. Seriously, just read the package instructions on your Ocean Spray. Water, sugar, boil, berries, pop, pop, pop, chill. Done, yummy.
  3. Although I do not require anyone else at my table to perform this allegedly death-defying feat, I will make and consume stuffing that is ACTUALLY COOKED INSIDE THE TURKEY. Pepperidge Farm is the only acceptable stuffing mix. Non-negotiable.
  4. NO TURDUCKENS. See, “Have some respect,” in number 2, above. This goes triple for deep frying on the deck outside. Are you out of your mind? Haven’t you seen the Allstate ad about how many people burned their houses down committing this gastronomic atrocity?
  5. Mimosas. Mimosas are required. See “cook, drink, eat, not necessarily in that order” above. Rockettes, lip-synching broadway stars, marching bands and giant balloons are actually fun when viewed through the gentle mist of a Mimosa. Just don’t say the other Thanksgiving “M” word (the one that comes before “Thanksgiving Day Parade”) when channel surfing over to the the Chicago parade, because that big store they march past will ever and always be Field’s. Dammit.

I better start making a grocery list and polishing the silver, for our second round of Big Holiday with just the two of us, our child and me.

I’ll continue using the Good China every day, as a sign of gratitude for our memories of Mike, and faith that more Good stuff is coming, for just the two of us, our child and me.