Mrs. McWhiny’s Pity Parlor is Closing

Pity party is over – get your gratitude gear on.

So, about that last post. Aren’t we quite the little drama queen, with our little pity party?

Sorry about that.

I really was feeling that way and was writing from the heart, but I can feel my New England ancestresses (one of whom lived as a widowed schoolmarm for over 45 years) are pissed off at me from the next world. They want me to

So, OK, enough Mrs. McWhiny – it’s time to put the big girl pants back on (wait a sec, I am big girl, so I kind of wear them all the time, but whatever), pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get your big ass into gratitude gear.

You’ve probably seen this one, but it bears repeating:

So, yes, my daughter and I (that’s the first thing I should be grateful for — I am not, in fact, alone – I live with an angel; a beautiful, resilient, patient, kind, caring, forgiving angel) have been through some big stuff, but:

  • we’re alive
  • today, we have a roof over our heads
  • today, we have food
  • today, the power works and the faucets produce clean water, hot when needed
  • I have a reliable car that will be paid off by next October
  • I have two brothers, one of whom lives close enough to come and help out
  • that closer brother weatherstripped doors today, so we’re less freezing in here
  • handy closer brother also tested the back-up sump pump he installed, and it works
  • this year’s mother-daughter Christmas downtown excursion is planned and booked
  • I lost a pound by not eating dinner last night – intermittent fasting works for me
  • I had an opportunity to do a small, unnoticed but kind thing today, and I did
  • I have gotten this far through the day without accidentally hurting myself

I am grateful for these things. I am grateful for the wise, kind WordPress friends who have shared their wisdom and kindness with me – you guys rock. I love your blogs. You know who you are (and anyone who reads this should too, because there’s a list of blogs I follow over there in the sidebar – or at the bottom if you scroll down, I think).

I am grateful for small accomplishments and meeting modest daily goals.

I’m grateful for weird dreams that amuse and puzzle me.

I’m grateful that through online shopping I figured out cheap, functional, stick-on, OK looking LED vanity lights for my dressing table, so I didn’t have to hire an electrician to tear up the wall.

I’m grateful for my old, fat, warm, soft cat Sophie, even though she ignores her claw-sharpening carpet remnant and continues to destroy the good rugs, and sits on my face when I’m not ready to get out of bed yet to feed her.

I’m grateful for the really good, really beautiful sacred music my choir director selected for the Christmas concert, and the challenge of learning it and the joy of singing it with a really good choir. You may take that as a shameless plug for our concert, which is a bonus add-on to my gratitude about it, because I really am grateful.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be grateful, and, because I’m breathing, the chance to be happy, one moment at a time. I hope I can maintain the happiness long enough to send a little love out into the word.

They say what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow.

In the bleak midwinter – what can I give?

….give my heart.

Trying to send love in little bits and pieces, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, sucking-it-up-and-snapping-out-of-it,

Ridiculouswoman

Fantasy Island Serves Lousy Food; or, the Tale of the Terrifying Turkey

OCD invades fantasy island…

Thank God the gentleman caller didn’t show up.

glass horse

Because I cooked The Worst Turkey Ever.

Also the most expensive. What was I thinking?

Well, I was thinking (and this is for you, RomComDojo, because I know you’ll understand):

  • This is the year of Rotten Romaine and Terrifying Turkey, so,
  • after throwing away ten bucks worth of Romaine lettuce because of the e-coli scare, I’m damned if I’m going to make us sick from salmonella turkey, so
  • how about an organic turkey? organic turkey farms must be safer, right?, yet
  • organic turkey was obscenely expensive; nevertheless,
  • it’s worth it if it will help me not worry about it, right? so
  • buy it anyway, because it is smaller for just the two of us even though it is OBSCENELY EXPENSIVE, but
  • even though it had been in the fridge for three days the damn thing wasn’t completely defrosted when I opened it to get the giblets out for the gravy, so
  • I put on nitrile gloves and put the bird in an aluminum pan in the sink remembering that even though this was an organic bird it was still a Terrifying Turkey that was Potentially Poisonous and I dug out the giblets for the gravy while I took note of any surface or object that might have got splashed with Terrifying Turkey juice so I could wipe it down with antibacterial wipes, and put the bird back in the fridge to keep defrosting and started the stock, which smelled really good and used my home-grown herbs, so yay me we got that good Thanksgiving smell in the house, however
  • it was the day after Thanksgiving which meant I needed to put up the Christmas lights, and it was not cold outside, which it will be next week, so yay me for getting that done, with help from my angelic, patient, hungry daughter, except
  • I got behind schedule on our day plan and realized that I needed to get the bird in the oven right away so I was little rushed, but I still
  • noticed this bird seemed greasy, and a little discolored on the legs but I put that down to being more “natural” and “free range” and “organic” besides
  • even though the instructions on the plastic that had encased the bird said to rinse it, all the Terrifying Turkey warnings said don’t do that, but then I
  • realized I can’t get the salt and pepper in the thing without touching the salt and pepper containers with the gloves I was wearing that already had Terrifying Turkey grease all over them so I
  • take off one glove and open the salt and pepper one handed with help from my chin and then
  • realize I also wanted to butter it all over and inside and say hell with it I have anti-bacterial wipes so
  • take off the gloves and shove butter under the skin and rub it all over with it and somehow get it in the oven using my elbows and then
  • rub all over the sink and countertops with disinfecting wipes, even waiting 10 minutes to rinse, so yay me and
  • I cook at 425 for 15 minutes to seal in juices before I reduce the heat however
  • I realized the instruction said 325 and I started to wonder whether the plastic thingee that that had held the legs together but could not be removed from the turkey was ok at 425 or will the plastic break down and poison us even if the turkey doesn’t? oh hell with it it’s already done and who needs instructions anyway I’ve been cooking beautiful turkeys for 30 years, plus
  • some article I read said you don’t really need to baste it just lets the heat out of the oven so OK I won’t and then
  • my god that looks really brown and where are the juices in the pan? so I basted it once anyway then
  • I noticed it really looked like it was drying up even though the timer said it needed 45 more minutes so try the meat thermometer but
  • what do they mean by “the thickest part of the thigh” anyway? and don’t touch bones? how do you do that? so
  • I tried the thigh and it was 180 so that meant overdone but I wasn’t sure so I poked the breast with it and
  • that’s when juice squirted out of the breast which made me understand why they tell you to poke the thigh, dumbass, now it is sure to be too dry, so
  • I take it out of the oven and “let it rest” like they say to while I finish prepping sides but then I notice
  • the juices look really pink, and it got cold really fast, so I’d better
  • put it back in the oven to make sure it is really cooked and won’t make us barf with salmonella, so now I
  • get all the pre-prepared sides out of the fridge and up to room temp before I put them in to warm and now it’s
  • time to carve the thing but the wings and legs would not come off, I never could find those joints anyway and the crispy skin on the ends of the legs tastes awful WTF? and I start to worry that maybe this particular bird was accidentally coated with some sort of foul industrial grease that was meant for machinery and I start to worry that we’ll both be paralyzed if we eat it but I’ll decide to wait and see for a week and if we make it to next Friday OK, I’ll call it on that particular bugaboo but still I should have basted it with butter and orange juice and
  • the breast is dry as a bone, even though it won’t come off as easily as it should dammit is it still not done? oh what the hell she only wants potatoes anyway but
  • what good are potatoes with gravy that looks sort of grey-green? How could the gravy be awful? I’m really good at gravy, so I decided that it must be that
  • this accursed obscenely expensive greasy organic turkey and the giblets I used for the stock are a con and the scrawny, gamey, greasy damn thing ruined my perfect fantasy island dinner and by the way
  • I’m exhausted and sore – maybe it was
  • bending over the garbage can peeling 10 pounds of potatoes, 5 of which I threw out because I did it early in the day but I didn’t think I should cover them with water because that would make them too soggy but they turned brown and looked gross and does that mean they’ve gone poisonous too? but fortunately
  • the pumpkin pie turned out OK and my sweet potato carrot puree was delicious and the stuffing, cooked separately from the probably poisonous greasy gamey scrawny obscenely expensive bird was OK and the cranberry sauce was delicious and when everything was put away and I mopped the floor because I dropped the greasy gamey scrawny obscenely expensive turkey on its way to the garbage can, I plugged in the Christmas lights and then
  • took a hot bath hoping that Dr. Teal and his epsom salts would work their magic, and even though I was feeling flat and disappointed and missing Mike and had a good cry, I ended up feeling
  • OK. I forgave myself. I decided I will never do this again. If we don’t go to someone else’s house, we will have a modest little meal, with rational portions just for two, and I will buy
  • a CHEAP breast-only major brand turkey with one of those pop-up things that tells me it is done and makes it their fault if it pops up and it isn’t done and it poisons us and I’ll make the gravy with less of my fresh herbs and more pan drippings from that cheap commercial turkey breast which I will baste liberally even though that let’s the heat out of the oven and there will never be a gentleman caller but, we will be

OK.

Grateful for whatever food is put before us and for the roof over our heads and heat and fat old whiny Sophie cat who I forgot to get food for so she got the canned clams I was going to use for some future pot of chowder but chowder has to have potatoes which are carbs galore but I’m not going to worry about that anymore because after our perfectly delightful meal at the brother’s in-laws even though I had potatoes and pie I actually lost 2 pounds, which I’m sure I regained yesterday so now I’m trying to muster the energy to paint, because painting counts as working out, I remain,

Your devoted, disappointed but realistic, grateful and determined to do better tonight when I’ll cook a chicken and make great gravy so she can finish her leftover 3 pounds of potatoes,

Ridiculouswoman

First Snow

Muffle my fears, please…not my heart…

Late this year. Usually comes before Halloween.

Heavy, wet, sticky – the whipped-cream, white-frosting kind, that will likely melt away by tomorrow, I hope without taking a few branches down with it, when the wind blows.

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I love the muffled, muting effect of snow. Calming.

I need that today.

Yesterday, the early dark seemed menacing. More than two years on, there are still times when Mike’s absence, and the accompanying not-having-a-man-in-the-house feeling, gives me the creeps. Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong, independent woman and always have been. I can handle things, and pretty much have handled them for myself since I was 18 – and for my late husband from the day we were married until all the arrangements were finished after he died, and for my daughter since she was born.

But knowing I can handle it doesn’t keep me from sometimes doubting I can handle it, especially when I’m feeling inadequate – the too-frequent, bleak feeling of being only half, and the lesser half at that, of what our daughter needs.

She misses him so much. Two years and she only now has begun to repeat, “when a person goes to heaven, they can’t come back. Dad’s not coming back.”

And the only response I can offer is the same as I have been saying all along, that while he can’t be here with us in a way where we can hug him and talk to him, we can always feel his love with us

“Dad’s love never ends.”

I remind her of those times when we’re driving somewhere, and she suddenly changes the radio station and the song that she lands on is one that was special to us, or better, one that was special to just the two of them.

They used to drive around listening to music, sometimes just to drive around, listening to music.

I’ve invited her to bring her CD’s into the car with me, but it is not the same car and he’s not driving it. She just relies on the radio, now.

I keep thinking we’re getting better, that we’re learning how to move on, and then I’ll have a night like last night and a morning like today, where each moment of hope is countered by a moment of fear, guilt, shame or anger. The four horsemen of “this-is-not-who-I-want-to-be.”

There is no love without forgiveness. Why can’t I forgive myself? Why do I magnify every lapse of parental patience into a major, soul-crushing crisis of inadequacy?

Because Mike’s not here to tell me to snap out of it and stop being such a drama queen?

She gets over it before I do.

Way to go, Mom. Some Mom.

BAD MOM.

Am I doing anything right?

This third Thanksgiving without him, I agreed to take our daughter to dinner at my brother’s in-laws. They eat much earlier in the day than we usually do, but it is a chance for my daughter to finally have a family holiday with a lot more family – I’m nostalgic for the big family holiday meals we had when I was a child, with grandpa and the uncle or the cousins. She’s never really had one like that. Grandpa died long before she was born, the cousins moved away, and Mike wouldn’t go, so for years it was just the two of us and my parents. Then just the three of us, at home. Now just the two of us, alone – but I keep the empty third chair at the table. That’s probably not healthy, anymore.

I hope the change will be good for her — she’ll get to meet some cousins-in-law that have only been mythical to her so far.

And I hope it will be good for me, to be around more people – other adults – and to be forced by social convention and good manners to get out of my own head for a while.

By the end of today, my daughter will have new carpeting in her room. Carpeting called “party” from a series called “joy.” Appropriate for her beautiful, joyful, resilient spirit.

The new carpeting for my room and the hall won’t come until January, but I don’t mind waiting. Next year, 2019, is a Big One for me, birthday-wise. Might as well start with new carpet and go from there.

For today, though, I’m just going to look at the snow, eat some soup, be still, and try to “get back to just right,” as we say in our house.

Hoping that the muffling effect of the snow will muffle my fears and my self-doubt, but not my heart, I remain,

Your jittery, inadequate, unexpectedly blue but believing

IMG_20181109_132234474.jpg

the sun will come out soon,

Ridiculouswoman

Separation Anxiety

I said “yes, I’ll be back…” but I didn’t say, “I promise.”

That’s exactly what it felt like: as if I were leaving my sweet fatherless daughter reaching for a string to hold onto what was left of her deflating heart as she anxiously watched it float away.

“You’re coming back, Mom? Right? You’ll come back?”

I hesitated- her anxiety had made me anxious about traveling, something I used to do routinely this time of year for work, thinking nothing of it, because Mike was with her.

I said, “yes, I’ll be back Tuesday.”

But I didn’t say, “I promise.” I couldn’t. Promise, that is. I was superstitious about it.

I got on the plane for the short trip to Toronto, to attend a gathering of Patrick O’Brian/regency era enthusiasts.

It was the first time we were to be apart overnight since Mike died.

I tried not to telegraph my own anxiety. But I did send updated emergency information to my brothers.

Before I left at 4 a.m., with my daughter and my brother, the uncle who agreed to stay with her while I was away, asleep upstairs, I cried as quietly as I could, and silently asked Mike to help all of us out – not to be upset that it was my brother who was watching her – to just help them both get through it.

I called as soon as I could after landing.

She sounded fantastic. Happy and relieved to hear from me, of course. But more than that. Really, really good. Not just then, but every time I called, all weekend.

She had a clarity about her I hadn’t heard so consistently in a long time.

I think it might have had something to do with presence of her uncle – she spent so much time with her Dad, and there hasn’t been a man around the house in over two years. Something about the male presence must have made her feel comforted, reassured.

She told me what they’d had for lunch and dinner, and how she’d emptied the trash and replaced the trash liners and had fun at art and riding, and did a good job at work.  She asked if I was having fun and what I was doing, and, of course, when I’d be coming home and what sort of present I’d be bringing her.

As if this was a normal trip, and she was a neurotypical person, and it was just another time when Mom would be gone for a few days.

I was massively relieved, and thus able to enjoy the historical presentations, the meals and the English country dancing lesson.

I’d had a gown made especially for the Saturday ball, IMG_20181020_182234257.jpgwhich I wore to the dinner before. I decided to skip the ball itself to go hear the Journey tribute band that was playing at the restaurant attached to my hotel. You know why. (If not, the post behind the link explains it).

When conversation came around to explaining the circumstances of my widowhood, I discovered three sympathetic cancer survivors. I met a lovely couple who shared my interest in the books (she) and in choral singing (he). They took pictures for me, to document the gowns.

I “broke” my  “day/dinner” dress out of ignorance of the mechanics of donning Regency style dresses without the help of a ladies’ maid – which I’m bereft of at present – ha! –  but was repeatedly rescued by other more knowledgeable ladies, with safety pins and offers of the use of sewing kits.IMG_20181020_164858.jpg

My hair was a disaster due to strict observance of a “no scented products” rule in deference to the very sweet and hard-working organizer’s sensitivities, but I was told by several gentlemen (themselves resplendent in period uniform) that I looked radiant.

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My improvised infrastructure didn’t quite succeed in creating the “shelf” effect (which I irreverently refer to as “tits on a platter”). I might splurge on the right kind of custom corset (“short stays”) next time, to shove the girls up high enough to provide …erm… more historically accurate allure. Ha!

I got back to the airport early. My plane was delayed just long enough for the crew to fail to advise passengers that roll-aboards would have to be carried up stairs onto the plane (preventing me from observing my superstitious entering-the-plane ritual) and that, once carried up, said bags wouldn’t fit either under the seat or in the very small overheads and would have to be carried back off again to be “gate-checked” (thereby giving me a second chance to perform my superstitious getting-on-the-plane ritual – whew).

Safe, uneventful flight and landing, breeze through customs, bag was where expected, and, a very rare thing, very light traffic on the road home.

And there she was, accepting a much longer, tighter hug than her tactile defensiveness typically permits. Asking what I brought her.

Wow.

We got through it. We proved we could get through it.

We have a shot at a different but almost-normal life. Though it has to be a life without Mike, it will never be a life without whispers of his love and support from the other side (the right piece on the classical station just as I was thinking of him, a fan that perfectly matched my ball gown waiting for me, available for purchase, a touching Trafalgar dinner toast to “absent friends” that made me miss and remember him with love, and almost made me cry. Oops, writing that did make me cry just now. Oh well. It happens. It should. It’s ok. We’re ok.)

Wishing you support from family and kindness from strangers who quickly become friends, I remain,

Your humble, hopeful, momentarily and more often, happy,

Ridiculouswoman

Fall Excursion Three: Trail Ride Edition

The symbols weren’t coincidences. Mike was with us.

My car’s rear view mirror displays the compass direction, so I exited the perpetually-under-construction toll road and headed out to two-lane county roads. We zig-zagged our way north and west, past red barns with stone silos, cows, horses, pumpkins and sheep, and fields plowed under, sleeping until spring.  There were hay rolls, waiting to feed the livestock through the winter. Not enough color in the foliage yet, but there will be at least one more fall excursion for that.

We arrived at our destination town with a little over an hour to spare before we were due at the stables, and we needed lunch. Lunch has not been a success on fall excursions past.

The available options were:

  1. the biker bar on the corner, or
  2. the biker bar next door to the biker bar on the corner.

Hmm.

We chose the biker bar on the corner on the assumption that a full parking lot (full of cars, oddly, not motorcycles – a bit of a relief) – indicated decent food.

About half the barstools were occupied, obviously by locals, all men, each one of whom turned to look at the two women walking in.

The lady bartender, fully embellished with tattoos from wrists to elbows, presumably extending to shoulders under the sleeves, invited us to find a table.

“That doesn’t look cheap,” remarked one of the locals, referring to the tattoos. I think he intended that as a compliment. Lady bartender took it in stride.

It wasn’t as crowded as the number of cars predicted. And the food was pretty good, a welcome change for a fall excursion. And the Harley-Davidson-Green-Bay-Packer logoed patrons were non-threatening. Just people having lunch. Or a beer. Or a beer with their lunch.

On to the stables, at a cute little pretend Western town in the middle of a state forest. Utterly deserted, and a little forlorn.  But it was a Tuesday afternoon in October, not a summer Saturday. We found the guide prepping the horses and took a look around while she got them ready.

There was a mock sheriff’s office, a barber shop, and a closed-but-clearly-capable-of hosting-a-function saloon.

There was a little chapel on a hill, named after the owner’s mother and guarding a memorial to his son. The name on the chapel is my daughter’s middle name.

The hill reminded me that Mike always climbed to the top of whatever was tallest where ever we stopped on any fall excursion. He did it on the last one.

He would have marched right up the hill to that chapel. I did it for him. It was lovely, both outside and in, and the memorial to the son who died young was touching. I choked up as I came back down, and turned away to collect myself before rejoining my daughter, waiting below.

We were introduced to the horses.

The biggest one we were introduced to, though not scheduled to ride, was named “Bear.”

My pet name for Mike.

We had a lovely ride through the forest, looped around and back.  The guide took a picture.  Time to head home, down aIMG_20181017_125345.jpg few more country roads.  Along one of them, I glanced to my left and noticed stones arranged in the shape of a huge dragonfly on the side of a little hill and above a farm pond – creative drainage, I guess.

Dragonflies, along with butterflies and hummingbirds, are a symbol of Mike to me.

On our way back to a town where I planned to get our daughter a post-trail-ride treat, we drove right by a little park that I instantly recognized as one we had stopped at during a previous fall excursion, where Mike and our daughter took a break and on the swings and drank their convenience-store lemonade.

I don’t believe these things – the name of the chapel, the horse named Bear (another horse named Bear – there was one on a trail ride last year, too, along with lots of butterflies) and passing the park where we had played before – were coincidences.

I believe Mike helped me find this place, that he was with us, and that he was enjoying himself. Maybe making up for the last time, when he didn’t.

I went to bed regretting the excessive carbs from the OK biker bar lunch, and really regretting the two bites of “fresh apple cider donut” I got at the post-trail-ride-treat place, and worrying about my weight.

I dreamt that Mike came and hugged me, outside, at a place that looked like the gravel drive of the stables we had visited that day, and said that I was beautiful just the way I am, and the way I am is the way I was made, and I should accept myself and quit worrying about it. I felt his hug physically.

Just as physically as I felt him blowing in my ear a few days ago, during a mid-afternoon nap attack. Half asleep, I called his name and asked him to stick around, stick with us. I heard his voice, plain and clear, say the word, “haunting.” Not in a scary way – just jokingly, the way he would have said it, with a grin, if he had been right there on the bed with me.

The last thing Mike said to our daughter was, “Dad’s love never ends.”

I know now that his love for me hasn’t ended, either, and never will.

May you know that you are loved, exactly as you are, exactly as you were made, and stop worrying.

Enjoying deep October-blue skies, I remain,

Your reassured, trying-to-keep-things-in-perspective and trying-not-to-let-the-coffee-shop staff-see-my-eyes-tearing-up,

Ridiculouswoman

The Journals

The final journal was a very good read.

Some widows find receipts.

Hotels they didn’t visit. Jewelry they didn’t receive.

Or they find love letters. Not to them.

Shock, anger, disbelief, more grief. Sick with the discovery of betrayal. Embarrassed at having been deceived.

Me?

I already knew about the infidelities, and I found the journals long before he got sick.

He kept one journal just to record his chess games and his thoughts on chess strategy from tournaments he played.

The others were for the others.

When we first met, in the two years we were together before we got married, he wrote poems to me, for me. He refused to save them. Had some artistic, poetical notion of the ephemeral nature of the art, not unlike improvisation, which I was performing when I met him. So I got that. It’s there and it’s gone and you can’t recreate it. I remember only whispers (I first typed that “whishpers.” Ha.)

After we were married, there were poems written for other women. Women he told me about. Women he met in classes he took, or online.

Written in journals he saved.

Twenty years ago, when I confronted him, he raged at me.

Anger at being busted, I suppose. Fear of the consequences, I’m sure.

Once he calmed down and looked at me, he realized he had broken my heart. The heart he loved for its innocence, shown only to him.

He went grocery shopping.

Twenty years ago. I looked out the kitchen window of our townhome in a transitional, slowly gentrifying neighborhood and saw him walking home, down the alley.

Crying.

Bringing me booze (Captain Morgan rum, to be exact – I had never tasted it before. Now, oddly, my cocktail of choice) and a balloon.

Leaving it up to me to decide if he was staying or if he’d go.

I decided he’d stay.

Who else would ever love me? Who else would ever be a father to our daughter?

But he didn’t stop sleeping with other women, until ten years later, when the then-still-unknown illness must have begun to affect his mind, and he came to believe that one of those other women was stalking him. Remotely. From a continent away.

I asked him why he had married me. He said it was because he could see that I needed to be loved.

Not that he loved me, but that he could see that I needed to be loved.

Which brings me back to the journals.

He asked for a journal to write something to our daughter before he died, but became too weak too fast to write much at all.

But he did write something, if not for me, at least about me. And it revealed that he did love me, after all. That he was grateful for our little family, our home and my care for him.

I have included an excerpt of that journal in the Epilogue to my book, because after everything we went through, everything we put each other through, especially after the Bulgarian, I thought he deserved to have a voice there.

As soon as I am finished transcribing that excerpt, the manuscript will be ready to show to my brothers (as a courtesy) and a few friends.

I know those friends, former colleagues, will be brutally honest with me when I ask if I should just dig a hole in the backyard and bury the book forever, never let it see the light of day, not expose myself that way (or any more that way, since this is whole blog is a kind of exposure) or if there might be a story there, some writing they’d recommend to a friend. Maybe even a good read.

Mike’s final journal, found posthumously, though sparse and at times illegible or incoherent, was still a good read. A very good read.

Because I forgave him long ago and eventually came to understand why he had done what he had done, and all the things I had said and done that made him feel belittled. Toxic in a marriage.

And when I found that journal, I found that he had forgiven me. That even with his increasing delirium, he remembered the earliest, best part of our time together.

That he appreciated the new kitchen.

That he still loved my roundness.

“Your head is round, your ears are round, your butt is round,” he wrote.

“Round, not pound,” because he knew I’d find it and that I’d need reassurance that he wasn’t referring to my weight.

He never, not once that I can remember, complained about my weight, no matter how big I got.

I’m grateful that he saw me lose weight, a lot of weight, before he died, and saw me looking more like the woman he married before all of it, and after.

And I’m grateful he left those words behind, for me to find.

Words for the innocent heart he loved.

The heart he broke.

And the heart he mended, through the journal his widow found, after he was gone.

Wishing you forgiveness, amends, comfort and love,

I remain,

Your devoted, broken but healing, struggling but moving forward,

Ridiculouswoman

Unlikely Tearjerker: Crying at Catalogs

No man to shop for. Incomplete. Halved.

(FYI: I mention brand names sometimes. I’m not getting paid for it. Not that I don’t hope to get paid for it someday, to be honest, but please be assured that I wouldn’t accept payment to endorse something I don’t like or don’t use. There’s a name for that. I’m not that.)

Labor Day Weekend. So far, it’s been a weekend of funerals and public mourning here in the US  – Aretha. John McCain. Rainy here in Chicagoland. But Labor Day weekend is still and always, regardless, the informal “official” beginning of the fall season.

My favorite season.

Break out the pumpkins and gourds, the red, orange and rusty leaves, the deep blue October skies, the fall excursions, the clean, brisk chill.

Here come the catalogs.

For a while there, I was the catalog queen. I delighted in finding obscure, funny or “just right” gifts for family and friends in the deluge of catalogs that start arriving in the mail this time of year, anticipating my other favorite season, Christmastime.

The volume of catalogs in my mailbox has decreased markedly, probably because I don’t buy so much stuff from them anymore.

I used to buy Mike a lot of stuff from catalogs.

Clothes, mostly. Like many men, Mike hated shopping, couldn’t stand having to make decisions about which shirt or what color or how many pockets. So I bought most of his clothes for him, primarily from catalogs.

Mostly from the L.L. Bean catalog

I get catalogs from L.L. Bean regularly, I suppose because I buy stuff from them regularly. And the fall L.L. Bean catalog is one fat-ass catalog.

These catalogs are usually neatly divided into women’s clothing, footwear, outdoor gear and men’s clothing.

When I first collect the catalogs from the mailbox, I still find myself reflexively flipping to the back half, where the men’s clothing is featured.

That’s when the tears start.

It used to be fun, joyful, even, to peruse, study, contemplate and even agonize a little over which shirts, what pair of shorts or trousers or which color sweater I would buy for Mike this year. Always something muted – he liked misty ocean blues, olive greens, greys. He surprised me once, on our annual pilgrimage to Renny’s, an old-fashioned all-goods mini-department store in Bath or Damariscotta, Maine, by choosing a bright, rosy orange t-shirt. But for the most part, navy, dark green and greys would do.

Now, looking at the L.L. Bean catalog just feels sad, incomplete. Diminished.

What do I need with a new flannel shirt? Another expensive (always v-necked, I’m short, it helps) cashmere sweater? I’ll only forget and toss it in the shared laundry basket at the top of the basement stairs, where Angelic Daughter will collect it and with her beautiful, helpful, eager-to-please, utterly innocent heart, wash it in hot water and put it in the dryer, to emerge, a pint-sized shadow of its former self.  I have hundreds of dollars worth of such boiled-wool sweaters. I’ll cut them into squares and stitch them into a blanket for my grand-nephew, one of these days.

That raggy sweater up there in the picture was one of Mike’s stalwarts. So much so that it got snagged and torn during bouts of fall yard work. I kept it and, submerged in it, used it in the deep of winter on sub-zero mornings when tending the chickens. Those birds are gone now, but I still have the sweater.

But the catalog. There it sits, on top of my “mount to-be-read” (an expression I am borrowing from a member of a a listserv and website for Patrick O’Brian enthusiasts), half of it now dimmed, shrouded in sad irrelevance.

No man to shop for. Incomplete. Halved.

I’ve learned to give these catalogs a glance, anyway, silently thanking L.L. Bean for their neat organization, making it easy to avoid the back half of the book, where the men’s clothing is grouped. There might be something there my daughter needs. I’ll  give it a look for that.

Boots, hats, gloves, socks. Perennially unprepared for winter before it comes, I’m determined to fix that this year. We’ll have enough to muffle ourselves up in when we go to hang an autumn decoration, obtained on a fall excursion, on the shepherd’s hook by his gravestone, and when the time for winter wreaths rolls around.

Muffled, with that ever-empty space beside us, where Mike, the anchor of our little family triumvirate, should be.

We walk with that empty space beside us, inside us, now, through every moment of our days.

The tear-dampened back half of that catalog flaps limply as I fold it under.

Recycle.

 

Hoping for a hummingbird, to remind me we’ll be OK,

I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, I hope not-too-self-pitying, incomplete but trying to recycle and carry on,

Ridiculouswoman