In memory of my dear husband, I am republishing a blog I posted two years before we moved to Texas to retire. In the preface note I address him as Hank, a nickname earned when—ever the gentleman—he offered me his handkerchief after I spilled my sparkling water at our 20-year high school reunion. And it’s signed Hanes, his pet name for me—earned or not—because he rather liked the look of my gams. (For all of you post-baby-boomers, those would be legs.)
I offer today’s post to you and yours with the sincere wish that, on this day dedicated to romance, you hold your beloved close to your heart, if not in your arms. The flame of true love is eternal, after all, even though providence may separate us for the time being.
February 14, 2013
I entered us in the local paper’s “Greatest Love Story” contest, but alas, the biggest vote-getter in that competition was a young whipper-snapper of a couple who I seriously suspect stuffed the ballot box with multiple votes from multiple computers. (But maybe that’s just me choking on sour grapes.)
Anyway, this is what I said about us. It is my Valentine to you this year.
My husband Jack and I live in Fridley, which is where we first met in high school. We came close to dating back then, but ended up going separate ways, with separate spouses, until—both single again—we re-met at a reunion years later.
Even after 25 years of marriage, it seems a bit presumptuous to claim to be the world’s greatest romance. We didn’t exchange love letters across a war-torn continent or have the honor of donating a major organ, one to the other. But we did give each other that cherished second chance to discover true devotion—the kind that survives rebellious stepchildren, career disappointments, the loss of loved ones, and personal health crises; the kind that hangs in there for the ebb and flow between passion and friendship.
And that particular blessing may just translate to the best gift this earthly life has to offer: someone who will always, bottom line, invest the time and effort to figure you out, to help you over the rough spots, and to guide you toward your better self.
If you know anyone who has lost a loved one in the past six months, or even the past year, please do this: Write them a note. Let them know you are thinking of them and praying for their peace of mind. Or call, even if you have to leave a message. Or email or text, anything to gently reach out as the weeks slide by. You see, when the hubbub surrounding a major loss subsides, the void looms even larger and sometimes feels unfillable.
As I passed the one-month marker for my own personal crisis, a feeling of desolation crept back in, crowding out any sense of peace. It was as if the grieving process had started all over again. With prayer and regular physical activity, the patient ear of my treasured sister-in-law, and the promise of a visit from a childhood friend, the indescribable yearning—knowable only to those who have shared it—slowly made way for eruptive moments of hopefulness.
The next few days brought answers to my unspoken pleas—follow-up calls from thoughtful friends and relatives, a few late cards. Just the right doses of attention and sympathy at just the right moments of aching need. One well-timed note from my sometimes errant third grade pan pal back in Minnesota, so poignant in its simplicity, brought immediate relief to my anguish-numbed soul:
January 11, 2017
Dear Mrs. K,
I am sorry I have not written to you. I hope you still want to be my pen pal. I am sorry about your husband. But you and me both know he is happy in heaven. You will see him again in heaven. I wish I could be with you but I know how you feel.
One more thing, merry Christmas and happy new year.
(Flip side of note paper: be happy the Lord is with you [smiley face])
So the answer to the question, should I check in again a few weeks or months later? is a resounding yes! Email, text, snail mail note, phone call. Any form of contact. These can be the mourner’s lifeline to a world that now seems surreal and frightening. If you’re thinking of them, let them know. And if you live close by, set a firm date to meet for coffee.
You never know. God may just be using you to help another through the quicksand of a particularly rough day, to be His angel on earth. And it could make the difference between your friend feeling lost or feeling loved.
Four days after my birthday, I lost the love of my life to a sudden heart attack following 30 years of marriage and became intensely aware of the effect that such a tragedy has in temporarily dimming the light of this hallowed season. In my effort to refocus on the True and Everlasting Light, I reach out to others and feel lifted in prayer. One dear family friend gave me permission to post my exchange with her. I hope that it will be a comfort to others, as it was to me–especially others who know the pain of marking a sad anniversary during this season of joy.
I am assuming that you have heard that my husband Jack passed away very unexpectedly on the morning of the 12th from heart failure. Forgive me if I’m being presumptuous but I know you went through this with Chris and as the waves of grief ebb then flow, I find myself wondering how long it will be before any flicker of joy returns.
I know it is very early, but I am feeling rather like a wimp, and I thought you might have some words of wisdom you would be willing to share.
Thank you for listening.
Oh, Sue Anne. I am so very sorry for your loss; what a terrible shock.
Looking back over the almost five years since Chris’ death, there have absolutely been ebbs and flows of both joy and sorrow, peace and anxiety, gratefulness and anger, inclusion and loneliness. But through it all, I’ve been able to know in my heart that I was – and am – greatly loved: by Chris, by our friends, families, and even complete strangers, and by God.
Surround yourself with loving and caring people, be comfortable accepting help from others, and immerse yourself in as much beauty and light as you can.
Losing Chris was the most horrible thing I’ve ever experienced, and I miss him terribly every day. I feel his presence with me, though, always; and whenever I’m unsure of what to do or have an important decision to make, I know he is with me. I find immense comfort in that.
In these next few days and weeks, please take good care of yourself: talk as much – or as little – as you want to about Jack; know that it’s OK to accept – or decline – offers of help; and know that it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for what you need. People will be honored to help.
Wishing you strength, comfort, and peace.
I spent four years in Memphis, Tennessee, in the mid-seventies. It was not a happy experience. A half-inch of snow one January, and the whole city closed down. Then there was the headache-inducing summer humidity.
Working there, I found the coy, syrupy, Southern belle sweetness of some of my co-workers phony and hard to stomach. Add in the fact that—according to the matriarch at the family-owned building supply company I worked for—I remained “That Yankee Girl in th’ Office” for my entire 44 months of employment, and my discomfort meter got nudged toward its limit.
By the time I moved back north, I had heard enough racist and sexist references from the locals that I was ready for a frontal lobotomy just to stop the screaming in my head that I didn’t have the chutzpah to level at the guilty parties.
So, when my husband and I moved from the Minneapolis area in Minnesota to the Dallas area in Texas 18 months ago, I expected to experience full-fledged culture shock. South is south, right? Not so, I quickly learned. We have felt nothing but welcomed since day-one of our time here, and I find myself more in-tune politically, philosophically, and spiritually with my new friends and neighbors than I could have ever hoped to be.
Having said all that, there are things I don’t like about being here. I don’t like endless summer any more than I liked endless winter. And as much as I whined about having to bundle up head-to-toe every time I set foot out my front door from November through March, it really doesn’t seem like Christmas without a crisp, white blanket of snow covering the front yard.
I also dislike the idea of “outside dogs.” Sure, they add to one’s sense of security, but aren’t canines social creatures? Don’t they need attention from their owners, even if they have a dog-buddy fenced in out there with them? And don’t the neighbors deserve not to be awakened at 4:00 a.m. because the guard pooch mistook a squirrel for an armed intruder?
Ummm. The local drivers. They seem to be of two extreme types: the ultra-polite person who wants to wave you through the four-way stop even when it isn’t your turn—dangerous in its own way—and the idiot who screams down the George Bush freeway going 25 miles over the posted 70 m.p.h. limit, cutting between you and that 40-ton semi that you were starting to pass on the left.
But the things I love about life in Texas far outweigh the things I don’t love. People are exceptionally friendly. They chat with you in line at the checkout counter. They wave and smile from their vehicle as they pass you walking your dog, or they stop weeding the garden to come down and shake hands and chew the fat for a spell.
Here, we have discovered an abundance of good ol’ common sense, which dares to defy political correctness when rational thinking contradicts conventional wisdom. Closely related is the courage of the faithful. Our two favorite restaurants—one a fast food taco joint, the other a fabulous barbecue establishment—both flash Christian witness in neon red on their roadside signs. We’ve seen similar joyful proclamations other places, too, from the local Chamber of Commerce to the receptionist’s desk at the closing company that handled our house purchase. I feel bolstered on all sides by these unabashed efforts to promote faith; I’m no longer on the defensive within a civic environment hostile to and debasing of my beliefs.
And the skies. I don’t know the scientific explanation for it, but there is something about the chunk of heaven that hangs over our little corner of northeast Texas. Almost every sunset is a delight and a surprise, with its ever-changing variety of cloud formations and soul-inspiring natural tints that you want to scoop into a jar like fireflies, and bring back inside with you. Hard to capture in a photograph. Even harder to describe. This glorious daily treat—sometimes delivered at sunrise as well—sits near the top of my list of things to appreciate about our new location, right under being close enough to kids and grandkids to gather together at the slightest excuse for a celebration.
In fairness to Memphis, I imagine things are different there now. New generations, cleansed of the infectious bigotry and regional snobbery of their predecessors, have no doubt changed the feel of the place. But there’s no way they’ll ever be able to compete with the view of the firmament we are blessed with here in Cattle Country, U.S.A.
I’ll remind myself of that the next time I’m awakened from a sound sleep by the howling mutt next door. These indescribable sky-views are probably worth that trade-off.
This is a photo of our “green space” in Texas. The yard isn’t very big, but we’re thinking of naming it Heinz Acres, since it accommodates at least 47 varieties of indigenous fauna—only one of which even remotely resembles what you could call lawn grass.
According to a guy at the nearest Home Depot whose name tag proclaims him a Master Gardener, the 60 dollars’ worth of product he sold us to lay down according to a rather complicated application schedule should do the trick in taming this overgrowth wasteland of ours. But if anyone out there can offer hints about gardening in the southern climes, we’d sure appreciate hearing them. (Locals call the clay soil hereabouts “gumbo.” Anyone with no allegiance to the area calls it “impossible.”)
And speaking of Home Depot, but in a completely unrelated vein, here’s a handy tip for wives who occasionally find themselves staring vacantly at mile-high racks of lumber while their husbands meticulously sort through the bins for that perfect four-by-eight: Three laps around the outer circumference of a full-sized Home Depot is equal to a mile walked. (And yes, I actually counted out the paces. Don’t mock.)
Several of these circuits, completed at a brisk pace, and you can easily get a mini-workout ticked off your to-do list while dear hubby is engrossed in researching the latest Ryobi drill offerings. Now, everybody goes home happy . . . not a claim I can normally make after 45 minutes of following my beloved down interminable aisles stocked with guy-gizmos and hardware.
Felicitous fall foliage prep and happy hiking to all.
I’m thinking of taking a hiatus from television until mid-December – a plan inspired by retailers who insist on turning the Twelve Days of Christmas into the Twelve Weeks of Christmas. (Ah, that time-honored American custom, the Crass Commercialization of Sacred Celebrations.) Rather than wear out the mute button on the remote, it might be simpler just to walk away from the set entirely.
Not that there’s much to walk away from in our cable-less household. If anything, this year’s menu of verbal porn (98 percent of sit coms) and brutally dark themes (98 per cent of everything else) is even less appetizing than in years past.
Take Two Broke Girls. Please. “Constant sexual jokes and references, including breast and vagina references, orgasm jokes, allusions to masturbation, and kinky sex,” the Parents Television Council (PTC) observes. The brief glimpse I caught had one main character donning latex gloves to check the tip jar and saying, “This is Williamsburg. There’s a good chance even the dollars have herpes.” To which her ever-witty partner responds, “Well, if those singles have herpes, they should just lie about it till they get married like everybody else does.” As I said, please.
Then there’s the interminable Law and Order – Special Victims Unit. According to the PTC, in last season’s premiere episode Detective Olivia Benson turned the tables on her captor, a sadistic serial rapist and murderer, and beat him savagely with an iron rod.
Similar trends show up in contemporary literature, as some recent book reviews illustrate: A Brief History of Seven Killings – a sweeping tale of politics and violence; Zoologies – Art and hope in extinction, a book surrounded by sadness; The Baltimore Atrocities – a pitch-black comedy about two young men trying to track down their abducted siblings; Let Me Be Frank With You – heading, gloomily, toward that good night; Cinderland – exploring that murky period of childhood when the author was molested by her piano teacher; Ordinary Sins – stories of tragedy in miniature, as each character’s weakness becomes his or her destiny; Empire of Sin – a tale of booze and fallen women.
Note that all of these sunny little blurbs appeared in just two consecutive editions of my local paper. Makes you want to sob out loud just reading the review subtitles. Pretty sure the books themselves are no more uplifting.
Which brings me back to the theme of this piece, and the one exception to my T.V. boycott: the 60s family series, Father Knows Best. When my husband and I recently discovered these ME TV reruns while lingering over a late lunch, we breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude.
The differences between the heart-warming portrayals of loving family life of this corny old series versus the twisted, low-brow take on anything-goes amorality that you run into with each hop to a different channel these days are too stark to adequately describe.
Hokey, some call it. Themes of faith, family loyalty, and the importance of individual responsibility, integrity, and honesty. A worthy life lesson delivered in virtually every episode. But even Billy Gray, who played teenaged son Bud on the series, later ranted about the unrealistic, cotton candy, sexist nature of the program he was part of for six years. “I wish there was some way I could tell kids not to believe it—the dialogue, the situations, the characters—they were all totally false. The show did everybody a disservice.”
But wait a minute, Billy. I don’t hang around with foul-mouthed bed-hoppers who misuse women (Two and a Half Men; How I Met Your Mother); think nothing of taking things that don’t belong to them and trash the notion of a committed relationship (Bad Judge); or make comedy out of parental abuse (Mom). Making it look like everybody does, is that not a disservice to the audience? What’s wrong with holding up an ideal to aspire to vs. normalizing bad behavior?
Then there’s cable. “When chemistry teacher Walter White is diagnosed with Stage III cancer and given only two years to live, he decides he has nothing to lose. He lives with his teenage son, who has cerebral palsy, and his wife, in New Mexico. Determined to ensure that his family will have a secure future, White embarks on a career of drugs and crime.”
Now, there’s a slice of reality for you. Heaven knows that no one with terminal cancer graciously uses their final time on earth to put things right with God and their loved ones, share the Good Word, and ensure that their legacy is one of dignity and faith. Ummm, wait. I know these people. So do you.
The year is 1942. There is a world conflict raging “Over There,” and the average person’s wedding tended to be a modest affair with a minister and a few dozen guests. The bride likely wore a tailored suit, with perhaps a small, veiled velvet hat—not rationed, like rubber, but still heavily taxed as a luxury item during war time—atop a home-styled ‘do.
The couple are my parents. They had met working in a Saint Louis munitions plant and decided to marry shortly before my father enlisted in the Navy and prior to their 22nd birthdays.
The reporter is my father’s younger brother, Paul Williams, who went on to become an award-winning journalist but—based on his youth—was presumably a cub reporter or fledgling editor at the time. The Society beat was covered exclusively by women back then. But this is more a fluff piece than a serious column, so apparently an exception was made.
Enjoy. This could be the very dose of humor you crave, after a week overflowing with disturbing current news reports. With thanks to my cousin, Janet, for dredging this gem up out of the family archives, I offer you . . .
STATE JOURNAL NEWS REPORTER (MALE) COVERS A WEDDING
-Love Conquers Cleaners-
Editor’s note: For some reason known only to society editors, St. Louis society pages didn’t carry any of this interesting stuff about a Topekan’s wedding day.
M.H. (Bill) Williams, Jr., ex-Topekan now employed in a St. Louis war plant, was married at 3 p.m. Saturday and got around to eating breakfast by 6 p.m. of that hectic day.
His brother, Paul, a State Journal Staffer, returned to Topeka Monday morning with a long story of frustrated haste and missing pants.
Paul was best man, and the bridegroom had to wait two hours at the St. Louis bus depot for his arrival. Then they set out for a suburban county seat, 40 miles away, to buy a license.
They wasted 80 miles of tires, because they found that the bride, too, had to sign the application and she was still at home. It took another round trip to fix that.
Less than three hours before the wedding, the groom had to:
- Pick up the ring from the jeweler’s.
- Get the bride’s corsage.
- Get his best suit from the cleaner’s.
Bill got the corsage; but when he called for his suit a clerk said the pants were missing; they were at another shop 40 blocks away. And the jeweler said he’d sent the ring out; it wasn’t ready yet.
The bridegroom, a bit frantic, dashed home, met the jeweler’s messenger and got the ring, dressed for the wedding (with a substitute pair of pants) and started out again after his best pair.
He finished dressing at the cleaner’s, reached the bride’s home a half-hour late, waited still longer for a late witness.
It began to rain before they reached the minister’s, and a tire went down; also they had to stop and find an envelope for the minister’s fee.
Paul said Bill resumed breathing at 6 p.m. when he sat down to breakfast.
P.S. The bride’s name was Anne Robinson of St. Louis. Her clothes were very pretty and so was she.