I wish I’d been there when Braymer almost became Branson

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Over the recent holidays someone picked up an old thread on the Facebook page Braymer, MO Remember When. The discussion way back in 2011 began when I was asking for input on an article I was writing for The Caldwell County News seeking people’s memories of The Country Place. I promised the late-comers who wanted to read the article I wrote back then to reformat it somehow so they could read it now. It has evidently brought back lots of fond memories of a time when Braymer was the 1970s version of Branson. Here’s a little retrospective for a formerly “happenin’ place.” It  originally appeared in a regular insert of the newspaper called Rural Living.

The slogan, “Braymer—the Biggest Little Town in Missouri,” had a special significance in the 1970s. That was when Carl and Shirley Adams owned and operated The Country Place, north of Braymer on Route A, on a hill that spilled down into Shoal Creek.

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The late Carl Adams, owner of The Country Place 

All that remains of the hopping country music venue and local entertainment spot is rocks, rattlesnakes, weeds and the shell of the skating rink/music hall that burned down, and the steakhouse that was under construction at the time of the fire. Then there are the ghosts of people that spent their weekends letting their hair down and relaxing, listening to some of the great country stars before they really hit the big time. The ghost of Carl Adams may even roam the hill. He and wife Shirley were the heart and soul of the operation until Carl’s untimely death on the dance floor of a heart attack. But in its heyday, it was a golden time in local history when the likes of Barbara Mandrell, Porter Wagner, LeRoy VanDyke, Ernest Tubb and Billy Crash Craddock climbed the Country Place hill in their big buses to entertain huge crowds.

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An ad in the Hamilton Advocate Hamiltonian back in the 1970s

Jerry and Dixie McBee of Braymer had their first date at the Country Place in 1976 (they got married in 1978.) Dixie, who grew up in Polo, had already been a country music groupie, along with her extended family. Jerry was greeted by an entire table of Dixie’s relatives when they met that night. They’ve both been following Nashville stars since then. But in the 1970s, some of the stars were on a first name basis with Dixie and her dad. It almost blew Jerry away the night that Barbara Mandrell was entertaining at the Union Mill Opry in Edgerton and called Dixie by name from the stage, then told her to stick around after the show and she’d bring the baby out (her first child).

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Barbara Mandrell appearing at The Country Place

Other Braymer natives have fond recollections of Mandrell’s appearances at The Country Place. Mary Floyd recalls her mother working there for years and one night she stopped at the place and Carl took her with Mandrell on a tour of her bus. Jackie Clevenger Adkison remembers Porter Wagner’s appearance and Ruth Anne Proctor Matthes recalls the dances and the skating rink and an appearance by Cal Smith, who sang “Country Bumpkin.”

Jodie Carpenter recalls having birthday parties at the skating rink when she was little and Teena Britt also recalls a concert by Mandrell. Chris Summerville remembers a later time, after Shirley sold the business, when two area bands, The Chapter Four and Country Sunshine, played for close to a thousand people on Saturday nights. Deana Hughes McCoy remembers the Krazy Kats pulling big crowds too.

Debbie Rankin was fortunate to have a special friendship with Carl and Shirley; she was invited to the skating rink before it opened to get the floor broken in. She owned and operated Rankin’s Cafe in those days and accommodated the Country Place gatherings by opening the restaurant at midnight for people to eat breakfast.

The entertainment venue holds such a special place in the hearts of Dixie and Jerry McBee, not only because that’s where they fell in love, but because it was such a family-centered place.

There wasn’t that much to do in those days in town,” recalls Dixie, adding that the skating rink and movie theaters had closed in Braymer by the mid-1970s. When the Country Place first opened, Jerry was not old enough to get in. But the day he turned 21, he lined up at the door to have his driver’s license checked and was a regular from then on. Jerry and Norman Mallory had formed a rock ‘n’ roll band when they were in their teens, but McBee said they all still had their country music roots. One day he and Norman sat down at Tait Park and wrote a song for Carl, hoping he’d use it as a jingle in his radio ads. He never used it, but the song stuck so well with some Braymer natives, it’s still sung today.

When a bunch of us get together, somebody would always ask us to sing the Carl song,” laughs Jerry. He even had a hard time remembering the words he wrote, but he finally summoned them from his memory banks. Here’s how it went:

Carl built the Country Place for skatin’ and for dancin’

Carl built the Country Place for lovin’ and romancin’.

Carl built the Country Place for you and me and all,

So come on everybody and let’s go have a ball.

There’s two routes that you can take to get to the Country Place.

When you get there don’t be surprised if you see a Nashville face. 

So if you’re tired of hanging around and a good time is what you seek,

Just come out north of Braymer and you’ll find us at Shoal Creek.

Chorus:

Well I’ll bet your heart will come to a still

When you see the lights upon the hill,

But there’s no need for you to fright

Cause Carl and Shirley will make it right.

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The Country Place was built on a hill on Route A overlooking Shoal Creek. The building burned several years ago.

 

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“She makes her own clothes!” Getting caught up on sewing technology

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You’re at least a baby boomer (or older) if you recall that sophomoric blind date saying, “All the girls really like her. And . . . she makes her own clothes!”

Yeah, I was one of those girls. Our family’s economic status and 4-H sewing projects made it almost imperative to fashion my own clothes in high school. That doesn’t mean I did it well or with any design flair. But on a galloping horse (as my ex-mother-in-law was fond of saying) you couldn’t tell how many times seams had been ripped out or how crooked the stitching was.

Economic necessity and my wedding dress

Economic necessity also drove me to make my own wedding dress (for the first nuptial anyway) and help my sister-in-law sew hers. The memory of spreading a huge sheet on the floor of the dank basement I lived in while going to summer school at Mizzou came flooding back to me last week. The sheet was to protect the beautiful white dotted swiss fabric I used to make the princess waist dress with long puffed sleeves, cowl neck and train.

I tapped into those memories while attending a class to learn how to use my new computerized sewing/quilting machine. The instructor wanted to know how much sewing experience we had and those wedding dress memories just fell out of my mouth, surprising even myself. I was a lot younger and braver back then and had no idea how challenging a big project like that could be.

Now I’m almost terrified that the beautiful precision Swiss machine that requires a rolling piece of padded luggage to transport will conjure up a “Fatal Error” message when I try to use it to finish the cross-stitch, king-size quilt my mother started decades ago.

Yes, the only reason I bought this amazing equipment was to tackle machine quilting myself and finish that heirloom . . . something I will then be afraid to ever put on my bed, because I have dogs with dirty feet. I can just see them snagging their toenails on the embroidery I spent another decade finishing.

Husqvarna and Viking? Is this the chainsaw store?

I just went into the franchise fabric and hobby store a few months ago to find out what in the heck a serger was. I knew I was totally behind the times in terms of the evolution of sewing, but was unprepared for what I saw on the Viking/Husqvarna showroom floor. Heck, I thought I had just stumbled into the chainsaw department when I noticed the brand on the showroom wall! The real halleluiah moment arrived upon seeing machines with computer screens sewing without a human behind the wheel. When the salesman told me about the features of sergers, quilting machines and embroidery machines, I knew I had to bypass the serger for something more versatile. Besides, my new machine has a bazillion fancy stitches that might come in handy some day.

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You have to understand, I made my wedding dress on a Montgomery Wards portable machine and thought I was in hog heaven to have a zigzag stitch or two on a dial. It even had three separate buttonhole settings! A few years after my wedding I found myself in the hinterlands of Brazil where I learned to operate an old Singer treadle machine. Can’t remember what I even made with it then, but at least overcame my fears and got into the rhythm of foot control.

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Now if our power grid ever goes down, the antique Singer I have in my basement could be unfolded and used to make a sackcloth garment for the end times. But in the meantime, I have a machine that almost walks on water. Or at least it threads its own needle and informs me, on its glowing blue screen, of operator stupidity.

And just as soon as I overcome my fear of hurting the shiny new equipment (it honestly feels like trying to learn to ride my bike without training wheels) I will tackle my heirloom. I just hope that my arthritic fingers and dimming eyesight will not contribute to an epic heirloom quilt failure. If it does, I’ll just trade my machine in on a newer one that sews by itself.

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Domestic divas make food for the soul; and maybe just a few mistakes

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The call of a row of Concord grapes and some unexpected wild elderberries that grew up beside Wayne’s barn lured me into burning in the kitchen this week . . . literally and figuratively.

Wayne’s late wife, my dear cousin Linda, had made a business of concocting 56 “shades” of jelly and selling them at the local farmers’ market. Her daughter and I (mostly her daughter) were determined to somehow carry on her legacy and not let those grapes go to waste.

It has been years since I made any jelly. Gave up that activity after many failures. Besides, who needs that much sugar, anyway? But boy, when I re-experienced Sure-Gel in action and tasted a spoonful of hot jelly, the joys of being a domestic diva came flooding back.

I forgot how soul-satisfying it can be to see a row of gleaming, burgundy-colored jars lined up on a counter and knowing that I had created the contents. Well, God and me anyway.

My friend Cheri supplied the recipe for the elderberry jelly and secured from another friend the loan of one of the most exciting kitchen gadgets I’d ever used . . . a steamer/juicer. This three-part thingy goes on the stove with water in the bottom reservoir. Fruit goes in the top and a steamer basket comprises the middle section. As the steam from the bottom pan causes the elderberries in the top to pop open and release their juice, the middle pan collects the juice and siphons it off through a clamped spigot coming out from the side. Ingenious! And so much easier and cleaner than squeezing juice through a cheesecloth by hand.

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Spurred on by a good, easy recipe and the ease of extracting juice, I was soon digging in a basement cabinet for jelly jars and lids. When my first batch flopped due to using liquid pectin instead of the powdered the recipe called for, Cheri came to the rescue with the advice to use that batch for syrup. She supervised the next batch, which was a success. I’m now a new veteran of 24 gleaming jars of grape and elderberry jelly, which could be going to new homes over the holidays. Or, I could save them to provide sustenance and energy when North Korea sends a missile our way. (Not funny, I know.)

Lest you think all this was a breeze, it’s time to confess to lessons learned:

  1. I learned you need a deep pot to cook jelly in. That lesson after a half cup of sticky jelly boiled over and onto the stove.
  2. I learned that pot holders can scorch and almost catch fire.
  3. I learned that pouring seven cups of sugar into a boiling vat of liquid can be tricky, especially when old, flabby arms don’t want to hold up that much weight.
  4. I learned that a quarter-cup of sugar on a hot stove makes for a difficult cleanup; but then so does half a cup of hot jelly. I am learning to live with new, permanent scratches in my stainless steel stovetop.
  5. I learned that an ample bosom can be subject to steam-scorching.

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I had probably already learned the above lessons in my thirties, when I was serious about being a superwoman who could hold down a full time job and make jelly on the side. And maybe next year when jelly time rolls around again, I can retrieve the memory of the missteps made this year and do a better job.

A woman I met at a national storytelling conference this summer is writing a book about the legacies that are carried through generations as found in family recipes and ethnic foods. Jelly making feels like a legacy thing. All canning and food preservation is, actually. I grew up listening for the satisfying pop of metal that signaled the sealing of cans of green beans my mother had just processed. And this week I listened for that again and sighed with satisfaction when comparing the number of pops to the number of jars of jelly pulled out of the canner. They matched!

Activities like canning and jelly-making are marked by love and a legacy of generations of women, many long-departed, who blazed trails with the same mishaps that plagued me this week. As we stir our “soul foods” we can remember the women who went before us and find satisfaction in knowing they’re probably watching us from the beyond and nodding in approval. Or maybe laughing and shaking their heads in disbelief.

Landscaping by Buffy

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My late husband had a quaint, but critical saying that he occasionally aimed in my direction. When he saw me tackling some project and only doing a half-a**ed job at it, he would look at it and say, “That looks like Buffy did it.”

Well, the ever-incompetent Buffy is alive and well in me and she just spent the last several days sweating through a major landscaping project. The results are less than satisfying.

The precursor to all my incompetence began with an innocent conversation with a neighbor at a holiday gathering. She informed me that those pretty little plants in my back yard—the ones I fought to tame every spring and fall with their enormous overgrowth—was not an innocent haven for birds. Instead, it was an invasive monster that would kill everything in its path. In addition, it would be responsible for the major sin of any city dweller—encroachment.

Invasion of the monster plants

Encroachment may sound like legalistic jargon, which it is. Replace the word with “invasion” and you get a more concrete idea. My Japanese honeysuckle made me a bad neighbor by reaching its ever-expanding tentacles into my neighbors’ yards. It wound itself around and through my chain link fence and began to choke the life out of a massive evergreen in the back yard.

By now, someone surely must have formed a Society for the Prevention of Japanese Honeysuckle Encroachment. I could be a charter member. I have done my duty to God and my neighbors in freeing my own little corner of this beautiful but obnoxious greenery. And Buffy rode into the vacuum created by the honeysuckle eradication efforts.

Wayne, my strong partner in the eradication efforts, (the one with the truck and trailer to haul off the offensive plants), made the mistake of taking me to Home Depot early this spring. There we found the cutest little evergreens for only $4.97 apiece. They came home with me and he obligingly planted them. But they looked lonely where the honeysuckle once roamed, so I made a solo trip to Lowe’s and came home with two pots of ornamental grasses and two pots of I-Forget-Whats. All of them promise to eventually fill in some bare spots.

Fill in the space, said the voice of Buffy

But every day that I looked out the window to the large bare area with eight dots of new plants, a voice cried out,“get busy.” So Last Saturday we returned to Home Depot for 33 bags of mulch.

I had already picked up some black plastic edging and landscape cloth in the action aisle of a discount grocery store. A plan formed in my Buffy brain and it came to fruition only after poor Wayne hauled every single bag of heavy mulch on his shoulders, through the garage, and to the furthest reaches of my back yard. He left me with tips on how best to get the plastic edging lodged into the ground to hold the mulch and the landscape cloth underneath.

For the next four evenings I sweated, cussed, lost a utility knife under a pile of mulch and broke a fingernail way past the quick.

I tried to get a stubborn piece of thick black plastic to unroll and stay flat by stepping on it at regular intervals. All that accomplished was to put permanent kinks in it. I then did my best to get that black plastic to wedge itself into the ground and stay put, using a tiling spade and a monstrous tool that we called our snake killer (picture a heavy, flat-bladed thingamajig). It felt like digging to China, but when the edging was put in place, it threatened to pop right back out if I even looked at it sideways.

That’s when I wished I had called on a professional landscaper.

Good enough for who it’s for

Through the sweat that blurred my vision, I did the best that Buffy could manage, all the while guiltily recalling my mother’s words decades ago, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” But I have preferred the theory always spouted by my ex-mother-in-law, “On a galloping horse, you’ll never tell the difference.” For 40 years I’ve hurried to finish major projects and also unconsciously adopted Wayne’s wisdom, “It’s good enough for who it’s for,” and the ancillary, “Close enough for government work.”

The landscaping project is almost finished . . . only eight bags of mulch to spread. While I struggle to keep the last vestiges of honeysuckle from reappearing by zapping new shoots with brush killer, I have stopped worrying about the kinks in the edging. It doesn’t even bother me when I see the squirrels digging up and dislodging the landscape cloth. Instead, I throw my eyes out of focus in the same manner I use to view myself in the mirror to avoid seeing old age bulges and wrinkles. And what I see is order where chaos once reigned. What I see is, at least superficially, a manicured planting and a new definition to a yard that once grew wild and untamed.

I try not to think about the leisure I could have enjoyed or the book I could have returned to instead of wearing mulch on my sweat-stained arms. Instead I recall a poem by Barbara J. Burrow that a friend gifted me with years ago:

That Woman is a Success . . .

who loves life and lives it to the fullest;

who has discovered and shared

the strengths and talents that are uniquely her own;

who puts her best into each task

and leaves each situation better than she found it;

who seeks and finds that which is beautiful

in all people . . . and all things;

whose heart is full of love and warm with compassion;

who has found joy in living and peace within herself.

While the wisdom of the poem doesn’t address our inner critics, it certainly explains why we try to make places of beauty in our outward and internal landscapes. One day soon I will fully realize that perfection is not my department, or part of my job description, and that my Buffy best is as good as it gets.

Merry Christmas . . . now enjoy this poisonous treat

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In the course of a recent holiday luncheon with friends, and right after I had enjoyed my own ramekin of crème brule (sometimes we share our desserts), one of those so-called amigos remarked that sugar kills brain cells. Like a Grinch who had just spoiled my own Christmas, I snuck home in guilty silence to ponder that revelation.

It did not stop me from following a tradition that goes back through generations on both sides of my family tree: making sweet holiday confections to give as gifts. I can see my Grandma Garrett in her kitchen, flour up to her elbows, rolling out a piecrust or slapping bread dough in a pan. She filled that kitchen with good smells and expressed her love of children and grandchildren by her baked goods.

Then in my early childhood and adolescence I watched my mother roll up a slab of dough that had been filled with brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins, form it into a circle, slit it, bake it (filling our own house with incredible smells), drizzle icing over the end result, decorate it with green and red maraschino cherries, put Saran wrap over it and promptly take it out of our sight. She gave those Swedish tea rings to other people for Christmas, even though her German ancestry actually disqualified her from passing it off as some heritage confection.

When I got my own kitchen and was occasionally bereft of Christmas cash for gifts, I started following suit, baking cookies with a recipe stolen from my mother (who stole it from a church cookbook), making fudge and arranging plates of goodies to hand-deliver like some deranged Santa on a sugar high from taste-testing.

Holiday baking and gifting has to be in my DNA. Otherwise, why would I feel compelled every December to drag out the stained recipe cards and repeat this tradition? And who am I really doing it for . . . family and friends or myself? I mean, Christmas would not come unless I put pieces of fudge, iced sour cream drops, homemade peanut brittle and dipped pretzels in some Currier and Ives decorator tins and then in the freezer for later distribution.

I made fudge and cookies yesterday. Then I wondered why I felt so sluggish this morning. Could it have anything to do with licking the spoon and pan after cooking candy? Or was it because I watched a holiday movie while mindlessly munching on sweetened popcorn?

As I got on my treadmill for the first time in months to try to flush the poison out of my system, my friend’s words began to haunt me. How many brain cells had I killed yesterday? How many brain cells of friends and family will I destroy this holiday season?

Perhaps the bane of our modern life is not, as so many suggest, war and a fragile economy. Maybe sugar is to blame for all the ills in the world. Yet I frantically hold onto the words a friend gave me over the phone yesterday while I was multi-tasking (stirring fudge and talking to her). When I suggested that perhaps the universe is trying to tell me in some pretty direct ways that I should stop trying to say Merry Christmas with poison. She assured me that the universe would never want to do away with fudge.

Perhaps instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of sugar as a brain cell murderer, I should instead focus on ways to build new brain cells. I’m sure that will be rich fodder for a separate blog in the New Year.

Whistling through the graveyard: Some goofy death fears

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We’ve just crossed Halloween and All-Souls Day off the calendar, but that doesn’t stop a Baby Boomer like me from conjuring up new and irrational death fears. But at least I can laugh at myself in a sort of “whistling through the graveyard” manner.

Through the years I’ve borrowed irrational fears from friends and made some up myself to fill a newspaper column. Consider my all-time favorite: Being crushed to death in a mammogram machine. That belonged to a friend and newspaper associate. But my own, which is darned apropos right now: Death by politics.

Here’s a new one I’ll bet you haven’t yet begun to fear: Death by oak tree.

I mean, think about it.

We have a bumper crop of acorns this year. I’m thinking about filing an insurance claim for my roof and home siding because the damage these killer nuts have inflicted are potentially worse than the worst hailstorm. In fact, they make such loud noises when they hit that my dogs start barking and the security alarm thinks an intruder is in the vicinity. They even set off the motion lights outside.

Add to the noise the temptation for the dogs to chase the acorns as they roll down the street, followed by the irresistible urge to eat them. My vet told me last week that eating acorns will cause the dogs to have diarrhea. As I dutifully use a plastic baggie to pick up what one of my 15 pound Llhasas has left behind, I see the vet’s point.

Yet there is an even bigger potential for death by oak tree from something smaller than an acorn. I’m talking about the dreaded killer oak mite.

Twice now I’ve opened the daily paper to read a banner headline about the scourge of the year. . . the microscopic oak leaf mite. I am assuming that local reporters have oak trees in their yards and convinced their editors that this is the story of the year, since they have themselves been suffering the itch that comes from these critters. Well, I’m right there with them.

My first brush with these irritating things came right after a friend with muscles and a Dodge pickup helped me remove an aging and scraggly privet hedge from the front of my house. This process first involved putting a chain around the base of the bushes, attaching the other end to the hitch on the Dodge and then slowly prying the bush from the ground. That process worked twice . . . until the chain began sliding off the branches and stripping the leaves without ejecting said bush from the earth. From that time forward I rode the ledge of a tiling spade to dig while my partner used his back muscles and arms to pull. It wasn’t until a few hours after that grueling work we both began itching, never suspecting until we read the newspaper a few days later, that the red welts we wore as privet-digging souvenirs were courtesy of the ancient oak in the front yard.

Oak mite bites come and they eventually disappear, only to be replaced by a fresh crop. The only upside is that these tiny, invisible pests allow us bragging rights. A few ladies I am in an arthritis swim class with have started sharing bite locations in the locker room after our showers. We have all agreed they are x-rated critters with a penchant for unmentionable bite targets and even worse than seasonal chiggers in that regard.

I saw my sister-in-law Saturday for the first time in a few months and as she dropped me off after lunch at a French cafe she lifted her pant leg to show me where her oak mites had been dining. She won this dubious contest as her bites looked to be morphing into permanent scars.

Then a few days ago I wondered how I had managed a fresh crop of bites on my face, since I had not been working out in the yard lately. But this morning’s newspaper article solved that puzzle. I had taken a nap recently with my window open to a cool fall breeze, but learned that they come in through window screens.

As if fall hay fever was not enough to keep some of us hunkered down inside, we now have further cause to close ourselves away from the hazards that await us in the fearful outside world. Hay fever and oak mites have a common cure: A hard freeze. And that can’t come soon enough for me this year.

While waiting for hell to freeze over I think I’ll contact my insurance agent to see what clause “death by oak tree” might fall under in my homeowner’s policy.

Major widowhood milestone: The one year anniversary of death

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I intended to visit my husband’s grave this morning to mark the exact one-year anniversary of his death. Mother Nature had different plans. Another major summer thunderstorm rages, blowing branches out of trees and sending us thunder claps that cause my dogs to scurry for protection under the desk.

I intended the cemetery visit to be another ritual good-bye; a remembrance of his life that I would mark symbolically by placing flowers on Marshall’s gravestone. Yet I know that he is not really in that grave. His spirit is with me. I sometimes talk to him and even occasionally see him walking down the hallway of our house; just a fleeting impression out of the corner of my eye.

Perhaps it would be better to mark this milestone by doing a personal inventory, asking myself if I have progressed in ways the grief experts say this process should go.

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, one of the nation’s premier experts on grief and founder of The Center for Loss and Life Transitions, explains that the difference between grief and mourning is as follows: Grief is how you think and feel after someone you love dies. Mourning is the outward expression of those feelings.

Dr. Wolfelt also explains that there are six reconciliation needs in the life of every mourner:

  1. Acknowledge the reality of death. To that I would admit that the first thing that popped into my head was the song from the Wizard of Oz when the wicked witch is killed under the falling house. The munchkins sing that she is “really most sincerely dead.” My husband is not coming back to mow the yard, to have a cup of coffee with me every morning, to watch a movie and eat popcorn or to take a trip somewhere that we dreamed of going. He is most sincerely deceased and I sincerely miss him. I have discussed the day and moment of his death a few times with my sister-in-law, who was traumatized by being with us. I have replayed the scene in my head, in my journal and in a book I’m writing to help other surviving spouses. I have shed buckets of tears while praying for the repose of his soul, yet thanking God that Marshall is no longer suffering.

    For months I did not want to face the reality of his death, sometimes choosing to imagine him coming through the door or picking him up at the hospital to return home to recuperate from multiple maladies. But I think I can cross the death reality check off my mourning list. It happened, it’s a road he won’t be returning on and it will be time someday for me to travel that same path.

  2. Embracing the pain. Now this is a number I can’t in good conscience cross off just yet, even though it’s been a year. In fact, I have spent an entire lifetime avoiding pain, numbing out, afraid to be engulfed by emotions I can’t control. What if it kills me? What if it hurts too much? My pain threshold is pathetic, leading me to reach for pain killers at the first twinge, or for something to eat at the first hunger pang. I need to take to heart Dr. Wolfelt’s advice that doing well with your grief means becoming well acquainted with your pain. Okay, so I let a little of it leak in, in manageable doses, while trying not to be too full of self-pity. But what can one expect of a woman who does not really allow the full impact of a divorce to hit her until a full year after the court date when she hears her ex- introducing his new wife? With that modus operandi, I should be feeling the edge of the widowhood knife real soon now, unless I run the other direction, which I’m good at.
  3. Remembering the person who died. Last week I stumbled across some photos that were stored in my Dropbox file of a vacation that Marshall and I took with his sister out west. There we were, arms around each other, with our backs to Grand Canyon. It was wonderful to see the photos and a great memory. It reminds me of the need to do a more systematic memory voyage through photos as a way to create another memorial of our 21 years together. I planted a living memorial in the back yard and I had already done a written account of our fun and funny times together in a memoir I published in 2014.

In remembering my late husband, I must admit that not all the memories are good ones. We had tough times, we argued, we inflicted and suffered some permanent relationship scars. But there is no longer a need to hold on to the negative. After a death, we can acknowledge the effects of the wounds we bore from each other, but must push them to the back porch of memories. I will now dwell in the front porch good times and focus on his positive traits, on all the things he taught me and how he ultimately made me a better, stronger person.

  1. Developing a new self-identity. Dr. Wolfelt says that our self-identity undergoes a change when someone we love dies, because part of that identity comes from our relationships. I am here to attest that I am a totally different person than a year ago. I no longer have a husband who is ill to provide an excuse for getting out of social engagements or for not maintaining and cultivating friendships. Consequently, my social calendar is now almost too full for my own sanity.

    In addition, prior to becoming a widow, I dreaded regular weekly visits with my husband’s stepmother in a local nursing home, only going out of sense of obligation. Conversations with someone who has dementia are difficult and strained at best. But after Marshall’s death, I took on Rosie’s Power of Attorney, as she has no family members left to do so. In accepting that responsibility, suddenly the visits became less strained and I was able to replace the sense of obligation with a tender mercy and kindness that I hope someone will show to me if I find myself in a similar situation someday. I know that my visits bring her a bright spot in a dull day, even is she asks me five times in five minutes if I got my hair cut again.

  2. Searching for meaning. This is the part where a widow finally confronts her own mortality because her longtime mate has “bought the farm” (his favorite saying for death). This is the mourning stage where we search for new meaning and purpose to life. I am fortunate to have found that new meaning. I jumped into a church community with both feet, signing up to sing in the choir, offering to publish a newsletter and sponsor memoir writing seminars. I became a regular Sunday worshiper, finding an outlet for my emotions in a beautiful liturgy and a social network in my fellow church members. That also led to intense study of my faith beliefs, the beauty and value of its doctrines and to a new regular practice of prayer. That prayer practice forms the fabric of my daily routine. If I can’t have a prayer and meditation hour every morning, something is just off and the day doesn’t go smoothly.

    My husband’s death forced me to find a spirituality that he tried to teach me with his example of generosity and of love for God’s creatures. He always encouraged my connections with extended family members and reminded me to call my mother frequently when she was still alive. These are lessons and examples I will always follow now. They give meaning and form to my new life as a widow.

  3. Receive ongoing support from others. Dr. Wolfelt asserts that the support we receive during our grief journeys will enhance our capacity for healing. That must be why I have done so well because I have friends who have come out of the woodwork to support and encourage me. My brothers and their wives are wonderful and contact me frequently just to check on my well-being. A high school friend has provided his insights and shared his experiences of the grief process and given me hope for coming out the other side in one whole piece. My son is a phone call away and will help at any time. I have new friends and old who know how to divert me and support me. And, while the process of writing does not count for the “others” category, the ability to express my emotions on paper has been a key factor in the mourning process. What would I do without my journal?! I’ve barely missed a day of writing in it since Marshall died and it is so helpful to re-read the entries of the past year to see how far I’ve come and how I’ve handled the moments when loneliness and fear threaten to take over.

    What a year of ups and downs this widowhood process had proven to be! The take-away for me has been a feeling of growth in wisdom and experience, love for others and a new gratitude for the gift of life. I think I’ve finally grown up and learned who and what I am. I can only hope to enjoy the good, if subdued, feelings that come with that before I have to face any more good-byes of people I love.