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.

Supersize me . . . I’m a widow

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I do know how to cook a healthy meal, if only I had the motivation to do so.

After my husband died, eating a meal at home changed from a pleasant occasion to a little house of chagrin and horror. It morphed from being balanced nutrition, with at least one veggie and lots of conversation, into a lonely, tasteless thing you only do because you’re supposed to.

Thanks to that new life change thing, and to a panicked, adrenaline-fueled enrollment in an arthritis swim class at the local YMCA, I lost weight the first six months after the funeral. I’ve gained it all back lately by indulging in all the sweet things my local grocery store bakery entices me to buy. After all, it’s on sale, and cinnamon rolls . . . and chocolate anything . . . fill up that lonely hole in your heart for at least 15 minutes.

I have done nearly everything the grieving books tell you to do in the eating department.

  1. Instead of sitting across the table from the empty chair that once belonged to my husband, I changed places and took away his chair. That failing, I made an even more drastic move, relegating the round oak table to the basement for crafts and sewing and installing a breakfast bar with my seat facing a window on the front of my house. Then I realized that my silhouette behind my metal blinds would make my solitary existence even more obvious to the neighbors who pass by on their dog walking and errand rounds.
  2. I tried cooking for one, but how many times can a person eat warmed over country-style ribs before they begin tasting like sawdust? No amount of barbecue sauce can transform those leftovers into something as good as when the same fare was shared with a spouse. In fact, everything I tried to cook for myself seemed to expand in volume rather than diminish as it was sampled.
  3. I have responded to every invitation to eat out with friends and family and truly relished each morsel in those circumstances. Food always tastes better in a crowd. Plus, every church supper and donut Sunday were always circled on the calendar. Thankfully, some extended family members who live an hour away invited me to spend my first Thanksgiving as a widow sharing in their sumptuous feast. But even if you are alone, you can’t eat every meal with friends or family. You just have to face that solitary breakfast bar, put your lonely little plate on it and catch up with Facebook posts or read a book while eating. Please don’t sue me for unhealthy widow advice but what nutrition cop is going to arrest me for mindless eating and telling others that it is okay? You gotta do what you gotta do and get away from the table as fast as possible.
  4. I have always been the chief cook in the family, which offers an advantage as a surviving spouse. I can go through the motions at the chopping block and the stove, even cleaning messes as I go. So it’s never been a matter of ineptitude, but now more a lack of motivation. Why bother to cook?

    My higher self knows the answer to that hypothetical is, “To stay healthy.” Sadly, grabbing a pizza slice and a Coke at the gas station does not count as healthy. The times I haven’t given in to lazy fast food cravings and fixed a chef salad, I’ve been proud of myself and slept better at night.

  5. Speaking of sleeping better at night, it is true that it’s best not to eat much at all after 8 p.m. so that when you go to bed you won’t be suffering from indigestion. My late husband had a horrible habit of late night snacking . . . one which I merrily adopted, especially when watching a movie always led to one of us saying, “I want something,” and heading to the kitchen while pressing the pause button on the remote. Old habits die hard and I’m still pressing the pause button for a quick trip to the fridge. Not good. Maybe if I gave up television at night and read a book instead, my gut would sing my praises instead of protesting at 10 p.m. I promise to work on that.

    Meanwhile, here are some things that worked for me in the food and cooking department, at least for awhile until I backslide into bad habits:

    Small portions and single serve versions: The food industry knows there are many of us who are flying solo and trying to eat right. They have responded by making single serving sizes of many foods. While I’ve been taught to shy away from food in boxes, there are some relatively healthy processed foods. The pizza that I sometimes crave comes in flatbread, vegetarian single portions. Many brands try to limit the sodium content, thankfully. The same goes for “TV dinners,” which come in low-fat, low-sodium and fairly tasty versions. Even desserts are now packaged in single serve freezer containers. The bakery at my local grocery store will also occasionally offer up a four inch pie, as well as containers of a single slice of pie or cake.

    The deli: The local deli, whether a neighborhood ethnic spot or a section of your grocery store, is a great spot for widows and widowers. Don’t feel like cooking? Go grab a rotisserie chicken and concoct your own take home salad from the fresh food bar. They even serve fruit, already cut up, and you can select just enough for one or two meals.

    The outside aisles of the store: Savvy food shoppers have all heard the mantra about shopping on the outside aisles of a store for healthier purchases. That’s where all the fresh food is, from dairy to produce, from meat to cheeses. I love it that fruit juice companies are selling smaller bottles of the “not from concentrate” products. And you can drink straight from the bottle in your widowhood without worrying about giving cooties to your mate.

    FoodBox

  6. Special food delivery boxes: In my better, more motivated and self-righteous months as a surviving spouse I had boxes of healthy food delivered to my door. It was like Christmas every Saturday when the FedX man brought my pretty green box with its ice-packed and healthy foods. The box contained enough to make two servings of the three meals so leftovers didn’t become too ubiquitous. The best thing was that cooking those meals made me feel like a gourmet chef because the included instructions took me step by step through reductions, pan-searing, homemade dressings and exotic things that I don’t normally cook with, like shallots and fresh herbs. All the vegetables were oven-roasted and my new stainless steel cooktop got quite the workout when those boxes arrived. I was so proud of myself, I even took pictures of my plates.

    The only drawbacks to the food boxes, besides lots of dirty pots and pans and an oil-spattered stove, were the boxes. I now have a tower of them in my basement waiting to be filled with yet another load of stuff for the City Union Mission. And they’re so sturdy and potentially handy I can’t bear to just recycle them. So I’ve put the food boxes on hold and gone back to prowling the bakery specials and loading up on quick and easy.

    Someday soon I will probably hit rock bottom and admit I have a widowhood-induced food problem. But I know I have plenty of company, and not just from fellow widows. All the single people I know fight the same lonely eating battles.

    Perhaps the only long-term solution is to adopt an attitude of gratitude for the ample offerings of tasty fare we have to choose from in this country, no matter if we eat in a crowd or alone. When I am tempted to over-indulge and excuse it as a misguided need to take care of myself, I can recall that in Venezuela right now people are starving and fighting each other as they stand in food lines for eight hours to get their meager weekly rations. And that’s enough to make me instantly food sober and ashamed of my lazy, self-indulgent widowhood.

A widow learns to mow again . . . the hard way

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Sometimes it’s best to leave the hard stuff to those who do it for a living.

In widowhood I am fast becoming the comic relief for the neighborhood. It’s my Craftsman riding lawnmower’s fault.

My late husband always insisted on being the operator of all things with belts, blades and horsepower. The last few years he did hire a man to mow the yard, as his illness and medications made exertion in the sun a no-no. And I’ve kept Randy on this summer too.

But that leaves a fairly new riding mower and a brand new self propelled mower in the shed, forlorn and unused. So when Randy called and said he was down in the back, I almost rubbed my hands in glee because I could once again climb behind the wheel of my own little amusement ride.

But wait! I seem to have forgotten a few things in a several year hiatus from that outdoor chore. In my haste to see if I could even remember how to start it I forgot to check the gas. No wonder it wouldn’t rumble to life. (And don’t tell anybody, but I also forgot the capital rule about picking up downed branches before even climbing on the machine.)

Once filled with petrol, I backed out of the shed and got her going (note the use of the feminine pronoun when referring to machinery). She purred along in second gear until my memory got jump started. So far, so good. I kicked it up into the number three slot and whizzed along a little faster. But then I got to the part of the yard that slopes down into a French drain on one side with a concrete tree ring on the other side, with said mower’s girth a little too much to navigate without making me feel like I was going to fall over sideways. I leaned the opposite way and made plans to jump off if necessary but my own substantial weight kept me in the seat. I only shook a little after that.

Bravely I descended into the lower yard at the foot of the French drain swell and mowed down there. On the way there I noticed slosh-able water standing in the yard and mentally filed that for future fear time.

It did not take long for the reminder of how wet it was to come back to haunt the inexperienced mower person. I did have to get up that hill to mow the front yard and then to put the machine away. Well, that little process took me five or six tries, with the only result being my own personal mudathon. That machine was not going to climb a now muddy hill from any angle.

Operator turns off machine and goes to the garage for two large pieces of cardboard. They do not prove successful in two more tries.

Finally, I back the mower up clear across the yard, put it in sixth gear, pop a wheelie (well, close to one, according to my neck) and pull that sucker up the hill.

When I had dinner this evening with a few neighbors, the only male in our little group said he saw me using the mower in the front yard and noted that my husband used to mow a lot faster than I do.

Well, so what! I am a grandmother, okay? Grandmas use granny gear.

But then I asked this man, who used to be a distributor for a well known line of power equipment, if he could suggest why my brand new self propelled mower would not start he asked, “Did you drain the gas out of it for the winter?”

Now why would I waste gas? Besides, it was in a pretty air tight shed all winter.

“The carburetor is gummed up,” he explained to the clueless female pretend power machine operator.

Randy is coming to mow tomorrow. Maybe he can un-gum the carburetor after he goes over all the spots I missed on the rider. I’ve decided this is not a task for sissy Grandmas. He can have all the fun from now on.

Summer Shipp was so much more than a murder victim

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LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

How do you re-create the story of someone who died much too suddenly, leaving a grieving family and friends . . . especially someone who disappeared and was apparently murdered?

Consider the case of Summer Shipp.

I joined her family and friends this week in listening to testimony in the murder trial of Jeffrey Sauerbry, accused killer of Summer. It was a high profile case, even though it had almost been lost in the cold case files of the Independence Police Department since Summer disappeared while doing door to door market research back in December of 2004.

Summer’s daughter, Brandy Shipp Rogge, kept the case alive by seeking the help of such national notables as Nancy Grace and Montel Williams in the search for clues to her mysterious disappearance. She quit her jobs and spent most of her savings in undertaking a full time search for her dear mother.

The search ended in 2007 when two fishermen on the Little Blue River, only a 13 minute drive from where Summer was last seen, found parts of her body and items presumed to be hers. Summer was no longer missing. But the mystery was by no means solved.

And, despite testimony this week from a man who claimed to have listened to Jeffrey Sauerbry confess to her brutal murder, an Independence jury found the accused man (who is already serving a life sentence without chance of parole in another murder case) not guilty of Summer’s murder. There was not enough evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he had committed the heinous crime.

So the challenge now becomes how to fashion a fitting memorial to Summer’s memory as some form of consolation to her family and friends.

The only way to do this monumental but crucial task is through the stories her friends and family will tell of her. Summer Shipp’s contagious smile lit up the billboards plastered all over Kansas City back in 2004 and 2005 in an attempt to find her. She was that full of magnetism and a joy of life.

As I attempt to do justice to Summer’s memory in the next few months of writing her memoir, the stories her friends and family retell make me feel like I missed a lot in not knowing her in life. Her friend Brian told me over a lunch break during Wednesday’s trial how she almost exasperated her friends by always insisting they notice a beautiful sunset. Her daughter even got a little tired of her mother literally making her stop to smell the roses in her front yard every time she came to her house.

Brian told another story about how Summer loved going to movies with her friends, even after she no longer owned the Bijou Theater in Westport.

“She would pop a bunch of popcorn, put it down her shirt and pretend to be pregnant and then share the popcorn with all of us during the movie.”

What a fun-loving woman! What a joy it will be to discover her life and stories in writing her memoir.

Summer Shipp was so much more than a murder victim. Even now she will live on in the memories. And that’s why it is so crucial for each one of us to record our stanzas as we live them. We don’t know when we will no longer be alive to sing them.

 

Widow Journal: Older, solo women ‘don’t get no respect’

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Rodney Dangerfield had it right. Only he had the wrong gender.

I am now finding that being a widow at age 66 is a recipe for invisibility, especially where business dealings are concerned. Then again, maybe it’s not just widowhood, but being older in general.

The perfect example of this showed up in a scene from the Netflix original series “Frankie and Grace” starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. As the two newly divorced seventy-ish women discover, service and retail workers do not even see them if there is a younger woman or a man at the counter . . . until and unless they make a scene and demand to be waited on. Then they’re just dismissed as cranky old ladies and the subject of much eye-rolling and disgust.

Well, I joined the ranks of cranky old ladies this week as I waited at my car dealership for a simple oil change and coupon-induced free car wash. For the first hour in the “lounge,” as they call their waiting area, I entertained myself by eating my sack lunch, finishing a good book and catching up on friends’ Facebook posts. I had barely finished when the nice young man told me my car was ready. As I paid the bill I was told the car had also been subjected to some recall electrical work and that it was washed and ready just outside the door.

Well his “right outside” and my version slightly differed. I had to hike all the way to the end of the lot. There it was; my unwashed car. Only slightly agitated, I returned and informed the young man that my car had not been washed, returned my keys to him and he said it would be taken care of.

Two hours later, after being so bored I actually played a few rounds of Candy Crush on my iPad, I got up and went into the service area to see if I could spot my car. I sighed audibly when I found no sign of it and returned to the lounge. I was alone in that gray room. All the people who had come in later than I had were already long gone.

By now totally irritated, I returned to the service desk and told the young man that if my car had not been washed, I wanted to forget about it. I needed to get home and a four hour wait was long enough.

The car was not washed. He gave me some lame excuse and said they could wash it next time, but he was certainly not concerned or even apologetic. I grabbed my jacket and purse and huffed out of there without a word. But I showed those young whippersnappers at the service counter. I peeled out of that parking lot, by golly. (Too bad they couldn’t see or hear it. They have no windows in their office.)

 

But all the way home I fumed, recalling how nice those same guys used to be when I was with my late husband for service appointments. They were so deferential and even called him by name. They were always anxious to please because their jobs depended on us giving them a 10 rating in a follow-up email survey. Maybe they’ve done away with that survey business. And now the only service or retail person who calls me by name is the lady at the local pharmacy.

Yes, I have joined the ranks of invisible older women. We evidently don’t deserve to be treated courteously because there is no man backing us up with male firepower. Then I recalled how my late husband had helped several single women with vehicle issues—looking over a potential purchase for some and negotiating prices for others. He knew well how to get good service and was not shy about making demands and even being extra assertive when necessary.

I guess us older gals need assertiveness training, or maybe a list of men we can call on for backup in times of need. My husband used to joke about starting a “Rent a Husband” business for situations like I had just encountered. Even then he saw the need, and not just for car repairs and purchases. He saw the need for women to have some savvy while working with home contractors and for navigating complex legal and financial dealings. He ran out of health and time to follow that entrepreneurial path.

As I got closer to home, in addition to recalling the famous Rodney Dangerfield quote about lack of respect and the scene from Frankie and Grace where Lily Tomlin jumps over the convenience store counter to get a pack of cigarettes, a famous scene from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes popped into my head. You know the one . . . where Kathy Bates’s character has just been denied a supermarket parking spot for her rambling old Cadillac by two young chicks in short shorts driving a VW convertible. As the younger women laugh at besting an older lady, their cute little convertible gets rammed into oblivion by Bates’s Cadillac. And with a sweet smile, she explains “I’m older and I have more insurance.”

So after chiding myself for an un-Christian attitude and forgiving the young men for their lack of respect at leaving me in the lounge for hours unnecessarily, I decided to consider getting a little more respect by taking my business to another dealership. Maybe an old widow still has some economic power, even if she doesn’t have a man to fight her battles anymore.