One year ago today was Tom’s funeral service. I will always remember the generosity of his brother in saying it was ok to hold the funeral on his birthday. He said it was never a day that had much meaning for him and now it would. Happy Birthday, Rick and thanks for being a brother Tom loved dearly from cradle to grave.

Rick gave an improvised eulogy that wound up being just perfect. I slaved over mine and could not come  up with a single thing I wanted to say until suddenly my pen just started writing this:

This is a love story.

Finding the love of your life at age 55 is a rare and special gift.

I was the lucky beneficiary of an internet search engine. Tom and I had each joined a dating site for seniors. He actually clicked on another woman’s profile but was told that if he liked Susie he might also like Debbie or Sally or Mary. He picked Mary because she liked music and he needed someone who would understand that weekly band practice was sacrosanct.

We had both been hurt before, but somehow recognized in each other a lingering hopefulness, a stubborn refusal to give up on love.

On our first real date he cooked me dinner at the beautiful house he had designed and built with his own hands, from ingredients he had grown in his own extensive garden. He pretty much had me at hello. I went home that night, September 27, 2010 and wrote a poem called First Impressions that began “Just in case we decide to grow old (er) together I want to always remember that I was once undone by the beauty of you slicing an onion, knowing that someone who was that careful with an onion — would surely be careful with me too.”

I was an inveterate planner and Tom was what he called “a gamer”—up for anything—Wanna go to France for a wedding?—Sure!

Drive the coast of California?—-you bet!

Hike the Grand Canyon?—-of course

Sit on a perfect beach for an entire day because the air felt like velvet?—why not?

And this very week he had agreed to take his first cruise ever… with my siblings

Tom got me off the couch and outdoors in all weather—hiking, biking, kayaking—and even eating a little less sugar—but we would also build fires at the cottage and sit for hours with good books. I found a greeting card once that said it best—“I would rather do nothing with you than something with anyone else.”

We did have a number of differences:

I was always cold—Tom was a human furnace

I was always in a hurry, wild horses couldn’t rush Tom

I was guarded and mostly kept my own counsel, Tom was friendly and open to all

I was my mother’s grammar snob, he couldn’t spell and didn’t care

And yet a 5 hour trip to the cottage seemed like 5 minutes as we talked and laughed and sang. He got me. He knew and understood me completely and, miraculously, loved me ANYWAY! And that was the greatest gift of all.

The truth is… I had grown a little fond of my tough girl persona and rock hard cynicism—the Bossypants, jitterbug, worrywart Mary that made my kids run for cover. Tom gently, slowly, sneakily stripped that away one layer at a time and left me so much better than he found me—-sad, yes and raw and more than a little mad at God but with a heart so profoundly grateful and so much bigger.

I do not have Tom’s wisdom, nor his patient calm demeanor, nor even a fraction of his skill set,

But what I can offer today is advice.

If you have been hurt and given up on love—don’t.

If you have never had a true love and feel too weary to search—keep looking.

If you are young and finding a mate seems daunting, look for someone who accepts you exactly as you are and then makes you want to be better.

If you think finding someone fine and good and admirable who also takes your breath away is a pipe dream—it isn’t.

Here’s what I learned from Tom:

Life is about love. Look for it everywhere. Spread it far and wide. When you find it, hold it fast.

I love you sweetheart. Save me a really good seat.


Inside Out

My daughter and a friend were laughing the other day about girls who show up for a day of high school looking like they are ready for the Prom. Full make-up, hair perfectly dyed, straightened, curled, etc. in expensive high-fashion outfits that show every possible physical asset (even if some might objectively be viewed as liabilities.) My daughter looked down at her ripped jeans, Converse sneakers, baggy shirt, long semi-clean hair and no make-up face and said “This is me. This is what you get.”

Since I have inhabited both Planet All-Dolled-Up and Planet Take-Me-As-I-Am in my life, this topic caused some reflection.  In my days as a young banker in the 80s I dressed to the nines. I needed to. There weren’t many women in management and I didn’t want even a run in my pantyhose (yes, we wore them then) to bring any negative attention. You had to look good, but not TOO good—neat, professional, attractive even but certainly not alluring in any way (no peep-toed shoes, thank you very much.) The funnier memory is from my college years when I sometimes wore short dresses and set my hair and wore platform shoes although the uniform was jeans and baggy shirts. Go figure. In my experience, wearing make-up and dressing up is like playing a part and I have always loved theater, even the crazy weird opera get-ups which included white face and geisha wigs for Madame Butterfly. But that was a loooong time ago and now I am mostly a Plain Jane because anything else takes too much effort.

But my sister is another story. I have finally figured out that she is constitutionally incapable of going out in public (we’re talking the grocery store or gas station here) without make up. When we travel together extra time must be built in for this, along with the daily shower and hair washing/blow drying. I usually shower, pull my hair into a ponytail, slap on some moisturizer and chap stick and am good to go. When feeling really fancy I will straighten my hair and add eyeliner and mascara. We grew up in the same household with the same just-red-lipstick mom. So why the difference?

I think it might be the Don’t Give a Shit phenomenon. These days I usually just don’t care. I will rely on personality or energy or sheer volume if necessary to make whatever impression I need to make and not worry about how I look. But some people feel very differently. I once ran into a woman who was tan in the middle of winter. I asked where she had been and she said she was leaving for Florida in a few days. I looked confused and she explained that she had started going to a tanning booth several weeks earlier as a “public service to the people of Florida” so they would not have to deal with the shock of her paper white skin! This cracked me up, but got me thinking. On the rare occasion when I dress up a bit and put on some makeup it is often to teach, thinking that a prettier instructor might somehow cheer my students. My better packaging is a little gift to them.

Love can motivate too, of course. When we have feelings for someone or are hoping to meet someone we might want to have feelings for, we usually try harder. And sometimes it takes a long time to take off the spackling and get real. I used the master bathroom at the home of a long-married couple once and was shocked to see a full-on negligee hanging on the hook. Yikes! This woman was still wearing lingerie to bed years after I had switched to ripped T-shirts. A friend recently confessed that it had taken her years to be able to fart in front of her partner. I wonder what would happen if we were all just unvarnished from the get go. Could we save ourselves years of artifice? Or would we just scare away all potential lovers?

When my friend’s husband died I commented on what a handsome man he had been. She said “Handsome on the inside, honey. Handsome on the INSIDE.” Tom was too, but the outside grabbed me first. Whenever I left his beautiful country house and drove down the very long and winding driveway, he would stand in the carport and wave until I was out of sight. I would look back at him, every single time, and say out loud “Damn, that’s a handsome man!” He shyly confessed to me once that he had been voted “best body” in his high school. When my girls saw his graduation photo one day they cooed, “He was cuuuute” despite having initially concluded he was far too old for me based solely on his gray beard.

Physical attraction is a wily thing but I do believe it needs to be firmly in place to get the ball rolling. I once had a date with a handsome, smart, very nice, attorney whom I dismissed out of hand (no pun intended, I swear!) because I could not imagine his tiny little hands ever touching me. There is a quote that says something like “there are countless relationships built on the pleasure taken in a well-turned ankle”. An older male friend just confessed to me this week that he had always been an “ankle man” and I once got an email following a first date admiring my legs. On the TV show Transparent the one thing both the husband and the lesbian lover of the eldest daughter agree on are how great her breasts are. But as we all know, that first pull of attraction is not enough to help us stay the course. It is the long list of inside traits that brings deep and lasting love. Kindness, respect, support, acceptance or willingness to do the laundry are what sustains relationships. And HUMOR. That one most of all.

So my current dilemma is whether or not to pack my tiny makeup bag for the all-girl trip to Florida. I don’t really care how I look. I just want to be comfortable and I’m not trying to impress or be noticed by a soul. My daughter prefers my face unadorned (she thinks I look younger that way and having such an old mama is a little hard sometimes) but my sister will be looking snazzy, as usual. Guess I’ll throw in the mascara, just in case—-not out of vanity mind you, but as a public service to the people of Florida who will already be suffering from the glare off my snow white skin!!

Valentine to Tom

I nearly read this at our wedding dinner and also at his funeral. Instead I offer it now, nearly a year after his death, in the hopes he can somehow hear the words, as true for me as for the author, Anne Bradstreet, who wrote them over 300 years ago. Some things never change.


If ever two were one, then surely we;

If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;

If ever wife was happy in a man, Compare with me, ye women, if you can.

I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold, Or all the riches that the East doth hold.

My love is such that rivers cannot quench, Nor aught but love from thee give recompense.

Thy love is such I can no way repay; The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.

Then while we live in love let’s so persevere That when we live no move we may live ever.


Carpenter Needed

The website for my neighborhood where people exchange info on tradespeople (and occasionally gripe about city government) just had a post entitled Carpenter Needed. My first thought was, “I’ll say” because, of course, my husband was a carpenter. He has now been dead almost a year and I still feel his loss as the enormous, unfillable hole that it is, although possibly with less shooting pain than in the immediate aftermath. But my need for him if anything is deeper and greater with the perspective of time; his calm, his patience, his unwavering love, his total acceptance and perhaps most of all his listening ear and wise advice.

Before I met him, when I was in a terrible marriage, I used to gag when people spoke of their spouse as their “best friend”. Blech! Really? Don’t you want a same sex best friend who can actually understand you? I certainly did not fire my best friend when Tom came along, but I think I did whine to her a lot less and maybe gave her a tad more air time in our phone marathons. Tom was someone I could talk to about ANYTHING and we had some wonderful discussions, peppered with laughter and Republican bashing and flat out silliness. He somehow managed to be well informed and smart about nearly everything despite shunning TV and newspapers. But it was his emotional intelligence that I valued most—his ability to see other people, figure out who they were and what they needed and how to get along with them at the very least and often how to help them on their life journey.

I just met a builder and woodworker in my neighborhood who lives just a block from me. It made me sad to think how many of those guys Tom might have befriended if he had spent more than 16 months living here. I think we would’ve had such a fun life, whether we decided to stay here or move up north as we had planned. A friend was just relating her relationship with her introverted boyfriend and how nicely her salesperson personality complements his. Tom and I were the same. I would see him engage some stranger and start to panic a bit at how long we were going to be stuck there, but it was so easy to go places with him and never really have to leave my comfort zone. HE would be friendly so I didn’t have to be. As a preacher’s kid I was always expected to smile and be polite to the old church ladies pinching my cheek and calling me by the wrong name, but after a reasonable time I would look imploringly at my mother and ask “Can I stop being NICE now?”

I went to a grief group last night where they showed a long video with various people sharing things they miss about their loved one. Several women mentioned how lonely it is to get into what seems like a very big bed at night. I remember Joni Mitchell’s lyric in “My Old Man”—“The bed’s too big, the frying pan’s too wide.” Yes, I miss all that. And the comfort of having someone already know all your history and preferences and annoying daily habits and love you anyway. But most of all I miss being part of a team. It is easier to write songs when you are Rodgers AND Hammerstein rather than just Rodgers. It is easier to live life when someone has your back and perfectly balances your personality and comfort zone and skill set in every way.

It’s true that I can’t use a power drill or pound a straight nail or fix anything. So I am all over that ad that says Carpenter Needed. But there’s only one that I want and it’s for so much more than his tool belt.