Well, I Never…

A lot goes through your mind when you spend most of your time alone. I’d say I’ve seen other people for maybe three and a half hours total in the last 10 days. There was another potential Covid exposure in my daughter’s family which meant tests and quarantine again. Basically I live outside during the day. I work in the garden. I exercise. I listen to music all day. Occasionally I speak on the phone to a friend or my sister. I play lots of Words with Friends games online. I read books. And I think.

I’m often angry. Mostly about the political situation in this country, the terrible management of the coronavirus, the fractured condition of the society wrapped around me. I’m terrified about climate change which is escalating and wreaking havoc everywhere. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such a long oppressive time with little relief in sight and the potential for a further downward slide. To top things off, my aged dog appears to be heading toward the end of her life. She’s not much of a companion as her first eight years were spent as a show dog which I glean was far from the life of a beloved pet. Never an affectionate animal, she’s warmed up during the last three years and is at least present. Having her go will be another challenge in this peculiar life.

The other day my sister asked me if I remembered the name of a French woman in literature who sat and knitted as her country contorted in revolution. I said, “you mean, Madame DeFarge? From A Tale of Two Cities? ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times?’” I surprised myself. I think I read that book in eighth grade. Maybe in the first year or two of high school. In any case, it’s filed in the literary reservoir in my brain. A few years ago, I took a creative writing class in the lifelong learners program for people over fifty. It’s a nice resource in my community called Olli. The instructor in that class began one day by reading 10 sentences which were the first ones in 10 different novels. I was able to identify all of the books. I guess that’s what it means for an author to have the gift of engaging a reader from the first page until the end. These books were all part of what I’d call the “necessary library,” at least for me. The point was to teach us how to do that. Out in the yard, kicking away in my pool, I got stuck on a beginning for the blog I wanted to write. I was having an internal conversation with myself, a pretty snarky one that had to do with my annoyance at a lot of comments people make to me about my life, my widowed life, that is. I get especially annoyed at the comments of people who are still married, who have no clue what it’s like to be without a partner, yet wax eloquent about how I should feel.

Maybe they believe charts like these, that there’s some orderly progression for widows. And maybe that’s true for some people. But not for me. While I was stewing away about this, what came to mind was me responding to some platitude with the preface to my remark being , “well, I never!” as in well, I never would have thought of that,” delivered in a tone dripping with caustic juice. I looked up the etymology of the phrase and found that it dated back to the 1830’s but I’m pretty sure I heard it in a movie or movies.

Their first quotation of “Well, I never” is from 1836 but I found an earlier one from December 29, 1832 in a short story called “Quite Beyond Belief” by Mrs. George Crookshank published in The Maids, Wives, and Widows’ Penny Magazine, and Gazette of Fashion(No. 10, Vol. I).

In any case, it works for me right now. So, here we go. Well, I never want to be the person who assumes that my perspective is suitable for projecting onto someone who’s making a statement about how s/he feels. I’m tired of being told that even though my best friend and love of my life is dead and that fact remains a central ache in my life, that I still have my memories. Or my children and grandchildren. Or my energy. Or my intellect. Or anything else. They’re not what I want. I want him. I don’t get him and I can’t have him. But that’s how it is. I didn’t ask anyone for a solution to my pain. I just have it. Is that too hard to understand? I don’t want to erase anyone’s feelings the way I feel mine are erased. I hope I can smack myself in the head first, before I do that to anyone else. I like the groove of this, well I never. So here I go.

Well, I never knew I’d find insects other than butterflies so interesting, especially the stinging ones. The blue-black mud dauber wasp absolutely adores the thyme in the garden. I walk among them and haven’t been stung once. They’re also good swimmers. I’ve fished several out of my little kiddie pool. And the bees. Back in the day, I was afraid of them and any other bug I couldn’t outrun. I’ll admit to jumping up and leaving my infant daughter on her blanket when a couple got to close to me. Now I’m worried about them and I’ve deliberately planted native species that they’re attracted to – recently one was so loaded with pollen, it weaved drunkenly in the flower petals unable to get aloft because of the weight of its gluttony. The weather here has been dry – watching them gingerly perch on the edge of the birdbath to drink interests me rather than frightens me.

Well, I never knew I’d be doing my scientific studies. When I was a kid, my goofy dad always used to ask us if we’d done our scientific studies at school. I liked science okay but I was more a reading-history type of student. I’ve been taking pictures of butterflies for years but now I’m applying the study of phenology to them, keeping track of when each species arrives and when they depart, and comparing that cycle from season to season, tracking the effects of climate change.

Well I never knew I’d be harvesting swamp milkweed seeds and getting ready to dry them and the gorgeous tithonia seeds which draw so many monarchs, painted ladies and hummingbirds. I’m getting in deeper with all this life around me, thinking about how to conserve more and waste less. I’m not reading books about how to do any of it. I’m just feeling my way along which makes things more fun. I’m sure I’ll fail at a lot of what I try but I don’t care.

Well I never thought I’d get as deeply involved with the yardbirds as I am now. My son, who is a bird biologist, paid me the ultimate compliment – telling me I’d created an incredible habitat for these magical winged creatures. So far the bird list I’m compiling has over 50 species who’ve visited and many who’ve set up shop. I love them, the hummers who are too fast to get any good photos, the house wrens, the catbirds and most of all, my resident cardinal pair, Pumpkin the gorgeous mutant creamy-chested female and Carmine the male. I’ve committed the ultimate amateur wild animal sin – named animals that will ultimately disappear and break my heart. They’ve been here for a few years already and their lifespans are brief. But I can’t help myself. They’re always together, I’ve seen them make babies and even rescued one from a prowling cat. And the fact is, they remind me of Michael and me. Pitiful but true.

Well, I never would just sit out there and only think about the birds and the bees and the flowers. I mean, I’m in a pandemic with no end in sight. I’ve already had a couple of Covid tests which were painless, fast and resulted quickly. I have no idea what the future will be. I’ve just spent years trying to figure out how to live in the present. So what’s the future? Right now and for at least a year, I think this is the future. Except soon it’ll be colder.

Well I never thought I’d start pricing outdoor space heaters. I was getting serious until I started realizing I wasn’t turning my yard into a year round cafe. Hunting for an outside heater is just a reflection of my anticipatory winter claustrophobia. I’ve always been able to get out in the cold times. The risk/reward equation isn’t looking too terrific to me right now. I’m not eating in restaurants and I’m not going to movie theaters. I’m not going to the pool or a gym. Being inside with too many people is too germy. What am I gonna do without my yard? I’ll still have birds but that’s about it.

Well, I never thought I’d have the time to go back and think about about a bunch of essentially irrelevant stuff but now I have time to burn. I’ve been thinking about how many song lyrics I have stored in my head from childhood lullabies to new tunes I’ve been picking up by listening to a lot of new artists and bands . I’m very proud of myself when the first note of a song by one of the recently discovered groups is instantly identifiable. I always wanted to continue growing my music repertoire. So then come lists – works in progress.

Favorite guitarists
Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Sonny Landreth, Derek Trucks, Leo Kottke, William Ackerman, Carlos Santana, Robert Randolph, Dickie Betts, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Neil Young, Duane Allman, George Harrison, BB King, Jimmy Paige

Best concerts
Robert Palmer – Quiet Knight
Paul McCartney – Indiana
Grateful Dead – Fox Theater, St Louis
Rolling Stones – Soldier Field
Keith Jarrett – Orchestra Hall

I’m still working on those lists. I’ll probably change my mind lots of times.

Well I never thought I’d be writing about every house I’d lived in, my favorite and most hilarious experiences, my top sexual moments. I’m time-traveling as I kick away in my little pool. Maybe when I’m all done, I’ll burn it all. I really can’t say right now. I didn’t anticipate doing any of this six months ago. Life is full of surprises and I’m going where my instincts lead me. Well I never will be something else before I know it.

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