Town Character

When I moved here, one of the first people I met was the town character, an old woman who almost always wears red, white, and blue, like a female Uncle Sam. She apparently has some issues, including no “off” button, but other than that, she strides around town like a woman half her age, and doesn’t seem to cause too many problems.

But she is notorious, sometimes spoken about indulgently, sometimes dismissively, but notorious for all that.

I worried that I would become like her since I too walk everywhere (though I have to admit, I definitely walk like a woman my age) and I too have a quirk — my hats. I need to wear a hat because of the strong sun, and the fanciness and fancifulness of the hats has grown over the years, starting from a desire to reuse expensive bows and ribbons from gifts.

Now, the same people who once reassured me that I could never be like the red, white, and blue lady admit that I too have become a town character. One friend says that sometimes when she mentions me, people will say they don’t know me, but after she tells them I’m the Pat in the hat, suddenly they all say, “Oh, yes! I know her.”

Since I’m rather a self-effacing person, being a town character is not something I have ever aspired to being. And yet, perhaps it was inevitable.

When I was young, our town character was a woman in jeans and a halter top (before either garment was fashionable), her grey hair escaping from the bun she always wore. She drove around in an old jalopy with a rumble seat, looking for lost dogs. We marveled at that ancient car, but the fact is, my car is twice as old as hers was. (Mine just turned 48 years old.)

So, to recap — someone who walks around town when she isn’t driving her old jalopy, who sports unfashionable fashions and is known by more people than she has ever met. Yep. Town character. Inevitable.

I suppose I could stop wearing such eye-catching hats, but what’s the fun of that? And anyway, I’d still be driving a recognizable old car when I wasn’t on foot, so there’s really no way I can become invisible in such a small town.

Oh, well. I guess there are worse things than being a town character, but for an introvert, I’m not sure what they would be.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

 

The Pat

I spent yesterday with a friend who was recovering from an operation. Her husband had to work and didn’t want to leave her alone, and since they’re like me, with no extended family in the area, we’ve adopted each other. So of course, because I’m family, he was able to go against his usual independent nature and ask me to stay with her. (Not a hardship, believe me. She is truly a delightful woman.)

While I was there, a friend of theirs stopped by to check on her. As our mutual friend slept, the woman and I got to talking. She mentioned that she’d lost her husband a year ago, and I commiserated with her. She seemed surprised that I understood, so I told her Jeff had died ten years ago.

Her eyes got big, and she exclaimed, “You’re the Pat! I have your book! As soon as you mentioned Jeff, I knew who you were.”

As astonishing as that encounter seemed (and yes, despite this being a small town, and despite the simple explanation that follows, it was astonishing), we quickly sorted out the coincidence.

Soon after I moved here, a new acquaintance mentioned that a friend of hers had recently lost her husband and was feeling bereft and alone. I gave the acquaintance my book Grief: The Great Yearning to give to the new widow. The widow called to thank me, and we talked for a while, but then I never heard from her again. I suppose I should have called her, but since I didn’t know her, I didn’t want to come across as a crazy stalker author, and eventually, her number disappeared from my phone.

Yesterday, we met again as old friends.

Life is truly a marvel at times. There we were, three women, now three friends, from three different countries. The United States. Thailand. Malaysia. (Before I knew where she was from, I’d asked the widow if she was from Singapore. It surprised her that I came so close geographically, but her accent was the same as a woman from Singapore I once knew. The widow acknowledged that the accents were very similar.)

Just think of all the living, all the stories, all the convoluted paths and journeys, all the intertwining fates and destinies, it took to get the three of us together in the same room.

Once, I craved adventure, but now, it seems, being “The Pat,” is itself a great adventure.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Snowdrop in the Snow

I’m certainly no snowdrop, remaining steadfast and sprightly in the snow. Instead, I brew a cup of tea and huddle over the warmth of my computer and ignore the snow. Except, of course, a moment now and again to look out the window and enjoy the whiteness of the day.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I did sweep the snow off the ramp leading to the house. I’m not expecting either a package or a visitor, but on the off chance someone would need to come to the door, I wouldn’t want the fates of irony to get into the act. (As much as I appreciate irony, having someone slipping on the wheelchair ramp and ending up in a wheelchair is one example I can live without.)

Then, even though I have a car cover, the snow still needed to be brushed off. It’s been a long time since I had to do that — the last time was a year and a half ago when I got caught in a snowstorm on a road trip. And the last time before that was . . . I don’t know. Maybe a decade or so ago. Even though I haven’t had a workable garage since I moved back to snow country, I do have a carport, but the foundation for the new garage blocks off access. Hence, snow removal.

And then, of course, I had to take a photo of that resolute little bloom in the snow.

This is Tuesday, and as usual, almost all my activities for the week were scheduled for today but, apparently, I am taking a snow day. There can be no work on the garage, a stint of volunteer work at the library was cancelled, I lost track of time and missed the third activity, and I simply don’t feel like going out into the snow and dark for a meeting tonight.

So here I am, a cup of tea at my elbow, the computer shining brightly in front of me, contemplating how not like a snowdrop I am.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Suits Me To a Tea

My next-door neighbor came over for afternoon tea yesterday. It was lovely and seemed such a small-town thing to do — heartwarming and congenial and a bit old fashioned. It was especially nice because I was able to show off my tea bag collection and use my author mugs. I still had a few mugs left from years ago, but when I recently broke a mug and needed to get new mugs of some sort, I unexpectedly discovered that my original mug order was still posted on the website, so all I had to do was reorder.

The mugs added to the general feeling of a small-town visit, probably because they don’t seem like blatant self-promoting, but a rather pleasant and personal touch.

I’m now sitting here at the computer with a cup tea, having just returned from a visit to the library a few blocks away. Another seemingly old-fashioned touch, this walk to the library, and a large part of my small-town experience.

Although some people around here make me leery (drug dealers, people who hang out in the alley behind my house, and a smattering of small time thieves), life in a small town suits me to a tea.

Admittedly, that’s not the way to write “to a T,” buy my spelling seems more in tune with the cozy “teatime” way I felt yesterday.

“To a T” does not, in fact, have anything to do with tea or golf tees or T-shirts or T-squares, but is a very old term, first used in 1693. To the best anyone can figure, the phrase came from a much older phrase, “to a tittle.” A tittle now means a speck, a tiny amount, or a small part of something but originally a tittle was a small part of a letter, like a dot or a stroke or a diacritical mark. So if something suits you to a T, it suits you to the smallest detail.

So technically, small town living does not suit me to a T since there’s the leery factor I mentioned above.

But it comes close — it’s only off by a tittle.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Getting Back Into Dancing

Now that much of the chaos of the past year is gone — buying a house, moving, settling in to a new town, meeting people, fixing things that need to be fixed — I’m gradually getting back into exercise. There is still much to do around the house, such as having a garage build and a bit of landscaping done, but on the days when no one is here working, there is certainly no reason for me not to exercise. Except laziness, of course, but that’s not a reason, just an excuse.

Nor is having all the stuff that was once in my garage piled into the back room (aka enclosed porch, aka exercise room) a reason. It finally dawned on me if I removed the folding table and chairs from my dining area, I have a perfectly acceptable workout space. Even better, it’s warmer than the back room.

So, having run out of excuses, I’ve had no other option than to exercise.

It’s appalling how quickly one loses flexibility when one has not been exercising or even stretching. (“One” meaning me, of course.) Yikes. I can still get down on the floor, so it won’t be long before I get some flexibility back. Meantime, I’ve been having fun practicing belly dance steps.

From the first time I took a belly dance class, I thought it would be a perfect way for me to get in shape because it seems more intuitive — more natural — than other dances. (Ballet, for example, is known for going against nature, and it certainly went against my nature, though I did work to the best of my ability.) Although I loved the belly dance class, I became disenchanted because so much of the class time was taken up with performance talk and costume planning. What was left of the hour went to learning and practicing a routine, so there was not much time dedicated to basics.

Since I can now schedule my own “class,” I am focusing on basics. I’m curious to see if a concerted effort at this sort of exercise will have the benefits I hope for, but if not, well . . . dancing. Dancing in itself is a benefit. Every step I take, every move I make is a blessing, and I am grateful to still be ambulatory, still breathing on my own, still fairly active. (I was going to say “spry,” but I’m not old enough yet to be spry.)

I do miss the energy of choreographed dancing with a group — it always seemed I could do more than when I was by myself, but I don’t miss performing.

I did my first belly dance performance with the group only a few months after I starting taking classes, and though I was no slimmer then than I am now, I was okay with it — I had a fabulous costume, a flattering wig, and a great attitude: “This is who I am. Deal with it.” As time went on, I lost that attitude, and so performing became more of a chore and less of a joy, though I did retain the love of dancing for dancing’s sake.

Of all dance forms, belly dance seems to lend itself to solo dancing, to pulling energy from the soul rather than the spirit of a group, to being one with one’s body. It helps that I’m not dancing in front of a mirror — I can feel young and beautiful and graceful without the unpalatable truth glaring at me.

Once the garage is built and my back room available to me once more, I will be able to do some barre work, maybe some tap or jazz, and perhaps even Hawaiian. Until then, there’s me, a veil, an open floor, and belly dance.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

The Trip of a Lifetime

The trip referred to in the title is not a day trip or road trip or any kind of fun trip. It is a trip, as in . . . splat.

It was a gorgeous day with mostly clear skies, a warm sun, and a caressing breeze. I went for a walk because it seemed the perfect way to participate in such bounty at the very beginning of winter. As I passed the carport on the way out of my yard, I noticed the strap that was still attached to one of the support poles. The strap had been used to secure my just-delivered gates and even though the gates have now been installed for a few weeks, the strap is still there. Why? I don’t know. Haven’t a clue why the workers left it there.

There are a lot of tools and supplies spread out over my yard waiting for the contractor and his employees to return to work. Even more than the rolls of fencing or the bucket of ties, that strap suddenly struck me as hazardous, and I thought I really should do something about it. But I didn’t want to interrupt my walk, so I continued on.

Since I was out, I stopped by the grocery store, and headed home with several pounds of apples, a pound of nuts, a pound of butter, and maybe a pound or two of something else. A lot of pounds, in other words. I wasn’t carrying the groceries in my hand but on my shoulders via a BackTPack, which is supposed to be better for the back than even a properly fitting backpack.

A couple of blocks from the house, I felt a desperate need to relieve my bladder, so I quickened my steps. “Just a few more minutes,” I told myself as I opened the gate into the yard. I hurried, bypassing the zigzagging sidewalk and cutting through the carport and —

Yep. You guessed it.

It was the hardest I had ever fallen, partly from the velocity — I was really hurrying when my foot got caught in the strap — and partly from the weight of the groceries I was carrying. Even when I’d destroyed my arm, I hadn’t fallen as hard. Back then, I landed on my wrist, and bounced onto my arm, pulverizing the wrist, destroying the elbow, and splintering my radius. I had no other injury, not even a bruise, since that arm bore all my weight.

This time, I landed flat, a full-frontal drop onto the bare ground. Luckily, I caught myself before my face hit the concrete sidewalk that I should have been walking on. I lay for a few seconds, shocked and scared and hurting and angry at myself and ruefully aware of the irony of the situation (not just the strap that I hadn’t moved when I should have, but also having mentioned just the other day that the last instructions my orthopedic surgeon gave me before releasing me from his care were that I wasn’t allowed to fall). When I took stock, I realized nothing was broken, nothing was sprained, so I clambered to my feet and hobbled into the house. I divested myself of my groceries and coat, emptied my still-full bladder, got cleaned up, slathered my knees with arnica gel, and dug out my ice pack. (Not peas, but a medley of stir-fry vegetables.)

My left knee hurt the most, so it got the attention. Later, though, other pains started making themselves felt. Since I was so stiff and sore and afraid of my joints stiffening up even further in the night, I took a couple of ibuprofen at bedtime. (Oddly, I never even thought of taking pain pills until a friend mentioned she needed to take some to relieve the pain from her fall, which had happened shortly before mine). I managed to sleep, at least as well as I ever do.

Today, I can feel the rest of my body, not just the knees. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Some of the pains I understand, like that knee (which must have been the first thing to hit), and the side of my foot, which might have been wrenched by the strap. Some pains I don’t understand, such as my very sore triceps. Nor do I understand why my deformed wrist and forearm don’t hurt. Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad they don’t — but I distinctly remember landing on that hand, too, and there is a small bruise on my wrist to prove it.

Needless to say, I am taking it easy.

I’m hoping this really is the trip of a lifetime, and that I never fall that hard again. But dare I confess? I have yet to go out and find a way to remove that strap.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Oh, the Responsibility!

About two months ago, a friend gave me a small succulent (3” including the pot). Even though I liked both the plant and the pot it was in, I hesitated about accepting it because . . . well . . . responsibility. I’ve had enough responsibility in my life and now I don’t want to be in charge of another living thing. In the end, though, I accepted the gift — I figured that come spring, I could plant the succulent in my yard.

But no. A little research showed that this particular gem would not be able to survive the winters here.

So, now I have the responsibility for watering the plant and making sure it gets enough sun. Oh, my! Such an onerous task! I’ve already had to water once. And I will have to water again in a couple of weeks.

Despite my tongue-in-cheek tone, I do worry about the poor thing. My record for keeping plants alive is . . . hmm. Let me think. Oh, yes — zilch.

I’m not much of a gardener, never have been. My second to last attempt to plant anything was eight years ago when someone gifted me with a Bonsai kit (planter, soil, seeds), and that result was typical — seedlings that poked their head above the soil, looked around, saw who they would be dependent on for their very lives, and promptly gave up their ghosts. I planted lights in the planter after that, and we’re all happy. Nothing to kill, just a bit of beauty when the nights grow long.

The results of my last attempt, planting bulbs in my new yard, are still to be determined. Meantime, my little succulent seems to be doing well.

But oh! The responsibility!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Actually

After I made a comment to a friend the other day, she said, as if to herself, “Actually.” Then she smiled, not derisively, but in delight.

“Did I say “actually” too many times?” I asked. “I actually do have a tendency to overuse the word.”

She responded, “No, I like it. It’s not a word you hear that often.”

Well, if you hang around me, you will actually hear “actually” a lot. Since I actually do overuse the word, I actually have to go through my manuscripts try to edit “actually” out of my work. (See List From Hell to see what other words I tend to overuse.)

I’d actually never realized I had an actual problem until I once played back a blog radio show where I’d been interviewed. And there it was . . . actually. Actually, there were a lot of “actually”s. I don’t remember how many times I said “actually” in that half-hour segment, but enough that by the time the program ended, I was actually appalled.

The next time I was on blog radio being interviewed, I was very careful with my “actually”s. For a while, I actually tried to censor my everyday speech, but somewhere along the way I actually forgot, so now I’ve reverted to overusing the word “actually. Actually, now that I think of it, I even forgot to de-actually my last couple of finished manuscripts.

I actually don’t know why I use the word so much. It could be from my need to always set the record straight, but I don’t know for sure, actually.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

And the Streak Continues!

Can you believe it? It’s been fifty days since I started blogging every day again. Wow, that went fast! For me, anyway. For you, it might have been a long slog since my post topics have been all over the place, with only a thin theme to bind them together: what goes on in my life and in my head.

I blogged every day for many years, and then things happened to get me off the track. Buying a house. Moving. Starting a new life. Even before the house, though, I’d stopped blogging about whatever came to mind. When I was trying to find an agent for Grief: The Inside Story — A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One, I needed to present myself as someone who knew what she was talking about, and a post about apples, for example, just wouldn’t cut it. So I tried to focus on grief topics.

The problem was that I had nothing left to say about grief. I’d spent months working on Grief: The Inside Story, and I included everything I had learned about grief in the book, especially the things that the professional grief community got wrong.

When I started writing the book, I’d been more or less pain free for a year or two (there are always upsurges of grief that one cannot plan for), so I had to dig deep to reconnect with my grief, and in doing so, I’d wrung myself dry.

Consequently, there were no non-grief posts, but no grief posts, either.

As it turned out, it wouldn’t have mattered whatever I wrote for this blog. Literary agents are only interested in people who have tens of thousands of followers, and I’m nowhere close to that number. The irony of it all is that if I had such a following, I sure as heck wouldn’t have needed the agents!

By that time, though, I’d lost the habit of daily blogging, so I finally challenged myself to blog daily for 100 days in an effort to kickstart my writing.

Now here I am, halfway through that self-imposed 100-day blog challenge, and enjoying it immensely. I’d forgotten how good it feels to find something to write about each day, something that happened, maybe, and try to show why it was important.

The challenge ends on January 2, 2020, which means there are forty-eight days left until the end of the year.

What are you going to do with those days?

I know what I’m going to do: blog!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Social Calendar

It seems odd to have a social calendar. For many years, the only social activities I participated in were my dance classes, and from week to week, those classes were generally at the same time and on the same days. If I went to lunch with anyone, it was usually after class. Any other activity was easy to remember because it was such a rarity.

But now? After only seven months, I’m so entrenched in the community that without my calendar, I’d be lost. There’s always something coming up, such as a movie (Downton Abbey) and lunch with friends this Saturday, a meeting at the museum tomorrow to set out clues for the Murder at the Museum Night that will take place next week, porcelain painting classes, and a special note to remind me about Blogging for Peace next month.

It bewilders me, all of this. But then, much of my life bewilders me.

Was I really that woman? That woman who watched a man slowly die, who wanted the suffering to end, yet whose love was so ineffectual she couldn’t make him well or take away a single moment of his pain? That woman so connected to another human being she felt broken — and lost — years after his death? That woman who screamed the pain of her loss to the winds?

And am I really this woman? A homeowner? A part of a community? A person with a social calendar?

Apparently so, because there I was and now here I am.

It’s possible life will always bewilder me. I might never know the truth of any of it — life, death, purpose . . . me.

But that’s the beauty of a having social calendar. At least on those particular days, there are no questions or bewilderment. I know what I am supposed to do, where I am supposed to be. I even know who I am supposed to be — a pleasant companion, a kind friend, a generous volunteer.

The rest of the time? Well, if it’s not on the calendar, perhaps it’s not important.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.