Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Classical Pianist Electrician

I needed some electrical work done so I looked in the local yellow pages.  I came across a listing for Mike McDonnell.  We spoke on the phone and he told me he would be at my house after work to get an idea of the job and then we could set up a time for him to come to do the work.

We had a chandelier in the dining room of the house that had been a gift from our realtor when we moved in.  It was beautiful and she had her husband who was a fix-it guy do the installation.  It never really worked right.  All thought it was on a dimmer switch, I wouldn’t turn off.  We had to unscrew the bulbs to turn it off.

You might be thinking why would anyone do that?  When we moved in, we made it by the skin of our teeth financially.  We didn’t have the luxury in our minds of spending $300 on a light repair so we didn’t.  It seems silly now but it was a reality at the time.

Mike came over the following day and took a look at the things I needed for him to do.  I needed him to fix the exhaust fan in the bathroom and check the electrical outlets, in addition to the dining room light.  I bought a new light for the lamp pole out front and had him change out the light fixtures outside near the front and back doors.

He arrived on a Saturday morning to work on the list I had given him.  He was a local guy in his forties who lived in Leesburg and had grown up on a mountain south of there.  He had quite a southern accent; he worked for Loudoun County as an electrical inspector.  Mike was a talker.  I followed him around because I wanted to ask him questions about the house and see if he had any suggestions about the house.

We discovered that we had read some of the same books; he was an avid reader too.  He played classical piano and had a baby grand in his living room at home.  Mark was very interesting and had a terrific sense of humor.  I liked him right away.  He was there several hours and we talked quite a bit.  He made me laugh and I hadn’t done that in a long time.

When he had finished, I hardly charged me for anything.  I think it was since I was widowed and had just gone through a tough time with the Red-Headed Roofer.   I told him that I couldn’t let him do that so I offered to buy him dinner and told him if he played piano for me, I would sing and play guitar for him.  We made a date for the following weekend.
I was astounded at what a bold article I was asking him out to dinner.  It was simply to return a favor but I was interested in him.  We talked several times on the phone.  I can’t remember why but his parrot would talk to him.  He told me he thought that she should be on Prozac and had to wear a cone because she kept preening her feathers so much that she was tearing off all her feathers.

Mike had a son but hadn’t been married.  He had lived with his son’s mom but it didn’t work out. The baby was the result of a one night stand, not much to build a relationship on.   I could tell it was a source of great pain for him.  Mike later told me that the woman had been raped at one point in her life and had a lot of issues that she couldn’t overcome.  His son lived with his mom but Mark saw him often.

I have rarely met someone whom I felt that I knew immediately; this is how Mike was.  I think that we both were attracted to each other and loved talking and sharing each other’s company.  Perhaps it was that we were both lonely.  I felt uneasy about the “date” which was more like a payback of a favor.  It was the first time I considered going out with anyone after Rick so it was significant.  I was excited.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Red-Headed Roofer from Hell

I rue the day I called the Acme Roofing Company of Northern Virginia.  This was the day that the Red-Headed Roofer from Hell arrived at my doorstep.  He was short, around 5’ 6”, had the construction, rough-look going and was courteous and made me a good offer on his estimate of the job.

Our roof sort of sagged on one end of the house and I was looking for someone to not only replace the roof but to fix the problem.  I knew that it would be extra and was willing to pay for it.  I wanted someone with structural expertise of roofs.  I specifically had him add language to the contract that conveyed that the problem would be corrected.  I signed and gave him half of the amount and waited for his call.

He called a week later with a Saturday date which was fine with me because I wouldn’t have to take off work to be there.  I have a strong disdain for home repair people; I have a long sordid list of stories that helped me acquire such feelings.  Jim was a no-show on Saturday, aggravating!  He called later in the day to say that he could come the following day, Sunday.  I wasn’t pleased because it was a day that I had planned to go to plant flowers at Rick’s mom’s house.  I would be gone for the afternoon.  He told me that it was no problem; he would see me in the morning.

Just as I was about to get into the van to leave, Jim and his men pulled up in front of the house.  I had told him that I couldn’t be there and he assured me that it was fine.  I had two electrical outlets on the outside of the house that they could use.  I gave him my cell phone number and left them to work on my house.

I arrived home later that day and there was no sign of them.  They finished the roof and left.  I looked up at the roof as I drove in and noticed that the roof was still sagging…NOT HAPPY!  I walked across the street to look from there and my neighbor came out to look; she agreed, sagging.  I couldn’t do anything then so I waited until the next day.

I made the call and spoke to company representative.  I told the person that the job was not done to my satisfaction and that I wanted it fixed.  Jim called me back later with a bit of an attitude.  He said he would meet me at my home the next evening.  He came to my house and walked around it with me, telling me that there was nothing wrong with the roof.  I told him that was fine but that I wasn’t satisfied and wouldn’t pay the balance until it was fixed.

Jim was more than a little miffed with me.  He got very frustrated and started yelling at me.  We were standing in the backyard near the gate and I said, “Get out of my yard now!”  He started yelling, “You’re crazy!  You’re going to pay me!” Then he threw something he had in his hand across my yard.  I closed and locked my gate went in my house and called the police.

Jack was very scared and Michael was looking antsy; they knew something was wrong.  When the police officer arrived at the door, Jim and his truck were gone.  The officer took a report and advised me to call his company and warn them not to send him out to the house again.  I was a nervous wreck and frightened that he would return.  The officer told me that I should call as soon as I saw him if he should return.  I thanked him and he left.

I called the company and left a detailed message to have a supervisor call me back.  He called me the next day and agreed to come out and inspect the job.

The supervisor, Tom was not pleased with the job either.  He looked into the attic to see what the problem was: as I had suspected, there was a structural problem.  I paid for the materials to fix it.  Jim had not done the job.  The company sent out another roofer who completed the job.

I know that problems with home repair issues are not fun for anyone.  I also know that one has to be practical with expectations; it will never look perfect.  However,  as a widow, I already felt vulnerable without Rick.  The Red-Headed Roofer just made life one bit more miserable at the time.  I have used many home repair people since and have had my fair share of both good and bad experiences.  It comes with the territory but since I was already on the edge, I didn't really need one more thing.

The Plan

In January I decided that it was time to get started on getting the house in shape to sell.  My brother, Danny had worked as an electrician’s and plumber’s assistant and my brother, Mike was an airplane mechanic.  I called them to ask for help.  Both of my brothers were just the best when it came to helping me with anything.

I was not helpless.  I come from a long line of DYI people.  I had watched my grandfather, father and uncles with every job they ever did.  My grandfather was a mason and my dad was a “jack of all trades.”  He had to be to live in the house that we grew up in.  He was forever working on a project to remodel some part of the house.  Now, as a widow, I was prepared to learn.

One of the best presents I have ever received in my whole life was a DeWalt power drill from my brother, Michael.  He had an extra one that he could spare and offered to me.  What a precious gift! I am a woman but with my power drill, I was as strong as my brother. I loved it!

I made a plan and started with painting the interior of the house.  I got a plumber to fix an outside spigot that Rick had turned off and we never took the time to fix.  I de-cluttered the house, fixed the garden, made my backyard inviting and then called roofing company to replace the roof.

I had plenty of time before the selling season.  I planned on putting the house on the market in May.  I called the realtor who had sold us our first house and our home in Sterling.  Ann came by and gave me the market analysis and made recommendations.  I had done this before so it wasn’t that difficult to think about doing.

I worked in the mortgage department of a credit union when Rick and I were first married.  I was teaching kindergarten half-time and working in the mortgage department the other half of the day.  It had started as a summer job but they kept me on during the rest of the year.  I had no idea what a mortgage was until I worked there.  I worked on the papers returned to the credit union after the loan closed.  I setup the servicing of the loan in the system and delivered the payoff checks in refinances.  The opportunity was great because it allowed me to see how the lending end of real estate worked.  It was quite handy knowledge to have while buying a house.

A friend offered to keep some of our things in the basement of her house until I moved into a new home.  It was awesome to be able to make our house look roomy by storing it away.  It was a process to prepare for the move.  I had no idea what would be available by the time I was ready to look.  I knew the neighborhood I would look in but I had to sell my house in a “buyer’s market” first.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Grief is a strange burden to carry around.  Sometimes it feels like the weight of the world and other times it’s just a shadow, present but unnoticed.  It is hard to explain day to day life with grief.  I was waging a war with it.  I made decisive choices to beat it down; it would not get the best of me in the long run. 

Grief hid in my mind behind my memories waiting for the trigger that would set it off.  Out it jumped and knocked me off my feet.  My principal knew grief.   He had lost his sister and her husband in a car accident.  Grief had rested on Mr. Angelo, weighing him down.  I didn’t know about his loss; he shared it with me one day when I had been blindsided by grief.  He found me crying and wore a knowing, gentle grin. He looked at me and said, “What was it that triggered it again?  You can’t always see it coming.  I know the feeling.” 

Mr. Angelo had seen The Great Tishone; he had spent a long time finding his way back from his war with grief.  He spoke highly of The Tishone and would just shake his head.  “He listened and listened…until I figured it out.  The grief was not going away; there was no way to ‘figure it out’.  It just happened.  After a long, long time, I was okay, just okay.”

It was strange exchanging the experience of The Tishone together and yet it seemed rather natural.  After seeing The Great Tishone for so long, I wondered how I had ever managed without him to re-frame my thinking.  I was born a realist and sometimes that shades my perspective with a negative slant.  The Tishone taught me to see things from another angle, to recognize when I was going there and to choose a different way of looking at things.

I’m analytical; he gave me a new formula for seeing my world.  I had to choose it but he showed me the possibilities.  I used to tell my friends at school, “I’m getting an A+ in grief.”  I was really beginning to see the choices I had;  I chose to be empowered.

I don’t want to give the impression that I was on the smooth path; it was a roller-coaster ride.  The longer I was on the ride, the easier it was to anticipate the curves, the highs and lows.  Each day was filled with a little more hope and that was what I was looking for.

Monday, March 28, 2011


One thing I worried about was Jack using the men’s room without anyone else to go with him. I suppose I was on heightened “Mother Duck Alert”.  We had a system where he would go in and I would be close to the exit listening for him.  I even gave him pepper spray in a hip pack, in case he needed it. Yes, I was wound up but I felt vulnerable and fragile and needed to know he was safe.  Navigating this life without a husband was tough stuff.

There was incredible hype over the Y2K New Year.  I planned to be back in Virginia before New Year’s Eve.  We spent the next two days enjoying the park, the rides, and the sights but we were tired and longed to be at home. 

We returned exhausted from our trip.  A few days of distraction were enough for us.  The flight back was uneventful and my brother, Mike, met us at the airport to take us home.  We planned that he would stay with us for New Year’s Eve.

The media deluge of possible chain reactions caused by the Y2Kat the strike of midnight was tremendous.  It was a scary night or at least it was to me.  The boys and I stayed up and watched the ball drop on Times Square, then I put them to bed.  At midnight, I was kissing my two babies instead of my husband, but we were okay.

It was difficult to sleep with the worry, but the sun came up just the way it had on all the other days before it.  The news reported several computer glitches around the world, but the sky had not fallen.  The world had survived the Y2K dilemma!

I was preparing to go back to school.  I spent the day getting all of us ready to return.  It was the worst of vacations, but I had survived.  I knew it would never be quite as painful as this one.  Steve would sometimes tell me to just go with it, rather than try to fight the pain and sadness.  No matter which day or how bad I felt, I could always count on the fact that tomorrow might seem a little brighter.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Widowed Walking Wounded

My sister in-law Karen had given me her brother, Bobby’s phone number.  I called him to see if we could get together.  He and his family lived near Universal Studios and had season passes.  Bobby came to pick us up and we spent the next day at Universal Studios.  Bobby’s son, Robbie came along which was great for Jack because Rob was just a little older than him.

Bobby had been widowed 13 years before when Rob was just six weeks old.  His wife had died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.  Bobby was in his late twenties and he had his wife had only been married a year or two.  I was so glad to talk with him.  As the boys went on rides we sat back and talked.  Bobby was the first young widower that I met.

It is a lonely world, being widowed young.  There are so few people who have had the same experience.  I was dying to ask Bobby the one burning question in my soul.  Does it ever get better? “The pain never goes away.  It’s there but you find a place to put it with time,” he replied.  It is strange that anyone else in the world could have said the same words and have had no effect on me at all.  I needed to hear these words from someone who had walked in my shoes. 

Bobby was kind enough to listen to my story and let me get it out.  I had more questions for him.  It was a small amount of time that I had to pick his brain.  I had known Bobby a long time as a member of Karen’s family but had never really talked with him.  There is an instant bonding between the walking wounded.  I felt it with others I met some time later.  Talking with Bobby gave me hope.

The day was fun for the three boys.  Jack got to go on some rides for older kids that he would have missed out on if we hadn’t met up with Bob and Rob.  They were dead tired when we got back to the hotel.  I felt so grateful for the time we got to spend with them.

 I still feel connected to Bobby in some strange way.  I have seen him few times since then over the years.  Both our lives have moved on and the boys are grown up.  I know that our hearts have healed and our lives are full.  However, we see each other I still feel that pang of recognition of the widowed walking wounded.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Disney; The Great Distraction

Disney was a great idea.  The boys were excited as we flew together for the first time; Mike had never been on a plane before.  Negotiating the trip from the airport to the hotel was a bit of challenge but we made it.  Seeing everything for the first time through the boys' eyes was the real treat.  It could have been a little warmer in Florida but you can’t have everything.

The boys were very funny about the hotel room, thinking that it was so “cool;” it didn’t take much to impress them.  Our hotel included breakfast so we headed down in the morning and took the shuttle and were on our way to Disney World.  I rented a stroller for Mike because I knew his feet would get tired and then we would be dragging him through all the sights. 

We walked up the hill to the castle and just started looking for the right place to get on a ride.  Jack found one and we got in line; it was the Dumbo ride.  Jack was 12 by then and Michael was four.  Michael saw every new person as a new friend to chat with.  As we were standing in line, he looked up at the lady in front of us and said, “Hi, my name is Michael; my number is four.  This is my brother, Jack; his number is 12.”  Jack gave me a look like he wanted melt into the ground.  The woman started chatting with us and Michael told her about our trip.  Jack stood behind me to stay out of the line of questioning.

I was focused on the boys and having a good time.  It didn’t take away the ache in my heart but it sure did fill the time.  We walked and walked and rode and rode; we grabbed lunch at a restaurant with Mickey and Minnie.  Michael was fascinated with the characters, but not too keen on being near them.  We left the park around 3:30 because I knew they would be running out of gas fast.

We had dinner in the hotel and then we hurried up to our room.  I got them showered and in bed.  Michael was fast asleep in no time at all and Jack watched a show until he had to give in to the exhaustion.  It had been a great first day.

Friday, March 25, 2011


I knew our anniversary would be a sad day so I took the day off from school and decided to go to mass.  I drove out to the church and Steve celebrated mass.  After I spoke to him for a few minutes before leaving. "What do I do with a day like this for the rest of my life?"I asked.  He didn't have an answer for me.  It would have been our fifteenth anniversary.

It was a day for me, a day to reflect and rest.  I ended up at the mall.  My brother Dan had invited me to a Christmas party hosted by his friend each year.  I forced myself to go.  It was in Old Town Alexandria.  It was hard to enjoy myself but I was glad I made the effort to go.

I missed sharing my life with someone and knew that I wanted to married again but all that seemed impossible at this point.  I decided to roll with the punches and see what happened in my life.I liked the idea of reinventing me.  To become who I wanted to be was the goal.  Each day got easier and for that I could be thankful.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

We decorated the house for Christmas.  Rick and I had a tradition of buying ornaments from the time we got married.  If we looked at the ornaments it told the story of our life together from dating all the way through to the last time we had gone to the beach.  We hung the ornaments with Jack and he eventually would tell the stories.

We went with Steve, Karen and Paul out to a tree farm to get a tree that year.  It was a great adventure.  We drove to Berryville, VA and would walk through the farm looking for the perfect tree.  My brother came one night to put it up for us and to hang the lights.  It was very sad to put the ornaments on the tree.  Jack was still enthusiastic putting the ornaments up; Michael was fascinated but didn’t really understand the hole that Rick’s absence created. 

I shopped and wrapped and did all the pre-holiday work. It was torturous but had to be done.  On Christmas morning, I filmed the boys opening their gifts.  We were already packed for Florida.  When Steve arrived to pick us up to bring us to his mom’s, I opened the door and burst into tears.  He said, “It really sucks being you.”  “I know,” I replied.

Dinner was lovely and quick and before I knew it, we were leaving for the airport.  Each of the boys had their own rolling luggage.  We hopped on the plane and arrived in Florida around 8:30.  I had done it.  I was miserable and lonely but I had my boys and we were going to “do” Disney even if it killed me.  The first Christmas was over and I knew the next year had to be better.