Laughing at the Last Day of an Ugly Year

Thanks to good friends passing through, on Tuesday evening I enjoyed the spectacular taste of a beer I could not hope to find in Hot Springs (and probably not in Arkansas): Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Caramella Ale. The beer is labeled as wheatwine ale aged in bourbon barrels from Larceny Bourbon with apple, cinnamon, and natural caramel flavors. And it is, indeed, a marvelous drink. The label also claims it develops in the bottle for up to five years, but the elixir we drank was bottled in 2020; I cannot imagine it “developing” and getting better until 2025. These friends, a couple I have known since 1997 (I think that’s right), are among a relatively small cadre of people I admire for their adventurous spirits and their generous and compassionate natures; people who care.

That happy experience was followed yesterday morning by a masked visit by a writer friend who brought wonderful breakfast treats: a Keto Egg Bite and a Cheesecake Fat Bomb, along with an array of savory treats for later and a coffee mug I’ve coveted since I first saw it at her house a year or more ago. The mug is imprinted with dozens of Shakespearean insults, all styled in different fonts and colors. We had a great conversation that wandered through a maze of all sorts of subjects, the kind of conversation I enjoy immensely.

As that conversation was coming to a close, I got a call from a woman at church who asked if she could stop by to give me cookies for the church “two cookie communion,” which will take place via Zoom next Sunday. One day I will write about the “two cookie communion.” For now, though, it will suffice to say the word “communion” is not as typically religious as one might expect. At any rate, a while later I answered the door to find two women from church, bearing the two cookies and a bottle of wine. I invited them in and we had a gloriously long conversation. I knew both of them only casually beforehand, but by the time they left I felt I had developed two friends. They are funny, energetic, intelligent, and obviously caring and compassionate people.

Before my new friends left, another friend from church came by to share with me a coffee table book about Newfoundland; she had read my blog post about my desire to go there and thought it would be of interest. She was right. In addition, she brought a journal of the trip she and her late husband took in 1990 to Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. The day-by-day journal is a fascinating read; well-written and packed with information. While their trip took place thirty years ago, I suspect quite a bit of the information is still valid today. I was enthralled by many of the details she incorporated into her journal: Canada is the world’s second largest country, behind Russia; at that time, at least, Montreal had absolutely no slums and was graffiti-free; it was illegal to leave a vehicle running longer than three minutes (to minimize pollution); and much more.

In addition to the coffee table book and the journal, my friend left me with some advice on dealing with grief, based on the wisdom of experience. She suggested that, as soon as circumstances permit, I get away from Hot Springs Village for a while. By getting away, she said, I will be giving myself a break from all the daily reminders of a life no longer available to me. Whether my “get away” is a road trip to Newfoundland or a trip to visit family, getting away will at least temporarily relieve some of the pain of loss and accelerate the process of healing. She also passed on some advise someone else had given to her: make a list of the little annoyances my wife caused me (everyone has some of these). Then, use the list to tell myself “at least I don’t have to deal with [whatever] now.” I am not describing its value as well as she did; it made very good sense and sounded to me like an excellent idea.


This morning, I got up at 4:00, after checking the clock at 2:00 and again at 3:00. I may have slept some between 2:00 and 4:00, but if I did it was brief and shallow. Waking in the middle of the night is contributing to my early-to-bed habits of late, I am sure. I prefer not to go to bed so early, but by the time 8:30 or 9:00 rolls around, I am ready to call it a day. I think I may force myself to stay up much later than usual tonight. My next door neighbors invited me for dinner tonight. We may watch television coverage of New Year’s Eve festivities around the world; I do not think I’ll try to stay up to watch the ball drop in Times Square. But maybe I will.


Tomorrow, New Year’s Day, I will roast a leg of lamb. It has been thawing in the refrigerator for a few days; I hope it is (or will be) thoroughly thawed before I roast it tomorrow. I will stab the lamb as if I were a crazed murderer, frenetically plunging a knife into the meat at intervals of about one to two inches. In each murderous incision, I will place a thick sliver of garlic. I am certain most recipes that call for garlic slivers to be placed in knife wounds do not call for as much garlic as I plan to use. I love garlic in general. Garlic in leg of lamb is even more wonderful. So I go a bit overboard. I may make hasselback potatoes to go along with the lamb. And a salad or peas. And I must make sure to have black-eyed peas. My sister-in-law will join me for the feast. I assume I will have leftover lamb, perhaps enough to make lamb vindaloo, another delightful dish, within the next few days.


Yesterday was trash day. I bagged the trash and put it out in the garage early in the morning, intending to take it to the curb before 10:30. I realized I had not done it only after I noticed the garbage truck pass my house. Once I get the trash ready to take to the curb, I never forget it. Until yesterday. My memory must have hit a glitch. What else have I forgotten? I haven’t necessarily forgotten to do things, I just haven’t done them. My lethargy continues to plague me. Though it may not be lethargy, it may be lack of interest and absence of discipline. I made jambalaya a couple of nights ago, which requires a significant amount of time and energy; much more than sorting and recording receipts; if I can make jambalaya, I can sort and record receipts and have energy to spare. But I continue to resist doing what must be done in favor of doing something I enjoy. I think I may have to resort to terrorizing myself if I have any hope of getting stuff done. I might threaten to crush a finger with a hammer every day I put off doing these administrative chores; I would, of course, need to clarify that I’m referring to my own fingers. Yeah. I’ll make that threat tomorrow if I get around to it.


I just noticed that my fingers seem especially thick this morning. It’s not an optical illusion. I tried to slip off my wedding ring a moment ago and it would not come off easily. Yesterday afternoon I recall pulling it off and on, sort of a nervous tic. It slid on and off without resistance. This morning, though, my fingers seem to have become much thicker and heavier. I’ve never noticed that before. A quick check of Google offers sixteen possibilities, including pregnancy. That leaves fifteen possibilities; my guess is that there are more. Unless time reveals otherwise, I will assume the swelling will diminish. Then, I can decide what to do with my wedding band. I’ve worn it almost every day, except during surgeries, when I was required to remove it, for more than forty years. It would feel a bit odd to be without it. On the other hand, it seems strange to me to wear it when my wife is gone. I was pleased to read that the decision about what to do with it is purely personal; there are no “etiquette” guidelines about which one should be aware. Some people continue to wear it, some switch it to the right hand, some take it off, some put it on a chain to hang around their necks, etc. I’ll decide, one day, what to do. There is no rush. There is no time too soon or too late to worry about. So I won’t. I just hope the swelling of my fingers self-corrects very soon.


I have not been to the recycling center in far too long. My recycling bins and bags are full to overflowing. I may go today. Or maybe not. Whether today or next week, I must do it soon. Otherwise, bags of recyclables will begin to fill my garage. And the time will come that I’ll have to decide what to do with my wife’s clothes, etc. There’s no rush on that, though. I will not simply discard them. Some of her clothes might well be in demand at resale shops. But maybe not now, not in the time of COVID. Do those stores get any traffic these days? Probably not much. We shall see.


I just had the strangest urge. I felt like having a shot of bourbon. It’s 6:40 a.m. It is most definitely not the time to have a shot of bourbon. But that urge was strong. I’ve never had a shot of bourbon (or any other alcoholic drink) this early; except once when I caught an early flight from Chicago to Houston. It was probably about 1983; I was on the way home from a conference with several workmates. We each ordered a Bloody Mary in celebration of a successful conference. And then another. And another. Now that I’m thinking of that flight, a Blood Mary sounds even more appealing than a shot of bourbon. Neither should sound appealing this early. I think I’ll let this urge pass.


Years ago, before we moved to Hot Springs Village, my wife and I talked about taking a year or so to travel. The idea was to get an RV and just go. Though we ultimately abandoned the idea, before we did we went looking. I found one I really, really wanted: a wonderfully compact Roadtrek van-based RV. I don’t recall the specific model. My wife, though, said “we wouldn’t last a week together in that.” There just wasn’t anyplace for privacy, which we both needed but she needed more. I checked the 2021 models and found one I think I would like: the 2021 Play, offered at a price of only $104,986. Hell, at that price I should just go ahead and buy two. Right. I don’t think RVing is in my future, after all.


I’ve quenched my thirst for alcohol. I had some tonic water, instead. No gin at this hour. For some reason, I absolutely love the taste of tonic water, especially diet tonic water. Diet tonic is not always easy to find, though. So I occasionally buy regular tonic, usually Schweppe‘s or Canada Dry or, if at Walmart, Great Value.  But non-diet stuff has about 390 calories per bottle. I can drink a bottle at one sitting. Almost. The diet version may have various highly toxic poisons in it, but they are deeply satisfying highly toxic poisons, so I will continue to partake of them.


My sister in law just texted me that she is on the way over for our morning coffee and Words with Friends fest. I have wasted a perfectly good hour or so writing when I could have showered and shaved. Oh, well. There will be time for that later. For now, I will laugh at the last day of a miserable, nasty, no-good year. And I will put black-eyed peas on my shopping list, because I do not have any…I thought I did!

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Laughing at the Last Day of an Ugly Year

  1. David Legan says:

    I’ve read every column for a couple of months, and I have grieved with you. No words…I cannot imagine…how can you cope…all of that and more. I was startled by the recommendation that you list your wife’s small annoyances. Perhaps that is a good way to remember her as a person instead of an idealized answer to your alone-ness. It is certainly not (IMO) a way to reduce the pain of absence. That must come on it’s own, on little cat feet like Sandburg’s Fog. We, you and I, have no control over it and to even try is to trivialize. In time, and no one knows how much time, in time the sadness and sorrow will be displaced like air from a bottle you are filling. It will start as a lessening of the perpetual frown, and pass through a faint smirk to a knowing grin of bittersweet memories. And then…only then…those little annoyances will become the stuff of craving. They are to be savored…they are not a way to reduce the pain of your loss. In my opinion.

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