Time for a Break?


Gene and I just celebrated our 19th anniversary. Ironically, after 19 weeks of social distancing, I think we’re ready to socially distance from each other. (Don’t worry; that’s a joke.)

Like most of us, in all these months, we’ve seen very few of our friends “live and in person.” And we miss them! The last time we entertained was on May 6th. Our neighbors Lynne and Bob came over at 7:30 a.m. for coffee and Bloody Marys on the patio. (We needed to be outside to socially-distance, and since we live in Phoenix, early morning seemed like the best time.)

In fact, since the disappearance of life as we know it, our social life has been almost non-existent. We’ve been to our friend Gail’s house for the best take-out dinner ever, seated at opposite ends of her dining table, and we joined Tempe friends Pat and Steve here in San Diego for seafood and a long walk on the beach. That’s it.

We’ve been able to rendezvous with family in various parts of northern Arizona, and in their yards and ours. Those visits have been our saving grace. But still, we miss our friends.

Since March, we’ve camped in Page Springs, Cottonwood, Camp Verde, Payson, Show Low, and Greer.

Added to the social isolation has been the pressure of being in our trailer for weeks at a time. We feel lucky to have our little house on wheels because it has allowed us a change of scene. But we’re talking 120 square feet! Have you ever tried to remove roasted vegetables from an oven in a space about three feet wide? Or taken a shower in a bathroom where getting undressed requires the dexterity of a contortionist?

This month, thank God, we’ve been in a little bungalow in San Diego with our kitties. It feels spacious, compared to the trailer. But being in another town for a month, even one with the most heavenly weather possible, poses problems, too.

I have plenty to do: reading, writing, talking on the phone with my kids and sisters, emailing and texting friends, cleaning, laundry, Facebook, Words with Friends. We cook, go for walks, fish, picnic at the beach, talk, and talk some more. Gene reads, goes to the driving range and fishes alone occasionally. But there are no projects here, no “Honey Do’s.” And this is “Mr. Fix-it.” The poor guy is bored.

So, we’re starting to drive each other nuts. He’s noticing every annoying habit I have, and I’m noticing that he has a few himself. The differences between us are more obvious because we’re together so much.

It turns out I have gotten particular. About a lot of things.  I used to think when Gene asked me to go with him to the store, he just wanted help. It turns out he wants me there to be sure he doesn’t bring home the wrong items, e.g., salted butter instead of unsalted, plain olive oil instead of Extra Virgin First Cold Pressed, thin pork chops instead of thick ones, red delicious apples instead of honey crisp. Not only are my grocery lists missing detail; they’re impossible to read! So now I know.

I can fix the grocery list. But a tougher challenge is the way we make decisions. Have you ever taken the color test for personality traits? Well, I’m a blue; Gene’s a green. I’m quick and spontaneous, the “let’s get it done” type. Gene is slow and deliberate, the “let’s get it done right” type, He wants to gather every bit of information he can find before making a decision, and I’m talking small (to me) decisions like which beach today or which wine with dinner. I welcome his style if, to me, it’s a decision worthy of his level of scrutiny.  But sometimes, I just need to move in a direction, any direction, even the wrong direction. In my head I’m shouting, PLEASE, LET’S JUST MOVE!

So, we’re trying to find things to do alone, like more reading and fishing. And it’s no wonder he wants to go fishing at Blacks Beach, where clothing is optional. He can fish and watch pretty girls go by “optionally” clothed. Time is not of the essence. (The stickler is that it’s 1,000 steps from the top of the trail down to the beach, a truly death-defying walk for a guy in his 70s, even one in good shape. And he’s got to carry a rod, a tackle box, towel, phone, snacks, water, a colander to catch sand crabs, and an empty water bottle to keep them in. I’m not concerned that this will become a habit.)

And while he’s fishing, I’ll think about all the reasons I’m glad we’re married, and welcome him home with a big kiss.

Home Sweet Home on the Road


Let me set the stage: I am married to a frustrated forest ranger.  My man is an introvert, a very focused guy, a guy who knows a lot about a lot of things, a guy who was happily living like a monk when I met him. And I’m a people person.

It all started with an ad I ran in the “Meet Your Match” section of The Arizona Republic.  My friend Len Young decided I was bored. So she helped me write the ad, and I sent it in and recorded a three-minute phone message about myself.    

You see, back in 1997, internet dating wasn’t de rigueur. (That’s an homage to my French teacher, Madame Pallissard.)  People ran ads, and those who were intrigued paid the paper by calling a 900 number to listen to the advertiser. I received about 10 messages, and returned all but one, which belonged to a man whose accent was so thick I couldn’t understand him.

After talking to my potential dates, I decided I wanted to meet Gene. He has a wonderful voice, for one thing, had left a very articulate response to my message, and was self-deprecating, unlike the rest, who sounded more like job interviewees than potential friends. So I checked him out by calling his workplace and asking for his title and address. He appeared to be legit.

We met for breakfast, played golf a couple of times, went fishing, and started dating. Three years later, after two broken engagements and while I was mid-way through chemotherapy for breast cancer, we got back together. I found that I couldn’t live without him. Literally. On June 22, 2001, we were married.     

Jump to today. We are camping in Payson, Arizona, in our travel trailer. Now doesn’t that sound romantic? Well, guess again. And picture a guy who just 10 days ago was diagnosed with Bells Palsy, while we were camping in Cottonwood, Arizona. He was determined to get out of the house after being home for a week because of the coronavirus.

I love to go camping; I really do. But the getting there and the coming home are a lot of work. There’s hiring the kitty-sitter, planning the food, grocery shopping, gathering the fishing stuff, packing clothes and toiletries, bringing things to do if it rains, and leaving the house clean, in case we’re killed on the road.

Once there, I make the bed (like wrestling a bear), put the food away (picture squeezing into Spankx), and organize our things (imagine limited space and, even more important, limited sockets).

And then there’s Gene’s part: packing the car, hooking up the trailer, driving to our campground, parking the trailer (the true test of love and commitment), removing the stabilizing bars (I always imagine him losing one of his arms to this part), unhooking the car, connecting the water hose, installing the sewer hose, and plugging into the electricity. You can see why I’m concerned about all this work in his present condition.

So here we are, having driven each other nuts trying to get the trailer properly positioned and level. It takes a few tries.

Me: “Can you pull up and I’ll try one of those boards under the tires?” He pulls up. I lay down the board, and he backs up over it until I shout, “Stop!” Me again: “How about if you pull up and I’ll try the thinner board?” Same thing. Me again: “I think we need one thick board and two thin ones on top of it. Can you pull up again?”) Finally, the trailer is fairly level, and I am completely insulted, as he has talked to me as if I’m an idiot, just because he couldn’t hear or see me while I was directing him. And then he tops it off with this: “I’m not sure you’re in tune with my needs.”

So I get organized inside, and he enjoys the great outdoors and has a glass of wine. And slowly, as we eat dinner (reheated pork loin with peaches, mashed cauliflower, tabbouleh, and chocolate chip cookies, with more White Burgundy), we relax and begin to talk again.

I’m reminded of telling both my girls, once they were old enough to think about marriage. “Chemistry is important; it gets you through the tough times.” A glass of wine, a nice dinner, and the cuteness factor. Thank God for the cuteness factor.