By Janice MacRae


Kent, the oldest member of my cycling group, was pedaling alongside me during our weekly ride. A quiet man, he’d become more so since his wife, Marie, had died two months earlier. We rode on in comfortable silence for awhile, then he moved a little closer and said, “May I ask you a personal question?” I’d always known him to be a true gentleman, but life on this planet has taught me that humans are full of surprises. “Sure,” I replied, bracing myself. He paused a moment, as if rethinking, then said, “How do you cook carrots?” If we hadn’t been on bikes, I’d have given him a hug. Instead, I filled him in on carrot cuisine, and made a mental note to take him some homemade soup. I later learned he’d asked another woman in the group, “How do you wash the floor?” Kent had obviously been taken care of; it was time for this well-educated scientist to learn basic survival skills.

Twelve years later, Kent and the carrot question came to mind when I became a widow in January 2014. Until then, widow had been just a word to me; now it’s my new reality, one that is mine to shape. I soon realized my husband Joe and I also had quite a division of duties. He didn’t know hoot about cooking either, but he could fix or build anything…usually shooing clumsy me out of the way. However, knowing I can’t always rely on others to do Joe’s jobs now, the New Me decided to give it a go.

Two quotes quickly took on special meaning: Honesty is the best policy and Those who allow themselves to be vulnerable walk among mysteries. As an explorer in new territory, I stride into the local hardware store, look ’em in the eye, and declare, “I don’t know anything about (take your pick) plumber’s putty, or shelf brackets, or attaching a toilet seat. But I am teachable. Would you please show me?” The helpful staff has come through every time, unraveling one mystery after another. Like a first-grader learning to read, I’m pumped up about knowing the names and purpose of some items I used to call thingies. And no one could have been more surprised and pleased than me when I managed to unclog two drains within a week. I must admit to excessive bragging.

However, just when I think I’m so clever, a new challenge always comes up to teach humility. The latest was a carbon monoxide alarm that began to shriek every thirty seconds. Suppressing an urge to bolt outside gulping oxygen, I decided it might be wise to read directions before making a neighborhood spectacle of myself. Okay, one earsplitting beep every thirty seconds means install new battery. I can do that. But after finally getting the back off the unit, I couldn’t figure out how to detach the 9V battery from the wires. The shrieking continued. Being late evening, what else to do but muffle the annoying thing with three towels, stuff it in the spare room overnight, and go to bed in a state of defeat. The next day I was a tad embarrassed as the hardware staff showed me how to remove the battery by pulling off two little clamps. Pop, pop, easier than cooking carrots.

Friends cheer me on as I stumble through this learning curve. However, some, like my friend Lilija, are exceptional role models. Having lived on her own for years, she’s undaunted by plumbing, wiring, carpentry and more. She recently offered to lend me her chainsaw for yard work, along with a lesson in using it…as casually as if offering a purse. “Two small women and a chainsaw!” I gasped. Her reply: “Sure, no problem; it’s a small one.”

I think back to Kent and his question. Now over eighty, he still cycles, lives in his own home, and has become a pretty good cook. As for me, it’s early days; I have much to learn. But I’m getting there, one day and one laugh at a time.

About this writer

  • Janice MacRae is a freelance writer who lives near Victoria, BC, Canada. She finds daily life seldom perfect but always entertaining. As far as she knows, a good laugh never hurt anyone.

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