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Eleanor, the merry widow 
by: Steve Hart

I met Eleanor at Hope Lodge in Marshfield Wisconsin, and it is a meeting a will not soon forget.  Introducing herself to me as “a merry widow”, I really wasn’t sure what she meant, but I soon learned that she only used it to describe herself as someone who has gone on with life and is not to be pitied, even though she was there alone and for cancer therapy.

I’d suspect that Eleanor doesn’t worry much about how old she is.  Rather, she would wear it as a badge of honor.  Still, out of habit, I didn’t ask.  The only clue here is that Eleanor moved to Milwaukee in 1945 from Brooklyn NY after marrying her sweetie she met at the USO. 

Eleanor is here in an attempt to get two more years out of her wonderful life.  She goes from remission to remission with the longest being two years and the shortest being 15 months.  Still, nothing slows Eleanor down.  She explained her life to me over breakfast moments after our meeting while hurrying through an orange and a bowl of oatmeal on this snowy Marshfield Wisconsin morning in the first week of March 2006.

She drove down here the night before stopping off to see one of her men friends in Stanley, a few miles up the road.  “That fellow, now 84 has lived the last 60+ years with only half a lung”, says Eleanor.  He’s one of two such gentlemen in her life, “but they both know about each other”, she quickly explains.  “One is in the east and the other in the west and never the twain shall meet”.  The other one, age 91 just invited her to a ball in Eau Claire and like a couple of kids getting ready for the prom, he got his tux and she already found her gown at the Salvation Army store for $6.50.  Quite a bargain.

“Two rules”, says Eleanor.  “The men like me because I am good company, but I tell them straight up that there is no cooking and there’s no bedroom.”  “No cooking anywhere, right”, I replied.  Eleanor laughed.  “I never thought of that one.  I’ll have to use it.”

Eleanor is a former schoolteacher, having spent twenty something years teaching grade school.  “It was great because my husband and I could spend the summers RVing, after the kids were gone that is.”  Now with husband gone, she still hasn’t slowed down.  She has two kids, 4 grandchildren 8 great grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, and 1 great great grandchild.  She doesn’t need the RV anymore, but she hasn’t given up road-trips. Now armed with a van with a bed in the back and a porta-potty tucked behind the seat, Eleanor stops at KOA campgrounds every night until she gets where the wind is taking her.

One of the grandchildren bought the house that she and husband built and she built next door.  “It works out great.  They help me take care of the lawn and change a few light bulbs I can’t reach and they take care of the place while I travel.”

I don’t think Eleanor is afraid of dying from her cancer.  It’s just that she wants to live a little longer first.  “I’m not done yet.  I’ve got things I want to do”, she says.  “One of which is to grow my hair out so that I can get a good picture made for my funeral.  I have one of my husband and me, but not just one of myself.”  So now planning that this week of chemo will again send her cancer into the remission she seeks, she plans to again pack up that porta-potty and hit the road.  This time it’s Mississippi.  “I don’t know how long I will be gone this time, but I will be back for that ball in Eau Claire to be sure and the fellas will be happy to see me come back.  I’m good company you know.”

For those that like good endings, you should know that I later talked with Eleanor who was just ecstatic.  She got her remission. 


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