Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Valentine for Older Lovers by Pat Browning

Pat Browning was born and raised in Oklahoma. A longtime resident of California's San Joaquin Valley before moving back to Oklahoma in 2005, Pat’s professional writing credits go back to the 1960s, when she was a stringer for The Fresno Bee while working full time in a Hanford law office.

She is a veteran traveler. Her globetrotting in the 1970s led her into the travel business, first as a travel agent, then as a correspondent for TravelAge West, a trade journal published in San Francisco. In the 1990s, she signed on fulltime as a newspaper reporter and columnist, first at The Selma Enterprise and then at The Hanford Sentinel.

At the Enterprise, her lifestyle coverage placed first two years in a row in the California Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspapers Contest. She was also a co-finalist for the 1993 George F. Gruner Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism. The award was for a story she and a colleague wrote about AIDS, which was a recent phenomenon at the time. At the Sentinel, her feature story on the Japanese-American "Yankee Samurais" of World War II, placed second in the CNPA contest.

Her first mystery, FULL CIRCLE, was set in a fictional version of Hanford, and published through iUniverse in 2001. It was revised and reissued as ABSINTHE 0F MALICE by Krill Press in 2008. An extensive excerpt can be read at Google Books --

The second book in the series, METAPHOR FOR MURDER, is a work in progress.

WHITE PETUNIAS, Pat’s nostalgic essay about growing up in Oklahoma, appeared last winter in the RED DIRT BOOK FESTIVAL ANTHOLOGY. An earlier version won second place in its category in Frontiers in Writing 2007, sponsored by Panhandle Professional Writers, Amarillo, Texas. WHITE PETUNIAS can be read on her blog, Morning’s At Noon –
When you click on the URL, the first thing to appear is Pat's review of the late Kirk Bjornsgaard's novel, CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER ROCK QUEEN. Take a minute to read it. This stunning novel revisits the 1960s in the beguiling story of a young farm girl who wants more than anything to get out of Oklahoma and make it big in the New York music world. WHITE PETUNIAS follows, so scroll on down.

Pat's articles on the writing life have appeared in The SouthWest Sage, the monthly journal of SouthWest Writers, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

She is trying to find time to build a new website. In the meantime she has a page at Author’s Den –

A Valentine for Older Lovers
By Pat Browning

Let me tell you why I wrote a perfect man for the love interest in my book ABSINTHE OF MALICE. Somebody posted a review on Amazon saying she didn't like the perfect man. Too perfect.

Ha. There's no such thing as a too-perfect man, but her complaint fits right in with Valentine’s Day.

I've known two perfect men in my life. I was married to one of them and I invented the other one. He's rich, he's handsome and he's sexy. What's not to like? I hope that negative review won't deter a potential reader.

Besides, it's not as if my fictional perfect man never made a mistake. He let my protagonist get away, spent more than 20 years married to the wrong woman, lived long enough to regret it, backed up and started over. A perfect man is not afraid to admit his mistakes.

But enough about a man who exists only in my imagination. Let’s talk about the real man who graced my life.

“When Ed and I decided to get married and live in his house, I wondered what to do with my camel.”

So begins a column on later-life marriage that I wrote for The Hanford Sentinel in the mid-1990s. My old friend and road buddy, Marlene, came across the clipping recently and sent me a copy. It brought back a lot of memories. The camel was a special souvenir from our 1978 trip to the Costa del Sol, with a side trip to Tangier.

We were at the dock in Tangier, ready to board the boat for the trip across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain, when the camel seller showed up. I had spent all my money. He had a credit card machine. I didn’t have a credit card. We used Marlene’s card, and I hand-carried my souvenir camel all the way home.

Here’s the column as I wrote it about 15 years after the fact.


When Ed and I decided to get married and live in his house, I wondered what to do with my camel.

We're talking trivia here. That camel is a souvenir I carted home from Tangier and kept on display to remind me of good times. By the time we moved out some of Ed's belongings, moved in some of mine, and sold or gave away the rest, there still was no place for the camel. It's in a cabinet in the garage. I see it when I look for the electric knife.

The road to marital bliss is full of potholes at any age. Later-life marriage adds a few of its own. For openers, you have two people who are saddled with the habits of a lifetime. You hate to get up in the morning, love to stay up at night, you’re crazy about cats and like to jet off to exotic places. Why should you change?

Because there's someone sleeping in your bed who's up at the crack of dawn and thinks nine-thirty is the middle of the night, who doesn't even like dogs, and wants to visit a buddy in Oregon. Not important, you think, but it was a straw, don't forget, that broke the camel's back. Love is so grand. Life is so daily.

For some older couples the jolt of adjusting goes right off the Richter scale. They're in a lawyer's office before the ink dries on the marriage license. Couples who make it are those who care enough to give up some attitudes that probably weren't important in the first place.

On some issues, of course, you can stand fast. For me, it's ironing shirts. I don't do shirts. Never did, never will. I'm fair, though. I don't do blouses either. If it doesn't drip dry I don't wear it.

My friend Marlene and I hashed all this out last week over a Denver sandwich and a bowl of beef barley soup. We agreed that marriage later in life is special because you're really ready to settle in and grow old with someone.

My camel was small potatoes compared with the furnishings and frou-frou Marlene kept when she got married. In a weak moment, no doubt, Wayne told her she could refurnish his house any way she wanted. Like a flash, she hauled out his stuff and moved hers in.

She sold his patio table while he was sitting at it. When he said, "Whoaaaa!" as she took his favorite mirror down from the wall, she just reminded him of his promise. She has a frog collection you wouldn't believe and dispersed it to every room in the house. Obviously, she married a saint.

Couples who make it to their 40th or 50th wedding anniversary often seem so compatible that you assume the marriage was made in heaven. More likely, they just learned early on what they could or couldn't do or have, and decided that very few things are worth a fight.

As someone (Mark Twain, I think) once said, most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Younger couples face the daunting task of building a life from scratch, of doing everything for the first time. Older couples are ready to start unloading responsibilities like mowing an acre of lawn twice a week. There are bank accounts, insurance policies and property titles to sort out. Grown-up children don't always look kindly on Mom's or Pop's latest adventure.

But some things never change. Love is a wonder at any age. A first date is as nerve-wracking at 60 as it was at 16. You get married when you're older for about the same reasons as when you were younger: for love and companionship, and someone to care when the world caves in on you.


The memories are bittersweet. Ed died in 2003. Wayne died in 2006. We had some good innings, but the men we chose to grow old with left us too soon. Marlene still has her frog collection. The camel went out with my other souvenirs in a garage sale before I left California and moved back to Oklahoma.


The further adventures of my protagonist and her too-perfect man are still in the works—a book getting its umpteenth revision when I’m not out shoveling snow during the Great Blizzard of 2011. Thank goodness for my story board. I only have to rearrange the sticky notes stuck on each chapter square. The story board leans against wall and the pictures have stared back at me for months going on years. I cut them out of old Vanity Fair magazines, and they fit my characters perfectly.

If the pictures could sing, they would be singing Jelly Roll Morton’s famous song, Hesitation Blues – “How long … how long do I have to wait?” In fact, I use the song in my sequel-in-progress, working title METAPHOR FOR MURDER. Stay tuned ….

Copyright © 2009 by Pat Browning


Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

How beautiful and bittersweet is this post from Pat Browning - such an apt last name for such a romantic writer. Happy Valentine's Day, all!

Peg Brantley said...

Pat, I love examples of strong women. This post is one.

That's pretty much everything. And it's a boatload.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Peg Brantley said...

I should add . . . Absinthe of Malice is in the queue. I'm looking forward to it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for a chance to revisit happy days. Hope your Valentine's Day with your Donald is extra special.
Hugs from here.

Anonymous said...

Your post is so appreciated. Bittersweet indeed -- such memories bring smiles through tears.

Anonymous said...

Men (bless 'em all) strut their stuff and flex their muscles -- nature intended it that way. But women endure -- definitely the stronger sex. (:

And thanks so much for giving ABSINTHE a shot. Hope you love it!

Vicki Lane said...

Love your reflection -- Love is so grand; life is so daily. Oh, my, is that the truth!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hi, Vicki:

The truth, the truth, the awful truth!

"Post removed by author" sounds so ominous. I just removed it because I stuck an "e" on the end of your name. Forgot all about the "edit" function.

Anyway -- thanks for stopping by!

Jaden Terrell said...

Beautiful post, Pat. Thank you for sharing this heartfelt reflection. I love this quote too: Love is so grand; life is so daily. I think I'll put it over my workspace.

AmyShojai said...

Love this Pat, thanks so much. We've just passed our 30th anniversary, yikes! It gets better each year, though.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Grand love story, Pat, and "perfect" for Valentine's Day. After 41 years of marriage, I have to agree with most of your conclusions.

Jonathan E. Quist said...


Thank you!

After hearing so much about Ed over the years, it's nice to have a face to attach to the name. Your Ed stories come like letters from home. And in these days when people send threats if The Bachelor doesn't hand out a rose, it's nice to hear a solid, rational and, yes, romantic view of love and marriage.

Happy Valentines Day to all.


Marja said...

Wonderful, Pat! I married my husband after having been divorced for thirty years, and we'll celebrate our twelfth aniversary this year. There are some definite advantages to marrying when you're older.

Your post really made my day and touched my heart.

Ken Lewis said...

"How Doth she love me? Let me count the ways!" For Valentine's Day I took my wife out to dinner on Saturday, and then to see Lonestar in concert at Seven Feathers Casino. But you want to know what impressed her the most? The fact that I spent forty minutes searching for, and then standing in line at the bar, to get her a Captain Morgan's Rum and Coke before the concert started. It couldn't be just a plain old rum and Coke, it had to be a Captain Morgan's Rum, and Coke; which it was. She was also very impressed that I finally returned at all because she said after I'd been gone for thirty minutes, she was sure I "wasn't coming back," hehe.

PS: For Valentine's Day she got me a bag of Macadamia nuts with genuine sea salt, and a $50 gift card to Sportsman's Warehouse. Now THAT, ladies, is true love! (hehe)

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Pat - Thank you for a wonderful Valentine!

Like Jonathan, I enjoy finally being able to put a face to the man we've heard such wonderful things about over the years. He's every bit as handsome as I imagined.

LOVE the picture of you on the camel!!!!! Pat, you just rock.

Thanks, everyone for stopping by - here's wishing everyone a Happy Valentine's Day.

Anonymous said...


You say the nicest things. I appreciate you.

In truth, Ed wasn't perfect, but he was perfect for me. He had an inquisitive,inventive mind and understood how things work. I miss him every day!

He was the first person I knew who had a computer. Sears was the only store in town selling them and Sears had only one for sale -- a Commodore 64 -- so that's what Ed bought. I came home from work one day and he had broken some kind of code and printed out reams of that machine's programs.

Probably not a big job in those early days but I know he could easily get into the guts of my Compaq Presario to tell me why my Adobe .pdf reader doesn't always work. (:



Anonymous said...

Sometimes life saves the best for last. Congratulations on finding the right mate after such a long wait! Enjoy every day -- the time goes faster than you realize.

Anonymous said...

Your post gave me a much needed laugh. Sounds like you two have found the key to the Garden of Delights. Just don't lose it --- !

Erika Chase said...

What wonderful thoughts on any age. I'm going to show it to my son & future daughter-in-law. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by, Erika. Your comment is much appreciated!

Julie D said...

~~When Ed and I decided to get married and live in his house, I wondered what to do with my camel.

What a wonderful opening line! And what a terrific story. But it was this line I loved most of all:

~~Love is so grand. Life is so daily.

I couldn't agree more. I married the perfect man 25 years ago. True, we got rid of the attitudes that meant very little, realizing that to hold on to them just to hold on would be the death of us.

You had some good innings. And now you have wonderful memories that I am grateful to have shared with you.

Much love,