Stephens Press, Las Vegas, Nevada, 2010. ISBN 978-1-932-17375-8.
Reviewed by Lisa Shirah-Hiers
Posted on 11/11/2010
In her IPPY Award-winning book, Dancing in My Nightgown: The Rhythms of Widowhood, Betty Auchard explores the ups and downs she experiences after the cancer death of her husband of 49 years. Married at just 19, Betty has never pumped gas, driven on a highway, paid bills, filed income tax or used a computer. She not only has to cope with her grief but to rediscover and redefine herself as a single woman at the age of 68. In a series of short, journal-entry-like stories, Betty shares her tender memories, reflections and adventures. With candor, courage and a healthy dose of humor to temper the tears, we journey with Betty as she grieves, recovers and embarks on a brand new career as a writer and speaker. Her writing is so real and compelling that we're drawn in immediately, as if listening to a dear friend over a cup of coffee.
As the one-year anniversary of Denny's death passes, there are fewer painful moments and more joy. Betty learns how to be happy in her own, quirky way—eating as many cookies as she likes, sleeping in, dancing in her nightgown, and writing into the wee hours of the morning. "Sometimes," she confesses, "I leap out of bed with such enthusiasm that I don't even bother to dress or eat before starting in on my tasks. I don't plan it this way... I don't even think twice before I'm on my hands and knees cleaning around the base of the toilets or in the garden grooming the roses... Efficiently I go from one task to another, still in my nightie, housecoat and slippers... Sometime around noon I pray that no one drops by and finds me with a shovel in one hand and a cookie in the other." (p. 59)
Funny stories abound, like the time Betty decides to replace her shower door. Worried that the repairman will realize she lives alone, Betty sets the stage with masculine props. But when the repairman leaves, she realizes it's painfully obvious to anyone who looks that only one person has slept in her bed. Betty is overcome with a sense of vulnerability. "I got my mind off the subject by taking a shower and noticing how transparent the new shower doors were," she writes. "It meant that an intruder could see me naked. But it also meant that I could see him coming which would give me the time to grab a bar of soap and throw it at him with one hand while dialing 911 with the other—if I remembered to take the telephone into the shower." (p. 29)
As her journey progresses Betty learns to be herself: to decorate her Christmas tree the way she likes, to go camping alone, to renovate her home to her own tastes, to consider publishing a book, to do things Denny might not have approved of or been comfortable with, and even to venture into the strange new world of on-line dating. "Life is certainly taking me to some interesting places," she writes. "I've opened so many doors into my future that I have no idea which one I'll pass through first. I do know I yearn to be in love again and to be loved in return. But maybe I should get organized first." (p. 139)
Dancing in My Nightgown is a funny, poignant, wise, sweet little memoir that will leave you smiling and wondering just what this spunky gal will do next.
Betty Auchard's first memoir, Dancing in My Nightgown: The Rhythms of Widowhood, won the IPPY Independent Publishers' award in 2005. Her newly released memoir, The Home for the Friendless, explores her unusual childhood, growing up in a series of temporary homes during the Great Depression. She has published stories and essays in San Jose Mercury News, Today's Senior, and Chocolate for a Woman's Soul series and is a sought-after public speaker. She lives in Los Gatos, California. For more information visit her website.
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