John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m a young widow. Before my husband died suddenly, we had a close marriage, but after a few years I have started to date a little. Now, there’s a man I’m attracted to, but he’s never been to my house. I’ve always had tons of family pictures spread around on tables, shelves, bulletin boards and the refrigerator. Many of them are of my husband and me. I’m afraid all the pictures will turn off this man I like. And my teenage children will notice if I remove them. What should I do? If someone dear to us is gone, guilt is an amazing emotion and affects almost everyone except the stone-hearted. But it’s probably not the best model to have a shrine in the house to your late husband. You’ll have him in your heart and dreams, whatever path you trod. Ghosts can be a romance deflator, and if a relationship blossoms for you, you’ll be forced at some point to drastically reduce the number of photos. Ask your kids to each choose a couple for their bedrooms. Then pick no more than three of your very favorite snaps and put them in discrete places—mostly places where guests don’t necessarily wander. No, not your own bathroom…hmmm, on second thought, it’s the first place you’ll go each morning.
I’m a little leery of people who will say to you: “He would want you to be happy, to marry again.” Not necessarily. I know many people who would say, “I want no one in our bed. Ever.”
So lose the guilt, boil the shrine down to a few perfect snapshots and remember your husband while focusing on your own future happiness.
My dad used to tell me: “There is no such thing as one person for one person. There are probably 1,000 women from here to California who you could fall in love with and marry, if you could meet them all.”
Hold the memories dear. And have new adventures.
My wife and I just got back from China. It was amazing, but troubling to me. On part of our tour, we traveled by train from Shanghai to Xiamen, racing along the countryside’s endless rice fields at about 200 mph. We’d stop at stations with not a soul around, though there would always be an elderly person—man or woman—scrubbing down the grooved surface where people would exit. You could eat off those surfaces. Everywhere we went, people took pride in little jobs, shining things, sweeping and polishing. I don’t see many people in America taking pride in their daily work. What can we do about that in this country? It’s tough to answer cosmic questions in a sound bite. But part of the answer is simple: We live in a democracy, a nation of immigrants that have made us an extraordinary country. With that freedom comes endless choices, including having no pride in one’s work as well as entitlement, laziness, resentment, discontent and everything that is allowed in a democracy. In China, you have no choice. Sweep that threshold, polish whenever you’re told to polish until it shines and you hurt. The Longfellow Bridge took five years to complete restoration work. If it were in China, the government could move in a thousand workers from the countryside to finish the job in a month or two. But that ain’t a democracy.
There are many different pieces to America: The Midwest, the South and the two coasts reflect all kinds of values and attitudes as well as craziness and habits that each make them unique areas. We don’t live in a dictatorship. Democracy is a crazy quilt of everything you can imagine. And we cannot imagine living in a country where the “work ethic” is mandatory. But that’s also why it took years to fix that bridge.
I have clients in China who cannot wait to move back here. They can’t stand the lack of freedom—or paying bribes to get their kids into private school—even though no one’s scrubbing the floors when you exit the T.
I have spent 20 years collecting old radios. Now I am getting married, and my partner wants them gone. They really don’t serve a purpose, and we rarely turn them on. But they are little bits of American technological history and you don’t see many of them around any more. Should I keep, sell or store them? They might be worth a few dollars—although probably only to a few nostalgia buffs like me. You’re not the only nostalgia buff. There are probably millions like you, collecting pieces of the past. I collected comic books and toy soldiers when I was young. I never thought I’d outgrow any of them. They disappeared in one of my parents’ moves. The early comics would have been worth a lot. Woulda, coulda.
My simple answer to you is not to get rid of your radios—and not to store them either. Children you love leave the nest, but the objects you love should hang around, reminding you of the happy moments you acquired them. And, for some moments, I’ll bet you can turn them on, and they’ll play soap operas and hit songs from the ’50s. Retro is fun. And it can be profitable too. ◆