Standout Story

Keynote Speaker
Danny Szeremet

Daniel Szeremet

Grandma Story Outline



Hi Everyone

-        I am Happy to be here today

-        Hope you are all doing well

-        And Progressing  with your projects


-        Thank you for hosting this event

-        Providing much needed direction

-        And Helping us move forward

I applaud you all for being here and for your commitment to…

-        Self improvement

-        Growth

-        Sharing YOUR story

-       And Supporting others as they share THEIR story

If you are… like me

- You may have noticed, life has it’s disruptions.

- Our current situation demonstrates how disruptive, disruptions can be

-        How disruptions can compound into more disruption

-        “Disruption” doesn’t sound so good.

-        So I will use “Interruption” from here on.


My first “interruption” occurred when I was born.

-        My mother was in a mental institution

-        My father was incapable of caring for me

-        My brother 3 years older was being cared for by father with assistance by Grandmother

-        My sister, 2 years older was being cared for by another family

So my father brought me straight from the hospital.

-        4 days old, wrapped in a blanket

-        To Grandma and Grandpa

-        Where they lived on North Avenue

Grandma and Grandpa were

-        Not my biological grandparents

-        They knew my father when he was growing up

-        They took me into their home

They were already caring for their own Grandson. So I had a ready made family.

-        With a brother, 4 years older than me

-        I had Hand-me-downs

-        And someone that I could call “Grandma”

Grandma was my first star

-        She was Scotch-Irish

-        About 5 feet 4 inches there about

-        A Simple, humble woman

-        Raised on a farm in Wisconsin

After marrying Grandpa, a local farm boy, they both moved to Milwaukee.

-        Grandpa worked at Schlitz Brewery

-        During WWII, Grandma worked there too.

-        She also raised her children

-        Then her grandson

-        Then me

-        Then other foster children

I like to think that Grandma enjoyed me so much, she wanted more foster children.

When I was in 1st Grade, Grandma told me that…

-        I was smart.

-        That’s what my teacher told her.

-        She said I was good.

-        Grandma repeated this often over the years

-        I believed her

-        And I wanted to prove her right

-        I still do.

Every other Saturday, we would go “Up North”

-        To pick up eggs, fresh from the farm

-        And to Visit Grandma and Grandpa’s relatives

-        I got to know their very large families

Often when we drove up North, I sat in the front on the bench seat between Grandma and Grandpa

-        Inevitably Grandma would pull out her handkerchief

-        Wet it with her tongue

-        Then clean out my ears with her dampened handkerchief

-        Grandma said my ears were so dirty that I could grow potatoes in there

-        As a 6 year old, I pictured a potato growing out of my ear

During the summer, Grandma and Grandpa would take their Grandson to Florida

-        To visit HIS mother, which was THEIR daughter

-        I stayed behind because they did not have permission to take me out of state

-        So while Grandma and family went down to Florida, I stayed with her sister Aunt Catherine and Uncle Al up North for 2 weeks while Grandma, Grandpa and brother were out of state.


Occasionally my Dad would stop by to take me for the day.

-        Other times, my brother, who lived with Dad, would pick me up on a Saturday afternoon, for an overnight stay.

-        Brother’s arrival time varied, depending on whether the pool at the Boy’s Club was open that afternoon.

-        The Boys’ Club sounded like fun.

- But you had to be at least 7½ years old to join.

-        I couldn’t wait to be 7½ years old.

When I turned 7½ years old, my life with GRANDMA was INTERRUPTED.

-        That summer, instead of staying with Aunt Catherine and Uncle Al, Dad took me.

-        At the end of my extended visit, I learned that I would be living with Dad from then on.

And I could now join the Boys’ Club.

- So on Saturdays, brother and I crossed town by bus to enjoy movies in the Club's Theater. 

- We could watch a double feature for 5 cents.

- Old black and white classics movies: 

- War of the Worlds, 

- Frankenstein

- Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.

- In appearance. Costello reminded me of my Dad.

- Dad drove cab, so he enjoyed the child care benefits the Boys' Club provided on Saturdays, which was a working day for Dad.

- 3rd Grade let out much earlier than Dad's work, and Dad had the only house key. 

So after school, while we waited for Dad to come home, the library became our refuge.

I was a card holder.

The library also had a clock, so we could synchronize our return home with Dad's arrival.

The encyclopedia section drew my attention. I enjoyed the variety of subjects. When I was 7 and 8 years old, “I” was the browser.

On the way to and from, I would search for every climbable tree I could find.

-        Today , we would be called “free-range kids”.

-        I don’t think we were “latch-key”, because we were locked OUT of the house.

Living with Dad was a different experience compared to living with Grandma.

-        Grandma provided a home, warm, always open, predictable, simple.

-        Dad thrust us into the world, in its harshness and adventure.

-        Life was much easier with Grandma. I missed her, and wished to return someday.

-        But this was my real family: father, brother, and me.

-        This was my life.

Often while Dad worked, we worked.

-        We sold flower seeds and vegetable seeds to people with gardens, various candy and greeting cards door to door.

-        We went to the Boys' Club early to take on cleaning tasks to earn our way to summer camp

-        We earned 2 weeks of summer camp

Even though life was harder with Dad it was an adventure.

-        We traveled to the horse tracks in Illinois. Even helped Dad with his “system".

-        Brother and I enjoyed an occasional payout by following Dad's advice.

In our neighborhood, we knew every tavern. There were 4 taverns within a ½ block of our home. 

-        Dick’s Tavern was my favorite. He let us play in the back room while Dad sat at the bar.

I didn’t understand much about alcoholism.

One day, our Mom stopped by our Dad’s house while we were waiting outside.

-        After brief conversation about Dad's return, Mom asked us for a kiss before she left.

-        I didn’t really know my Mom, so I followed my brother’s lead.

-        My brother refused to kiss Mom, so I refused.

-        Mom Voiced her disappointment with our reluctance to show affection, blamed our Dad, then left.

-        A while later, Mom returned. She was drunk, and cursing our father.

-        She then proceeded to lift a heavy concrete cinder block overhead, and threw it through our window. 

Cinder block after cinder block, she broke out every window on that side of house.

-        I was shocked by the destruction, and embarrassed as neighbors came out to see the spectacle, our Mom.

-        Two men intervened to hold my mother. And Police were called.

-  Mom ultimately pulled away before the police arrived, a walked away.

- This was the other half of my family.

-        Why don’t I have a normal family? I asked myself.

-  Will this be my life? I wondered.

-  I missed living with Grandma.

Soon I would miss living with Dad.

One Sunday morning, we discovered Dad lying on the couch. The night before, he had taken a walk to the tavern at the end of our alley. 

I figured he was just sleeping it off, so I turned to my first chore: cleaning up the mess he made the night before.

A moment later, my brother yelled out. "Dad are you OK?"

I looked to my father.

"Do you want to go to the hospital?". My brother asked. I noticed my father's eye were glazed and he didn't seem able to answer my brother.

"If you want to go to the hospital, raise your arm."

Dad raised his arm. And my brother called for help.

- I was impressed that my older brother, 11 years old had immediately resorted an arm signal for Dad to communicate.

-       The ambulance arrived soon after to take Dad to the hospital. Kids weren't allowed to see him.

Three days later, Dad died in the hospital. Cause of his death was unknown, I was told.

- At the funeral parlor, I felt numb most of the time.

- I also felt guilty for his death. Because once in anger, I told my Dad I wished he was dead.

- Now I wished I could bring him back.

- Grandma showed up for all 3 days of the viewing. It felt good to have her in the room again. 

The second day, her grandson also came. His 5th Grade teacher lived a few blocks from the parlor. 

- So we broke away to see the train set his teacher had in his basement. 

When I returned, Grandma told me that my Mom stopped by, but she didn't stay long.

- For the most part, I felt emotionless throughout the viewing. 

- On Dad's burial dad, the moment the casket started to descend, an involuntary whale of emotion, burst out from me. 

Thankfully Grandma was standing right beside me. 

I wished I could go home with her, but other plans were being made.


Once again life would be INTERRUPTED.

-        I was in denial for weeks after Father’s death. I often imagined that Dad would just walk back in to our life again, but it didn’t happen.

-        Instead my brother, and I, plus sister, moved in with an aunt and uncle, half brother to Dad.

This household had a different outlook on life.

 - I felt uncomfortable to be at home

- Walking on eggshells became the norm.

- While emotional abuse was not a concept of discussion in that day, I could feel it's intangible effects.

- All to often, my aunt repeatedly lectured me on how ungrateful I was.

-        She told me that I should be happy to have a roof over my head.

-        I should be grateful to have a family.

-        I should be thankful that I have food every day.

-        I could be in an orphanage where conditions were described as deplorable, and dangerous like a concentration camp.

-        Plus the government wasn’t giving them enough support for us.

-        I was told I could not return to Grandma

-        Because Grandma was not my actual family

-        Because Grandma was too old to have a foster child

-        Because I was too young to have that decision, I was only turning 9 years old.

-        My aunt said she couldn't imagine how a non-relative could actually love a child, who was not related by blood.

-        My aunt was not related to us by blood either, I noted to myself.

Uncomfortable and demeaning lectures like these were the response to my request to be paid the allowance we were offered and promised, but not delivered.

-         I was the youngest of 3 siblings, so it was easy to convince me to do the asking.

-         It was easy to convince me to ask again next week, which resulted in yet another lecture, longer, more brutal.

-         After a while, I stopped asking.

-         The allowance idea never came to fruition. That promise simply faded away.

However, the lectures continued, for the slightest of provocation, usually a misunderstanding of sarcasm that I was not exposed to prior.

-         The lectures seemed designed to attack self esteem of that 9 year old that I was.

-         But I still knew I was good… Grandma’s word.

-         And I was smart enough to tap into those memories of Grandma, even as the verbal abuse continued. This was my source of strength.

-         I knew I was loved and valued by someone, even if she could not be there for me.

-         Dad could be tough, but he encouraged and empowered us. He wouldn't stand for this, but he wasn't here.

My coping strategy was to complete my chores, get clearance to go, then disappear until it was time to eat, or do grocery shopping for the day’s meal.

-        At the dinner table, I often heard my uncle, a self employed mechanic, mocking customers of other ethnicities and telling us how terrible “those people” are.

- Racial slurs, condemnation and prejudice came from my aunt as well, often triggered when she saw an interracial couple or heard a story about Martin Luther King Jr. on the news.

-        I objected to her characterization, because I knew “those people” when I lived with Grandma on North Avenue, 3 block from what is now Martin Luther King Boulevard.

- Shortly thereafter, I was banned from visiting Grandma because Grandma lived amongst “those people”.


From time to time Mother would pick us up, and we would go out for part of the day.

-        Aside from that one event with the bricks and windows, I saw my Mom as a kind person, doing her best to see us when she could.

-        Mom took us to the Old Museum, where the African Elephant, and the Indian Elephant dominated their own grand room of life size dioramas that captured my imagination.

-        Breakfast at White Castle Restaurant was a treat. Original Waffles (with the small holes) were my favorite.

-        Mom caught me blowing the wrapper off my straw at the diner. And she didn't get mad.

-        She tried it herself and hit the man behind the counter with the paper wrapper.

-        And it was OK. We laughed. So do the man behind the counter.

Before and after visiting with Mom, our aunt would lecture us to NOT see our Mom.

-        “Where was SHE when YOU needed her?” was a phrase I would hear.

-        Our aunt did not have a legal right to stop us from visiting Mom.

-        So I accepted Mom's visitation. Even when brother and sister declined.

-        I saw Mom as a woman struggling with Life and Alcoholism.

-        Mom’s family was hundreds of miles away. She had no one to advocate for her in the city. Sometimes she complained of the "short end of the stick".

-        In a way, I understood her helplessness and the injustice of her situation. I was living my version of injustice and abuse.

-        My siblings and I dealt with our own situations differently.

-        My older brother took part time work as soon and as often as he could. He was old enough to get a work permit.

-        My older sister was introverted and enjoyed Nance Drew Novels and keeping to herself in her own bedroom.

-        Once my chores where done, I stayed away from the house as often as possible

My first friends in the neighborhood invited me to participate in petty crimes. 

-        After initial involvement, I choice not to participate further.

-        My biggest crime was breaking a heart. That's another story

-        Thereafter, I gained friends and “adopted” families. These were my sources of sanity and acceptance.

-        I witnessed examples of what a family can be

-        By the time I was 13, other friends homes were my sanctuary.

-        On weekends we enjoyed house parties in the basement of various friends. Since our house had the disarray of a hoarder's house, to a lesser degree, It was difficult to be comfortable in that house.

At age 13, I also found myself at greater odds with my aunt.

-        Simple infractions like returning home at 9:01pm instead of the mandated 9:00pm resulted in undeserved grounding.

-        Abusive treatment and difficult living conditions was one thing, but interrupting a safe and healthy social life, my only refuge from a dysfunctional household was unacceptable to me.

-        When my objections were answered by an attempted assault by my aunt, I recalled from those many lectures, that I had no choice until I reach “a certain age”.


Apparently age 13 was “a certain age”, I contacted my case worker and requested removal from the household.

-        At first my request wasn’t taken very seriously.

-        Insistence, persistence and follow up was required.

-        Ultimately, I was given an actual choice to leave and take my chances with the county facility for orphan children.

-        While the facility was not a “concentration camp”, I still needed to watch myself. This same facility housed those with criminal records too.

-        More than once, I was confronted by a would be assailant.

-        Twice in the “Cooler”, a room without a handle on the inside, so two adversaries could settle it “man to man”. Fortunately, in both cases, I subdued my opponent without inflicting harm. Practice of Judo with my older brother, appears to have paid off.

-        Yet I still felt isolated, scared and alone.

-        I was separated from my brother, my sister, my friends, my “adopted family”.

-        This was MY choice, MY doing.

-        This time, “I” interrupted my life.

-        Now I had NO family.

But I had NOT interrupted my faith.

-        My prayers continued

-        My hope continued

-        My faith continued

Despite my abrupt and unannounced removal from that family, I had Grandma’s phone number memorized. Once I had phone privileges, I called Grandma to inform her of my predicament.

This was a moment of Truth.

-        Would Grandma be able to accept me back?

-        She had already taken other foster children, after I left. Had she reached a limit of kids.

-        Was there even room for me?

Through the grapevine, Grandma had already learned about my situation, and was already requesting to bring me home. I felt good to actually be wanted.


As I approached my 14th Birthday,

-          I returned to North Avenue where Grandma and Grandpa lived.

-         I resumed those trips up North and was reacquainted with extended families once again.

-         I was SO grateful to be returning home,

-         Where I KNEW I was appreciated

-         I was appreciative too.

-         In fact. I cherished Grandma!!

And I made sure to listen to her. I savored her words and stories.

-        I listened to the stories of her younger days

-        Stories of my father and mother

-        Stories about MY younger years

I knew too was passing and important.

-        Grandma encouraged me to visit my mother.

-        Grandma encouraged me to forgive.

I followed Grandma’s advice

After some time, I made peace with my aunt and uncle, with whom I lived grievously during my middle childhood. I’ve since come to know their family, my cousins, nephews, nieces. Now we visit and even vacation together.

Grandma repeatedly reminded me to visit my Mother.

-         Which I did, at least for Mother’s sake.

-         Mom was open and understanding, honest and warm.

-         Occasionally, not often she would vent about Dad.

-         I listened to HER side of the story.

-         I asked questions too.

-         I didn't judge.

 Over time, Mom's life improved.

-         She stopped drinking.

-         And went from a transient homeless status to her own apartment

-         With her own phone.

-         After that we talked, almost every day

-         I got to know my Mother even better.

-         We became Mother and Son.

-         What an amazing gift!

-         I even got to know aunts and uncles, cousins and relations on my Mom's side too.

All by simply following a Grandma’s lesson of love and forgiveness.

-         I even able to forgave myself! 
That’s another story

There was a time, when it seemed, I had NO family.

Now when I visit my home State of Wisconsin, I am welcomed by 3 families and their relations.


You see, even in the face of difficult times and INTERRUPTIONS, there is always HOPE. Because we have Incredible POWER, each and every one of us.

-         Some people think of power as Physical Strength

-         Some people think of power as Position or Authority.

-         Some people think of power as Money.

-         I think of Power as LOVE.

Physical Strength, Position, Authority and Money are beneficial in their own context.

-         Yet THESE can be INTERRUPTED at any time.


Your Love can only be INTERRUPTED if you allow it.

LOVE is ALWAYS beneficial. It can be applied anytime, anywhere, with anyone. 

- Love can be as simply as a smile

- Or a kind word with a stranger.

- It is goodwill for your neighbor, friend, co-worker.

- Even those you don't know or understand yet.

- Love can even be as big as a Big Old HUG from Grandma!

She is the one who, in her own way, gave me direction that has guided me through life.

I would like to think that we all have or have had that special person who inspired us in a big way.

If you do, I encourage you to take a moment to picture that person in your mind.

-         Who is that person for you?

-         Think for a moment. What does that person mean to you?

-         If you have a piece of paper and something to write with.

-         write down that person's name.

-         Remind yourself to give them a call.

-         If that's not possible write them a letter.

-         Mailing the letter is optional.

-         If you don’t have someone, then picture someone you would like to meet.

-  -  Then find that person. There are many ways to meet people today. 

    I've been honored to have met and known other stars, who have inspired me in other ways.

    And I remember there examples vividly. Some have even inspired me to even write a song to honor them.



That first person for me was Grandma. She changed the course of my life, and my outlook.

So when I finally returned to Grandma at age 14, I walked into a downtown pawn shop, and negotiated a $30 guitar down to $23.62 (my life savings).

I learned to play that guitar, then I learned to write songs. And I wrote a Song for Grandma.

Grandma’s love was bigger than me. She raised her grandson, my other brother. This song applies to him as well. It applies to other foster brothers too.

Might even… apply to someone you know.


I credit Grandma for pointing me in the direction of love, forgiveness and goodwill. I calibrate the best I know how.

Results, for me, have been nothing less than incredible. Prayers had been answered, and I had returned to Grandma!

I cherished Grandma.

Months into my 14th year, I had accumulated a little cash. Allowance from orphanage days, combined with birthday and church confirmation money, I was sitting on more money than ever before.

-        And I had an eye on a guitar at a Pawn Shop

-        So with all the money I had on earth, I walked in, and requested the price on the that guitar.

-        That day I walked out of that store with a $30 guitar for $23.61

-        And I promised myself to learn how to play guitar, and learn how to write a song to honor Grandma.

Would you… like to hear it.

We walked 3 miles each way to Jackson Park where we could use BBQ grills and see the swans in the park lagoon.

-        TIP: Don’t hand popcorn to a swan, unless you want your fingers to be part of the transaction.

So I wrote Grandma a song to celebrate her and share what she means to me.



Listen for yourself.

Custom Songwriter
Danny Szeremet

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