Grandma Story Outline
- I am Happy to
be here today
- Hope you are
all doing well
Progressing with your projects
- Thank you for
hosting this event
much needed direction
- And Helping us move
I applaud you all for being here and for your commitment to…
- Sharing YOUR
- And Supporting
others as they share THEIR story
If you are… like me
- You may have noticed, life has it’s disruptions.
- Disruptions can compound into more disruption
- Our current situation demonstrates how disruptive,
disruptions can be
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
- Where they
lived on North Avenue
Grandma and Grandpa were
- Not my
- 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
- And someone
that I could call “Grandma”
Grandma was my first star
- She was
- About 5 feet 4
inches there about
- A Simple,
- Raised on a
farm in Wisconsin
After marrying Grandpa, a local farm boy, they both moved to
- Grandpa worked
at Schlitz Brewery
- During The Second World War,
Grandma worked there until the boys came home.
- She also raised
- Then her
- Then me
- Then other
I like to think that Grandma enjoyed me so much, she wanted
When I was in 1st Grade, Grandma told me that…
- I was smart.
- That’s what my
teacher told her.
- She said I was
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 large family
Often when we drove up North, I sat on the front bench
seat between Grandma and Grandpa.
Grandma would pull out her handkerchief
- Wet it with her
- Then clean out
my ears with the dampened cloth.
- 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 ears.
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 South to the Sunshine State, I stayed, for 2 weeks, with her sister Aunt
Catherine and Uncle Al, up North.
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
arrival time varied, depending on whether the pool at the Boy’s Club was open
- 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
- 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.
- We watched old black and white classics movies:
- War of the Worlds,
- Abbott and Costello meet
- In appearance, Costello reminded me of my Dad.
- Dad enjoyed the child care benefits the Boys' Club too. As a cab driver, he drove on Saturdays too.
- 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 had a clock, so we knew when to return before Dad's arrives.
I gravitated to the encyclopedia section. When I was 7 and 8 years old, “I” was the browser.
Along the way, I would search for every climbable
- Today , we would be called “free-range”.
- Maybe “latch-key”, except WE were locked OUT of the house.
Living with Dad was a different experience compared to living
provided a home, warm, always open, predictable, simple.
- Dad thrust us into
the world, in its harshness and wonder.
- 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
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", and enjoyed windfalls by following Dad's advice at the track.
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 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 Dad made the night before.
My brother detected something wrong with our Dad. His eyes were glazed over. He was unable to speak.
- Dad was taken to the hospital by ambulance
- Three days later, Dad died in the hospital. Cause of his death reported as unknown,
- My Dad's wake was 3 days, I felt numb most of the time.
- I also felt guilty. Once in anger, I told my Dad I wished he were dead.
- Then he died, months later.
- Now I wished I could bring him back.
- Grandma showed up for all 3 days of Dad's wake.
It felt good to have Grandma in the room.
- Other than that, I felt emotionless.
- The 4th day, at Dad's grave site, the very moment the casket started descending into the ground, a blast of emotion burst out of me.
- "No!" I cried out, spontaneously and involuntarily, breaking the silence of this solemn ritual.
- The reality and finality of my father's death had hit me unexpectedly.
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
- I felt uncomfortable at home
- Walking on eggshells became the norm.
- While emotional abuse was not a concept discussed in
that day, I could feel it's 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 was 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.The lectures continued to attack the self esteem of
that 9 year old I was.
But I still knew I was good… Grandma’s word.
- And even as the verbal abuse continued, I was smart enough to tap into those memories of
This was my source of strength.
- I knew I was loved and valued by someone, even if she
could not be there for me.
From time to time Mother would pick us up, and we would go
out for part of the day.- 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 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 did 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 typical coping strategy was to complete my chores, get clearance to go, then disappear until it was time to do the day's grocery shopping, or time to eat.
- My first friends on our block invited me to
participate in petty crimes. I chose not to participate.
- My biggest
crime was breaking a heart.
That's another story
- Thereafter, I
gained friends from the next neighborhood, had a girlfriend and “adopted” a family.
- These were my sources of sanity and acceptance.
- Once again, I saw examples of what a family can be. And I felt accepted.
- By the time I
was 13, friends and their family became my sanctuary.
- On weekends we
enjoyed house parties at friends homes.
- Since our home had the appeal of a hoarder's house, to a lesser extent, I couldn't host.
At age 13, I also found myself at greater odds with my aunt.
infractions like returning home one minute after the mandated time resulted in severe and undeserved grounding.
- It was one thing to endure abusive treatment and difficult living conditions in a dysfunctional household
- It was another thing to have my safe, healthy and happy social life INTERRUPTED for no good reason.
- When my objections were answered with an attempted assault by my aunt, I blocked her swings, and remembered her lectures: I had no choice until I reached "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.
persistence and follow up was required. My prize was a home at the country 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. Each time I was able to disarm the individual without harm.- I still
felt isolated, scared and alone.
- I was separated
from my brother, my sister, my friends, and my “adopted family”.
- This time it was MY choice,
- This time, “I” INTERRUPTED my life.
- Now I had NO
But I had NOT interrupted my faith.
- My prayers
- My hope
- My faith
Despite my abrupt and unannounced removal from that family, I
had Grandma’s phone number memorized.
Once I was granted phone privileges and fought to gain access to the only phone shared among dozens of teen boys, I called
This was a moment of Truth.
- Would Grandma
be able to accept me back?
- She already had other foster children. What if she reached her 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.
It felt good to actually
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.
- I cherished Grandma!
And I made sure to listen to her. I savored her words and her stories.
- She told me stories of her younger days
- Stories of my
father and mother
- Stories about MY
I knew this too... was passing,,,
encouraged me to visit my mother.
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
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 new aunts and uncles, cousins and
relations on my Mom's side too.
All by simply following Grandma’s lesson of love and
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
benefits that can be INTERRUPTED at any time.
Your Love can only be INTERRUPTED if you allow it.
LOVE is ALWAYS beneficial. It can be applied anywhere, anytime, with anyone.
- Love can be as simply as a smile
- Or a kind word for a stranger.
- Love is goodwill toward 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, through her own loving way, pointed me in that direction. It's up to me to maintain course and reference, despite INTERRUPTIONS.
So to honor Grandma, I wrote her a song.
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 have such a person,.. take a moment to picture that person in your mind... and remember what that person means to you, as you listen too...
A Song for Grandma - North
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!
Who is that person for you?
What does that person mean to YOU?
If you have a piece of paper and something to write
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, so you can write what you want, even if they are not here to receive your letter.
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
Throughout life, I've been honored to have met and known other stars, who inspired me, each in their own way.
Who is that Star for you?
Even though my childhood revolved around Grandma, her love was bigger than me. She raised her grandson,
my other brother.
So this song applies to him as well, and others.Would you like to hear it?
I remember their examples vividly. Some have inspired me to express my feelings in a song
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
I learned to play that guitar, then I learned to write songs.
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
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.