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.

-  Disruptions can compound into more disruption

- Our current situation demonstrates how disruptive, disruptions can be

- “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 The Second World War, Grandma worked there until the boys came home.

-        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.

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 large family

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

-        Inevitably Grandma would pull out her handkerchief

-        Wet it with her tongue

-        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 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.

- We watched 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 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 tree.

-        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 with Grandma.

-        Grandma 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 life.

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 on life.

 - 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 Grandma.

    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 would take us out to lunch, sometimes to the Museum.

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.

- To me it seemed like Mom was struggling with seeing her children and receiving minimal cooperation from my legal guardians.

- Mom's family was hundreds of miles away. So she had no one to advocate for her. Mom was struggling with her Life and Alcoholism.

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 met 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.

-        Simple 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 I remembered from 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.

-        Insistence, 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, 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 was granted phone privileges and gained access to the only phone shared among dozens of teens, I called Grandma.

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 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.

-         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 younger years

I knew moments like these were fleeting 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 new aunts and uncles, cousins and relations on my Mom's side too.

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

-         I was even able to forgive 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 them, or understand them... 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 the right direction. 

Now, it's up to me to maintain course and reference, despite the INTERRUPTIONS.

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... take a moment remember what that person means to you.

One way I remember Grandma is in a song a wrote for her. Would you like to hear it?

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 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, 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 today. 

    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 savings).

I learned to play that guitar, then I learned to write songs. And 

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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