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

-        And Providing direction

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 disruptions.

- It's amazing how disruptive, disruptions can be!

- “Disruption” doesn’t sound so good.

- So as I share my story, I will use the word “Interruption” instead.


My first “interruption” occurred when I was born.

-  My mother was in a mental institution

-  My father was incapable of caring for a newborn.

-  Dad was already raising my 3 year old brother 

-  My 2 years old sister was with another family

So my father brought me straight from the hospital.

- 4 days old,

- To Grandma and Grandpa

They were not my biological grandparents

- They knew my father when he was growing up

- They took me into their home on North Avenue

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

-        A brother, 4 years older

-        Hand-me-downs

-        And “Grandma”, my first star

Grandma was Scotch-Irish

-        About 5 feet 4 inches tall

-        A Simple, humble woman

-        Raised on a Wisconsin farm.

She married Grandpa, they both moved to Milwaukee.

-        Grandpa worked at Schlitz brewery

-        During World War II, Grandma did 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.

- She said I was smart, according to my 1st Grade Teacher

- She said I was good.

- And... I believed her

Every other Saturday, we would go “Up North”

- To get eggs from the farm.

- And to visit Grandma and Grandpa's family and relations.

Often on our way up, I sat on the front bench seat between Grandma and Grandpa.

- Inevitably Grandma would pull a handkerchief out of her purse

- Wet it with her tongue

- Then clean out my ears with the dampened handkerchief.

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

- As a 6 year old, I pictured potatoes growing out of my ears.

During Summer, Grandma and Grandpa would take their Grandson to Florida

- To visit HIS mother, THEIR daughter

- They did not HAVE permission to take me out of state.

- So while Grandma and family went to Florida, I stayed, with her sister Aunt Catherine and Uncle Al, up North.


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

- Sometimes my brother would pick me up after watching a double feature at the Boys' Club Theater for 5 cents.

- 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.

- Near the end of the extended visit, I learned I would be living with Dad and brother from then on.

- I got to join the Boys' Club.

- Dad got to enjoy the child care benefits the Club provided on Saturdays.

- As a cab driver, Dad drove cab that day too.

- So on Saturdays, brother and I crossed town by bus to watch old black and white classic movies like:

- War of the Worlds, 

- Frankenstein

- Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.

- In ways, Dad looked like Costello.

- After school we could not get into the house because Dad had the only house key, and wouldn't be home for 2 to 3 hours.

- So we kicked around the neighborhood

- I searched for playground equipment, park swings, and climbable trees.

- "Free Range" is the word used Today.

- Rain and cold Wisconsin weather would motivate us to walk even further from home, to seek warmth at the public library.

- At the library we'd watch the clock so we knew when to trek home. 

- Depending on the depth of snow, or the slipperiness of the ice, we planned our walking time.

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

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

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

- Life was easier with Grandma. I yearned to return.

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

We adventures with Dad.

- We took the greyhound to horse tracks in Illinois. Helped Dad with his “system", and enjoyed the winnings.

We knew every tavern in our neighborhood. There were 4 taverns within a ½ block of our house. 

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

One day we discovered Dad lying on the couch, eyes glaze, not speaking.

- We called for help.

-  An ambulance took Dad to the hospital.

- Days later, Dad died.

-  At Dad's funeral, I felt numb

- I felt guilty. Once in anger, I told my Dad I wished he were dead.

-  Then he died, only months later.

- Now I wished I could bring him back.

-  Grandma showed up for all 3 days of Dad's wake. And at grave site on the 4th day. This meant everything to me.

- At grave site, the reality and finality of Dad's death hit me, the moment I saw the casket descending into the ground, I screamed out spontaneously.

- "No!" My involuntarily outburst broke the silence.

Thankfully Grandma was standing next to me.

I wished I could go home with her, but other plans were being made. Life was being interrupted again.


My brother, and I, plus sister, moved in with an aunt and uncle.

In this household:

 - I felt uncomfortable

- Walking on eggshells became the norm

I learned that:

 - "I should be grateful I have a roof over my head."

I could be living in a orphanage, in conditions described to as dangerous and harsh.

- The county wasn’t giving them enough money for us any way.

I received these statements in lectures when I asked for the allowance that was promised yet not delivered from the start.

- Youngest of 3 sibling, I was selected to ask.

Each time I asked, I received longer, more brutal lectures 

-       After a while, I stopped asking.

-       Allowance never happened.

But lectures continued.

-       - I was told I could not return to Grandma

- Because Grandma was not actual family

- Because Grandma was too old to have foster kids.

- I didn't have a choice. You had to be a "certain age", before they would listen. 

I was just turning 9 years old. 

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

- My aunt was not related to us by blood either.

  But I knew... Grandma loved me.

-        This was a source of strength for me.       


When Mom would pick us up, for the day, our aunt would lecture us on why we shouldn't see our Mom.

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

I saw Mom struggling to see her children with minimal cooperation.

I saw Mom was struggling with life, and coping with alcohol.

I coped by staying away from home.

- With chores done, I would disappear until it was time to eat or time for another chore.

- On my block, I was invited me to participate in petty crimes.

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

- I accumulated friends in another neighborhood, had a girlfriend and “adopted” a surrogate family.

- These were my sources of sanity and acceptance.

As I entered the age of 13, I found myself at greater odds with my aunt.

- She was threatening to INTERRUPT my time with my friends, and girlfriend.

- When I objected, I was assaulted by my aunt.

- I blocked her attempts to strike me.

- Then I remembered from her many lectures: That I had no choice until I reached "a certain age".


Thirteen must be “a certain age”, I contacted my case worker and requested removal from the household.

- It took insistence, persistence and some pressure, until, in the words of my case worker, "You got what you wanted.". 

- I got a shared room at a county facility for orphan children.

- I felt isolated, and alone.

- I was separated from my brother, my sister, my friends, my girlfriend, and my surrogate family.

- Except 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 hope continued

- My prayers continued

- Plus, I had Grandma’s phone number memorized since First Grade.

Once I was able to reach Grandma, she said she had already heard about it through the grapevine.

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 their families.

    -         I was SO grateful to be returning home,

-         Where I KNEW I was appreciated.

-         -         I cherished Grandma!

I made sure to listen to her. 
I savored her stories.

I knew moments like these were important and fleeting.

- Grandma encouraged me to forgive.

I followed her advice

I made peace with my aunt and uncle, with whom I lived during my middle childhood.

I am in contact with their children, my cousins, nephews, nieces. We even vacation together.

- Grandma encouraged me to visit my mother.

-         Which I also did, mostly for Mom’s sake.

-         Mom was open, understanding, 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.

 Mom's life improved.

-         She stopped drinking.

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

-        Now with her own phone, we talked 3-4 times a week, often more.

-         I got to know my Mother.

-          What an amazing gift!

-         I even got to know relations I didn't even know I had, aunts and uncles, and cousins on my Mom's side.

All this 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 home, I am welcomed by 3 families and their relations.


You see, in the face of difficult times and INTERRUPTIONS, there IS ALWAYS HOPE. 

Hope accompanies difficult times and INTERRUPTIONS.

We also have POWER, each 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 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.

- It's as simple as a smile

- A kind word

Goodwill toward your neighbors, friends, co-workers, even those you don't know... or understand... yet.

Love can even be as BIG as a BIG OLD HUG from Grandma. 

(Feel free to give yourself a BIG OLD HUG.)

Grandma pointed me towards Love, a direction as steady as North.

- The same direction we traveled together.

- The name of the street we lived.

- The home where we returned.

I use this metaphor, like a navigation tool, to check alignment regardless of position,  

In any situation, I might ask myself the question:
"Am I aligned with Love?"

This approach has given me a different world, a better world.


Now, it's up to me, (and perhaps all of us) to maintain a course set towards Love, regardless of difficult times or INTERRUPTIONS.

So as a way to honor Grandma, and to share a reminder to maintain course, I've written a Song for Grandma - North.

Would you like to hear it?

Listen for yourself.

Custom Songwriter
Danny Szeremet

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