Standout Story

Keynote Speaker
Danny Szeremet

Daniel Szeremet

Grandma Story Outline



If you are… like me

- You may have noticed, life has disruptions.

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

- “Disruption” doesn’t sound 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 Dad 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 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

- I like to think Grandma was so happy with me, she took in foster children

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

- She said I was good.
  I agreed.

Every other Saturday, we would go “Up North”

- To get eggs from the farm.

- And to visit Grandma and Grandpa's huge families living in the farmland and villages.

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

- Inevitably Grandma would reach into her purse and pull out a handkerchief.

- She'd wet the handkerchief with her tongue

- Then clean out my ears with that wet handkerchief.

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

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

For two weeks in Summer, Grandma and Grandpa would take their Grandson to Florida

- To visit HIS mother, THEIR daughter

- Since they had no permission to take me out of the state, I stayed with Grandma's sister Aunt Catherine and husband Uncle Al, up North.


Occasionally Dad would send my brother to pick me up on a Saturday, after brother finished watching movies at the Boys' Club theater.

- 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 was INTERRUPTED.

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

- At the end of my extended stay, I learned I would be living with Dad and brother from then on.

- Because this was my actual family, and Grandma was temporary.

- I wondered. How long until I see Grandma again?

- I got to join the Boys' Club!

- Dad got to enjoy the child care benefits provided with Boys' Club activities.

- Dad drove cab 6 days a week.

- So on Saturdays, brother and I rode city buses across town to watch old black and white movie classics like:

- War of the Worlds, 

- Frankenstein

- Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.

- Dad had an uncanny resemblance to Costello.

Dad also had the only house key.
- Which meant, we had to wait hours for Dad to get home to let us in. 

- So, after school, we would kicked around the neighborhood until Dad got home hours later.

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

- We were "Free Range"

- And that "Range" got mighty cold during Wisconsin Winters.

- In near zero temperature, snow up to my waist, strong winds blowing in our faces, we would hike all the way to the public library, even further from home, just to get warm for a moment. 

- Then trudge back... 

- Some of you know what I'm talking about. This story is real.

Living with Dad was more difficult compared to living with Grandma.

- Grandma provided a home, warm and open.

- Dad thrust us into the bitter cold, literally.

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

When I complained about being stuck outside, Dad put us to work selling  door-to-door. 

- We sold Christmas cards, candy, flowers seeds, vegetable seeds. 

- We DID earn 2 weeks of summer camp. And enjoyed the pride of accomplishment and two weeks summer camp.

- Sometimes Dad, brother and I took the "Greyhound Bus" to horse tracks in Illinois.

- As soon as we established a time and place to meet up with Dad, Brother and I went "free range".

- At the horse track we would find abandoned coffees that were mostly full. A floating cigarette butt in a paper coffee cup usually meant the race started before there was time for someone to finish a coffee and smoke.

- We would carry those discarded coffees to the highest possible point on the side of the huge grandstand, stories up.

- From our bird's eye vantage, we would watch the people milling below.

- Once that famous bugle call announced the start of the next race, all the people cleared the area below as they hurried to the fence to watch the horses runs.

- Once the area was clear, we would drop our "coffee bombs", to see who, made the biggest "explosion" based on radius of coffee splashed on the pavement. 

In our neighborhood, we knew every tavern, inside and out. Bartenders knew Dad, and made exceptions for us. There were 4 taverns within a ½ block of our house.

One morning, we discovered Dad lying on the couch, eyes glazed, not speaking.

- We called for help and an ambulance took Dad away.

- As an 8 year old, I was expecting him to be back by the end of the day, maybe tomorrow.

- Except Dad died, days later.

- I felt numb at Dad's funeral. I wished I could bring him back.

Grandma showed up all 4 days of Dad's wake and burial. This meant everything to me.

I wished I could go home with Grandma, 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

My aunt told me:

 - "You should be grateful to have a roof over your head."

- "You could be living in a orphanage, where you HAVE no family and you have to fight for everything."

- "The County isn't giving us enough money for you any way."

This is what I heard when I asked for the allowance that was promised. 

- As youngest of 3 sibling, I was elected to ask

- Each week I asked, I received a longer, more brutal lecture.

-       = 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.

- Because I had no choice

- I had to be a "certain age" before a judge 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.

  But I knew... Grandma loved me. 


When MOM would pick us up occasionally, our aunt would lecture us on why we should not see our MOM.

- “Where was SHE when YOU needed her?” My aunt pressed to see how we might react.

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

Mom had lost everything. And she was struggling with life, and coping with alcohol.

I coped by staying away from home.

- Once chores were 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.

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

- These were my sources of sanity and acceptance.

At 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.

- I blocked the attempted blows to my head.

- Then I remembered, from those lectures, I had no choice... until I reached "a certain age".


Thirteen must have been “a certain age”.

I contacted my social worker and requested removal from the household.

- After insistence, resistance and persistence, I was ultimately moved to the county orphanage.

As expected, I felt isolated, and lonely.

- 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

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

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

And she 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 caught up with my friends, family, and girlfriend even though my home was now further from their neighborhood.

    - So visiting was more on the weekends, often house parties in their basement with parents upstairs.

    - Once Grandma asked me in all seriousness.

     "Danny... did you really go to a party?"

    - Of course I had. I just didn't understand the reason for the question. Isn't that the opposite concern.

    - I jokingly admitted "No Grandma, I was secretly studying at the library."

I cherished Grandma.
And listened to her advice.

- Grandma encouraged me to forgive.

I made peace with my aunt and uncle. 
I keep in touch with their children, my cousins. 
Sometimes we vacation together.

- Grandma encouraged me to visit my mother.

Which I did.

-         Mom was warm, open, articulate, and understanding. She had lived a difficult life.

-         Occasionally, not often she would vent about Dad.

-         I listened to HER side.

-         I asked questions too.

-         I didn't judge.

 Mom's life improved.

-         She stopped drinking, a problem she confessed numerous times.

-        Mom went from a transient homeless status to her own apartment, with a phone. 

    After that, we talked 3-4 times a week, at least.

-         I got to know my Mother!

-         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 following Grandma’s lesson of love and forgiveness.

What an amazing gift!

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

Now when I visit home, I am welcomed by 3 families plus relations.


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


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.

    Strength, Position, Authority, 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, a hug.

- 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 name of the street where we lived - North Ave.

- The direction we traveled together - Up North

- The home where we returned.

I use this metaphor, like 

- like a navigation tool, 

- like a compass, 

- to check my bearing.

In any situation, I might ask myself the question:

"Am I aligning with Love?"

This makes for a better world.
This has given me a better world.


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

So as a way to honor Grandma, to share this sentiment with my brother, and to remind MYSELF and others to maintain a course as steady as love.

I've written a Song for Grandma.

Would you like to hear it?

Listen for yourself.

Custom Songwriter
Danny Szeremet

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