Standout Story

Keynote Speaker
Danny Szeremet

1. Mirror - If you... are

2. Grandma's Kitchen - My first INTERRUPTION

3. Front Seat - Every other Saturday

5. Holton Bridge - Occassionally Dad would send

4. Kagel - We were "Free Range"

5. 28th Street Kitchen - My brother and I, plus...

6. 44th Street Kitchen - When Mom would pick...

7. Adam's Hall - Thirteen must have been...

8. Front Door - As I approached my 14th...

9. Mom Diner - Grandma encouraged me to...

10. Face - You see in the face of difficult...

11. Heart - Your Love can only be Interrupted...

12. North Star - Now it's up to me.

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 then 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 in the front bench seat between Grandma and Grandpa.

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

- She'd wet that 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.

- The next summer, instead of staying with Aunt Catherine and Uncle Al... I stayed with Dad.

- 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 not.

- I wondered. How long before I could 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:

- Earth Versus Flying Saucers

- Frankenstein,

- Abbott and Costello MEET Frankenstein.

- Dad had an uncanny resemblance to Costello.

Dad also had the only house key.
- Which meant, after school we had to wait 2-3 hours for Dad to get home to let us in. 

- So, we would kicked around the neighborhood until Dad got home. 

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

- We were "Free Range"

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

- More than once, we were stuck in below freezing temperatures for hours.

Living with Dad was 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 to Dad about being stuck in the cold, he put us to work selling door-to-door. 

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

- This didn't keep us any warmer. It DID earn me two weeks summer camp.

- On days off, Dad took us to parks, public pools, and horse tracks in Illinois.

- We knew every tavern in our neighborhood, inside and out. Bartenders made exceptions for Dad.

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

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

- I was expecting him to be back by the end of the day, maybe tomorrow, or the next day.

- Instead Dad died, days later.

- At Dad's funeral, I felt numb. 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.

And I was only turning 9 years old.

My aunt said she couldn't imagine how someone 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 for our reaction.

Seemed Mom was struggling to see her children with minimal cooperation.

Seemed Mom had lost everything. And 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, and persistence, I landed in the county orphanage.

- I felt isolated, and lonely.

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

- Except this time it was MY choice, MY doing.

- NOW I had NO family.

- This time, “I” INTERRUPTED my life.

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, 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 was able to catch up with my friends, and girlfriend. And happy to introduce them to Grandma.

    I cherished Grandma.
I listened to her advice.

- Grandma encouraged me to forgive.

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

- Grandma encouraged me to visit my mother often.

Which I did.

-         Mom was warm, articulate, and understanding.

-         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.

-        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 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

I use this metaphor, like 

- like a compass,

- to check my bearing.

In any situation, I might ask myself the question:

"Am I aligning with Love?"

This has given me a better world.

How do I align with Love? That's another story.


As you've heard, Grandma made ALL the difference in MY life.

So to honor her, I've written a Song for Grandma.

Would you like to hear it? 


Before I sing, let me ask you.

Who here has had a person like Grandma, a person who simply loved you, and believed in you.

There is a blessing.

Who here IS a Grandma... or a Grandpa... or a Mom or Dad... or an aunt, uncle, adopted parent  Guardian?

You are a blessing!

You make a difference in ways you may never know.

Ready for the Song?..

A Song for Grandma - North!

Listen for yourself.

Custom Songwriter
Danny Szeremet

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