- 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. That should keep me busy.
- This didn't make me any warmer, but it did keep me busy. I sold greeting cards, candy, garden seeds, flowers seeds.
- AND... my efforts earned me two weeks of summer camp through the Boys' Club.
- This is not to say that Dad was bad. He forced us to fend for ourselves in multiple ways, and installed a work ethic that I've relied upon ever since.
- Sometimes Dad would take us to the public pool, or the fairgrounds, or an Octoberfest celebration, even to
the horse tracks in Northern Illinois.
- Often to one of the four taverns only a half block from our home. We knew every one.
One morning, we discovered Dad lying on the couch, eyes glazed, not speaking.
- We called for help and an ambulance took Dad away.
- I asked if Dad would be home by dinner. My brother didn't know. Tomorrow maybe? Maybe the next day?
- Days later, Dad died.
- 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, half brother to Dad.
In this household:
- I felt uncomfortable
- Walking on eggshells became the norm
At first, our aunt said she would be giving us an allowance and would expect us to do chores. This was fine. I was familiar with chores by then.
However, when the scheduled dates for our allowance came and passed, nothing was forthcoming.
As the youngest of 3 siblings, I was elected to ask for the allowance that was promised.
At 9 years old, I did not understand why brother and sister were afraid to ask for what was promised.
When I asked, I was pummeled with guilt ridden statements regarding my gratitude, worthiness and my value according the money they received on our behalf.
My aunt told me point blank:
- "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 anyway."
When I was goaded to ask the next week, the lectures got harsher, more brutal and more personal.
- 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.
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.
- Kids on my block, 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.
- No worries, 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.
- Where I felt lonely, isolated and abandoned.
- 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 repeatedly encouraged me to visit my mother.
- 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.
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.
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.
Grandma made ALL the difference in MY life.
So to honor Grandma, I wrote her a Song.
Would you like to hear it?
Before I do that, I invite you to take a moment to think about WHO that person is for YOU.
Is it YOUR Mom or Dad?
Is it YOUR Grandma or Grandpa?
Maybe it's a special Aunt or Uncle?
A mentor at school or work who inspired you.
Or like me, that special person could be a legal guardian like MY Grandma, who pointed me in the right direction.
MY Grandma kept the potatoes OUT of my ears.
For someone, or for many perhaps, that special person is YOU. You may never know to what extent you influence others.
The people who have inspired me throughout life, have ALL led with their hearts. Something to ponder.
Are you ready to listen to the Song? (Yes)
Ladies and Gentleman: A Song for Grandma: North!
Sundays were our days with Dad.
- Sometimes we had a promise from Dad to take us to the public pool or someplace special, like Jackson Park, where swans swam in the the park's lagoon and they had BBQ grills.
- But we could only go to Jackson Park, if all our chores were done,
- And if we had enough time to walk the 3 miles each way to get to the park and back before supper, that's a Midwest word meaning "dinner".
- That Sunday morning, as usual, Dad sent us off to church, while he slept in.
- So to give ourselves more time, Brother and I opted for an earlier church service to provide more time for our trip to see the swans in Jackson Park.
- A bonus for going to that early morning service was getting the best balcony seat in that church.
- Then from the best vantage point available, I watched and listened to the most amazing story from a man describing his own epiphany, before I even knew what that word epiphany really meant.
- That afternoon, I was bit by a swan in Jackson Park.
It took me about a second to realize that I should not have handed popcorn to a swan in a park. It took more than 3 seconds for the swan to release my fingers.
And it took more than 3 decades for me to experience an epiphany like that man in church described.
- In my hour long keynote concert, you will hear MY personal story of breakdown and breakthrough.
- You will hear me describe my epiphany as best as my words can describe such an awakening.
- And you will hear two songs that describe that same story. One written BEFORE epiphany, the other written AFTER.
- Essentially, these songs represent a personal Old Testament and a personal New Testament.
- It's WHY I am hear speaking to you right now.