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



You may have noticed... life has disruptions.

- It's crazy how disruptive disruptions can be!

- There's a lot going on right now.

- “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 not capable of taking care of 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 Dad 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 afterwards

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

- She said I was good. 
  And I agreed!

Every other Saturday, we would go “Up North”

- To get eggs from the farm.

- And to visit Grandma and Grandpa's family and relatives living in the farmland and villages North of Milwaukee.

On our way up, I often sat in the front bench seat of the car, between Grandma and Grandpa.

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

- Then she'd wet that handkerchief with her tongue

- Then she would use that wet handkerchief to clean out my ears.

- 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.

We all have lasting memories of those who are special in our lives. Do we not?

Maybe YOUR early memories were with YOUR parents, or YOUR grandparents, or maybe a relative, or a legal guardian, like me.

- We each live our own situation.

- Essentially, I was raised by a random family who knew my Dad as a kid on the block.

- Yet to me, they will always be Grandma and Grandpa. For that I am forever grateful.

And... MY Grandma kept the potatoes out my ears.


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

- To visit HIS mother, THEIR daughter.

- I did not go with them, because they did not have permission to take me out of the state.

So whenever they traveled to Florida, I stayed with Grandma's sister Aunt Catherine and husband Uncle Al, up North.

- Grandma told me that I might be living with my Father one day, and HE could take me out of state.

- I did enjoy visiting with Dad and Brother. 

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 that extended stay, I learned I would be living with Dad and brother from then on.

- Because this was my actual family.

- I did wondered... How long before I would 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


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 the house.

- So, we would kick 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.

- On rainy days and inclement weather we would trek beyond the school, beyond the park, to the public library, just to dry off and warm up.

- On below freezing Winter days, brother and I trudged through thigh high snow, against blustery head winds pummeling our faces with more snow.

- At 8 years old, strong gusts of wind, would actually steal my breath away as we labored to reach the library for momentary warmth and shelter.

It took close to an hour to make in to the library, when 15 minutes was typically walking time. 

- This gave us less than 10 minutes to warm up, which was just enough time for the water heavy snow, clinging to our absorbent cotton coats, to melt into the fabric. 

- So our sub freezing trek back then included a wet coat, which caused the cold to cling even tighter to your bones. We didn't didn't have a water repellent coat.

We got home late, and Dad was not happy. 

- When the next blizzard hit, our master plan was to head to local businesses on 16th Street and stay for 10 minutes in each store, or until we got thrown for not buying something.

- But our master plan for warmth and comfort was thwarted, by a simple sign on the door of each store:

"Closed due to Blizzard."

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. 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. 


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. 

Listen for yourself.

Custom Songwriter
Danny Szeremet

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