“We all want to fall in love. Why? Because that experience makes us feel completely alive. Where every sense is heightened, every emotion is magnified, our everyday reality is shattered and we are flying into the heavens. It may only last a moment, an hour, an afternoon. But that doesn’t diminish its value. Because we are left with memories that we treasure for the rest of our lives.” ~ Anonymous
Falling in love is such a beautiful gift and experience. Who remembers when they first thought they were falling in love? Could this be the one? He makes me feel so special inside. I laugh so much when I’m with him. He gets me! Who doesn’t want to have a love in their life that is always there, to share life experiences with, to feel and share the sparks of passion with, and to make love with passionately and wishing the moment was endless? I ached to have someone in my life to make these memories with, to love someone unconditionally, to grow old with…
However, when in love, you not only have the privilege of the deepest love possible, you also have the responsibility of death. Finding love scared me almost as much as death does. Because you know that one day, one of you will be left behind. From time to time, I think… who will go first… me or my husband? How will it happen? When will it happen? How will I handle life if God takes him before me? How will my heart not break into a million pieces? Who will be there to catch the tears as they fall one by one into my endless diary of memories? Who will be there to hold me, to guide me, to protect me, to give me strength and tell me that life will go on; that I will be okay? Death is scary, as it can be handed to you in such an untimely and unexpected manner, no preparations and with no warnings whatsoever. Unfortunately, when someone special in our lives comes our way and we make the commitment to love them, death, one day, will be one of the unpleasant prerequisites that we agree to deal with.
This is why we must live every day as if it could be our last; remembering to always love unconditionally and to hold those wonderful moments close to our hearts that made us fall in love to begin with and not only on Valentine’s Day, but every day. Do you remember what made your heart take an extra beat? Do you remember when you fell in love, what made you fall in love? Was it their smile, was it their tender touch, was it their passion?
As I reminisce, I remember the moments that I first fell in love with my husband, Frank…
His thick hair that had a hint of curl to it when it was long and his full bushy mustache, the kind that left a lasting tickle on your upper lip or the tip of your earlobe.
I would watch the brawly Harley biker melt with mushiness when he would remove his large framed glasses to show me that his eyes were actually tearing up at the moment he said he was thinking of me.
His spirit was carefree where he found joy within each moment that passed.
When he lived life on the edge and decided where he will take the day instead of where the day will take him.
I felt love when I found myself daydreaming about the new man in my life, catching myself sighing into the air, wishing I were near him.
Holding hands and noticing that mine fit comfortably into his, nestled, as if it was a custom fit.
Hearing the phone ring, hoping that it would be him or having the same warped sense of humor as me, laughing so hard until my cheeks hurt.
Realizing you never felt comfortable enough to fart in front of a boyfriend… until now.
Feeling the passion that’s between the both of us with just by a simple kiss.
Smelling the hint of cologne on his cheeks and knew he wore it for me.
The first time we slow danced and I felt his arms around me, his body tight against mine and feeling the warm of his breath on my neckline.
Feeling his gentle hand sweeping over my body, softly, as if he’s touching an artful masterpiece, caressing it slowly, commenting that I was so beautiful.
Hearing the words, “I love you” within a week of your first blind date and not thinking once he was moving too fast.
Sharing the words, “I do.”
Remembering the first time we heard the words, Congratulations! “It’s a girl… It’s a boy!”
These thoughts of love help me think of the moment, the now, and not what will eventually be all of our destinies in the end. These are the memories that keep me moving forward, that remind me that I am a very lucky woman and that I had an opportunity to love and to love grandly. It is worth loving someone and making the commitment until “death we do part?” My answer is yes, I believe it is, even though I know that the end result will not escape me without heartache and pain. For this, my life has become richer and I would rather have taken the chance on love then never to experience love at all.
Until the end…
Happy Valentine’s Day, Frank. I love you!
“For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.” ~ Judy Garland
“Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.” ~ Dr. Ben Carson, Neurosurgeon
It was the early 1970’s and my family and I grew up poor, but I didn’t realize how poor we were until the holidays approached us. We weren’t a family that had stacks of gifts lined up underneath the tree at Christmas time or a table full of delicious delicacies at Thanksgiving, with different entrees or desserts ready to be eaten, nor did we celebrate birthday parties with our friends, acknowledging another year older. But, like most kids, Halloween was one of our favorite holidays. It was our chance to get a treat, free candy, and all we had to do was knock on a few doors, say a few words, and candy would be tossed into our bags like riches. However, this particular Halloween would be different than the others and it will be a part of my past that will always be embedded into my memory forever.
My brothers, Steve and Jeff, and I didn’t have Halloween costumes that year, which meant no trick or treating for us. We knew there were no plans for us to go from block to block, building to building, door to door, shouting those three infamous words that would give us lots of candy, filling our bags to heaviness. I was about ten years old and my younger brothers and I were waiting for my mother and Melvin to come home, with Halloween candy, we hopped, so that we could at least pass it out to the kids who did have plans to haunt that night.
It was becoming darker and darker and mom and Melvin were still not home. I knew what it meant when it became dark outside on Halloween night; the trick-or-treaters would soon be knocking on our door. Unfortunately, we had no candy to hand out to them and I was starting to feel bad.
We lived in an apartment building on Sheffield Avenue, just off Montrose in Chicago. Our building had had three floors, with several apartments on each side of the building. I shared with Steve and Jeff that we had no candy to give to the trick or treaters, but if I dressed them up they could go gather enough treats within our own building so we would then have at least few treats to hand out until mom came home. I knew we would never be allowed to leave our building, traveling the neighborhood, so I told my brothers that they could only trick-or-treat, collecting candy, within our own building.
“One must be poor to know the luxury of giving.” ~ George Elliot
I decided to dress Steve up first, but as what… Not having any Halloween costumes of our own, we suddenly had to be creative as to what Steve could be. Looking around our apartment, I asked Steve to put some of Melvin’s clothes on which, obviously, were too big. Disheveling Steve’s hair from left to right, he started to look like something out of a cartoon. With mom and Melvin being smokers, I took ashes from the ashtray and spread them all over Steve’s cheeks, around his chin and under his nose, making him look as if he had a three-day beard. Taking a cigarette butt from the ashtray and placing it into his mouth, Steve’s costume was suddenly born! Steve was transformed into a bum! Not bad, I thought.
Steve hobbled to the front door, wearing Melvin’s oversized shoes, holding onto his pants with one hand and his pillow case for a candy bag with the other. I felt that we created a pretty good costume, convincible, as he went to ask for Candy, not for himself, but for the kids who would soon be knocking on our door.
Steve went to all three floors, from apartment to apartment, collecting as many Halloween goodies as he could. Once Steve returned home and looking into his pillowcase, I knew that he didn’t have enough candy that would last the evening. Looking at my brother, Jeff, it was becoming apparent that I would have to dress him up as well. Once again, looking around our apartment for ideas, we soon came up with a costume for Jeff to wear. Taking some of mom’s make up; a little lipstick to paint his nose red, some eye makeup, along with some of mom’s mixed matched clothes, Jeff was transformed into a silly looking clown.
It was now Jeff’s turn to enter the hallway of goodies. Going from door to door, I was hoping that he would collect enough candy for the evening. Moments later, Jeff returned, but still not having enough candy to hand out. Any moment, I knew kids would be knocking on our door yelling, “Trick or Treat!”
Steve excitingly volunteers to go one more time. Surely, he felt as if it was more like a game instead of a dire mission to collect Halloween candy for other children.
Taking another glance around, we came up with the idea of making him look like a hobo. To be completely honest, there wasn’t much of a difference between Steve’s first costume, which was a bum, to his second costume, which was now a hobo. They both looked the same, no matter how much we tried to change! However, being young kids, with very few resources, ideas were limited, and we were really hoping that nobody noticed.
Opening the front door, Steve is quick on his way as he ventures out for his second journey through the building in search of candy. It was almost as if he was on a race, trying to beat the clock before the buzzer went off. Steve hurried, knocking on all the doors once more, making his way up to the third floor and winding back down to the first.
Steve finally returns home, where he said that one of the tenants in the building commented that he looked awfully familiar, asking if he had already been there before trick or treating. Shaking his head no and saying thank you, Steve scurries back home to our apartment to share his bag of Halloween goodies.
With finally more than enough candy to hand out, we placed all the goodies that Steve and Jeff collected into a kitchen bowl. We all stood over the bowl, as we eyeballed each and every piece of candy. There were Mary Jane’s, Pixie Sticks and Root Beer Barrels. There were Smarties, too. Then, there was my favorite, the orange and black peanut butter kisses that everyone seemed to hate. Someone in the building even tossed in a large walnut! What are we going to do with that, I thought. We decided to keep that treat out of the bowl.
Our trance that we held over the Halloween candy was soon interrupted, as my brothers and I heard a knock at the door. It was our first trick or treater for the evening! With smiles on our faces, we grabbed the bowl of treats from the table and ran to the front door. As if on cue, the little boy in front of us yells, “Trick or Treat!” as we opened the door to greet our Halloween goblin. As Steve grabbed a piece of candy, tossing it into the treater’s bag, we couldn’t help but to be excited handing out the Halloween candy with delight!
I don’t believe my brothers and I showed any selfishness that particular Halloween afternoon. Not once, did we think of ourselves or why we couldn’t go out and participate in the holiday ritual that so many other children around us were. It was within the innocence of ourselves that we wanted to share with others. That day, it was all about how we could help and give to others; to a child who was soon to knock at our door, a child who we didn’t want to leave without a piece of candy. We may not have had the opportunity to walk from street to street trick or treating ourselves, but we still had fun creating costumes and collecting and giving candy to others. Perhaps, this is why Halloween today is my favorite holiday of the year and, anyone who knows me, would agree. It’s a chance where I can create and be expressive and hand out candy to all the goblins that knock on my door.
That Halloween day, we may have been poor in candy, poor in money, poor in life but, I believe overall, we were very rich in spirit.
Have a Happy and Bootiful Halloween!
“A good friend is a connection to life – a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.” ~Lois Wyse
It was the seventh grade. It was a brand new school. It was a time that would change my life forever.
I went to a grade school called, Stockton, on Montrose and Beacon in Chicago; the same school where my teacher would let me out early to run home so that I wouldn’t get my ass kicked after school. I was happy that I wouldn’t be going to that school any longer. I made not one friend there. At the time, Stockton School only went up to grade six, therefore, I was being transferred to a brand new school, Joan F. Arai Middle School, which was down on Wilson Avenue and Hazel Street. Here is where I met my best friend, my kindred spirit, my soul’s infinite connection, Donatta Erzic.
We both had an immediate connection with one another, sitting together in class, laughing, joking, creating a friendship. I remember when Donatta would go into one of her laughing spurts, she would laugh so hard that she would fall off her chair, sliding herself down the wall and onto the floor, while her legs continued to rest on her chair. Giggling with her, I would try and help her up off the floor, as the teacher, Ms. Gold, would instruct us to get back into our seats.
The hot show at the time was a cop show, Starsky and Hutch. Donatta and I would pretend to be these television characters, passing notes in class and solving crimes, with her being Starsky and me being Hutch. Donatta would wear the big sweaters like Starsky use to wear, too. What a great time we used to have in class.
Our seventh grade school year was soon to be over and summer vacation was on its way. Every summer, my brother and I would go to Wisconsin to stay the summer with my grandparents on their farm and I knew that I was going to miss my new found friend. Before the school year ended, Donatta wrote me a sweet note, letting me know how much fun she had, committing to a friendship between us.
I wrote to Donatta every week and, as promised, she replied back. We had a ritual with our letters however. Because my granny was nosy and wanted to know what I wrote about, I wrote one general very vague letter, which was the one that granny always read. But, on the side, I wrote my “real” letter, sharing with Donatta more personal writings and things I wanted to share with Donatta only, not my grandmother. Walking to the end of the driveway to mail my letter to Donatta, I would quickly place my secret letter inside the envelope so that granny wouldn’t see. Sealing and tucking my letter inside, I closed the lid to the mailbox. Raising the red flag, signifying that there’s a letter to be picked up, I waited for the mailman to take my letter that was soon to be on a journey to Chicago. Days would pass, as I watched for the mailman. I couldn’t wait to get a return letter from Donatta.
Day after day, I would wait for the mailman to bring the mail. Once he drove off, I would grab the mail, looking to see if I received a letter and, soon enough, there within the other envelopes, was a letter for me! Upon receiving my mail from Donatta, I would immediately open the envelope, sneaking one of the letters into my pocket. I shared with Donatta that my granny read all our letters back and forth to each other, so I asked her to write two… one for granny’s eyes and another for me. We continued this correspondence throughout the summer until we could see each other again when school started.
Eighth grade had arrived, where Donatta and I shared, once again, the same classes and homeroom, where we became closer as friends and sharing secrets, as young girls would often do. This was the year that I met her family and she met mine, accepting where and the way I lived, the way I was being raised, accepting the horrors that I lived every single day of my life. I was able to share anything with Donatta. She was a person that I knew I could trust and she was the only one in my life who knew my deepest and darkest secret… that I was being sexually abused by the man who was labeled as my step father. I have always felt that Donatta was meant to come into my life for a reason, to be there with me, for me, to protect me. Her arrival couldn’t have been any more precise.
“Friends are kisses blown to us by angels.” ~Author Unknown
Donatta was true to her words, “Once I meet a friend I like staying pals for a long time.” The year was 1976 and, 38 years later, we are still friends, best friends and even more.
Donatta wasn’t only my friend, she was my teacher. She taught me many things that my own mother could not. She took me to the next steps of feminine hygiene, where she showed me how to use a tampon. “Girls don’t wear pads anymore, they wear tampons,” she said. Buying my first box, she demonstrated with a tampon and her fingers, showing me how to insert and use them. Later that evening, Donatta gave me a call, asking how I was coming along wearing tampons, making sure that I had no questions and that everything was working out okay. Proudly, I told her that it was going great and how much easier it was to use tampons… except for one thing. “What’s that, she asked?” I shared with her that it’s nice using tampons, but I have gone through a whole box already and that I’m almost out. “How can that be?” There’s like 24 of them in the box?” Donatta said. I told her that I pee a lot and that whenever I went to the bathroom, I’d pull the tampon out so I could pee. “Oh my God! You don’t have to pull the tampon out every time you go to the bathroom. Don’t you know you have two holes down there?!” Embarrassed, I told her no, I didn’t know that and every time I went to the bathroom, I’m pull it out. I thought the tampon was like a plug… how can the pee come out if I’m all plugged up? Once again, Donatta was my teacher. This has been our little joke between us for the past 38 years.
I remember the time when Donatta said she would take me to go and see my grandmother. My grandfather had recently passed away and Donatta was gracious enough to drive up to Madison, Wisconsin so that I can spend the weekend with granny. It was also the day that Donatta found out she was going to have a baby, her first. Here we are both sitting in the car, driving the highway, while my best friend had morning sickness – a severe case of morning sickness. Between dry heaves and several cans of Sprite, we finally made it to granny’s place. There, Donatta sat recovering from her three hour ordeal in the car. We decided to get comfortable for the evening and snapped a few pictures while granny sat watching her television shows.
Granny had bunny knick knacks and behind her back, we tied a lace around the bunnies neck. This was Donatta’s way of telling the world that the “rabbit had died!”
The next morning, I decided to make breakfast for us all. While Donatta was in the bathroom, dealing with her morning sickness no doubt, I started cooking. The moment that Donatta walked out of the bathroom, she said, “You made bacon?!” Surely, it was the last thing she wanted to smell as she tried to settle her queasy pregnant belly, but always a memory for me whenever I cook bacon today. She did all of this for me so that I could be with my grandmother.
Donatta and I had decided to take another trip to granny’s after Emily was born. Emily was just a couple months old at the time. Granny was excited to meet baby Emily and we thought granny would get a kick out of meeting the little one who was inside Donatta’s belly, making her nauseous just several months before.
Donatta knew how eccentric my grandmother was and that she was in a world all her own at times. I’m not sure if granny didn’t think about her actions or she just didn’t care what others thought. Such as, whenever granny would go to the bathroom at home, she would always pee with the bathroom door open, holding a conversation with you every tinkle of the way; something that I even catch myself doing to this day. I don’t know why she never closed the door for privacy. Perhaps, it’s the same reason why I leave the door open myself; comfortableness with the person you’re with.
As we settled in for the evening, Donatta prepared Emily for bedtime, hushing and lying her down in the portable crib that we brought with us. As if on cue, granny strolls to the bathroom to do her business, while leaving the door open the whole time. Granny lived in a small apartment that consisted of only a living room, bedroom and a small kitchenette. The bathroom was in direct contact with all three of these rooms, so no matter what room you were in, you were able to see and hold a conversation on with granny while she sat on the “pot” as she called it. Sitting in the living room with a direct eyeshot of granny in the bathroom, Donatta listened to every squirt, plop, and splashdown that granny was creating, as well as every sound effect that granny chimed. It was at this precise moment that Donatta spun her head around and looked at me, whispering underneath her breath, “Your grandmother is taking a major shit with the bathroom door open!” Giggling to myself, I shared with Donatta that granny must have felt very comfortable with her if she didn’t close the bathroom door, making it sound as if it was some sort of honor or privilege! Once granny was done with her chat on the pot, she strolled back into the living room, into her chair, where she restfully took a nap. I immediately went to the bathroom and tried to mask the smell, looking for the bathroom deodorizer. Unfortunately for us, there wasn’t any. The only thing I could find to spray down the bathroom with was granny’s FDS spray, which stood for Feminine Deodorant Spray. Now, we were sitting in a room that smelled like someone who took a crap in a baby power factory! To say the least, between granny’s dumps and chronic cough throughout the night that kept waking up baby Emily, it was an unforgettable visit! Memories in the making.
A couple years later, I went with Donatta and her parents to Cancun, Mexico, along with that precious little baby girl Emily. To sit on the darkened beach by moonlight, drinking Tequila Spritzer shots with my best friend, who was constantly asking for “another” was a memorable vacation of a lifetime! We shared bread, we drank and we talked about our past, our present and our future.
Donatta has not only been my best friend and angel, but she has been my nurturer. When being in the hospital from my motorcycle accident and unable to walk, she made sure that I was comfortable and content. While visiting me in the hospital, Donatta shaved my legs, which always makes a woman feel her best. She also made sure that my body was clean, helping me wash myself, when I hardly could not. In my eyes, this is a definition of love.
“It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” ~John Leonard
Throughout the years, Donatta and I have shared many celebrations and experiences together, birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings, births of our children and, sadly enough, many deaths. Donatta has always been there for me through the good times, as well as the bad, as I have her. She laughs, I laugh and when she cries, I cry. We have always had this underlying connection between us, that without trust and respect, a friendship would not be there. My wish for all is to experience a friendship like I have with Donatta.
There are times when I think of Donatta and I can’t help but to cry, not tears of sadness, but tears of joy and blessings. I think of Donatta through hearing a song, through a movie, and even through special thoughts. I’m blessed to have such a wonderful person in my life, someone who accepts me for who I am, even though I can be a little eccentric myself at times, with tattoos, piercings or even with my candid openness. I love her to death because she accepts me for who I am.
“A true friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half-cracked.” ~Author Unknown
Donatta and I may not share the same opinions or agree on a certain subject matter, but we love and respect each other enough to accept each other’s beliefs, without shedding insult or disapproval. Donatta is an honest, faithful and devoted friend and this is why she has been a part of my life for almost forty years. We have experienced and shared a life time together and I am honored to be a part of her life.
“The best kind of friend is the one you could sit on a porch with, never saying a word, and walk away feeling like that was the best conversation you’ve had.” ~Author Unknown
When we met back in grade school in 1976, we always said we wanted to have our own commune together, living off the land, while our babies ran around naked. What a dream that would have been, huh? Although a vision of the past, it doesn’t stop me from dreaming about the future, where we would live side by side on the same block, sharing food from our gardens in which we had planted just the spring before. As for having our babies run around naked… well, they have gotten too big for that now, however, it is my hope and sincere dream that we are able to sit in the yard as the sun sets low, sharing a bottle of wine together, while we watch not our children, but our beautiful grandchildren run around naked instead…
I love you my dear friend. Although, I am fourteen days older than you, I will always look up to you. I wish you a wonderful birthday and look forward to the many more we share together.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” ~Henri Nouwen
It was last summer, 2012, 16th of June and the weather that day was threatening rain or at least that’s what the weatherman was predicting anyway. I always loved meteorologist, Tom Skilling’s weather reports, as he was always so optimistic and generous with his forecasts, almost as if he was the one who controlled the day’s weather himself. It could be a blizzard outside, with three feet of snow already on the ground, and he would report that a beautiful day would soon be ahead of us. I always got a kick out of his positive outlook.
Even though the skies above me were blue as could be and full of continuous sunshine, Tom was still predicting rain for this Saturday afternoon, but I was hoping that it would hold off until much later in the evening, as we had a very special day planned. We were having guests over for a BBQ and a swim, as well as surprising them with a special gift. This day was not only going to bring a day of excitement and happiness to all, but, by day’s end, it would also leave every one of us filled with devastation and in complete disbelief.
My family and I have been making yearly trips for the past several years to Shannon, Illinois to a place we absolutely fell in love with the first time we saw it called, Hickory Hideaway. Hickory Hideaway is a cabin resort that is planted within 10 acres of peaceful bliss and is just minutes away from Lake Carroll, cornfields, fresh air and hospitality that surpasses any place we’ve ever stayed at before. We decided to stay at Hickory Hideaway for sky darkness so that we could watch the annual Perseids Meteor Shower and, being in the country, away from city lights, this was the perfect place. We had made this a vacation tradition, where once it got dark, my family and I would hike to the field behind the cabins and cozy ourselves deep within our chairs, covering ourselves up to our necks in blankets and bug spray, looking up toward the northern sky for a breathtaking evening of “oohs and aahs.”
Knowing how beautiful an experience it is to watch a meteor shower, especially one that can shoot up to 60 or more meteors an hour directly over your head, so close that you feel you could touch them, I wanted my best friend, Donatta, and her family, to also experience such beauty. I not only wanted to share this with Donatta, but I also wanted her to share in the serenity of the cabins, the peacefulness, not to mention the breathtaking countryside that surrounded us. I knew Donatta would benefit from such a paradise, therefore, I spoke with her daughter, Emily, where we both decided to surprise her mom and dad with a one-night stay, where all they had to bring were their jammies and toothbrushes.
The Perseids Meteor Shower is always in August, usually peaking between the 9th and the 14th of the month and, with it only being two months away, Emily and I had to prepare weeks before so that when they came over that Saturday afternoon for a BBQ, we could surprise them with their gift. To make it exciting, I decided to prepare several gifts that were clues to this one night cabin getaway. Of course, none of them really gave too much of a hint about what was going on, until the end of the surprise when the gifts were more telling. One gift consisted of a map, which had an arrow pointing south. Another gift was a huge basket of marshmallows with a lighter and a handmade fire pit. But my favorite hint was a balloon that was filled with confetti, hundreds of silver stars that we managed to pop and sprinkle over Donatta’s head as she read the quote inside, “The stars are the street light of eternity.” With every clue we gave Donatta, she became more skeptical, wondering what we both were up to. In the end, she was pleasantly surprised with a one-night stay at Hickory Hideaway, where it left her in complete tears. We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and planning for a trip that we knew would be a memory maker.
As the evening became darker, we could see that Tom’s prediction of rain was just off in the horizon, where we saw lightening strikes brightening up the skies toward the west. It was turning 9:00 p.m. and I felt pleased knowing that the rain didn’t come sooner and we had a chance to play all afternoon outside and in the pool. The wind was picking up and the streaks of lightening were getting closer, but we sat and had another cocktail and decided to wait until the storm got closer before heading inside. We wanted to take advantage of every moment this wonderful evening was offering.
In the meantime, Frank went inside the house to check the weather on the TV, when he noticed the red flickering light on the answering machine, indicating that someone had called leaving a message. Being outside the majority of the day and evening, we didn’t realize that someone had called. Pressing the button, Frank heard that it was a message from Carol, our sister-in-law, who is married to Frank’s brother, Geno. A few short moments later, Frank came back outside looking a tad perplexed, telling us that Carol had left a strange message saying, “Frank, this is Carol. I need you to call me back as soon as you can.” Frank shared with us that Geno’s plans for that day was to go on a motorcycle run to Wisconsin, but now Frank had a feeling that he was in an accident. Frank wanted me to go inside to listen to the message myself but, with Frank being the over exaggerated person he is, I thought he was taking the phone call out of content; therefore, I asked Arla to go inside and listen to the message for me, as I knew she would be able to make sense out of it.
It was only minutes later when I realized that the lightening was just about overhead, therefore; we all decided to finally move the party into the house. One after another, we went inside, where I found Frank on the phone, speaking with Carol’s friend. The tone of the atmosphere was enough to stop everyone in their tracks, as if our feet were suddenly fastened to the floor. It became eerily notable that the conversation that Frank was having with Carol’s friend was not one of good news. She was calling on the behalf of Carol to tell us that Geno was in a motorcycle accident. As we all continued to listen, it was noted that Carol and her friend were on their way up to the hospital in Wisconsin, where the ER physicians were working on Geno. Getting off the phone, Frank confirmed that Geno was in a motorcycle accident, which took place in Waukesha, Wisconsin and, by the way it sounded, things didn’t look good.
Listening to Carol’s voicemail message myself, she sounded extremely shook up, almost as if she was lost between reality and a surreal world. It was becoming apparent to us all that this wasn’t just a motorcycle tumble and a “road rash” kind of accident, but something much more serious, a situation that we soon realized we all needed to prepare ourselves for.
Frank told Carol that he would begin making phone calls to the family, informing everyone of what had happened. Because our family is so large, whenever there is an emergent situation, there are certain point people who, once receiving the news, will begin to call other siblings and report what’s going on. These family members will then make phone calls, extending the news on down the family chain line. With this form of communication, it doesn’t leave just one person making hundreds of phone calls to others. Frank called his brother, Mike, and shared the desolate news. Frank told Mike that he would keep in touch with him regarding any news he learns. So, now it beings, where Mike makes his phone calls, making sure that the rest of the family learns about the severity of Geno’s accident. Not only does this method get the news out to everyone in a timely manner, but it also begins something just as important, the prayer circle. Never underestimate the power of prayer.
“Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.” ~ Charles Finney
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” ~ Matthew 18:20
The afternoon buzz of fun and alcohol that I had caught from being with friends had since been slapped out of me. I felt as if I had been standing there for hours, observing from the outside, as if I was watching a movie drama about someone else’s family tragedy. As we all stood in the back art room motionless, we were all listening to the conversations that Frank was having, only to realize that with every word spoken, we were all comprehending the severity of what was really happening.
We realized that Carol had left us this message at 7:00 o’clock that evening. She even tried calling Frank on his cell phone but, because we were swimming all day, Frank decided to leave his cell phone in the house. We realized that two hours had already passed since Geno’s accident and Carol had been trying to reach us this whole time.
It was then that everyone realized the severity of what was taking place. An unexpected rush of grief came over me and I found myself standing there, crying hysterically, only to be joined in by the others. Donatta had asked Emily and Arla to take me into the front room, where I could sit down. While there, Frank had asked me to find the number to the Waukesha Hospital online, so that he could call the nurses’ station in the Emergency Room to see if he could find out the details and extent of Geno’s condition. Once again, Frank’s experience of working in a hospital for 26 years has taken him directly to the source of information. Dialing the number, he had asked to be connected to the head nurse in the Emergency Room Department. By now, both Donatta and my family have gathered in the front room, where they each claimed a seat, patiently waiting to learn about the state that Geno was in.
Pacing back and forth from the living room to the dining room, Frank was connected to the nursing station in the ER, where he introduces himself, letting the nurse know that he is calling regarding his brother, Eugene Morin, where he was just informed that he was in a motorcycle accident and was brought to Waukesha Hospital. Taking Frank’s cell phone number, the nurse said that she would call us back, once she had some information about Geno and his condition. I think we were all hoping in the back of our minds that Geno’s condition was trivial, with only a few bangs and bruises to report.
As Frank waited for the return phone call from the hospital, Frank decided to call Patrick and Bubby, letting them know that Geno was in a motorcycle accident. Bubby was already in bed sleeping. Danny, another brother, happened to have been in town for a visit and was staying at Patrick’s house for a few weeks. Frank delivered the news to Patrick and Danny and told them both to wake Bubby up and relay the news. But, they both had decided to wait until they heard more information as to what was going on. As Frank is ending his conversation with them both, letting them know that he will call back once he has some more information, we all see on the TV screen, the caller I.D. flash on the screen, “Incoming Call from Waukesha Hospital.” I yell to Frank that the hospital is calling and he hangs up from Patrick and takes the call from the hospital. It was the nurse from the ER, who was calling us to give us an update on Geno’s condition.
We all stop talking, practically stop breathing, as we listened intently to the one sided conversation, hoping, praying that it wasn’t as bad as it sounded but, by the words that Frank were speaking, it didn’t sound hopeful whatsoever. Once Frank absorbed all the information that the nurse had given him, he relayed to us that the ER physicians were working on Geno feverishly, giving him CPR, a statement that worried me even more, placing images into my head that made me cry even harder. The nurse shared that Geno’s heart had stopped and there were 30 doctors, nurses and medical staff trying to revive him. His brain was also not functioning, meaning he had no brain activity. Remembering my mother and her lack of brain activity from when she was in the hospital, I knew the outcome was unpromising. The nurse was very honest and straightforward with Frank, saying it didn’t look good and asked Frank to prepare himself. The nurse promised to call us back again shortly, once she had additional information. Hanging up the phone, Frank relayed the latest information to us all who were now sitting together and praying, where only moments before, we were laughing and planning for a wonderful vacation.
Walking back to my art room, I had gathered up all the Saint Prayer cards that I always had displayed on my art shelf, bringing them back to the living room where everyone had gathered. I was hoping that by holding them close to me, praying to them, that my prayers would become stronger, making a direct connection with each, as they helped my prayers get delivered directly to God’s ears…
The Immaculate Heart of Mary
Saint Therese The Little Flower, (My Patron Saint)
Saint Pio of Pietrelcina Saint Michael the Archangel
Saint Thomas Moore
Saint Francis of Assisi
Being the spiritual person I am I was starting to picture Geno floating above high above us, above me, above all his loved ones, as he prepared himself to say good-bye, leaving his physical body to go home spiritually to be with God. It was then that I looked above me, pointing toward the heavens and said, practically demanding, “Geno, you cannot leave us. You get back into that body of yours right now, damn it!” Regrettably, my commands were ignored.
Pacing back and forth from room to room, Frank begins to chant, “Fuckin Geno! Fuck Geno! Geno, what the fuck?!” almost as if asking Geno what did he get himself into this time. It seemed that when the Morin boys were younger, especially Geno and Patrick, Geno would find himself in all sorts of quirky predicaments. Like the time when Geno was a young boy. Taking a hatchet, he decided to chop away at a beam in the basement. Hitting the wooden beam over and over and with every swing getting louder and louder, Geno didn’t realize that he was making all this noise directly underneath a bedroom, the same bedroom where his father was trying to sleep. Geno hacked away until his father went down to the basement to discover that he wasn’t only practicing his hatchet technique on a wooden pole, but it was the main support beam of the house! Yelling at Geno, the father asked, “What in the hell was he thinking of?” Telling the story once himself, Geno confessed, “There was a wooden pole, there was a hatchet, and I was one bored kid. I was determined!” Of course, listening to Geno tell the story, animating as he did, made you laugh so hard, your side would hurt.
One of my favorite “Geno Stories” as we call them was the time when Geno decided to wash his Harley at 2:00 a.m., after getting home from being out riding. What else do you do at 2:00 in the morning from being out all night… sleep? Not Geno. Splashing and wiping away at his bike, Geno noticed that he had company, a visitor who was sitting on his fence just outside the garage watching every motion he made. Of course, not only was it early in the morning, it’s was also dark outside. Geno continues drying off his bike, as he begins a one-way conversation with what he thought was the neighbor’s cat. He continues to call out his invitation, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” Hearing it hiss and growl, it was only then that Geno realized he was extending his hand to tickle and scratch behind the ears of a mother possum most likely protecting her young. It was only weeks later that Geno encountered the mommy raccoon again, as he and his brothers were chasing the raccoon back outside with a broom, as somehow it made its way into their basement.
My thoughts bring me back to real time as, once again, Frank cries out another “Fuck Geno!,” as he paces back and forth, surely Frank, in some way, was hoping that Geno was just in another one of his many self made predicaments.
Frank starts another round of phone calls to Mike, Patrick and Danny, giving them updates on what the nurse had told him. Frank also added, “Say your prayers, it doesn’t look good.”
Through the many phone calls that were exchanged within the family, Frank found out that his sister, Debbie, had plans to drive up to the hospital to be with Carol. Frank agreed to be in contact with Debbie, while she was on the road, so that she would learn updates, too.
As we were all talking, each of us speculating on Geno’s accident, we see again that evening the caller I.D., Waukesha Hospital, popping up on the TV screen. As we all come to a sudden hush, Frank answered the phone to hear the nurse giving the same report that the doctors are still working on Geno. Frank went onto ask the nurse what Geno’s injuries were, knowing that they must have been quite severe to have such an elaborate team of medical professionals working on him. Frank’s response in return was, “Oh shit!” It was obvious that Geno’s injuries were extensive. Frank shared with us that he had multiple traumas, with massive injuries to his chest and head, multiple leg fractures and he had already lost a massive amount of blood. I felt as if I was on the set of my own Grey’s Anatomy show, watching the play-by-play of this terrifying event. I continued to pray, asking God, Mother Mary and all my Saints that I held tightly within the palm of my hand to give Geno back to us, to make him survive this horrific ordeal.
Through the many phone calls that were exchanged within the hour of us finding out about Geno, we gathered enough information to learn that he was on a motorcycle run with some friends in Waukesha, Wisconsin. They were on their way back from an afternoon of riding when there appeared to have been some geese in the middle of the road, as well as a lot of geese excrement’s, therefore, we understood it that Geno probably swerved off the road to avoid the geese, resulting in this dreadful accident. No, Geno never wore a helmet. It was his choice not to.
With the house phone on standby for when the hospital calls, Frank used his cell phone to call his brothers, reporting Geno’s condition. We all wait patiently, praying that the next phone call we received would bring good news; that the men and women with the medical knowledge has miraculously, somehow, saved our dear loved one from death.
I begin to pray:
Sanctify, O Lord, those whom you have called to the study and practice of the arts of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our only help in time of need: We humbly beseech thee to behold, visit and relieve they sick servant, Eugene Morin, for whom our prayers are desired. Look upon him with the eyes of the mercy; comfort him with a sense of thy goodness; preserve him from the temptations of the enemy; and give him patience under his affliction. In thy good time, restore him to health, and enable him to lead the residue of his life in thy fear, and to thy glory; and grant that finally he may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
My living room consisted of many broken hearts, all of us grieving in our own individual way. Tanner sat on the couch, silent. Arla’s tears were keeping in tune with my own, shedding more and more with every piece of information we received. Donatta and her family were our Rock of Gibraltar, the strength that kept us all together, without falling apart into millions of little pieces like the rest of us were doing. I would never want to put any family members in a situation that I did them that evening, but my heart was so thankful that they were all there, that Donatta, my own wall of strength was there, for us, for me, keeping our mind sound and in the right focus. If they weren’t there, surely, we would have begun to make our own trip to Waukesha, Wisconsin, but with the storms that were hitting us, as well as our state of mind, it wouldn’t have been a good combination for traveling.
All of us sat there, watching the TV, waiting patiently for the hospital’s number to appear on the screen, calling giving us an update. It was only moments later that we had finally received that phone call. Soon, we all realized that it would be the final phone call that we would receive from Waukesha Hospital.
As if on cue, Frank switched phones immediately, picking up the house phone to answer the hospital’s call that was coming through. As Frank walked back into the dining room from the kitchen, almost as if he was materializing out from beneath the shadows of the darkened room, I will never forget the way Frank announced to all of us the latest news about Geno. I felt as if I was watching Frank in slow motion, coming toward us from the other room. He held the phone up to his left ear with his hand while still talking with the ER nurse. Frank’s right hand motioned a signal for a throat slash, as he moved his index finger horizontally back and forth across his throat. His head sorrowfully shifted from side to side, gesturing to us all that it was all over, done, as if our heart and minds were being held captive in a three-day hostage crisis and were now suddenly set free. Our evening’s ordeal had at last come to an end, telling us the final fate of Geno’s demise.
The final call came from the nurse, where she reported that the doctors worked effortlessly, to the best that their skills would allow them, working on Geno for hours trying to save him, but the damages were just too severe and Geno passed away at approximately 10:30 p.m. on Saturday evening, June 16, 2012. The day that started out to be a memory maker, ended in tragedy. This will be an evening that my family and I will never forget.
I immediately went to Frank, wrapping my arms around him, sharing between the sobs how sorry I was. Donatta soon followed with hugs, as well Keith, Emily and Audrey. Arla wept on my shoulder, while Tanner sat silently by himself. Tanner was melancholy, as earlier that afternoon, he was playing the guitar that his Uncle Geno had given him. We all grieve and experience death in our own way. Tanner was hurting in silence and this memory of playing the guitar earlier that day was now striking a painful chord within his heart.
As Frank was the main mediator throughout the evening, he now had the responsibility to make the devastating calls and share with everyone that Geno was no longer with us. First, Frank calls Patrick and Danny, where Frank tells them that it’s now time to wake up Bubby and relay that Geno had died. How do you tell an almost 95-year-old mother that she had lost a child that night and to a motorcycle accident? Practically all the Morin boys rode motorcycles growing up, as well as into their adult lives. Riding was a part of them. It was in their blood. Did Bubby always fear that this day would come, that it would eventually become a reality?
Frank spoke with Carol after the hospital pronounced Geno dead, but Carol was in a state of shock all her own. Our hearts ached for her, my heart ached for her, as I tried to imagine what she must be going through. I’ve experienced a lot of loved one’s deaths, who were close to my heart and, as they all left me one after another, there was one thing that I have come to realize… just because I have seen many deaths, it does not make the experience any easier. One does not become an expert at mourning. It does not teach you how to be strong and nor does it prepare you for the next death that secretly awaits. All it does is remind me that I am human, with infinite feelings, where my heart literally shatters to pieces, as if it has never experienced such sorrow before. Geno’s death was strongly affecting me, sadly, more so than my own mother’s.
My mind drifted back to that morning, when I came down from my bedroom to prepare for the day’s events, only to find Frank on the phone again. He was always on the phone chatting with someone. If it wasn’t with family members then it was with friends. Stepping into the art room where Frank was standing, I asked him, “Now who are you on the phone with?!” My thoughts were that we had just gotten up; how can he be on the phone already? As Frank reached for the keys to my truck, he announced that it was Geno. Geno had called that particular morning because he was concerned about me driving my truck, as he heard that it wasn’t running properly. He didn’t like the thought of me driving around in an unsafe truck, therefore, he called, asking Frank to go out to the garage so that they could troubleshoot things over the phone and try to figure out what the problem was. Instructing Frank to do so, they both shared a morning laugh as Frank proceeded to the garage. This was the last time that Frank ever spoke to his brother. I was suddenly grateful for the fact that Frank did have some form of communication with Geno that day, some exchange of words and camaraderie, even if they didn’t realize that it would be their last.
Debbie, who was on her way up to the hospital to be with Carol, found out that Geno didn’t make it, therefore, turning around and coming back home. The news traveled quickly throughout the family, as well as it did with friends. I had sent a prayer request out earlier to my Facebook friends and family. The responses for prayers that we received were absolutely overwhelming and the outpouring of love and concern that was extended was absolutely beyond words. All the prayers that were set in motion for Geno could have lit up the skies. Perhaps, this was Geno’s guiding light as he made his way to the heaves above.
Posted: June 19, 2012
Motorcycle Crash Claims Life of 61-year-old Man
A 61-year-old man from Mundelein, Ill., was killed after he failed to negotiate a curve on his motorcycle on westbound Highway LO at about 4:07 p.m. June 16. The motorcycle left the roadway, struck a telephone box and a road sign before coming to rest on top of the man, police said. He was taken to Waukesha Memorial Hospital with extensive injuries. He died at about 10:25 p.m. There were no passengers on the motorcycle, and the driver was not wearing a helmet. The police are continuing their investigation.
After Geno’s passing, while driving home from work, I had put on a Willy Porter CD. The Song, Unconditional, came on and, as Willy sang his song, it didn’t take me long to reflect on Geno. As I listened to the words, I started to cry uncontrollably, as every word he spoke, every emotion of the song, reminded me of the special someone we had lost.
Unconditional by Willy Porter
There’s a woman with a baby sitting next to me
As we ride the crooked train into New York City
She holds that child on her bended knee
Whispers something that only he could hear
She says I will always love you no matter what may come
I carried you inside myself the two of us are one
No matter how you fall down or how it comes undone
To me you will always be shining
And he stares into her brown eyes above
Into the face of unconditional love
I see a man laying in the street
Left his motorcycle at a high rate of speed
In his eyes there’s a vacancy
But he seems, he seems to be smiling
Oh maybe he was a Muslim a Christian or a Jew
I hope that he was laughing when off that bike he flew
Maybe he struggled to believe just like me and you
As the ambulance is too late arriving
And he stares into the sky above
Into the face of unconditional love
Sometimes I’m impossible sometimes a rage and roar
Sometimes all the dreams are spent, strewn across the floor
And I see myself reflected in your eyes
All the tragedy, the hope and the fear
So in my hour of dying when the light is clear and clean
If it helps read from the bible don’t hook me up to those machines
Just stay by my side as I slide
Into some peace
Give me strength over what I’m afraid of
In the face of unconditional love
Donatta and her family had left later that evening. Extending sympathies once more, they told us that if there was anything they could do for us that we should not hesitate to ask. Closing the door behind them, I once again felt very thankful that they were there. As I sat back down, I realized how exhausted that I was, that everyone was, not only physically, but mentally. The day had brought events that nobody was prepared for. Locking up the house for the evening, we all went to bed, where we hoped to get some sleep, even if it was for a little while. Frank immediately drifted off to sleep, as it was only moments later that I heard him snoring the evening’s aftermath away. As I laid in bed, starring up at the darkness, my mind wouldn’t give into the rest that I needed. I kept reliving the evening in my mind, fighting with those infamous words that we all may have confronted from time-to-time known as the “what ifs.” What if… he didn’t go on that run to Wisconsin? What if… the geese weren’t in the middle of the road? What if… it was just 20 minutes earlier, would the accident still have happened? What if… God just needed him more? I ended my thoughts by praying to God and my family in the heavens above, asking them to please accept Geno into their caring and open arms as he crossed over, making him feel content, loved and not afraid. The night’s sleep was sporadic, but I did manage to doze for a while, only to wake up to be reminded that Geno had left us, that he died, and no longer with us. Once again, reality had set in and all the events from the night before came rushing back to me. I tried to calm myself back to sleep, where I could dream of Geno standing at the Pearly Gates before St. Peter, where he strikes up a conversation, saying, “Don’t wait up for me, St. Pete. I have my own set of keys to the Pearly Gates. I found them on a bus!” Clipping the keys securely to his belt, Geno walked through the gates, where his heels clicked against the clouds beneath him as his keys bounced and jingled ever so lightly outside his pant pocket, letting the others know who passed before him that he had made it safely to heaven; that he has arrived.
As I decided to dedicate my next blog to my brother-in-law, Geno, I started pondering how I was going to write this story. A part of me was concerned, as I didn’t want to raise old wounds. I didn’t want to bring back a hurtful memory for some or offend anyone by sharing what had happened that evening. One morning, while waiting for one of the two elevators that takes me up to my office floor, I took mental notes of what I wanted to write about. Stepping into one of the elevator at work last week, I looked down onto the elevator floor and there resting before me was one single silver confetti star, the same kind of star that I had placed in Donatta’s surprise and popped over her head almost a year ago. The next morning while waiting to go up to my office, it was the other elevator that brought me up to my department floor. Again, looking toward the floor, there laid another silver star, the same kind of star that I just saw the day before in the other elevator, but this time it was a bigger one. I had the urge to pick it up, but I didn’t. A soft smile spread across my lips, as my thoughts brought me back to exactly what I had planned to write about… Geno. Perhaps, this was his sign to me, letting me know not to worry, that it would be okay to write my story, in remembrance of him.
This piece is my dedication, a tribute to Eugene Morin, who most likely not only fought for his life on that emergency room table almost a year ago, but who also fought for the many men and women of our country. Geno was a Vietnam Veteran, where he was a medaled soldier in the 1970’s. Every year, on the last Monday in May, Frank would call up his brother not only to wish him a Happy Memorial Day but, most importantly, to thank him for his services as well, for honoring, protecting and fighting for our country, for our freedom, for us. Thank you Geno… we love you and miss you dearly!
“There’s no love like the first.” ~ Nicholas Sparks
If we are lucky enough, we all may experience the feeling of falling in love at least once during our lifetime. Do you remember your first love? I remember my first love; that special someone who made my heart skip a few beats whenever he was near. Being young as I was, some may call it puppy love, but I would like to believe that it was more than that. I believe that I have had the opportunity to fall in love three times in my life, with each of them being very special in their own way.
Remembering my “first love” whose name was Harald, he was a Norwegian boy who lived across the road from my grandparents’ farm. He and I grew up together, seeing each other every summer for many years and, eventually, we started liking one another. Sitting on the front lawn, looking across the road at his farm, I wished and waited for him to ride over on one of those put together bikes that he and his brothers were always building. Sometimes, once his farm chores were done, my heart would begin to flutter as I saw him riding down his long driveway to come over for a visit. Sometimes, his brother would come along with him and we would play cowboys and Indians around the house or we would race our bikes down the old gravel road. Harald was a very nice person and always extended politeness and respect, not only to me, but to my grandparents as well. He liked talking with my grandmother, who he fondly called Tiny, as he caught up on all the latest gossip about the neighbors and farmers around. “Now, Tiny, don’t be spreading any rumors about any of your neighbors now.” Nevertheless, granny insisted that it wasn’t gossip at all, only the truth. I enjoyed watching Harald, as he continued to tease granny, making her snicker to herself. Harald’s smile was wide and inviting and his eyes always seemed to be smiling as well. He wore his hair long, long enough to peek out from underneath his cowboy hat. I could smell the day’s work on him, but it wasn’t offensive, just enough to know that he put in a hard day’s work. Harald and I would sit and talk for the longest time or listen to country songs on the jukebox in the breezeway. We would go into town to share an ice cream cone or watch the fireworks on the fourth of July. One of my favorite times was when he came with my grandfather, Steve and I to pilfer sweet corn from the neighbor’s farm. Making our way deep within the field, Harald helped me fill up my gunnysack, watching me carefully as I walked through the corn rows. Secretly, Harald and I would hold hands and, on occasion, steal an innocent kiss when nobody was looking.
“Like an old photograph, time can make a feeling fade, but the memory of a first love never fades away.” ~Tim McGraw
Once, Harald teasingly tossed a rock at me, winking and smiling as he watched it roll toward me. I kept that rock for many years, displaying it on my dresser, along with an empty can of Mountain Dew that we had once shared together while sitting outside under the oak tree. We never openly expressed our feelings to one other, but I don’t believe we had to. We both knew that we shared a special kind of friendship and fondness that was made up of innocence and our unspoken words between us were enough. This was the summer that grandpa was diagnosed with colon cancer, making my summer vacation with my first love suddenly cut short. Waiting to be taken home, we secretly held hands from the back window of Melvin’s car. As the car slowly pulled away, so did the tight clutch of our hands. This was our final goodbye to one another. The memory of Harald will always hold a special place in my heart. Everyone should have the experience where their heart falls for someone the very first time, making your heart beat faster while the butterflies twirl within your belly… Do you remember your first love?
As time went on, so did the distance between Harald and myself. As I concentrated on my schooling back home in Chicago this is where I made new friends. I met my very close friend, Donatta, as well as meeting the second love of my life, Bill. Sharing the same classroom together, we were both awkward teenagers, teasing and picking on one another every day. Surely, it was our way of saying we liked one another. He was considered one of the popular kids in school and I really liked Bill. He was tall, had brown wavy hair and had a gorgeous set of lips on him. One day, while in school, he wore a small pink toy, which was tightly wrapped around the earpiece of his glasses. Bill had given it to me for a keepsake and, almost forty years later, I still have it, where it rests on a shelf in my art room.
Our teasing with each other eventually grew into a long-term relationship that consisted of passion and love. My relationship with Bill is where I learned to share my feelings on a deeper level, allowing my love for Bill to grow. As Harald was my first love, Bill was my first lover, experiencing with each other sexually and emotionally. However, over the years and, as relationships often do, we both went our separate ways after college.
Do you remember the moment when you believe you were falling in love with your mate, wondering if they, too, had the same feelings as you, hoping, and praying that they did? Do you remember how wonderful it made you feel inside?
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” ~Flavia Weedn
Taking my love lessons from previous dating and past love experiences, I moved forward with my life, taking away from each relationship some good and some bad, teaching me to have patience, confidence, not only in a relationship, but with myself as well. As time passed, I had met the third love of my life, Frank, who I share my life with today. Initially, when meeting Frank for the first time on a blind date, I admit I was skeptical, especially when he continued to ask me to marry him throughout our first date. However, after that Sunday afternoon, when he asked to come over to my apartment to watch the Bears football game, I was starting to realize that Frank was beginning to uncover a hidden spark within me, one that he was actually lighting on fire, a fire that I was hoping would burn for a long time.
“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.” ~Bruce Lee
I never had dated anyone like him before, who was a biker, rugged, wearing cut off t-shirts and leather, with biker boots that always seem to make his feet drag. Either his boots were terribly heavy or he was just that cool as he shuffled along. I felt very comfortable being with Frank. Perhaps, it was because he was just as comfortable being with me, being himself, and being very expressive with his emotions. Frank was the first man that I ever had a farting contest with or even farted in front of for that matter. That in itself speaks volumes of comfort. I had always considered myself to be somewhat of a shy person, passive, someone who would never demonstrate any openness or able to approach others. However, I seemed to be a very different person when I was with Frank. There was a sense of safety and comfort when I was with him and it gave me the opportunity to break out of my shyness, to emerge from within myself, allowing me to be carefree, open and be the person that I never knew was inside me. I discovered that I liked her. I have always credited Frank for bringing me out of my shell. I found myself daydreaming about him, sighing with contentment, waiting with anticipation until I saw him again. My heart would skip a beat when Frank would take my hand, holding it tightly within his or when his lips would reach for mine. There was a tenderness about Frank, where he made me feel as if I was the only one of importance, the only one who mattered.
It was Frank who confessed his love for me first, sharing that he was falling in love with me after knowing me for only a week. I, too, was beginning to have the same feelings, for him, where my heart was slowly opening, allowing my heart to feel again. This was the third time in my life that I was experiencing falling in love and, this time, I was hoping that it was for keeps.
Do you remember when you and your love made the commitment to spend the rest of your life together, to marry, to have and to hold, until death do you part? Do you ever notice that when you’re in love, everything seems to be so right in the world, that you can endure any tribulations? When you’re in love, don’t you feel you have everything?
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ~Lao Tzu
There are so many facets of love where this one simple four letter word can easily make your heart experience so many emotions, whether they are positive or by the means of aimed destruction.
Love, sadly, can make your heart hurt, screaming to the point as if it’s going to burst right out of your chest, making you aware of your pain with every beat your heart takes.
Love can make you feel as if your world is drowning, being submerged so deep with abuse and heartlessness that you’re unable to breathe.
Love can make your heart fill with disappointment and sadness because you can’t seem to touch the heart of your loved one who needs love the most.
Love can leave your mind so mentally exhausted from all the heartaches to the point where you question yourself if it’s all worth it.
Love can be with you and in your heart always or in the end it can just walk out the door never to return…
… or is love worth fighting for, the love that once was, the love you know is still there, praying is there, but is hidden by the day’s anger and frustrating tribulations?
Have you ever fought so hard for something that you wanted, for something that you never had before, something that you deserved, a family, a home, the love and respect of someone special?
1. A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
2. A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
3. Sexual passion or desire.
4. A person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
If allowed, love can make your heart sing as loud as a cardinal who’s calling for its mate on a beautiful Sunday morning.
Love can give you such a natural high that’s so intense you have to ground yourself so you don’t float away.
Love can have your mind drift off into a daydream world, where it only consists of you and your lover, perhaps, sharing an intimate moment.
Love can fill your belly with butterflies when you know your loved one is near.
Love can fill your heart with passion and desire that is so strong you can even feel it in your dreams.
Love should be open, with no obstacles between you and the one you love.
Love is having hope and optimism, sharing it with your everyday world, making it apart of your everyday life.
Love is knowing that you will never have to endure anything alone; that your loved one will always be by your side, through good times and through bad.
Love should be your strength, your ammunition to keep fighting, to move forward and to be strong enough to conquer all ills and troubles, regardless of what is placed before you. Love your life. This is the love that I believe…
“Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes
Throughout my life, I have certainly learned that life is not a Utopia, but with dedicated love, devotion and togetherness, we can conquer, overcoming any obstacles set before us. Remember, we aren’t doing it alone; we’re doing it with the help of the person who loves us, our soul mate. The one who promised before God to love, to have, and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish ’till death do us part.
These are my feelings of the heart. I believe it was meant for me to meet, court, and marry my third love, the man who was meant to be in my life and, because of a higher power involved; I will soon be celebrating my 23rd wedding anniversary. Yes, I believe in the saying, “Third time’s the charm.”
Do you believe in fate? Do you believe in love at first sight? Do you believe things are meant to happen in our life to test us, so that it makes us stronger, better, so that we can see what blessing we have in our life? Do you believe in commitment and unconditional love. Do you believe that everything happens for a reason?
“Waiting and hoping is a hard thing to do when you’ve already been waiting and hoping for almost as long as you can bear it.” ~ Jenny Nimmo
I had sent my email off to Pastor Rusty Couch, where I was watching my email daily with eagerness, hoping that I would receive a response from him. I had already spoken to two individuals who admired my father, who gave me insight into the person he really was. Surely, Pastor Couch saw my father on a continual basis every week at church, if not more. I was really hoping that he would be able to share additional information that would tell me more about my father on a personal level.
It was several days later when there it was, the email that I was hoping to receive.
May 30, 2011
Mrs. Jackie (if I may be so bold as to refer to you in that manner):
First of all, please feel free to refer to me as Rusty.
It is an honor for me to talk to you about Mr. Charles. I must admit that I am surprised to hear about you or from you. Mr. Charles never spoke much about his family, and in thinking about, I never really asked him much about it. That does not mean I was not concerned for him, but for one reason or another, I just never chose to pursue such a conversation with him. I thought it may be a sensitive subject with him, but not because of anything he said or did. I guess I just assumed he was a 70-something year old man who was all alone in this world (from a blood-relative standpoint) and I didn’t want to broach the subject with him.
Mr. Charles was far from devoid of family, however. He often referred to our church as his family. He loved our church immensely. He served as a Deacon, and I never ONE TIME remember him missing a service in the 26 months I served as Pastor during his life…except his last two Sundays on this earth. He was hospitalized on both occasions. As a matter of fact, the last words out of his mouth to me were, “Brother Rusty, if I don’t get back to church are you going to fire me?”
He was faithful as an usher each Sunday. And he NEVER ONE TIME spoke to me when he didn’t offer me a word of encouragement. He was a witty fellow, a man of few words. He used to joke about “being blind in one eye, and not able to see out of the other.” In the last few months of his life, he had a surgical procedure on one of his eyes, and reported that his vision was much improved. I believe he was awaiting another surgery on his other eye when he died.
I have never met anyone that didn’t love and respect Mr. Charles. His funeral was a very sweet service at our church, and he was laid to rest by his departed sweetheart, which was his final wish. The church donated the plot where his remains rest this very day.
Mr. Charles loved to eat. I would see him so often walking up and down Moreland Avenue, near the church, and in various eating venues…mainly McDonalds! He also frequently carried a cigarette in his hands, although NEVER at church. I am not sure that he ever even knew that I knew he smoked. Perhaps it was just a guilty little pleasure for him. Whatever the case, it did not seem to be something that dominated his life.
The hour is late and I need to go at this point. I would love to share more with you at another time, if you’d like that. We are in the process of making a church directory, and he is pictured with a memorial tribute. He was a sweet man that I feel very honored to have known and been his pastor.
I look forward to potentially talking (or writing) to you more.
Rusty Couch Senior Pastor
Woodland Hills Baptist Church
I was simply elated to hear back from Pastor Rusty, where he shared stories with me that I never knew. It was almost like discovering a hidden treasure… the more you look, the more you find.
Once I got back on my feet from being sick, I was eager to respond to Pastor Rusty. What he shared with me was truly inspirational and I wanted him to know more about myself and why I had such a passion to learn more about the man that he was so fond of. I wrote Pastor with these words…
June 3, 2011
I’m so sorry for my delayed response. I have been a tad under the weather. Thank you so much for your reply. It warmed my heart to read about my father from your perspective and with such kind words, too. I hope my email didn’t offend, came as an intrusion or surprise, as you mentioned that you didn’t know that side of my father. You hold such a high regard for my father and it truly touches me by the way you speak of him. I hope what I share with you doesn’t deter that.
As I mentioned in my letter, I had the pleasure of speaking with Trenna Robinson, as well as with Pastor Larry Camp. They, along with yourself, has shed so much light on the father than I never knew. I can’t express enough how much gratitude I have and how much all this means to me.
I have been trying to get to know more about my father for quite a few years now. I had even written him a couple of letters, which I wasn’t sure if he received, as they were never returned to me. I know I could have made a simple phone call, but I was in fear of instant rejection and, with a letter, he had the chance to ponder things over for a while.
The story that my mother had always told me was that she would always find my father standing at the Greyhound bus stop in Wisconsin, waiting to go back home to Georgia, to be with his mother. She said that he was always a “mama’s boy.” My mother said that she would always bring him back home but, after catching him on the bus stop numerous times with his bags packed, she finally told him to just leave and go home. This was always the story I heard. I’m not sure if my father had tried to contact my mother or myself growing up. If he did, my mother never shared this with me. My mother, as well as other family members, portrayed my father in such an unpleasant light, basically telling me that he always needed assistance and he had “challenges” in life. Perhaps, this was her way of deterring me from trying to find him.
If I can explain, you may better understand why I followed this quest for so long in trying to learn about the man I never had a chance to know. I had a very rough upbringing that was not only mental, but physical as well. I feel my mother tried the best that she could but, unfortunately, her choices in life left our relationship distant. I feel she had a hard time to express love and compassion. No doubt due to her own abusive relationship that she was having herself. She was a recovering alcoholic and living with a man that literally drank 24/7. We never had the mother-daughter relationship that we should have had. I do have two younger brothers and their relationships were basically the same. I have survived everything from living in poverty, to living in burnt out buildings to being sexual abused throughout my younger life by the same man that we grew up with and lived in our home, who was also my younger brother’s father.
The only time I found solace and safety in my life was when I lived with my grandparents in Wisconsin on their farm, with animals, open spaces and safety. Their home was my safe haven. My grandparents are the ones who taught and showed me family structure, how to live life as if it’s your last day on earth, and how to love deeply and unconditionally. My heart misses them so very much.
I would not want to repeat the abusive side of my life growing up but, as strange as it may sound, it made me the person that I am today… determined, strong-willed, compassionate and a loving person. I AM a Survivor! I believe that everything in life happens for a reason and I believe there’s a reason that I’m here. I not only see with my eyes, but also with my heart and I feel it was all meant to be; a learning experience, so that I can be the person who I am today. Because I knew that I didn’t want to make the same mistakes as I saw repetitively while growing up.
So, this is why I always wanted to know what kind of man my real father truly was. Did he have a “normal” life, unlike the one I was living? Was he a kind man, compassionate, caring? I always wanted to believe that my father were all these things, something like a fairytale story. I have to confess that what I have learned so far has made my heart beam with happiness. He sounds as if he was all of these things and much, much more.
I love and respect the thought that my father had God in his heart. I wasn’t brought up with religion. As a matter of fact, I lived in an atheist house. I knew nothing about God, but after I was married and had my children, I knew that I wanted to be a part of this wonderful worship. I would look around and see all the beauty around me and knew that it was due to God’s hand and I wanted to be a part of it. Therefore, in the year 2000, I attended RCIA classes and I was baptized and confirmed by my brother-in-law, Joe Morin, who is a Catholic Priest here in Chicago at St. Michael’s Church. He spared no expense to make sure that I was blessed with a FULL pitcher of Holy Water, too. A little joke unbeknownst to me, as they were on their way over to the church! Sopping wet and hair a mess, I knew that I had just made one of the most important decisions of my life. I cannot walk into a church or think of God and his beautiful blessings without getting emotional. It pleases me to know that that my father and I shared this same passion.
To share something about myself today, I am an artist. I enjoy water coloring, drawing, mosaics, creating jewelry. I have an art room that always offers inspiration. I am an administrative assistant for a neurosurgical group and have been working with my physicians for over twenty years now.
I’ve been married for twenty one years to a wonderful man, Frank. He is a truck driver, who delivers glass for existing and new building construction. He comes from a family of seventeen children! We are blessed to have his mother, “Bubby” still with us. God willing, we have started making plans to celebrate her ninety fourth birthday in September! To say the least, I have a very large family and when the Morin’s get together, it’s definitely a party!
I have two children, Arlaraye and Tanner. Arlaraye is in her second year of college, majoring in teaching music and art. Her passion is piano and guitar. Tanner will be entering his second year of high school and plays guitar as well. I have been blessed to have two beautiful children, where I wasn’t sure if I would be able to have after a critical motorcycle accident. They are such wonderful kids and I am very proud of them.
When chatting with Pastor Camp, he shared with me that you were with my father when he passed. One of my concerns when I found out that he had passed was that he had passed alone, as I assumed that he had nobody in his life. I remember sitting quietly, saying a prayer for him, hoping he had someone with him as entered his new journey. I’m so thankful that he did and that you were with him. It’s also nice to hear that he is resting next to his sweetheart. I’m sure he’s very happy and at peace.
I would love to hear any other stories that you may have that you would like to share with me. It’s been a real treat to hear such wonderful stories. If you happen to have any photos that you would be able to share or send, I would just LOVE to see them. For giggles, I am attaching a picture of my father so that you can see how he looked back in 1960. I don’t have many photos, but the ones I do have are from my parents’ wedding. I always felt I had his eyes… except that mine are blue. Sorry for the long email. I have always been known as the “communicator” in the family.
I always considered this part of my life a chapter that I never thought would ever be written. But, thanks to three wonderful people who have entered my life, this will be the final chapter in my Memoirs that I am writing for publication one day. My journey is complete!
Looking forward to hearing from you,
I could picture my father walking down the street, selecting where to eat his lunch. It would have been nice to sit across from him in a restaurant, sharing a meal together, perhaps, talking about something as simple as the weather or where he finds this world of ours to be within the next hundred years. I would have enjoyed speaking to him about things such as what his favorite colors were or did he enjoy a favorite food. I would have loved to have spoken to him on topics of life, love and, in particular, God, our spirituality and our beliefs. Did he believe in the afterlife, did he believe in Heaven, did he believe in intuition? I believe in intuition. I believe that my father brought me in contact with my new friends from Georgia, in particular, Trenna. I feel there are too many coincidences not to believe that all of this was meant to happen. With similarities such as Trenna’s Aunt Bea passing away on my grandfather’s birthday, Trenna and my daughter, Arlaraye, sharing the same birthday and not to mention that Trenna works for a medical facility called, Tanner Medical, the same name as my son. I can’t help but to believe that there was a higher power at work, guiding me, escorting me directly into the hands of these angels.
Reading Pastor Rusty’s words that he was with my father to the end, as he left this earth to be with God, warmed my heart. As an earlier concern, when learning that he passed away in hospice, I was praying that he didn’t die alone and that he had someone by his side. I was pleased to know that Pastor Rusty was there, surely making him feel comfortable, praying as my father prepared for his own final journey.
“Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever.” ~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Sadly, my family really made my father to look like someone who wasn’t worth getting to know, as if he was trash and not worth the effort. If I knew years ago what I know today, perhaps, I would have made more of an effort to find him, to get to know him, to ask him to be a part of my life. But, as Garth Brooks once said, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” I do believe that there’s a reason for everything and timing is a part of that. I feel that if it was meant for me to meet my father years ago, then it probably would have happened. Perhaps, my unanswered prayers were meant to be answered after my father had passed away. I have accepted this fate. I’m so very thankful that I had decided to move forward and learn more about my father when I did. Hope is such a powerful feeling. We all need to have hope in our life, leaving no doubt behind or unanswered. My hope of “wanting to know” is what kept my journey alive. I am so happy to learn that he is resting peacefully next to the love of his life and that he was an astonishing man. Saying my prayers, they now include one more person to whom I pray to, my father, asking for happiness, health and safety, asking him to be my guardian angel. In return, I ask God to bless him as well.
God our Father,
Your power brings us to birth,
Your providence guides our lives,
and by Your command we return to dust.
Lord, those who die still live in Your presence,
their lives change but do not end.
I pray in hope for my family,
relatives and friends,
and for all the dead known to You alone.
In company with Christ,
Who died and now lives,
may they rejoice in Your kingdom,
where all our tears are wiped away.
Unite us together again in one family,
to sing Your praise forever and ever.
Just like the three wise men who came from the East, bearing gifts to the baby Jesus, I believe my gifts, the gift of contentment, peace, and knowledge, had been brought to me. All good things come in threes. Every one of my three Southern angels from the East, who I spoke with during my journey, who came into my life regarding my father, couldn’t have been more gracious, accepting, and willing to share what they could with me. I was a complete stranger who they didn’t even know or realized even existed… a stranger who also brought surprises along with her. These angels made my journey of learning who my father was come to fruition. Because of them, I no longer have a void in my life, where I feel that there is something missing, unfinished or the thought of the unknown.
My heart, mind and soul are at peace and, I believe that my travels and the journey that I have been on regarding my father’s existence, has ended, leaving my life at long last… complete.
“Wonder rather than doubt is the root of knowledge.” ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel
The month of May finally arrived and I was enjoying a beautiful warm late afternoon sitting outside. I decided to sit on the bench that overlooked my main yard and between two flower gardens, taking advantage of the remainder of the day’s sun that was soon to set. I always enjoyed sitting there, listening to the bees that travel from one side of me to the other, flying in front of my face, buzzing as they hit every flower in their path and, without doubt, working on a pollen high. Sometimes, people would ask me how I could sit there in the direct path of the bees’ flight pattern and not be nervous about the bees stinging me. My motto is…If they mind their own business and don’t bother me, then I’ll do the same and won’t bother them. Now, I wish I had the same fearlessness when it came to butterflies. As I know butterflies are beautiful and graceful, they make me go running every single time they come near me. I feel with bees, I know where they are heading. If it’s not a straight shot, directly aimed at my forehead, then I know they will be landing on a flower close by. However, as for butterflies, they are so sporadic, twisting, flying around as if they have been on a three-day drunk after attending a lollapalooza concert. They try to fly to the left and then to the right, as if trying to find their way back into the bar. They are very indecisive. I know it sounds like an oddity, something that represents change, transitioning from one point in your life to another, something anew, but I can’t help being completely petrified of butterflies.
“Change always comes bearing gifts.” ~Price Pritchett
Sitting there with my eyes closed, listening to the bees in flight, I felt the sun’s heat on my face and it felt so wonderful. I was enjoying having the warm weather back. I started to think about the letter that I wrote Trenna just a week before. Deep inside, I was wondering, hoping that she would contact me. My eyes concentrated on the sun behind my eyes, as I sat there starting to relax the day away. I suddenly had a premonition that the phone would ring while I was sitting outside. Then, one of the kids would excitedly yell from the window that someone left a message and her name was Trenna. I no sooner let this thought escape my mind when the phone rang. I could hear it from outside, as the windows were open, but I wasn’t able to make out who was calling. Moments later, Frank came to the window to let me know that someone by the name of Trenna called, leaving me a message on voicemail. I couldn’t believe it! Wow! I sat there wondering how did I know that? I went into the house to listen to her message. It was so exciting to hear her voice! Frank kept saying, “Oh my God, she called… she called! Jack, she called you!” Frank was excited, too. I couldn’t get over how quickly she replied to my letter. I thought I wouldn’t hear from her for months, if not at all.
Trenna introduced herself, letting me know that she received my letter. I noticed that she had a southern accent and the demeanor in her voice that was calm and soothing. Trenna said that she would be more than happy to speak to me about my father, answering any questions that I may have, as well as offering me her phone number. It was the nicest most sincere message that anyone could ever leave for someone who they didn’t know, almost as if she was calling me just to see how my day was.
I couldn’t believe that I was so close to actually speaking with someone who knew my father, possibly to give me some answers. It was unbelievable!
After a quick glass(s) of wine to steady my nerves, I called Trenna, but was only able to leave a message, hopefully, in the same pleasant tone as she had left for me. Monday evening rolled around and the phone rang. Frank sees on caller I.D. that it was Trenna Robinson. Frank answered, introducing himself, chatting with her first. Frank has a way with people. He can talk with anyone, at anytime, anywhere, about anything. I’ve seen Frank walk up to complete strangers in a grocery store, spark up a conversation and 15 minutes later, they were talking as if they had been friends for life.
I wait my turn to speak with Trenna with extreme anticipation. I have my paper with the questions I wanted to ask. I finally hear Frank’s conversation winding down. It was my turn! I finally get on the phone with Trenna and it felt as if we had known each other for years. She was so easy to speak with. The first 10 minutes of our conversation was talking about tacos and how we each liked to serve them, surely breaking the ice. She was so cute with her Southern accent and she immediately made me feel comfortable. After some small talk, we each shared what we knew about my father.
I shared with Trenna how I learned of my father’s death. I told her that I never knew or met him before and that he had left my mother moving back home to Georgia before I was born. I also told her that I grew up thinking that my father was mentally challenged and not being able to take care of himself, always leading me to believe that he needed assistance from others in life. I was told that he was a loser and no good. These were the ideas that were drummed into my head as far back as I could remember.
I can tell that Trenna was shocked by my words because the description that I shared did not portray the man that she had known for many years. Trenna couldn’t believe that was my interpretation of the man who was known as my real father. Trenna told me that Charles was a man of few words, very quiet and reserved. He was kind-hearted and didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was down to earth and just truly a wonderful person. Hearing Trenna’s words left me in my own daze of amazement, as these weren’t the words I was use to hearing all my life. Nor did I think these were the words that I was going to hear from Trenna. I actually thought that I was going to be told that she didn’t really know him and that she couldn’t offer me any information whatsoever. However, on the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised when Trenna described Charles with such respect and admiration that my heart was aching with happiness. The way she portrayed him filled me with such contentment that I started to shed several silent tears, wiping them away as I continued listening to her kind words.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
I learned that my father was in a relationship with Trenna’s Aunt Bea. This is how Trenna knew my father. Aunt Bea had lived in the same assisted living apartment building that my father did, where they both met, becoming quite close. They were each other’s personal companions for many years, loving each other very deeply and were sweethearts to the end. Sadly, Aunt Bea had passed away on October 5, 2006, (ironically on my grandfather’s birthday), leaving my father with a broken heart. Trenna said ever since her aunt had passed, my father simply existed. He wasn’t the same person he was when he was with his love and his heart was simply broken in two. He lost his one and only true sweetheart. They loved each other very deeply Trenna said. I can sense the love and compassion that my father had for Aunt Bea just by the way Trenna was expressing herself.
“God is closest to those with broken hearts.” ~Jewish Saying
Not only was my father a man of the heart, but he was also a man of God. I was told that he was a devoted Christian man, spiritual, attending church and was always reading his bible.
With every word that Trenna spoke, I felt my heart open up with acceptance more and more. I was so pleased to hear what she was telling me about him. I tried taking as many notes as I could without sounding like a news reporter.
I asked if he worked. He worked and retired from National Engine and Tire Company. He also worked for a bread company in Atlanta years earlier. Without sounding offensive, I asked Trenna if he needed much assistance in life. I always used the words “mentally challenged,” as this is what my immediate family basically told me he was. But, I didn’t want to say these words to Trenna in fear of insulting her. So, I just asked her if he needed any assistance. This is when she said to me… “Do you mean if he was mentally challenged?” I said, “Well, yes, because this is the interpretation that my family always gave me.” I could tell that she was rather taken back by my question and then proceeded to tell me ABSOLUTELY NOT! She went onto say that she can’t believe that anybody would say something like that about him. I told her that I was very happy to hear that he had lived a productive life.
Trenna went on to tell me that my father really loved the Lord, so much in fact that he was the Deacon at his church where he attended, the Woodland Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. I just couldn’t believe that the man my mother portrayed, a man she claimed as basic stupidity, was a Deacon, a person who is ranking just underneath a Catholic priest or pastor. My father became a Deacon the same month and year that I became a Catholic, being baptized and confirmed, which was in February 2000. It was apparent that my heart was overwhelmed, as this is the true man who he was, the true man who he had become, the man that I absolutely missed out on having in my life.
I then asked if he had any hobbies or if he was artistic at all. I was curious to know if this is where, perhaps, I got my artistic talent. But, she said he just really loved reading his bible. This was his hobby; reading about our Lord.
When my father realized that his own health was deteriorating, he asked Trenna if she would be kind enough to handle all the funeral arrangements for when he passed. She kindly accepted his request and this is how she became the “friend” on his death certificate. Trenna told me that she knew my father for about fifteen years before he passed, elaborating to me on how much of a kind and nice man he actually was and that she was very happy to have known him.
Not knowing how or if my letter made an impact, I asked Trenna if my letter came as a surprise to her. Her response was, “OH YES!” Because she never knew anything about this part of my father’s life, nor did he share it. However, she told me that she was so excited to receive my letter that, in fact, she immediately called the old Pastor of the church and shared my letter with him. His name is Pastor Larry Camp. Trenna and I shared what we did for a living and I told her that I worked for a neurosurgical group and she told me that she was also in the medical field and worked in a lab. I found it very ironic that the name of her employer was “Tanner” Medical Center in Covington, Georgia! Talk about a coincidence, as my son’s name is Tanner. I noticed that we had a lot of similarities while talking that were almost uncanny, almost as if they were all meant to be. Trenna told me that there are many reasons why life is the way it is and why we are expected to do certain things at certain times and that everything is for a reason in life. I told her that I couldn’t have agreed with her more.
Asking Trenna if she had any pictures of my father, she said she had one that was taken with her Aunt Bea. She was going to, and did, send them to me. She described him as short and having the biggest brown eyes. I must have really touched her heart, because she then went onto tell me that she wishes she had something of my father’s that she could give me, which I thought was so touching. But, I said that talking with her and listening to what type of man he turned out to be was gift enough. I shared a few experiences with Trenna about my life, letting her know that I wasn’t brought up with any religion in my life whatsoever, but decided that in the year 2000 that I wanted to be baptized, confirmed, to have God in my life. I think this pleased her to know that I went through this; something I have in common with my father. She told me that he did leave his beneficiary to a blood niece, but she couldn’t remember her name. Trenna had buried him in his brown suit and silver wristwatch. Trenna gave me the hours that she worked and told me that I could call her any time if I have any questions whatsoever. We really made a wonderful connection. It was almost as if we were meant to speak with one another.
After ending my conversation with Trenna, it was then that I felt as if my heart and soul had been cleansed. The emptiness that I had inside had escaped, it has moved on, leaving me to see my father in a whole new light. Although my father may no longer be walking upon this earth, I knew he left a lasting impression on those whom he had a connection with and, although I never met the man, I felt as if I had known him all my life.
“Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” ~Garth Brooks
It was soon that I received an envelope in the mail from Trenna. I remember I was at work when it came. My family couldn’t wait for me to come home so it could be opened. It was almost as if it was Christmas morning and I was about to unwrap the gift that I was wishing for the most. As I slid the contents out of the envelope, there in front of me was an 8×10 picture of my father with his love, Aunt Bea, staring at each other with smiles on their faces as if they just shared something amusing between themselves. I immediately noticed that I had his nose and his smile. Trenna also sent me a couple smaller pictures of him when he was older. But, it was the bigger picture that I liked the most and I immediately fell in love with it. A good friend shared that he looked like the actor, Robert Duvall. I could surely see the resemblance. I also received his Mass card and announcement from his funeral, which I have proudly displayed with my other family members. I received a copy of his death certificate and his last social security check, which was never cashed. Accompanying all these treasured items was a beautiful card from Trenna, expressing how much her Aunt Bea loved Charles so very much and that he loved her, too, enjoying one another’s company, and attending every church function together. Trenna felt that Charles was a wonderful man and that she was sorry that I had missed out on such an experience of getting to know him. Once again, Trenna extended the offer of me calling her day or night, leaving me the impression that I had made the absolute right decision in contacting her. I not only gained information about my father, but I truly felt that I also gained a dear friend.
I was on such a natural high after talking with Trenna that I could hardly go to sleep that night. My mind replayed every word, every comment, and every remark that was said. I was so much anticipating that I would get the worse news ever if not even hearing from her at all. All my life, I heard negativity on this subject and would get nowhere when I questioned. I just assumed it was going to continue. I was simply elated! I am at such peace now knowing that my father was a pleasant and compassionate man. I don’t know what his reasoning was for not trying to contact me. Perhaps, he felt that he didn’t have the permission or authority to do so after all these years, recognizing that he had lost the right to have me in his life. Nevertheless, whatever his feelings and thoughts were, I have learned to accept them.
When Trenna made her phone call and chatted with the previous Pastor of my father’s church, Pastor Camp, he went onto to give her his cell phone number and address, asking her please to pass it along to me and that he would be more than happy to talk with me about my father at any time.
Days had passed. Taking Trenna’s proposal, I decided to call Pastor Camp that coming weekend. I was finally able to connect with him one Saturday afternoon via a phone call.
As I begin to dial the Pastor’s cell phone number, I realized how ironic this call was. I went my whole life without knowing who my father was and here I am now about to chat with the second person within a week who was actively in my father’s life. I was nervous but, once the conversation got going, I felt the calmness in the Pastor’s voice, which made me feel comfortable. There’s something that needs to be said about southerners … they are truly humble and gracious people. I could feel the immediate fondness that Pastor Camp had for my father. He, too, could not express enough how kind-hearted, loving and respectable my father was. I noticed that the word kind-hearted was used a lot to describe my father. Pastor Camp was telling me that Charles would always come up to him, asking if there was anything he could do for him or the church, always following up by saying, “Now, Pastor, if you don’t tell me what you need done, I won’t be able to do it for you.” What a wonderful thing to do for the Pastor and his church. As I did with Trenna, I shared with Pastor Camp about how my family members would always tell me that my father was “challenged” and always needed assistance in life. Chuckling to himself, Pastor commented by saying, “If Charles was mentally challenged and needed assistance; he would then have to get himself checked out!” I was told that the church was putting together a memorial and my father was to be a part of it. Pastor even invited me and my family down to Georgia, where he said that he would be happy to escort me to the cemetery where my father was laid to rest. It appears that the church had purchased several burial plots years ago. The church gave one plot to Aunt Bea and this is where she is buried. Another, I found out, went to my father. Their wishes were to be buried next to each other so that they can rest in peace eternally, to be with each other always, forever.
Not sure if I should have, but I went ahead and shared with Pastor that my parents were legally married and that I wasn’t an “oopsy” in life. I was actually planned and that they were married almost two years prior to me being born. It was at this point that I could tell what I just said to the Pastor came to be a big surprise. He then made a comment that that must have been the reason why my father never married his sweetheart, his love, Aunt Bea. It was because my father knew deep down inside that he was already married and if he married another woman, it would be a sin. It was almost as if the Pastor had an “Aha” moment. I had learned from Trenna when we spoke that the Pastor did know about me. My father had once confessed to the Pastor that he was a father and that he had a daughter. Whether this conversation went any further, I’ll never know, something that I would like to learn one day, what words were exactly exchanged. By the manner in which Pastor Camp spoke of my father, he was an absolute beautiful human being and that he was honored to have had him in his life and to share worship with.
I found the Pastor to be a very funny man and easy to chat with. He had a wonderful sense of humor, even offering his wife to cook us all up some biscuits and gravy, providing we ever came to visit. I thanked Pastor Camp for the enlightenment about my father, his friend, and this ended our conversation.
I now know two individuals who couldn’t speak highly enough about my father, leading me to believe that my family said such horrible things to ruin my perception of him, to destroy any hope that I may ever have of wanting to know him, to keep me as far away from him as possible. Perhaps, it was my own family, my mother, who was “disabled,” being unable to let go, hindering her heart so much that she wouldn’t allow others, me, to see the good side of my father.
When looking up my father’s obituary, I noted that a Pastor Couch had officiated over my father’s funeral. Doing my research, I knew this was the new pastor of the church where my father had attended. Working up my courage once again, I decided to write Pastor Couch, in hopes that he would be able to share information with me about my father as well. As I write my email to Pastor Couch, I couldn’t help but to reflect on how fortunate that I have been to learn so much and positive things, too, about the man who I was proud to call my father.
May 26, 2011
Dear Pastor Couch,
My name is Jackie Morin (Lambert), daughter of the late Charles Ray Lambert. It was within the last few weeks that I had learned about my father’s passing in October, 2010. According to the obituary that I found online, you had officiated over his funeral. I hope you don’t mind that I email you and briefly explain why I am writing to you today.
Recently, I had the extreme pleasure and opportunity to speak with Ms. Trenna Robinson with whom my father knew. Trenna and I shared the most delightful conversation about my father. Not knowing much about him and his life, I was very happy to learn that he was a very kind-hearted and pleasant man. Trenna also shared with me that you knew my father, as well as Pastor Larry Camp, and that my father was a member of the Woodland Hills Baptist Church.
I always wanted to know more about the man who gave me life for over forty years now. I was always given a particular impression of my father by family members and it has warmed my heart to know that they were wrong. What I have learned so far has healed my heart immensely.
I am not sure if you knew my father very well on a personal level or if he was more of an acquaintance, but if there is anything that you would be able to share with me, in hopes to get to know my father better and the man he was, it would be graciously appreciated.
I have attached a copy of the letter that I sent to Trenna so that you may better understand my journey.
I hope this email finds you well and I look forward to hearing from you at your convenience.
As does a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly, I, too, experienced a metamorphosis, a transformation that has changed my life forever, an awakening, learning that my father was a very special man.
I watched my email everyday in hopes to receive a response from Pastor Couch. Several days later, I did. It was during a time when I was so sick with a gallbladder attack. However, reading the Pastor’s compassionate email was exactly the medicine that I needed to make me feel better…
… My Father
“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever. . . it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” ~ Aaron Sussman
Do I look like him? Do I act like him? Is he a nice man? Does he have a sense of humor? Is he artistic? Is he a smart man? Is he short? Is he tall? Does he love me?
Typical questions for someone who never knew their father, never met him, someone who had never even seen their father, someone who wanted to learn more about the man who gave me life.
When growing up, and even into my young adulthood, I was always led to believe my family members that my “real” father, Charles Ray Lambert, wasn’t, let’s say… the brightest bulb in the box, telling me that he pretty much was slow-minded and having disability issues. I was told that he had an eighth grade education, if that, and he always needed assistance in life. This was the description that I was always given when asking about my father.
My mother and father met one day while heading to their individual places of employment while taking the public bus into Madison, with my mom going to her aunt’s house to baby-sit and Charles, my father, going to the drycleaners, where he worked in the back of the plant. Daily small talk turned into dating and, over time, eventually love, commitment and marriage. My parents were married on April 9, 1960, at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Madison, Wisconsin, two years before I was born. Mom was 21 years old when they wed and my father was 24, just a few days shy of turning 25. On their wedding day, the bride’s side of the church was complete with family members, waiting to help celebrate their union. As for the groom’s side of the church, the guests were scarce in appearance. It was apparent that certain relatives on my father’s side of the family didn’t approve of this marriage, completely making a statement by not attending the wedding.
My parents were married for over a year and a half when they decided to become pregnant. Mom told me that my father really wanted to have a child and that’s all he talked about, wanting to be a father, and he was extremely happy to learn when my mom shared she was going to have a baby.
It wasn’t long after celebrating their second wedding anniversary, while mom was approximately 6 months pregnant with me, that she started finding my father at the local Greyhound bus station, suitcase in hand, waiting for the bus to take him to Georgia, back home to his mother. Mom said she would drag him back home every time, only to find him at the bus station once again, weeks later. Finally, after numerous times of him trying to “run away,” she said she finally gave him her approval and told him to just leave; go back home to his mother, back to Georgia and never come back. At a time when my parents should have been celebrating the arrival of their daughter’s birth, they were separating their lives from one another. Mom was six months pregnant with me, her first child, and this was the last time that she will ever speak to her husband, the last time that she will ever see her husband, as he had a one-way bus ticket to Atlanta.
When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why my father would have abandoned his wife and the baby that I was told he truly wanted to have. Mom told that me that my father really wanted to have a child and that he was very happy to learn that mom was going to have a baby. Perhaps, with the reality of becoming a parent, a father, along with all the responsibilities that come with a child, not to mention the financial and emotional responsibility of a child; a wife, a family, that it was just too much for him to deal with. According to mom, my father didn’t have the stability of being a father. She would always tell me that he was a mousy kind of man, always quite and timid, always reminding me that he was stupid, barely having an eighth grade education. Mom said that he went from living with his older sister to directly living with her when they were married, commenting, once again, that he always had to live with someone, never on his own. Mom would always tell me that he didn’t seem to have too many brains. Not only was my mother always reminding me of this, but other family members did as well. My grandmother would say that he seemed dumb and always just sat there, never contributing to the conversation very much. Granny felt that he was never able to look directly at you when speaking with you, as if not paying attention and always gazing off into the distance. Viewing pictures of my father, I don’t think it was very apparent to granny that it wasn’t my father’s mind that was drifting off into space, but rather his eye. My father actually had a lazy eye, with a vision disorder, causing him always to appear as if he was looking past you, something that I found I had slightly inherited.
I always said that I met my father only once in my life… and that was at the time of conception. I knew of him, he knew of me. He knew when I was born, that I was a girl and he knew my mother named me Jacquline Rae. Mom sent my father’s sister a picture of me when I was two months old. Not sure if my father actually saw it. In return, I was told that she sent me a pretty nighty, pink in color. Other than this, my father knew nothing about me and, unfortunately, never knew me at all while growing up, what I had to endure in my life, the hardships, or most importantly, what I conquered, what I had become. I always wondered if he thought of me on those special holidays or on my birthday, acknowledging that I was one year older and another year without him in my life.
Asking mom what my father did for a living, she told me that his job was a “spotter” at the drycleaners. Not knowing what a spotter was, I asked mom what that meant. She told me that he would stand there and when he saw a piece of clothing come down the line with a stain on it, he would point and yell out, “There’s a spot… there’s a spot!” Mom said that because of his lack of education and his mental status, this was the only position that he was capable of doing, basically, leaving me to think that my father, to a certain degree, had disability challenges in life. I was always left with the impression that my real father was a very uneducated man, with no emotional or social skills whatsoever. This is what I was taught to believe while growing up.
As I got older though, I became more and more curious about the man who was labeled as my real father. I would probe my mother for more information about my father, asking as many questions as I possibly could. But, mom was always reserved, never opening up as much as I wanted her to, unless it was to tell me how much of an asshole he was. It was obvious that there was major animosity and the love that they once shared was no more.
I never even knew what my father looked like until I was around the age of thirteen years old. I was staying with my grandparents on the farm one summer when granny was going through a box of pictures. Slowly thumbing her way through, granny slides out a picture and hands me a black and white photograph, telling me that this was a picture of my “real” father. I felt as if I was suddenly given something that was top secret, where nobody should know what I had in my possession. There was an euphoria rising inside of me, as if I was told the biggest secret in the world! I didn’t even know that granny had pictures of my father. Finally, I was now allowed to see the mystery man, the man that I had wondered about for so many years, the man who helped give me life. Asking mom if I ever looked like my father, I was always told that I had his forehead, which was very high. Little did I learn years later, that they actually meant he had a receding hairline.
Taking the picture in both hands, I bring it close to my face, where his identity would soon be revealed. Looking closer, I study the face that was set before me. It was a picture of him along with my mother sitting at a picnic table in a park. The picture saw its days of being handled many times, with corners bent and a hint of creasing. Granny told me that I could keep the picture, but don’t tell my mother that she had given it to me. Just as I suspected, it was top secret, as I was probably never meant to see it.
“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”
~ Diane Arbus
Years have gone by and it was now 1997. Having children of my own, the obsession of knowing about my father became stronger. In my heart, I couldn’t understand why he left my mother, left me, especially, if he knew he was going to become a father. I wanted to know his side of the story, why did he leave. At the time, I decided not to tell my mother what I was doing, that I was looking to find my father. Throughout my young years, she had never once said anything positive about the man and I didn’t want any of her negative feedback, which I know she would have contributed. Therefore, I shared nothing with her whatsoever.
I had just entered the World Wide Web! Buying a computer for home and obtaining internet service, I was astonished by what the internet had to offer. Everything I ever wanted to know I felt could be found within the gray square box that sat upon my desk, known as the internet highway. It was at this point that I decided to do further research about my father, his existence, and where he could possibly be living. Knowing he came from Atlanta, Georgia, this is where I began my search. I found an address online in Atlanta, showing the name Charles R. Lambert, as well as finding other pertinent information confirming that this just may be the person I’ve been looking for. I had decided to write my first letter to my father…
December 11, 1997
Mr. Charles Ray Lambert
756 Brownwood Avenue, S.E.
Atlanta, Georgia 30316
I am looking for a Charles Ray Lambert that was married to my mother, Elvera Lambert on April 9, 1960, had a daughter by the name of Jackie Rae, born on September 28, 1962 in Madison, Wisconsin…
I shared in my letter that I wasn’t suddenly looking to have a father figure in my life, just curious to learn about him. I briefly explained my upbringing and that life was very challenging. I also shared with him about my personality and what kind of person who I felt I become. Sealing the letter in the envelope, I held onto it for several days, contemplating to mail it. One day, while at work, I was discussing my situation with a friend. It was on their advice that I made the decision to mail my letter. Taking it out of my purse, I toss it into the mail bin and off it went. Sending that letter was all I thought about. Almost a week later, my thoughts were… “My letter should have been delivered by now. Did he read it? Is he thinking about writing back? Was he shocked to hear from me?”
Months had passed and, unfortunately, I never heard a response to my letter. Several things went through my mind… Did he receive my letter? Perhaps, I had the wrong address, but my letter was never returned to me, so someone must have received it. If he did receive it, was he even capable of reading it himself? Well, according to my mother, he wasn’t.
Since my first letter, over six months had passed and I still had the interest in perusing my father’s search. I wasn’t going to give up. While doing another search online, trying to find out any information about him, I found where an agency, for a fee, would do all the searching. Being new to the internet world, I decided to let them do all the work for me. But, I needed to have new information, something to go on, a new lead. This time, I decided to tell my mom what I was doing, hoping that she would be able to share something, anything with me that may help me with my search.
After 36 years of wondering and trying to learn more about my father, mom had sent me several forms of personal identification that she had kept all those years, unknown to me, that belonged to my father. I couldn’t believe that she was holding such vital information. Mom sent me everything she had. There, in my hands, I held their original certificate of marriage, which technically, was still valid. They were still legally married after all those years, as they never officially obtained a divorce from one another. Holding it in my hands, I thought it was quite ironic. I also had his original draft card, showing that he registered for the draft on March 28, 1952. However, the most important piece of information of all that mom sent me, was my father’s original social security card. Why she had his original social security card, I’ll never know. Leaving before I was born, he surely would have taken such an important piece of information with him. Not questioning, I felt as if it could be a huge piece of the puzzle of finally learning where he was at, where he was living, and, if possible, who he was living with, if anyone at all.
I submitted the online agency that I hired my father’s social security number, surely to make a hit with some concrete information in return. I was filled with anticipation, waiting for a response to come knocking at my email door. Days had passed and I finally received an email, sharing the results of their search. Regrettably, it was not the information that I was hoping to receive. I was told that the social security number that I submitted was not a valid social security number and there was no information whatsoever in connection with this card. I was told that the social security number that I had provided appeared to either not had been issued or a SSN which had been issued to someone who has long been deceased or if the card wasn’t used in 7 – 10 years, the person could possibly be incarcerated. I was devastated. A SSN is like your own personal identity. One just can’t go out and change it or get a new one because they didn’t like the numbers that were presented on the card. Now, I was wondering if my father could be dead or even in jail. Was he a troublemaker? Did he, too, find himself down the wrong path in life? If so, what was he in jail for? My mind was spinning, as well as questioning if I was making the right decision in trying to locate him.
Sharing this information with my mother, she reminded me that Charles always needed to have assistance, someone to help him on a daily basis, with everyday situations, as this is why he was always living with someone because he wasn’t capable of living on his own. Mom shared that he had once lived with his mother and, after she passed, he went to live with one of his sister and, as far as she knew, this is where he had lived ever since he made the decision to leave my mother.
At the time of my search, I was 36 years old and I was starting to question if my father was, indeed, dysfunctional, incapable of making decisions on his own. Was I more intellectual than my father, was he really mentally challenged? I was taught to believe that my father was all of this and more, basically worthless. If my father needed such dependency on others, then why did my mother marry him in the first place? I thought, perhaps, was my mom using him as a tool, to get out from underneath her parents’ home? That didn’t make any sense though, as they lived with my grandparents after they were married, never to share a home of their own.
After much soul searching, I decided to continue my search on my own, researching online myself. Continuing further with my search, I learned that there was another name connected with the address that I had originally listed for my father. This name was also listed within the report that I originally obtained. The name was Dorothy Strange. I thought, perhaps, was she a caregiver, assisting my father? Regardless, I felt I had another opportunity at trying to reach him. This was the moment that I had decided to write my father a second letter. This time, adding Dorothy’s name, addressing the letter directly to her, in hopes that, if received, she would be able to help share the letter with my father. I carefully wrote my 7-page letter, along with sending a picture of myself and my two children, his grandchildren, hoping to create a spark of emotion. Rereading my letter more than once, I made sure that I wasn’t blaming him for anything or made it sound like I was looking for something from him suddenly after all these years. I introduced myself to him, to Dorothy, telling them briefly about my life, basically, the same letter that I had type just months before. With a nervous hand, I placed my letter into the corner mailbox, hoping that, once again, I was doing the right thing.
July 1, 1998
Dorothy L. Strange
Charles Ray Lambert
756 Brownwood Avenue, S.E.
Atlanta, Georgia 30316
My name is Jackie Rae. My mom’s name is Elvera Lee Lambert. I have a father named, Charles Ray Lambert. After some thorough investigation, I have a very strong belief that the Charles Ray Lambert that lives at this address could be my father. I’m hoping that you can help me. I’m writing to you today, to express my sincere and heartfelt concern and interest in knowing what type of person my father is and what he has become. I would like to be very honest with you from the beginning and tell you that I do not want anything from you nor my father’s life, but possibly a reply. I feel as I’m getting older myself, and have a loving family of my own, my desire to know about the person that helped create me, and to know exactly who my father is, has become stronger and stronger as the years of my life pass on…
Months had passed and, as before, I never heard a response from my letter. Rather disappointed, I went on with my life, but always having the thought of my father not far behind. I accepted the outcome that, perhaps, he didn’t want anything to do with me,
It was during a conversation with mom that she shared with me that my father’s side of the family never cared for my mother. But, she never elaborated why. Also, the Lambert side of the family did not approve of their wedding and this is why the groom’s side of the church was almost empty. Hardly any family members on my father’s side came to rejoice in their wedding day. It had me thinking… wondering if Dorothy or he ever received my letter. Did she read it and throw it away? Did she even receive it at all?
It was several years later that I found myself, once more, thinking about my father and the search for him was still very strong in my heart. I still had the passion of wanting to know more about him, to learn, that feeling had never left me. Deciding to perform another search on my father and his family, this is when I came across an obituary that seemed related to my search. I slowly started reading the obituary and the name of the deceased was Dorothy Strange, passing away on May 3, 2003. This appeared to be the same Dorothy that I had written my last letter to just years before. Sitting back in my chair, I started thinking about where I had seen this name before, other than online. Sounding familiar, I felt as if there was more of a connection with the name than I originally thought. Leaving the computer, I ran upstairs to my bedroom and pulled out my box of saved memories; a box that consisted of special birthday cards that my grandparents sent me, letters and poems my grandfather wrote, as well as items from when I was a baby. In particular, I was looking for my baby book that my mother made me when I was born, documenting all my “firsts.” Finding it at the bottom of the box, I pull it out from underneath all the other keepsakes. As I sat there, sifting through my own baby book, with all the special moments of my first tooth, my first steps and my first birthday, with anticipation, I slowly look through the book, flipping one page at a time, wondering if my hunches were correct. As fate would have it, there in black and white and, in my mother’s own hand, was the name, Dorothy Strange. I now had my connection. The woman that I had written to years earlier and the women in the obit was actually my aunt, my family. With this newly obtained information, I, once again, had decided to write my father a third letter. After hearing what mom had told me about my father’s side of the family not approving of their marriage, it was my impression that Dorothy actually intercepted both of my letters years earlier and never shared either one with my father.
I felt because Dorothy was no longer around to intercept any correspondence that I would write my father again and may actually have a chance of him receiving it. I felt that this was a new opportunity to make a connection with the man that I had been trying to locate for so many years. During further research, since my aunt’s death, I discovered that my father had moved to an assisted living apartment building in Atlanta, Georgia. This time, addressing my letter to my father, sending it to a new address that I found on the internet, I again sent a letter in hopes that my voice would not only be heard, but answered.
March 15, 2004
Mr. Charles Ray Lambert
1200 Glenwood Avenue SE
Dear Mr. Lambert,
I have tried several times to send this letter to you. I’m not sure if I’m reaching the correct individual or not, but I thought I’d send my letter out one last and final time, hoping to reach my real father. My name is Jackie Rae. My mother’s name is Elvera Lee Lambert. I have a father named, Charles Ray Lambert. After some thorough investigation, I have a very strong belief that the Charles Ray Lambert that lives at this address could be my father. I’m hoping that you can help me. I’m writing to you today to express my sincere and heartfelt concerns and interest in knowing what type of person my father is and what he has become. I would like to be very honest with you from the beginning and tell you that I don’t want anything from you, but possibly a response. I feel as I’m getting older myself, and have a loving family of my own, my desire to know about the person that helped create me, to know exactly who my father is, has become stronger and stronger as the years of my life pass on.
If you need to have confirmation, let me tell you something about myself. My birth name is Jackie (Jacquline) Rae. I was born on September 28, 1962 in Madison, Wisconsin. My mom’s name is Elvera Lee Lambert and her and my father, Charles Ray Lambert, was married on April 9, 1960. My father’s birthday is January 13, 1964 and he originated in Atlanta, Georgia. My father had a sister, Dorothy Strange, whom also originated in Georgia. I hope this is enough information to suffice and confirm to you that I am the person who I say I am.
I’m hoping that you don’t disregard my letter. I hope you will take my request into consideration. I’ve been told some information that is very sensitive and I’d like to share it with you. I was told that my father wanted to go back to live in George after my parents were married, but my mom did not want to go. Therefore, my father and mother parted and left the life they had with one another, with my father going back home to George and my mom stayed in Wisconsin. My mom was approximately six months pregnant with me at the time my mother and father decided to go their separate ways. I’ve never met my father, never knew who he was, or what type of person or man he has become or what he has done with his life. I think I was bound to write this letter sometime in my life. Again, I want you to know that there isn’t anything materialistic that I want nor need from you, but maybe to receive words of solace. I just feel that at this point and time in my life, I’m being curious and just have the need to know. I’ve always had this interest to know about my father. I wish I had answers as to why that after all these years, I’m deciding to write now. But, maybe it’s just normal for a person to want and to know who and where they came from. I always wondered throughout my life how my life would have been different “if” my real father was a part of my life.
If I may share with you… I didn’t have it so easy growing up. If I had the chance, I would have changed a few things that happened to me in my life. I wouldn’t wish what happened to me as I was growing up to any child, but still they did. However, in some strange way of believing, I feel my childhood molded me into the person that I am today, strong-willed, appreciative, caring and, for this, I’m thankful.
I feel that one of the reasons why I’m writing today is because I have two beautiful and loving children of my own, a boy and a girl and, I know the special and individual bond that I have with them both. My children don’t and never did have a grandfather and it tears my heart apart knowing that they will never have the experience of a single grandpa to have hold them, hug them or whisper sweet, “I love you’s “ in their ears. I was honored and privileges to know the most precious, gracious and loving grandfather that anyone could ever have in their life and, unfortunately, he had passed away long before he ever got to know my children, his great-grandchildren. It hurts me to know that my children will never experience the love of a grandfather. I just realizing all of this has me thinking that I have a father out in the world somewhere, and I always wondered what you were like… what you were thinking about on special days, such as my birthday or on Father’s day.
Please don’t think that I want an instant “father figure” in my life. The person who tried to fill this position when I was growing up wasn’t exactly very good at this job. Actually, he was lousy and, as a matter of fact, he ruined my perception of what a father should be like. When I was younger, I would have the desire to look my father up, especially at the hard times in my life. I always wondered if you were interested in finding me. I guess it would have been a nice childhood fantasy to know that the long lost father was trying to find his long lost daughter, too, especially when the daughter was going through an unhappy childhood. I would dream about being rescued by you from the pain and abuse. However, as I said, I am who I am today because of what I had to go through in my life while growing up. It made me a very positive, determined person who is enthusiastic and full of life. I know that I am a good person and feel that I can accomplish anything I set my heart and mind to. Growing up the way I did, I believe that I had been prepared to handle anything in my life, any difficulties that came my way and I don’t feel there’s anything I can’t accomplish or handle.
I don’t mind if my father remarried or not, nor do I mind if he has any other children in his life. I’m interested in what my father has become, who is he is, and what he’s done with his life. I always wondered what I would have been like to have a “normal” life, a life without the abuse, a home, a father who loved me in a normal way. Besides, who is to say that if my father was around in my life that things would have been considered normal or different? Nobody can say that for sure. However, as optimistic as I am, I feel if my life was different for me for a reason. I would not have met my husband or have the two most precious children in my life. Therefore, I thank God for the gift of my family and the love that we share between one another. My children and my husband are all worth what I had to endure in order to have them in my life, as well as the sequence my life had to take in order for them to be with me today. I don’t know what your feelings are on all of this is. I hope that this is not too much of a surprise for you. Again, I can’t stress enough that I just want to get to know my father and, possibly, maybe receive an answer back from him. It would be nice to hear a response and I truly hope that you consider answering me back. I don’t mean to interrupt the life you have now or with whom you might have it with. I’m sorry if I upset anyone in anyway. This is not my intention. I’m just being honest. I hope everyone can be very understanding and can eventually understand my interest and concerns.
I have pictures of my father and from what I can tell; I have his eyes, big and round. My eyes are blue. My mother told me that my father’s eyes are brown. I always receive compliments on my eyes. I like to think that I have a good sense of humor. I feel I’m a very sensitive person and understanding when it comes to a person’s needs. I believe that good ultimately prevails over evil and I consider myself very optimistic, “where there’s a will there’s a way” type of person. I like to see and hear both sides of a situation before I judge someone and I consider myself a good listener. I feel all individuals are created equal, regardless of their ace, religion or education. I’ve come to the conclusion that life is too short and love is love, no matter what or who it comes from. I’ve seen too much hatred and unpleasant things in my life to pass judgment. It doesn’t bother me if someone is dating outside their own relation or race or even if someone is having relations with the same sex. I’ve learned to accept people for who and what they are and this is my believe. There is too much animosity in this world to not accept people and love them for themselves. Simply, love is love regardless of what fashion it comes in. If there were more love in this world between people, it would probably be a better place to live.
In case you may be interested, my mother is okay. I think health wise, she could be doing a little bit better. She lives by herself. I believe because of my life a s a child and young adult, being this way it was, my mom and I didn’t and still don’t to this day, have a close “mother and daughter “ relationship, not like a mother and daughter should be. That’s why when I had my daughter, I swore that our relationship would be different, better, that there would be closeness, sharing, confiding, being friends. Both my children are extremely sacred to me.
I know there are times in a person’s life when one needs to make certain decisions, which they feel are the right decisions for them at that time. I don’t know the whole story of why you and my mother went their separate ways, but I have learned that there are always two sides to every story. As my life gets older, I come to understand that life’s too short to be trivial because, before you know it, time is creeping up on you and it’s soon over with, making everything too late.
This is the point behind my letter. I hope you understand as to why I’m writing to you. I welcome your thoughts and I really hope to hear from you. Thank you for listening to my feelings and concerns. I appreciate it.
One side of me was hoping to hear from Charles, the other side was scared, anxious, knowing that I may be opening up something that I might be regretting but I knew in my heart that it was a chance I had to take. Otherwise, I will live regretting for the rest of my life that I never followed through. I rather have taken a chance than always wonder “what if?”
“Do not plant your dreams in the field of indecision, where nothing ever grows but the weeds of “what ifs.” ~ Dodinsky
Sadly, weeks, months and even years had passed, never hearing a response from my father nor was my letter ever returned. I had assumed that he received his own mail in this assisted living home, with nobody intercepting it, perhaps, like his sister may have done years before. I did have his phone number and I could have easily called him. However, the reserved side of me just couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the courage and it was the fear of the unknown or possibly even instant rejection, an immediate hang up if he knew who I was, that deterred me. My thoughts were that, perhaps, if I wrote to him, a letter that he would have a chance to review over and over, at his own discretion, at his own measure. It would give him a chance to ponder his thoughts. I was in such fear that I would be disrupting his life or that I’d offend him if trying to reach him directly. I didn’t want my directness to be an immediate response for rejection. To be completely honest, I was scared as shit! Therefore, the approach that I felt most comfortable with is that I’d rather sit back, take the extended steps around a situation and wait for a response. Perhaps, it prolonged the fact that things may not turn out as positive as I’d hoped or, even worse, the fear of another unanswered letter.
After not hearing from him after my third attempt, I had decided to put away all my research information that I have collected throughout the years, filing it away, telling myself that it just wasn’t meant to be. I felt my journey had finally come to an end.
Over the years, I had managed to collect a few more photographs of my mother and father. Some of them from their wedding day and others from what seemed to be personal moments that were captured on film. These photographs show a man and women who were once deeply in love. They show their passion toward one another, their playfulness, even though others were watching, photographing, documenting. Having these photographs was the closest I’d ever come to being with my father. Perhaps, these picture were meant for me to view one day, to show me that in spite of everything that has happened since my father left us that, I too, was created expressing the same love and passion.
“Photography is the art of frozen time… the ability to store emotion and feelings within a frame.” ~ Meshack Otieno
With the loss of my grandmother, I found myself longing for some sort of family bond and connection of my own. Granny was my last and only parent figure that I had left in my life and now she was gone, too. I lost my grandfather, my mother and now my grandmother. I had no immediate family members to connect with. My brother, Jeff, was out of my life after my mother’s passing. My brother, Steve, was out of my life, too, as it seemed hard for him to keep the communication and relationship between us going. I always felt that I reminded him too much of our past, therefore, just making it easier to forget. I was starting to feel alone in my life and, with granny’s passing, it made my feelings all that much more validated.
Even though I wasn’t actively perusing my father’s search, I would on occasion, over the years, do an internet search on my father, hoping to find something new, but the same old typical search results would pop up… his name, address, phone, etc. I don’t know what I was always hoping to find by doing these searches, viewing multiple pages of notes, performing search after search, always coming up with the same outcome, which was nothing… Wait, yes, I do. I was hoping to find right there in front of me, within one of the search results listed, was a comment, a blog intended only for me, a message from my father himself that he was looking for me, and has been searching for me for so many years and that he wanted to connect with me. This was always my hope. I would fantasize how I would make that initial contact, what would I say, how it would be meeting my father for the first time, but it was never meant to be.
One day while at work, I sat back in my chair, ready to do another internet search. Typing inside the search box the name Charles Ray Lambert, Atlanta, George, I hit the Google search button waiting for the usual results to appear on my screen. It was always the same info that came up, time after time… until this time.
As I began to read the first hit from my search, I literally gasped aloud, where even my co-workers had asked if I was okay. In the end, this search would be my very last and final search for my father’s name…
“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” ~ From the television show The Wonder Years
Was there a particular song that was always sung to you when you were a child or a fond memory from your childhood that had always been a part of your heart since you were young?
I have such a song like that, a song that was sung to me all the time by my grandfather called, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” which was a song by a gentleman named BJ Thomas for the hit Movie, “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.” Grandpa sang this song when it was cloudy, when it was raining but I remember him singing it the most when it was a beautiful day, with the blue sky and sun making their daily debut, beaming directly down upon us.
It didn’t have to be raining in order for grandpa to sing this song to my brother Steve and me. Grandpa always managed to sing it when we were ready to throw some food on the grill. Perhaps, it was his grilling song.
“He who sings frightens away his ills.” ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
Grandpa was a carpenter by trade. He had built himself an outdoor barbeque pit with his own two hands, stone by stone, which rested nicely underneath the large oak tree by the picnic table, overlooking his vegetable garden.
Grandpa would make his way outside with his whole chickens that were ready to be placed on the rotisseries. As he began to sing the song, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head, he would skip and twirl around, as if was doing a slow waltz with the hens that lay upon the plate in front of him. Of course, he only sang the first line, which he repeated several times, as he didn’t know the rest of the lyrics of the song. With his construction boots that were always loose and untied, I can see grandpa now, as he would kick up the dust and gravel that lay silent beneath his boots in the driveway, dancing his way over to the grill.
While grandpa prepared the chickens for the grill, he would send Steve and me off down the road, to an adjacent farm that housed a tall hickory tree. There, we would snap a few branches off as well as collect them from the ground, always bringing grandpa back more than what he had asked for. Grandpa tossed the hickory branches into the pit to help flavor the chickens. The smell that came from the grill when the hickory hit the hot coals, as grandpa sang his one-liner song, was something truly memorable.
“Dancing with the feet is one thing, but dancing with the heart is another.” ~Author Unknown
After spending the evening outside, eating and catching a cool after dinner breeze in the yard, it would be time to get ready for bed. Heading into the house, Steve and I would wash our faces, brush our teeth and race to get our pajamas to see who would be the first to kiss our grandparents goodnight.
By now, grandma and grandpa were sitting in the living room, relaxing for the remainder of the evening while watching the nightly news. I kiss each of them goodnight, only to feel the imprint of their kisses on my lips. Both unique in their own way, with granny’s wet, plump and strong, while grandpas are light, with just enough pucker.
Remembering the song that grandpa use to sing to me all the time, their precious kisses, as well as honoring grandpa’s name, Ray, along with a side order of artistic twists, this is how I created the name Raynedrop Kysses. Each kiss displayed reflects one for each of us… grandpa’s, granny’s and myself.
Just as we hold our loved one’s hand or admire the sweet smile of a child, we never forget the sensation of how their hand feels resting within your own or how the smile of a baby brightens our hearts. I feel the same when I remember my grandparents’ good night kisses, loving and caring, both kisses leaving a lasting impression.
“Twas not my lips you kissed but my soul.” ~Judy Garland
Bub·by: (n) \’bə-bē\ בובי Yiddish – is a German-based Jewish dialect. Bubby is an endearing Yiddish term for grandmother. A sweet name for the one you love, the one you adore, your Bubster, your Bubinator… your Boo! Hair worn short … Continue reading
“What do you think of God,” the teacher asked. After a pause, the young pupil replied, “He’s not a think, he’s a feel.” ~Paul Frost
My brothers and I were brought up to have no religion in our lives whatsoever. Melvin was an atheist. My mother was baptized and confirmed Lutheran, but she made no conscious effort to promote and bring God into our home and lives. We couldn’t tell you the first thing about God, his miracles, or how to even pray.
Having married a man that was Catholic and, practically having his whole family being catholic, not to mention his older brother, Joey, being a catholic priest, I knew that when we had children, we would raise them catholic as well. It was almost a prerequisite when I married into the family. I was never baptized myself and, therefore, had no religious denomination whatsoever.
Soon after my daughter, Arlaraye, was born, we had her baptized at the church where Joey was Pastor, St. Alphonsus church in Chicago, the same church that Frank and I were married at. Standing there in church was one of the most uncomfortable situations I’ve been in. I felt total awkwardness, as Joey and everyone chanted their routine prayers and blessings around me. I found my mind drifting away; wondering when mass was going to be over, wondering when I would be able to leave. I felt idiotically embarrassed standing there watching my family say prayers, watching their mouths move in unison, making the same motion when doing the sign of the cross, moving up and down, sitting, kneeling, standing. I listened as everyone would speak in harmony, praying, why I said absolutely nothing, except for one word, which was amen. That was the only word I knew because it meant that all those amens were eventually one step closer to the door, one step closer to getting out of church and going home. I was uncomfortable being in church. I was never in a church growing up. I felt embarrassed, almost displaced, as if people knew that I was illiterate when it came to the subject of religion.
Four years later, I gave birth to my son, Tanner, where I also had him baptized by Joey, once again, going through the exact same uneasy emotions all over again. I was happy that I had my children baptized and did know the importance of doing so, but when looking at both of my children’s baptism pictures, I could see the dumbfounded look on my face, where I looked completely lost!
Sometimes, I felt that there was a God above me, even acknowledging now and then, but never really gave it too much thought throughout my younger life. I recognized that God created us, the animals, flowers and, on occasion, would perform a miracle. I don’t want to say that I took God for granted in what He was capable of doing, but let’s just say that I didn’t seem to notice Him as much. I wasn’t use to having a God in my life, praying, asking for help or guidance. I never prayed for others or even myself. My mom never shared religion with me. He was never mentioned in our home. I blame my mother for this. For someone who went through the sacraments herself, I would think that she would want to share such an experience with her children. Possibly, if religion and God were a part of my life growing up, if I had learned how much God truly loved me, and that He would have been there for me when called upon, I would have knocked on his door much sooner, asking for help.
As I got older and into my late thirties, this is when I started realizing that there was something significantly missing in my life, which I wanted and, more importantly, needed. I realized that I felt left out from one of the most important relationships that a human being could ever have. And that was a relationship with one’s God. There was an absence in my heart; a feeling of vacancy, and I knew that it had the capability of embracing so much more love than what it was already holding. Every day, I found myself staring up toward the sky, memorized by the beauty of the blue skies and clouds that drifted by me, as if they were in a small town parade floating curbside as they waved hello to the crowds. I felt tranquility as I watched the lady in the moon smiling back at me. I found beauty in a rainbow, as it touched from one end of the sky to the other, while the rain softly danced against the radiant rays of sunshine. I watched the sun as it set itself for another evening, as it slightly peeked through the crimson clouds, making its journey into night’s rest. The shades of pinks, blues and grays that illuminated from the sky were as if God, Himself, had just painted another beautiful masterpiece. This was such a surreal moment for me that it left me weeping tears every single time I witnessed His miracles.
I started seeing the beauty in a flower, their smell, their color, the radiance that it extended and I was starting to realize that God, Himself can be the only one responsible for creating such exquisite wonders. It was like I had an awakening. I knew deep within my heart that I wanted to be a part of His world, to be a part of His heaven once my time on earth was done. If I was finding such beauty in the world that I was living, I could only dream how beautiful God’s world was.
“People see God every day, they just don’t recognize him.” ~Pearl Bailey
I started noticing all the miracles that God laid before me. I was even starting to get little signs, as I asked for his guidance and strength. It was at that moment that I made the decision to become a Catholic, to be baptized in Jesus’ name. I shared my feelings with Frank that I wanted to be baptized and do whatever I had to do in order to be welcomed into God’s world, to be a part of His world and my family who has since went home to Him. Frank, as well as his family, was happy that I had made such an important decision and supported me. I learned that I would have to attend RCIA (Rite of Christina Initiation of Adults) classes and that I would have to go twice a week, traveling to two different churches for over a year. I was up for the commitment and, to make it all that more special, Frank came to class with me, sharing in my experience. We didn’t miss one class or one mass throughout the time we were going. I was in a class of approximately six catechumens and we all shared the same passion. Father Dario, who was Pastor of St. Priscilla’s Church, led all the discussion groups on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Father Dario always had a way of making religious education interesting and exciting. We went to church every Sunday and, after the Gospel, I and the other catechumens were dismissed so that we could discuss what we just learned or how it made us feel. Andy, who was a very soft spoken and dedicated gentleman to his faith, led our group into discussion. There was never any right or wrong answers in our discussions, nor were there any pop quizzes. Simply, it was a conversation between others who shared the same passion and faith as I did.
As I was preparing for my sacraments, my mother had voiced her opinion on me becoming a catholic. Again, my mother was brought up Lutheran, but never practiced her religion. She knew that I was taking this avenue to become a catholic and it bothered her every step of the way. Finally, she had asked me why I was becoming a catholic, as I wasn’t one to begin with. I shared with her that I wasn’t anything from the beginning anyway thanks to her and, if it was that important to her, then she should have done something about it when I was born. Otherwise, she has no say in the situation. That was the last I ever heard of that topic from my mother.
In March of 2000, I went through all the sacraments of initiation; Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. Although truly a special event in my life, I thought it would be even more special if Joey would do the honors of baptizing me. He married Frank and me, he baptized my two children and I thought it would be lovely if he baptized me as well. We had it approved by the church and Joey was given permission to share in this special day along with me. But, unbeknownst to me, Joey, Bubby and Frank’s other brother, Patrick, were in on a little secret and had made plans in the car while on the way over to the church; plans that obviously involved me. As I stood on the altar, bending over the baptismal font, I waited for Joey to bless me with holy water. I couldn’t help noticing that Joey was grinning from ear to ear, as he was about to make sure that I was completely blessed myself… from ear to ear. Joey proceeded to pour a FULL pitcher of Holy Water all over my entire head, drenching me, making sure that I was completely cleansed and washed away of all sins. Sopping wet and hair now completely a mess, I knew that I had just made one of the most important decisions of my entire life.
Today, I realized that I missed out on so many things when I was young, with religion being one of them. Being young, I realized that some kids aren’t jumping at the idea of attending church and sitting in a pew for an hour, but it would have been nice to at least have had some form of religion while growing up; to have had something to believe in. I was never told about God or that God loved me, nor was I ever shown how to pray. Thinking back, if I had known how to talk to God and pray, perhaps, my torment with Melvin would have been a lot easier to deal with. I would have asked God to help me, to be my strength. Knowing the relationship that I have with my God today, I know He would have been my strength, coming to me as my saving grace, answering my every prayer.
I cannot walk into a church today without becoming so emotionally affected. To see God suspending there before me, it has always left me in tears, with complete thankfulness for the sacrifices that He had made for me. At times, I surprise myself how I feel when I think of God and his many blessings. For someone who never had one ounce of religion in their life as a child, I find myself such an emotional and spiritual person today. I see God’s touch everywhere. There isn’t one thing that I can’t look at that I don’t see where God created something beautiful, directly touching it Himself. I see Him in every perfect flower that shares a bloom and every cloud that floats in the blue sky above me, while butterflies dance in the air.
He’s in the face of every laughing child or deep within the wrinkles of a wise elderly person’s face. He’s in the wheelchair of every handicapped child, as well as in the spirit of every mentally challenged man or woman. I see God within each glowing sunset that closes out my day. But, most importantly, when I look in the mirror or look deep into the eyes of my children, I see God, He is there.
My God loves all people. He holds no discrimination in his heart. He loves whether a person is white or if they are black, if they wear a hijab or honor the Star of David. My God doesn’t judge if a man is straight or if a woman is gay confessing her love to her wife. Surely, if my God can love unconditionally, can’t we all?
I smile to myself ever so lightly when I see His wonders; His beauty that He leaves before me time and time again, never once being disappointed. I try not to cry but, at times, I just can’t hold back my tears, as I see the perfect sunrise kissing me good morning or hearing a bird’s song filling the air. I was once told that my feelings were the spirits talking to me, whispering directly to my heart. The thought that my God can create such beauty, even if it makes me cry, is a feeling beyond belief for which I am truly thankful.
“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting — a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I’ve been on so many blind dates, I should get a free dog!” ~ Wendy Liebman
It was a Saturday evening and I made myself comfortable on the couch. The year had just begun and, as the years before, I had brought in the New Year 1988 alone. Grandpa had been gone for a few years now, although, it felt as if he just passed away the day before. Longing to relive the precious memories that grandpa gave me on the farm, this is when I had decided to write my poetry. As my heart emptied into every piece I wrote, that’s when I looked up to the heavens above and asked Grandpa… “Why can’t I spill this same love and passion into a relationship? Grandpa, I have so much love inside to give to someone but, yet, I have no one in my life to share it with.” Feeling melancholy, I continued writing my poems, one after another, ending the evening with loneliness. I missed having someone in my life to share things with, to laugh with, to hold and someone to make love to.
It was the next morning when my friend, Donatta, called me, asking if I would be interested in meeting someone and going out on a date. It appeared that her sister, Gordana, knew someone that she worked with at the hospital, who was also single. His name was Frank Morin. Gordana and Frank knew each other and worked at Columbus Hospital together. Gordana asked Frank if he would be interested in meeting someone. With both Donatta and Gordana playing match maker, Frank and I agreed to talk on the phone and get to know one another. Little did we know, we were all connected in one way or another, as I knew Donatta and her family since my younger childhood and Gordana knowing Frank since the late seventies, when Frank was a teenager working at Columbus. Although, having blind dates in the past that were definitely unsuccessful, I was feeling somewhat reluctant to having another. I once went on a blind date with a man, who was the mirror image of Anthony Perkins from the movie, Psycho. Not recalling my date’s name as it was so long ago, but for giggles, let’s just call him… Norman. As we went through our dinner, he asked about my family and I shared that I never knew my father. It was then that Norman “psycho”analyzed (no pun intended) everything I had to say… How did I feel about not knowing him. How did I feel not having him in my life? What would I do if I ever met him… It was then that I realized Norman was a Psycho! Calling me the next day, looking for a second date, he told me that he still lived at home, with his mother, then asked me to come over for Sunday dinner so I could meet his mother. Que Psycho music, please! It was then that I told him I got back together with my old boyfriend, Bill. Yep, all within the last twelve hours of him dropping me off from our date. Okay, so I lied, but that was the last I heard from Norman.
Therefore, when Donatta asked me if I wanted to go on another blind date, I had visions of little Normans dancing around, haunting me. But, Donatta kept asking me… “What do you have to lose?!” Asking Donatta what Frank looked like, she described Frank to me as having very thick Coke-bottle glasses, he rode a Harley Davidson and he looked like Bugs Bunny! I thought to myself… wonderful! He’s blind as a bat, while riding a motorcycle and looks like a cartoon character! Wow, he sounds great… sign me up!
Frank and I talked over the phone once or twice and he seemed very easy to speak with, as we both got to know a little bit more about one another. We decided to have our first date on Saturday. It was on January 9, 1988. Not having a car, and with it being too cold to ride a motorcycle, we had to take a bus, which was completely fine with me. Living off of Ainslie and Damen, Frank didn’t live too far from me, as he lived just off of Damen and George.
Getting ready for my blind date, I was a bit nervous, as I just wanted to have a fun time. I was excited to meet someone new, but yet apprehensive, especially by Donatta’s description of him. Frank had plans to pick me up at my apartment early that afternoon. I heard a knock at the door and, before opening it, I took a deep breath. Not having a peephole, I wasn’t able to steal a look prior to opening the door. So, as the saying goes… I was going in blind. Upon opening the door, I saw what stood before me a very nice young man, wearing blue jeans, biker boots and a leather biker jacket with a chocolate bar in one hand that he had just purchased off of a kid who was selling them in front of the Sears department store on Lawrence Avenue and a beautiful bouquet of flowers in the other. Making sure that he didn’t have any floppy ears, he did, indeed, have very thick glasses, the kind that Harry Caray wore. Thanking Frank for the flowers and candy, we both said our hellos, introducing ourselves to one another in person. Locking up my apartment, we headed to the bus stop, where our first stop would be a trip to Lincoln Park Zoo. While riding the bus down to the lake, it was at this point that Frank decided to propose marriage to me… “Will you marry me?” Yes, my blind date had asked me to marry him. I didn’t know the man for fifteen minutes and he was already asking for my hand in marriage. Yes, Norman was back! If memory serves me correctly, I ignored Frank’s first proposal, along with the second one at the zoo, and the one over lunch, and the marriage proposal on the bus ride home. All I thought was GET ME HOME! Who proposes to someone on the first date? Knowing that I had a full date ahead of me, I tried to make the best of it. We walked through the zoo, visiting the lion’s den and going through the monkey house and eventually making our way to the reptiles. We had lunch at the Belden Deli on Clark and Belden. I had a corned beef sandwich, which was a mistake. Every chew I took, the corned beef stuck to my teeth. Using my tongue, I eloquently and, unnoticeably, tried scrapping the corned beef from my teeth and the roof my mouth. I probably looked like a cow chewing cud.
After lunch, Frank and I went to Chicago History Museum, where we came across a wishing well fountain, where we both decided to make a wish. Frank makes a wish and tosses his penny into the fountain. Handing me a penny, I also throw a wish into the well, longing for a relationship that would come into my life and last forever. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Frank said he wished for the exact same thing. As our date was ending and Frank was bringing me back home, he asked if he could come over the next day, Sunday, to watch the Bears game with me. Little did he know, I wasn’t a fan of football nor did I have any further intentions of seeing him again. I didn’t feel the connection and Frank smoked, which was a real turnoff to me. But, I didn’t know how to say no to him when he asked if he could come over to watch the game. So, before leaving my apartment, I said, yes, sure, come on over and watch the Bears game. Oh yay… football! Saying our good-byes and thanking each other for a nice time, I was preparing for a kiss good-bye. Somewhat awkward, I didn’t know if I should pucker up or politely extended a cheek. As I was examining the consequences, it was at this point that Frank extended his right hand and offered me a handshake good-bye. Shaking my hand, Frank explained to me that he didn’t kiss on the first date, he shook hands instead. Was this a joke? Frank didn’t kiss on the first date, but he can propose marriage to me twenty times?! My thoughts were… one Bears game and he’s gone!
Frank arrived just before kickoff. Timing the game, I figured he would be out of there within three hours! But, as we spent the afternoon together, talking about this and that, I soon discovered that Frank was full of charm and had a very kind and sweet disposition to him. I also enjoyed his dry humor, which I, myself, inherited from my mother. Sitting next to him, I noticed his clean manicured nails. Admiring his mustache, too, I noticed just a hint of chest hair that peeked out from underneath his sweater. I always loved a man with facial and chest hair. Noticing that the game had ended hours before, I realized that Frank and I did have a connection after all, we talked the afternoon away. It wasn’t long after that Sunday football game that we were dating. It was only a week later that Frank told me that he was in love with me. Starting to have feelings myself, I looked up and thanked my grandfather for listening to my prayers that one lonely night, sending Frank to me, having someone to share my life with and love. Frank later confided that when he went home after our first date, he shared with his two brothers that evening, Geno and Patrick, as well as Bubby that he had met the girl that he was going to marry. He also shared with me that the moment I opened up my apartment door and greeted him, he felt this “whoosh” going through him, as if cupid’s arrow hit him directly in the heart. He said it was love at first sight. And, why wouldn’t he kiss me on the first date again?
Donatta was very happy that I had met someone; surely feeling proud of herself making a love connection between the two of us. The only counseling and words of advice that Donatta offered to me were, “Don’t you sleep with him; don’t you sleep with him right away; wait a few weeks!” It was about a week later I told Donatta that Frank was very lovely; we were falling in love and he told me that he loved me. Without delay, Donatta asked… “You slept with him, didn’t you?!” Ummm, why, yes, I did.
One afternoon, after Frank and I were dating for a while, he had asked to speak to my mother. He wanted to ask her a question… if he could have my hand in marriage. My mother’s reply was typical, as she said, “You can have her hand, you can have her feet, you can have anything… just fuckin’ marry her!” Thanks mom!
It was over the next several weeks that I had met Frank’s family. He came from such a large family that I had to meet them literally in shifts. I met Frank’s mother, Anne, who is known affectionately to all as Bubby. She was the most sweetest woman one can ever meet. Bubby was very kind, aimed to accommodate and treated me as if I had been a part of their family all along. She was a petite woman, who had a head full of gray hair and wore very thick glasses. “Like mother, like son.” She bounced around the kitchen, cooking this, serving that, never doing enough for others. Listening and watching the older brothers around her, I sensed that she was nothing short of being the highlight of their lives. Bubby gave birth to seventeen children; eight boys and nine girls, with Frank being one of the youngest and having a twin sister to the oldest son being a Catholic priest. I never met Frank’s father, as he had passed years before we ever met. I enjoyed meeting all of Frank’s brothers and sisters… eventually. They all made me feel very comfortable being in their home.
Spring had sprung and it was time to unleash the motorcycle from the garage. Frank had a Sportster and, never being around a motorcycle, let along being on one, Frank was fast to teach me the proper etiquette of riding with him on his Harley.
- Wear protective eye gear
- Mount and dismount the bike from the left
- Wait for the rider to mount or dismount first
- Don’t use the pipes as a mounting device to get on and off the bike
- When making a turn, lean into the turn with the rider.
- Don’t touch the pipes… they’re frickin’ hot!
- Pray for a safe ride. “… May the Angels guard my travels for they know what is ahead of me…”
“The best alarm clock is sunshine on chrome.” ~Author Unknown
Sliding my arms around Frank’s hips, I rest my fingers within the belt loop of his blue jeans, holding on as we hit the open road. Frank didn’t have a car, so his Harley was our form of transportation. Rain or shine, we rode. I enjoyed the freedom that riding offered, no barriers, sun in your face and your knees in the wind, as you became one with the pavement beneath you. We took many runs, riding to Wisconsin to visit with my grandmother or riding with Frank’s brother, Geno, spending the weekend at Shafer Lake in the Indiana Dunes, traveling the many hills the state park offered. Some of my favorite rides were when we’d go back to the farm where my grandparents once lived. Visiting the neighbors across the road, who housed many cats, I told Frank that once home, I wanted to adopt a little baby kitty, basically so the cat that I already shared my life with, Déjà vu, had a friend. Once at the pet store, I found the perfect kitten, a black and white domestic that we decided to take him home to be a part of our family. Not being able to carry a box on the bike, I decided to tuck the new Kitten within my jacket, riding all the way home on the back of Frank’s Harley. Not knowing what to name the new addition, we decided to name it “Leather,” as it rode all the way home nestled contently deep inside my leather jacket.
My relationship with Frank was going strong and I liked where it was heading. We had passion, laughter, a sense of playfulness. I was ready to spend the rest of my life with Frank, his family, our family.
Riding on the back of Frank’s Harley gave me a sense of freedom and excitement. For two young couples who were learning to love one another, exploring each other, it was a thrill riding with Frank, as our bodies were so close to one another, touching, almost spooning as if we were one. I watched as Frank’s skull earring dangled in the wind, as his headband kept his long hair out of his face. He looked rugged, typical biker, and I loved it. To me, there was a sensual side to riding, as with every turn of the throttle, you felt the vibration from the motor between your thighs. It was beautiful to know that I was sharing this with Frank. I loved having the wind in my face as we rode, with my hair whipping behind me, while closing my eyes and smelling the freshness of the new day. I enjoyed early morning rides as we would watch the sun come up around us, artfully displaying our silhouettes against the blacktop, as if racing with my own shadow friend. The sun that was high in the sky was now heating my body and it felt welcoming. Riding was such a turn on and I was very happy to have shared this experience with Frank. Sadly, it would soon all be taken away from us, from me, as Frank and I prepare our future together.
“Each day of human life contains joy and anger, pain and pleasure, darkness and light, growth and decay. Each moment is etched with nature’s grand design – do not try to deny or oppose the cosmic order of things.” ~ Morihei Ueshiba
A year quickly passed since my grandfather’s death. Being a hard year for me, I kept my concentration on my new job, which was doing administration work for a bag manufacturing company in Evanston. I had also graduated from Wilber Wright Junior College, earning myself an Associates Degree. By this time, Bill and I had been dating for a very long time and we were about to celebrate our ninth year together. Young sweethearts we were, dating since the seventh grade. Throughout our relationship, Bill and I became engaged, talking about marriage, kids and spending our lives together. After my grandfather’s passing, I had decided to continue living with Sophie, renting a bedroom from her, which allowed me to save some extra money for the future. My heart was healing and I finally felt that my life may be heading in a positive direction. I had a pretty good job and great friends. I was extremely in love and I was very happy in my life, but as the old saying sometimes goes… “Don’t rock the boat.” Well, my boat was about to be rocked!
One afternoon, Bill came over and said he wanted to go to the park, which wasn’t too far from Sophie’s house. Summer had started and there was warmth to the day. Bill said that he needed to talk to me about something. Driving over to Horner Park, Bill seemed quiet, almost lost within his thoughts, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Bill pulled into the Park’s parking lot, by the main baseball diamond just off of California Avenue. He turned off the car and this is when I realized that Bill was serious. Bill started to fumble for words, surely wanting to make sure that they were soft, gentle and not harsh. But, regardless of what words he chose, I knew my heart was about to be chattered. It was there at the park, the same park where I grieved every day over my grandfather’s death while walking to work, that my life would be, once again, forever changed. Bill shared with me that after nine years of being together, he wasn’t happy anymore; he wanted to see other people. His words stung as I sat there in the car trying to make reason for what he was saying. I thought we were happy. I thought he was happy. I had no indication whatsoever that Bill was feeling this way. I truly felt our relationship was doing well and I couldn’t understand why he was telling me all of this. My mind was swimming and then sinking at every word that Bill was throwing at me, along with my heart. I felt like I was drowning. We had been together for so long, through grade school, high school and even college. What Bill shared with me completely devastated me and no matter what I said, how much I pleaded with Bill, or how much I begged, he did not want to continue our relationship any longer. Bill started the car up to take me back home, asking me if I was going to be okay, but I knew I wasn’t. I was numb from my mind to my heart. I absolutely never saw his words coming. At one point while talking with Bill, I was peacefully calm and, then the next thing I knew, I would get hysterically angry, pounding on the dashboard, the door, myself. Bill once again asked me if I was going to be okay, but all I could think of was getting away from him and out of his car as fast as I could. I felt as if my heart was going to explode!
Bill dropped me off back home, at Sophie’s house, and watched me as I went inside. If there was ever a time that I felt so relieved not to have Sophie at home, it was then. I knew that I would be alone and have the whole house to myself, allowing myself to justify what the hell just happened without having an audience around me. Shutting and locking the front door behind me, I started walking toward my bedroom, but I only made it as far as the main hallway, as there I stood, with my hands now molded into tight fists, as I began to pound the walls around me, crying uncontrollably, screaming at the pain that was haunting my heart. It was at that moment that I began my mental breakdown. The man that I loved for so long, the young boy that I grew up with throughout our young years; sharing experiences with each other for the first time, the man who I depended on to always be there in my life, has now decided that he wanted to see other people. I wasn’t good enough for him anymore. The man that I loved and wanted to be with no longer wanted to be with me. I felt like my world was suddenly falling apart. My heart ached so much, as I now realized that I lost another important person in my life; first my grandfather and now my fiancé.
It didn’t take long for the news to spread through Bill’s family that he broke off our relationship. Living with Sophie started to make things a little uncomfortable, as there was a constant state of reminder of Bill. Sophie’s daughter, Josie, lived in the basement apartment, along with her husband, Tim, who was Bill’s older brother. Sophie was the mother-in-law to Tim. Everyone was related in one way or another to Bill; everyone except me. I started to feel like the outsider. I was in such a state of depression that I had no desire to go anywhere, do anything, nor did I want to be with any friends. I stayed mostly in my bedroom behind closed doors. Sophie would have barbeques in the backyard, begging me to come out and be with everyone, but I would just shut myself away in my room. The last thing I wanted to do was socialize, especially with the family that I knew I would never be a part of. Finally realizing that my life would not be going back to the way it was I knew I had to make some important and immediate changes. I was tired of crying, I was tired of hurting, and I was tired of constantly having the reminders of Bill and his family all around me.
Months had passed and I felt it was time for me to move out of Sophie’s home. I would see Bill’s brother and other family members and I was starting to feel very uncomfortable being there; it was almost as if they would look at me and ask themselves, why is she still here? In order to heal my heart, get on with my life, I had to move on. I started looking through the newspapers for an apartment of my own. I knew that I didn’t want to share an apartment with anyone else nor did I want to have the responsibility of having a roommate. I knew I couldn’t afford much; therefore, I looked for the cheapest apartment I could find. Looking through the neighborhood paper, I found a one room studio apartment on Leland just off of Western Avenue that sounded perfect. It wasn’t long after having a tour of the place that I decided to tell the manger I’d take it! It was a big building that consisted of three floors and I was on the top floor – penthouse level! I loved my first apartment. It was all my own and I was very excited about decorating and fixing it up. When entering the apartment, which faced south, there was one main large room that greeted you, where the windows wrapped all the way around, bringing in a spectacular ray of light. There was a small kitchenette to my left, along with a bathroom and a walk in closet on my right. The apartment came unfurnished, so a new sofa sleeper was in my future, along with a kitchen table and many things to make it look homey and lived in. I had begun my first steps of being on my own, my own independence and not depending on anyone.
Settling into my new apartment, I went on with my life, working and, on occasion, dating a few men here and there, but nothing that ended up to be a relationship or anything serious. I was enjoying myself, having fun and it felt wonderful having other men show interest in me. I even went on a trip of a lifetime with Donatta and her family, even sampling the Mexican pleasures that Cancun was offering. Once back home, I concentrated on my new apartment, settling in and getting to know the neighborhood. Getting ready to go out one evening, I decided to take a shower. Once done, I walked completely naked out into the main living area of my studio, totally forgetting that I forgot to close the blinds to the windows that completely wrapped around all three walls. Standing butt naked, it dawned on me that somebody could be looking out their window at that moment, starring directly at me. The odds were probably slim, but to my mind and naked body, my instincts took over and I immediately doubled over as to suddenly hide what I was advertising to the neighborhood! I started backing up, crouching toward the other room, aiming to get my naked ass back into the bathroom. It was then that I tripped over my shoe, losing my footing and falling backward, with my ass landing directly up against my apartment radiator that was hotter than the Devil himself! Snapping back up to attention, I screamed every profanity that my tongue could roll off. Feeling the sizzle, I realized that I had just given myself an ass branding from the radiator that left me with more bars than my current cell phone carrier! I had the marks of the radiator bars branded against my ass crack! My ass could have been known as 50 shades of red! From that moment on, I had learned to make sure that all blinds were closed prior to me entering the shower and I stood far away from the radiator that not only heated my apartment, but was also capable of leaving a lasting impression… on my ass!
It was an early spring day, when I received a phone call from Bill. Although very unexpected, it was pleasant to hear his voice just the same. He asked if I had time to talk and asked if I wanted to meet up for a drink, which I kindly accepted. Bill and I went to an Irish pub called Paddy’s that was on Montrose Avenue, not too far from my apartment. It was quaint, loud and full of energy. The thought of catching up with Bill seemed rather nice and I was excited to see him, as I haven’t seen or spoken to him in way over a year. I even had a few butterflies in my belly, as I was getting ready. Spotting him at the bar, he looked good, put together but, mostly, he looked happy. We grabbed a table and started sharing our updates with one another and what had been going on in our lives since we last saw each other. It felt strange being with him; like I had never dated him for nine years, almost as if he was someone new I had just met for the very first time while sitting in the bar. After our updates were coming to an end, it was then that Bill asked me a question; obviously, the main reason why he asked me to have a drink with him. Bill raises his voice over the deafening noise of the crowd, asking me his question… “Jack, have a baby with me.” Bill must have seen the astonished look on my face, as my eyes widened more and more with every syllable that came sliding out of his mouth. “…have-a-ba-by-with-me.” Again, with a confident smile on his face, he repeated himself once more, “Jack, let’s have a baby together!” Bill was so excited, standing there, as he was trying to convince me that it would be fun, exciting and a great idea, as if I just won a free trip to a far away land! Finding my words, I asked him why he wanted to have a baby so bad because I found it odd that a single man in his twenties suddenly wanted to have a baby and, of all things, with me, his ex girlfriend! Bill shared that he wanted to have a child in his life and he was asking me to share this with him, but still not completely understanding why. I told Bill that I couldn’t have a baby unless I was married. It was at that point that Bill decided to throw in a marriage proposal and a round trip ticket to Las Vegas, offering to marry me over the weekend. There was so much information to take in at the moment that I asked for another drink. The thought of being with the man that I once loved sounded enticing, but yet I was cautious of the young man he obviously became over the past year. The Bill that I knew growing up would never have wanted a baby and, when we were together, we made every cautious effort known to man to make sure that nothing like that ever happened. Therefore, I didn’t know what to make of this new Bill standing before me. Again, he said, “Let’s do it. Let’s fly to Vegas, get married and have a baby!” Bill made it sound all so easy, as if we were going to run to the store for some milk and cookies. Bill had a way of making it sound thrilling; drawing you in with every pitch he made. Obviously, he was working the salesman that was within him; something I’ve seen his father do many times before. Bill’s father, Jim, always had a way of making something sound exciting, always pulling you in and making you want to be a part of the action. Exciting as Bill made it sound, I told him that I would have to think it over, as I wasn’t about to make any hasty decisions over a couple of cocktails while sitting in an Irish Pub that could affect my life forever. He dropped me back off at my apartment, where I had the whole evening to think of his proposal. I had told Bill that I would call him the next day to share my decision with him.
Feeling reminiscent, I started listening to a Neil Young album while I enjoyed a few glasses of wine. Sitting on my sofa, I started thinking back to our nine year relationship; the good times we had, the love that we had once shared. It’s amazing how quickly one forgets about all the bad and hurtful times. My thoughts bring me back to the music, as I sat listening while Neil Young sang the words…
“Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon.”
It was at that moment, while listening to the song Harvest Moon, that I had made my decision. Yes, Bill, I will marry you and have your baby! I was content with my decision, very happy, but yet nervous, wondering if I was making the right decision. My heart was telling me to say, yes, as I was thinking of the relationship we once shared, but it was my mind that was questioning. The next morning, while at work, I kept rolling Bill’s proposal around in my head. I was thinking of how my life would change. Was I ready to be married, to be a wife? Was I ready to have a baby, to be a mother? Was I doing everything for the right reasons? Did Bill really want to be with me on that level or was I just the means for him to get what he really wanted, which was baby? After some long hard soul searching, once the music had stopped, I knew deep within my heart and mind that I could not marry Bill or have his baby. I haven’t seen or been with Bill in over a year. Why now? I had realized that there was nothing personal about his proposal whatsoever. It felt like I was under a contractual agreement or as if I was ordering a nine month subscription to American Baby Magazine. That afternoon, I phoned Bill and broke the news to him that I wouldn’t’ be taking his offer, that I wouldn’t marry him, nor have his child. I’m not sure how he took it personally, but I knew that it wasn’t the right time for me to make such a commitment in my life. Although I still loved Bill, there was a difference… I loved Bill; I just wasn’t in love with him. With saying no, it became apparent to me at that moment that I actually had survived my little breakdown from the year before, from when Bill and I broke up. I had recovered, matured and I had moved on with my life. I felt proud of myself knowing that I was, once again, a survivor. Little did Bill know that I accepted his proposal just by listening and reminiscing over a love song by Neil Young; a song that we had made love to so many times before. It was the song Harvest Moon that made me want to be with Bill once again, that convinced me that it would work, that our relationship could heal, recover and continue. But I felt in my heart that Bill wanted a baby more than he wanted a wife, wanted me and, for this, I said no.
Months had passed and the summer was in full swing. I had moved from my studio into a one bedroom apartment on Ainslie just off of Damen Avenue. Baby, I was movin’ on up! I was making more money at my job in Evanston, which allowed me to upgrade to a larger apartment that was actually on the first floor and no longer on the third. Walking in, the bathroom was on your left while the bedroom was on your right. There was a very large living room that also shared a small separate sitting area toward the front windows and I thought it would make a beautiful spot to house a small studio, to paint and creating my art. There was a non-working fireplace that had a mantle extending from one end of the living room to the other. The kitchen was a nice size; much bigger than the one in the studio, and it had the most unique china cabinet that was built into the wall. The piece was lovely and added charm to the room and all the radiators were covered! It was apparent that I was going to need more furniture, but until then, I settled comfortably into my new home.
The only thing I didn’t have in my new apartment building was a laundry facility but, there was a laundry mat just down the street and around the corner from me. It was there that I once again bumped into Bill. Making small talk while doing laundry, Bill asked if he could come over and visit for a while to catch up, seeing that he was in the neighborhood. I told him where I lived and that it would be fine. Shortly thereafter, Bill knocked on my door and I had invited him in. I asked Bill to take a seat in the chair, but he opted to sit on the floor instead. It didn’t take long before my instincts kicked, as I felt something odd. I had the feeling of uneasiness as Bill walked into the room. He asked if I had any photo albums of us from when we were dating. Handing them over, I let him go through the pages, as he commented on particular photos from our past. I felt his behavior was slightly unusual, almost odd and it made me feel very uncomfortable. Sitting on the couch opposite of Bill, my intuitiveness suddenly kicked in and I got a weird impression that Bill had other intentions for his visit, but I wasn’t sure why. We continued talking about our lives and, once again, catching up what we had been up to for the past year. I shared that I had met someone and was very happy, as well as still working in Evanston and Bill shared with me that he was working for a frame company. We asked about each of our families and how everyone was doing. I did miss Bill’s mother and father. They always treated me as if I belonged. Still having my bike at Bill’s house in the basement, I thought, perhaps, I could visit with them for a while picking up my bike. Bill thought that would be a great idea and to just give his mother a call. We continued our small talk and Bill’s visit ended less than an hour later. I couldn’t shake the uneasiness and guarded feelings that I had. Bill seemed so much different to me, especially from the last time we saw each other when he “baby proposed” to me. Perhaps, he just needed to stroll down memory lane one last time.
Later that week, while at work, I decided to call Bill’s mom, Elaine, to make arrangements to pickup my bike. I figure I could at least ride it back and forth to work or even use it for errands. Dialing her number, I anxiously waited for Elaine to answer the phone. It had been such a long time, years actually, since I had spoken to her. I announced who was calling and asked her how she had been. I could tell that Elaine was rather reserved with our conversation, as if almost to say, “Why are you calling here?” I mentioned that I had seen Bill just days before and I was wondering if I could pick up my bike over the weekend, as it was still in her basement. Elaine said that it wouldn’t be a problem and she would make sure that it was ready for me when I came. Hesitating, Elaine proceeded to ask me a question of her own; a question that was totally unexpected; a question that I will never forget. She asked, “You do know that Billy is married now, don’t you?” I sat there as if I just got the wind kicked out of me. Her words kept echoing in my ear, but I was quick to respond, “Oh, why yes, I do. I just wanted to get my bike out of your basement.” Elaine went on to tell me that they just got married and that they both were very happy. The only thing I could do was to agree with her. After hanging up, I sat back in my chair and my mind drifted back to days earlier when Bill was in my apartment taking his stroll down memory lane. It was at that moment that I felt as if I had literally been slapped in the face by deceit. Not once did Bill mention to me that he was married nor was he wearing a wedding ring that would have confirmed that. Perhaps, he slipped it into his pocket prior to coming over. During the whole time he was with me in my apartment, Bill did not bring up his wife at all or the fact that he recently got married. None of this was mentioned during our time of “catching up.” Bill never even shared with me that he was even in a relationship. Bill wasn’t honest with me and it hurt. Looking back, I believe that this is the reason for Bill’s strange behavior while visiting with me. After picking up my bike from Elaine’s house, I went home and had the sudden urge to tear up every photograph that I had of Bill. Taking all the photos from their albums, I begin ripping each picture of Bill in tiny little pieces. With every rip I made, satisfaction set in. I continued until the last picture was shredded. Placing them all into a manila envelope, I wrote a note that accompanied my jigsaw puzzle… “Do not ever attempt to contact me again!”
The last time that I ever saw Bill was back in the laundry mat about a year later. Conversation was at a minimum, as I stood there folding my pants and blouses for the work week ahead and while Bill was folding nothing other than little baby clothes, piling them on top of the other, staking them ever so neatly. He shared with me that he had a baby girl that he truly adored. Bill was simply elated. He couldn’t stop talking about his daughter and I could see the sparkle and love in his eyes whenever he spoke of her or mentioned her name. It was at that moment that I was content with the decision that I had made for myself just years before, not taking him up on his baby and marriage proposal. But, most importantly, I was so very happy for Bill for he got what he wanted. He found the love, happiness and peace while looking into the eyes of his little girl.
“Babies are bits of stardust, blown from the hand of God.” ~ Barretto
It was twenty years later that I heard from Bill. He randomly sent out emails to all the Jackie Lamberts he found on the internet, in hopes to make a connection with me again. His father, Jim, was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS, a ruthless and debilitating disease that leaves no mercy on its victims. I have fond memories of Jim, as we would all sit around the dining room table listening to the stories he would tell, each one with more excitement than the last. I still see his mannerisms, as Jim sat in his bathrobe, expressing himself with his giant hands, as he maneuvered his metal framed glasses by using the tips of his finger and thumb, one on each side of the frame, simultaneously pushing them back up on his nose. I was always invited at their dining room table, whether it was for humble conversation, dinner or planning the next season’s strategy for the Chicago Bears to win the super bowl. I remember the season after Bill and I broke up in 1985, the year the Chicago Bears won the super bowl. Sitting in the arms of another man, watching all the excitement on TV that filled the stadium, I couldn’t help stepping back in time to the days when I had once been a part of it all.
Jim advised Bill that he should try and find me, to make amends, to make things right between us, and with the way he left our relationship so many years before. I have to admit that I was very taken aback when I saw in the subject line of an email that read something similar to “This is Bill Dooley, I’m looking for Jackie Lambert.” I replied, letting Bill know that it was me and that he had found me. It was very nice to hear from Bill after all these years and to learn that he was doing well. He shared with me that Jim was slowly dying of this horrible disease and my heart was saddened to hear such news. We caught up with each other’s lives once again, learning that we both had children and that our families were doing well. On occasion, we exchange emails to see how the other is doing, sending updates or if a certain memory comes into play. We both realized that we have matured since we last saw each other, moving on, with the harsh and painful feelings of the past faded away, but the special memories we shared staying strong. I no longer look at the negative things of the past. What lies in the past stays in the past. In order to move forward, where one can cherish memories and a friendship, your heart must be cleansed and open to forgiveness. I have forgiven. Now, with families of our own, we both cherish the people who we have in our lives today. I believe that this was our destiny, the road that we were meant to take. Innocent children we once were, exploring a love and a friendship that will remain in my heart always.
“There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all”
~ John Lennon
The year was 1975 and my brother and I had to leave my grandparents’ farm early that summer. Our summer vacation with them had been cut short by two months, due to my grandfather’s unexpected illness. Not only was I saying good bye to my darling grandparents, but I was also saying good bye to the boy I liked across the farm, Harald, who lived across the street. With bags packed and sitting in the back seat of Melvin’s car, we were waiting to go home. Harald heard that I was heading home earlier than expected, so he came over to say his final good bye, as we secretly held hands through the back window. Melvin drove to come and get Steve and me and bring us back home to Chicago. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car not wanting to leave. I couldn’t stop crying, as I had a profound feeling that this would be the last time that I would ever have the opportunity to be on the farm; I’d never see the farm in the same light again and my safe haven would soon be no more. The farm that protected me for so many summers will no longer be my saving grace. Sadly, every one of my instincts was correct. The summer of 1975 was the last time I saw my grandparents on my farm of Eden.
As the car backed out of the driveway, I saw my grandparents slowly fading away, appearing smaller and smaller through the rear window, as we pulled out onto the road, heading east, back to Chicago. With one last wave good bye they were gone. I remember being silent all the way home. My brother and I sat in the backseat together just starring out the window. I was going back home to filth and things that weren’t clean. I was going back to hearing Melvin and mom fighting and seeing the beatings again. I was going back to watching Melvin drink everyday without putting food on our table. I was going back to being sexually abused. But, I knew for the time that my brother was in the car with me, Melvin wouldn’t touch me. For the next few hours, I felt safe, as Melvin wouldn’t be pulling over to a rest stop or off the side of the road to make me do disgusting things to him. Little did I realize that at the time, my brother was probably thinking the exact same thing.
My life was so beautiful and rich while living with my grandparents on that little farm in Stoughton. I never once ached for anything. I was always provided for. My grandparents made sure that Steve and I were happy young children, experiencing life through a child’s eyes. Even though living on a farm way out in the country, we did manage to go places once grandpa came home from work. Knowing that we had a special evening planned, Steve and I would sit at the end of the driveway, watching and waiting patiently for grandpa’s big red pickup truck to come rolling down the road. Moments later, grandpa pulls into the driveway and slowly comes to a stop, where Steve and I would hop on to the back of grandpa’s truck. Holding on tight, he would give us a ride all the way up to the house. Knowing what ritual lies ahead; Steve and I took my grandfather’s lunch bucket to see what surprises he had left behind for us. One day, it may have been an uneaten apple, the next the other half of a Twinkie. My most favorite surprise that my grandfather had ever left for me was an authentic railroad spike that he found lying on the ground one day, close to where he was roofing a building. To this day, over forty years later, I still have my railroad spike. It rest proudly on my art shelf and have used it quite frequently from everything to a paperweight, opening up cans of paint to even an occasional hammer, pounding nails into the wall.
After taking our surprise from grandpa’s lunchbox, he would head to the bathroom where he would wash up. Afterward, he and granny would tell us that we’re all going for a little ride into town, where we would hit up the local A&W Root Beer stand, where we would enjoy a hamburger and fries or possibly an ice cream cone for dessert. One of my favorite things to do was take long rides through the country. The roads were filled with many hills and waves that only left grandpa wanting to drive faster. As grandpa climbed up the hilly road, slowly creeping to the top, as if he was in charge of a roller coaster ride, he would begin his decent down to the bottom of the hill with quickness. Grandpa stepped on the accelerator making our bodies appear weightless, leaving Steve and I curled up together as a ball in the back seat of the car, while our bellies danced on the ceiling. I would sneak a peek at granny, as she had front row action while on this wild carnival ride. She would have one hand on the ceiling and the other would be grabbing the dashboard for dear life, while at the same time screaming at grandpa to slow down because he was going to make us kids sick! As we slowly came to the end of our carnival ride, it was apparent that from now on, we would have to leave granny at home!
One of my favorite times during Friday summer evenings, was when lying on the cool grass in the front lawn, you could hear the local stock car races at the nearby Madison International Speedway race track. You listened as they each made their laps around the track, gunning their motors with each passing turn. During the day, Steve and I would watch one by one as the cars were being hauled to the track, each one twisted and bowed, being forcibly designed into their own unique shape from weekly racing. As each drove by, honking and waving at us on the lawn, Steve and I would yell out to granny, reporting on which stock car just drove by, “Car number 53 just drove by!” “Granny, number 17 just passed!” One Friday evening, my grandparents surprised us and we actually attended the car races. It was exciting to watch and be there, having a hotdog and listening to the revving of the motors. The cars were so loud that you couldn’t even hear the person next to you talk. No surprise that we could hear them from our yard miles down the road. The next day, on Saturday mornings, once the races were over, grandpa, Steve and I would take a ride back to the race track. Grandpa would bring his metal detector in hopes to find a treasure of loose change from people pulling out their keys from their pockets and having their change fall. Being too dark to pick it up, they would just leave it. Every so often, we would find a quarter here or a dime there, which he’d give to us kids. After our treasure hunt, grandpa would take us for a ride on the track. Jumping into the back of grandpa’s pickup truck, Steve and I would hold on for dear life, while grandpa made his way around the track, going faster and faster with each turn. The way that the truck was tilted on the race track, I felt as if we were going to fall out of the back of the truck. With the wind against our faces and our bellies rolling with tickles at every lap, it felt great riding in the back of the truck. There was a sense of freedom, having my long hair fly in the wind behind me and hearing the buzzing of the wind singing in my ears. I was so happy and I wanted that moment to last forever. This was a time that I had no cares, no worries; I just lived within the moment. This was just one of the special memories that I shared with my grandfather.
Steve and I would try and re-create that feeling of flying around the race track with our old rusty red wagon that we had on the farm. Grandpa found this wagon at the local dump that someone previously threw away. Grandpa brought it home and cleaned it up. It seemed as if grandpa was bringing home more junk from the dump than what he was throwing in. Taking turns, Steve and I would sit inside the wagon and steer with the handle, while the other pushed frantically behind, trying to get up enough speed to make the wagon go fast. I can still hear the tires crunching on the gravel as we would pretend that we were driving our own stock car race, running laps up and down the driveway.
Grandpa always made sure our days were always filled with excitement and adventure. We had the purest life while living with my grandparents. We never once asked for more and I never remember having a bad day; that was, until the day my grandparents came home from the doctor’s office, after my grandfather had a medical checkup. I was standing on the porch playing with my kitchen set, pretending to cook dinner, when my grandfather walked in with a look of uneasiness on his face and going directly to his bedroom, closing the door behind. My grandmother, who walked not too far after, had tears rolling down her face. I was starting to get scared and I asked granny what was the matter and why was she crying. She had asked me to step aside and that she couldn’t talk at the moment, her voice breaking as if she was trying to soften her sobs. She could barely contain her emotions. Immediately, I sensed that something was horribly wrong and knew that my world on the farm as I knew it would suddenly be changed and things will never be the same again. It was later that evening I found out that my grandfather, who I cherished dearly from the deepest sector of my heart, was diagnosed with colon cancer and the prognosis didn’t look promising. That was the very last summer that Steve and I ever stayed on their farm. It became a reality that there will be no more wagon rides to the neighbors across the road or steeling sweet corn from the fields. There will be no more trips around the local racetrack on Saturday mornings or any more daily surprises in grandpa’s lunch box. However, what my heart ached over the most was that this chapter of my life has ended and that there will never be any more future pages written in my book of memories.
My grandparents continued to live on the farm as long as they could. With grandpa still being able to drive and, for the most part, move around, he was still able to get to his doctor’s appointments, go into town for groceries, or run other various errands. Grandpa used a cane to help steady him as he walked. Grandpa was no longer able to work and had left the Durfee Roofing Company that he was employed with for some many years. Grandpa stayed home and granny took care of him. Grandpa was still able to work in the garden somewhat, although the garden wasn’t as large as years before. He was no longer able to build dollhouses or barns but did enjoy wood working and would do some whittling from time to time just to keep his hands busy. However, grandpa’s health started to decline and it was now their turn to leave the farm, to sell their home, and move closer to Madison to be closer to grandpa’s doctors. It was getting more difficult for grandpa to drive and, with granny never learning how, it made the decision all that much more easier to move. At this point, Grandpa was in and out of the hospital having different procedures or testing done. This, too, made it more convenient for them to be closer to Madison. With all these considerations, they put the farm up for sale and eventually moved into an assisted living building in Madison located on Sawyer Terrace. There, they were able to take shuttle buses to and from the hospital or grocery stores. There was twenty-four hour medical care within the building if they needed it. It gave both my grandparents a sense of comfort, security and freedom knowing that they can still attempt to live a normal life in spite of my grandfather being sick. I know their hearts were broken on that final day when they moved from that precious farm in Stoughton. There were a lot of memories created in that home over the years and, indeed, if the winds could whisper their final thoughts, they would share that there was an overwhelming profusion of happiness, laughter and love that will remain within the spirits of that land forever.
Years have now passed and, by this time in my life, I was a young adult in my twenties. Grandpa’s cancer had progressed over the years, taking over his body, resulting in more doctor visits, several more hospital procedures and, regrettably, his very own colostomy bag. Making trips on my own or with friends or family, I would visit my grandparents as often as I could. When I wasn’t able to travel to Madison, I made sure that I was in constant contact with them, especially my grandfather. I would either call or send grandpa special things through the mail, letters, toys, pictures in hopes they all kept his spirits high. I would send grandpa jokes or cartoons that I would come across that I found to be funny thinking it would give him a good laugh, as laughing heals. I bought him two small stuffed banana toys that looked like small people. They had arms and legs that would wiggle when you shook them. They came with clips so that you could hook them onto things. When grandpa was admitted to the hospital for a procedure, he would always bring these banana toys with him, clipping them to his I.V. line or hospital gown. I was told that his nurses got a kick out of them, which also gave grandpa an opportunity to flirt with the nursing staff.
Over the next few months, Grandpa was in and out of the hospitals and I knew his health wasn’t at its best. My heart ached at the thought of losing the man that meant so much to me, a father figure, and my hero. Granny would always send me updates on grandpa’s condition. Sadly, it wasn’t looking very well, as the cancer was taking over, it was winning. Grandma would tell me that his blood count would be very low, as well as his blood pressure. He was always dizzy and could hardly sleep or walk any more, even with the support of a walker. Grandpa had lost a vast amount of weight and he was below 130 pounds. For a man that was over six feet tall, it left him looking very frail. Grandpa was all skin and bones and granny said she could put her two fingers around his arm where his muscles use to be. That was hard to hear because grandpa was always a man of solid body and strength. Granny shared that Grandpa was also crying a lot, wishing and longing for the days of long ago, when we use to be on the farm spending special time together. As you see, it wasn’t only my heart that held such warm memories for the farm and the magic it held. Grandpa felt it, too. Granny said that this is all grandpa spoke about. He missed us all so very much and longed for his memories to become a reality, even commenting that he would pay $10,000 to be back on the farm with me and Steve.
The last card I sent grandpa was an enormous one. It was approximately 2 feet by 2 feet. It was the kind of card that you knew you were going to go broke just in the postage alone. It was an extra large card, leaving me to write many notes on the inside. Appropriately enough, the card was titled, “Thanks for the Memories. I wrote at the top of the card “Remember When… ” and then shared with him all the wonderful memories he had given me throughout my life while living with him and granny on the farm.
Remember when… I use to stand on the top of your roofing boots and you would dance me all around the room?
Remember when… we would go grocery shopping every Friday and then come home and watch Kung Fu together?
Remember when… you taught me how to ride a bike and took my training wheels off?
There were so many special memories written on this card that I was sure it would put a smile in his face and a tear of joy in his eye. I signed off on the card by writing, “Remember that… I love you and you both are my FAVORITE granny and grandpa. I love you very much! Love, Jackie.”
After finishing his card, I sealed the bottom with bright red lipstick kisses that were made from my own lips. Grandma shared with me that grandpa absolutely loved and adored the card! It made him so very happy and he would read it over and over again, every single day, always kissing my lips where I left them imprinted at the bottom of the card. Grandpa would cry and reminisce about the good old days with me and Steve, recollecting every memory I wrote about. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he too, knew in his heart that every one of these moments were one of God’s special blessings. It wasn’t until after grandpa passed that I learned how important this card meant to him.
Months later, while visiting with granny, she asked me to go to the closet and pull a frame that was tucked all the way in the back. Upon doing so, this is when I realized that grandpa had taken the time to frame my thanks for the memory card. Using an old pizza box for the backing, he then made a wooden frame for my card, which he proudly hung on his wall for him to enjoy.
The last letter that I received from granny regarding grandpa’s health was in 1984. His health was deteriorating and rapidly. Grandma shared with me that grandpa wasn’t able to write any longer. Being unable to use his hands, granny wrote on grandpa’s behalf, telling her exactly what he wanted to say to me. He thanked me for the package of candy and pictures that I sent him and that he truly got a kick out of receiving them. He wished that I lived closer so that we could talk face-to-face, just one more time, before it’s too late, before he went away “for always.” Grandpa told me that he wished he could turn back the clock and we were all at the farm in Stoughton once again, but that can’t be either, he said. Grandpa went onto say that he hopes I will always remember “what was.” He took the pen and paper from granny and, in his own hand, forced a scribbled signature, I-Heart-U.
Granny finished my letter by saying that I was on my grandfather’s mind day in and day out, even dreaming about me, calling for me one night during his sleep. My grandfather and I were so very close. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think of him, wishing him good health or sending him special letters and thoughts through the mail.
Grandpa was a kind and gentle soul and I loved it when he would express himself through his eyes. Recalling back to certain memories, one would see his eyes smile as if saying, great job, I’m proud of you, I love you! Sometimes, you would see his eyes laugh with amazement, feeling proud, as he remembered taking off my training wheels, teaching me how to ride a two-wheel bike for the first time. Neither grandpa nor I would ever have the opportunity again to go back to the farm to relive these wonderful moments that we had once created. Therefore, I decided to bring these sweet memories to him. I sent every card and letter that I could find and filled them with all our precious memories, writing each one down with sweet reminiscences and mailing them to grandpa one after another, day after day. Sometimes, my letters would have sticks of gum or candy attached to them or a silly cartoon I found in the paper. Granny told me that grandpa really looked forward to the mail coming, as almost every day there was something there from me. My letters touched grandpa’s heart, making his tears of sorrow become tears of happiness. But, most importantly, it took his pain away, it helped him forget his cancer, even if it was for a few moments. It helped him transport his way back to the farm, where he once again was able to pick a garden tomato from the vine or dance one last Polka in the breezeway.
Granny confessed that I was the only grandchild out of many to keep in faithful touch with my grandfather during his sickness and battle with colon cancer, either by visiting, calling or sending him special care packages. Granny said that there were some family members who didn’t even bother at all. Upon hearing this, I was rather disappointed. I felt sad and I could only imagine how this made grandpa feel. How could someone not be in touch with their own family member at this horrifying and painful time of his life? Grandpa was always there for his grandchildren. It was now our turn to be there for him.
It was a week before Easter and I had decided to call my grandparents to say hello and to see how they were doing. I wanted to let them know that I had yet another surprise coming in the mail for grandpa. It was something simple; a handmade glittered heart with the words I love you on it. I was waiting for the glitter to dry before placing it in the mail. Sadly, it was never mailed.
I sensed in granny’s voice that things weren’t going well with grandpa. Granny was in a state of sadness and that’s when I heard the tears surfacing in her voice. Granny shared that grandpa is now totally bedridden and is deteriorating more and more every day. He’s on a lot of pain medication which makes him “loopy” and sometimes he doesn’t realize where he’s at. My own heart began to sank, as I suddenly realized that my beloved grandfather was dying and, most likely, his journey in this world will be ending soon. I don’t think anyone can prepare themselves for death, regardless of how much of a warning you may have. A thousand thoughts ran through my mind at once and neither one of them comforted me. I told granny that I wanted to come up and visit with her and see grandpa, perhaps, for the last time. The following weekend was Easter Sunday and I thought it would be special to spend the day with them both. Granny didn’t think that was such a good idea, as she knew that grandpa didn’t look like himself, wasn’t acting like himself and, surely, wasn’t the same grandpa that I remember seeing just months before. I understood her concerns and told her I’ll plan visiting another time. I asked to speak with grandpa so that I could cheer him up and make him laugh. Granny warned me that he may not know who I was so be prepared and, sadly, she was right. I called his name, “Grandpa, it’s me Jack; how are you?” Listening to me, grandpa stumbled for his words. He began to call me Fi-Fi May, a nickname that he use to call my mother when she was a little girl. “Fi-Fi May! Fi-Fi May! I miss you! Where are you Fi-Fi May?” As tears began to roll down my cheek, it became apparent that grandpa didn’t know who I was. I continued talking with him as if I was his Fi-Fi May. It was then that I realized Grandpa’s heart, mind and soul were no longer living in our world; he was now living within his own recollection of precious memories from the past when mom was a little girl. I said my good-bye’s and told him that I loved him oh so very much and he shared that he loved me, too. My own heart ached, as I knew that would be the last time I would ever hear my grandfather’s voice and the words I love you whispered in my ear. Moments later, granny took back the phone, only to confirm what she had shared with me just moments before, “Your dear grandpa isn’t doing well and he is slowly leaving us.”
Grandma asked their parish priest, Fr. Tom Dietrich, to come to the house and administered my grandfather his last rights; a sacrament given to someone who is near death. Having God in their hearts and attending church, they both knew that this was a necessary step in order to assist my grandfather in his preparation for death, to have absolution for his sins, to have relief from suffering and guide him for when he left our world.
Fr. Dietrich arrived at my grandfather’s beside and spent some personal time with my grandfather, praying for him, along with praying with him. Fr. Dietrich noticed how much pain my grandfather was in. Father leaning in close enough to where my grandfather could hear, Father said, “Raymond, let yourself go, go home to the Lord and set yourself free.” Grandpa with his noble response said to Fr. Dietrich, “If I could make it just one more week, until Easter Sunday, I will let myself go then. Surely, Fr. Dietrich admired my grandfather’s beliefs and understood why he wanted to try and hold on for another week until Easter arrived. God rose from the dead on the third day, resurrecting on Easter. This day is known as Resurrection Day and I felt that grandpa knew the significance of this very important day. In Grandpa’s heart, he felt that if he could make it just one more week, until Easter Sunday, he believed that when he finally did let himself go” home,” God would be right there by his side, holding his hand guiding him all the way to heaven, as grandpa crossed over.
It was Easter Sunday and I was with my boyfriend, Bill, at his parents’ house. I was invited over to share Easter dinner and to spend the day with them. Later that evening, after dinner, Bill and I were sitting in his bedroom, listening to music, and just hanging out with one another. Bill’s bedroom door faced the dining room area, exposing the dinner table and chairs, along with the sideboard. The dining room then led into the kitchen, which was just around the corner from Bill’s room to the right. So, from where I was sitting, which was on the other bed in Bill’s room, I could see directly into the dining room. As I was thumbing through a magazine, I noticed out of the corner of my left eye something traveling through the dining room. It was similar to a white mist that was floating through the middle of the room, gracefully, slowly passing from one room to the other. I turned my head and managed to catch the last glimpse of it as it traveled from the dining room and disappeared into the kitchen. At the time, I didn’t think too much about it, but I asked Bill if he saw what I just did. But, from where he was sitting on his bed and the position that he was in, he couldn’t see out into the dining room. It was about fifteen minutes after seeing the mist that I received a phone call from Sophie, the woman who I lived with at the time. Sophie knew that I was having dinner at Bill’s house and knew that I would be there. Picking up the phone in the kitchen, I heard Sophie’s voice on the other end. Sophie relayed me that my granny was trying to reach me. It was Sophie’s hesitant and quaking voice that I knew it wasn’t good news. Granny called to let me know that grandpa passed away only moments before. Sophie asked if I would be okay, as I heard the concern in her voice. My lips were saying yes, but my mind and heart were saying, NEVER! Hanging up the phone, I placed my face in my hands and I started to cry uncontrollably, hard, where my sobs took my breath away. Bill immediately came running from his bedroom and into the kitchen, as he knew what devastating news I had just received. Bill took over, clutching me, pressing me tight against his shirtless chest. Bill continued to press me against him, comforting me, as I cried, feeling the softness from the hair on his chest against my wet cheeks. It was Bill’s chest and hug that I remember most from that moment, as we both stood there in each others’ arms. I have never been so close to a family member before, like I was with my grandfather. Our grandfather-granddaughter relationship had a true connection, where our hearts were bonded by a special love, with respect and admiration. The horrible disease of cancer had finally taken over and won and the man that I cherished so dearly had finally left this world… my world… and my life forever.
As I tried to gain my composure and adjust to the new reality within my mind, my thoughts took me back to the moments before that life altering phone call, when I was sitting on Bill’s bed, watching that strange white mist travel by me; almost as if someone was trying to say their last good-byes. Suddenly, all my thoughts stopped, as I took a second glance out into the dining room. It was at that moment that I realized what had just happened. Without a doubt, I knew in my heart that the white mist that I saw just minutes before, was my grandfather’s spirit as he passed from one world to the next; taking a brief detour to be with me one last time, to say his final farewells and to make sure that I would be all right and be taken care of in this world without him.
Grandpa, being a true man of his word, did exactly what he told Fr. Dietrich he’d do. Grandpa had let himself go home to be with God, resurrecting together and passing away on April 22, 1984, Easter Sunday.
Knowing that my mother didn’t have a phone at home, it was up to me to deliver the news to her that her father had just passed away. This was the last thing that I wanted to do and knew that it was going to be very hard. I also knew that mom was never the type to express her emotions, therefore, not sure how she would take the news. Would she burst into tears or would she quietly say nothing. As Bill drove me over to my mother’s apartment and, as we got closer and closer, my heart began to beat faster and faster. I didn’t want to do this, but there was nobody else – only me. I stepped through the door and saw mom sitting in her chair, with my brothers, Steve and Jeff on the couch watching TV. As I entered the room, each one of them could see on my face that something was wrong. All I said to them was… “I received a call from granny tonight…” and they knew immediately what I was about to share with them. This is when I told them that grandpa had passed away earlier that evening. Looking at mom, her head was hanging low, surely lost in her own thoughts. As predicted, mom showed no emotions whatsoever. I didn’t see her get upset; I didn’t see her lips quiver or her eyes swell with tears; unlike myself who was distraught and inconsolable and could barely stop the tears from flowing. Mom accepted the news like one would accept an egg falling and cracking onto the floor; you didn’t want it to happen, but it did, so let’s clean it up and move on. Perhaps, mom grieved in her own way, privately and by herself. My brother, Jeff, was saddened to hear the news. Jeff rarely spent summers on the farm with my grandparents nor wrote granny and grandpa letters. Jeff wasn’t as close to my grandparents or had that close bond relationship like Steve and I did, but I’m sure Jeff loved them dearly just the same. I stared into Steve’s face and could tell that he was quite shaken by the passing of his grandfather. All the color disappeared from his face, abruptly turning white as if he just saw a ghost himself. The look on his face was absolute disbelief. I left my mom and my brothers, letting them know that I will keep them informed of all the funeral arrangements. By the time I ended up in my own bed late that evening, I was emotionally exhausted, crying every moment I woke during the night. My heart ached for my mother and brothers, for my grandmother who would have to bury her husband after thirty-four years of marriage, and my heart ached for myself. Going to grandpa’s funeral was one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life. I never witnesses or experienced anyone else’s death before.
The days leading up to grandpa’s funeral, the weather had been gloomy. The sun didn’t shine for days, as if the angels above were crying their own tears of grief. As spring weather can often do, the days were filled with constant rain. As we drove to Wisconsin to attend the funeral and, as we got closer to the funeral home, the sun decided to make an appearance, showering the day with the most beautiful rays of sunshine that beamed through white puffy clouds and blue skies. The sun had started to warm the air, allowing us to breathe in the freshness of the day. It was almost as if grandpa had a final say in the weather that day and, being a roofer, you couldn’t work if it was raining out. Therefore, I felt it was his special way of lifting the day’s spirits, along with our hearts.
As I entered the funeral home, I could instantly sense the sadness around me. Not only was it my grandfather’s service, but there were other wakes going on as well. I could sense the demeanor within the rooms; quite, reserved, formal, as if one is trying to be on their very best behavior. Just off the main hallway, I see my grandfather’s name on the wall plaque, Raymond Johnson, designating which room was his for the afternoon. Seeing grandpa’s name displayed made the moment so final and it made me wonder how many other names have been on that plaque before him… hundreds, I’m sure. Making my way into the room, there was a guest registry book to my left, resting upon the podium. As I held the pen in my hand, I took pride in writing my full name… Jackie Rae Lambert. I wanted everyone to know that it was me who shared my grandfather’s name and that I was specifically named after him; for him.
Granny waits for me to finish signing the guest book and then offers me a reassuring, “hello honey,” as I walked toward her. Granny knew that my heart was as shattered as hers. She takes my hand in hers. I can feel the plumpness of her fingers, as she walked me up to see grandpa lying in his casket. It took everything I had not to burst out into tears at that very moment. I didn’t want to share my feelings with people I didn’t know. I wanted to show everyone that I was strong. Thinking back, perhaps, that was my mom’s belief, too. I bit down on the inside of my lip to make it stop, as I felt my lower lip quivering uncontrollably. I knew that if I started crying, it would be so hard for me to stop. Granny showed me all the beautiful flowers that people sent to the funeral home, even Durfee Roofing Company, where grandpa worked for so many years. Then, granny was telling me how much weight grandpa lost, showing me how shallow his belly was, as she pressed her hand against his stomach. She kept telling me, “Feel, feel his stomach, Jackie. He lost so much weight. He’s not the grandpa with the big muscles that you use to know.” Placing my hand on his stomach and then his chest, I could feel the stiffness and hollowness of his body. I felt the concaveness, as if there was nothing left inside of him, no guts, no blood, no spirit.
I watched granny kiss grandpa’s face and pet his head, as if he was a baby kitten lying in her lap taking an afternoon catnap. Over and over, her hand swept across his hair, making me think that she was going to rub his head bald! But, it was granny’s way of keeping her connection between the both of them, even if it was just for a little while longer, as within hours, he would be placed away in his eternal crypt forever.
While at grandpa’s service, I had more than one person come up to tell me that my grandfather thought the world of me, always expressing how he felt about me, showing others my letters and cards or what I had made for him. In a quiet moment with grandpa’s sister, Sarah, she shared with me that my grandfather absolutely adored me and that I was the light of his life. Hearing such special words meant so much to me. They made my heart sing, yet at the same time, made my heart ache and weep.
The pain of losing someone in death remains in you and will always remain for the rest of your lives. I have always believed that losing a loved one in death is, and will be, the most excruciating pain that God will ever give us to endure. Your heart literally aches for the person that you have lost, as if it has truly been broken in half. My first painful moment of death was with my loving grandfather. To this day, over twenty five years later, my heart still misses him so much and cries as if I had just lost him yesterday. My grandfather was a man of honesty and faith and the day he passed was like someone stealing a part of my heart away forever, leaving an empty hole. The hurt that the heart holds onto can be so overwhelming at times. It makes you wonder how it can retain so much pain and sadness; almost to the point where you think your heart is going to shatter from grief. But, God helps us through such times, blessing us with memories, giving us the strength to continue on and moving forward.
I was so devastated by my grandfather’s death, that the pain was just too unbearable. All I did was hurt and cry. As I walked to work, I’d cry, watching a child playing ball with his father or seeing two elderly sweethearts sitting together on a bench holding hands. I’d cry in the shower when I knew nobody would hear me or with my face in my pillow late at night. One night, a couple weeks after grandpa’s passing, I remember sitting on my bed, watching the ten o’clock news. My heart ached so much for the man who graced me with so many wonderful memories that I remember crying and shedding so many tears that I didn’t think I had any more left inside me. Tired of hurting so much, tired of being worn out from crying, I decided to ask for a sign. I didn’t care if it was from my grandfather, God or the neighbor next door! I just needed to have a sign to let me know that grandpa was okay, that he made it to heaven, that he was happy, healthy and cancer free. These thoughts no sooner left my mind and into the air when all of a sudden I heard grandpa’s name being announced over the TV… “Raymond Johnson…” I immediately looked up at the television and sat there wondering if I really heard what I thought I just did. Grandpa’s name was being mentioned out of thin air, coming directly from the TV’s speakers. I looked around my room as if I was going to find an answer as to what just happened, but I knew I heard his name loud and clear and I knew it was the sign that I just asked for moments before. My grandfather sent me a message that, yes, he was delivered safely and directly to God’s arms and that he was just fine. It was then that a peacefulness came over me; as if hushing me, soothing me, letting me know that my broken heart, in time, would mend and heal.
Blessed with Memories
We would wait for him by the end of the drive, so as to receive our nightly ride.
Slowly driving up Grandpa comes to a stop,
on the back of his blue roofing truck so we did hop.
We rode to the end by the barn he did park;
we jumped off to greet him, along with the dogs as they barked.
As Grandpa walked to the house, we followed behind,
searching his lunch pail with only little to find.
Grandpa washing in the sink after a long hard day,
while Granny’s in the kitchen, cooking in her own special way.
As we sat at the table with heads bowing low,
we prayed our grace and offered our bestow.
“Bless our family and the friends that we have,
may their happiness and health eternally last.
But most of all, bless the love that we share,
and thank you my Lord for the memories we care.”
Jackie (Lambert) Morin
Footsteps to the Stairs of Rest
Lying in my Grandma’s room, I can feel the soft country air on my body,
as the breeze dances with the window drape.
Not being able to make that final descent into night’s slumber,
I wait for grandpa to walk his footsteps up the stairs of rest, to his room of sleep.
I can see his reflection in the mirror, as he turns down his bed of comfort
and winds his time to begin another day.
He footsteps to the lamp and, with a switch, everything is stilled with darkness.
I now wait for the footsteps to echo as Grandma comes up the stairs of rest.
Jackie (Lambert) Morin
Spending time on the farm was my own perfect piece of heaven. It was as if the farm allowed me to step into another world, where I no longer feared that someone was going to come and hurt me during the night. I didn’t worry that my building was going to catch on fire or that Melvin was going to start beating my mother again. I was a happy child while living with my grandparents. This time in my life also helped shape me to be the person that I am today. It taught me how to love, laugh, respect but, more importantly, how to be a child without fear. As I step into this other world once more, I lay in my bed starring out the window at the deep dark sky. I watch as the stars dance among themselves, winking at me ever so slightly. Smelling the fresh country breeze coming through the window, I feel it sweep softly across my face. I fall peacefully into night’s slumber, where I have sweet dreams and look forward to the next summer day’s adventures. Yes, grandpa, I will always remember “what was.”
Even though I didn’t have too many immediate role models while growing up, my life at that time did consist of several very special and important people. I have known my best friend, Donatta, for almost forty years; over half my life. Donatta and I were school mates and I met her for the first time in 1974 while attending the brand new school, Joan F. Arai, which was located down on Wilson Avenue. This school was modern day, with its Olympic size swimming pool and teachings that provided homemaking and manual arts training for all students, along with a regular academic curriculum. I had a lot of fun attending Arai and met some great lifelong friends. A couple years later, in 1977, we were the first eighth grade graduating class of the school. We even made the news reflecting this. Donatta and I became immediate friends. Her personality and friendship was genuine, infectious and I admired her confidence. She had beautiful long flowing hair that had every shade of blond imaginable strung within it. Today, women would pay top dollar to have such great highlights. I would stand behind her in line at school and play with her hair, running my fingers through it like one does a harp, strumming it from one end to the other, watching it fall perfectly back into place, time and time again. Donatta had a sultry look to her, a natural beauty, and a smile that made you instantly feel comfortable. I thought it was effortless for her to be so beautiful. She had long manicured nails, polished. Her makeup was flawless, never overpowering, and just enough to bring out her natural beauty, bringing out her best qualities, such as those high cheekbones she was graced with. Not only was Donatta beautiful on the outside, but she was even more beautiful from within.
Growing up with Donatta since we were young children, she has been there for me when my own mother wasn’t. God knew exactly what he was doing when he sent her to be in my life. Donatta and I formed a close bond and relationship that to this day has never been broken. She was there for me and my family during difficult times and, almost forty years later, she’s still a significant part of my life. Words are limitless when it comes time to share my thoughts and feelings about Donatta. She is truly a kindred spirit and she was brought into my life for a reason, when I needed someone the most; someone to trust, a person to confide in. Although the same age, and only fourteen days apart in birthdays, Donatta always took me under her wing, making sure that I had a friend, but most importantly, that I was safe and felt loved. Donatta is the Godmother to my daughter, Arlaraye, and I am the Godmother to her daughter, Audrey. We may not be connected by blood, but just like her father, Dedac, we are surely connected by the strength of our love and the spirit of God. Sharing the utmost deepest respect for one other, Donatta is more than a sister, she is my soul mate and I love her with all my heart.
I also share a fond relationship with Donatta’s parents. We respectively call them Nana and Dedac. Dedac recently went home to be with God, but I know he is looking over us, protecting us and smiling every step of the way. Donatta’s sister, Gordana, is also a part of our life and would do anything in the world for you. These wonderful Croatians all are a significant part of my everyday family and consider them nothing short of being the loves of my life. While growing up and spending time with them, they always considered me a part of their family. To this day, they welcome me and my children with open arms, a kiss and a special greeting, “sunce” meaning sunshine. There were times where Nana and Dedac helped pay my rent and even helped me buy airline tickets to travel with them on a family trip to Mexico. We have spent many Christmas’ together, birthday parties, and other special events throughout the years. Every get together began with a question from Dedac, “You are fine, how am I?” a tradition that has yet to be unbroken until recently. Surely, Frank will carry on this fond ritual. Nana and Dedac are my children’s Croatian grandparents, Gordana is their Teta and Donatta is their Noo-Noo. They are and always will be a part of my life. Volim te!
Donatta and her family lived in Chicago, just off of Lawrence and Western. On the rare occasion when my mother would allow me, I would spend the night with Donatta and her family. We would have the best time giggling the night away. Donatta would always tell me not to laugh so loud so as to not wake up her sister who was sleeping just in the next bedroom across the hallway, but it never worked, as we both would have another spurt of laughter under the goose feather comforter. We did this for hours until we finally fell asleep. Oh, the comfort of that feather comforter. I had never felt anything so soft and fluffy and I remembered asking Donatta what kind of blanket it was. I remember cuddling the feather blanket deep underneath my chin, thinking to myself that I felt so safe and imagined that this was what a fluffy cloud must feel like. I slept so well that night. I felt free. I felt safe. I always felt such safety and comfort being with Donatta and her family. I knew that nobody was ever going to hurt me there. A favorite memory while staying with Donatta were the wonderful showers that I was able to take. At my home, we didn’t have a shower, only a bathtub. We also never had the luxury of so many beauty soaps like Donatta had. My mother would only buy one shampoo, which was called, Prell. The bath soap that we used was Lava, which is what Melvin requested to use because his hands would get so dirty. If one wasn’t drying out your hair, the other was stripping the shine off of your skin. While stepping into the shower in Donatta’s bathroom, I remember seeing every shampoo, conditioner and body wash imaginable. They had all kinds of body washes and shampoos, only for me try each and every one of them. I felt as if I stepped into a beauty salon, with the whole salon at my fingertips, using whatever I wanted! Whenever I was in Donatta’s home, I always felt like I was a part of their family and, to this day, I still do. When stepping into their home an immediate comfort sets in and I find myself looking around at every door way, every room, every picture frame that hangs on the wall, reminiscing back in time to the days when my presence was there as a young girl.
To Share with a Friend
My best friend and I, away we did fly, to swim in the sea of blue green,
To taste the salt and touch the sands was a feeling beyond supreme.
Sun setting low with its shade of fire, behind the islands afar,
We sat dreaming up at the sky, watching the Northern Star.
Late night swims in the nearby pool, sharing our feelings of hide,
To confide in my best friend was a feeling of trust inside.
To experience a land of such beauty and serene, in the late month of September,
To share this happiness with my best friend, will always be something I remember.
Jackie (Lambert) Morin
Poem written for Donatta after we came back from Mexico with her family.
“What you need to know about the past is that no matter what has happened, it has all worked together to bring you to this very moment. And this is the moment you can choose to make everything new. Right now.” ~Author Unknown
I blossomed early within the dating scene and met a boy that I simply adored at the age of twelve. I met Bill Dooley in 1974, where he, too, attended Joan F. Arai. Bill was very tall, like his father, and had the biggest brown eyes. His smile reached from one cheek to the other and his lips were full and never disappointing. He had long dark curly hair that would always curl up just enough where it would wrap around the frame of his glasses. He wore football jerseys and enjoyed eating Twinkies for lunch.
Bill was the kid who was popular within his class, if not the whole entire school and all the girls liked and wanted to date him. For a year, Bill and I would tease each other silly, finally realizing that we truly did like each other. Finally, Bill asked me to go steady with him. I felt like I was the luckiest seventh grader around. Me, dating Bill Dooley! It seemed impossible. Of course, being as young as I was at the time, and being brought up in a very strict home, I wasn’t allowed to date. Therefore, Bill and I would sneak around to see one another and we did this for many, many years thereafter and kept our relationship a secret from my mother and Melvin. Of course, our friends knew that we were dating each other, along with Bill’s parents. Basically everyone knew except my side of the family. Without a doubt, they wouldn’t have approved and I would have been severely punished if they had. When I said I was going to visit my friend Janet on Saturday’s, I was actually taking two CTA buses to Bill’s home down at 3950 Lake Shore Drive. Every night, Bill would call me on the telephone and I would hurry up and answer so that my mother or Melvin didn’t know I was talking with a boy. I always said it was either Donatta or my friend, Janet, calling. I remember once performing a silly stunt, where I told mom that I would do jumping jacks until “Janet’ called and rung the phone. Of course, this allowed me to stand very close to the phone, where nobody else could answer it. After a while, I was running out of excuses as to why I would always stand so close to the phone every night. Well, finally, after fifty some jumping jacks later, the phone finally rang, allowing me to quickly pick it up. Surely, they wouldn’t have approved of me talking with Bill on a nightly basis or any time at all for that matter.
Knowing that Bill was an avid Bob Dylan fan I wanted to impress him so much and let him know that I liked Dylan, too, even though I knew nothing about Dylan, his songs or his history in music at the time. But, I really wanted Bill to like me and I wanted him to think that I had taste when it came to music, too. I would play my Bob Dylan 45 singles on my turn table in my bedroom while we talked on the phone, sitting very close to the speakers so that Bill could hear the music in the background… “The Times They Are a-Changin’, Stuck Inside a Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again and Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35.” The irony is that Dylan’s music truly influenced me and I enjoy his work and the meaning of his songs very much. My favorite Dylan song has always been “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” I always wondered if Bill knew that this was all a strategy to get closer to him. Did he really think that I was a cool chick for listening to Dylan music?
Bill’s parents were wonderful, accepting me into their home the moment they met me. They were both very easy going parents, open, free and truly accepting me as a part of their family and life. Family parties, “Skettie” dinners or weddings, I was a part of them all. They knew of my upbringing and home life, as I shared this side of my life with Bill. They knew the structure in which I lived. Perhaps, this is why they mothered me so. Spending time with Bill and his family, I was able to see how a real family should spend time with one another; sitting down to eat dinner together, watching television together and even expressing how much they loved one another, always hearing the words I love you. I even heard these words from Bill’s parents myself. I will always be thankful that they let me be a part of their lives for so many years.
These two extraordinary friends, Donatta and Bill, kept me out of my neighborhood as much as they could during my teenage years, as they both realized how I was being raised and the unhealthy environment in which I lived. They, along with their wonderful families, were my saving grace and, to this day, I credit their existence in my life for keeping me out of that neighborhood and out of trouble. I honestly feel in my heart that if I had hung out with the wrong crowd, especially with what the neighborhood was offering, I would have gotten pregnant and ended up on welfare myself, which appeared to be an epidemic on the block as I was growing up. With no love or structure from my home life, Donatta and Bill made this part of my life whole and complete, never leaving me asking for more. For this, I will forever be grateful to them, as well as their families.
Lying here thinking of you,
Waiting patiently to be in your arms,
Watching the clock as it slowly passes away.
I remember back into the past,
To the days when our love was young,
We kissed, we hugged, we held hands,
As we walked together under the star lit sky.
Feeling a warm glowing sensation inside me,
I bring myself back to reality, satisfied to know
That nothing has changed between us.
Jackie (Lambert) Morin
As relationships often do, Bill and I went our separate ways after college, so that we could both grow in areas that we wouldn’t have been allowed to do otherwise if we had stayed together. That was a bittersweet time for me, but looking back, I do believe now that it was all meant to be. As I have always said, “Everything happens in life for a reason.” It may not make us stronger at the time, but over time it will. It was over twenty years later that I, once again, heard from Bill. We have since reunited and renewed friendships, caught up on each other’s lives, the happy and the sad, as well as reminiscing about the days of old but, most importantly, we talked about forgiveness.
God places certain people into our life’s paths for a reason. Donatta and Bill were my own guardian angles. They were meant to be in my path, meant to be a part of my life, to be a significant and positive interception toward the intended life that was projected for me. Having no one else to trust or depend on, I would have relied on the resources that were around me, the ones that were negative and destructive; the ones that would have surely taken me down the wrong path. For this, I thank you…
“God not only sends special angels into our lives, but sometimes He even sends themback again if we forget to take notes the first time!” ~ Eileen Elias Freeman
While living in Chicago with mom and Melvin, we lived in the heart of Chicago Gaylord Nation; the Lords of Sunnyside and Magnolia. We had what you call a front row seat to all the action, misfortune and crime. The Gaylords are known as being one of the oldest white street gangs in the city of Chicago. It was a very rough neighborhood in the 1970’s and that’s putting it mildly. Shortly after moving into the neighborhood, while walking to the corner drugstore to buy mom a pack of cigarettes, someone was walking behind me throwing rocks at me, just barely missing me as they skidded past my feet. Thankfully, they missed. Scare tactic I’m sure. I never did turn around to see who it was. I was too afraid and in fear that I would get my ass kicked if I acknowledged them. Whoever it was, surely thought it was a welcoming to the neighborhood no doubt.
One late evening, I was being walked home from a date with my boyfriend, Bill. We were walking down Wilson Avenue and just made a right onto my street Magnolia. Bill lived on Hermitage off of Wilson and thought it would be a straight shot to walking me back home. We were about a half block away from my apartment building when suddenly a group of guys came out of nowhere, walking very close behind us. Taking a brief look behind me, I noticed they had boards and baseball bats, slapping them into the palm of their hands, hard and with intimidations, making sure we heard every loud crack of their threatening intentions. Neither Bill nor I reacted to their hostility which, for some reason, was obviously directed toward us. Surely, it was a few of the Lords protecting their territory as we just entered their home turf on Sunnyside and Magnolia. They were making their presence known. Bill was not known there, as he never hung around the neighborhood. The gang could tell that he didn’t belong and could have easily started things up. Luckily, the Lords never carried through with their threats. Perhaps, they recognized me, knowing that I was Steve’s sister and lived in the neighborhood, just doors away, therefore leaving us both alone. The next time Bill walked me home; we decided to walk down Montrose Avenue instead, stopping at Mr. Jazz for a shake. For Bill, chocolate chip mint and for me, a banana shake, with a real banana in it. There was even one time where the Guardian Angles themselves walked us home, making sure that we arrived safely to our destination. Yes, it was rough living on Magnolia and Sunnyside, a.k.a. Gaylord Territory, which is now the home of a CPD blue light camera watching every move that is made.
Being surrounded by gang members in the neighborhood, my brothers would hang out with some of the kids from the gang. Ironically, they never tried to recruit them. I guess after a while they realized that my brothers were more into school and sports than being initiated by a gang banger. Over time, my brothers were accepted into the neighborhood by the Gaylords and weren’t hassled, which meant the trouble makers left me alone as well. We were good kids; we weren’t looking for any trouble.
Not being able to travel too far from the neighborhood, we mainly stuck close to home. We would gather up a team and venture one block west to the empty sandlot behind Beacon Street, where we would play softball. As Steve tossed the bat, and as hand went over hand to see who would choose their first team member, I was always picked within the top three. Either I was that good or my brothers felt sorry for me. My brothers and I, along with a few neighborhood friends would absorb ourselves with a few games, playing until the sun was setting low enough, taking the light away from the game. I was a straight up Tomboy to say the least. There were really no girls to hang out with so I just hung out with my brothers and their friends. I had more boy in me than Rue Paul! If we weren’t playing softball, we were playing pinners up against the apartment stairs or fast pitch in the Stockton daycare schoolyard. We would also hang out at Truman College when it was first built and had many football games there behind the school. I did get into the occasional wrestling match. My brothers and I, along with our friends, would play tag team wrestling in our front yard. I remember losing a tooth that way once. One of the guys elbowed me directly in the mouth and out popped my tooth. Tossing my hair into a ponytail, I would wear tennies and gym clothes and wrestle with the best of them. Eventually, when I had enough of being a Tomboy, I’d go into the house and change my wardrobe, only to come strolling out all decked out wearing a short dress, pantyhose and four inch black platform shoes that women today would kill for! I wanted to show the boys that I was also a young lady, dainty, proper… with a missing tooth!
My neighborhood back in the seventies was mostly low income people; nothing short of being a bunch of hillbillies and some being low white trash. The kids were always playing in the streets, dirty, wearing no shoes, and climbing the wooden light poles just to see how high they could go. You either worked for daily pay or you were on welfare, mom and Melvin included. It seemed as if every southern soul from Arkansas to Mississippi, all the way from Tennessee to Kentucky were living on the same block as I was. I never heard so much southern twang; almost thought it was a prerequisite just to live in the neighborhood. It also seemed that every kid on the block had a combination of two first names; Roger Dale, George Lee, Brenda Gayle or Bubba Junior. They should have renamed the street that I lived on from Magnolia to Hillbilly Hell. The adults were tough and the kids were even tougher. It appeared as if there was always a fight breaking out between kids, gang bangers or someone getting their ass kicked, which, unfortunately, at times, involved me.
Nobody liked the quiet kid, especially in school and, because I kept my mouth shut, did the work and showed up every day for class, teachers would take it upon themselves to use me as an example, not realizing that they just stamped, “Kick My Ass” directly across my forehead! They would always ask me to do special tasks to help them out; erasing the board, passing out those wonderful smelling ditto sheets that everyone sniffed the moment they held them in their hands. I was always asked to help. This was known as Teacher’s Pet and nobody, absolutely nobody, liked the Teacher’s Pet. I couldn’t tell you how many times I got picked on at recess or got my ass kicked after school by big black burly girls. They enjoyed the extracurricular activity and I just happened to be their main hobby. I was getting bullied so much, that it was getting to the point where my teacher had to let me out of school five minutes early before the dismissal bell would ring, just so I could get a head start at getting home. Clearly feeling sorry for me, my teacher would stand on the school stairs at Stockton Elementary, just off of Montrose Avenue, yelling at me to, “Run Jackie Run!” I’d run down Montrose Avenue so fast that I felt my shoes slapping me in my rear end with every mad dash I took. Finally making it home, I felt safer. Little did my teacher know that the girls who would kick my ass lived on the same block, directly across the street from me. So, if they didn’t catch me after school, then they caught me while playing outside. I was never the type to fight back. I was submissive, as I stood there while they took their pokes at me. I think they were waiting for me to fight back, giving them the opportunity to really let me have it. But, I always stood there watching them, with their nostrils flaring up with every tormenting breath they took, and their eyes that were so big they looked like they were going to pop out of their skulls. Poke, poke, poke, they did until they had enough and decided to torment the next poor kid. I would tell mom that girls were bothering me, but all she would tell me to do is stay away from them. Yes, sure, that seemed easy enough. Eventually, as I got older, I hung out with my brothers and their friends, playing softball or fast pitch. It was then that I was finally left alone and not bothered anymore. Having friends in that neighborhood that liked you was tough!
Another current event that would always happen in my neighborhood was the fires. It seems that apartment buildings were always getting torched to the ground, including two of the buildings that I had lived in. I’d hear the fire trucks blaring down the street and wonder which building is burning now, hoping that it wasn’t my own. However, I always found it amazing that one building in particular on the block never had a fire. This was the tallest building on Magnolia toward Wilson Avenue. It was years later that I realized that the building was never torched because all the pyromaniacs who set all the fires to begin with lived there. Wouldn’t be wise to burn down your own building, now would it? In 1976, one late evening, one of the buildings we lived in on Magnolia was set ablaze. At the time, I was in seventh grade and getting ready for another summer vacation, waiting for the school year to end. I had dreamt of fire, only to wake up with smoke filling our apartment. I woke up my family, telling them that something was burning. Fortunately, we lived on the first floor and it was easy to get out of the building. Unfortunately, there were two other floors above us and others wouldn’t be as lucky. As I was leaving to run outside, I took a quick glance at the stairwell, only to see them engulfed in flames; almost memorizing as I stood there watching the orange flames lick the ceiling and staircase, making their way down to the main floor. My family made it out in front of our burning building and waited for the fire trucks to arrive. I see other family members coming out of the same door. Knowing that they lived on the upper floors, I couldn’t understand how they made it down to the first floor and out of the building. It was only moments later, after seeing them, I realized that they walked right through the flames to escape. Some tenants jumped from the second floor, ending up with broken bones, as they knew they couldn’t escape any other way. A mother was severely burned from her waste up. She ran out of her apartment with no shirt on and you can see her breasts starting to blister up and skin peeling away from her body. Her two young sons were badly burned, as well. Their hair was almost gone and the skin on their scalps had melted. We were all in shock. It was months later when we saw them again, their bodies healing and full of scars, trying to recover from this horrific ordeal that they went through just months before. The mother had scars all up and down her arms, breasts and back and, sadly, her sons reflected her image, wearing baseball caps to hide their head and faces. On the evening of the fire, there were news crews covering the story and Red Cross was handing out blankets to stay warm. Sitting in the Red Cross van, I was afraid, terrified, wondering where we were going to live. It was a three story brick building and the two top floors were badly damaged. It was reported by the news that the tenants on the second floor were having a late night party and certain individuals from the outside wanted to attend, but the tenant of the apartment declined their proposition. Therefore, these individuals threw a Molotov cocktail through their second story window, directly above us, causing the apartment to be instantly engulfed in flames and spreading through the whole second floor and eventually to the third. Many lives were scarred that night… literally and figuratively. I thought we would move, but it was decided that we would stay in the building. My mother and Melvin had nowhere else to go and had no money to do so. Eventually, the building was in the process of being renovated; surely, a health hazard, not to mention against the law, especially with three young children still living there. There was no electricity in the building and, eventually, it was being pumped into the building via the light poles in the alley. There was a lot of water damage and smoke damage to everything we owned and a lot of our things had to be thrown out. We had no gas for cooking. The smell of burnt wood was horrible and it permeated everything in the apartment. I was finalizing my days at school, wearing the same clothes that were in the fire and that had been permeated with smoke damage. We had no washer or dryer to wash our clothes. I would spray my clothes down with perfume from Avon so that my clothes wouldn’t have a stench. But, I know they still did, if not making my clothes smell worse. Surely, my classmates realized something was wrong. I did confide in my best friend, Donatta, that my building had a fire and we had no gas to cook nor did we have any clean clothes. Upon hearing this, Donatta and her mother, Nada, brought my family over shopping bags full of clean blankets, sheets, towels, and even an electric frying pan so that we could at least cook some meals. I’ll never forget looking out the window, watching as these two angels got out of their car, with bags full of items for us to use. What a beautiful and unselfish act of kindness. I will never forget this for the rest of my life. Because of Donatta’s kind gesture and concerns, my family and I were able to stay warm and at least have a couple of warm meals. As life always does, we managed to move forward with this tragedy and, eventually, the building was rehabbed, allowing us to continue to live in this apartment building for at least several more years thereafter. The neighborhood experienced many buildings that went up in flames, some from neglect or vandalism and others just for profit, leaving many families homeless if not dead.
Years later, we eventually moved from the building that was set on fire into another building just a few doors away. It seemed as if we always lived on Magnolia, on the east side of the street, never venturing to live anywhere else. Mom and Melvin agreed to manage the apartment building that we moved to for a reduction of rent.
There was a husband and wife tenant who lived on the second floor named Big John and Barbara. They called him Big John because he was well over six feet tall. He was a good looking man, gentle and somewhat on the quiet side. He reminded me of a greaser, with his black hair slicked back. His wife, Barbara, was petite and quite as well. We got to know them, as we would occasionally chat while sitting outside on the front stoop. One summer afternoon, mom and I were in our apartment when we heard a huge bang above us, followed up moments later with someone knocking on our door. Not knowing what to expect, I stood behind mom as she went to see who was at the door. There, standing before us, was Big John, who also happened to have a gun in his hand. Recognizing what it was, it scared me and I immediately took a step back. Very politely, he asked my mother to please call the police, as he said that he just shot his wife, Barbara. Suddenly, my body felt sick and numb and my instincts took over. I wanted to leave, but Big John was standing in our door way and with a gun in hand. There was no way out. I didn’t know what he was capable of or if he was going to continue shooting. I was beyond scared. Luckily, we lived on the first floor because it was at that point that I decided to climb out of the front window and slide down the building into the front yard, getting far away from Big John. I stood back, close to the curb, waiting for the police to arrive. Big John also made his way outside and stood in front of the building, as he, too, was waiting for the same visitors to arrive. It was then that I decided to cross the street, keeping my distance from him and his gun. Moments later, the police showed up and were entering our building to speak with mom. They didn’t realize that the man they were looking for was standing outside, right there in front of them, while still holding is gun. Once the police officers realized they walked past the man they were looking for, they went into action, drawing their guns, asking Big John to hand over his weapon. Within minutes, he was handcuffed and taken into custody. Meanwhile, his wife was still sitting on the second floor landing, bleeding all over the place from a gunshot wound that went through her right upper arm and directly into her side. An ambulance was called and they took Barbara to the hospital for emergency treatment.
I thought that that this was the end of the nightmare and that it would make a great story for everyone to share that evening while sitting on the stoop. But, I was wrong, as my mother instructed me to get a bucket of pine-sol and hot soapy water, along with a mop. At first, I didn’t understand why, but it soon became apparent that mom appointed me to be the cleanup crew and scrub the blood that was draped all over the stairs and carpet from when Barbara was sitting there earlier that day. I expressed to mom that I didn’t want to clean up the blood and that I wouldn’t know how, or what to do, but that didn’t seem to matter to her. Again, she commanded me to go get the bucket of water and clean up the stairs. I went to prepare the bucket and grabbed the mop and slowly made my way up to the second floor. The mop was huge and heavy; almost too big for a ten year old to handle. It was awkward and cumbersome to hang onto. I stood before the pool of blood that now resembled a bowl of firm Jell-O. Blood begins to coagulate once it hits the open air, thickening and becoming firm. Dipping my mop into the bucket of water, I rung the wetness out by hand and took my first swipe at wiping up the bloody mess that lay before me. It was like mopping up a large jar of red paint that broke open onto the floor, smearing from left to right, creating even a bigger mess. There was a lot of blood on those stairs and the mop just wasn’t able to absorb all the blood at once. Rinsing the mop out by hand several times, I watched as the blood ran through and over my fingers and back into the bucket. The strength of the pine-sol had burnt my nose, stinging my upper sinuses, and making my eyes water. Mom told me to make sure that it was all up from the stairs and, in particular, out of the carpet. I got sick to my stomach, along with having the dry heaves from the smell and the appearance of me smearing the blood from one end of the stair to the other. Eventually, I did manage to get enough of the blood up so that it wouldn’t stain and my mother was satisfied. I was very upset with mom and that she made me clean up what should have been an adult’s responsibility, her responsibility, anyone else’s responsibility except for her own young child. To this day, I can’t stand the smell of Pine-sol, as it takes me back to this moment in time where I was trying to scrub someone else’s blood from the floor.
I have gone back to the old neighborhood since these awful days and, with every trip I make, over forty years later; I find that it is always changing for the better or at least trying to anyway. The changes in appearance are tremendous, seeing how much it has transformed since we lived there so many years ago. Starbucks on the corner of Magnolia and Wilson, along with a gourmet bistro appropriately called, Magnolia Café. Buildings have been gutted and renovated, turning once cockroach and gang infested apartment buildings into beautiful, gorgeous condos, with their neatly manicured lawns and newly designed architectural structures that are going for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The last building we were burnt out, the same place where bloody Barbara sat waiting for help, has since been torn down and is now a beautiful park for the neighborhood and their families to play and spend time in. Today, as you hear the children’s laughter filling the air and as the parents push their young children in the swing or catch them as they come slithering down the slide, they will never know the horrors that this particular spot once held for a young child back in the seventies, who not only endured, but survived being that Uptown Girl.
While living on the farm in Stoughton, Steve and I were the only two young kids around for miles. There really wasn’t anyone our age to play with. There was no such thing as play dates with neighbor kids or going to the mall to spend time with friends. My brother and I had to make up our own fun and, usually, it was together. We would play with our rolling red wagon or ride our bikes around the farm together. Sometimes, we would take turns on the swing that grandpa made out of an old truck tire. Sometimes, we would play cars and trucks underneath the tree, dragging the toys through the dirt. We did enjoy when our older friends from across the road would take a break from their daily chores on the farm and come over and play cowboys and Indians with us. Picking up long sticks to use as rifles, we would all run around the yard shooting at one another, trying to capture one another for hostages. But, there were also times when Steve and I would go our separate ways and make our own fun by ourselves. I would go off to play with my dollhouse and paper dolls or lay in the grass watching the clouds and trying to make them look like things. For many summers, as I lay starring up at the sky, I always thought that airplanes made the clouds in the sky. As I would watch an airplane fly by, I would comment, “There goes the cloud maker!” I called the planes cloud makers because I would see trails of clouds behind the airplane engines. Years later, I learned that that they were called condensation trails that were made by the airplane and not actually real clouds at all. To this day though, I look up toward the sky and see where a cloud maker had just flown by and I can’t help but to smile softly knowing that they will always be cloud makers to me.
As Steve ventured off making his own fun, he would dig up a game of baseball. Steve loved baseball. Sometimes, I felt he ate slept and breathed baseball. When we were home in Chicago, Steve was always starting up a game of softball or fast pitch in the schoolyard with friends. Having no friends to strike up a game on the farm, nor having a baseball or bat to play with, Steve had to come up with his own inventiveness. Steve would summon his shadow friend to come out and join him in another game of ball. Standing together in the gravel driveway, Steve would concentrate on his shadow that lay before him, watching, studying it without end. My brother’s shadow friend soared above him, tall and lean, silhouetting across the ground. Steve would pretend to be on the pitcher’s mound, steadily winding up the next pitch, gliding it across home plate for the third time, making an easy out. Continuously watching second base, Steve throws an unpredicted pitch, hoping to capture another easy out. Steve continued to watch his form, his movements while challenging his shadow friend with each precise play. Batter up! Steve would shout, taking his stance in the batter’s box, which was nothing more than an old roofing shingle left over from one of grandpa’s jobs. Winding up, Steve took several practice swings, making sure his shadow friend was still in play. Deciding where his home run will land, Steve points to center field with his imaginary bat. Swinging wildly at the pitch that was placed before him, Steve hits his target, where it flew high into the blue sky, landing in the cornfields just as he predicted. Victory was his once again. As the sun settled for another day’s rest, Steve said good night to his shadow friend, promising that as long as it’s a bright sunny day, and his shadow friend was willing to come out and play, Steve would be back tomorrow to play another game.
Friend of a Shadow
My friend of a shadow, do not leave me now,
As my brother would think as the sun passes through a cloud.
Our game is not over, we need another strike,
As he said to his shadow friend which he truly did like.
Okay said the other, I am coming back to win,
There was always defeat between my brother and his shadow friend.
Jackie (Lambert) Morin
This past week, I lost a very special person who has been a part of my life for almost 40 years, Nicholas Erzic, “Dedac” to his family.
I met Dedac one summer afternoon in the year 1974, when I befriended his daughter, Donatta, where we both shared the same class together in grade school. Dedac was a tall and good-looking man; the kind of man that you made the effort of giving a second glance to. His accent was as thick as his mustache, which graced both sides of his loving smile. The hugs that Dedac extended resembled his charm… strong and embracing. Kissing Dedac hello, you took in the fresh scent of his cologne that lay softly upon his cheeks, which gave you reason to go in for a second kiss.
Dedac was the closest person I had to a father figure, taking over where my grandfather had left off. He may not have been my father by blood, but in heart, he was my father by the Spirit of God. Dedac watched me grow up from a freckled 12 year old young girl to a mature young woman. Over the years, he shared in the joys of my marriage, he watched as my babies were brought into the world, loving them unconditionally as if they were his own grandchildren, along with rejoicing in all our triumphs that every family shares. With every holiday we spent together, along with summer barbeques, and many birthdays, my family and I were extremely blessed to have him a part of our life celebrations. Dedac was as much a part of our family as we were his.
Dedac would welcome us with open arms, while saying, “You are fine, how am I?” Well, Dedac, we are saddened by your loss. We will miss your kisses, your hugs and seeing you decked out in your snazzy bolo tie. We will miss your jokes, especially the one about Rod “Blowjobjevich.” We could tell that you enjoyed repeating his name as much as we enjoyed hearing it roll off your tongue in your Croatian accent. As much as our hearts will miss you, yes, we will be fine.
And, how are you? You are now in God’s hands, walking effortlessly through his beautiful paradise, among the angels, with no sickness or pain. Your smile is as broad as the heavens above, as God fills your heart with His peace and eternal love. We know that you are looking down, watching and protecting us. Please look down upon your family and heal our broken hearts as I know God has healed yours. We know that you will be with us now and always… during hard times, good times, during holidays and get-togethers, along with many birthday celebrations. Perhaps, at the next birthday party, you will close the bathroom door while taking a pee… wink, wink. Yes, Dedac, you are doing wonderful.
We’ll always love you,
Jack, Frank, Arlaraye & Tanner
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
~ Anne Lamott
I look at a certain type of man walking down the street with their little daughter; a man who looks as if he’s guarded, distrustful, as if he’s holding onto the biggest and most darkest secret in the palm of his hand; the hand of a young and innocent child that he’s been sexually molesting. He holds her hand tightly and keeps her close to his side in hopes that she will not escape, so as to not shout out their horrible family secrets to the world. My thoughts start to wander back to the days when I was her age, questioning and wondering if she, too, is receiving the same sexual abuse as I had. If she’s being made to do the same disgusting acts as I had. I shake the thought from my mind and quietly say a silent prayer for the little girl’s safety and pray that I am mistaken; that I am completely wrong.
At the time that I was being sexually molested, I felt it was my own horrible nightmare; my own secret that was only between Melvin and me. I was a little girl, who was supposed to be free-spirited, worry free and innocent; all the makings of a sweet child. But, my childhood was being shattered, as images were forever burned into my mind. I was becoming the product of sexual abuse. I can’t call it incest, because he wasn’t married to my mother legally, he wasn’t my biological father, wasn’t even a relative. But, regardless of what you call it, it was still a horrible act of violence. Sexual molestation is not only full of destruction, it’s also degrading. I eventually learned to create a wall within myself, a wall of protection that mentally blocked Melvin out.
Not only was Melvin a hazard to society with his alcoholism and cruel temperament, but he also carried the label of child molester. His upbringing of my brothers and I was deplorable and despicable. I guess with him not being my real father, in his mind, he probably felt he was justified to touch me inappropriately; that it was okay because he wasn’t technically related to me. He had no guilt or shame doing what he did to me all those years and, as I found out many years later, once I was an adult, what he had done to my brother, as well.
All my years growing up, I always believed that I was the only one Melvin was molesting. In my brother’s mind, he believed that he was the only one being molested by Melvin. It wasn’t until our adult life, years later, when we were having dinner together, that we were both shocked to discover that it wasn’t just one of us, but both of us that Melvin had sexually abused for so many years. During dinner one evening, my conversation with my brother was starting to get very meaningful, while reminiscing about living on the farm with our grandparents. Every summer, my grandparents would drive from Stoughton to Chicago to come and get us so we can spend the summers with them on their farm. My brother and I both agreed that this time in our lives was glorious and held so many special memories for the both of us. Years later, my grandparents eventually had to move to Madison because my grandfather had cancer and wasn’t able to handle the farm any longer. He needed to be closer to the hospital and his physicians. After talking awhile about how special this time of our lives were, I had decided to share with Steve a love letter that our grandfather had written me years before, during his sickness, as he knew he was dying. The letter read in part… “I keep thinking of the time we went to the country. We sure did have a ball stealing sweet corn. Remember your pet chicken? That was some bird! I would give $10,000 to be back there and do it all over again.” He, too, reminisced about the good old summer days when we would all be together.
Later in life, I always wondered if my mother ever knew of my sexual abuse. Thinking back, how could she not know? My mother never worked, never went anywhere and was always around. It’s not like she left the house and this is when Melvin attacked. Sometimes, mom would be in the same area where the abuse was happening. Surely, she had to have seen some odd behavior, not only in Melvin, but in her own child. Did she not find it suspicious that Melvin always wanted to take me with him on errands or task, even if it was just next door, to the empty apartment or to check on something in the building we use to manage? Did she not question why I came back disheveled and silent? Deep in my heart I felt that she did know to some extent about me being sexually molested by the man that she shared her life with. For reasons of her own, my mother kept her silence. If she would have confronted Melvin, either he would have left and that would have meant that any source of money or dependency she received from him would have been gone, too. She was so fearful of him and didn’t want to stir up any trouble. Mom was in psychological trap of her own. Mom would just sit there, frozen, not daring to move or say anything that would piss Melvin off. Otherwise, his hand would swing back, palm side directed toward my mother’s head, hitting her directly in the face; her head snapping back, only to bounce forward, waiting to receive the next blow. I never once saw her fight back. I’ve seen Melvin beat my mother just because she spoke out of line or just refusing to hand him her last dollars so that he could go and buy his vodka. Melvin would drink excessively before going to bed. He had a habit of talking in his sleep and would unconsciously wake up and start an argument with my mother, insisting and accusing her of something she did wrong, threatening, calling her a bitch. We all tip toed around him as he slept, praying we wouldn’t wake him up. My mother was scared to death of Melvin, we all were and, like us, sadly, she was a victim, too.
Occasionally, I’ll see something that will trigger me back to the days of when Melvin was being abusive. It’s a rarity, but it does happen. If the molesting didn’t happen in an empty apartment while cleaning for the next tenant, it happened on the back of a dark Greyhound bus while traveling or in a park underneath a tree far away from others. My earliest memories of Melvin touching me and making me touch him were when I was around three years old until I was about eleven or twelve, just after puberty was starting.
As I got older, Melvin touched me less and less. I was resisting him more and more. I was becoming more vocal, a person of my own mind who had gotten stronger mentally throughout the years. He no longer could manipulate me like he wanted to and he knew it. He had lost control. There was a time when I was nineteen years old that Melvin had moved out of our apartment. Not only was Melvin arguing with my mother, he was also arguing with me. There was a lot of tension with him arguing, insulting me, directly in front of others. He hated the fact that I was now an adult and he had no control of my life. He was jealous and hated the fact that I wanted something better for myself, was going to college getting an education; that I worked and had a great relationship with my boyfriend, Bill. I was finally happy with my life and where it was going. I was moving on and making every attempt to better myself and my future. Melvin couldn’t stand it. He knew he had no more power over me, no more manipulation or threats, no more beatings, no more sexual abuse. My body was no longer in his jurisdiction. So, to make himself feel better, he would pick fights with me, insult and degrade me, working his evilness in every way that he could because he knew he could no longer do it sexually.
The surroundings we lived in were becoming unhealthy. I became a woman with my own voice and I wasn’t going to stand for his abusive unhealthy behavior anymore. I learned to speak my mind, I stood up for myself and Melvin hated it. The abuser could no longer abuse; therefore, he left and moved out.
With Melvin now out of the apartment, there was less tension in the air, no arguing or picking fights, no more watching him drink himself into unconsciousness every night. With Melvin gone, it made life more peaceful. But, I had decided that I had enough of living at home. I was old enough to be on my own and I held a job where I could afford a small rent fee. I knew I didn’t want to be in that environment any longer. I was tired of the lifestyle, the lack of love, the filth, the depression. I needed out! I had an opportunity to move out from my mother’s place and rent a bedroom from a mutual friend that my boyfriend, Bill, and I knew. It was the mother-in-law of one of Bill’s brothers. Her name was Sophie. I was given such a wonderful opportunity from Sophie that I jumped at the chance to get away from the way I was living; to escape hell and live somewhere other than where I was. I rented a bedroom for twenty dollars a week and I had full use of the house and yard. I felt that this was the right place for me. Sophie saved me from a home of destruction and my words can never express my gratitude for what she did for me. Sophie’s sincere act of kindness with letting me live there with her was the turning point for me to step out into the world and become the young independent woman that I wanted to be. I had made final arrangements and I started packing my belongings.
Although Melvin had moved out, he would still come over to visit and spend time with my mother, giving her any money that he may have made from daily pay that day. One afternoon, while I was visiting, Mom told me that Melvin was coming over. My timing was impeccable! She had asked me to stay in my old bedroom and not come out while he was there, as he didn’t have plans to stay long. She didn’t want any further confrontation between us, so I told her that I would. Shortly after, Melvin arrives and sits down by my mother I could easily hear their conversation, as my room was just off the living room and there was no door, only a curtain. I could hear him ask where the boys were, meaning my brothers. Mom told him that they were outside with friends. Pausing for a while, he then proceeded to ask her where her “whore daughter” was. I can hear mom’s hushed words, telling him that I was in my room and to keep his voice down. His comment about me being a whore didn’t go unnoticed; I heard it perfectly clear. Doing what mom asked, I continued to stay in the bedroom. But, not being satisfied with my mother’s response, Melvin stood up and addressed my mother once again. This time, he bellowed in a more commanding voice, making sure that I heard him. His goal was to provoke me out of the bedroom, like a hunter does his prey. “Where’s your “whore daughter?!” It took everything I had to stay in my bedroom, I tried, but I couldn’t do it. I had enough. If there was something I wasn’t, that was that I was NOT a whore! I wasn’t going to allow him to belittle me any longer. Melvin wanted a confrontation and I was going to give him what he wanted. I came storming out of the bedroom, tossing aside a chair that was in my way, which only pushed my adrenalin even higher. Mom was sitting down, watching me as I stood in front of the asshole who was calling me a whore. Mom knew enough not to say anything; not to even get in my way, as I was about to go face to face with the devil himself. I was about to do something that she probably wanted to do her whole life. I stood face to face with Melvin and he had hatred written all over his face. If the words were visible, they would probably read… You whore bitch, how dare you leave and escape the hell and tortured life that I created for you. Damn you!
Standing before him, it was my turn to scream, saying to him, “Call me a whore one more time!” He stood to his feet, looked directly into my eyes, and told me that I was nothing but a filthy whore. It was then that something inside me took over and I reacted, snapping, with every syllable he spoke. With everything I had, I punched Melvin as hard as I could with both of my fists, making a direct contact to his face, chest and shoulders. I hit him so hard that he had landed directly on his ass, between a chair and a table, just inches away from my mother’s feet. I heard him land hard. Mom was in such shock that I had hit him that I actually saw a smirk slowly appear on her face.
Melvin lay there on the floor in shock, staring up at me, but now with the words of holy shit written all over his face instead. He didn’t dare stand up and confront me, nor did the words “you’re a whore” ever come out of his mouth again. If he had, I would have hit him again. As I stood over him, watching him squirm on the floor, I said through gritted teeth, “Don’t you EVER call me a whore again! I am NOT a whore! I am a wonderful, kind-hearted loving person; something that you will never be! So, don’t you ever call me a whore again!” Melvin never spoke or acknowledged me again and these were the last words that I ever spoke to Melvin.
Years later, I learned that Melvin was diagnosed with liver cancer and was in the late stages of the disease. He eventually moved back in with my mom so that she could be his full-time care giver. As his health was deteriorating, mom took care of him more and more. She would feed and bathe him, even changing his pissy and shitty diapers, lifting his legs and changing him like one would do a baby. This is how thin and frail he had become. Mom stood by Melvin’s side until he took his last undeserving breath. I often wondered why she had made such a personal and dedicated commitment to take care of a man who would beat and abuse her, who belittled and treated her like shit on a daily basis. Once, Melvin kicked her out of our apartment, making her sit in the hallway for hours and hours, telling her that she didn’t have a home and that she didn’t live there anymore nor had anything to do with her children. I remember crying by her side and she told me that I better get back into the apartment before Melvin finds out that I was with her. He didn’t want anyone to be around her. Ironically, these were the same set of stairs that I was made to clean a pool of blood from when our neighbor shot his wife. Melvin had abandoned her, as she sat alone in the stairway. Many years later, as he was dying of cancer, why couldn’t she abandon him like he did to her so many years before? Did she feel that he shouldn’t die alone? After all, he was Jeff’s biological father. Could she have loved him that much after everything he had done to her, to her children?
I was at work one morning back in December of 1993, when I received a phone call from my mother. I can tell in her voice that something had happened. She said, “I know you probably don’t care, but just thought I’d let you know that Melvin passed away last night.” It was at that moment that I felt like someone squeezed the breath right out of me. I wasn’t prepared for that moment, although it was something I wanted all my young life… for him to die and go away. I couldn’t tell mom that I was sorry or that I felt bad for her. I couldn’t say any words of sympathy whatsoever. They just weren’t in me. All I said was okay and then hung up the phone. I stood and went directly to the bathroom, locking the door behind me. It was there that I cried my countless tears of liberation and rejoice; my tears of relief. I suddenly felt refreshed and cleansed with every breath of air I took. I was relieved to know that Melvin had finally stepped off the face of this earth forever and, hopefully, into the arms of the master devil himself. I was relieved to know that he will never have another opportunity to hurt another innocent child or woman again. His abuse had ended the moment his life did.
I have heard cases where an innocent child dies from their sexual and physical abuse, while another survived. For the survivors; their heart, mind and soul will have this memory of abuse with them for their entire lifetime. Some may be stronger than others, where thoughts can be placed on a top shelf like a book, collecting dust, where they will never be disturbed or influence their lives again, while others may have everlasting effects that will constantly challenge their lives forever. I find it heartbreaking that one individual can alter your trust, feelings and beliefs just by their words and actions alone.
Many times, my thoughts had questioned why my mother consoled a dying man in his last moments of life, especially knowing that he was the one that added unwanted chapters into her children’s lives, as well as her own. It wasn’t until I was sitting on my deck a couple of summers ago that I had my answers.
As I sat studying the sky, I watched the birds dancing above my head. The sun was a glowing orange that was setting for the evening. I watched as the last remaining sliver of sunset disappeared below the horizon. I sat with a glass of wine, sipping, as I wiped a stream of unhappy tears from my cheeks. I was having marriage troubles; the kind that left me hopeless and questioning myself where did I go wrong. I was sobbing and now directed all my questions go God. Why did my husband take his frustrations out on me? Why was I receiving such verbal abuse from him? What did I ever do to deserve such abuse in my life that started from the moment I was born to now and what seems to continue into my marriage? I pleaded with God to help me understand.
It was at that exact moment that my mother’s vision came into my mind. I was suddenly reminded of all the physical abuse she received, as well as the verbal. I was reminded of all the times that she sat there crying to herself, taking in all the horrible cruelty that Melvin was throwing her way. It was also at that moment that I understood exactly what my mother had gone through. I felt her every pain. I felt every ounce of hurt that she felt. I felt her shame, her empty heart. I felt her lack of love. My heart suddenly felt compassion for my mother, perhaps, the same compassion that she felt for Melvin as he was making his final descent into death. It was then that I completely understood. I told my mother that I was sorry. I was so sorry for everything that she had to endure in her life while being with Melvin. He had taken away so much from her. My tears are no longer about myself, but for my mother. My heart was full of empathy and it was at that moment that I forgave my mother for everything. I forgave her for the way she treated me, for her lack of emotion, for her lack of protection. I forgave her for the way she couldn’t love me.
“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” ~ Steve Maraboli
My grandfather seemed to be the complete opposite of granny when it came to their individuality; granny was loud and grandpa was reserved. My grandfather was born on October 5, 1917 and was named Raymond Lester Johnson, but everyone called him Ray. I have the pleasure of honoring my grandfather, as I was named after him… Jackie Rae. Grandpa was the kindest, gentlest and most loving grandfather that a grandchild could ever have. He was soft spoken and, at times, a man of few words. Even though Grandpa was quiet on the outside, he always seemed to have so much to say from within. He had a way of expressing himself trough his eyes and smile. Grandpa spoke with his eyes, watching me with so much intent, absorbing everything I had to say, as if to recognize that my day was just as important as his. His smile was soft and approving, listening to every word that I spoke, as if I was telling the most fascinating story. In the end though, it was his heart that he expressed the most. He was never short on hugs, kisses, or the words, I love you. Just like my grandmother’s, I can still remember my grandfather’s kiss, as well. Thin lipped, dry, with just enough pucker, grandpa would kiss you softly goodnight, as you felt his mustache tickled against your nose.
As gentle and kindhearted as grandpa was on the inside, he showed courageous strength, determination and was a very hard working man on the outside. Although grandpa had a soft spot in his heart, he was also stern with rules and behavior and made sure Steve and I followed them both with manners and respect. While grandpa’s eyes expressed mostly praise, his eyes, on occasion, would express dissatisfaction. Perhaps fighting with my brother or getting into something I wasn’t supposed to, grandpa’s smile would slowly leave his face, letting me know that it was time for business. When getting into trouble, Grandma had Steve and I sit on the couch until grandpa got home from work. It was then that grandma shared with grandpa our negative actions. Grandpa would then slowly enter the living room as his eyes would lock onto ours. With a stern look, he stared directly at us, watching us over the top of his horn rim glasses, while at the same time raising his left eyebrow, as if studying us and deciphering our misbehavior. Grandpa never raised his voice or raised his hand to us. His disheartened look was punishment enough, but it was us who was disappointed in the end. It hurt us more knowing that we had let down our favorite grandpa. After apologies were said, and meant, grandpa offered a few words of encouragement, along with a shake of the head that always made us feel better, acknowledging that what was said is now in the past and behind us.
My grandfather was one hundred percent Norwegian. There was even a time when grandpa tried to teach me Norwegian. Sitting in the yard at the picnic table under the giant oak tree, he would speak to me in Norwegian. I loved how the sound flowingly rolled off his tongue, asking me questions that I obviously didn’t understand. Years later, grandpa wrote me a letter in Norwegian, with the English translation following behind. It was during the time when he was deteriorating from colon cancer, where grandma said it was a struggle for him to write and remember the Norwegian words. He asked what I wanted for Christmas, offering me ten dollars so that I could go buy what I wanted. But, what I wanted for Christmas was the impossible. I wanted my grandfather to be healthy, cancer free and to live a very long life.
Grandpa was a roofer by trade and working on the roof tops, it always left him with a perfect deep golden tan. He had superb carpentry skills and it reflected in his work when he built miniature barns, dollhouses, or garden wishing wells. We would take rides through town and I would hear him and granny comment on all the roofs that grandpa had shingled or what carpentry he did on the house. Amazingly, there were quite a few buildings. I would step into the garage while grandpa was cutting wood for a project and loved smelling the saw dust that lay upon the floor. I knew it was the result of him creating something beautiful. Grandpa was tall and muscular, always wearing dago tees, broken in blue jeans and construction boots; the same outfit that he would occasionally go jogging in as he made several laps around the farm. He enjoyed his Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, playing the accordion, and smoking non-filtered Camel cigarettes.
Saturday evenings were an enjoyable time, as grandpa would start to play songs on his accordion. We would all gather in the breezeway, which was a room just off the garage. The room held a couch and a coffee table, with a jukebox in the corner. With minimal furniture, the room was destined for dancing and entertaining. The evening was warm, with the scent of the countryside traveling through the screened in porch and, occasionally, we would catch a breeze. The night was silent except for the musical notes that grandpa was pushing through the air. Taking in a deep breath, one couldn’t help but to feel the euphoria that was settling in the room. Grandpa takes a couple of test notes on his accordion and the excitement begins. One of grandpa’s favorite pieces to play was the Blue Skirt Waltz. As grandpa punched away at the keys, Steve and I would dance around the room, pretending to polka, twirling each other around by our arms. Grandpa would play two or three songs and then we would start up the jukebox. Grandma selecting a polka on the juke box, it was grandpa and my turn to dance around the dance floor. With grandpa being so much bigger than me, I would have to stand on the top of his roofing boots, hang on, and try not to fall off. My feet would try to stay glued to the top of grandpa’s boots, as he picked up speed to keep in time with the music and dance steps … step, hop, hop… step hop, hop, as he twirled me around, hitting every corner of the room. I felt like I was on a carnival ride. As the polka came to an end and we took our final bows, we ended the evening with smiles on our faces and tickles in our bellies.
Flowers of Wishing Well
To wish on a wishing well you need a few,
Pennies of old to make your wishes come true.
But here I stand with flowers of kind,
By the flowers of wishing well, dreams I wish to be mine.
I close my eyes to think a few,
Before I pick my wishes of true.
If I had a wish, a wish I had,
I’d wish to back on the Farm of Eden,
Dancing with my Granddad.
For you to swing me around with sweet loving grace,
To have you hold me in your arms again,
To kiss your sweet gentle face.
Reality has departed, but remembrance I know,
How I miss your presence eternally so.
So I pick a dream, a memory, through a Canterbury Bell,
To hold close to my heart by the flowers of wishing well.
Jackie (Lambert) Morin
For all the years that I lived with my grandparents, I never once felt unsafe or frightened and, most importantly, I never felt unloved. Our home was never occupied with hatred, shouting or any form of abuse; a complete opposite from the home I came from in Chicago. As the summer always did, it was coming to an end, and it was apparent that school was soon to begin. It would be time to go back to Chicago… back home to our other life, the life that did consist of hatred and abuse. I felt I had a Cinderella life.
While living on the farm with my grandparents, I don’t believe there was a day that went by that grandpa didn’t shower Steve and I with wild fun that, at times, took our limits to the edge; something granny usually went defensively crazy over. I can still hear granny saying, “Raymond, we have to bring these kids back to Chicago and to their mother in one piece!” Sending us a wink, he looked at granny and said, “Oh Esther, just let them be kids!”
And for three months, during our summer vacation, that’s what we were… just kids.
If I was ever given the opportunity to travel back in time, I would travel back to the time when I would spend the summers with my grandparents on their little one-acre farm in Stoughton, Wisconsin. My grandparents, Esther and … Continue reading
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