My Last Thanksgiving at Mom’s

“The weak fall, but the strong will remain and never go under!” ~ Anne Frank

Even though I was in my own home, sitting in my own bedroom, I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t like the atmosphere that was in the air, the tone that was suddenly being set. It was dirty and I could hear it and it made me feel uneasy.

My bedroom didn’t have a door. It seemed like every bedroom I had in all the apartments growing up on Magnolia Avenue, it was always my bedroom that never had the door. The only privacy I ever had came from a makeshift sheet that was usually tacked up with a bunch of nails. This was always my bedroom door. There was never any way to block out the noise from the other rooms. There was never any knocking to announce that someone wanted to come in. Instead of twisting a doorknob to enter, it was always a sweep of the arm to push the curtain aside. There was never any privacy. My bedroom appeared to have been built as an afterthought, as drywall was slapped up into the main living room to try and create another room – my bedroom. However, the wall was never completed. At the end of the wall there was a small area of approximately four feet tall by one foot wide that wasn’t drywalled, as if they had plans to tuck something within the space. Not wanting to have a gaping hole looking into my room, I took a very large board and placed it up against the hole. I drew the “Love Is” characters on it so that it didn’t look unfinished. The board didn’t cover the hole completely, but it worked enough. Once again, my privacy as a young teenager was sacrificed.

Thanksgiving was upon us and my mother was at the grocery store buying food for Thanksgiving Day dinner. Mom had received her welfare check and she was buying groceries to fill the cabinets and fridge for the holiday. This usually meant we would have a treat of chocolate chip cookies or Neapolitan ice cream. We would also have a fat turkey for Thanksgiving, with all the trimmings, canned cranberry sauce, breaded stuffing that would be made from scratch and, eventually, shoved up the turkey’s tush to cook all day. Mom would make real mashed potatoes and not instant like we normally ate. Corn from the can that tasted more like tin than corn, salad, which consisted of only lettuce, drenched in Miracle Whip salad dressing. Dinner would end with a store-bought pumpkin pie with a dollop of cool whip. This menu was a yearly traditional meal that we all looked forward to having. Mom took her grocery list and food stamps and was off to the store to buy all the holiday fixings.

Mom asked me to stay home. She asked me to wash the dishes that were in the kitchen sink while she was at the store. I hated washing the dishes, mostly, because mom never bought normal dish washing soap. Trying to save her pennies, we washed our dishes with laundry detergent. The soap would never dissolve properly and I felt as if I was washing the dishes with pellets of sand. My brothers weren’t at home. Most likely, they were with their friends playing a game of tag football at Truman College, which we lived almost directly behind. I was left at home with Melvin and a man named Butch. Butch was a family friend, who we met and knew while living in another building years before on Sheridan Avenue. I remember Butch having two daughters, Maria and Sonia, both which seemed to have been slightly off not only in the looks department, but in the personality department as well. Maria and Sonia were mentally challenged to a degree and both lived in a home that offered assistance to their kind. On occasion, they would come to visit their father, spending the weekend with him. They were larger women and they always sat outside on the building’s front stoop. Maria, the redhead, was mean and feisty, while Sonia, the brunette, was more easy-going. Her personality was much softer. She would sit there and play barbies with me. Once, Maria picked me up and literally tossed me into the air and across the sidewalk. I fell into the dirt and landed on my knees. She said I was in her way, therefore, she decided to toss me like a ragdoll so she can get down the front steps. Their father, Butch was short and chubby himself, looked like he had no teeth when he talked and always wore his hair short, like a crew cut. He seemed to have a stuttering problem, where his words took forever to say. His wardrobe consisted of only white T-shirts and Dago T’s. I always found Butch to be on the feminine side, especially by the way he talked and presented himself. He was very flamboyant and liked to dance around the room to his radio. It was hard for me to picture him as a father. I would listen in on conversations between mom and Melvin, where they would comment that Butch was a queer and would suck a dick a mile long. I was old enough to understand what that meant. He liked men. However, it was obvious that he had a relationship with a woman at one point in time because he had two daughters. Butch also had a brother named John. He seemed to be the normal one of the family, that is until I woke up one morning when I was younger and saw him boinkin’ my mother on the side of the bed. Waking up from sleeping on the floor in our one-room apartment, I asked her what was she doing. She told me to lie down and go back to sleep, which is exactly what I did and I never mentioned it again. It seemed like this family, John, the girls and, in particular, Butch, had followed us from neighborhood to neighborhood and somehow was always in our lives from the time we lived on Sheridan throughout the time we lived on Magnolia. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I do now. Now that I was older, I knew exactly what was going on, especially between Butch and Melvin.

I had finished up washing the dishes. I wanted to get back to my room and not be around Melvin whatsoever. The utter sight of him made my skin crawl. Him sitting there in his recliner chair, smoking, polluting the air that I breathe, wearing his creepy little shorts. I even noticed that they were hiked up more than usual that day. Melvin and Butch were watching TV. They were eerily quiet and said little to me. Leaving the kitchen, I crossed their path, walking back into my room. Even though I had no bedroom door to shut me out of their existence, I felt relieved to know I was in my own space. Standing in my room, I was in front of my own TV, flipping channels and trying to pass the time until mom got home. She had just left for the store and I wished that she were back home already. Melvin and Butch were in the living room. The living room consisted of two twin beds, which was sort of set up as a bedroom, with the beds up against the walls. It seems like we never had a formal living room either. Most likely, because mom and Melvin could only afford a one-bedroom apartment and my brothers always got the bedroom… and the door! As Melvin sat in his recliner chair, Butch was sitting on the edge of one of the beds, the one closest to Melvin. I could hear both of them starting to talk, their voices low, almost whispering, as if they were trying to hide what they were saying. I started to get that uncomfortable feeling again, that same feeling as when I knew Melvin was about to touch me, my breasts and, eventually, my vagina. I felt like I was in the middle of something that was wrong, something that shouldn’t be happening. As I stood in front of my TV, I turned down the volume slightly so I could hear what was going on in the other room. I was hesitant with my thoughts. I was hoping I didn’t hear what I thought I did. In between the whispers, there were noises coming from their room. They were sexual. I started to make noise of my own in my room, moving things around my dresser, banging books, trying to remind them both that I was still in the house and only a few steps away. I was hoping that they would stop whatever they had started. Did it work, I thought? Unfortunately not. They both ignored me, as if I was the Wizard of Oz himself… “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

Moments later, they continued with their groping one another. By this time, I was so uneasy with them being there that I yelled from my bedroom, “You two better stop because I can hear everything that you’re doing!” Silence filled the living room once again. When is mom getting home, I thought. For some reason I knew that they would stop once she got home, as I knew what they were doing was behind her back. They probably couldn’t wait for her to leave. On the other hand, did mom know what they were doing and, most likely have been doing, for years? Is this why she asked me to stay home with them, in hopes that they wouldn’t do anything with each other while I was in the apartment? I had a strong feeling that mom knew many of the inappropriate and crude things Melvin was doing, but just kept them all to herself.

I heard them start-up again. I could hear the wet noises coming from their privates, the slapping of skin back and forth. I could hear their whispers. By their conversation, I was under the impression that Butch couldn’t get it up, as Melvin kept asking him, “Are you sure you don’t have to go to the bathroom? Well, let me try again.” With that comment, I had heard enough. Swinging open my curtain, I stepped out into the living room. Melvin and Butch did some shuffling with a jacket that lay over Butch’s lap. I told them that they were both sick fucks and didn’t they realize that I was just in the other room? I also told them that I was going to find mom and tell her what was going on and what they were doing. With that, I stormed out of the apartment and headed to the grocery store up on Sheridan and Montrose, where I knew mom was shopping. Was Melvin nervous that his dirty little secret would be exposed? Did he even care?

As I ran to the grocery store in late November, I realized that I should have worn a jacket, as it was quite chilly outside. However, I left the apartment so quickly that I didn’t even think. I just knew that I needed to get out of there. As I was racing to reach the grocery store, my mind was having a race all its own, thinking of what I had just witnessed back at the apartment. Why can’t I have a normal life? Why do I have to live the way I do? Why do I have to run looking for my mother and report to her what I had just witnessed? Would she believe me? I never ever shared with mom the sexual abuse that Melvin did to me. Not only did Melvin like little girls, he also liked older men. Would this open up something that I knew was going to be just awful? I didn’t want her to know what Melvin had done to me. I didn’t want to disrupt our already dysfunctional life any more than it was. I didn’t want to be in trouble. I rehearsed in my mind how I was going to tell mom once I found her in the store, that Melvin was having sex with another man and while I was only in the other room.

I felt like I was running a marathon, as I ran down Montrose Avenue, past Racine, Clifton, then underneath the El tracks and then finally past Kenmore. Just up ahead there was the Jewel grocery store on Sheridan Avenue where mom was picking out a turkey for a family dinner. A dinner where we were all to sit down and be thankful that we were together, a family that doesn’t harm or fault one another, a family that doesn’t allow sexual abuse in their lives, even though I knew it was all lies.

As I walked around the store, I took a look down each of the aisles looking for mom. One after another, I knew she had to still be in the store somewhere. Finally, I found her. By the look on her face, I could tell that she was surprised to see me there, especially since she left me at home. She could tell from my own face that I was upset. I began to get angry, which made me start to cry. All my emotions were trying to spill out all at once. I tried to keep my voice down and explain to her what was happening back at home. The more I talked, the more upset I got. I told her that Melvin and Butch were doing things to each other in the living room and that they knew I was in the bedroom. She told me to stay with her, as we went to check out and buy the cart of groceries.

Mom hailed a yellow taxi, where we put all the groceries into his trunk. I remember sitting inside the cab, with its huge bench seat from window to window, looking out the window, trying to anticipate what was going to happen once we got home. Instructing the driver where to go, mom and I didn’t say a word all the way home. The palm of my hands were sweaty, as I rubbed them against my pants. My heart began to pound faster, as we pulled up in front of our building. We unloaded the groceries from the trunk and made our way up the stairs and into the apartment. Once inside, we both realized that Butch was gone. He left, leaving Melvin sleeping in one of the beds in the living room. Mom instructed me to put the groceries away, while she sat on the other bed, lighting up a cigarette. I could see her sitting there, puffing away madly, as she watched Melvin sleep and half-undressed, her head sagging low. I went into my room shortly after I was done putting all the groceries away. The silence was nerving, so I turned on my TV. I never heard another word again about the incident that happened that one holiday afternoon. I don’t know if mom ever confronted Melvin about the situation or if she kept everything to herself. Most likely, if she had brought it up to him, he would have denied it, calling me a lying whore. However, if I knew my mother, she didn’t open her mouth whatsoever. She didn’t like to confront Melvin, as he was abusive and violent. Surely, this was one of her own secret tortures within. Oh, how that asshole controlled her.

That year, Thanksgiving had come and gone, without a word being said of what had happened just days before. We continued on with our holiday meal as if we were the perfect family, smiling, laughing and joking. As we sat at the table pretending as if nothing was wrong, I would try to make my brothers giggle during grace. Grace consisted of just a few generic words. We never said grace at any other meal except for Thanksgiving. “God is good, God is great, let us thank Him for our food. Amen.” Done. As my brothers would recite the grace, I would extend my legs underneath the table, so my naked toes would reach their side of the table. As their heads were bowed low and praying, my toes would creep up from underneath the table, where they would be just inches away from their faces. Their eyes closed, my toes danced directly under their noses, wiggling them back and forth, slightly skimming the tip of their noses. We tried not to laugh out loud because the atheist in the room would have gotten pissed off because we were giggling during grace.

Melvin had sexually abused me when I was younger and it was a dirty little secret that only he and I knew. However, that day with Butch, I learned of Melvin’s other dirty little secret; that he liked to fuck men, too. Sadly, it appeared that mom had her own secrets of Melvin already scared deep within her mind that she kept there until one afternoon where she no longer could.

I found mom sitting on the back porch one summer afternoon. I came home and, as I always did, I asked my usual question… “Where is Melvin?” It was a pleasure when he wasn’t around. The atmosphere was more at ease, my brothers and I were more at ease, comfortable, as we didn’t have to whisper or walk on eggshells, tiptoe around an abusive drunk. We didn’t have to watch what we said, especially in front of Melvin, where it would trigger an argument or an ass beating. “Where is Melvin?” I asked again. “He’s sleeping in the garage.” My mother responded. I could tell mom was hiding more information than Melvin just sleeping in the garage. I questioned why he was in the garage sleeping when he had a bed in the house. “He’s in the garage sleeping and has locked the side door. I couldn’t get in, but I looked through the window. Melvin is sleeping with his pants half down, next to another man.” She quietly confessed. I thought to myself, was it Butch? But, it wasn’t. Then, she proceeded to half-ass show me a set of pictures that she found of Melvin, where he had taken at one of those photo booths in Woolworth’s. Melvin had pulled his pants down and took pictures of his genitals. I could tell that she was upset, but I wasn’t sure if it was more over the found photos or of Melvin being in the garage sexually with another man… again. Surely, it had to be both.

I wonder what mom would have thought if she knew I was on Melvin’s long list of weird sexual antics. Would that put her over the edge? Would she have cared? Did she already know? Did mom just accept Melvin’s sexual preferences? Would she finally kick him out, I thought? Being sexually abused was my own little secret and I had no intention of releasing it from my frightened mind. I was so afraid that the family we did have together, my brothers and I, would disappear, just like the little girl, Judith, who we knew growing up in our apartment building. The Department of Child Protective Services came and took her because her parents were unfit, or so they said. This had always been in the back of my mind that they would come and take my brothers and me away, never to see each other again. We were young enough to be tossed into the system, but not old enough to be on our own. Therefore, I always kept my mouth shut. My brothers and I lived at home until we were old enough to make our own decisions and move on.

It was years later when I finally had my own studio apartment, I announced that I would cook my first Thanksgiving Day dinner for everyone. I invited my brother, Jeff and my mother over to spend the day with me. Mom knew enough not to ask about Melvin’s invite. My brother, Steve, was living in Michigan at the time and unable to attend. I wanted to have all the trimmings to my dinner just like mom always made. I lived in a one-room studio apartment that consisted of a small kitchenette, bathroom and walk in closet. The appliances were small, particularly the stove. It was one of those small apartment stoves and was half the size of a normal one. It was difficult to cook a regular meal on, let alone a ten pound turkey in the oven! However, I still tried.

“On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence.” ~William Jennings Bryan

Following my mother’s tradition, I set my alarm for 4:30 in the morning to prepare the turkey so that it can be popped into the oven by 5:00. Mom shared with me on how to make the stuffing and prepare the turkey, step-by-pain-in-the-ass-step! Getting up this early in the morning to prepare a turkey wasn’t exactly my ideal way of starting my day. I was so tired that I prepared the stuffing between yawns. The onions weren’t diced to perfection, they were more like chopped into chunks. The bread looked as if it was hacked by a hatchet than torn into bite size pieces. As for the celery… let’s just say that they would have looked better in a tall glass of Bloody Mary’s!

The stuffing was finally prepared, with its seasoning of sage that seemed to permeate my hands, along with the onions. Shoving the stuffing into the turkey’s cavity between slitted eyes, I packed it as much as I could. As I tied the legs up with twine, as to make sure the stuffing didn’t’ have a chance to escape, I maneuvered the pan into the small oven at 350 degrees. The turkey was in the oven to roast by 5:00 a.m. It was shortly thereafter, that I popped myself back into bed to continue my dreams!

Hours later, I woke to the smell of turkey wafting in the air. It seemed more pungent than ever, most likely due to my small apartment. Cracking open a window, I began to prepare the rest of the meal; potatoes, corn and, of course, that overly drench Miracle Whip salad. Jeff and Mom arrived a few hours later, where we sat, chatted and waited for the turkey to be done. I checked the turkey and basted several times throughout the morning. By 1:00 p.m., we were all getting hungry. Mom commented that the bird was in that oven for almost eight hours now and surely it would have to be done. She was the expert, I thought. Turning off the stove, I pulled the turkey out and oven to make its grand debut.

What an entertaining disaster, I thought! The turkey that had been bathing in its own juices for almost eight hours wasn’t even near done! It was so rubbery that it could have bounced its way back to the farmland from where it came! Mom and I came to the conclusion that it was due to my “Easy Bake Oven” of a stove. Because it was so small, the oven must have not been able to accommodate the size of the turkey. My first Thanksgiving dinner was a flippin’ flop! Laughing our way through the rest of the meal that we could eat, I had to make the best of the moment, so I took pictures of my first attempt at cooking Thanksgiving.

My attempt at cooking a turkey!

My first attempt at cooking a turkey! Circa – Early 80’s

It may not have been the traditional meal that we were use to having, but we made the best of what we had. In the end, it’s not about the meal and what you cooked or how much effort you put into it, nor is it about what went right or even what went wrong. It’s all about being thankful. My last Thanksgiving at my mom’s house with Melvin’s behavior is a memory that will always be in my mind, but I believe it’s an experience that made me stronger, not only in values, but in beliefs. My life growing up was full of challenges, but it showed me how important family is and to let nothing stand in the way of relationships. Family doesn’t hurt family, family is love and, when you have love, hurt should never exist. Simple.

Thanksgiving and the holidays are all about being together, together with family and friends and the ones you truly love. Sharing time with one another, laughing, joking and experiencing a joyful moment that will all too soon be a part of the past. We need to seize all the memories we can, holding each one of them close to our heart because as our years move on into the past, the making of memories become less and less.

Although my first turkey was a failure, I would like to think the moment of being together was a memorable success.

“As we pause to thank Him for the blessings of the past year, we must not forget to thank Him for the lessons we have learned through our difficult times. We are not to be thankful for just the pleasant, easy things, but ALL things.” ~ Millie Stamm

Cashing Spirits in at the Casino

“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!” ~ Henry Scott Holland (1847 – 1918)

Over the Labor Day weekend, Frank, Arla and I decided to test our luck. With money in hand, we drove one Sunday evening to the local casino, in hopes to walk out as millionaires! However, we would be satisfied if we left as dollarnaires!

Once at the casino, each of us headed into a different direction and soon settled into our favorite slot machine, where we began the process of watching those reels roll before our eyes, one stopping after another in hopes of seeing ‘BIG WIN!” appear on our slot machine. A while later, I hear Frank say over my shoulder, “I suck! I’m getting my ass whipped!” This is Frank’s usual announcement that he’s not winning and the slots are taking all his money. Frank, as he always does, decided to walk around the casino to watch others at their lady luck. Frank finds himself in front of the Baccarat table and, although watching intently, he doesn’t understand how the game is played. He continues to watch the call man shuffle out the cards, studying intensely trying to figure out the concept, when a woman, who is standing very close to him asked, “Do you know how to play Baccarat?” Frank shared with her that he doesn’t understand the game. She begins going over the rules and narrates over the call man’s moves, explaining the game more in detail to Frank. Smiling, Frank shared that he still doesn’t understand the game.

Clipart - Baccarat Table

Not having any luck ourselves, Arla and I decided to move around the casino, looking for another slot machine to play on. The casino was starting to get rather crowded, so finding another machine and sitting there, was the best option. When it was crowded, slots were hard to find and play. Bumping and moving in and around people were becoming mandatory. Walking around, we noticed that Frank was speaking to a woman at the Baccarat table. We didn’t think much of it, as Frank will speak with anyone, anytime, anywhere. Frank has a magnetic personality that will draw anyone with a conversation toward him. I always teased that Frank would talk to a light pole if he knew he could get a response in return. I would always comment to Arla when I see Frank chatting with a stranger… “Awwww, Look. Dad’s making a new friend again!” Maneuvering our way around them, we continued with our quest to find the perfect slot machine while they continued talking.

The hours were passing by. I hit the machine one last time. Whack, clack, clack, clack. I watched the last reel come to a stop, signaling that the last remaining cash I had in the machine was now owned by the casino. I suck and I got my ass whipped! With Arla matching suit, we decided to call it a night. We called Frank to tell him to meet us by the front doors of the casino. We were ready to go home. He said he was on his way.

Arla and I stood by the front door. Watching the main aisle of the casino, we waited for Frank to come strolling by. Standing there for over ten minutes waiting for Frank, we decided to give him another call. “Where are you?!” Answering, he said, he would be right there; he’s on his way. Another five minutes had passed. Finally, Arla and I decided to head to the truck. Not being able to play anymore, we were tired of hearing over the loud speaker, “Another big win!”

Clipart - Slot Machine Big Win

As we settled into the truck, we continued to wait. Both Arla and I wondered what was taking Frank so long. Another five minutes go by and Frank finally came walking out of the casino heading our way. Once inside, we asked, “What in the hell took you so long?!” That’s when Frank proceeded to tell us, “You’ll never believe what just happened to me.”

Not seeing any money clenched in Frank’s fist, I quickly determined that he must be talking about something else. I could tell that he was excited about something and his words, along with his mind, didn’t know where to start. As I’m driving away from the casino parking lot, I can hear in Frank’s voice that he was shaken, almost on the verge of tears.

As I begin to drive home, Frank begins to share the reason that he was detained. He was having a conversation with a woman, the same woman that Arla and I saw him with earlier that evening. Little did Frank know that this conversation would forever change his life and beliefs.

As Frank continued to study the Baccarat table, he finally responded to the woman’s question. “Do you know how to play Baccarat?” The woman asked. As Frank confessed, he noticed that the woman was standing very close to him. “No, I just can’t seem to get the hang of the game and that’s why I stick to the slot machines,” Frank said. “You can win at Baccarat if you study the board,” she said. As she explained the rules, she proceeded to pull out a wad of money that she had stashed in her bra. Showing Frank, she shared that she had just won a thousand dollars playing the table. “How old do you think I am,” she asked next. Frank thought for a moment and assumed she was in her early sixties. Tucking the money back into her bra, the woman announced that she was in her mid eighties, as if she was proud of her looks and age. Frank complimenting her, he shared with her that she didn’t look her age whatsoever. They continued to make additional small talk.  She stood very close to Frank, touching his arm, becoming elbow-to-elbow with Frank. The Baccarat woman slowly turned to Frank, looked him in the eye and asked him one simple question. “Do you have a brother named Eugene?” Surprised by her question, Frank took a step back and said, “Why yes, I do, but he passed away two years ago in a motor cycle accident.” The Baccarat woman replied, “Yes, I know, he’s standing here next to me, to my right and he wanted to say hello.” Frank’s conversation with the Baccarat woman went from a casual one to now a spiritual one.

“If I put my mind to something, it happens. I do know that’s not necessarily psychic. But I always feel like there’s something around me protecting me.” ~ Amy Sedaris

As Frank is telling us what had happened, I heard Arla in the back seat of the truck asking, “Dad, what was her name?” “I didn’t get her name. I mean, I don’t remember, I don’t know, everything happened so fast!” Frank responded. “You mean she was telling you about Uncle Eugene and you didn’t even get her name?” Arla shouted out! As I’m listening to Frank’s story and concentrating on driving home in the darkness, even I piped in and asked why on earth didn’t he get her name? “Why didn’t you call me?” “Does she do this for a living?”

As Frank continued with his story, I can tell that he was wound up and he was very animated. The Baccarat woman’s question left Frank stunned. Of all the names he could have heard, it had to be his late brother Eugene’s, the brother he was the closest with, the brother that he had recently lost, the one he missed dearly. As the noise of the casino floor continued around them, Frank decided to ask his own question, “Do you have the gift?” “Yes, I do. I am a medium,” she replied, “but I don’t charge for it”. The woman, who was now in need of a cigarette, wanted to go to the smoking room, where she asked Frank to go with her. Frank shared that he doesn’t smoke, but she commented that she wouldn’t be long. Besides, it gave them a chance to be away from the noise of the casino floor. Frank followed her. Sitting in the smoker’s room, the Baccarat woman lit up a cigarette and continued her reading with Frank, not so much in a question format, but more as a matter of fact, as she was sure of herself and the messages that she was receiving from the other side.

The Baccarat woman proceeded to share with Frank that Eugene’s accident was of a bizarre nature and that Eugene was actually going very, very slow at the time that his motorcycle left the roadway, not speeding as people would have suspected, especially by his injuries she felt he had. Frank validated this. She went on to ask Frank if he smoked Pot. Frank said no and because of his job, he couldn’t. She confirmed that Eugene did, and a lot, when he was in Vietnam. Frank’s now trying to figure out how she knew he was in Vietnam. The Baccarat woman then told Frank that Eugene use to have a cat. However, this cat was different she said. It was a fat cat, an extremely over weight cat. A cat that was like 40 pounds fat. As Frank sat there, he validated that it was true. He told her that Eugene use to have a cat and the cat’s name was Sylvester and that yes the cat was huge. She confirmed with Frank that Eugene use to wear glasses, but not anymore. She said, “ Eugene no longer wears glasses because Heaven is perfect and there’s no need for glasses there.”

Arla and Sylvester 1

Sylvester the Fat Cat

Arla and Sylvester 2

The Baccarat woman asked Frank, “Who is Steve? Eugene is with someone named Steve.”

When Eugene had passed, Frank and I were looking up old friends of Eugene’s in hopes that we could connect with them to share of Eugene’s passing. However, while looking up online, we had discovered that his friend, Steve K. also passed, but years before Eugene did. Frank and I felt this was the Steve that she was referring to. Confirming with the Baccarat woman that Eugene use to ride with a friend named Steve, she, too, felt that this was the same person Eugene was with.

I heard Arla from the backseat of the truck, “Mom, turn around, you have to go back!” “Let’s see if we can find her.” Arla said this more than once. Looking into my side mirror, I checked my lane for traffic. I was contemplating to go back to the casino to find the Baccarat woman, to see what she was all about, to see if she was real, to meet her myself. In a split decision, I almost did, but I decided to move on, heading home while Frank continued telling us his unbelievable story.

“I look up to the sky and talk to you. What I wouldn’t give to hear you talk back. I miss your voice, I miss your laughter, I miss everything about you!” ~ Author Unknown

Frank couldn’t believe that what the Baccarat woman had said was all true. He verified that everything she was telling him was all facts. Frank wanted to send a message to Eugene. Frank had asked the Baccarat woman to give Eugene a message, that his family missed him and that we all loved him so very much. She shared the message and had one in return. “Tell everyone that I am fine. I am doing well and I am just fine,” Eugene said. The Baccarat woman also went onto tell Frank that Eugene said to keep doing what he’s doing, in his job, and in his life.

By now, Frank was in a complete spiritual shock. He was trying to figure out how she knew all of this information. He knew he never saw this woman before and even at one point thought, did she personally know Eugene herself? Perhaps, she thought he was Eugene, as all the Morin boys tend to look alike. Frank decided to accept her gift as a spiritual intervention and that Eugene was letting him know that he had made it to heaven and that he was doing well and just wanted to check in.

The Baccarat woman also shared other pieces of information that Frank wasn’t too sure about and didn’t have an immediate response to. She asked if he knew women by the names of Candace, as well as Sue, but these names didn’t sound familiar to Frank nor his family when asked. Nobody could make the connection. Sue was also saying hello to Frank and even commented the Baccarat woman that Sue really liked Frank.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the night before we went to the casino, Frank said that he had spoken to Eugene’s wife, Carol. Carol went to the bank to take some things from the security box. There, inside, she found Eugene’s watch. She felt that Frank would like to have it and this was the reason they had spoke that evening, the night before the casino.

Eugene may not have been there in Frank’s physical world that Sunday evening, but I do believe that Eugene was there, sharing facts, in spirit. The Baccarat woman could have shared any other name when asking Frank about a brother, but she didn’t. She mentioned the name Eugene. I believe this was a sign that Eugene was near and he wanted to make contact. Perhaps, Frank thinking of Eugene and encountering the medium at the casino was the most opportune time for Eugene to connect with Frank, to let him know he was near and always will be.

Even though Frank didn’t walk away with a “big win” and lots of cash that evening, I feel he did walk away as a millionaire in other ways, which was won through knowledge, validation and contentment.

I believe that our friends and family who have passed on are always with us, in our minds, our lives, our hearts. They share messages with us all the time, however, our eyes and mind must be open to receive. They may appear in the form of a fluttering butterfly, that special cologne they always wore or that special song that suddenly appeared on the radio.

We are never alone and we will never forget. They are our guardian angels, our protectors, our confidants. I know the reading wasn’t meant for me that evening nor was it meant for Arla. Therefore, it didn’t matter if we turned back or not. Simply, it was a message meant for Frank. Two souls who were meant to make a connection that evening. In some giant way, I hope that Frank’s message from his brother, Eugene, has shown Frank that life can be kind, joyous and full of love, regardless of the hardships that we may face in our daily lives or the loved ones that we may have lost. These learning lessons are what make us stronger; the people we are today, they are a part of life’s struggles and, if we have faith, hope and love, especially from others, then we can conquer the world regardless of what stepping stones are thrown in our path. I pray that Eugene’s message has enlightened Frank’s heart, opened it up where he can learn to love and be happy again. I’m hoping that this is the message that Frank needs in order to see beauty and peace, not only in the world, but all around him, to open his heart to kindness, to see all love that surrounds him.

“There is no death, only a change of worlds.” ~ Duwamish, Native American Indian Tribe

Eugene with Frank in Kitchen

My Spiritual Angels

My Spiritual Angels

My prayers begin with my Spiritual Angels who are Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Uncle Bub, Father Charles, Geno and Dedac, asking them to look over me and my family, keeping us happy, healthy and safe.

The English word “angel” is derived from the Greek word “angelos,” which means “messenger.” The faithful from the world’s major religions believe that angels are messengers from God, who carry out tasks that God assigns them to perform here on Earth.  I believe in angels, as well as their messages and am comforted to know that guardian angels are looking over me, as well as my family.

For me, messages have come to me in all forms, such as butterflies, the smell of roofing tar, perfume, body smells, flickering lights and even to the loud cracking of thunder and lightning. I remember when I was young living on my grandparents’ farm, I would lie down for the evening and study the darkness within the room. It was dark, still and the only thing I could hear was the ticking of my grandfather’s windup clock in the other room, with the “tick” always sounding slightly different from the “tock.”  I would gaze above me, staring out into the darkness toward the ceiling, Shortly later, I would begin to see stars within the darkness, red ones, blue ones and they would swirl around in front of me, all in uniform, almost as if they were dancing for me. At times, I felt like I could manipulate their movement. Although, I was not afraid of them, I never reached out to touch them, even though they were close enough for me to do so. I learned that these could have been Sparkle Angels.1   I wasn’t sure why I was seeing these stars, but they were comforting. This happened on many occasions and I would watch them perform before me until I fell off to sleep.

Sparkle Angel Stars

The Woman in Church…

“I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I sat there quietly in St. Pricilla’s Church, waiting for the services to begin. It was a special day, as it was the day that Arlaraye was accepting her sacrament of Holy Communion, in the very same church that I had received mine just several years before. Sitting by my side, Arlaraye was nervous, but excited, too. She looked beautiful in her white dress and veil, along with her white petite gloves to match.

The church is quiet. There was a sense of comfortableness, a serenity. I looked up onto the altar at the more than life-size statue of Jesus, as his palms and feet were pierced with nails that attached him to his wooden cross. As I have done so many times before, I began to get emotional, as I watched him suspend above me.  I began to thank him silently for all that he has done for me, his protection and loving grace. “Thank you… I am here because of you…”

My eyes began to scan the church.  Pew by pew. I see parents and family members come to rest in their seats, as they, too, wait for the ceremony to begin. Having occasional eye contact with another parishioner, I politely nod and extend a smile.  My eyes continued to drift a couple of rows ahead, to the front pew, where I see a woman sitting in front of me. Her back was to me, but I recognized her immediately.  She was a larger woman, who sat there wearing a weathered windbreaker. Her shoulders slumped forward toward the floor as she sat, as if her troubles weighed her down. Her hair was thin, gray and dressed in a ponytail that sat high on the back of her head. I immediately turned to Arlaraye and secretively announced, “The woman in the front pew looks just like Granny Lambert!” Arlaraye spotted her immediately and turned to me and said, “Oh my, you’re right, she does!”  Almost instinctively, as if this woman knew that we were watching her, she slowly turned her head toward us, glancing over her right shoulder at Arlaraye and me.  Staring at us both, it felt as if she was validating our suspicions that, yes, she was the person who we thought she was… my mother, who just happened to have passed away years earlier in 2001, just days after the 911 attacks. Her stare felt as if it lasted forever, but it was only for a couple of seconds, when she quietly turned her head back around to face the front of the church. This woman was somber and showed no emotion, carrying not one smile on her face whatsoever, almost robotic.  It was then that I shared with Arlaraye that Grandma Lambert didn’t want to miss her special day, and that she made a physical appearance to be there that day.  The church services began and the day’s events were soon underway.  Two hours later, everyone was filing their way out of the church to continue on with their Communion celebrations.  By now, I had totally forgotten about the women in the front pew. It wasn’t until we got home to continue on with our own celebration that I had asked Frank if he happened to have seen the woman himself.  He did and thought the same thing as I had, that it was the mirror image of my mother, who was coming to share in our day of blessings.

“There is no death. Only a change of worlds.” ~ Chief Seattle

Name that Tune…Music Notes - Peace Train

“When you wake up with a song stuck in your head, it means an angel sang you to sleep.” ~ Denise Baer

Frank and I were having a time in our marriage where arguing was a part of daily life.   The daily stresses in our lives, with our jobs, finances, as well as everyday frustrations, were taking a toll on our relationship, more so with Frank.  I have positivity that flows through my veins… Frank simply doesn’t.  Life can serve you a huge bowl of hot steamy turd soup sometimes, but it’s all up to you if you want to accept it. The littlest things were making him angry, which he usually expressed toward me. I hated living in this poisonous atmosphere and knew that it needed to change. Life, with its many challenges was definitely playing a hand in our lives.

I believe our loved ones, who have passed, are with us at all times, especially, if we welcome the idea and invite them into our lives to do so.  I am always asking for signs, anything that I can relate to, to know that it is really them and that they are trying to communicate with me. Laying my head down for the evening, it wasn’t long before I drifted off to sleep and started to dream…

… I am now in Stoughton, Wisconsin, the city in which I lived with my grandparents. I was standing outside the Woolworth’s store that we frequented whenever we went into town. There I stood by the doors and granny was standing with me. She looked wonderful, with her hair combed neatly, pushing it back from her face with one of her elastic headbands that, no doubt, she picked up from Woolworth’s on one of our many shopping trips. She looked exactly as how I remembered her when growing up. There was a song playing in the background, as if it was being pumped directly into the air from speakers that were connected to the Woolworth’s store. It was familiar to me, it sounded pleasant and I knew I heard the song before, but I was having trouble in my dream as I was trying to name that tune.

“Peace begins with a smile.” ~ Mother Teresa

Granny is now standing before me. She wears a genuine smile on her face, but her eyes were serious. Granny speaks to me mentally; I didn’t see her lips move at all.  She was letting me know that the arguing between Frank and me needed to stop. It wasn’t good and not healthy for our relationship. As I stood there in front of her, taking in all her thoughts, I acknowledged her words of wisdom, while at the same time, listening to the song that continued to play behind me.

“Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.” ~Ludwig van Beethoven

It wasn’t long after seeing granny in my dream that I had woken up.  I could still hear the beat of the song from my dream in my ears, along with the message that granny was trying to extend. Lying in my bed, I repeated the melody, playing the sound over and over in my head.  It was moments later when I finally remembered the name of the song and was able to name the tune that was playing in my dream.  The song was by Cat Stevens titled, “Peace Train.”  It was now I who wore a smile across my face, just like granny had done in my dream. I believed that there was a purpose to granny’s visit, there was a message that she needed to share and it was a message of Peace. I took granny’s message to heart and found it very symbolic that not only was granny trying to send me a message through her own words, but through one of my favorite Cat Steven’s songs as well. I needed to find peace, whether it was with Frank or just through myself.

“While we are sleeping, angels have conversations with our souls”. ~Author Unknown

A Call From Katie…

Phone

I have been assisting and working with some of the doctors in my office for over 23 years now. One develops a rapport after so many years of working together, where you learn about their personalities, lives, and even their families. When we had our own practice, it truly was a “work family” and it was an enjoyable time being with my co-workers on a daily basis. It was a rarity where I’d say, “I don’t want to go to work today.” I enjoyed going to work because they weren’t only my co-workers; they were my very good friends.

Several years ago, while at work, we received devastating news. It was a sad time in the office for everyone. We had found out that one of the physicians, who we worked closely with for so many years, lost his daughter, Katie. (For privacy issues, I will just call him Doctor, Sadly, Kathie passed away very unexpectedly and at a young age where death should be inconceivable.  My husband, Frank knew Katie, as he also worked with the same physician practice for many years himself.  Over the years, both Frank and I would see Katie around the office visiting.  We watched her mature from a little girl into a  beautiful young woman. I spoke with Katie many times over the years, as she called the office asking to speak with her father.  Either Doctor was in his office or in clinic seeing patients and we knew to connect her to him directly when she called.  Upon hearing the news of her passing, everyone’s heart was saddened, not only for Katie, but also for the Doctor, who we notably saw him carry his own sorrow deep within his broken heart.

A couple of years had passed on and it was such a busy time for the office, as our medical practice in which we worked was moving to another hospital. We were on a deadline and everyone was busy cleaning and packing up physicians’ offices, as well as their own cubicle and space. Items were being purged and furniture was being moved. Needless to say, busy was an understatement. Items were being wrapped and packed and desks were being moved directly under all our noses.  You sat at a desk and five minutes later, it was gone, packed, stacked on a dolly and headed for the truck ready to be moved.

You could see the nails and holes in the walls, where a scenic picture hung and was once displayed or nametags on doors that were ripped from their holders, leaving many marred and naked walls behind. I felt as if I was leaving a home that I had lived in for fifty years.

With every office key that was turned in, there was another avalanche of tears being shed for the friends and co-workers that you would no longer be working with. One after another, they were being escorted out of the building, with their own personal box of belongings underneath their arm, hitting the elevator button for the ground floor, as they left their work place forever behind.

There is one particular day that I will never forget. It was my turn to cover the front reception desk for breaks and lunches. I came up to relieve Anne so that she could go to lunch. It was a very busy day and movers were being escorted from office to office, elevator doors were on a constant open and close cycle and the phones were ringing non-stop, and all of this while still trying to conduct a normal day of business and meetings.  As I pointed where one visitor needed to go and while telling a mover what office needed to be moved next, I picked up the endless ringing phone to an incoming call that I will always remember, but at the time, I wouldn’t realize how important that phone call would be.   “Good afternoon, this is CINN, how can I help you?” The caller on the other end said, “Hi, this is Katie, I heard my father is looking for me.”  With that, I placed her on hold and told her that I’d look for him. I knew Katie as the Doctor’s daughter and, as I have always done in the past, I do my best to locate him and connect the call.  Calling into the Doctor’s office, there was no answer. I was going to call down to the clinic, but I was so busy with the front desk that I decided to call the Doctor’s assistant, Patty, instead, letting her know that I have Katie holding on the line for him and if she knew where he was at and, perhaps, she would be able to direct the call herself. Upon delivering my question, I found that Patty was stumbling for words. Patty shared with me that Doctor was in clinic and suddenly said that she would have to call me back. As I was about to forward Katie directly to clinic, so she could speak with her father, I picked up the line to let her know what I was doing.  “Katie, I was told that your father was in clinic, I can transfer you there…”  It was only a few seconds later that I realized that Katie was no longer on the line and all I heard was a dial tone.  I felt terrible that I had left her hold on for so long and that she was no longer there.

When Anne got back from her lunch break, I decided to go see Patty, to let her know that I was unsuccessful in trying to transfer Katie to the Doctor in case she decided to call back again.  Standing in front of Patty, it was at that point that Patty asked me, not once, but twice, “Who did you say was calling for the Doctor?”   I relayed… “It was Katie.”  It was only seconds later, after I said Katie’s name that I had realized what had just occurred.  My hands immediately reached for my mouth, covering, as to not allow another word to escape from my lips, in particular, the name Katie. I immediately realized what I had said and what I almost had done. I was so busy at the front desk, trying to take care of everyone and everything, that I didn’t make the connection that there was no way that the Doctor’s Katie could have called.  I was in such a hectic and robotic frame of mind that I didn’t even think twice about who was on the other end. I heard a young voice that I knew to be Katie’s and I responded accordingly.  I only heard the words, “I heard my father was looking for me” and, with that, I responded in the only manner I knew how, the only way that I have done for over fifteen years; I tried to find her father, the Doctor.  With my hands still over my mouth, I mumbled the words, “Oh my God, Patty! I almost transferred that call directly to the Doctor!” My mind started spinning at the insensitive thoughts of what could have happened if I had done so, if I had accomplished the connection.  What would have the Doctor thought if I had reached him, letting him know his daughter, Katie, was on the phone? I would have been mortified. I was so grateful for the fact that Katie, or whoever she was, had hung up the phone and the call went no further. I stood in Patty’s office completely shaken. Explaining the call to Patty, I was convinced that I heard the name Katie and that’s how the caller introduced herself to me. Also, like so many times before, for so many years, I knew it was the Doctor’s Katie who was calling. This young woman left the impression that she called the office routinely and that we knew who she was and what to do when she called.  There was a confidence about her and I didn’t think twice about the call.

It was then that I looked at Patty and asked… “Who else has a daughter named Katie in the office or the other hospital departments?” Could this Katie have been asking for another father?  I shared my call experience with Anne who took it upon herself to ask throughout the other floors if there was another person who had a daughter named Katie, but the results came back negative. The only Katie that all of us ever knew was the Doctor’s Katie. Could this young woman have had the wrong number?  Possibly.

“He took his time looking around for anything interesting to salvage, but found only broken bits of what once was.” ~ A.B. Shepherd

Patty shared with me that the morning of my mysterious phone call, the Doctor was in his office having a quiet moment before he went to clinic, looking at all the years of memories on his bookshelves. He was smiling at all the pictures, knickknacks and mementos, she said, as he reminisced, almost as if he was stealing one last glimpse of all the special memories that lie upon the shelves, before they were to be packed away into boxes. Surely, his heart and mind brought him to think about his sweet Katie and his mind was lost deep within a moment, a private moment of remembrances. Could these strong feelings conjure up a loved one’s spirits so much to the point that they had to make “contact” regardless of what form it’s in?  Possibly. I believe so.

Messages come to us in all forms. Our eyes and hearts have to be open, along with our minds, in order to see them before us. Whether or not this was to be a message for myself or for Katie’s father, I’m not sure. Perhaps, Katie knew that I am a believer in signs and she sent this one through me.

There are people who are receptive when it comes to spirits, the afterlife, or after death communication (ADC) 3 and then there are some that don’t believe in it at all. My fear was that I would come across as some sort of ghost whisperer or that I can talk to the dead, and the last thing I wanted to do was to offend.  I wanted to respect his mourning; is privacy, therefore, I kept quiet and said nothing at all. However, perhaps, I should have…

… “If you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died–you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and that is a great gift.” ~ Elizabeth Edwards

I can’t believe that it’s been years since this phone call. I feel as if we all experienced the loss of Katie just yesterday.  Losing someone you love tremendously can do that, as the pain and memories paint the walls of your heart with permanency. This is why we are blessed with memories, so that we may never forget.

Recently, Frank and I were talking about prayers. How we pray. How we say them. Who we pray to.  Frank demonstrated and began his prayers.  I listened with care, as he listed off those who he prayed for. Among his list, he mentions the name Katie. I knew who the others were, but wasn’t sure who he meant by Katie. It was a heartwarming surprise to learn that Frank prays for Katie and her soul, not only after her passing, but until this very day. Katie’s in his prayers every morning, as Frank has his own private moment with God.

“The angels are always near to those who are grieving, to whisper to them that their loved ones are safe in the hand of God.” ~Quoted in The Angels’ Little Instruction Book by Eileen Elias Freeman

Keep on Rolling… Please!…

I was having problems with my truck last summer.  I find it amazing that the moment you make that final payment to the bank, problems begin to set in.  I have a 2004 Dodge Durango and truly love it, but at one point, it kept dying on me. My poor truck is getting old and, like most things that get old, it was starting to shut down, things breaking down here and there.  If it wasn’t the breaks, it was the power steering. This time, my truck kept stalling in traffic whenever I came to a stop. One of my fears while driving is that I would stall in traffic, stuck directly in the middle of an intersection, where everyone is honking at me and giving me their official hand sign of our state bird!

That particular morning, I decided to pray to my grandfather, asking him to get me to where I needed to go and that my truck would keep moving and not die out in traffic; “keep my wheels a rollin’ grandpa… PLEASE!” This was my chant until I met my destination, as well as asking him to watch over me and keep me safe.  With every stop sign and stop light that I came upon, I worried.  As I got closer to home, I started to feel more confident that I was going to make it.  My prayers were answered because I did make it home safely that afternoon, without any extra unpleasant events added to my day. I was so relieved to be home, thankful that I was able to drive my truck one more day. Frank had an appointment to bring my truck into the mechanic, but not until that weekend.  Until then, my truck was being powered not only by gas, but by prayers, too. I needed my truck to get me to work and back home again.

I was feeling as if things were starting to pile up around me. I was worried how much my truck would cost me to repair. I was worried on whether or not it would get me to work the next day. It was just added worry that I didn’t need to have in my life at the moment.

After settling in at home with a glass of wine, I decided to hop onto Facebook, where I began to post my frustrations of the day regarding my truck.  Upon receiving a few responses, I received a message from my dear friend, Patty.  Patty told me about a news feed that she received on her Facebook home page after she had already commented on my post. She wanted to share it with me, as she knew that I would appreciate it as much as her. You see, Patty believes in a higher spirit as much as I do and we have shared some beautiful conversations together on this very same subject.

“There are many ways our spirit guides can give us signals. Our job is to quiet our minds, open our hearts, and listen.” ~ James VanPraagh

I opened up my message from Patty and she sent me a link to a Facebook page called, “The Things you Would Have Said.” 2  In part, the post read, “ Take Care Jackie and just keep on smiling.  Much Love, Grandpa.” 

I shared with Patty that I had been praying to my grandfather that afternoon, after having truck problems, asking him for his help and protection; to get me where I needed to go and to be safe. I took this message that Patty sent as a sign that he heard my prayers to him and that he was right by my side the whole time and this is the way he decided to let me know.

I truly believe that this message was meant for me and it’s exactly what I needed to read and see at that particular moment. Patty’s absolutely correct.  One never knows how your angels will send you messages.  However, that evening, Patty was my messenger.  Thank you for delivering it my sweet angel!

I shared with Patty that I had been praying to my grandfather that afternoon, after having truck problems, asking him for his help and protection; to get me where I needed to go and to be safe. I took this message that Patty sent as a sign that he heard my prayers to him and that he was right by my side the whole time and this is the way he decided to let me know.

I truly believe that this message was meant for me and it’s exactly what I needed to read and see at that particular moment. Patty’s absolutely correct.  One never knows how your angels will send you messages.  However, that evening, Patty was my messenger.  Thank you for delivering it my sweet angel!

FB Message 2

Love is such a strong bond that travels with us through life and, I believe, even extending through death. What a beautiful gift we have been given to experience the feeling of love for someone so deep that one can literally feel it beating in their hearts. Love doesn’t stop just because our loved ones have stepped from one world into another. I believe our family members are with us always and I find comfort in knowing that. We may not see them physically, but I know that spiritually, they are with us, our protectors, our guardian angels, our messengers and, I personally, cherish every message that I’m sent, just as if they were with us here, in the now.  My spiritual messengers remind me to hold onto my beliefs, faith, my love, as well as reminding me that they are always near.

“I know for certain that we never lose the people we love, even to death. They continue to participate in every act, thought and decision we make. Their love leaves an indelible imprint in our memories. We find comfort in knowing that our lives have been enriched by having shared their love.” ~ Leo Buscaglia

 

References:

  1. http://thegobetween.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/the-truth-about-seeing-spirited-sparkles/
  2. https://www.facebook.com/wouldhavesaid
  3. http://www.after-death.com/

Remembering Moments of Falling in Love

Hearts“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…

Frank and Jack

Frank and Jack in the 80’s

Pic - Frank and Jack Bikers 2

Riding Together…

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.

Frank and Jack on Bike

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.

Frank with Ice

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.

Frank and Jack Vacation

Vacationing in Sanibel Island, Florida

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.”

Frank and Jack Wedding Day

May 5, 1990

Remembering the first time we heard the words, Congratulations! “It’s a girl… It’s a boy!”

Frank with Arla

April 6, 1992
Frank and Arlaraye

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…

Old couple holding hands

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

Memories of Christmas Pasts

Christmas Sleigh“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”  ~Norman Vincent Peale

Sleigh Bells in the Night…

Sleigh BellsWhen I was a young girl, Christmas was an exciting, but somewhat bittersweet time. As it is with all children, Christmas meant presents! However, at times, for my brothers and me, it was sometimes a reminder of what we weren’t going to receive. I remember only a handful of Christmas memories; some good and some not. The youngest memory that I can recall was when I lived with my grandparents in Madison, Wisconsin on Ridgewood Street. I was about six years old. We were all in the basement, where I noticed Christmas stockings on the wall, which hung carefully over the faux cardboard fireplace that surely grandpa put together so that we kids knew how Santa got all the gifts under the tree.  Of course, we were told he arrived early just for our special gathering. The Christmas tree seemed to reach and touch the ceiling, with globs of tinsel on every branch and the lights shined oh so bright just like all the colors within a rainbow. Music was being piped out of the jukebox, one Christmas carol after another. Excitement was definitely in the air.  Christmas was being celebrated with my cousins that year, where we all waited patiently to see what Santa Claus had brought us.

Jack with Grandparents Christmas

The gifts that Santa brought were being passed out to all us kids… one for Stevey, as grandpa use to call him; one for Sissy, one for Randy… Gifts were being handed out one after another, so I waited patiently until the last gift was passed, hoping just one of them were or me. When the last gift was handed to Shawn, I began to wonder if I was on the “naughty or nice” list that year. Granny saw that I had started to cry to myself, as I had no gifts to open. Extending a hug, granny and grandpa asked me to go upstairs to the living room to get a tissue from the box that was on the Hi Fi so that I could wipe away the tears from my face.  They also asked me to look out for Santa, to see if I could see him flying around in his sleigh.

Christmas TreeAs I stood there wiping away my tears, I glanced outside the big picture window that faced the front yard. Grandpa had decorated the outside tree with beautiful rainbow lights, too.  The snowfall had covered each bulb with perfection and just enough snow to make each bulb illuminate, making the colors glow intensely within the tree. It was beautiful, peaceful. As I stood there alone in the living room darkness, staring at the vibrant tree that glowed back at me, I suddenly heard a familiar sound ringing out… bells, Christmas bells, Santa Claus’ bells! My eyes shot above me, trying to find a glimpse of Santa in the skies. I looked everywhere above, but couldn’t see him anywhere. Before I left, I stole another look outside and immediately ran back downstairs to my grandparents, where I shared with them that I heard Santa’s sleigh bells!  They saw the excitement in my eyes and heard it in my voice. I was absolutely convinced that I heard Santa’s bells ringing outside that living room window. It was then that grandpa told me that there were extra gifts under the Christmas tree and they were for me. Taking a picture with Santa Claus that evening, I remember being so happy, excited that he didn’t forget about me after all.

Jack with SantaIt was many years later that I had learned that granny forgot to bring my gifts out of her bedroom closet and put them under the tree with everyone else’s.  I often think of this time when I went to the living room looking for Santa in the skies, especially when I view my own Christmas tree today, as it sits there in the darkness, where each and every colorful light burns with such brightness as if they are all smiling back at me.

Did I really hear Santa’s sleigh bells ringing through the air that evening when I was a little girl or was it my beloved grandfather standing outside the picture window, with perfect timing, shaking sleigh bells as I looked out the window toward the skies waiting for Santa to fly by?

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”  ~Author Unknown

Oh Christmas Branch, Oh Christmas Branch…

Christmas BranchChildren look forward to seeing the Christmas tree go up, with its many lights and decorations. It’s a sure sign that Christmas day will soon arrive. I remember when my family and I didn’t have a Christmas tree… real or fake. We just couldn’t afford to have one. My brothers and I were aching for some sort of holiday spirit and decorations; something to make our home look festive, to be a part of, as if we did hold Christmas in the Lambert home.  We lived in an apartment building on Sheffield and us kids were trying to come up with an idea on how we could decorate for Christmas.  Looking out the back porch window, we saw in the back alley that one of the tenants from the above apartments trimmed their Christmas tree, as a huge branch was lying in the trash. My brother, Steve, went outside and retrieved the branch from the garbage can and brought it in with such enthusiasm that one would have thought he hiked all the way into the forest to chop it down himself!  We found an old peanut butter jar in the cupboard, which my mom always used for drinking glasses. We filled the jar to the top rim with water and placed our perfectly trimmed Christmas tree branch inside and placed it on the dresser in the living room, right next to the television set.  Looking a tad bare, my brothers and I decided to make some paper decorations to place on our tree. Coloring and making decorations, along with some green garland we had, we now had a Christmas tree to call our own.  In our eyes, the tree that sat in the peanut butter jar was just as beautiful as the one at Rockefeller Center.  Unfortunately, we had many Christmas’ like this, either no tree or no gifts from Santa.

We moved to Magnolia Avenue in the mid seventies.  Being on welfare and not having many luxuries, we were excited to see chocolate chip cookies on the counter or an occasional carton of ice cream in the freezer.  We never had expensive clothes or shoes and some winters barely a warm coat.  We would get our clothes at second hand stores or from the free goodwill that use to be on Broadway. We kids would dream of wearing Converse All-Stars, just like the other kids in the neighborhood. But, instead, we would get the shoes that slip and slide that came from Goldblatt’s.  As the old saying goes, “Don’t get the shoes that slip and slide, get the shoes with the star on the side!”  One Christmas, my mother must have come across some extra money, as she gave my brothers and me money to run up on Broadway to the Army Navy Surplus store so that we could each buy a pair of our own Converse.  We were ecstatic and run we did!  I bought a pair of red high tops and I thought I was the luckiest kid on the block! Of course, we were only allowed to wear them on school days, while going to school.  On occasion, I would sneak them on and go play ball with my brothers, only to have my mother yell from the window to come in and take them off and change into my slip and slides.

The years went on and we kids had gotten older. Christmas gifts felt more of like a necessity than wishing you had the hottest toy under the tree.  One Christmas in particular my brothers had no winter coats to wear.  They would always double up on their sweatshirts to keep themselves warm. They had nothing to protect their heads or keep their hands warm.  Mom couldn’t afford to buy them new coats either, but I was still working at Jupiter, which was a five and dime store, and made enough money, along with my employee discount, that I could buy both of my brothers an inexpensive coat for Christmas.

Knowing that my brothers needed to stay warm, I bought each of them new winter coats, gloves, hats and scarves to match, with Steve in blue tones and Jeff in the color green.  I wanted to make sure that that winter they wouldn’t be cold while walking to school or playing outside.

Christmas morning came and we all gathered into the living room, where the tree was still lit and left on from the night before.  We were always told that if you leave the Christmas tree lights on during Christmas Eve, then Santa Claus would be able to see where he was going.

I couldn’t wait for my brothers to open up their gifts.  It was a tradition that one person opened their gifts at a time, with Steve usually being first, then Jeff, me and then mom to follow last. Steve tears opens his gifts first and soon Jeff was to follow. I could see the smiles on their faces that showed such gratitude and appreciation. However because Steve was so tall and his arms were so long, the sleeves on his coat were a tad short, but he said that he didn’t mind and he was excited about receiving a new winter coat.  I was very happy to help my brothers and it made me feel so good to know that they were able to open up a few Christmas gifts but, most importantly, they were going to be warm.

“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.”  ~Bob Hope

Gifts from the Heart…

Christmas GiftOne particular Christmas will stand out in my mind forever and that my heart will never forget. My brothers and I were very young and we found ourselves once again without a Christmas tree.  We had just moved to a new building on Kenmore, just off Montrose Avenue and, surely, we wouldn’t have the luxury of finding a Christmas tree branch in the garbage, as we did once before. We decided to make our Christmas tree that year. Searching through some boxes in the closet, we did find some Christmas tree garland that was from the year before.  Although it wasn’t much, it was enough for my brothers and me to make a small Christmas tree.  Looking for the perfect wall in the living room, we began taping the garland to the wall. We created a triangle to symbolize a Christmas tree.  As Steve, Jeff and I took a step back, we took pride in our newly displayed Christmas tree, which had a hint of glimmer from the light of the lamp that was resting on the end table.

Christmas tree with bow“The perfect Christmas tree?  All Christmas trees are perfect!”  ~Charles N. Barnard

Reality had set in and it was at that moment that we realized that we had a tree, but no Christmas gifts to place beneath it. Our mother hardly had enough money to buy us food to eat, let alone money to buy us Christmas gifts.

Wanting to continue on with our Christmas spirit, my brothers and I wanted to have Christmas gifts under our tree.  We each had agreed to take one of our own personal and special toys that were our own and give it to the other for Christmas.  I decided that my gift was for Steve, Steve’s gift was for Jeff and Jeff’s gift was to me. While each of us looked through our toy boxes to see what the other would like to have, the three of us made our final decisions.  My special gift for Steve was a miniature toy egg beater that you would cook make believe pancake breakfast and play in a dollhouse with.  Of course, not having any wrapping paper to make my gift look beautiful, the only thing I could think of at the time to wrap my gift was the bathroom toilet paper. Pulling it off from the roll, sheet after sheet, I gently wrapped the egg beater in the toilet paper and tying it up with the only ribbon I could find, which was one of my laces from my shoes.  Once done, I then carried and placed Steve’s gift underneath our beautiful makeshift Christmas tree that was hanging on the wall in the living room. In turn, my brothers did the same thing.  Slowly unraveling the toilet paper from the roll, they, too, wrapped up their special gifts and placed them underneath the Christmas tree. Once again, we all stood staring at our tree that now housed three small gifts underneath.

The next morning had arrived and it was Christmas Day!  My brothers and I woke up and rushed to the Christmas tree with anticipation. Lying there before us were three perfectly wrapped gifts. I couldn’t wait to see what I had receive and what my brother, Jeff, had picked out especially for me. Sitting on the floor in front of the tree, I picked up the perfectly wrapped toilet papered gift and slowly unwrapped it.  I received a Corvette Matchbox car and it was the coolest car that I had ever seen! It was royal blue; my favorite color!

hot wheels redline blue corvetteIt was Jeff’s turn next. Slowly peeling away the toilet paper, Jeff finds a Matchbox truck that thrilled him as much as mind did.  Spinning the wheels, Jeff had a smile on his face that seemed to last forever.

Matchbox TruckLastly, it was Steve’s turn to open his gift.  Steve picked up his gift and placed it in his hands. He carefully unties the shoestring that I had taken from my tennie shoe the night before and begins to unwrap the many layers of toilet paper.  Steve sees the eggbeater sliding out of the wrap and his eyes light up with excitement. He begins to twirl the handles with vigor, as he watches with anticipation as the beaters simultaneously mesh together as one, rotating over and over and over.

eggbeaterSteve enjoyed his special gift, as well and Jeff and I did.

My brothers and I may not have received a shiny new bike for Christmas, or a pair of roller skates or even a talking dolly, but what we did receive was a sense of closeness that we were only able to share with one another.  Selfishness was set aside that day and we were shared with others what we had. We took from little and created a special moment that only the three of us were able to share and experience.

“Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others.” ~ Brian Tracy

We may not have had much during these Christmas’ back in the 1970’s, but that seemed to be just fine with us. Because that Christmas, my brothers and I didn’t think of ourselves. Instead, we thought of each other. We experienced a more precious gift that Christmas day and that was no matter what you have in your life, whether riches or coal, you can always find that one special something to make the person next to you happy. Gifts from your heart make the most precious gift of all.

“Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday.” ~ Gladys Tabor 

Christmas Sign

Sign

Remembering Halloween

Kids trick or treating

“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.

Prop 2

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

Scary Shadow

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.

Prop 1

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.

Bats

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.

Dolls - Negative View

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!

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A Soul’s Connection: A Special Friendship

Jack and Donatta in 8th Grade - 1977.

Jack and Donatta in 8th Grade – 1977.

“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.

Starsky & Hutch

Starsky & Hutch

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.

Donatta's Letter

Donatta’s Letter

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 Rabbit Died!

The Rabbit 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.

Jack and Donatta Young

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.

Emily in Cancun

Emily in Cancun

Jack and Donatta in Cancun

Jack and Donatta in Cancun

Beachin' It!

Beachin’ It!

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

Jack and Donatta

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.

Always,

Jack

 “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

Spirits that Surround Me

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.” ~ Brené Brown

I have always believed in spirits, ghosts, the afterlife, whatever you would like to call them, especially since I got older and had the opportunity to learn more about the subject. I believe in After Death Communication (ADC).  I have had many encounters, on what I like to believe, were the spirits of my deceased loved ones.   Whether it was a white mist, a talking doll or softly spoken words… these are just a few of the signs that I have experienced within the last twenty years and, most of them, within my own home, where I live today.

I have found myself to be a spiritual person, more so than a religious one, although I do believe in both wholeheartedly – the afterlife with God in his kingdom, as well as my own personal spiritual one that surround me and fills my world today. I believe it was important for me to accept the rights of baptism and confirmation. These two sacraments not only opened my eyes to how much I love God and how much He loves me, but it has also made me aware of what His world truly has to offer and all the spiritual beauty that He has created. Religiously, as a Catholic, I believe that there are certain rules and restrictions that are expected of me, requests that are asked of me, requirements that are set before me that I should live by and I hope that in every sense of the word I do.   Although, I respect the church and what my religion has to give, I believe that my spiritual side is stronger; it is more of personal one. My feelings as a spiritualist go deeper within my heart and soul and the connection that I have with my God. It is a strong one, a relationship that I truly respect and am blessed to have in my life. As I have expressed in the past, this relationship with God was not one that was taught through the education of a parent but, instead, one that was self taught and through personal discovery. Not only do I find a spiritual connection with God, Himself, but I also find a spiritual connection in the things he has created that surround me, such as the deepest magenta flower that blooms to perfection with beauty and grace. A tree that soars its branches toward the sky as it sways gently with the breeze as if it is waving hello. Or the swollen clouds that dance before me in the sky that embraces and reflects the perfect shades of crimson and payne’s gray, as the sun rests for the evening. These are just a few things that I connect with spiritually and, I do believe, that they were all at the expense of God’s hands.

Because of these spiritual feelings, I don’t believe in the thought that once we die our lives just end, hushing us into a complete darkness and a forever silence, where the life we once knew, the life we once lived and was so familiar with, is simply no more. No more thinking, communicating, no more touching, loving, feeling, no more existing, completely lights out.  There just has to be more once we pass on and I believe that there is, whether it is in God’s kingdom in the Heavens or spiritually through the wings of a butterfly.

As I lay in bed at the end of my day, I have a ritual where I go over my day’s events, things that went right… things that, perhaps, didn’t. As I lay there, I tick off in my head the tasks that I had completed and tick off what yet still needs to be done, trying to create a “pocket list” for the following day. This is my time to reflect on life in general and to assess everything. I then begin to think about who I have in my life, as well as those who I have lost and how much I am missing them.

My mind starts to wander to a dubious thought that I have had so many times before. I, once again, question how can we talk and walk, think and breathe without needing the aid of being plugged into an electrical current or connected to some sort of machine, where wires and cords give us the energy to work and perform, like when a television set is plugged in or a stove, computer, or even an electrical car!  All of these need some sort of energy source to perform.

I lay there and wonder in amazement… how am I capable of breathing on my own using a set of lungs that simply ask for clean, fresh air, but yet no requirement of wires?  How amazing it is to do my own thinking with an organ that does not need any “plug ins” to dream, to remember, to hold special thoughts and memories in my mind. My heart will beat a thousand times a day without the assistance of any electrical power. My heart loves and forgives, as well as learns about compassion. My heart is not only able to beat on its own, but is actually able to love and feel without an energy source spewing high voltage power directly into me, making all these vital organs work. I vision we should be like marionettes, where strings are connected to every part of our bodies, where a Master is now our energy source, instructing and pulling at our mind, heart and body strings, giving us the power, like electricity, to move, dance, talk and make our body’s operate.

electric

How can a heart, mind and soul function without the aid of cords zapping us with an electrical force, which seems to make everything work and function? How is it that we’re free to get up and move whenever we want, without unplugging ourselves from a pod of electrical current first?  I know that a person has to feed their body with traditional air, water and food in order to obtain that “power” of energy to keep moving forward, giving their body strength to do so, however, I still find it to be a miracle in itself. Think about it… my mind is thinking and writing its own thoughts and my heart is beating to every keystroke that my fingers type out and, all of this for “free of charge,”  no pun intended, of course.  I find it such a phenomenon that I’m able to accomplish all of this “wire free.” We are our own “energy.”  My body is one circuit of energy within itself. Each circuit of  energy within my body helps the other. These are just some of my odd thoughts that I have as I lay in my bed examining my day.

It’s these thoughts that now take me to a higher plane. Although I believe that our bodies need valued nutrition in order to be energized and function properly, I also believe that there’s a higher power that allows us to walk, talk, and move around so freely.  This power, I believe, is no other than God.  I believe that God is the one who supplies our “power” and that it’s a miracle in which my brain thinks, my lungs breathe and my heart beats and loves unconditionally all on their own. If God can do all of this while I’m alive here in my physical world, then I believe that he can create the same miracle of power, keeping our spirit and soul alive after we die.

 “I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, that the living sprint from the dead, that the souls of the dead are in existence.” ~ Socrates

I don’t believe that once our physical bodies die that our spirits and souls die as well and that all of these miracles abruptly come to an end. I believe that our spirits and souls are set free, to continue on with our journey but now only in another measurement of time. Just because my loved ones have moved on to a different dimension, or because their physical body is no more, it doesn’t mean that their spirits don’t exist or that they don’t surround me. Their energy and wisdom will move forward to continue on with their path, where they will now share their life lessons that they have learned here on earth, with others in the next dimension so that they may teach others what they have learned and possibly what we have not. As I believe in the same power that God gives us in our physical lives, I believe that He continues to give us this same power for our spiritual world as well.  Our spirits, souls and knowledge, I believe, will continue on, whether it’s to be shared spiritually here on earth or high within the heavens.

As I often do, I extend an invitation to my deceased loved ones, letting them know they can come to me in my dreams to visit and to talk. I have only one rule with all my spiritual family and that is NOT to appear to me in their physical form. They are more than welcome to leave me a sign, move things, send me special memories or communicate with me through my dreams. Although I believe that they can appear to me, I simply request them not to. Seeing them in this form will surely scare the living turds right out of me! They know the rules, therefore, they communicate with me in the ways I have mentioned above. Reading many books on ADC, I have learned that there are twelve forms of after death communication from a deceased loved one and I have received about nine of these:

Sensing A Presence: This is the most common form of contact. But many people discount these experiences, thinking, “Oh, I’m just imagining this.” It’s a distinct feeling that your loved one is nearby, even though he or she can’t be seen or heard. Though most often felt during the days and weeks immediately after the death, you may sense his or her presence months and even years later.

Hearing A Voice: Some people state they hear an external voice, the same as when a living person is speaking to them. However, the majority of communications are by telepathy – you hear the voice of your relative or friend in your mind. When you have two-way communication, it is usually by telepathy. In fact, it’s possible to have an entire conversation this way.

Feeling A Touch: You may feel your loved one touch you with his or her hand, or place an arm around your shoulders or back, for comfort and reassurance. You may feel a tap, a pat, a caress, a stroke, a kiss, or even a hug. These are all forms of affection, nurturing, and love.

Smelling A Fragrance: You may smell your relative’s or friend’s favorite cologne, after-shave lotion, or perfume. Other common aromas are: flowers (especially roses), bath powders, tobacco products, favorite foods, and his or her personal scent.

Visual Experiences: There are a wide variety of visual experiences, which we have divided into two broad categories: partial visual and full visual ADCs. Appearances range from “a transparent mist” to “absolutely solid” with many gradations in between. You may see only the head and shoulders of your relative or friend, or someone you love may make a full appearance to you, and you will see the entire body as well, which will appear completely solid. Some visual ADCs occur in the bedroom, next to or at the foot of the bed. Others may happen anywhere – indoors or outdoors – even in a car or aboard a plane. Typically he or she will be expressing love and well-being with a radiant smile. Loved ones virtually always appear healed and whole regardless of their cause of death. Verbal communication may take place, but not always.

Visions: You may see an image of a deceased loved one in a “picture” that is either two-dimensional and flat or three-dimensional like a hologram. It’s like seeing a 35 mm slide or a movie suspended in the air. Visions are usually in radiant colors and may be seen externally with your eyes open or internally in your mind. Communication may occur, especially during meditation.

Twilight Experiences: These occur in the alpha state – as you’re falling asleep, waking up, meditating, or praying. You may have any or all of the above types of experiences while you are in this state of consciousness.

ADC Experiences While Asleep: Sleep-state ADCs are much more vivid, intense, colorful, and real than dreams. They are very common. Both one-way and two-way communications are typical. You usually feel your loved one is with you in person – that you’re having an actual visit together. These experiences are not jumbled, filled with symbols, or fragmented the way dreams are.  Sleep-state ADCs are similar to those that occur when you are wide awake. Your relative or friend can come to you more easily, however, when you are relaxed, open, and receptive, such as while you are in the alpha state or asleep.

Out-Of-Body ADCs: These may occur while you are asleep or in a meditative state. They are dramatic experiences during which you leave your body and often visit your loved one at the place or level where he or she exists. These are extremely vivid, intense, and real – some say, “more real than physical life.” The environments usually contain beautiful flowers and butterflies, colorful bushes and trees, radiant lighting, and other lovely aspects of nature – and are filled with happiness, love, and joy.

Telephone Calls: These ADCs may occur during sleep or when you are wide awake. You will hear a phone ringing, and if you answer it, your loved one will give you a short message. Two-way conversations are possible. His or her voice will usually be clear but may seem far away. If you are awake, you will probably not hear a disconnect sound or a dial tone when the call is completed.

Physical Phenomena: People who are bereaved often report receiving a wide variety of physical signs from their deceased relative or friend, such as: lights or lamps blinking on and off; lights, radios, televisions, stereos, and mechanical objects being turned on; photographs, pictures, and various other items being turned over or moved; and a long list of “things that go bump in the night.”

Symbolic ADCs: People frequently ask a Higher Power, the universe, or their deceased loved one for a sign that he or she still exists. Many receive such a sign, though it may take some time to arrive. Occasionally these signs are so subtle they may be missed, or they may be discounted as mere “coincidences.” Common signs include: butterflies, rainbows, many species of birds and animals, flowers, and a variety of inanimate objects such as coins and pictures. (1)

Just as I believe spiritually, I strongly believe in the spirit world as well. I believe that my loved one’s spirits come to visit me, surrounding me with their guidance, protection and love. I’ve had deceased loved ones offer me advice through a dream, thank me or just extending a hug.  I don’t call what has happened to me as coincidences, I believe that they all happened for a reason and that there’s a meaning and message behind each and every one of them.  I have always welcomed my family to communicate with me, via ADC, and with the stories I mention below, I believe, they have.

The Sweet Smell of Tar

One of my first encounters of spirits was by smell.  My grandfather, Raymond, was a roofer and he often would bring home his big red roofing truck, which smelled like tar and, of course, himself, too. It was one of those pleasant memories that when I smell tar today, I think fondly of my grandfather.  However, what’s strange is that whenever I smell tar, there would be no tar truck around nor were any buildings being worked on.

The smell literally appeared out of nowhere. Such as, when I was planning to go into the hospital to have Arla by cesarean, I smelled tar inside the car on the way to the hospital.  This same smell repeated itself when I was on my way to the hospital the second time to give birth by cesarean to Tanner. Again, there were no tar trucks or buildings around me that indicated work was being done.  When having Tanner, the anesthesiologist was having trouble inserting the needle into my back for my epidural. I was told that if they couldn’t get it by the third attempt, they would have to put me under. I have a fear of going under anesthesia, so I had prayed to my grandfather, “Grandpa, please guide the physician’s hands to help her insert the needle into my back so that I don’t have to go under. You know how much I fear going under…” No sooner when my prayer ended, the anesthesiologist, Dr. Childers, was able to complete the procedure and the needle slid directly into my spine with ease. “Thank you grandpa!”  Frank commented that when I was in the hospital to have Arla, that there was an elderly man working on the sink just outside the operating room.  Of course, Frank didn’t give it a second thought… until the next time when I went to the hospital to have Tanner.  Once again, I was the same operating room as the first time and there Frank said was the same elderly man, underneath the sink, working on it.  I personally didn’t recall this man, but Frank insisted that he was there both times of delivery, working on the same sink. I do know that I smelled roofing tar for no apparent reason on both of these occasions and, along with this elderly man, I believe that this could have been grandpa stopping by to make sure that I was okay and it was his way of saying that he was there with me, protecting and watching over me.  To this day, I still continue to smell roofing tar and, when I do, I peacefully say, “Hello grandpa, how are you?”

Coming to Say Hello

As I have shared in the past, my grandfather and I were very close, especially in the latter years when he was battling his final fight with cancer.

While visiting with him and my grandmother in Madison in the early 1980’s, I realized that his condition was deteriorating, making me realize that he may not be with us too much longer.  As I sat on the couch with grandpa, we started talking about this and that, catching up on lost time. It was moments later that grandpa stood up and, with the help of his cane, he walked slowly to his bedroom to collect something from his drawer.

Sitting back down beside me, he handed me a man’s gold diamond ring, sharing with me that he had found it in a car wash decades ago.  He asked me if I would like to keep it, so that when I held it, I would think of him.  Knowing that it was a part of him, I said, “Yes, I would love to have it as a keepsake.”  Grandpa commented that he had the ring for many years and that I should never give it away and to keep it always.  I distinctly remember the moment when sitting close beside him on the couch that warm summer afternoon, playing with the ring that he gave me, twirling it around my finger. There was reminiscence in the air, along with our conversation, as we started to talk about the farm in Stoughton and all the fun time we had while living there. I could tell that this was a fond memory in grandpa’s heart. It wasn’t long when he shared with me that he wished my mother would have named me Arlaraye, like he asked her to. But, he told me that she absolutely refused. I told him that I was sorry, as I knew how important this was to him. It was then that I made a vow to him and said, “Grandpa, if I ever have a daughter in the future, I promise that I will name her after you, for you, and call her Arlaraye.”  With that, he put his arms around me and gave me the strongest hug. The strength in his arms told me that I had just made him a very happy grandfather.

Grandpa’s death came just a couple years later and it saddened me to know that he would never be around to see my promise to him become a reality, naming my first daughter for him. Almost ten years later, when I realized that I was pregnant, I was ecstatic!   I was expecting to have my first child in April 1992.  From the moment that I found out I was going to have a baby, all I wished for that it was going to be a girl.  One evening during the night, I prayed my wishes to God, expressing how much I wanted to have a daughter so that I could honor my grandfather in the way that my mother would not.  After pleading my reasons, I felt something in my belly, twisting and turning, almost as if the baby did a complete 360 flip inside me.  The feeling that I experienced that night was different, almost bizarre, as if God was answering my prayers the moment they left my lips.

My daughter, Arlaraye Niccole, was born on Monday, April 6, 1992.

It wasn’t long before Frank and I got in the routine of nightly feedings, changing poopy diapers, with a side order of not enough sleep!  At the time, we always lived in the back room.  It was our main family room, where we watched TV and entertained guests and simply hung out.  Today, this room is considered the art room. But, when Arla was a baby, this was the room we utilized the most when first moving into the house.  This family room was an addition that was built onto the house decades prior to us moving in. It’s a nice size room and it overlooks the backyard, with many windows wrapping around. The main bedrooms were on the first floor, with Arla’s room being directly across from ours.  Because the back room was an add on, Arla’s bedroom had two doors; one that originally would have led outside to the backyard if the addition wasn’t there and the main bedroom door, which leads into the hallway by the bathroom and our bedroom.

One evening, Frank and I were sitting in the back family room, enjoying some quite time, as we had just laid Arla down in her crib for the night. As young parents often do, we made sure that the noise level was at a minimum so as to not wake up our new baby girl. We made sure that both doors were tightly closed so that our cats wouldn’t disturb Arla while she slept.  Settling in for an evening of TV, it wasn’t long before we heard the unexpected. I was sitting right outside Arla’s door and Frank was lounging on the couch. It was moments later that Arla’s main door to her room, the one that faced the hallway, opened and within a few seconds it closed again, slamming shut. Suddenly, Frank and I both looked at each other simultaneously, as we spun our heads toward Arla’s bedroom.  We both knew that we were the only ones in the house. As if on cue, both Frank and I said in harmony, “Grandpa Johnson!”  Frank went to Arla’s room and, there as it was, just the way we left it, her door was completely shut. We knew that Arla didn’t open the door, as she was just a newborn, not even able to roll over yet, let open a bedroom door.  Frank and I absolutely believed that grandpa had stopped by for a visit to say hello to his new great granddaughter, his namesake, the one I promised to name for him, in honor of him.

It was a couple years later, once we had our Golden Retriever, Kassy, that this room attracted additional attention. One evening, as Kassy laid quietly on the floor next to my feet in the family room, she suddenly poked her head up, looked toward Arla’s room, and started a low toned growl. She immediately got my attention as I, too, looked toward Arla’s room.  The lights were off and Arla’s back door was slightly opened. At the time, Arla was not in her room, but in her basinet beside me. Kassy is now standing on all fours and is directing her complete attention to the open door of Arla’s room, growling making her presence known. I began to ask Kassy what was the matter and asked her to go and investigate, with a quick “who’s there girl, watch ‘em!” command. Kassy slowly walked to the open door, as if she was on a cautious hunt, but she moved no further nor did she walk inside the room.  It was if she got spooked.  Immediately turning around, she shared a small whimper and came back to my side, hugging close to my legs, which is where she remained for the remainder of the evening.  It was apparent that there was something going on in Arla’s room and that Kassy was scared.  Animals can be such intuitive animals and I believe that there was something in the room that grabbed her attention.  Although I never did learn what stirred Kassy into such a frenzy, I can only believe that it was simply another visit from grandpa, looking to say hello to his Arlaraye.

The Light in the Window

One evening, I was home by myself and Frank was out with the Arla, who was a toddler at the time. It was a rarity that I was alone, not to mention with my own thoughts. I decided to call my friend Donatta to catch up on life. I was in our back family room at the time. Doing things between both rooms, running back and forth from the kitchen and family room, and instead of resting within the chair, I decided to sit and prop myself on the arm of the recliner chair. I faced the windows toward the backyard, with my back resting toward the kitchen. It was evening out and I could see the room’s reflection in the darken window. Midway through my conversation with Donatta, while starring toward the window, I saw a large white light that suddenly took over my attention. Like a mirror, this light was being reflected in the darkened window. My reaction was somewhat puzzling, but yet uneasy, as I couldn’t grasp at the moment where the light was coming from.   The light was noticeable and prominent for at least a good ten seconds. It appeared as if something was being opened and closed, as I saw the light slowly disappear.

I immediately went to the window to investigate, thinking it was the weather, perhaps lightening, but I soon realized it wasn’t. Turning back toward the kitchen, I stood there thinking maybe Frank and the kids were home, but they weren’t. The house was quiet. There were no other lights on in the kitchen except for the accent light underneath the stove, which wasn’t in the path of the window.  Still standing in the back room, my eyes then drifted through the kitchen to the fridge. As I expected it to be, the fridge door was closed. Walking only a few feet into the kitchen from where I was standing, I went directly to the fridge. Holding the phone in my left hand, I was still on the phone talking with Donatta, explaining to her what was happening. Placing my right hand onto the fridge door handle, I turn my head to the left, where I look directly toward the back family room, to the same window where I was just at moments before. The distance between the fridge and the back room window is approximately twenty feet.  Studying the layout and the path between both rooms, the fridge was in direct alignment with the darkened window. Clutching the handle, I slowly open the fridge door, as I watched what played out in the window.  Moments later, I gradually brought the fridge door to a close.

Opening and closing the fridge door several more times, it was then that I had the evidence I needed. I was convinced that this was the exact same light that I had witnessed just minutes before while sitting on the arm of the chair starring at the back room window.  This is when Donatta asked me if I was sure I was alone. Walking through the house, I made sure that nobody else was there with me. I was completely alone… or so I thought. The only explanation that came to mind was that, perhaps, it was my grandfather’s sprit, who was coming to visit me once again, just like the time when he came to visit Arla in her bedroom. But, this time, looking into the fridge for a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Everywhere a Sign

My grandfather’s favorite beer was Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) and whenever I see a PBR beer sign, I think of him. On the way home from the hospital, after taking my mother off of life support that one September afternoon, we parked on a side street so that Frank could run an errand into the corner convenient store. I decided to stay in the car with the kids. Looking out the window, my mind started drifting off and I was back in the hospital, where I was at only moments before.  Looking up to the sky, there I saw high above my head on the top side of the building was a PBR advertisement sign. It was then that I felt my grandfather was with me at the time of my mother’s death and going through the emotions with me.

Not only do I receive signs like the above, I also receive signs by smell, such as the tar smell I spoke of earlier.  One afternoon, while walking into my bedroom, I immediately smelled my grandfather’s aftershave, as if it was just freshly slapped onto his face. I knew it was him right away and I spent the next few minutes taking in the smell of his aftershave. Moments later, it dissipated.

A Word of Comfort

As my grandfather’s scent had permeated my bedroom, believing that he was there for a visit, there was another time recently that he stopped by again. I was upset and crying very hard to myself. Someone I knew hurt me very deeply. As I walked into the bedroom, I closed the door behind me. I wanted to be alone. Sitting on the edge of the bed on my side of the room with my back to the bedroom door, I sat there sobbing, where my emotions were simply uncontrollable. My deepest emotions were coming out and I was practically drowning in my own emotions. Through my tears, I heard a soft voice behind me, a voice that uttered a reassuring “Ssssshhhhh…” My eyes looked up and I hushed myself from crying. I quickly turned around toward the door and to the other side of the room. The door was still closed. I felt like I was no longer alone.  It was then that I knew my grandfather was there with me, asking me to shush my tears, consoling me.  I will never forget this spiritual contact. I heard this Ssssshhhhh as clear as could be. My spiritual family is with me always and hearing grandpa hush me to silence made me stop crying and wipe my tears. There is no doubt in my mind that my grandfather was there helping me get through this rough time.

I have received other signs, as well, such as when doing an online search or needing to complete an online form. On several occasions, there was already a name populated within the search field or the name field before I even began typing.  The name Johnson would automatically be within these fields prior to be starting the form.  Coincidently enough, Johnson was my grandparents’ last name.

I have also encountered flickering lights while sitting next to a lamp or the light bulb would suddenly blow out while touching to turn on a light switch or turn the knob of a lamp. There was a time when the bulbs were constantly being changed because every time I reached for them, they would blow out.   These times were during when I lost a loved one, where my feelings and emotions were at their highest level. Was it my own energy source that tapped these lights dry or was it someone else, my spiritual family, letting me know that they were with me?

When I began to write my memoirs, I knew that I wanted to share and express not only the hardships I have had in my life, but also the tremendous amount of love I have experienced as well.  The day that I finished writing about my Uncle Bob and expressing how much he meant to me in my life, that evening, he came to me in a dream. Uncle Bob stood there before me, just as I remembered him, with his face full of beard wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt. He had a look that seemed to come right out of the 1970’s. Standing before me he said to me, “Thank you for individually thinking of me.”  I remember telling him that he was welcome and that I loved him. Uncle Bob started to cry and I started to cry even hard. Shortly after, I woke up and knew that Uncle Bob came to visit me.

I continue to ask for signs and welcome my spiritual family to visit me at any time during my dreams. I enjoy when they visit, except for the time when granny took her hug a bit too far or the time when she offered me words of “Peace” that she shared with me in my dream. I will share these moments with you next time, as well as when my mother who made an appearance but this time it wasn’t in my dreams, it was a physical manifestation right there in front of me while I was sitting in church…

 “Perhaps they are not stars but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pour through and shine down upon us to let us know they are happy.” ~ Eskimo Proverb

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Today, as I sat in my yard writing my blog, I had the company of two yellow butterflies playing with each other throughout the day. Bouncing from one flower to the next, they did so in unison, not once parting from each other’s side. I can’t help but to wonder… Could these two butterflies be my grandparents as they glided from one pollen pod to the other? Was it my mother and Uncle Bob, chasing each another around as they once did when they were little kids? Perhaps, it was Geno and his father, as they journeyed together catching up on life’s distant past.  Regardless of who these two butterflies may have been as they shared my whole day, I was happy to know that I was able to have this spiritual connection. I watched them both dance to the fragrance that my garden had to offer, as I listened to the birds sing in the breeze, the beautiful clouds that painted the sky and the air that carried a calmness. These are the moments that make me aware of how my body is energized; not through electrical energy, but by the power of God and my spiritual connections…

… Yes, I truly enjoyed my Spiritual Sunday.

References:

1. http://www.after-death.com/

http://www.adcrf.org/

Riding Free

 Everyone copes differently; some cry for the loss of a loved one, others smile because they know they’ll see them again.” ~ Author Unknown

“He was behind us at one point when I checked my side mirror and, when I looked again only moments later, he was gone. As I kept looking into my mirror, I realized that he wasn’t catching up with the rest of us, so we decided to turn around and head back to see if he was okay. This is when we saw the ambulance blocking the road, with its lights flashing and the EMT’s working on Geno.”

Geno and the other riders were on their way back home to Chicago from having a day of riding in Waukesha, Wisconsin. There were several of them riding in tandem and Geno was towing behind the others, surely enjoying the beautiful scenery that surrounded him.

A witness from a passing car saw the entire accident. “I saw him riding and then watched him just drive off the side of the road, as if he was making a simple turn, as if that turn and road was a part of his journey, as if he was meant to continue on in that direction… he calmly drove off the road.”

One Samaritan who saw the accident stopped and immediately called 911, while others pulled Geno’s motorcycle off his chest where, once they did, his color came back to his face.

Official reports said that Geno took a turn, didn’t negotiate it properly, and slid off the side of the road. As Geno was thrown from his bike, he hit a metal telephone box and then a road sign before landing on the ground, where is motorcycle landed on top of him and when the ambulance arrived at the scene, the EMT’s found Geno unresponsive. He was taken to the nearest trauma center, Waukesha Memorial Hospital. The medical staff worked on Geno for hours in the E.R., but they couldn’t save him. Geno had severe body trauma… a fractured spine, broken leg, cracked ribs, a torn aorta, and bleeding in the brain. His injuries were so extensive that if he did survive… what quality of life would he have been left with?

Geno's Memorial Marker Waukesha, Wisconsin

Geno’s Memorial Marker
Waukesha, Wisconsin

Because of all these massive injuries, one would believe that Geno was traveling at excessive speeds of 60, 70 or even 80 mph when he came upon hitting that phone box and road sign. The reality is that Geno was going less than 20 mph when he went off the side of the road, when he hit those obstructions, he was traveling under 20 mph when he met his fate. He was going a snail’s pace, barely moving, and not even enough speed to start up a gentle breeze through his hair. It left many of us questioning… how such a speed could leave so much damage.

“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…” ~ John Lennon

  Geno's Mass Card

 

It was Geno’s request not to have a traditional funeral service and his family honored his wishes. Carol, his wife, had him quietly cremated at a funeral home in Mundelein near their home. About a month later, the family had a memorial mass for Geno so that we could all have some sort of closure, to say our final goodbyes, to make peace in our hearts in our own individual ways. Carol brought Geno’s ashes to St. Michael’s church in Chicago, where Geno’s brother, Joey, who is a Catholic Priest, carried out a beautiful mass that Saturday afternoon last August honoring Geno, as so did the Army’s honor guard, acknowledging that he was a veteran soldier who fought for his country. Playing taps for the congregation and while the honor guard spoke to Carol on the behalf of the President of the United States, you could hear some mourners weeping openly while others chose to cry to themselves, as their tears left their eyes, quietly rolling down the their cheeks.

After the mass, we continued to celebrate and remember Geno’s life. We all cried together, we all laughed together, while everyone shared their own personal “Geno Stories” to the point where we were laughing from the deepness of our bellies, only to follow up by shedding more tears. The stories that others shared were truly entertaining and one of a kind, a story only fitting for Geno and always at his expense.

Eugene, Geno, Bro, Ponch… no matter what we called him, he was known more importantly as husband, son, brother… friend! Geno was a very outspoken man, his personality infectious! Geno brought to the family what a butterfly brings to a garden… beauty, smiles and, at times, one hell of a free spirit! Below is one of my own favorite Geno Stories.

“Hey, come over here, kid, learn something. You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys someday. You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; ya make sure it doesn’t stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs; heh…? And a little bit o’ wine. An’ a little bit o’ sugar, and that’s my trick.” ~ The God Father

The Red Hat

One day, when her children were young, Bubby was making her homemade spaghetti sauce. Bubby, made everything from scratch when cooking for her big family. One of her specialties that everyone enjoyed was her homemade spaghetti sauce, where the pot of tomatoes and spices would simmer on top of the stove all day, cooking for hours, with an occasional twirl of the spoon around the bottom of the pot, making sure it wasn’t burning. Surely, one could smell the sauce wafting all through the house, while at the same time the kids’ bellies filled with anticipation, just waiting for the spaghetti and sauce to be served up for dinner.

As Bubby’s sauce continues cooking to perfection, she tends to other things around the house. Geno decided to take a stroll through the kitchen, with his red knit hat in hand, twirling his hat high into the air with one hand only to catch it with the other, like pizza dough, not once, but several times, over and over, as he watched it spin back down. Geno continued his game, challenging his red hat to twirl even higher into the air with every toss he gave it, catching it every time as if on cue. Geno’s game finally ended when he spins his red hat into the air one last time. Watching it make its descent from the ceiling, he soon realizes that his red hat would not be landing in his hands as it did so many times before. Geno watched his red hat spin uncontrollably away from him, only for him to see it land directly into the large pot of homemade spaghetti sauce that Bubby had been simmering on the stove for hours!

Standing before the pot and, of course, not wanting to “fess up” to his wrongdoing, Geno decided to tuck his red hat deeper into the sauce. Taking the spoon, he pushed the red had underneath the sauce, completely submerging and covering it up, hoping that everything would go unnoticed. Geno quietly walked away and out of the room, not mentioning anything about the extra added ingredient to his mother’s spaghetti sauce.

As dinnertime arrived and, with all the kids that bordered the table, they all waited patiently as Bubby began to serve up her infamous spaghetti sauce that everyone had been waiting for since the moment Bubby tossed that first tomato into the pot. Surely, it was at this moment that Geno was praying his red hat had somehow mysteriously dissolved into the pot of spaghetti sauce. Spoon in hand; Bubby takes a stir of her sauce only to discover that the added ingredient was not a part of her original recipe. She soon realized that it was Geno’s red knit hat, which laid perfectly camouflaged, as it stared back at her from the pot. It was Bubby that was now simmering on a low flame. Bubby realized that she couldn’t serve up the sauce because her sauce was not the only thing that was cooking in that pot all day. Tossing out the homemade spaghetti sauce, along with the hat, Bubby ended up walking to the local Certified Super Market on Clybourn Avenue, where she was forced to purchase canned spaghetti sauce to serve with her spaghetti. It was at this point that Geno was never allowed to twirl anything in the kitchen again while Bubby was cooking.

It was many years later, when Geno was out on his own, living in his own apartment, when he decided to cook the same spaghetti dinner for his date. Cooking the sauce the way Bubby did, he cooked it to perfection… except for one minor change. Instead of boiling the water for the pasta, Geno figured he’d save a few steps and cook the pasta within the sauce. It was only a few minutes later that he realized he didn’t have a wonderful spaghetti dinner, but a pot of concrete instead. Not only did he toss the sauce into the trash, but the pot itself went into the trash as well.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ~ Julia Child

Frank shared one of his favorite stories with us as well.

The Widower

One late evening in the early 80’s, Geno decided to grab the telephone book, after having a few beers, where he would start rummaging through the M’s for all the Morin’s within the city of Chicago. He was curious to know exactly how many Morin’s there were. Surprisingly, there were only two… his family and one other person by the name of Morin was listed. Geno decided to call the phone number only to discover that it was registered to a little old woman who lived on the northwest side of Chicago. It was then that he shared that his last name was Morin, too, and thought perhaps they were related. Being the charismatic person he is, Geno carried a conversation on with this woman and chatted with her for the longest time, where he discovered that she wasn’t a relative after all, she had been a widower for many years, and that she liked to talk just as much as Geno did. After a lengthy conversation, Geno decided to end their conversation, while wishing the widower his best. With that, they hung up.

Approximately another year had gone by when Geno took the phone book once again, looking for all the Morin’s in the city of the Chicago. Tracing his finger under the M’s, there it was for a second time, the same number that he had called just the year before. Picking up the phone, he dialed the number only for the same widower to answer the phone. Geno shared that his last name was Morin, too, the same as hers, commenting that there aren’t very many Morin’s in the phone book. The widower went on to tell Geno that her husband had died, never once remembering their previous phone conversation from just the year before. She would share that her husband used to do this and that for her, and how she missed him. However, Geno let her talk on, repeating almost everything that she had said the year before. So, here, a tradition was born, where every several months, Geno would call his widower friend to have a simple chat, making sure she was okay, only for her to repeat the same stories over and over again to Geno. Surely, it gave one old woman time to express herself about the past, reminiscing about the love she once shared with her husband, only for her to be left thinking of fond memories of what use to be, memories of what was once hers.

As we all continued to share our stories one after another, we couldn’t help but to feel numb inside. Of all the years the Morin boys were riding, this was the first horrible tragedy that the Morin family had ever encountered and, from my own heart, why Geno? It just didn’t make sense to me, especially by the means of his demise. I can only believe that Geno’s life lessons here on earth were complete and it was now time for him to begin his life with God. I admit that I am selfish and I wished Geno was still here with us, living and being a part of our everyday lives. But, I realize that God had called and must have needed him more.

It was comforting to know that just a couple days before Geno’s accident that he had a visit with Bubby and his brother, Joey, where Joey did the anointing of the sick with Bubby, as well as the three of them having communion together. Although my heart was heavy with pain and sorrow, I found peace in knowing that he shared these two sacred sacraments with his mother and older brother. It seemed like the timing of everything was meant to me, meant to fall in place.

Geno passed away exactly 10 days before the anniversary of the motorcycle accident that Frank and I had over 20 years ago, where our lives were spared. My thoughts take me back to that day when Geno came to visit me in Columbus Hospital when I was in there recovering from my own motorcycle accident, where I was learning how to walk again. With a huge box of candy in his hands for the nurses, Geno walked so proudly into the therapy department, just like Forest Gump, holding his box of chocolates, as he handed them over to the staff. My therapy for that day was to cook for a guest and myself. I made hamburgers… one for me and one for Geno. He spent hours sitting there with me, lifting my spirits. That day, it was Geno’s heart consoling mine, telling me that I was going to be just fine. Today, it’s my heart that consoles Geno’s spirit. I still can’t believe we lost him… But, he passed doing what he loved – riding, riding free with his face and knees in the wind.

Geno Goes To Sturgis…

“Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.” ~ Author Unknown

Sunday evening, the day after Geno’s passing; I was on my way upstairs to bed. As I was passing through the dining room, I noticed a stuffed doggy toy on the floor. Believing in signs, this is when I asked Geno for a sign. I said, “Geno, if you are here with us, can you please move the doggy toy from the floor and place it onto the dining room table?” With that, I left the toy where it was at and went on up to bed. Monday morning came rolling around quite fast and I was up rather early. As I headed downstairs, I saw that my request from the evening before went unnoticed. The stuffed doggy toy lay quietly on the floor exactly where I had left it just hours before. I thought to myself… okay, next time. I walked into the kitchen to get my day started and made a pot of coffee. I made my way back to my art room, where I opened up the curtains and windows, inviting the day’s sunshine into the room. As I turned around to put things away into my art cabinet, I noticed on top of the cabinet was the bag of rice crispy treats that Donatta had made for her visit that fateful Saturday. They had been on the kitchen table for the last few days, exactly where Donatta had left them when she arrived that Saturday afternoon. Picking up the bag and returning it to the kitchen, I was rather irritated because they didn’t belong there. I blamed either Tanner or Frank for eating them directly out of the bag and just plopping the bag wherever they pleased once they were done eating them, which was on top of the art cabinet in my back art room. Once they woke up, I brought it to their attention and asked them why they tossed the rice crispy treats on top of the art cabinet and couldn’t put them back into the kitchen. Both Tanner and Frank denied that they had done it. Turning to Arla, I asked her if she had done it and she confessed a big no, as well. Standing there in front of them, I asked, “Neither of you placed these treats on top of the cabinet; so they just appeared there themselves?” Nobody confessed to moving the treats to the back art room, they even swore that they didn’t touch the bag. It didn’t seem to be a big deal; that was until I remembered that I asked Geno for a sign the night before; that if he was with us to move the stuffed doggy toy to the table. Did he decide to move the rice crispy treats instead? To this day, I never found out who moved them from the kitchen table to on top of the art cabinet, a complete room away.

Even from a distance, Geno was remembered so fondly. I can’t even express into words how many people had come to share our grief with us. Friends and family have all expressed a deep sense of loss in hearing about Geno’s passing, which goes to show all of us how much Geno was loved, how much he touched each and every one of our lives, even if it was for just a brief moment or through a lifetime. In honor of Geno and for the family, I created the below presentation as a remembrance of the man that will always live forever within our hearts. Geno is with us in spirit, whether it’s within the butterfly that dances gracefully across our path or within the rays from the setting sun that beam down upon us from the heavens above. This Sunday, June 16, my family and I will repose the soul of Eugene Pacelli Morin, where he may enter into heaven and eternally be with God in his home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering a Life on Memorial Day

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.

Donatta's HH Cabin

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 Dymphna

Mother Teresa

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.

 

Police Briefs

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
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
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!

Geno while in the service, Vietnam.

Geno while in the service, Vietnam.

 

References:

http://www.hickoryhideaway.com/

https://www.facebook.com/HickoryHideaway?ref=ts&fref=ts

http://www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-current.html

http://stardate.org/nightsky/meteors

http://www.willyporter.com/

http://www.nvam.org/

Feelings of the Heart

“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.

Toy

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.

Bikers

Frank and Geno

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?

LOVE

[luhv] noun

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?

I do.

May 5, 1990

Good Things Come In Three’s

“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.

Sincerely,
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

Dear Rusty,

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.

Father on his wedding day.

Father on his wedding day.

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,
Warm Regards,
Ms. Jack

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.

Amen.

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 Phone Call

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

My Father, Charles, with his love, Aunt Bea.

My Father, Charles, with his love, Aunt Bea.

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.

Deacon Charles R. Lambert

Deacon Charles R. Lambert

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.

Sincerely,

Jackie Morin

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…

 

 

 

 

References:

http://www.whcatl.com/Home_Page.html

Never Give Up Hope

… Winding down my day at work, I had decided to do another internet search for my father’s name.  Every so often, I’d have the impulse in seeing if there was any new information listed, if there was a message for me.  Or, perhaps, it was just my way of keeping the thought of him real.  With granny gone, I was feeling melancholy.  I started thinking about the family members that I had lost.  One after another, they were all finally gone, including granny. She had been gone for over seven years and my heart missed her so much.

As I type my father’s name… C-h-a-r-l-e-s  R-a-y  L-a-m-b-e-r-t… I hit the search button, waiting for the usual results to appear on my screen, which time after time they were always the same. However, this time, they were different. This time, my search revealed news that would make this my last internet search for my father.  Because there, directly on the screen, was my fate staring right back at me. This was the day that I had learned my father had died, passing away on October 30, 2010.

Obituary - Charles Ray Lambert

Obituary – Charles Ray Lambert

Mr. Lambert was born on January 13, 1934 and passed away on Saturday, October 30, 2010. Mr. Lambert was a resident of Atlanta, Georgia at the time of his passing. Funeral services will be held November 2, 2010 at 11:00 AM from Woodland Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta with Rev. Rusty Couch officiating. Interment will follow in Rest Haven Garden of Memory in Decatur, GA.

Letting out a gasp that filled the office, my co-worker, Sheri, asked if I was okay.  I remember taking several moments to answer her, as I said, yes, I was fine, but I knew that I wasn’t. I felt as if I just had the wind knocked out of me. I sat there, watching the name on the screen before me, just knowing that it was him. I began to get emotional. I had never met my father and it was now apparent that I never would.  I started to tear up, as I knew that I would never ever have the opportunity to meet the man who was known as my birth father. I was actually saddened to learn of his passing. A rush of loneliness came over me, a sense of desertion. I always had in the back of my mind that even though I lost my grandparents, my uncle, my mother and, to some extent, even my brothers, I always felt that I still had a parent figure still alive. Even though I never met him, I had a bizarre comfort knowing that he was  always out there in the world, that I still had one elder family member left in my life. However, reading his obituary, made my feelings of comfort turn into a sense of emptiness. I know that I had Frank and his family, as well as my children in my life, but somehow it’s different.  I was longing for a connection with my side of the family, my own blood relatives.  Losing my father made everything that much more final, there was nobody left.

“I don’t care how poor a man is; if he has family, he’s rich.” ~ M.A.S.H.

Studying the date of my father’s death, October 30, 2010, it dawned on me that he had died on the evening of my annual Halloween party just months before. Believing in the spiritual world, I was trying to think back to see if I had noticed anything different that night, something odd, a sign of his presence, his soul perhaps. I wondered if his spirits stopped by to say good-bye. If so, did he leave this earth feeling comforted, content knowing that he had left his one and only descendant behind? He was only 76 years old.

I had made the decision that I was going to request his death certificate. I wanted to know… I needed to know more about his death and what he had died from.  It was not only for medical reasons, but for the curiosity of what secrets that I may find written within the words that lie on his death certificate.  I was actually hoping it would offer me some sort of additional information, clues, and answers.  Did he have other family members? Did he remarry? Did he have other children? Even something simple as what his race was, as my mother told me she never knew if he was German, Irish, Norwegian, which seemed rather odd to me. How can you be married to a man and not know what nationality he was?  Although I was sad about my father’s demise, it gave me new hope. Instead of searching for the man himself, I was now searching for the man he was, the man he use to be.

Going home that evening, with credit card in hand, I went onto the Georgia government website and requested Charles’ certificate of death. Going through the application process, I was asked every question imaginable.  It appeared that the Georgia government wanted to make sure that I said who I said I was. Showing me the questions, with multiple answers to chose from, they asked me questions, verifying old street address of places where I used to live back in my twenties, addresses that I long forgot about. They confirmed who we bought our current house from, how long have we lived there, etc.  I must have passed because within the next 10 days, I received my official certified copy of my father’s death certificate.

If I smoked, I would have had a cigarette, but I opted for a glass of wine instead. I sat down, holding the envelope from the Department of Health & Wellness in Atlanta, Georgia in my hand.  My family was all around me, as I held in front of me what could change my life. I told myself that this could be another beginning.  I was eager, with a hint of apprehension as to what information was inside, what I would learn.

I slowly sliced the envelope open with a butter knife as to not tear the paper inside. Sliding it out of the envelope, I unfold the death certificate and begin to read the words that are before me. Seeing his name on top of the report, I confirm that it’s my father by the date of his birth.

My eyes move down where the report stated that he had an 8th grade education or less, confirming what my family had always told me.  His occupation showed that he was an engineer in the automotive business, far more prestigious than a “spotter” at a laundry mat I thought.

My father had Leukemia Chronic Myelogenous, which is a cancer of the white blood cells, a cancer that I immediately looked up and, thankfully, family history is not a risk factor, meaning it isn’t hereditary. However, his immediate cause of death  was emphysema, one of the same diseases my mother had listed on her death certificate. Question number 35 on his death certificate: Tobacco use contributed to death? YES. It was now apparent that my father smoked and very heavily, too.  My father died at a hospice facility due to his lungs deteriorating from smoking for over 15 years. Time of death 11:30 p.m. My heart suddenly fell knowing that my father died in hospice. I was starting to hurt for a man that I never even knew. Did he have loved ones around him? Did he die alone? It was then that I began to pray to the Heavens above that he didn’t die alone, that someone was there with him, holding his hand as he went home to God.

“I say to people who care for people who are dying, if you really love that person and want to help them, be with them when their end comes close. Sit with them – you don’t even have to talk. You don’t have to do anything but really be there with them.” ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Question number nine – Marital Status. Never Married. A statement that I knew was absolutely and completely false.  I thought, was he portraying himself as a single man? If so, surely a secret of his own.

The report held a social security number. Ironically, the same exact number that I had submitted to the online search center 13 years earlier. The same number that I was told was inactive, due to incarceration or death. Obviously, my father worked, collecting a paycheck, having his social security number within the system.  Why was it that they couldn’t find any information on him?  Did they try hard enough, were they just taking my money? What would have happened if the search center did locate my father? Would it have been the most opportune time to reach him in my life? Was there a higher power intervening?

Looking to see what race was mentioned on the certificate, it stated that my father was white, not Hispanic, Spanish, or Latino. I surely thought, perhaps, because of my deep love for hot sauces, foods and peppers that he may have had some sort of Spanish bloodline in him. I guess I must have acquired my hot palate all on my own.

As I finished scrolling through the remainder of my father’s death certificate, trying to find some sort of relevant information that would open my father’s life to me, giving me some sort of answers, there, in box 14a, was a “friend” listed on his certificate. Scrolling my eyes over, I discover that this friend had a name. As I read her name, Trenna Robinson, residing in Waco, Georgia, I started to feel my heart pickup a few beats, wondering whom she was.  My heart pumped even faster when I realized that there was also an address listed for Trenna, offering me a rejuvenation of hope and, possibly, a new avenue to pursue to learn about my father and the man he once was.

Sharing this information with Frank, we had a million and one thoughts running through our minds. Playing every scenario, we tried to figure out how my father new this Trenna… Could this be a family member? Could she be  his daughter, even though she was listed as a friend? Could she be listed as a friend due to legal reasons? Was Trenna a girlfriend, a common law wife to my father? Farfetched, but I even thought she could be my sister. I decided to do a search for Trenna, wondering if I would be able to find out additional information. Searching online, I learned that she lived in a small town, population under 500 people. The town actually sounded quaint. According to searches, Trenna was approximately 42 years old. I also learned that she seemed to be married, ruling out that she could be my father’s significant other.  It also appeared that they had a roofing company. I rolled all this information around in my head. What was I going to do now? I knew in my heart that I had to move forward with this new information. I had to see if there was anything further I could learn. I was curious. I had to know who this Trenna Robinson aka “Friend” was. I made the decision to write Trenna a letter.

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” ~ Alexander Graham Bell

I started to place my thoughts onto paper, carefully selecting each word appropriately as to not shock or even offend. This would be one of the hardest things I would ever do is to write and mail this letter.  My thoughts were that I’m treading on ground that I have no right to tread, as I don’t know who these people are or what they are all about. I was in such fear that I would be disrupting their lives, which weren’t my intentions whatsoever.   All I knew, this was another opportunity, a second chance at discovering new information about Charles Ray Lambert. Besides, what do I have to lose, I thought… absolutely nothing!  It took me several weeks to prepare and mail my letter to Trenna and, once I did, it was all a waiting game…

 “Never forget that anticipation is an important part of life. Work’s important, family’s important, but without excitement, you have nothing. You’re cheating yourself if you refuse to enjoy what’s coming.” ~ Nicholas Sparks

May 17, 2011

Dear Ms. Robinson,

I know this letter may come as a surprise to you.  For that, I want to apologize for any intrusion, disruption or insensitivity that I may cause.  Sincerely, this is not my intention.  I’m not sure if you know about me or have even heard about me.  Please allow me to introduce myself and explain.  My name is Jackie Rae Morin (Lambert) and my father was Charles Ray Lambert.  It was recently that I had learned about my father’s passing.

My mother, Elvera Lee Lambert, and my father were married in 1960, and my mom was expected to give birth to me in 1962. Shortly before I was born, my parents decided to part ways, with my father moving from Wisconsin back home to live in Georgia. My mother shared with me that my father did know of me; that I was a girl, my name and where I lived, even him sending me a pair of baby pajamas when I was born. 

In the past, I have written my father a couple of times, in hopes to learn more about the man who shared my mother’s life. But, I’m not sure if my letters were ever received, as they were never returned to me. 

Recently, within the last month, I learned about my father’s passing via an internet search online.  On occasion, I would do internet searches with his name, hoping to find any information on the internet about him.  I’m not sure what I was always expecting to find, but the usual search would come up, which was his name and where he lived in Georgia. Regrettably, my last search left me somewhat saddened and shocked when I learned of his passing last October, 2010.  I tried doing additional searches for other family members, but did not have any success.  Therefore, not knowing how he had passed and, for medical reasons, I requested a copy of his death certificate from the state of Georgia and this is where I came across your name and address.  

Please, let me express again that my intention with this letter is not to upset anyone, but merely a means of wanting to know more about the man who gave me life; what type of man he was, whether good or bad.   Did he have a sense of humor, was he a happy person, was he artistic, did he have a happy life, etc.  I no longer have any elder family members left; everyone has passed on.  Learning about my father’s passing finalized that.

To share something about myself, I’ve been married for 21 years to my husband, Frank, and we have two beautiful children, Arlaraye and Tanner. I lived mostly in Illinois, but did live with my grandparents in Wisconsin when I was young.  I feel very fortunate to have what I have in my life today, although parts of my childhood life were quite challenging.  When living with my mother, it wasn’t a very pleasant upbringing but I have learned to find the positive out of every situation.  What I went through growing up has only made me stronger today. Knowing this, I realize how important family really is.  When my family was alive, I tried in every way to learn about my father, but rarely received any information.

One of the hardest things I’m going to do now is mail this letter and, if you are willing, I would love to hear from you and, possibly, learn about the man I never knew, whether pleasant or not.   I have listed my correspondence information below, in hopes that you will write or email me.  Also, I will be more than willing to answer any questions that you may have, as I’m sure my correspondence to you may have been somewhat of a surprise.  

I want to thank you very much for your time and reading my letter and pray that it has not been a disruption to you or your family.

Yours Sincerely,

Jackie Morin

 

 

In Search of…

… 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.

Mom and Dad on their Wedding Day.

Mom and Dad on their Wedding Day.

004

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.

The first glimpse of seeing my father.

The first glimpse of seeing my father.

“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

Branan Towers

1200 Glenwood Avenue SE

Atlanta, Georgia

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.

Fondly,

Jackie Lambert.

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.

Stealing a Kiss!

Stealing a Kiss!

006

Success!

009

Spoonin!

“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…

 

The Birth of Raynedrop Kysses

Granny, Grandpa & Jack Early 1980's

Granny, Grandpa & Jack
Early 1980’s

 

“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.

cropped-business-card-raynedrop-kysses.jpg

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

 

Surviving… It Made Me Stronger

Jack Growing Up Circa 1972

Jack Growing Up
Circa 1972

Not only was I being sexually abused by Melvin, but both my mother and Melvin had decided to place me in the hands of another child molester.  Whether they knew that at the time, I couldn’t say.  It’s my hope that they didn’t. His name was Leroy and that’s all I knew about him.   He was somewhat tall, his hair was buzzed short, and he had a drifting eye. Thinking about it now, he looked like the lead singer from the band, Men at Work, Colin Hay.  I had never seen this man at our home before. The day that I was sent to Leroy’s apartment was the first time that I had seen or even met the man.

We lived in an apartment building on Sheridan Avenue, just off Irving Park Road in the early 1970’s, where I was around the age of 10 years old. I remember it being a warm summer afternoon and me, along with Steve, who was around 9 at the time, were outside behind our apartment building, playing.  We were suddenly called into the house to get ready, as it was decided that my brother, Steve, and I would spend the night at Leroy’s home, a strange man’s home that we had never seen before.  Steve and I were told that his wife would love to have two young children in the house for the weekend to help her cook and spend time with. I never understood why we were going over to this strange man’s apartment. Why was my mother sending us there? Not questioning my mother, we threw some clothes into a suitcase and off we went to Leroy’s apartment.

Leroy lived in a corner apartment building that was located in Uptown, an area that one day would be very familiar to my brother and me.  The same corner that Steve and I would, years later, drag two shopping carts of dirty clothes to, which was by the laundry mat that was located directly on the corner of Leland and Racine. However, it was also the same neighborhood where Leroy lived, the stranger, the man who would eventually try to rape me.

Leland & RacineChicago

Leland & Racine
Chicago

Arriving at Leroy’s apartment, which was located on the second floor, Steve and I hauled our suitcase that we were sharing up the back porch stairs and into his apartment. I immediately realized upon entering the kitchen that the apartment was not only small, but quite, empty.  Immediately, I questioned Leroy, asking where his wife was, as I didn’t see her in the apartment once we arrived.  He had told Steve and me that she was still at work and that she would be home very soon.  Feeling somewhat at ease by his words, I continued walking through the kitchen and into the living room, where Steve placed our suitcase.

Making small talk and getting us to settle in, it wasn’t long after we arrived at Leroy’s apartment that Leroy asked Steve to go to the store to get some ice cream, for later that evening, he said, for after dinner.  I knew then that I didn’t want Steve to leave the apartment.  I didn’t want to be left alone with a man that I didn’t know. I even said that I would go with Steve, but Leroy was reassuring that he would be right back. It was then that I tried another approach, saying that we didn’t need to have dessert; that it was okay, that Steve didn’t need to go to the store. However, Leroy was being adamant about Steve leaving to go and get ice cream, convincing me that the store was down the block and that Steve would be right back.  All I thought was… I lost; I had no more excuses to give Leroy. Handing Steve some money for the ice cream, Steve walked out the back door, heading to the store. As Steve leaves the apartment, Leroy immediately locked the door behind him and, with a twist of his hand, bolted the lock shut on the door.   Feeling uneasy, I made a comment that there was no reason to lock the door, as Steve would be right back, but Leroy said that he would unlock the door once Steve’s back from the store, letting him in. Instinctively, it was then that I started to feel uncomfortable, as I started to feel that something bad was going to happen. I still didn’t understand why we were there, with Leroy.

“Intuition is a spiritual faculty and does not explain, but simply points the way.” ~Florence Scovel Shinn

Making my way back to the living room, I pulled out paper and pencil from the suitcase we brought and sat in the armchair and started to draw. Anxiously, I sat there listening for Steve to knock on the back door, waiting for him to come back from the store.  Leroy was now sitting on the couch across from me. Scribbling on my paper, Leroy asked if he could see what I was drawing. Holding up my pad of paper to show him, he wasn’t satisfied, and asked me to come to him so he could see it closer. Now standing before him, I showed him once again what I was drawing. Looking at it, he tells me that he would show me how to draw better.  Picking me up, he places me on his lap. I knew I didn’t like what he was having me do. It reminded me of Melvin. But, I was taught not to question adults, so I kept myself quiet. Taking the pencil from my hand, he begins to draw on my paper, creating little hearts.  Leroy settled me more into a cradle position across his legs and, it wasn’t long after that, that he placed his lips on mine, kissing me. I told him that I didn’t like that and asked him to stop and said that I wanted to go sit back in the chair. I didn’t want to be there! C’mon Steve, where are you?  I immediately left his lap and walked back over to the chair where I was previously sitting.  I felt safer there, as the arms of the chair protected me. I sat there with my legs crossed, tightly closed, a position that I knew all too well.  I continued sitting, waiting for Steve to come home from the store, wondering why it was taking him so long. I sat there, quiet and continued to draw. Something inside me told me that Leroy had other intensions. I was scared. Once more, I asked when his wife was coming home, knowing I would feel much better, safer if a woman was in the apartment with us, with me.  Leroy kept telling me, soon… soon.

Leroy noticed that the suitcase we brought was lying on the living room floor, just outside the bedroom door.  He asked me to pick it up and take it inside the bedroom so that it was out of the way.  Knowing that I didn’t want to step foot into that bedroom, let alone get out of my safety chair, I gave him an excuse. “Oh, Steve will probably want to get something out of it once he gets back from the store. I’ll move it to the bedroom then.”  Leroy was pressing though, as he kept insisting that I take the suitcase and place it inside the bedroom. Again, I was taught to listen to adults, so my mind started thinking fast. Something inside me told me that I should NOT go into that bedroom. Again, this time more demanding, Leroy tells me to move the suitcase.  I told myself that if I quickly pick up the suitcase, I can toss it inside the bedroom and I will be out of there in no time.  Hesitant, I said, “Okay.” Tucking my paper and pencil within the folds of the chair, I got up from the chair and walked directly to the suitcase.  Picking it up, I walked as swiftly as I could, taking the suitcase directly toward the bedroom, which was only a few feet from my chair.  Standing in the doorway of the bedroom, lights were off, it was dark, but I was able to see enough to know where I could place the suitcase.   I stepped a few feet inside and literally tossed the suitcase onto the floor. I was trying to make it a quick trip, within seconds, to put the suitcase down and get out, unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough because as I was about to turn around, Leroy had his right hand over my mouth, making sure that I couldn’t scream, along with his left hand around my waist.

“Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason.”  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Leroy pushed me further into his bedroom. My hands are now trying to pry his away from my face, my mouth. I definitely knew what his intentions were now and that was to rape me. I was struggling with him, as he tried to gain control of my body.  I stood at the foot of his bed, which had a vintage rod iron footboard, the kind that if you hit your head would surely leave a lasting impression.  Leroy managed to grab me tighter around the waist, lifting me, he throws me onto the bed, where I bounced a couple times, landing on my back.  The back of my calves hit hard against the iron frame, stinging with pain.  I use the same iron footboard to slide myself away from Leroy but, within seconds, he was making his way on top of me.  I felt like I was in a one of those dreams where you try to scream, but nothing comes out of your mouth, no noise whatsoever, just silence. I tried to catch my breath, so that I could let out a scream, a cry for help.  With my legs above me, I started kicking Leroy as hard as I could in his chest.  I wore shoes that looked like Oxfords, where the heal was thick; something that looked like a nun would wear. I kept kicking him to keep him off me.  It was at that moment that I felt something warm, something wet.  I had lost control of my bladder. I urinated all over myself, as well as his bed.  I was crying hysterically, screaming very loudly, still kicking his chest, fighting for my life.  In my mind, it appeared as if everything was happening in slow motion, but knew it was all taking place within seconds.  As I continued to scream at him, yelling, “No! Leave me alone!” it was at this point that I heard Steve at the backdoor, knocking, banging on the kitchen door to be let in.

Steve had heard my screams all the way from the bedroom.  He was home from the grocery store.  As Steve banging harder on the backdoor, the glass in the door was rattling, making his pounding sound louder.  Leroy stopped what he was doing to listen to the banging at the back door.  With one last kick into the chest, he rolled off me. I scooted as fast as I could to the end of the bed, where I made my way over the hard iron footboard, the same footboard where just moments before I was being flung onto the bed to be raped.   I made my way to the kitchen, running to the back door, trying to get the door open.  Crying hysterically, I can see Steve through the door window, holding a container of ice cream, watching me.  Steve’s frantically turning the doorknob, screaming back at me to unlock the door, to let him, but I wasn’t able to unlock the door. I see Steve’s eyes drifting away from mine, only to stare at what’s above me, behind me, which was Leroy.  He was now standing behind me. I take a step back and through numerous tears and sobs, I scream at him, demanding him to unlock the door.  Thinking back, this is why Leroy locked the door behind Steve as he left to go buy ice cream.  He wanted to make sure that Steve was locked out, incapable of entering the apartment while he raped me.  Leroy had it all planned.

“As we grew up, my brothers acted like they didn’t care,
but I always knew they looked out for me and were there!” ~Catherine Pulsifer

 Steve, who is still on the other side of the door looking in, is now as hysterical as I am. I scream again at Leroy to open the door.  Reaching past me, Leroy makes a few turns of the deadbolt, unlocking the door.  Steve taking only a few steps into the kitchen and asked me what had happened. As Leroy stood before us, I shared through my sobs that Leroy was trying to have sex with me in the bedroom and that he wouldn’t let me go.  All of a sudden, Leroy asked me what was the matter with me and why was I screaming like I was.  I told him that he knew what was going on and why I was screaming, reminding him that he had asked me to put the suitcase into the bedroom and, when I did, he was behind me, placing his hands over my mouth so that I couldn’t scream for help. As if protecting himself, Leroy commented that he was in the bedroom because he wanted to grab the radio from the shelf.  I asked him, “Why did you put your hands over my mouth then?” He said, “so that you wouldn’t scream.”  At this point, Steve instructed me to head toward the door so we can leave the apartment, so that we can find our way home.  As I was walking to the kitchen door to leave, the radio that Leroy was claiming to grab off the shelf in his bedroom was actually sitting underneath a utility shelf in the kitchen the whole time.  It never was in the bedroom.  Leroy lied.  His intention was to try to get me into the bedroom and he succeeded.  Steve and I left our suitcase behind and we literally ran all the way home from Leland and Racine all the way to Sheridan, where we lived. We rushed home, running for blocks as fast as we could.  My clothes were soaked from urine, from when I got so scared and peed all over myself.  I was hoping that nobody noticed the stain on the back of my dress.

Finally making it back to our building, we run up the front steps. As my mom stood in the doorway to our apartment, she was surprised to see us. I felt such a relief to see her, I now felt safe. Although, upon seeing mom standing there, I started to cry uncontrollably, where she couldn’t understand a word I was trying to say. It was one of those deep cries where you had trouble controlling your breath, as your lungs try to suck in as much air as possible between every frantic sob you let escape.  I tried to get closer to my mother, where I was hoping she would take me into her arms to console me, to make me feel safe, to reassure me that all will be well. However, instead, she got very angry with me, shaking me and then slapping me across my face, hard, where I felt the sting against my wet tears that rolled down my face.  It was then that I was commanded to be silent. Perhaps, the slap was mom’s way of getting me under control.  It worked. I stood there before her feeling as if I was the one who had done something wrong. Mom asked me why I was home and not with Leroy and his wife.  I told her the whole story, where Leroy’s wife was never there and that he tried to have sex with me in the bedroom.  Steve shared his side of the story, too, where Leroy made him go to the store to buy ice cream, leaving me alone with Leroy. Now standing inside my own living room, I explained everything in detail to now both mom and Melvin. I was still half hoping that mom was going to scoop me up into her arms, to embrace me, telling me that everything would be all right, but mom being herself, she never did. I was instructed to go wash up and change my clothes.

The next morning, I was told by Melvin that we were taking a ride, heading back over to Leroy’s apartment, where he could confront him about what had happened, as well as to pick up the suitcase that Steve and I had left behind. I told mom that I didn’t want to go back there, that I was afraid and to please don’t make me go.  I didn’t want to see the man again, face-to-face, who tried so hard to rape me. I asked, “Why do I have to go back there?”  Mom simply said, “Because Melvin said so.” What about what she thought? Did she not have any protective instincts for her children? Did Melvin want to prove my word over Leroy’s?

Driving back over to Leroy’s apartment, I felt myself getting nervous sitting in the backseat of Melvin’s car, as the images of just the day before were forcefully being replayed in my head.

As Melvin knocked on the kitchen door, we stood there waiting for Leroy to answer the door.  Peeking through the window, Leroy sees Melvin standing there, only to realize that I was falling directly behind. Leroy let us both in, where we walked into the living room. It was here that Melvin asked Leroy what had happened just the day before. Leroy tried to tell Melvin that when I went to put the suitcase in the bedroom I got scared when I realized that Leroy was standing behind me, therefore, he put his hands over my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream. Melvin turned to me, asking me if that’s what had happened, as if to suggest that I could be lying. I said no! I told Melvin that Leroy made me put the suitcase in the bedroom and when I did, he was behind me, covering up my mouth and then throwing me onto the bed. He said that he was looking for a radio, which I pointed out, that was actually in the kitchen, sitting underneath a cart. If the radio was in the kitchen, then why was he looking for it in the bedroom?  Melvin confronted Leroy and asked what he was trying to do with “his daughter,” which left me somewhat confused. It was as if Melvin was protecting me, like an animal guarding their young.  However, why was Melvin getting so angry and interrogating a man for almost raping me when he was doing the same thing himself, molesting a young and innocent child?  Perhaps, Melvin thought that someone was going to steal his prey away.  I felt as if Melvin was scolding Leroy more than threatening him. Needless to say, conversation was short, no yelling, no fist throwing, no authorities being called, no police to file a report, absolutely nothing was done to protect me, the victim. Sadly, they let another child abuser escape, only leaving him to hurt and abuse others. We walked out the door never to see Leroy again. We went back home and, as history always repeated itself in the Lambert-Acker home, not another word was ever said about this unpleasant experience.

I never did find out what my mother’s intentions were by having my brother and I stay overnight at Leroy’s apartment, placing us both in the hands of a complete stranger.

It was later that I found out that Leroy’s wife had left him. There were never any expectations of a wife coming home that night after work, while Steve and I were to stay over that fateful night.  My thoughts stem back to what could have happened if we stayed the whole night… what I know would have happened. Instinctively, I knew enough to fight off my attacker. I didn’t want this man to hurt me, rape me. But, why couldn’t I fight off my primary attacker, share with my mother that Melvin was doing the same? What Leroy aimed to do, Melvin was already doing. Was it different; was it the same? Was I afraid of losing the only home life I knew, afraid of being taken away from my mother, my grandparents, never to see any of them again? Is this why authorities were never called so that our own dirty family secrets wouldn’t come seeping out of the cracks, out of me, if I was talked to enough? Perhaps, my mother was just as fearful as I was, of something like this happening, therefore, both of us keeping our mouths shut.

I have learned from my horrible past. I have become stronger through my weaknesses.

I have learned to speak up when something isn’t right. I have learned to voice my issues and concerns. I have learned that I will never allow anyone else to physically or mentally hurt me again. I have instilled this same belief in my children.

“If you always watch the demons behind you, then you will never see the angels ahead.” ~ Author Unknown

Being a parent today, it’s my own responsibility, my deepest inner instinct to protect the ones that I love, my family, especially the lives of my innocent children. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my children from the hands of another person or a complete stranger. We instill in our children that nobody, under any circumstances should ever touch them and if so, to tell, to divulge, to share with us that that they are being violated. Teach them how to protect themselves. We are their teachers and if we don’t teach by example, then how can we expect our children to carry on the tradition of being strong, courageous and open individuals? We need to educate our children that it’s okay to speak up, to question, to scream. It’s more important for our children to question an adult and to tell someone than to have our children end up being another victim on a crime list, another statistic.

Was this potential rape to be one of my “learning lessons” in life? Was it meant for me to experience in order to learn to become stronger, to fight, to protect what was mine, what I loved and cherished close to my heart so that I could be the best person, the best parent there is?  Did I suffer so that I was taught to pay attention to my intuitiveness, to believe in my inner instincts when they speak to me?  Yes, I do believe so. I believe this experience taught me all the latter and then some. I am proud to say that I broke the mold. I broke the mold of sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse. I broke the mold that was shaping me as I grew up in the unhealthy environment that I lived.

For those individuals who have also encountered such a tragic experience, the same as I, I’m sorry that you had to endure such violence, to go through such suffering.  My heart feels your pain.  But, please, know that it wasn’t at the fault of yourself, but from the fault of your attacker. We are never to blame ourselves for something that another was responsible for creating. We did not ask for it. As it can be devastating to our inner self, there must be something within you, me, all of us to learn to rise above, to conquer, to be stronger than our attacker. We must choose to be a survivor, to continue to exist in life and never succumb to defeat. Otherwise, our attackers, our abusers, are the ones that claim defeat and we can never allow that to happen, never giving them the satisfaction.  We must prove that we are capable of moving on, that we are stronger, that we are, indeed, survivors.  Because it’s up to us to teach and to share with others that they, too, will make it, that they, too, will get through it all, that they can and will survive, just as we have.

“Though I can’t change what happened, I can choose how to react. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being bitter and locked up.” ~Tori Amos

Bubby… Our Life, Our World

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

One Last Hug Before I Go

CaileyAnne Lydia, sitting on her shelf, wearing my grandmother's necklaces.

CaileyAnne Lydia, sitting on her shelf, wearing my grandmother’s necklaces.

“Never wait until tomorrow to hug someone you could hug today.” ~ Author Unknown

In the early 1990’s, when my grandmother was still alive, Frank, Arlaraye and I would always go and visit her. She lived in Madison, Wisconsin in an assisted living type home and she always enjoyed having company and looking forward to our visits. My grandfather lived there, too, until the time he passed in 1984. One day while almost there, we saw a yard sale, so we decided to stop and took a look around. A woman was selling a baby doll that when you squeezed its hands, feet and belly, it would say different sayings. The woman told us that it wasn’t in the stores, as it was a prototype of sorts. Arla was about 3 years old at the time and, as you can imagine, she fell in love with the doll instantly, so we bought it for her. We had named the doll CaileyAnne Lydia. If I ever had another baby daughter, I had plans to name her CaileyAnne Lydia. I thought the name was beautiful. Arla played with her new doll all the time, pretending it was her own baby, and she brought it everywhere we went.

Over the years, as Arla grew older, interest in playing with the doll became less and less. As you can imagine, CaileyAnne Lydia ended up at the bottom of the toy box, or under her bed, even our dog, Kassy, played with her for a while, tossing her around and playing fetch with her. CaileyAnne Lydia’s hair had become all ratty, resembling dreadlocks that lay on the top of her head and her clothes were worn and dirtied. It was apparent that CaileyAnne Lydia had surely seen better days. Arla eventually outgrew playing with baby dolls; therefore, it was time to make a toy donation to Goodwill. Sitting in Arla’s room, I started picking through her many toys, figuring out what should stay and what should be donated. Tossing CaileyAnne Lydia into the box to give to Goodwill, I contemplated on actually giving the doll away. Looking at the doll as she lay helplessly in the bottom of the box amongst other dolls, stuffed animals and old McDonald Happy Meal toys, I didn’t have the heart to donate the doll to Good Will. She was such a unique baby doll that held a special place in my heart, mostly because we bought her on one of our many trips while visiting granny. Snatching her quickly out of the box, I decided to keep CaileyAnne Lydia as a memento, reminding me of the great times in Wisconsin. My intentions were to pack her away safely in Arla’s keepsake baby box, which held other special items from the day Arla was born. However, instead, I placed the doll up on the shelf in my bedroom, where she sat, for many years, collecting dust.

In 2001, my mother had a blood clot that traveled from her leg to her heart, where she was admitted to the hospital, placed on life support, where a machine was breathing life for her. At 62 years old, she was brain-dead. On September 14, three days after the 9/11 attacks, my brothers and I had made the decision to take mom off life support, ending her life. The hospital chaplain gave mom her last rights, blessings her and saying the Lord’s Prayer over her. It was an emotional time, as I wasn’t sure how to take my feelings… was I sad, did I not care? It didn’t help matters that the 9/11 events were taking place in the background of our lives. My heart and mind were so confused at the time. We didn’t have a wake or funeral for mom; her wishes were simply to be cremated.

A couple of days after my mom had passed away, my thoughts were still with mom. I had such mixed emotions about my grieving. There were times that I was angry, disappointed and even relieved, but then there were times that I was completely heartbroken. The day that mom had passed, while leaving the hospital with mixed emotions, I remember asking for a sign. I believed in signs and welcomed anything. A sign that everything would be okay, that mom would be okay, that I would be okay. As Frank parked the truck to run into a store, I noticed that there was a huge Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sign above my head. PBR was my grandfather’s beer of choice and I took it as a sign that grandpa was there, greeting, accepting mom as she passed over, giving me the sign I asked for.

I had received many sympathy cards from friends and family, even a couple of cards from mom’s friends at the assisted living home where she stayed called, The Lawrence House. After viewing the cards, I tucked them all into a folder, where I filed them away in my desk drawer. I had decided to go to bed, as the evening had gotten late. The day had been another long one and I was ready to get a good night’s sleep. The kids were already in bed and Frank had gone up to bed about an hour before me. Making sure the doors were locked and all was safe, I ascended the stairs to my bedroom. The only sounds I heard were coming from the fan, as it hummed in the background, along with Frank’s customary snoring keeping in tune with every breath he took. I was still emotional over all the events that had happened in those past couple of days; our country being attacked, seeing my brother, Jeff, for the first time in years and, of course, mom’s death. I didn’t know if I should continue crying or if I should be relieved that it was all over with. I noticed that my strongest thoughts were when I was alone, having time to think, deciphering every detail of the events that took place.

Making my way to the top of the stairs, I entered my bedroom to get ready for bed, peeling off my clothes as I walked further and further into my bedroom… blouse here, bra there, tossing them onto the floor. As I walked by my sitting area, taking off the remainder of my clothes, it was at that moment that I was forced to stop. Standing there and not being able to move, like a deer caught in headlights, I heard something that I will never forget. I immediately turned to my left, as I looked up at where the voice was coming from. There, sitting high on the shelf in my bedroom, sat CaileyAnne Lydia, the doll that I rescued from the Goodwill box. As if on cue, she called out aloud, “Please pick me up and hold me tight.” The voice was prominent, demanding and definitely pierced my body with a fearfulness that left me petrified. Standing there unable to move, I turned my head to the right, where I saw Frank sleeping in bed. Calling Frank’s name, with a slight whisper to my voice, almost as if I didn’t want the doll to hear me, I tried summoning Frank awake. Calling Frank’s name a second time, I realized that he was completely in Sandman Land. I walked away from my sitting area and quickly put my nightgown on. Walking over to the bed, I shook Frank’s foot, trying to rustle him out of his deep sleep, but it was no use, he was completely out. All of a sudden, I was afraid to be alone. I hopped into bed quite quickly and snuggled up very closely to Frank, almost as if I was seeking protection. I lay there in the darkness, studying the silence of the air, almost contemplating if I actually heard what I thought I did. That doll had been sitting on my bedroom shelf for years and, not once, did that doll ever talk. Someone has to physically squeeze her arm, her foot or even pressing down on her belly in order to make her talk. Why now? Why did she speak those words just at that moment as I entered the room? I continue to lie there, listening, waiting for the doll to repeat herself, to say something else, but she never did.

Upon waking the next morning, I couldn’t wait to share my chilling story with Frank and how it scared me so much that I burrowed myself so close to him as if I was tick in a dog’s backside. I shared with him every detail that took place, every word that was spoken and, without hesitation, he said to me, “That was your mother talking to you!” Considerng the thought, I told him that I didn’t even think of that. However, the more I thought about it, the more I had convinced myself that, perhaps, my mom did make it to the other side, telling me that she made it to her final destination, heaven. I had a sense of comfort wash over me and was thankful for another “sign.”

Several days had passed since I heard that fateful plea from the baby doll that sat calmly on my shelf. Immediately upon entering my bedroom, my eyes would always settle on CaileyAnne Lydia, as she stared back at me, smiling, almost as if she was happy to see me. I was still in wonder how the doll was able to talk by herself that evening when there was nobody around initiating her to. Could it have been the spirits of my mother talking?

“There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.” ~Mother Teresa

It was the weekend and I was looking forward to enjoying the last warm days of summer. Mom always hated the warmer weather; I thrived on it and, personally, the warmer the better. There’s something about sitting out on a late summer evening and knowing there’s no commitments that lie ahead of me. A sense of calmness took over, as I sat watching the stars above me, as they winked hello. Thinking about my mother, I wondered if she was up there looking down on me, her grandchildren, and her family. I began talking to her, asking if she had settled in, asking if she was happy. As I pictured mom with grandpa, laughing, dancing, being completely happy and content, I suddenly felt tears sliding down my cheek. Sitting back, I could feel the slight breeze brushing against my skin, drying my tears, relaxing me even more. I could smell the evening’s dampness in the air as it laid a blanket of wetness over the grass. I closed my eyes and listened to the cicada’s buzzing in the trees, dancing themselves and singing for their mates. Enjoying my last glass of wine for the evening, I took a deep breath, taking it all in.

Meditating on the sky, I soon realized that the evening had since turned into early morning hours and I felt I had better get myself to bed. Bringing Kassy in with me, we both began our nightly ritual. Hopping on the couch and twirling twice around, Kassy lands, finding her comfort spot in the corner, where she soon passed out. I was hoping to do the same in a few short moments, as the night air had made me very sleepy. Climbing the stairs to my bedroom, the tradition began, as I heard Frank snoring, practically humming right along with the cicadas that I just left moments before. As I was about to turn off the overhead light, I heard the same request as I did just days before, “Please pick me up and hold me tight.” Once more, my eyes drifted up to the doll on the shelf. I stood there waiting for it to go off a second time, almost challenging it to speak again, but the doll remained silent. With my fingers resting upon the light switch, I flipped off the light, only to say a few words of my own, “Good night mom, I love you.”

“What is soul? It’s like electricity – we don’t really know what it is, but it’s a force that can light a room.” ~Ray Charles

Even though granny was moved to a nursing home in Portage, Wisconsin, Frank, the kids and I still made our trips up to see her. She loved it when we would come up and visit with her, one time even bringing Kassy with us. It was almost as if Kassy sensed something, as Kassy lay contently at granny’s side, never leaving her, resting her head upon granny’s feet the whole time we were there. Sadly, this was the last time we were ever to visit granny. On July 17, 2003, I received a call from the nursing home, letting me know that my grandmother had suddenly passed away. Hanging up the phone with the nursing home, I was completely devastated. Granny was my world. She was the mother that I never had and she was the last family member to leave me. Suddenly, I felt so alone. As it once did for my grandfather, my heart now ached for the passing of my grandmother. Granny passed away from cardiac arrhythmia while eating dinner. I was told that fried chicken was on the menu that evening and we all knew how much granny loved her chicken. Cardiac arrhythmia is when your heart beats irregularly. That evening, granny’s heart decided to stop. Her heart was tired, as it was beating for over 83 years. I found myself once again, making a phone call to my brother, Steve, informing him that another family member had died.

Arriving back home from granny’s funeral services, I felt as if my heart was going to completely break in half from heartache. No more weekly phone calls to granny, no more visits, and no more letters and cards. When Arla was a little baby, I use to write granny letters, pretending they came from Arla. Granny would get a laugh from the letters as “Arla” would talk about her day, having to eat the nasty baby peas that I made her eat or Arla sharing with granny about taking long naps, playing with her toys or pulling the cat’s tail as he walked by. After a while, I believed granny actually thought these letters were written by Arla. Thankfully, I kept a copy of every one of them. These were the memories that I was going to miss so dearly. I was tired of having death around me, always coming to me. I was tired of always being the communicator, the deliverer of bad news, informing others of someone’s death… my grandfather’s, my uncle’s, my mother’s and now my grandmother’s. I was tired of being the messenger. Nevertheless, as I sat there crying, I realized that there were no more deaths to report. I had lost the last blood relative that was so very important to me.

I had an emptiness in my heart; a sunken hole that became deeper and deeper with every family member that I lost. I found my list of people who I prayed to in heaven getting longer and longer as each one passed away becoming angels. Instead of asking God to protect them in my world, I was now asking these angles to protect me in mine.

One afternoon, almost a week after granny had passed, I had the whole house to myself. Frank took Arla and Tanner out for the day, which left me some time to do a few things around the house. I welcomed the quietness that surrounded me, being therapeutic; it was almost as if my mind needed the serenity. Finishing laundry, I brought my clothes upstairs to my bedroom. As I had done in the past, my eyes drifted toward CaileyAnne Lydia, making contact with the doll that sat motionless on the shelf. I sat the laundry basket down to put my clothes away and, as tradition continued, I heard nothing other than a familiar voice. It was at that moment that I heard, once again, “Please pick me up and hold me tight.” All I thought was… here we go again! Looking around, I recognized that I was the only one in the room, as there was no sleeping Frank snoring away in bed, no humming of the fan. I now stood a few feet away from the doll, smiling up at her as I looked directly at her face. Why is she only talking when I enter the room, why not Frank? Walking up to her, taking a closer look at the shelf that she rested upon, I started hitting the shelf and the wall, trying to make her talk to me. I thought, perhaps, the vibration of me entering the room every time was what was setting her off.

I continued as I banged away at the shelf, kicking the wall, making every effort to get her to ask me to pick her up and hold her tight, but no matter how hard I hit, she just wouldn’t talk, she wasn’t saying a word. I sat down, wondering what else I could do to make this doll talk. I slowly walked up to the shelf and, standing before CaileyAnne Lydia, I shook her ever so gently… nothing. I took a long look into her eyes, studying her. At that moment, it became apparent what I needed to do. Sliding her off the shelf, I took her, embracing her, bringing her close to my heart. It was then that I continued to pick her up and held her tight. I finally did what the doll asked. As I held the doll tightly in my arms, I thought, perhaps, it was my mother, who needed that one last hug before saying good-bye before she had to go. I continued to cradle her and, with one last hug, I gently placed her back on the shelf.

“Sometimes it’s better to put love into hugs than to put it into words”. ~ Author Unknown

The last time I heard from the doll was a few years ago. I was in my bedroom getting ready for work, ironing my clothes for the day. There was a horrible summer storm that morning, with pouring rain that pelted against the windows, loud thunder and vicious lightning that struck dangerously against the skies above me. I always hated lightning and have always been deathly afraid of it. Arla and Tanner walked to school and, even though their school was only a few houses away, I was getting concerned about them walking to school in such horrible weather. As this thought came to mind… should I drive the kids to school, the doll went off… “Please pick me up and hold me tight.” All I thought was… you decide to talk to me now?! It’s not the right time! Not giving it a second thought, I continued ironing my clothes for work. All of a sudden, a lightning bolt slapped against the sky with such force, that it lit up my entire bedroom. It rattled me to the point where I lost my breath. Again, my thoughts brought me back to Arla and Tanner, asking quietly to myself if I should put them in the truck and drive them the short distance, delivering them safely to the school’s front door. As if on cue, I heard the doll chime in a second time, “Please pick me up and hold me tight.” Listening to my inner voice and accepting the sign that was set before me, I paid attention to the doll, who was resting upon the shelf. That morning, I drove Arla and Tanner to school.

“Intuition is a spiritual faculty and does not explain, but simply points the way.” ~Florence Scovel Shinn

Regrettably, I haven’t heard from CaileyAnne Lydia since. She no longer resides on my bedroom shelf and she has since retired to a room that we call the “Antique Room” adjacent to my bedroom. She rests comfortably with a ragdoll, whose name is Trudy, that was handmade by my grandmother’s sister, Gertrude back in the early 1970’s. There, they both sit together keeping each other company, sitting directly underneath the framed 1930’s wedding dress that once belonged and worn by Frank’s mom, Bubby, whose real name by the way happens to be Anne Lydia.

The Spiral Notebook…

Messages

Messages

 “Death is a debt we all must pay.”  ~Euripides

Death. Death has no discrimination; there’s no escaping it and each and every one of us will have the opportunity to experience it. Whether you are a person, an animal or a living flower, we will all at one point find death and, to be completely honest; it scares me. This was another reason why I decided to be baptized.  I wanted to make sure that I secured my place in heaven, right next to God and my family who are there now. I do believe with all my heart that there is a place for me in God’s Kingdom, but I am still afraid of the dying process and how I might get there. Surely, a common thought to most. In my dreams, I always die by electrocution; to the point where I feel my body vibrating, pulsating to every electrifying current, only to wake up before death finds me. Nobody ever wants to think of their own mortality. This is something that I have been trying to work within myself for many years.  I meditate, focusing on the heavens above me, the people and serenity that surround me. I watch God’s beauty, feeling comforted, safe and an indisputable believer of what waits for me. I believe in after death communication (ADC) and near death experiences (NDE) and have read many books on the subject. I believe that our loved ones can communicate with us after they have passed on. These are the beliefs that comfort me.  Still, there are times that I can’t help but to have some unpredicted fear about dying.

It was a Sunday evening on September 9, 2001, when I had received a phone call from the Chaplain at Weiss Memorial Hospital.  Hearing her introduce herself as the Chaplain brought immediate concern. The Chaplain was informing me that my mother was brought to the emergency room and placed in intensive care and was on a ventilator.  She shared with me that my mother wasn’t doing very well.  Not knowing exactly what she meant by “not doing very well,” I had asked her if this was a situation where I needed to contact other family members and the Chaplain said, yes, it was.

I was actually surprised that I received such a call from the hospital, as I knew my brother, Jeff, was listed as the next of kin in my mother’s medical chart. The second name listed in mom’s chart was my own. But, Jeff didn’t have my phone number to call me directly and, because of HIPAA laws, where a patient’s medical and private information is protected, the Chaplain legally could not give out any information that was detailed in my mother’s chart, my telephone number included. Therefore, the hospital had to call and tell me my mother was in the hospital.  Jeff didn’t have my phone number because we hadn’t spoken to one another since 1993, almost 8 years.

Upon hearing that mom was in ICU, I made a phone call to my brother, Steve.  As I was dialing, I remembered the last time I had informed him of a death; his own precious grandfather’s years before. Now, here I am again, notifying him that his mother isn’t doing well and that her chances for survival were basically hopeless. We chatted for a while about the seriousness of the situation and I told him that he may want to consider a trip to Chicago. We both came to the realization that this may be the time for our mother’s passing.  Steve and his family were making arrangements to drive to Chicago from Bay City, Michigan, and that we would see them most likely in the early morning hours, as it was approximately a six hour drive.

Frank and I also shared the news with our children.  At the time, Arlaraye was nine years old and Tanner was five.  Both old enough to realize what death was and what saying good-bye was all about, they were both sad to learn about their grandmother’s condition but, at the same time, they were vague with their emotions.  Mom never had a close relationship with either of my children for the fact that she never made an effort to bond or connect with them; a pattern that she had once shared with me.

Throughout the years, mom had been in and out of the hospital quite often; mostly brought on by her own health habits.  My mother wasn’t in the best physical condition. She didn’t eat properly and was overweight, needed the aid of an oxygen tank on a daily basis and was a chronic smoker. She was diabetic, had high cholesterol and also had high blood pressure.  In the past, mom was always being admitted to the hospital, as her immune system would be low, causing her to get lung infections.  She would stay a couple of days, get cleared up and then was released home.  This routine went on for many years.  Mom admitted that she would even feel better promising to work on her health, but always went back to her unhealthy behavior.

I had learned from the Chaplain that my mom wasn’t feeling well, so mom called my brother, Jeff, letting him know that she wasn’t feeling right and asked him to come over. It was apparent in her voice that she wasn’t herself, therefore, Jeff instructed mom to call an ambulance to take her to the hospital.  Once the ambulance arrived at her building, they found mom almost unresponsive.  This was when mom was rushed to the emergency room, where she laid in a sedated coma.

On Monday, September 10, while Steve and his family were on their way to Chicago, Frank and I went to the hospital that afternoon to see what information we could find out about mom’s condition.  I called into work that day, informing them of my situation and that I would not be into work.

Once at the hospital, Mom’s doctor met with Frank and me.  The doctor confirmed that while at home, mom had developed a blood clot in her leg. The doctors ran a battery of tests and it appeared that mom had a DVT, a Deep Vein Thrombosis.  A DVT is the formation of a blood clot in the deep vein and is a dangerous condition because the clot can travel up to the heart or lungs and block a vessel feeding those organs, causing cardiac or pulmonary ischemia, cardiac arrest and even death. Mom had one in her leg, which traveled directly to her heart; most likely caused by her sitting and inactivity for a prolonged period of time, her extreme weight and excessive smoking. Over the next couple of days, the doctors were going to perform additional tests on mom to find out the extent of her medical condition.

We met with the hospital Chaplain, who had originally informed me that mom was in the hospital.  She asked me if I had any other siblings and I told her yes, my brother, Steve, who was on his way from Michigan with his family. I also relayed that I had a brother, Jeff, but we weren’t on speaking terms. The Champlain shared with us that because of my mother’s serious condition, there was a possibility that a life or death decision may need to be made; the possible decision of taking her off of life support. I told the Chaplain that I didn’t want to make that decision on my own and that I would need to discuss this with my brothers and, if needed, obtain their consent.  I remember asking her for Jeff’s phone number so that I could speak with him regarding my mother.  But, she told me that she couldn’t give me his phone number, due to the HIPAA laws, the same reason she couldn’t give my number out to Jeff.  But, she was happy to make a call on my behalf.  I said thank you and asked her to have Jeff call me.

Frank and I arrived back home that Monday evening and we were mentally exhausted. The realization of my mother’s pending demise was weighing heavily on my mind, not to mention the fact that I would soon be in contact with Jeff, who I haven’t spoken to in over eight years. We left our relationship not on the best of terms and I couldn’t help but to wonder what it’s going to be like when we do speak again.  Not only did Jeff and I go our separate ways, but Jeff also severed all ties with Steve. It was almost as if Jeff fell off the face of the earth. I can understand where he and I had differences, but Jeff made the same effort in distancing himself from Steve, as well.

The last time that I had communication with Jeff was the evening when Jeff hung up on me during that one revealing evening back in 1993. It was a couple days after Jeff’s father, Melvin, died and mom called me, letting me know that Jeff would be contacting me, as he was going to ask me for two hundred dollars to help cremate his father.  I informed mom that I wasn’t about to give Jeff any money toward a cremation of a man who treated me like shit all my life and whose last words to me were calling me a whore. I believed my reasoning’s were justified. I could tell that mom didn’t want to discuss it, making her feel uncomfortable. My words and anger left my mother silent.  Mom knew how I felt about Melvin and just bringing up his name to me was a touchy subject.  I asked mom to have Jeff call me and I would be happy to explain to him why I wasn’t going to give him any money. It was at that moment that I made the decision to tell Jeff the true reason why I wasn’t going to hand him over any money. There was no way that I was going to give money to help lay to rest a fucking child molester.  Jeff could have cremated him in a garbage can with a can of lighter fluid and a book of matches for all I cared!

About an hour later, Jeff called me and the demeanor in his voice sounded as if he didn’t want to make any small talk whatsoever; he wanted to get down to business… money business.  As far as I knew, Jeff did not know that Melvin had sexually abused me as a child.  Nor, did I think he realized that Steve was also one of his victims.  If Jeff ever had any concept of us being abused, he never made it apparent to either Steve or me.  My thoughts were once I explain everything to Jeff, he would truly understand, if not respect, why I wouldn’t give him the money to help cremate his father.  Jeff immediately asked me for the two hundred dollars.  I told him that I wasn’t going to give him any money to help bury his father. Jeff couldn’t understand why I was being so adamant about the situation and he started debating with me.  It was at that point that I said to him, “Jeff, this is the reason why I’m not going to give you the money for Melvin.”  Just as I was about to spit out the words, “It’s because your father is a filthy child molester,” Jeff hung up on me, ending our conversation with an abrupt dial tone in my ear.  It was at that point that I became very livid, thinking, how Jeff dare hang up on me.  Frank was standing by my side and I told Frank that Jeff just hung up on me and he wouldn’t even let me explain to him why I’m not going to just hand over all that money. I started crying and, the more I cried, the more upset and pissed off I became.  I was outraged at the fact that he wouldn’t even give me the opportunity to let me explain why.  I dialed Jeff back and I was going to scream as loud as I could in his ear that his father liked to fuck little children and that he doesn’t need to be cremated because his ass is going directly to hell and the devil would do it for him!  But, my mother answered the phone instead. I shared with mom that Jeff hung up on me and I asked to speak with him.  He refused to come to the phone and talk to me, only making me angrier.  This is when I lost it and said to my mom, “You can tell your prick of a son that the reason that I won’t give him any money for his father is because Melvin was nothing but a child molester.  And if he doesn’t believe me, then he can call his brother in Michigan and ask him, too!”  It was then my turn to hang up the phone.  I immediately hung up on my mother and started crying all over again. It was done, finished, my horrible secret that I had been carrying around inside me for over thirty years had finally been revealed, not only to my brother, but to my mother as well. It wasn’t my intentions to blurt out to my mother that Melvin sexually abused me and my brother, Steve, ever since we were young children.  I had plans to never share that with my mother or any other family member. It was my own horrible little secret. I was so upset over the fact that Jeff didn’t give me enough respect to even try and listen to me. Everything was always about Jeff and his own world.

As one would imagine, my phone started ringing immediately, relentlessly, but I wouldn’t answer it.  It was my mother calling, surely trying to figure out what the hell just happened.  I was so upset that I just couldn’t even talk with her.  She tried calling all night, so much in fact, that I had to take the phone off of the hook.  Eventually, I knew that I would have to speak with her.  I did my best to avoid her phone calls all evening.  I went to work the next morning and this is where mom caught me.  She dialed the main number and asked to speak with me. I knew that it was something that I had to do.  I went behind a closed door in one of the offices and spoke with her privately.  Mom had asked me why I never told her what was going on between Melvin and me.  I shared with her that young children just don’t tell… they just don’t say anything to anyone, they are afraid to, it hides deep within them, never to be mentioned or revealed. During our whole conversation, not once did mom tell me that she was sorry; that she was sorry for what Melvin had done to two of her beautiful and innocent children and everything that we had went through. Not once did mom curse Melvin to hell. Not once did mom make an attempt to defend me or Steve. Not once did mom say she would have killed him if she knew. Not once did mom share one word of remorse with me.  Our conversation was as if she called to tell me that she had burnt dinner. As always, mom showed no emotion whatsoever.  I was hoping that at least now she would show some anger, some hatred toward Melvin, knowing that he had sexually abused her children throughout their young life. I would be screaming every obscenity there was; telling my child that I was so sorry for what they had to go through, shedding tears right along with them, but my mom not once shed a tear.  Instinctively, it was at that precise moment that I was absolutely convinced mom knew all along about the sexual abuse and what had happened to me and my brother so many years before, even knowing when it happened and where it happened.  Mom never worked, rarely left the house, and basically was always home.  Surely, she had to have her suspicions about Melvin always wanting to take us with him everywhere. All that my mind could think about is how could she not know? Her lack of response and her quietness about the situation truly led me to believe that she knew about all the abuse that Melvin forced on her two children. She had finally been relieved of her own torture that she had kept deep within her heart and soul. The guilt of not protecting her child, not one, but two children, from a sexual predator must have been an unspeakable torment in her own mind.  To spare us both further discomfort, I told mom that I don’t want to talk about it, it was all in the past, done and over with and there was absolutely no reason to relive it. We both never talked about Melvin sexually abusing me ever again.

Needless to say, Jeff never did get the money that he wanted to help cremate his father. I don’t even know if mom ever shared with him exactly why I wouldn’t give him any money. Knowing Jeff, he probably thought Steve and I made it all up. It didn’t matter because I didn’t want anything to do with Jeff from that moment on. He wasn’t a brother to me at that time, the time I needed him most.  We both stopped talking with one another. He led his life, I led mine and we both went our own separate ways.  I stopped acknowledging him as a brother, as a family member. Over the years, I learned from my mother that Jeff got his girlfriend pregnant, moved to Wisconsin with her and years later, after having more children, they eventually married.  Unfortunately, because of Jeff’s actions that evening, our relationship was never the same and this was the reason why that I did not see or talk with Jeff in over eight years.

It was shortly after Frank and I arrived home from the hospital that evening that I finally received that phone call from Jeff.  Hearing the phone ring, I was anxious, nervous, as I wasn’t sure how Jeff’s demeanor was going to be. To my surprise, Jeff was very compassionate and sensible. Our conversation between us was short, but very at ease.  I relayed to Jeff that Steve was on his way to Chicago.  I asked if we could all meet at the hospital the next morning to find out what else the doctors had found regarding mom’s condition. Jeff agreed and we left the conversation on a mutual and sensible tone.  Hanging up the phone, I shared with Frank that the conversation went a lot smoother than anticipated.  Even though Jeff was disrespectable to me eight years prior, I wasn’t going to demonstrate any anger or bitterness.  There wasn’t time for that.

I poured myself a well deserved glass of wine and worked up my courage as I realized that I now had the heartbreaking responsibility of contacting my grandmother who lived in Wisconsin.  Granny was now in an assisted nursing home in Portage. Granny had no idea that her second born, who is now on life support and fighting for her life, will most likely pass before her. The thought of telling granny that she may lose another child just broke my heart.  Her son, my uncle Bob, passed away in 1997, where he was having a heart attack, drove himself to the emergency room, only to pass days later. He was only 59 years old. I decided to contact the social worker at the nursing home instead of speaking with granny directly.  I was in fear that such news would jeopardize granny’s own health. I shared with the social worker what was happening and that I would contact them once I find out further information from the doctors and mom’s additional testing.

Waiting for Steve and his family’s arrival, Frank and I set up the basement where they could rest comfortably until the next day when we all headed to the hospital. I finally had a moment to myself, to reflect on what was going on and what could possibly happen.  I couldn’t believe what was put before me.  As a child, one never thinks about the time when a parent will pass away, how it will happen, or even when.  Sitting there, it all seemed so unreal to me, as if I was on the outside looking in, watching someone else’s family tragedy, but realizing that it was actually my own.

It was 1:00 in the morning when Steve arrived with his wife, Mary, and their three children, all exhausted from their long ride in.  We set the children up for bed in the basement and they fell quickly back asleep.  The adults headed to the living room, where we started to express our thoughts and feelings.  Like me, Steve couldn’t believe that this moment had finally arrived, where we would be making a life or death decision.  I told Steve that I spoke with Jeff and that we would all meet at the hospital the next morning around 11:00 a.m. After another hour of chat, we all headed to bed, as we knew that the morning would be fast approaching.

As suspected, the morning rolled in a lot faster than I wanted it to.  It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and in a bittersweet way, it was the most beautiful day outside.  I could see the sun shining through the bedroom windows and I couldn’t help but to think how I was admiring the summer morning when I suddenly remembered that mom was lying in the ICU hooked up to machines and tubes. It was around 8:30 a.m. and Frank was still sleeping so I decided to get out of bed and start my day.  I went to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee for everyone, thinking that we were surely going to need it.  I laid out coffee cups, sugar and creamer, along with the breakfast goodies I bought the day before.  Knowing that I had to make a phone call, I headed to the living room to call work, letting them know that I would not be in again that day, as my family and I had plans to meet with my mother’s doctors.  I heard Nikki, our receptionist, pick up my call, greeting me as she always did.  I told her it was me and that I wouldn’t be in to work.  This is when Nikki asked me if I knew what was going on in New York.  I told her I didn’t and wasn’t sure what she was referring to.  Nikki advised me to turn on the television.   Turning it on, I suddenly became aware that the news station was showing live footage of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York. Smoke billowing out from the top floors of the building, along with flames that seemed to be licking the building on every floor.  I could see people hanging out of the windows, screaming for help, as they waved cloths to show their existence against the massive silver building. I could also hear the panic and distress in the reporter’s voice.  I knew that whatever was happening, it wasn’t good.  I was starting to become concerned and frightened and asked Nikki literally, “What the fuck was going on?!”  This is when she shared with me that an airplane had crashed directly into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  I could see the destruction that the airplane had left behind and knew that many lives were already lost.  I hung up the phone with Nikki and immediately went to wake up Frank.  I told him that something was happening in New York and that I felt it was best that he get up to watch, as something serious was going on.  It wasn’t shortly after Frank came into the living room that Steve and Mary followed behind.  All four of us stared helplessly, watching the TV with horrible blank stares on our faces.  It was only moments later that we saw on live TV another airplane flying into the World Trade Center, this time making a direct hit into the South Tower. All of us gasped at the same time, with all of us pretty much making the same comment, “OH SHIT!”  It was becoming apparent that this was not an accident.  We were later being informed that the planes that flew into the towers were hijacked and this was just the beginning.  Not knowing what other targets the hijackers had in mind, my concerns grew more and more through the morning, wondering if the kids were safe in school and if we should go and pick them up.  Frank made a phone call to the kids’ school and we were reassured that all was safe and that we didn’t need to be alarmed.

Like robots, we all huddled around the TV, as if we were watching a Bears-Packers football game.  With every update that we heard, we all shook our heads with disbelief.  As much as we wanted to stay home and watch the tragedy that was unfolding directly in front of our eyes, the tragedy of all these peoples’ lives, we were quickly reminded that we had a tragedy of our own; mom and her own life. We left for the hospital, where we met with the physicians, as well as Jeff for the first time in eight years.

Once at the hospital, we met with mom’s physicians. The news didn’t look good for mom.  The doctors performed multiple tests and we were informed that she had no brain activity whatsoever. There was no clinical evidence of brain function upon physical examination. She had no response to pain stimulation and no cranial nerve reflexes, including no eye movement or blinking and she had fixed pupils. Mom was completely brain dead and her condition was irreversible. Mom was at the total mercy of life support.  Machines were breathing for her, pumping air into her lungs, one breath at a time.  Not only did she look dead on the outside, sadly, you can see that there was nothing living on the inside either.

It was apparent that my brothers and I had to make one of the most important decisions of our lives, of our mother’s life.  It was evident that mom was not going to get any better.  It was then that we found out that mom had a DNR request in her chart – Do not Resuscitate. It was apparent that the decision has already been made for us.  My brothers and I, along with our significant others went back to my house and talked for the longest time, for hours, discussing mom’s fate.  I was actually surprised how well Jeff and I were getting along.  It was as if nothing happened between us eight years prior and we just picked up our relationship where it left off.  Perhaps, it was the moment, surely having a great deal to do with mom.  Everyone was being cordial and respectable toward each other and their feelings, regardless of how the person was feeling from the past.  It made me think that this is how we should have gotten along years ago. In the end, after discussing mom’s destiny, we all knew that this was the best decision that we could have made for her. Let mom’s mind, body and soul be at peace, let her be lifted up into God’s arms. It was now her turn to go home.

It was later learned that hijackers flew planes into the Twin Towers that were no longer standing. Flight 77 was flown directly into the Pentagon building in Washington and Flight 93 went down into a field in Pennsylvania. Thousands of lives were taken that morning. I remember leaving to go and pick up Arla from school that afternoon and all the parents were around talking about what happened to our country that morning.  As I sat in the truck, waiting for the kids to get out of school, I noticed that the skies above me were an eerie quiet, where stillness filled the air. No planes whatsoever were being permitted to fly in the airspace.

During the last two days, the 9/11 tragedy was all over the television with news, special reports, and interviews. It was almost as if every American ate, slept and breathed 9/11. We couldn’t get enough of it. But, this day, my focus was now on my mother.  We all made our way back to the hospital, where it was time to take mom off of life support and say our final good-byes.  I never did like hospitals, even though I worked in one.  They have always represented bad news for me; making me feel uncomfortable, as if death is waiting around every single corner, sensing sickness on every floor and in every patient’s face.  It was rare that I walked into a hospital that I didn’t feel grief or sorrow. I felt it all around me.

Frank being in the medical field and working in a hospital for over twenty years, took initiative and helped us prepare for what was about to happen. Frank worked at Columbus Hospital, where he worked in the Emergency Room department and then eventually working with brain tumor patients on the neurosurgical floor.  Frank saw people die from their brain tumors, as well as seeing people survive, walking directly out of the hospital to continue their lives. Frank was wonderful talking with the physicians and even the hospital Chaplain.

Everyone met within the waiting room in ICU at Weiss Memorial. The Chaplain arrived just moments after we did, asking how we were all doing, letting us know that she was there for support and will guide us through this ordeal.  The kids were coloring in their coloring books, which kept them busy.  The TV was on in the waiting room, which was practically screaming 9/11 at you.  There was a lot of apprehension in the air, not only with what our country was going through, but what mom’s three children were going through and what they would have to do in only a few short moments.

The nurses were in mom’s room, preparing her for her final moments of life. The thought of knowing that you had control of someone’s life in the palm of your hand made my mind sick with regret.  Was there any turning back at that point? Not according to the physicians. Mom was entirely brain dead. She had no thoughts, feelings or acknowledgement that we were there, unless she felt us spiritually.  The nurses call us into mom’s room to say our final good-byes.  Steve, Jeff, Frank and I follow the Chaplain into mom’s room, all wrapping our way around her bed. We were quiet, as we listened to the machines in the room pumping, watching them breathe air into mom’s body.  Mom lay there, motionless, with tubes down her throat, completely oblivious that we were all there around her, for her. The nurse in the room was twisting cords and readjusting tubes, working with the machines that were obviously keeping her alive. My heart was racing as I stood at the end of mom’s bed. My palms were sweaty and my bottom lip started to quiver.  Nobody should be placed in the position that I was in, that my brothers were in, but, yet, death finds us all and there was no escaping it for mom.

Feeling it was important, I asked the hospital Chaplain to say a prayer for mom before they ended life support.  My two brothers, Frank and I, along with the Chaplain stood over mom while each of us held hands. With the Chaplain’s hand resting on mom’s shoulder, we recited the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,

The power, and the glory,

For ever and ever.

Amen.

Through broken words I managed to say good-bye to mom, asking her to say hello to grandpa for me and that I missed him.  It started to get emotional for me; especially when I knew mom was going to meet grandpa on the other side at any moment. For some reason, I didn’t feel comfortable crying openly in front of everyone, so I held back my tears as much as I could. Saying the Lord’s Prayer over my mother though was comforting to me. It felt like a completion; almost like a cleansing; a purification of her soul for all her torments in her life, for all her secrets that she held in her heart and mind for so many years.  Frank, I and the Chaplain were the only ones reciting the Lord’s Prayer, while Steve and Jeff remained silent.  I got the impression that they were lost in what to say, just as I had been so many years before, as I once stood not knowing how to pray or what it all meant. I held my rosary in the palm of my hand while praying, the same rosary that I was baptized with just the year before. I didn’t realize it, but I must have held onto Jeff’s hand so intensely that the rosary left indentation marks in the palm  of his hand. Perhaps, subconsciously, I was trying to send a message that he should be a better brother, a better listener and that family is worth holding onto.

I cannot say the Lord’s Prayer today without being touched, remembering this faithful memory; bringing me back to this one particular moment every single time, the day that we prayed over mom .  The Chaplain shared a few personal words, along with giving mom her last rites.  Chaplain asked God to prepare my mother’s soul for death, asking for forgiveness of all her sins and anointing her, preparing her for a safe journey, asking God to accept my mother into His loving kingdom.

After prayers and rituals were done, we were asked to leave the room while they prepared for my mother’s death.  They didn’t want us to watch them disconnecting mom from all the various machines; the heart monitor and breathing machine, eventually taking her final breath away.  We walked back to the waiting room. The television was on and was showing the latest news and updates with the 911 attack. They replayed the same scenes over and over like a bad sitcom, as we continuously watched the planes hit the World Trade Centers, exploding into huge fireballs or as we watched so many innocent and terrified people making the decision to jump to their own demise, where death waited for them once they made it to their final destination, the ground below. It was my only hope and prayer that God greeted them at the end of their journey with open arms, embracing each and every one of them with His tremendous love and light. It was only a few moments later that the Chaplain and nurse came to me and my family letting us know that mom, too, had passed, completing her own final journey. I didn’t realize how emotional I would get.  I never considered myself close to my mom, but I actually broke down when the nurse told us “she was gone.” As I had asked for the 9/11 victims, I was now praying for God to extend the same invitation to my mother.

“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

My brothers and I had made the difficult decision taking mom off of life support on September 14, 2001, where she passed at 10:53 a.m., just three days after the 9/11 attacks.  Mom was only 62 years old. I watched the people on the television and even made a comment that it didn’t help that I was not only grieving for all the lives lost on 9/11, but for my mother as well.  I had such mixed emotions about exactly what I was grieving for.  I didn’t know if I was more upset at the fact that my only mother had passed or if I was more upset and grieving for the mother that I never had, for the mother-daughter relationship that I should have had in my life, but never did. I felt in my heart that it was the latter. Sadly, my mother and I didn’t have a close relationship, something that she just wasn’t receptive to having in her life. But, now, death made everything so final.

After mom’s death that morning I, once again, went home to call my grandmother to let her know that her daughter had passed away. The hospital staff made sure that there was a priest there with her when I delivered the news.  “Granny, I’m calling to let you know that mom had passed away today.”  Speaking with granny, I can tell she was in shock, but the priest was making sure that she understood what was going on. Granny’s response was what any mother would say after losing a child, “Oh no, I lost another one.”  The priest sat with granny and they prayed together. I hung up the phone with tears in my eyes and an uncontrollable pain in my heart for my grandmother, as this was now the second child she had lost.  Framing a picture of mom when she was young, I sent it to granny so that she would have something to look at, possibly to talk to. The picture was taken in a sepia tone, which made mom’s face glow with radiance. Looking into her eyes, I could once see a happy, lively, vibrant young woman, who exuberated love and kindness.  This was the mother that I should have known, should have been best friends with, who I should have been able to tell my deepest darkest secrets to. This is the mom that my heart ached for, not the one who I had known during my life.

My mother, Elvera Lee - Circa Late 1950's.

My mother, Elvera Lee – Circa Late 1950’s.

Mom looked so happy in this picture and I couldn’t help but to think that this was a different time in her life, where she loved life, as there was nobody there to take it away from her, to beat her, nobody there to verbally humiliate her. It was a time before self inflicting alcohol abuse.  I don’t know the event in her life that inspired such a beautiful picture, but I knew that this is how granny would remember her.

My brothers and I decided to have mom cremated, which was done on September 16. These were mom’s final wishes.  Shortly after mom was cremated, we went through some of her things.  Jeff went to her apartment and grabbed whatever looked important, stuffed it in paper bags and took everything to his house in Wisconsin.  Steve and his family had since gone back home to Michigan, therefore, Jeff inviting my family to his home, Jeff and I went through everything to see what was important and what wasn’t. I truly felt that Jeff and I were making amends with our relationship. I know there were issues in the past between us, but we were both grown adults, with each of us having children of our own now.  I had looked deep within myself and decided to forgive and forget.  What had happened, I left it exactly where it should be… in the past.  It appeared that Jeff and I were moving forward… or so I thought.  Mom did have some important papers; papers that showed that she had a small life insurance policy, which if it was split evenly, between her three children, wouldn’t make us rich, but it could have help with a bill or two or something else we may have needed.  Jeff took it upon himself to initiate the process of the funds and getting the paperwork started. It was agreed between the three of us, my brothers and I, that we would split the insurance money, equally, between the three of us.  Unfortunately, it did not happen that way.  With Jeff being in total control of the assets, Jeff gave Steve and myself only a very small portion of the insurance money up front and told us that he would send more at a later date.  In the end, Jeff decided to keep the rest of the funds for himself. He went onto explain in an email to me that he lost money as he was not able to work at his construction job one weekend, due to all the running around he had to do because of our mother’s passing, therefore justifying to himself why he was going to keep the rest of the money.  Perhaps, Jeff didn’t take into consideration that I, too, ran errands, made numerous phone calls to funeral homes, meeting with the funeral home, as well as making arrangements to have my mother’s body transferred to a funeral home for cremation.  I also made arrangements for her obituary to be placed in the local newspaper, also paying for the services. Not once, did I bring that to anyone’s attention. But, once again, Jeff was thinking only of himself.  Jeff’s email was the last time I heard from my brother, as he never again contacted me or my brother, Steve.  Steve and I were completely astonished by Jeff’s actions. We both couldn’t believe that Jeff had cheated his own siblings out of thousands of dollars, only to gratify himself.  Jeff did not reflect on our feelings, as he only looked out for his own gain.  Not once did Jeff take into consideration how others may feel.  I found it quite sad actually. Jeff had every opportunity to make amends with his siblings, especially with me, but he had made the decision instead to leave and end our relationship, once again, over money.  He not only lost his sister for the second time in his life, but also his brother.  We were so close at one point in our early lives. Growing up, we all went through hardship together; we all had nothing to eat together, we didn’t have any money, we didn’t have lots of clothes, we were all deprived… together. When we had nothing, we knew we always had each other. Is money that important to someone where you would jeopardize a relationship?  Can greed be that strong? Money should, under no circumstances whatsoever, interfere with the price of a relationship, family, a loved one.  It only led me to believe that if a person could do something like this to their family then there’s a reason why; a reason they needed the money more and I just hoped that whatever Jeff needed it for, it helped him out tremendously. Having the extra money wouldn’t break me or make me rich in either way. Money is not worth destroying family relationships but, sadly, Jeff didn’t value these same opinions. Once again, Jeff was out of my life and I haven’t seen or spoken to him in twelve years, the same amount of time that my mother has been gone.

During the time I was with Jeff looking through my mom’s belongings, I found and kept a small picture of her from when she was approximately three or four years old. Blue eyed and curly blond hair, I saw my own resemblance within her.  I also found a notebook, which I immediately slipped into my bag, thinking that I would look at it closer, later, when I was alone. Completely forgetting about the notebook for a couple of weeks, I remembered and pulled it out of my bag. Flipping through the notebook, I felt my heart sink with every page I turned, completely astonished at what I was looking at. Mom had torn out articles that she found in newspapers and magazines. Some of the pieces were even in mom’s own handwriting.  I found articles on happiness and being respected and loved. I found one article she clipped from the newspaper titled, “Recipe for a Better Life.” I found clippings about togetherness, where it talked about death is nothing at all, as they have only slipped away into another room… I saw articles on hugging and a note titled, “What is a Friend.” Continuing on through the pages, I found Dear Abby articles that mom felt was important enough, clipping and saving them within her notebook. However, the articles that I found so significant were the ones titled, “Loneliness” and “A Parent’s Prayer.”  Reading these two pieces made me come to the realization that mom was hurting so much inside, aching to have any form of this contact with another human being. Every article that she taped neatly into her notebook was how she must have felt in her heart, mind and soul. Unfortunately, mom could not express these words openly to her children, therefore, she did it the only way she knew how and that was by taping her thoughts and feelings into a spiral notebook.

Mom's Messages

Mom’s Messages

Mom 2

Mom 5

Mom 8

Mom 7

Mom 8

As time went on and weeks went by, my mind started thinking about the mother I wished I could have had in my life while growing up, while getting married, while having children of my own, the mother who was taped within those pages of her notebook.  A part of me felt resentful and cheated; knowing that all mom had to do was open her heart, showing me that she cared. But, I knew that she was incapable of doing so.  Her life with Melvin throughout those many years had deteriorated her emotions, her happiness, and her passion for life, as well as for everything else that surrounded her. Melvin stripped her emotions away, just like he stripped away the sweet innocence of her two children.  Surely, she loved her children in her own unique way; she just had a very hard time expressing it to us. My heart ached for the mom that I could have had, should have had. I wished for my children to have the special grandma relationship that I was blessed with, with my own grandmother. What a special and amazing relationship that they were cheated out of; what my mother was cheated out of.  Although, do you miss something that you never had in your life to begin with?

I continue to believe that there’s a purpose, a reason why we are here on this earth.  We are here to receive learning lessons.  The values we learn on a daily basis, within our lives, we will take back home with us to share with others in God’s world, where we will then be the teacher. I have often wondered, questioning what my learning lessons are as I travel through my life. Is it through the sexual abuse by Melvin, learning how to be strong and overcome any obstacles that are set before me? Is it through the relationship with my mother, where I have learned to be open, expressive, to be the best parent I could be, or through my relationship with my grandparents, where I was shown that life is the most beautiful and precious gift that God has given us, therefore, living it with compassion and love? I have been through so much in my life and I have tried to make every effort to find the positive side of each and every situation… my learning lessons. I have learned to love with all my heart, unconditionally, always letting others know that I love them, sharing what I have gained and cherish life to the best of my ability, as I never know when it will all be taken away from me, when life will end, when death will find me…

If there’s ever a time where I questioned my mother’s love for me, I always know that I can return and read through her many messages that lie deep within the pages of her spiral notebook.

 

“Well, right now… I’m not dead.  But when I am, it’s like… I don’t know, I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading…. An old one. It’s up on a library shelf, so you’re safe and everything, but the book hasn’t been checked out for a long, long time. All you can do is wait. Just hope somebody’ll pick it up and start reading.” 

~Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Hours after mom’s death, she, herself, sat waiting on a shelf, but she wasn’t a book, she was a doll; a ghost, a spirit.  Mom had one last thing she needed to say to me before leaving, therefore, she sat quietly, patiently, waiting for the right moment, until I picked her up and held her tight…

References:

http://www.adcrf.org/

http://www.after-death.com/

http://www.nderf.org/

http://www.near-death.com/

Whisper to my Heart

Watercolor by JackAugust 2012

Watercolor by Jack
August 2012

“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.

Photo by Jack

Photo by Jack

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.

Photo by Jack

Photo by Jack

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.

Sacrament Day!March 2000

Sacrament Day!
March 2000

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.

Photo by Jack

Photo by Jack

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.

Photo by Jack

Photo by Jack

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.

Photo by Jack

Photo by Jack

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.

Watercolor by JackAugust 2012

Watercolor by Jack
August 2012

“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

It Came to me in a Dream…

“Pay attention to your dreams – God’s angels often speak directly to our hearts when we are asleep.”  ~ Eileen Elias Freeman The date was set. May 5, 1990. Less than a year later, this was the day that Frank … Continue reading

The Love Connection…

Pic - Frank and Jack Bikers 2

Getting ready to ride – 1988.

 

“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.

  1. Wear protective eye gear
  2. Mount and dismount the bike from the left
  3. Wait for the rider to mount or dismount first
  4. Don’t use the pipes as a mounting device to get on and off the bike
  5. When making a turn, lean into the turn with the rider.
  6. Don’t touch the pipes… they’re frickin’ hot!
  7. Pray for a safe ride. “… May the Angels guard my travels for they know what is ahead of me…”
Highway Riding

Riding the Highway

“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.

Finding the Road Back…

Pic - Road Back

“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

Time to Say Good-bye…

Pic - Grandpa and Jack

Grandpa and me… as a youngin’ and when I was in my twenties…
On the Farm of Eden

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.”

Thanks for the Memories...

Thanks for the Memories…

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.

Pic - I love you

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
1/7/1988

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
1/9/1988

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.”

Angels Among Me…

Jack & Donatta and Jack and Bill Circa - Both in the 1980's

Jack & Donatta and Jack and Bill
Circa – Both in the 1980’s

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
1/9/1988
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.

Reminiscing

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
11/12/1980

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

Uptown Girl

Old pics from the neighborhood. Window to the right is the one I climbed out of getting away from Big John.

Old pics from the neighborhood. Window to the right is the one I climbed out of getting away from Big John.

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.

Steve and his Shadow Friend…

Image

 

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

1/1/1988

“You are Fine… How am I?”

Dedac in the House... God's House!

Dedac in the House… God’s House! 1927 – 2013

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

The Power Of Forgiveness…

God's Beautiful Gift

God’s Beautiful Gift

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

To Dance Once Again…

Grandpa teaching me how to box.

Grandpa teaching me how to box.

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
1/2/1988

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.