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

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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

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

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

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