Sarah Sadik

My Story: The girl from Chicago

I have been in Los Angeles for about 2 months now and I am learning a lot about people and myself. When asked to write in this blog I wasn’t sure what to write about.  I didn’t want to sound arrogant or anything because in this city­ there is enough arrogance to last you a lifetime. I have seen some rough things, crazy things, sad things, and the freakish of the freakish. I am sure that there is much more to be seen­ and I can’t wait for that.

­ I am nervous to stay in LA.

The thing about this city (from what I’ve experienced thus far) is that it really tests you. Darwin’s survival of the fittest concept is real and LA puts that concept to the test on a daily basis.

While being here thus far I have gotten mistaken for a homeless person (yes…it has happened), danced on the streets to “Happy,” been made fun of by actors behind my back, cried on La Brea on the phone with my mom… etc. The thing I have learned is that you cannot give up.  Meryl Streep­ (I will reference an actor because it is film central here) ­said it best,

“Don’t give up. Never give up.”

See, people here sink or swim.  If you sink, you can get help.

I met a person like that in the Coffee Bean once.  Although I am still technically ‘new’ in LA­, this happened when I had only been in LA for about 2 weeks. I was in the Coffee Bean on Orange/Hollywood Blvd. and couldn’t find a seat inside anywhere except one that was taken up by someone’s backpack. So I casually asked if this seat was taken and if I could have it. The man,­ who was about 40­, said (in the most annoyed voice ever may I add), “I don’t know…can you?”

So as I stood there…and said­ really softly,­ “so can I have this seat or…?” He eventually moved his backpack and I sat down. After he moved it, he went to the bathroom. Now­ this is the fucked up part. This random lady who was sitting next to him, scoots over by me and said:
“I’m sorry for that outburst. See, I’m that man’s anger management therapist…he is doing much better!” She smiled at me and I smiled back…slightly.

In the back of my mind I was like…what the fuck is this shit.

Welcome to LA, bitch.

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Until next time,
-Sarah.
Are you reading this & in LA? Well feel free to give me a shout out: sadik.sarah{at}gmail.com

Jenny Meyer

Almost everyone who knows my father associates him with his chili. People tell me they have fond memories of his chili and “garden special” mix. When people talk to me about my dad, they usually make comments about that chili. I like to joke that my father’s legacy is giving people indigestion. I never really understood the appeal of his chili. And I don’t associate him with beans and peppers. I have much fonder memories.

When I think of my father, I can think of only one thing: Fishing in Michigan.

My parents rented small cabins on Magician Lake in Sister Lakes, MI from the time I was in utero up until I started college.  Magician Lake is in a resort town and is completely surrounded by vacation homes. It is a relatively large lake where you could water ski or just relax on a pontoon boat. It was here that my father taught my siblings and me how to fish on our Snoopy, Woodstock and Mickey Mouse fishing poles.

Dad in our boat

Dad in our boat

We would make the short boat trip to the best fishing spots in his silver Bass Tracker with all brown interior. I remember that boat well. The floor was made of some sort of awful Astroturf material that was scratchy and dug into your bare feet and legs. And the seats were a vinyl-like material that got too hot in the sun and ripped the skin off the back of your legs when you wore shorts. And it wasn’t as cool as the glitter speckled speed boats that everyone else on the lake had. But it was a lot of fun!

My father taught us how to fish on this boat. We learned how to cast our bobbers to lily pads, under docks and into shady spots as that’s where all the best fish hung out. He taught us how to jerk the pole to the side a bit when we felt a tug to hook the fish before we started reeling it in. We also learned how to tell what kind of fish we had on our hook before it even came out of the water. Bluegill were easy to reel in. A perch will swim in the opposite direction of the boat and make you work a bit harder. Bass will jump up in the air. And as we got older and could fish for “The Big Ones” we learned that Walleyes stayed under the boat or swam straight to the bottom.

When my older siblings (Andy and Chris) were little, my parents would tie orange and white seat pads in the water behind the boat. When Andy and Chris would get bored with fishing, they would jump out of the boat and swim around it holding onto those seat pads. I’m sure they scared all the fish away, but I never heard Dad complain.

Me on the boat playing with the fish.

Me on the boat playing with the fish.

I was always too scared to be in the water when I knew fish were below me. My dad told me that fish liked to bite toes and I believed him. So I always passed on jumping out of the boat to swim, but the inside of the boat offered me even bigger treats.  When I was a small child and would get tired of fishing, my dad would put all the fish he caught in the tank under the passenger seat so I could play with them. I also liked playing with the ropes that were used to anchor the boat to the dock. One was red and white stripes and the other was blue and white stripes. I liked that they felt smooth one way and super rough the other way. I thought that was really cool.

Sometimes after fishing, my dad would take us for a boat ride around the lake. Magician Lake has a special, secret spot that few people knew about. You have to have a small boat to see it because this area is really shallow and it is easy to get stuck. Our Bass Tracker handled it perfectly. The spot was a hidden channel that was hard to see until you were right up on it. And once you turned the bend it was absolutely beautiful. The channel took you through a heavily wooded area with very few homes and once in it, you could no longer hear the boats and jet skis on the lake. You could see minnow in the water, turtles sunning themselves on abandoned docks and baby ducks swimming without their mommas. It is a beautiful place and is one of my favorite places on the planet.

Even when we weren’t fishing, we still had lots of fishing related activities to do. One day, we painted our bobbers different fluorescent colors so we could see them in the water better and we could easily tell which bobber belonged to which Meyer. Mine was green. We used those bobbers for years.

My brother, Andy, in our boat.

My brother, Andy, in our boat.

And then there was our Fishing Chart. The Meyers are a competitive bunch and fishing is no exception. My sister Chris and I would make a decorative chart to track who caught the most fish each weekend. Since Dad went on every single trip out onto the lake, he was the winner every time. So we kind of cut him out of the competition unofficially and got competitive amongst ourselves. The chart included a column for every fish in the lake. There was also a column for getting your line caught on piers, weeds, lily pads, and boats. And then we had one titled “Miscellaneous.” This included birds, turtles, and whatever odds and ends would end up on our hooks. Because it’s the Meyer Family, the miscellaneous section also included people. ER visits to the hospital happened a few times to get hooks out of fingers and foreheads. But if I remember correctly, hooking a person on your pole warranted extra points on the chart, so it was worth it in the end.

And of course there were the trips to Lunkers.  Lunkers is the grandest of all fishing, hunting and camping sporting goods extravaganzas. We got to watch it grow over the years from a modest shop that only sold lures and fishing poles to an outdoors superstore that now sold clothes, furniture, and had a somewhat classy restaurant. It is kind of like a Costco for rednecks. My favorite part about Lunkers is the giant aquarium full of local fish and the record breaking taxidermy fish that were hung around the aquarium. I was always convinced that one day my dad would break the world record and catch the hugest walleye or muskie on Magician Lake and have his catch permanently displayed at Lunkers.  My dad was always up for a trip to Lunkers, even if we weren’t buying anything.

In August of 2010, I brought my husband Eric to Sister Lakes, MI. I rented one of the cabins that my parents used to rent and showed him all my old haunts, including Lunkers.  Eric told me it was the most relaxing vacation he has ever had. It was fun to see how everything had stayed the same after all those years and it is now one of my goals to buy a cabin on Magician Lake so I can share that place with my daughter.

Magician Lake

Magician Lake

My dad suffered a stroke just two months later, in October 2010. He has been in a nursing home ever since. I try to visit him as much as I can.  During most visits, I don’t think he knows exactly who I am. He is often very formal with me, shaking my hand instead of hugging me. But when I have his granddaughter with him, it’s a different story. He ignores whatever is on TV and she gets his full attention.

I love watching him with her. I often imagine what it would be like to have been able to watch him teach her how to fish on my Mickey Mouse fishing pole. I think he would have brought her to the heavily lily padded area of Magician Lake to catch sun fish. And, of course he would have her drive the boat the whole way there. I think I would have convinced him by then to ditch that Bass Tracker for a red -glitter speed boat with white leather interior.

Dad with his granddaughter, my daughter, Lily.

Dad with his granddaughter, my daughter, Lily.

For me, the best part of fishing with my dad is that he would always reel his line in and put down his pole to take the fish off my hook or put a new worm on for me. He wasn’t just out there to fish, he was there to hang out with his kids and have fun.  He loved fishing with us during the day and I truly think he enjoyed catching 3 inch bluegill just as much as catching a 20 pound walleye.

Thank you for reading my story and allowing me to share. Please feel free to contact me at jmeyerrood{at}gmail.com!

Annie Hobbs

My story is about leaving.

I leave a lot. I leave good things. I leave true love. I leave friendship. I don’t like being alone, but for some reason I am drawn to make a new life every 1 – 2 years. And then I am sad for about three months. Sometimes more. I’m sad because I feel stupid for leaving my friends and boyfriends. I am sad because I don’t know why I do this. I am sad because sometimes horrible things happen when I am transitioning in life and my emotions and hormones make it ten times harder than just going and being. I am sad because it feels like no one understands, even if they say they do. I am always sad. I’ve always been a sad girl. I’ve always felt everyone’s hurt along with my own. And when I say always, I mean as a tiny child before I knew how to explain feelings.

Restarting makes it incredibly difficult to be successful the way I feel I need to be. I never have money. I am too busy trying to make myself feel better than to pay attention to my art. I give up on myself because living gets to be too much sometimes. And reaching out to people just makes them tell you useless things like, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” That’s not the point. Feeling totally alone isn’t the same as feeling totally sorry for yourself. People who stay sedentary don’t get it. They stay comfortable, and will never know the pain of starting a new life over and over again. I could stop. I could get comfortable, but I am ultimately grateful for my decisions to leave because they make me a stronger and more well-rounded person each day. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need support. I can’t bottle everything up because I do get shaken up. I do explode. Last Saturday I sobbed loudly by myself until 1 am. I cried about everything that has happened to me in the past 3 months. But it worked. Maybe exploding every now and then isn’t a problem.

And, maybe someday I will learn to stick around.

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An image that is basically how my brain has felt for the last five years.

Annie has a blog at www.annemariececiliahobbs.tumblr.com and a personal website at www.anniehobbsphotography.com.

Michael Daniel Meyer

I used to think those golden days were enough for us.  You know, those good ol’ days, with the good ol’ boys and girls… those simpler times that in hindsight, provide most of our rhymes. In my imagination, those days would look a lot like a combination of something I’ve seen or read about, mixed with stories from the elders in my life.

There’s Great Uncle Lou, Grandpa Roy, and Opa too.
And Great Aunt Bea, Grandma Leona, and Oma too.
And because of them…  Father Dano and Mother Marion.
And because of them…Sister Coley and me too.

My grandpa Roy died when my father Dano was nineteen.  Grandpa Roy, I’m told, was many people’s favorite uncle and friend.  He was the fun one.  The one that spent money on carnival rides and candy and liked to joke around without end.   My father’s confirmed this, and has told me that it’s where he gets “it” from.

Grandma Leona and Grandpa Roy

Grandma Leona and Grandpa Roy

Father Dano’s always liked to play games, or get the cool new toys and gadgets that you really don’t need, but man, are they fun for a while.  To give you an idea, his first date with my mother Marion was to go see the movie “Animal House.”

He’s wanted to be my band manager since I started playing guitar, and he says he’s my wing-man at the bars.  He says he’s waited this whole time for my sister Coley and I to grow up just so we could have a drink with him.  He’s still trying to cope with the fact that we’ve grown up and neither of us drinks all that much.

We went to Disney World every other year until I was thirteen because of his hard work.

Can you imagine?
That’s every child’s dream.
And it was.
It was a dream.

We waited in Florida’s ninety degree humid heat to get all the ninja turtle’s autographs.
I still have them.
We ate breakfast together every morning and played the guessing game as to which color monorail would come next.
For some reason, my father was a little too good at that game.

I remember those times as a collective period of joy in my life.
Lots of people, Lots of lines, Lots of walking.
I got motion sick on the rides, and I was terrified of them, so my mother and I would get ice cream and people watch, while my dad and sister would ride everything over and over again.
Sister Coley and I had our collection of stuffed animals to sleep with us at night.
When we’d get back to the hotel, the housekeeping would always arrange them just so, with a little chocolate coin to get us excited.
I remember the in-between time in the hotels putting on my mother’s swimsuit and doing a little dance to get a laugh.
I liked to make my family laugh.
I liked to put on a little show.
The “Ace Ventura” walk was my speciality.

As a family, we loved our time together at Disney World.
For me, it was all I knew.
It was normal.

The Meyer side of the family always speaks of grandpa Roy’s generosity.

I can see this in my father too.

My father’s generosity towards those he cares about is a source of inspiration for me.
He’s a business man.
I’m not.
He was forced to make his own way and make sure no sweet talking swindler led him or his mother astray.
I haven’t had to.
And that’s because of the life that he’s lived for himself and in turn, the life he’s lived for me.

Even though my father Dano’s proven himself to be successful, he’s never forced his own personal experience and understanding on me, he’s just simply supported me the way he can.

He does the whole family’s taxes, and at some point or another every relative has come to him for advice.  He’s never bragged about or solicited his opinion.  But if you met him, you’d know you’d want to ask him for advice.  He’s his own person, and there’s no other option for him to see.

He just wants me to be happy and he’s always wanted me to do it my way.
Even if he doesn’t understand it, or doesn’t see how it’s unfolding.

He just lets me be me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve never asked him for money.  I’ve never asked him for anything in that nature.  What’s been of monetary value in my life has always been given to me by my father.  I just don’t feel the need to have too many things.  At the moment, I have enough possessions to fit in a backpack, including my clothes.

One day, my mother saw me coming downstairs with a couple of plants I keep in my room and thought I was leaving again. I was really just bringing them outside to be in the warm summer air to finally get some rain on their leaves, but I thought it was funny how well she knew me.

Anywhere I’ve gotten to go and anything I’ve gotten to do has been because of my father.

His impact on my life is all encompassing and I am forever grateful.  I am blessed, fortunate, lucky, call it what it’s usually called and that’s fine, but I’m only me because my father’s chosen to live the life he wants to live for himself.  I am because he is.  If he didn’t decide to be the person that he wants to be, living the life that he wants to live, I just wouldn’t be writing these words, in this way, at all.

Father Dano, I love you more than you’ll ever know.

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When the fam visited me in Vermont.

I come from a line of greats.  Strong, independent, don’t take any shit from anyone kind of men and women.  Real movers and shakers.  All of them with hearts made of gold.

A prime example being Father Dano’s mother, my grandma, Leona.

Sister Coley and I always referred to her simply as, “grandma.”  The simpler, the better, according to Leona.  Whenever grandma called and left a message on the answering machine, the only words she would ever say were, “Is anybody home?”
Really that’s it.
Every single time she called.

What else do you need to say?

She always had very few possessions, and even in her last days she didn’t want to ask for money.
We later found out that she didn’t even have enough for the bus.
Father Dano was downright baffled, but then again, I baffle him sometimes too.
It turned out that she was giving it all away to charities.

I think I know where I get my frugality now.

Leona thought she was born in 1917, but after investigating later, it turns out she was born in 1915.  Leona came into this world and went pretty much right into an orphanage.  Her mother died when she was four years old.  Her father worked for the railroad company, so he was always away.

She lived there with her two sisters Marse and Marie and her brother Ray until she was eighteen.  Later, Marse would play the piano at different clubs and apparently they’d all have a pretty wild time together.Leona was never much of a drinker though.

She always made it a point to speak her mind though, otherwise mostly keeping to herself.

After grandpa Roy died, she never remarried.
That last 40 or so years of her life she lived alone.

Every year, on the day before Christmas Eve, we’d go visit grandma at her condo on the north side of Chicago.  I was just talking with my cousin Jenny about how the “fountain” that was in the hallway when you walked in grandma’s building, looked like it was out of a porno.  The smell of that building and that elevator is something that is forever engrained.  A little sweet, definitely musty, and a touch of musk.

I remember crawling around the condo with my cousins, shooting down those green plastic army men forts with rubber bands against my Uncle Terry, father Dano’s brother, and watching TV on grandma’s old tube style television.  The kind with the antennas and knobs that gave a satisfying click with each channel change.  It sat right on the TV tray that was apparently made for it, where grandma would keep her magazines and her TV guide that we’d bring her so she could do the crosswords.

Leona loved the color blue.  Everything in her house was a different shade of blue.  A royal blue leather armchair, a light blue couch, a pale blue recliner.  Even the Christmas tree was blue with different shades of blue ornaments.  It felt calm in there and you’d think it’d feel cool with that blue, but she always cranked the heat to what felt like ninety degrees, so we were sittin’ in T-shirts in December.

I still remember that last time I saw her alive.

She was on the hospital gurney being rolled into a different room and she had the oxygen mask on so she couldn’t talk.  She just didn’t want to be there.  She looked at me as if to say “Get me out of here.”  I know she never liked the hospital but I still wonder why she really didn’t want to be there.

In my heart, my feeling is that she just liked her peace.  She found that stillness within herself, and that was her place of peace.  I imagine getting pulled into the hospital was a jarring event, with all the noises, commotion, and people running around everywhere.  I never felt upset by the way she looked at me, I just really felt for her.  But I knew everything was happening the way it should.  A few weeks later I had a dream where grandma and I were sitting side by side on a couch somewhere with a group of people.  We didn’t say any words to each other, as we never really did, but we just leaned in and touched our heads together.

I woke up knowing and feeling that everything was as it should be.

Grandma in blue.

Grandma in blue.

Great Uncle Lou was always like a grandfather to me, even though he married in to the family.  He always said that he wanted to be a Meyer.  He married my great Aunt Bernice, Grandpa Roy’s sister, in his forties, after a coworker, who was Bernice’s choir director introduced the two.  That man asked Lou if he wanted to meet a nice woman, and he said… “No.”

What a guy, eh?
Always an opportunist for the humor in any situation.

He’s always told me to wait until I’m in my forties to get married.

So far so good, Lou.

Bernice was grandpa Roy’s sister.  They were two of six children, Harold, Richard, and Roy, the boys, and  Gladys, Bernice, and Joanne, the girls.  I’ve always called her Bea.

She’s one of the gentlest and kindest souls I’ve ever known.

She’d have to be, to put up with Lou.  She was always right there with him though, making sure he didn’t get away with anything.  They were a comedy duo, those two.  They’d finish each other’s sentences and always poke fun at the other.  But it was never mean spirited.

You could see how much they loved each other.

They were happily married for 56 years and traveled extensively.
They even visited every state in the U.S. and traveled to Europe twenty-four times.

Bea’s responsible for keeping the family together.  She’s traced her history as far back as she could, taking it upon herself to make sure everyone knows where they came from.  Lou passed away this passed January, and Bea is now on her own in the house they moved into in 1980.    She jokes around that now she actually has to do the laundry.  It’s a point on the Meyer side of the family where I’m starting to wonder who’s going to keep things moving.  To me, Bea is the brightest light in the family, and I will miss her so much when she’s passed.  She puts me at ease with her presence, and never has a bad thing to say about anyone.  She was never too much for words either, and so what I have from Bea is a feeling that I’ll carry with me wherever I’ll go.

A photo from Lou's memorial.  Aunt Bea's in the middle surrounded by the rest of the Meyer cousins.

A photo from Lou’s memorial. Aunt Bea’s in the middle surrounded by the rest of the Meyer cousins.

Lou liked to talk though, so I’ve got more words for him in return.

Great Uncle Lou was a veteran of U.S. army.  He was there for the Normandy invasion, and as a part of the battle of the Bulge.  I wouldn’t hear too many stories from him about the war, or his life.  Instead, he exemplified a way of living, and a way of being that had everyone noticing, and everyone laughing at themselves.

His spirits were sky high all the way to age 96.  In his last few years, he and Bea would still drive to California to see family and play some golf.  He was active pretty much up until the day he died.  He enjoyed working with stained glass and restoring old furniture, which he gave as gifts to friends and family.  He was always active around the house, even getting up on the roof in his old age.  When he finally lost momentum, he went into the hospital and two days later he passed away.

My mom thought he recognized how much my dad’s mother, my grandmother, Leona, hated the hospital in her last days, and so she thought Lou just wanted out, but I think he just used every ounce of his potential until it was spent.

Why linger?

He was sippin’ through the straw, sucking it all up, soaking it all in.  Here was a man that exemplified something I just didn’t see in anyone else.  Not a single soul.

The man had enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm for everything around him, and most importantly, every soul around him.

He really had a way of making you look at how serious you took yourself.

In my eyes, most people were too preoccupied with and within themselves.  Too busy with their own lives, with their own dimes, own ideas, and my oh my how there’s just never enough time!  It seemed like the world functioned off of complaints.   Like the lingo on the street that you had to know was only filled with struggle.  How impossibly hard life is!  And how impossibly hard life had to be!  Pull yourself up by your boot straps, you only get somewhere through sweat equity and hard work.  Blood, sweat, but no tears.  An endless locomotive chuggin’, chuggin’, chuggin’… until it gets to its destination, and once it’s there, it looks around and thinks, “Well now what?”

But at least you get to wear the badge right?
The badge that allows you to go around telling everyone you did it,
and follow it up with, “So, what have you done?”

With Uncle Lou though, he never talked of anything like that.  Not with me anyway.  He was always in the moment.  Talking about what happened to him yesterday or the day before, and who he joked around with, or who he made the subject of his jokes.  He was always there to listen too, never taking himself so seriously.

He even made it a point to carry around candy in his pocket on the off chance that he’d cross paths with a child.

Somehow, I got most of that candy too.

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Aunt Kathy got a great picture of Uncle Lou sharing his wisdom with me.

Lou’s influence on me was combined with my Opa, Herbert.  Herb’s story brings him to the U.S. of A at the tender age of 4, from Germany.  He was raised in a German family, in a German household, where they spoke…you guessed it, German.  So at the outbreak of WWII, Herb was drafted and served as a soldier and translator for the Americans.  He came in on a glider for the Normandy invasion too.  Father Dano says that Roy, Lou, and Herb were all at Normandy at the same time.

Herb knew the language of the enemy, so he was always looked upon with those skeptical eyes.  But he had a trick.  And this trick he could carry with him in his pocket…

The magic of music.

He would tell me stories of being on stage and entertaining the troops with his harmonica until his lips were numb.  They’d call out songs and he would play and play and play.  Some of those tunes like “Sentimental Journey,” I’m thinking I’ll learn now, so they can keep entertaining those ears who recognize their worth.

Somehow in the midst of a world war, Opa met a German P.O.W. who upon crossing a bridge in Germany, recognized my Oma on her bicycle behind the truck that Opa was driving.  That man called out to Oma and asked how the family was and if anyone was still alive. Later that day, Opa brought him to Oma’s family’s house, something he could’ve gotten into serious trouble for if anyone found out. He convinced the family to let Opa upstairs, because he spoke German and he brought him there despite the danger.

The rest is history.

Lore was only 15 at the time, and her and Herb wrote letters for 4 years until she decided to come to the states, get a house, marry, raise 3 kids, 4 grandkids, and now 1 great grand baby.

Oma stands at about 4’ 6” tall these days.  She has osteoporosis and it forces her to hunch over, making her seem even sweeter when she looks up at you to give you a kiss.  Leaving her family in Germany at the age of nineteen was the hardest decision she had to make.  But she made it, and because she did, she also made 8 other lives happen because of it.

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Oma tying her cushion, getting ready for visitors to come see her garden on the garden walk.

She’s never been one for being selfish anyway.

To this day, she’s Opa’s sole caretaker as they still live together in the house they moved into in Chicago, more than 60 years ago now.  The furniture is the same, the smell is the same, but it’s the neighbors and neighborhood that’s starting to change.  They moved into a then German part of the neighborhood, bought a house, and never left.  Other than the couple of times that Oma visited her family back in Germany, she’s been in Chicago the whole time.

Oma’s famous for her cooking, her cleaning, her gardening, and her memory.  Growing up within the tradition and requirement of cooking meals every night for the family, I’ve seen Oma over the stove more times than I can count.  She would make everything by hand of course.  Spätzle was one of my favorites of hers.  It’s a type of dumpling or noodle that is made from egg and boiled to form a soft and chewy consistency.  Oma would make them by hand, a process that required every little bit of patience and focus that she had.  Alongside her streusel cake, mini chocolate chip cookies, and mama’s brot, she would make dinners that the rest of the family still uses on a daily basis.  Somewhere in the family we have detailed recipe cards for everything she made, so the rest of us can keep up with her.

Oma came into this country not knowing too much English, so she prides herself on the correct pronunciation of words.  Combined with the influence from her father, she runs a tight ship.  It no doubt comes from her German roots, but I’ve never seen anything in her house that was in a place it shouldn’t have been.  It’s neat and tidy and everything is exactly as it should be.  Which is why its always fun for me to visit with my shoes made of string, my long hair, and my facial hair.  Not that Oma would judge, but she can’t resist the urge to clean me up.

Neither Oma nor Opa ever forced anything on any of their children or grandchildren.  I’ve always been comfortable speaking my mind, being myself, no matter what I looked like.  Sure, it’s fun when she thinks I look just like Jesus, but I’m still always Mikey.  My mother Marion speaks of having very tolerant and supportive parents.

They were always a family first, before anything else.

Oma has always been open minded, regardless of where she’s come from and what she’s seen. My uncle Mike, Oma’s son, was surprised when Oma told him she liked the Pink Floyd record he was playing in his room back in the 70’s.

Opa’s a creative soul.  He liked to paint, and even got a chance to take a class at the Art Institute in Chicago to refine his craft.  He was on his way as an artist when the war broke out.  When he returned home from the war, he went to trade school and worked his way up the ladder as an apprentice from painting people’s closets, to painting people’s houses.  He continued that job all the way to retirement.  He still painted every once in a while for enjoyment and his landscapes hang in their house.

At the ripe age of ninety-two, Opa’s still a jokester.  He’s made his way through this life with one-liners and funny faces.  One of the earliest pictures of Opa and I is of us making faces at each other. I knew his language from the start.  I’ve always felt a connection with him that doesn’t require any words.  I never had to do anything around him.

I have pictures of him playing the harmonica, and uncle Mike made a book about him in college and has recorded video of him telling his stories about the war.  But it’s the thought of him on stage in the middle of a forest somewhere playing harmonica to hundreds of soldiers that is the lasting image in my head.

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Opa at boot camp. Age 19

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A photo I took of Opa playing the harmonica one day. The photo now hangs in a frame next to that couch.

I’m a lucky man to have both of my grandparents on my mother’s side still alive.  I get to visit them at least once a month now, since my mother and I bring them their groceries, as it’s getting too hard for them to leave the house.  Sure they’re getting older, and they’re dealing with new physical ailments and complaints, but the most beautiful part is getting to watch how they are with each other.  In my lifetime, I’ve never seen them so close.  I imagine moving to a new country and starting a family right away puts certain priorities in place.  Now, with fully grown adult children and grandchildren, they’re completely on their own.  Opa needs Oma to take care of him, and Oma loves having someone to take care of, even if she wouldn’t admit it.

They’re in their element, and from my observation, this is their time to have together.  They’ve been through a world war, food shortages, big booms and baby booms, but now they just have each other.  It’s a bond that none of us in the family can touch.

But if we look real close, we can see how that bond touches us.

A photo Uncle Mike took of Oma and Opa

A photo Uncle Mike took of Oma and Opa

I sometimes get lost in my own head, thinking that I have to leave a mark.  But I’ve noticed it’s the littlest things that get passed on.  The things where you don’t have to try at all.  The things that are just happening because you’re responding to your needs and wants as an individual.

Grandpa Roy has inspired me without me ever seeing him in the flesh.
Grandma Leona  reassures me that I have everything I need.
Great Uncle Lou proves life is meant to be enjoyed,
And Aunt Bea agrees with gentlest of ease.
Father Dano lets me be me,
And I’ve gotten to see Oma and Opa start a family.

They have all inspired me,
Made it possible to be me,
Not because they tried to help me,
But because they were just living their lives
In a way that allowed me to be me.

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Oma at home

July 8, 2014

Eleven days ago, Opa passed from this life to the next. I drove mama, we picked up Oma, and we were there about an hour after he left. The windows were open, the air conditioning was on and there was a sense of peace that I’ve never felt before.

The lasting image I’ll have is of Opa’s head slightly turned over to the right while Oma leaned over the bed and put her head on top of Opa’s while she held his hand. It was almost as if Oma’s bent back was meant for that moment, placing her shape perfectly with his.

I sat in a chair, next to the bed, facing them with my eyes slightly closed, at peace.

Feeling blessed to witness.

September 1, 2014

Thinking of what to write for the first story made me realize that my story couldn’t happen without the stories before mine. If I start to think about how far back that really goes, I eventually see that we are all made of the same things.

We are all connected.
We are all being beings.

It is in this spirit that I wish to begin this new adventure.
It won’t happen without you.
Let’s see where we can go together.

I can’t wait to read your story.

So much love,
Michael