Santa Claus and Other Make Believe

We all looked to the sky and spotted the faint streams of red light as the chilled air blushed our cheeks.  “It’s Santa flying away in his sleigh,” one of the girls declared and the others chimed in with their own declaration they saw it too.  The excitement was contagious even with the suspicions the jolly fellow may have been an uncle dressed in the traditional fluffy suit.

My childhood best friend’s birthday fell in December, naturally there seemed to always be a Christmas theme.  After the holiday ornament making and cake tasting, Santa Claus arrived to deliver candy canes and listen to each girl’s present requests.  Once Santa left the house there became an urgency to determine his authenticity and spy on him, five and six-year-old girls in party dresses and ribbons, raced down the steps and out the front door to the driveway.  Half expecting to see a middle-aged man ripping off a beard getting into a beat-up old Chevy, I was utterly confused by the lights in the sky and reaction from the spectators.

In my home there was no truth to Santa Claus, he was as fictional as The Cat In The Hat.  Don’t get me wrong, we still had Christmas.  The “magic” of Christmas came in the form of everything else; cookies, cocoa, lights, snowman making, present wrapping, singing carols, holiday crafts, tree decorating, holiday greetings in the mail and being together with family.  We all loved the Christmas season without the belief of a mystical man breaking in through the chimney to fill our stockings and snack on our cookies.  It wasn’t because Mom and Dad felt a burning desire to secure our safety and avoid stranger danger, for fear we would habitually approach old men in white beards.  And it wasn’t with the mentality to make sure we knew they worked hard to provide instead of giving credit to this imaginary creature.  My parents, especially my dad, made the decision not to fuel the story of Saint Nicholas in the spirit of honesty.  They simply didn’t want to lie to us.

Their intentions were in a good place, except every other pupil in my early elementary school class did have parents who made them believe in Santa Claus.  Kids behaved because parents had warned not to get on the naughty list.  The man, the myth was reality for my classmates and I my naïve mind could not comprehend how it was true for them and not for me.  I began thinking Santa must be visiting everyone else’s house but mine.  It didn’t make any sense when my reality didn’t match those around me.  When my curiosity about this discrepancy reached a bursting point I took my concerns to my parents.  My dad, the always logical man, attempted to reason the explanation beyond what I could comprehend at the time.  He asked me to question how it could even be possible for a single person to travel to every home around the world in one day.  Still trying to conform my thoughts to the popular opinion of my classmates, I tried to justify it and sometimes tried to believe in Santa Claus even if just to fit in.

At varying points of age, all children learn the truth of Santa Claus and only then do they notice the signs were everywhere all along.  My disorientation from reality was relieved when fellow students and friends gained their own insight.  Truth isn’t always an easy adjustment to make, I know for many kids it was nights of crying themselves to sleep to know their beliefs were a lie.  I suspect too, each of those kids assimilated to finding a new happiness in the Christmas season.

When looking back on my early childhood conflict between what I knew to be true and what my peers saw as real, I now know the word for it.  Cognitive dissonance is the term to label the feeling of stress when two contradictory beliefs are co-occuring.  It is a theory which has long been studied in psychology to recognize the emotional discomfort humans experience when facts counter beliefs.  The parallel to my Santa experience and today’s American culture is tragically obvious.  While Santa Claus is no longer part of the belief, many Americans do hold true to a context of society which is not reality based and does not align with the facts.  Except it’s not parents telling us how to think, and it’s not Santa Claus we are told to believe in.  Citizens respect and accept the framework created by mass media, many place full trust in getting an accurate story about the most relevant news stories.  Dedicated viewers, intending to be well-informed, are guided how to think based on what is shown and more importantly what is omitted.  Most American’s don’t question their disillusion since it correlates with the popular opinion (much like I did with my classmates), even when confronted with details not supported in the “official” story.  The believers see America as being free and equal, they believe the American Dream is real and everyone has the same fair opportunity to achieve it.  I’d like to share this as a reality, except unlike my confusion about Santa, I can see through the present fiction.

In the last few weeks I have been absorbed with the turmoil in our country; viewing news programs, livestreams, monitoring social media and reading articles.  It’s been thrilling to watch the response of countless people demonstrating their frustration with the justice system, with racial disparity and with police militarization.  The variety of people aware and being active ranges to include all ages, religions, ethnicities and socio-economic status.  People who know and recognize the devastating effects felt from inequality and invasion of rights.  Across the country people have taken to social media to express their frustration, walked out of work and school in unison across the nation, held their hands up to political figures, boycotted Black Friday and taken to the streets.  Highways, bridges, train stations, malls and major intersections have been shut down by marches, attempting to bring attention to those distracted by the illusion of justice being served.

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The activists across the country have overall been peaceful, despite the attention being placed on rioting and fires, coincidently a great focal point for the news to reinforce fear.  Watching these demonstrations happenings in every major city, some erupting spontaneously, typically with few arrests and no violence inspires my hope for progress.  My optimism rapidly deflates when I hear the media influenced comments like “He deserved it,” or “They’re just burning up their own neighborhoods with those riots,” the ignorant statements like “There’s not really racial disparity,” or “I haven’t heard about what’s happening,” and the actively avoiding “I have better things to worry about,” or “I’m sick of hearing about…”

Now the number of believers inconvenienced by protests are growing rapidly, their cognitive dissonance escalating too.  It is impossible to ignore the passion and effort people have for a cause when they take to the streets facing ridicule and risking arrest to voice the societal emergency being ignored.  Believers have to confront the idea of some truth to this if so many people are screaming to pay attention.  Believers begin feeling more and more uncomfortable when faced with facts opposed to their American truth.

Slave LaborThey defend their belief’s against statistics spelling out the value of profit over people in the prison system, the undeniable fact America has 5% of the world’s population and incarcerated 25% of the world’s prison population.  They find ways to justify how black men are arrested at least 2 to 5 times more frequently than white men for drug charges despite similar rates of use.  Believers ignore the fact 1 in 15 black men are behind bars, equating to more locked up and on parole in our country today than were slaves in 1850.  Believers have never had to experience trying to get a job after jail or had their rights to vote removed.  And they fail to connect poor education, fatherless children, and minimum wage positions which don’t support the cost of living with being ways to prevent criminal activity.  Instead believers blame the oppressed class and label them as lazy leaches of the system, denying the truth the system was created to do exactly this.  Americans are left squabbling about who is to blame while corporate America runs off with the profits and stay protected by the government.  For believer’s maintaining their comfortable life, they are aware of bailouts and corporate tax exceptions, yet they hang onto the idea if you work hard you are rewarded.

Believers find ways to excuse criminal acts by police officers often blasting the inherent worth of the victim as a person, forgetting we all make mistakes and ignoring accountability for the murder completely.  Even in the case of Eric Garner where the technique used was banned, it was determined a homicide and the whole incident was caught on video.  “Every time you see me, you want to mess with me.  I’m tired of it.  It stops today,” Garner said before being choked to death.  He was unarmed and committed no crime when he was accosted by the police.  He resisted, like Rosa Parks, tired of being black in America.

police military

Comply with the police – IT’S THE LAW!!

Believers say comply with police, it’s the law, except they don’t live the reality of being harassed.  They don’t know the experience of being targeted simply based on appearance.  #crimingwhilewhite and #alivewhileblack were two trends on Twitter this month.  Hilariously tragic when confronted by thousands of tweets illustrating how white Americans have literally gotten away with crimes or had minimal consequences, while black Americans are targeted by police on a regular basis doing nothing wrong.  One might say “You can’t believe everything on the internet, people can just make up things on Twitter.”  True yes, and still of the thousands of messages to consider this trend just imagined is complete denial of the problem.  Judgements on each side of the argument are defeating, not all police officers are bad, not all black people are criminals and not all white people are racist.

The marches happening in cities across the country are both inspiring and worrisome to me.  Thousands of brave individuals have banded together to draw more attention to the average American believer, and they are met with armies of officers intending to absorb any positive effect created.  The police force is frightening with tanks, riot gear, rubber bullets, tear gas and other military crowd control weapons like LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device/sound canon.)  Believers see the militarized police force as crucial for safety, since they have been conditioned to fear people and want to maintain their comfortable routines.  They cannot imagine the dedication to a cause it takes to gather peacefully and have to face this

Boston Police State April 19, 2013

Boston Police State April 19, 2013

violent army.  Isn’t it astonishing how there are budget cuts in every government service to help people, yet there always seems to be money for war or to spend on police equipment when anticipating a protest?  Believers would prefer tanks down their streets and swat teams surrounding their homes to provide the illusion of safety.  I wonder how residents of Boston felt, in April 2013, when they were removed from their homes at gunpoint in the hunt for a teenager?

Trying to communicate rationally and educate about facts is often met with justifying the need to fear people, the need to place blame and the need to continue the militarized police strength.  Americans blindly give faith in their government officials to fix it.  They are convinced their values have to fit in either red or blue, conservative or liberal and stand by their identity.  Separation tolerated more blame and ignites arguments.  Being a non-believer, I cannot comprehend how 2 opinions fairly encompasses the views and needs of over 300,000,000 people.  Especially when those in power on both sides, are serving corporations and promoting the rich to get richer.  Americans feel the cognitive dissonance, wanting to pretend everything is fine, we are free and our democracy works; also recognizing the status quo cannot sustain us.  Constitutional rights and human rights are being violated in an effort to support a broken system.  The problem with admitting the belief is over and it’s time for a change evokes fear.  How do we give up how things are without knowing what is to come?

I know there is happiness in Christmas after Santa Claus.  I also know the believer’s reality where the police are given the power to use against people is a scary future for everyone.  The people don’t have to agree on how America will look in the years to come, there just has to be a united agreement this has to change.

police seattle group-of-policemen-wih-shields-and-weapons-in-street ferguson-missouri-9SWAT Robot

 

 

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Happily Ever After In The Present

Sam Smith’s song “Stay With Me,” will forever be my anthem for the summer of 2014.  Despite my belting out I’m on my knees only to realize much later the actual lyrics are You’re all I need.  The month of August came and went blasting me into new perspectives and refreshed determination.  I started securely and ended with so much uncertainty.  I lost my job and I thought my marriage was over.

Through the last two months I have been blessed with compassion and understanding from so many connections.  My appreciation for friends, family and colleagues who reached out, both in direct and subtle ways, can never be explained.  I am truly honored for all of the people in my life, those who are still present and those whose paths crossed at opportune times.  The lessons I have learned through stressful times and challenges difficult to overcome, have been invaluable.

Thank you to my family for unconditional love and support. For encouraging me when I was down, for special unexpected deliveries, for sharing your own personal stories of heartache, for offering reading material, opening your home to me and for being a faithful ear. I am so thankful for an incredibly unique cast of characters I get to call my family.

Thank you to my friends who are like family.  Attending a stress relieving happy hour, receiving a letter or phone call, and meeting up for a meal has been powerful tools in helping me maintain sanity.  I know in the last year I have lost my emphasis at staying connected to friends as my energy has been devoted elsewhere. I am touched to have so many friends who intentionally make themselves available for me.

Thank you to former colleagues in my recent position. I have regrets with how things unraveled and I didn’t have the closure I wanted with the team members, residents and families I had grown so attached to. I appreciate hearing there is no animosity directed towards me, only understanding it couldn’t have been any different, so I will continue trying to make peace with it.  The connections I made there, my advocacy for the team and their hard work was all genuine.  My hope is some of the progress we had made will stick beyond my employment.

Thank you to my daughter for tolerating the uncertainty in our lives in stride.  She was during this time and continues to be my everlasting joy.

And thank to my husband for clearing the muddy waters, for recommitting to why we are together and the future we will develop successfully.  If there is anything we have learned in our six loooooonnnnggg years of marriage, it’s that it takes work.  I know we are prepared to put in the overtime necessary to get life back on track and we are already well on our way.

Life happens for a reason and the challenges we are presented with have purpose.  I know this to be true and in the midst of crisis, this reminder came from my friends and family.  Because of the love I felt during the hard times, August was the both the best and the worst month, and I felt so much happiness despite my life’s circumstances.

Live Happily Ever After Now

The Best Monday

A typical Monday usually starts with hitting snooze.  Lately, by the time the alarm sounds, I have already been alert and consciously dreading the days events ahead.  Mentally trying to psych myself up to conquer the world.  My mind looms over the tasks of the day, appointments scheduled, people to contact, issues to deal with and the limitless amount of illogical distractions associated with middle management.  I hit snooze again and sometimes even a third time doing the exact opposite of what I encourage others to do and stress over all the improbable situations that may potentially go wrong.

With my body aching, partially due to not taking care of myself physically and also from the toll my emotions has taken on my body, I roll out of bed and begin a hurried preparation for the day.  I stand in front of my closet aimlessly waiting for pants and a coordinating top to leap off the hanger, inevitably I settle on an outfit and sluggishly shower and dress.  My hair and make-up routine go quick and end with a “Well, good enough,” attitude because my mind is already consumed with imaginary conversations I will have to have later at work today.

The best part of my mornings are rousing my sleeping beauty for her day at pre-school.  Amazingly the child who always pops out of bed ready to play in the mornings every Saturday and Sunday chooses Mondays to try to sleep in.  We rush to get dressed.  This can be taxing for a four year old who wants to express her own independence and pick out an outrageous wardrobe or one which doesn’t suit the weather and can easily spur an early morning tantrum.  Breakfast in itself can even cause frustration when the oatmeal is too hot, the milk spilled from the cereal or she only wants bacon when there is no bacon.  As she is headed out the door with Daddy there can be up to four times we have to stop for something else forgotten…  The share box, the water bottle, a sleep sack, the leotard for ballet class today, oh and don’t forget the folder…

Today has been different.  This morning I woke up refreshed and not stressed about what lies ahead in a department I am responsible for and yet have no control over.  This morning I was free of the dreaded conversations, problems and people who had previously consumed my life.  This Monday I was able to be excited about the projects and organizing I have neglected in my house for eleven months.  Today I was able to be the first instead of the last to pick my daughter up from school and cherish a mid-afternoon dance off.  This afternoon I was able to grocery shop earlier than 5:00 when we typically battle a child’s growing dinner appetite, and instead thoughtfully plan out some weekday dinner meals I will actually have time to prepare.  Today I was able to write a blog post, something I haven’t done since I started working full time last fall.

I took a leap of faith last week and quit my job.  It was not planned nor was it a method I would have chosen.  I quickly came to realize despite the stress, my dedication to the position, to the team and the community I was working with; the corporation did not appreciate my advocacy or questions and it was best we parted ways.  The uncertainty of what it means to be unemployed in society at this time is concerning and I am optimistic about how my path lead me to this and I know my purpose will be fulfilled elsewhere.  So I can happily say, this is the best Monday I have had in a long time.
wings

Stop Looking Outside, Happiness is Within

eckhartThere are so many people who struggle through life dependent on the next thing.  If I get to do (fill in the blank) then I will be happy.  When I get (fill in the blank) I will be better off.  If he/she stops (fill in the blank) everything will be fine.  On one hand it is necessary for growth to create goals to work towards, however, allowing those plans to dictate your mood moment to moment is detrimental.  Your happiness is not dependent on whether you pass or fail, whether you have support from those around you or what monetary gains you create along the way.  If you are waiting for the accomplishments to arrive before you will feel content, you may find those accomplishments short-lived and quickly replaced with new obstacles to overcome.  And when you are placing your happiness on the responsibility of the actions of others, you will never find peace.

To find satisfaction within your own life you must be at peace with the present moment, flaws and all.  Eckhart Tolle says “Whatever the present moment is, accept it as if you had chosen it.”  It is part of the path of your life, exactly as it should be, both the good and the bad.  The challenges you face are opportunities for learning and practicing new skills, there is nothing you cannot overcome and there is no challenge which does not serve a purpose for you.  Stop looking outside yourself or waiting for the moment for things to change, happiness is being at peace with the present and the path you are on.

Don’t Change Your Smile

smileSometimes the world can be overwhelming with tears, fears and frustrations.  War, controversy, politics, violence, injustice and natural disasters all happening simultaneously.

Consuming so much negativity is detrimental to our minds, bodies and relationships with each other.  The terror of all that is bad can be paralyzing, and yet in the time spent worrying we miss so many opportunities to smile, appreciate the positive and truly live.

It is a difficult balance to not be apathetic about problems, while not allowing the problems to consume us.  How can we work to improve the world without the circumstances of the world delivering us to a rotten place?

It starts with keeping a smile.

 

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Some memories stand out as critical turning points in one’s life. In my life I can remember a significant time period of discovery and learning and it was the impressionable late adolescence/early teen years when I, for good or bad, faced lessons in trust. This is an awkward stage in life for most, the values provided from home compete with the necessity to be cool in school and on the social scene. At the time I don’t think I had much thought about what I believed to be right for how to behave, I was caught in the drama of keeping up and nothing else mattered.

Keeping up in middle school meant talking about friends behind their backs, ironically to try to prevent others from talking about me behind my back. There was a lot of best friends who didn’t speak for weeks and would be reunited again by someone else’s falling out later. It was a constant need to confide ugliness in others and repeating shock and devastation when the confidant divulged the secrets. Like a dog chasing it’s tail and gets hurt when she finally reaches it. This cycle of manipulation was vicious and isolating at that age.

By eighth grade I was well conditioned as a mean girl. I had a core group of friends who had withstood rips and tears into our relationships, and one friend of the group I shared the closest bond with. Beth and I had met the previous year and quickly grew tight, by 8th grade we had given up passing cleverly folded notes between class and began passing a notebook. (If only our notebook was staring Ryan Gosling this story could be so much more attractive.) Our notebook contained our diary of events, doodles, gossip and trash talk. We wrote during class, in the halls and even at home to each other. I drew a lot of pictures; cartoons mocking peers in my class, funny characters and my own imitation of my teacher as her alma mater mascot a razorback. We made jokes about our teachers – how they looked, what they taught and how they spent their free time. We shared middle school news of who was “going out” and our own crushes. And we talked even more personally about things happening outside of school and with our own families.

One morning Beth and I were in a class together sitting at separate tables, I could see she was writing to me when the razorback approached her and asked for the notebook. Attempting to be a reasonable 13-year-old, I respectfully went to the teacher’s desk and communicated an apology for not staying focused, understanding the need to be punished and how important it is for the notebook to stay private. I turned to go back to my seat and by the time I sat and turned to face the teacher’s desk the notebook was open in front of her. My mind raced to consider all the hateful things which had erupted from my adolescent head to my sloppy pen. I was enraged at the teacher for disrespecting me and my friend. Even more, the razorback took our notebook to the other teachers to encourage them to read our messages. When my mom, school social worker and principal all were involved the razorback pleaded to keep the notebook until after lunch. She was obviously very entertained by what we had to say, maybe she wanted to make photocopies?

On to high school only a few months later, friendships continued to evolve and my difficulty with trust remained. Except after the incident with the notebook I also became weary of trusting authority figures. Instead of making the naive assumption school faculty were there to help all students, I became increasingly aware of hidden agendas, personal priorities and governing rules which directed what happened in the classrooms. I tried to be polite in school and still I wasn’t afraid to call bullshit when I felt it necessary or lie to avoid trouble later. In high school I withdrew from joining activities, didn’t socialize much and put just enough work in to graduate and get into college. I didn’t make the connection about who I was becoming and why until years later when a college class required me to make a timeline of major life events and that 8th grade day came to mind as significant.

The realization of how the teacher violated my trust in her authority carried on to all authority figures, my eyes were wide open to understand the deeper meaning and not take for granted what I was told. This served me well in many areas of my life, to speak up for what I felt was right despite the popular opinion. To question for the facts and find what is missing from the explanation. And to advocate for individuals who don’t have the skills to speak for themselves. Over the years I have learned to differentiate discussions worth being had and battles worth fighting for. When I worked for state mental health it only took me a little over two years to realize there were too many illogical battles for me to take on and I couldn’t numb my ethics enough to continue to be a part of the system.

The other day I heard a remark my uncle said to my mom regarding me “drinking the kool-aid.” I respect my uncle greatly, I know that he loves me and appreciates who I am and not just because I am his first niece. My uncle and I have a wonderful relationship despite having very diverse images of the world, politics and religion. And I suppose the mere fact I would question major national events and the government’s involvement puts me in the category of loosing my marbles in my uncle’s mind. It would be absolutely impossible to imagine, given our government’s perfect tracked record of honest behavior, national situations which have happened in my lifetime could be reported to the public wrong. Because in my lifetime, I have already learned when there are hidden agendas, personal priorities and higher controls which dictate what happens. This is often not in sync with what is right, what is fair or what is true. When you consider the perspective of what one stands to gain and lose from the truth; power, control and profit. These are not the motives for truth seekers who question facts contrasting public perceptions. Those individuals deal with ostrification from family, friends and the majority of society. Valid questions go unanswered and most people continue on with their days unaware of what lies are making impressions on our lives.

Two of my uncles, my mom's brothers

Two of my uncles, my mom’s brothers

So yes, if you must look at it this way. I have been drinking the kool-aid, and I like it. Funny thing is, back in the 70’s my uncle appeared to be the guy mixing the kool-aid. I imagined him being the kid who always questioned authority and challenged what he was told in a puff of jolly green smoke. Makes me wonder if he had a similar yet opposite defining moment in his life. Perhaps a major governing official came to my uncle’s rescue, provided him safety and security in a way he never knew before. Maybe my uncle was reassured in his faith for authority figures and he learned to listen, obey and not question the facts which don’t correlate with the story.

This blog is where I focus on living inspired, finding appreciation for the ordinary and being aware of people, places and events which have shaped who I am. There is purpose in every experience, good or bad. The lesson I learned back in eighth grade helped program me to be aware. I can’t change everything I see wrong with the world, right now I can be at peace with really seeing what’s happening.

Turning to Love – 99 Years

Adaline & Eleanor - born October 2, 1913

Adaline & Eleanor – born October 2, 1913

On October 2nd, 1913 twin girls were born the forth and fifth children into a Polish family. Their parents worked side by side operating their three Wines Department Stores in Minneapolis. They demonstrated a strong work ethic and provided well for their large family. In all, there ended up being seven girls and two boys, being raised primarily by nannies. One of the twins, Eleanor, remembered as she was growing up longing for more time with her sweet mom and developing anger towards her dad. She feared the times her dad would discipline her older brother Stan, she tried her hardest to protect him by laying under a bed hiding him behind her.

Eleanor and her siblings attended Catholic school, while she loved learning she hated school and vowed never to send her future children to a Catholic school. She recalls the nuns being unreasonably strict and generous with ruler slaps on the hands. With difficulties at home and at school Eleanor had one place she would turn to for unconditional love. Her grandma spoke only Polish, she was a terrific cook and provided all of the individual attention Eleanor craved. Each of the nine children were given days they would be allowed to spend at their grandma’s. Eleanor discovered early on how valuable this time was to her and used her pennies of chore money to pay her sibling’s for their time with her grandma.

GramInto her teen years Eleanor felt jealous of her sisters naively believing they were more talented, more outgoing and more beautiful than she. Her twin Adaline seemed to get all of the from boys. Despite comparing herself to her sisters, Eleanor wasn’t about to settle for any man to become her husband. She had been turning to love and knew how important it was above anything else. Her brother Stan introduced her to his friend Mitch at a baseball field. He was tall, handsome, one of seven hilarious brothers and exactly the match to be able to give and receive the love Eleanor had been preparing for. They were married on September 2, 1939.

Before their vows Eleanor didn’t know how to cook or clean, she threw herself into being a housewife and tried to hide her lack of skills at first. Eleanor and Mitch loved each other with fairy tale affection and admiration for each other. “I even loved ironing his clothes,” she recalled “Because it was for him.” They were married three years before their daughter was born, then Eleanor stressed for three years when Mitch was drafted into World War II. Finally reunited with his return they had another two children, both boys. Mitch’s job at an insurance agency afforded Eleanor to be able to dedicate herself to motherhood in a way she never got to experience from her own mom. And the practice of turning to love made her an excellent mom. She sewed dresses for her daughter and took her to dance classes. She adored her sons and worried when each of them found love in their early teens.

True Love - Eleanor & Mitch

True Love – Eleanor & Mitch

“They are too young,” she would recall believing. For the years of life she had lived she had come to have beliefs about age and developed fears about what was appropriate. And as her apprehension proved to be wrong, Eleanor turned to love, she embraced the two young women and accepted the error in her perception. Eventually all three of her children had moved out of the home, their daughter and first son married and their youngest son was away at college. Eleanor and Mitch became grandparents, “I hope I could be at least a quarter how wonderful my grandma was to me,” she would say.

Only a few years into being a single couple in love, Mitch died unexpectidly from a heart attack. She turned to the love of family to share in their grief. And in the love she had for him and for her own life she found strength to begin again. Eleanor and her daughter started a business and opened a gift shop called Two’s Company in South Minneapolis. The shop’s patrons returned to the store as much for the warmth in their presence as they would to buy beautiful things. Eleanor exuded love for living through her passion for her family, business, travel and laughter.

Grammy and me, 1982

Grammy and me, 1982


She adored being Grammy and had four grandchildren already before her younger son added another three, including me. Grammy was always thrilled to greet us at the door and require a buzi (Polish for kiss). She shared her affection for flowers and birds, she demonstrated how to engage in conversation with people in a genuine way and she modeled incredible sales skills when we tagged along at the shop. We drank old fashion malted milkshakes, searched through her hard boiled eggs for shells and charged her quarters when we caught her swearing. She loved politics and sports. Proudly cheering on the Minnesota Twins and Vikings, she would anxiously call in from another room to check on the score if the game was too intense to watch.

Grammy was an honest cheerleader. You are so beautiful. You are so talented. You are so smart. Even though I know she said the same thing to everyone, I knew she truly meant it every time the words escaped her.

Eleanor, her 3 children, their spouses and 7 grandchildren - 1993

Eleanor, her 3 children, their spouses and 7 grandchildren – 1993


As I grew into a young adult I became more aware of her amazing life and her gift at finding happiness. She continued to work, travel the world, drive her car, live in her own home and maintain a garden into her 90’s. She attended some of her grandchildren’s weddings and began having great grandchildren. Her love of life and for those around her grew, and in turn she stayed youthful.

When I was in college Grammy asked me, and my friends I brought over, about dating. “You’re so beautiful Holly, I bet you have so many suitors,” she would tell me. My friends chimed in telling her I have been too picky. So when I was finally in a relationship worth telling her about I became nervous. I introduced my boyfriend by photograph and tried to communicate my feelings for him. As my nerves had predicted, she was honest and fearful of me being in an inter-racial relationship. My heart deflated when I heard her response, “I didn’t marry the first man I fell in love with.”

Her approval was important to me and I was disappointed, yet I couldn’t be mad at her. For the 90 years of life she had lived she had come to have beliefs about race and developed fears about what was appropriate. When she met my boyfriend for the first time the initial apprehension she showed by the sight of his picture was gone and she turned to love. Her perception of what was correct had never been challenged this way before and she accepted she didn’t have to fear.

She has inspired me with her acceptance, her unconditional love and her willingness to change. A few years later she shocked me again when she questioned me about gay marriage. “Can you believe they want to get married?” She asked me. We talked about rights and why it is important for people beyond what is acceptable in a church. “I never thought of it like that,” she said. And in that moment she turned a page on almost a century of beliefs for a powerful demonstration of turning to love.

Grammy celebrated her 99th birthday this past year. She continued to live at home, the home she shared with her husband, raised her kids and created memories for generations more. She maintained her memory, her humor and her youthful spirit, though her energy faded. Knowing her time on earth was drawing to an end she had been surrounded by family; children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all voicing their love for her and appreciation for the wisdom she has provided. She passed this afternoon fully alert to her loved ones surrounding her and to where she was going.

Grammy turned to love for 99 years, she gave unconditionally, she accepted when she was wrong and practiced forgiveness to others who wronged her. I am blessed to have had her in my life and to witness how she lived and loved. I imagine a world with infinite possibilities if everyone were able to turn to love and seek happiness the way she did. And someday, if I am a grandma, I hope to be at least a quarter of how wonderful my Grammy was to me.
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