She Had Strength and Determination…

2014-09-27 (44)

Visiting my aunt in Missouri stirs memories of the annual trips we took to this small town to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins when I was a child. Now we drive past my grandmother’s home and each time I take a long look at it since it has been sold numerous times since she died. Every time we pass the alley that runs behind my grandmother’s home on that block, I think of my dear cousin, Susie, who amazingly could walk barefoot down that alley to her home.

Susie passed away seven years ago on July 3, 2008. Today, September 26, she would have turned 56 years old. When she was given the diagnosis of terminal cancer, she fought it with a positive outlook. And with determination she reached her goal to watch her daughter graduate from high school in May 2008.

Susie was more than my cousin. She was also a good friend and sister to me.  Growing up I would see her only one week out of the year during the family trips to visit my grandparents.  I loved going to see my grandma, but what I really enjoyed was having the chance to reunite with Susie as she lived within walking distance from my grandma’s home.

Back then we didn’t have e-mails or Facebook, and we were charged for long distance calls so the only way we did keep in touch would be through mailing letters, however, we didn’t write to each other often. But every year that we reunited we picked up immediately from where we left off the previous year.

My grandmother passed away when we were 18 years old and after that we didn’t visit as often. In time we both were married and had children. The peculiar thing is that we didn’t stand up in each other’s wedding nor did we even attend. We only kept in touch with one another through our moms as they would make their long distance telephone calls on Saturday mornings when it was the cheapest time to call.

Time passed and she and her husband settled near Kansas City. We now had cell phones and were able to keep in touch with each other more often. When I heard that she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy, I called her.  When she heard I was getting divorced, she called me. When I heard her cancer had spread and was terminal, I traveled to visit her.

With our special visits for the next four years we grew closer to one another, and we wished we had been back in touch sooner. The last visit I had with her was Memorial Day 2008 about one month before she died. We had gone out to eat before I had to go to the airport to fly home. It was a drab, cloudy raining day and she didn’t eat much because she no longer had an appetite. We drove home from the restaurant and pulled onto her seven acre lot viewing rows and rows of corn.

As the rain hit heavily against the windshield, we sat inside her car warm and dry and finished talking about everything that we have ever discussed previously in our 48 years we had known each other. We discussed our dreams, mothers, grandmother, husbands, children, faith, and our love for one another. That afternoon Bart, her husband, and Susie drove me to the airport. It was extremely sad to give her a hug for the last time. She died six weeks later.

I have precious memories with Susie as she had the will and spirit to keep going. She has shown me the importance of strength and determination when confronted with obstacles. Who do you have in your life that has withstood obstacles and was an example to you? Pull out your laptop or grab a pen and paper and start Keeping Your Memories of this special person whose life should be honored by recording his or her life story.


Are You Ready for Some Football?


After attending and cheering on two victorious football teams this weekend…our town’s high school team and at Purdue, my kids alma mater…it only seems fitting to reminisce and share once again of the excitement that football brings to many small towns:

When my son played high school football, excitement was in the air when the Friday night lights were turned on at the football field. We heard the high school band ripping out the school song. We saw the cheerleaders jumping and cheering as the team ran out on the field. We felt the stands vibrating as the fans jumped from their seats, clapping, yelling and cheering the team on to victory.

These games were more memorable to us than watching a professional game. This is where we went to watch our sons in our small town play because it was tradition. This is where we went despite the weather to watch our sons play because they loved the game. This is where we went to watch our sons play because they hoped that they would be collegiate players. Of course, few did, but the majority of these kids graduated from high school and college or found an industrial job.

I had taken over a thousand digital pictures of my son each year. Of all of those pictures this picture is his favorite. It was taken at a sectional championship game that was being hosted at an old rival high school stadium called the “Brickie Bowl” which was going to be replaced by a 21st century stadium. But this old stadium, that he favored, had a blue collar, coliseum type atmosphere and this picture captured the feeling for him. And my son’s team won!

Four scrapbooks were created from the best of these pictures; one scrapbook for every year. Each book has every newspaper article about the game and has pictures that I took of him. The first two years the majority of the pictures were of him standing and watching from the sidelines and the last two years were pictures of him sweaty and dirty while on the field tackling or hitting the opponents.

My son’s books are stored in his closet, and he has pulled them out occasionally to show others. But what is awesome is that one day when his grandchildren are with him celebrating his birthdays, he will be able to show his grandchildren that he was once a young athletic teenager who loved football and loved the competition.

What did you do in high school that you would like your grandchildren to learn about you?  Pull out your laptop or grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of when you were a young person and start with these questions:

  • What sport or extracurricular activity were you involved with in high school?
  • What leadership positions did you hold while involved in that activity?
  • What awards or honors did you earn in this activity?
  • In hindsight what would you have changed, if any, about your choice?
  • How did your participation help shape you?