Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘grandchildren’

Father Doesn’t Know Best

Father Knows Best was a show from the late fifties, that portrayed the father as someone who always had the answers and wisdom for life’s lessons and problems. He freely shared his insight when asked and it was of course, always right. In later years, The Cosby Show had a similar father figure, though he could also make you laugh. In my experience, I’ve never had all the answers, known what to do (for sure) or imparted any great wisdom to our children. I’ve tried to be the best example I can, but it seems to be an ongoing education that continues regardless of their age or circumstances.

First, our oldest daughter moved out. The next to oldest daughter left soon after. Then, our first-born son went his way and his older brother followed suit. There is one remaining at home. He just graduated and starts community college this fall.

Our oldest daughter and her wife, who lives just 1/2 mile away, had a beautiful baby daughter a few months ago. Her childhood friend (who we have known for almost 2 decades) just had a little boy a week before that and we’ve gladly offered to babysit. Our daughter and her husband, who lives in Seattle, have an amazing 2 year old son. Then, there are our friends who are in the process of adopting a brother and sister (5 & 7), who they have foster cared for almost 2 years, whom I also love to support and spend time with. And two of our 3 sons plan to have children some day.

When it comes down to it, we haven’t “lost” anybody who has left home, but only gained more wonderful beings to the family and increased the amount of love and care to go around. Completing the circle, are all the wonderful children at the ROP Center for Street Children in Rwanda and those there caring for them.

I’ve known I wanted to parent children since I was sixteen. It looks like my wish has come true 10 fold and will always be a part of my life until my last breath as a human. Sure, I love my wife and our time alone and being able to do things we couldn’t always do when children were living with us 24X7, but it is also an awesome and wonderful responsibility to support, perhaps guide and nurture other precious beings and make a difference in their lives and hopefully, their hearts. I know I rarely know anything or have any answers like the Dad’s on those old TV shows, but that’s doesn’t matter. I’m OK with not knowing or being perfect and hopefully they are too.

Hazel Johnson – Part 2

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. Interview with Hazel Johnson (Born: January 25, 1935 Died: January 12, 2011). Photo of Ms. Johnson holding her Presidential Medal.

Hazel Johnson – Part 2

Looking back at dealing with the environment, I don’t see anything that I’d change. We did a lot of protesting and we had a lot of people working with us. When I started out it was just me. Later, we started organizing, we got people of color in, started working together, you know? We all work together, whether you’re white, black, brown or whatever and one group does not make a decision alone; we do it collectively.

We were at a University of Chicago meeting and one media person came and was really surprised that not one person was trying to make any decision on what was going on . . . that we talked it over and discussed it . . . and it worked very well. He said he’d never seen that done before. We still do that today. Somebody needs support we are there and if we need support they are here.

I wasn’t educated or nothing. I self taught myself. I have a girlfriend who just died a couple months ago and I was talking to her about my personal problems. You know when you’re stressed out you want somebody to talk too? She’d always be the person I’d talk too since I didn’t have any brothers or sisters. She said, “I’ll be your sister.” She said, “God has you here for a reason.” You see I’m the first of four children and the other three didn’t live past a year. So she always said, “God has you here for a reason.”

When I started getting in to the environment and questioned people about different things, everybody was willing to share information with me. A lot of times when you’re doing things you look for a little negative, or something that throws you off, but I never did have that. By people being so willing to share information with me, I thought about what my girlfriend said and thought, “Maybe this is my purpose in life.” Then, as I went along, things started going well for us. I decided this must really be what I was here for. Even though I had a lot of negatives, I didn’t let it stop me because I felt this was something I had to do. That’s what makes me continue working as hard as I’ve worked. I’ve had some problems with the politicians and I say, “Forget them. I’m going to do what I have to do.” I felt I had to do it and I done it. Like four or five o’clock in the morning, I had little visions of somebody, like an inner spirit would say something to me about how to go about doing things. That’s when I really started thinking that this was my mission in life. A lot of things could have fallen apart, but they didn’t. Not everybody can say they’re successful, but I can say that.

Sure, I’ve cried on many days from the situation I was dealing with. It was giving me a big headache, but I didn’t let it stop me. One of the most painful times was when my husband died, just ten weeks after he’d been diagnosed. That’s what really pushed me out, because I looked at him then later looked around and saw some of my neighbors that had died of cancer and it got me wondering, “Why are all these people having cancer?” I wanted to know why. I wanted to know what was actually going on. There were so many people. In one given week I knew of eight people that died from cancer. At another time we had seven infants that were born with tumors and died very early. One of them was a boy and the rest were girls.

We’d been married seventeen years. He was a construction worker. He was on a job and they called me and said he’d took ill and gone to the hospital. It was way on the North side. So I went to the hospital. During that time the hospitals were packed with senior citizens. They even had them in the lobby. Some kind of illness was going around that year. They didn’t have a room available to put him in. Then we took him home and he stayed there awhile. Then we took him to Rosen hospital, not to far from us. He stayed in there a week, came home, stayed a week, then went back in the hospital and that’s when they found out he had cancer. The reason I remember it all so well is the day he took ill was my oldest daughter’s birthday. She’d just turned sixteen. Ten weeks later he was gone. He had lung cancer.

We have seven children. The oldest one was sixteen and the youngest was two when he died. The youngest is thirty now. I have eight grandchildren and one great grand. I’m sixty-two. That’s why I’m tired and ready to retire. I’ve been working all my life.

My husband’s death was my first major loss as an adult. My mother and my little brother died and my father too, when I was young. I don’t have hardly no relatives, but I have some good friends and two of my husband’s sisters and I are real close. There were a few neighbors of mine that really stuck with me during that time. When they called and told me about my husband, they didn’t tell me he expired, they just said come to the hospital right away. I called my husband’s brother and my neighbor, who by the time I got a ride she came with me.

Come to think of it, I’ve always been helping other people. Just thinking about Lionel . . . that was a hurting thing for me. I had sit up with him that night and went home about twelve o’clock. I’ll never forget that. By the time I got home from staying with him in the hospital I got a call saying he’d expired. And that really hurt because having just left him he looked pretty well. I’ve been finding out that many people who are real ill, that just before they expire, they do a lot better. That happened in my husband’s case and in this young man’s case. He was like a son of mine, you know? In fact I’ve had a lot of sons. You’d be surprised. (Laughs). Um hum. And now they all call me granny.

And I’ve always been helping older women. Um hum. An older friend of mine just passed last January, who I’d been looking out after. Her name was Irene. Before her was Ms. Austin and before her was Ms. Bessie. Maybe I catered to these older people because they were like a mother to me. You know, a mother figure. Mine died when I was twelve. And dealing with older people, they can tell you things that happened when they were young. Some very interesting stories they be telling. I’d like to listen to their stories and the things they used to do.

I grew up in a Catholic school. Years ago the Catholics were much stricter than they are now. I think that really helped me to be more of a religious person. I guess it just stuck with me. The majority of the things I’ve done had to be with the Almighty’s help in order for me to be successful.

I feel good now with a program we have that trains young people how to remove lead and how to respond to emergency crisis. Some of them got jobs from that. We’ve been doing this around three years. We help them to be certified by the state of Illinois. We have a list of contractors that we call and tell them about our trained folks and they get work.

We’ve also been getting into rehabbing apartments. This is our first try. We’ve just about completed it and the city likes what we’re doing so now they’re going to give us some other apartments to do. They’re really happy with the work the people have done.

We’ve been pretty fortunate. The only thing I wish is that we had a little more money coming in so we could do more. But when money is like peanuts, you can’t do the things you’d really like to.

Some universities have been ripping off community people. I was at a meeting in March and a lot of people were complaining about the same things. Here I was having problems with a big time local university. A lot of times they write these proposals and the community don’t know anything about it. They get money for a supposedly joint project with the community and we don’t even know anything about it. So I went to NEJAC (National Environmental Justice Advisory Counsel) and proposed some issues to help resolve the problem we were having with universities. And I spoke to a lawyer who helped me out a lot. Now I’ve got to fight to make sure it gets enforced. Because a lot of times they’ll come up with something then just leave it there and it does no good. That’ll be my next project.

If I died tomorrow I’d want people to remember that I tried to make a difference for the enhancement of folk’s lives. That’s how I’d like to be remembered. The way I look at it is that maybe by me doing some of the things that I’m doing it may help other people. It can’t help those that have already expired, but it will help make people aware of some of the problems like the lead program, where we’ve had the CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) go into the apartments and remove the lead. That’s my biggest concern now, is how lead poison is effecting so many children. They eat the paint because it tastes sweet.

Another thing we’re soon going to be working with is water pipes. A lot of our pipes have been installed so many years ago that they’re starting to deteriorate.

My daughter’s interested in helping also. We’ve been here fifteen years and she’s been working with me ten. She knows the inside and the outside of everything that’s going on.

It’s not really that important about me. The thing I’d like to see is people standing up for their rights. That is my biggest concern. People don’t know that they can move mountains. I want people to see that if they stand up for their rights a lot can be accomplished.

Some people say, “Watch out, you say that stuff and they’ll put you out!” People are afraid to do some things, but I’m not. I don’t care who you are. If I feel that you’re violating me, then I’m going to stand up to you. And I don’t do it in no nasty way. I tell people, “You can like me the next moment if you want to or dislike me, it doesn’t make no difference.”

THE END

Hazel Johnson – Part 1

MORE INSPIRING STORIES

Meeting Her Parents

After going out for a year and a half and living together for four months, it was time to meet my wife’s parents. Her parents lived in Chicago and we lived in California. The day of reckoning had arrived.

One day, as Audrey was talking on the phone with her mother (which she does every week for hours on end), her Mom told her that they were coming out to a convention in San Francisco and wondered if they could meet us for dinner. Audrey had replied, “Yes, we would love to.” and then informed me of it afterwords. I was reasonably shocked, but as ready as I’d ever be. She had told me a little about her parents and I’d talked to them on the phone, but had never met them in person.

Her mother is originally from Germany and (to me) sounded like the psychologist Doctor Ruth, who was always giving advice about sex on the radio and TV. Audrey insisted that she didn’t sound like her at all, but I could never get the image of a small lady with white hair and a strong German accent telling us about body parts, relationships and orgasms.

“Actually,” Audrey had told me, “my Mom and Dad are both pretty conservative and old-style European”, which I discovered meant they always dressed nice, expected “proper” etiquette and manners and admired those who were “cultured and sophisticated”. They were in for quite a shock, let me tell you. I have always liked books, movies, music and art, but not necessarily interior design, opera or classical paintings. Her mother could speak German and English and her father spoke at least four different languages. I’m lucky to get by with English!

Another small matter or glaring fact, was that I was nine years older than their daughter and already had three children from a previous marriage! Audrey had never been married, was only twenty-four and had grown up as an only child. And even though I had a Masters degree, at the time of our meeting I was working as a nursing assistant, which was as far away from their daughter’s previous boyfriend, who was going to medical school, as possible.

The meeting took place at what is now the Sheraton Hotel in downtown San Francisco. We met them in the lobby. I had on the one good suit I owned, that looked like something from the seventies and just as tacky. Audrey looked beautiful, as always. Her parents looked just like I had imagined, though her father wasn’t as tall as I’d expected. We exchanged formalities and went outside to get on the cable car and go down to Ghirardelli Square, where we went to a fancy Hungarian restaurant.

After being seated and making sure to follow everything they did, such as eating with the proper utensil and delicately sipping the wine, her father asked about the work I did and what I had done in the past. I tried to make health care, counseling and massage sound important and exciting, but I could tell it wasn’t going over real well. Then her mother asked about my kids. I gave her a glowing report and tried to convey how different that relationship had been, from the one her daughter and I had now embarked upon. Her anxiety and fears seemed to increase, despite my good intentions.

I must admit, if my only daughter was involved, at age twenty-four, with a man in his thirties who already had three children and worked as a nursing assistant, I would have had my doubts, concerns and clanging sirens of apprehension!

As we all stood on the trolley car, on the way back to the hotel, her father unexpectedly asked me where I lived. The one thing we hadn’t told them yet was that we were living together. Not sure what to say, I finally said, “I live real close.” Luckily, he didn’t ask where or how close. I’m not sure I could have pulled off another stretch of the truth.

As we were driving home that night Audrey said, “It will take time, but I think they like you. They’re just scared about my future, that’s all.”

“That’s all!” I exclaimed. “That’s quite a bit, your future.”

I admitted that in spite of all my preconceptions and notions about her parents, that I liked them as well. I also clearly saw where Audrey’s need to talk about certain events of the day in minute detail came from. Her mother also likes to talk and explain what happened, why it happened, what she thought about it and how it made her feel. Luckily, at least most of the time, they both talk about interesting, relevant and important matters.

Audrey and I have been married twenty-one years now and her mother and father (who has since passed away) are both close to our hearts and lives. They have loved all their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the ones that didn’t come through their daughter and even accepted their American son-in-law, who never became a lawyer or physician and still only speaks English.

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