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What did she say?

April 24, 2012

As I write, I find myself unraveling history and trying to find beginning and ending points for each story. I often need to pull a thread from one place and attach it elsewhere to have things make sense, because none of the stories stand by themselves. They are all a part of a master tale whose threads run through all of us. Pull a thread and the others are likely to feel it. Break a thread and we are likely to hurt.

It is with the greatest respect and love for all of those involved that I relate these stories to you, sweet girl, as the new conservator of a family history that has held my heart and mind for more than 50 years. I have no doubt that you are the person with whom to leave my heart, our history, and our family’s best stories.

I find that if I become teary-eyed while I write, the story being woven from my memories and soul is something important to convey. I can’t always tell you why a story may be important; perhaps you can define that in the future. I’ll just write.

When in March of 1969 Tommy finally came home after seven months in the hospital, Grandma Beanie had a big birthday and First Holy Communion party for him. We all got new clothes for the event (I even got a yellow and white dress, imagine!), and in anticipation of his arrival home we spent days with butcher paper, crayons and markers making “Welcome Home Tommy!” signs to hang all over the outside of the house. It was an exciting day, and one we deserved. Though things didn’t become more difficult after his arrival home, things did become different. But we all pitched in with Tommy’s care and we moved forward with our lives, rather than chasing after them or looking back with regret.

It was during that time that I began to learn some wonderful things about some amazing people.

When Grandma Beanie was trying to get a health insurance claim settled for Tommy’s hospital care, the insurance company said they couldn’t settle the claim until the doctor sent her bill. Grandma Beanie called our pediatrician to explain the situation, and the doctor said she didn’t want to send a bill. She said she wasn’t going to send a bill, for seven months of sometimes around-the-clock care. Grandma Beanie again explained that there must be a bill to settle the insurance, so the doctor finally sent a bill for $97, just so the hospital claim could be completed.

Discussing billing with the plastic surgeon who performed many operations on Tommy, Grandma Beanie said to him, “I can’t imagine what these bills will be like, but we will begin paying you $10 a month.” The man became infuriated and told her that he had a job, and he had a profession. His job was to lift boobs for strippers in Chicago, and she was never to discuss money with him again.

Remembering people like those still chokes me up. It’s crucial to our mental health to remember that such people exist when we are feeling beaten up by the world. Such giving people helped to form who I am. They helped teach me what is important. And they did something else.

Through all of the years of Tommy’s illness and even through the period when we were trying to understand Johnny’s death, Grandma Beanie and Grandpa John taught us to be tough, to be strong, with and for each other. They showed us how to be tough and to be strong. They showed us that crying in front of Tommy was not okay, because Tommy needed our strength. We could cry together, we could cry alone, but not about Tommy, in front of him.

When doctors began refusing to send bills to a financially and emotionally devastated family, I saw both of my parents cry. It was a good time to do that. It was a good time to learn to understand that.

Two organizations helped my parents financially during that time. One of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodges, and the local Lion’s Club helped. The FOP held a rodeo and the Lion’s Club held an auction and other fund raisers in conjunction with those they held for the Lion’s Eye Bank. Years later, the Lion’s Club helped us once again, when they sent me to Japan as their Youth Ambassador.

See what I mean about the stories? They tend to interweave with each other, even years after they begin.

I didn’t know any of the men in the Lion’s Club, and many who had helped out in 1969 were gone by the time they sent me to Japan in 1976. They helped me out, but I had to earn the honor of being their Youth Ambassador to Japan by writing an essay and winning their essay contest.

I was excited about the contest and asked Grandma Beanie what she thought.

She said, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

The day I called her from school to tell her I was going to Japan was the first stunned silence I ever experienced with Grandma Beanie. I think about 10 seconds went by before I heard anything from the other end of the telephone connection.

She then said, “That’s great!” It sounded a bit strangled. I don’t think she expected to send me across the world at age sixteen. But she did send me, in great style. The Lion’s Club sent me with a great job to do and instructions of how best to represent them and my country. The Japanese accepted me with such grace and hospitality that I learned the true meaning of those words for the first time.

The only thing left undone was something I never told my mother, never allowed her to read, as discussed in the post Find a Way. It’s still undone. I have still never revealed what I wrote in the essay that sent me to Japan. In the beginning I was afraid of critical siblings. Later I was afraid of a critical self. Now I am much older and, I hope, wiser.

I was one year older than you, fifteen, when I wrote that I believed that there were people all over the world who were just like me. I believed that on the inside, we are all much more alike than different. I believed that there were girls in Japan who lived and felt the same as I, and rather than going around the world to see how the other half lived, I wanted to go halfway around the world to see those who lived just like me.

That’s what I said. It is a young view of the world. It is an idealistic view of the world. It is also one that 37 years later, I still share.

It’s done. For you, my EnTui, and for you, Beanie.
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