Thursday, September 29, 2016

French Toast & Family


Imagine your mentally unstable (and alcoholic) mother trying to throw you out of a moving truck when you were a child.

Imagine the police knocking on your front door with news that your incredibly successful, but abusive (and alcoholic) father committed suicide.

After all that…Imagine your uncles, the day after your dad kills himself, scamming you out of your entire inheritance.  You are left without parents or family support of any kind.  You are left with nothing.

Nothing.

Well, my Grandma didn’t imagine these experiences.  She lived them.

But despite the horror of her childhood, she has gone on to live one of the most beautiful lives I have ever seen.

It is a fascinating story full of love, family, and community.

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I may be the luckiest guy in the world.  I am 31 years old (yikes!), and I still have all four of my grandparents.  I doubt there are many on this Earth that can say the same. 

I cherish the time we are able to spend together.  And with Grandma and Grandpa Scott, us grandkids have a tradition to always stop in for breakfast when we are in town.  It’s a tradition that started in our childhood and brings back so many great memories.

Mmmm…We can’t get enough of Grandma Scott’s Famous French Toast.  And although my stomach always hurts from the amount of food I eat, it’s not the food that I cherish. 

It’s my life’s education. 

It’s the shared stories, the discussion of morals and values, and the strength of our family bond that continues to grow at that little breakfast table.  I’ve learned more about the person I want to be at that breakfast table than anywhere else in the world.

I’ve learned that material things don’t create happiness, connection does.  My Grandma grew up in a life of material luxury, but you read how that turned out.  They had a lot of stuff, but their home lacked a sense of love and understanding that families desire.  When she met my Grandpa, they started with nothing.  They still don’t have much, but they have each other.  I see the way they look at each other, and the way they are still totally smitten after almost 60 years of marriage.  They are the happiest, most in love people I’ve ever met.  It’s incredible for us to see.

I’ve learned that life is hard.  Life isn’t always fair.  In fact, it hardly ever is.  Nobody should have to endure what my Grandma did when she was a kid.  But instead of dwelling on what happened to her, she learned from it.  She can’t understand the “Poor Me” people.  Bad things happen to everyone at some point in their lives, often unjustly.  But she has taught us to stare adversity in the eye and use those events as learning experiences.  Her childhood didn’t make her weak and fragile.  It made her compassionate and strong.
  
I’ve learned to never give up and to fight for what you believe in.  My Grandma wanted nothing to do with my Grandpa when they first met at a dance hall in Chicago.  In her words…He was a drinker, had two left feet, and to top it off…he was a red-head (gasp!).  But Grandpa saw something special in her, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  So this tough Air Force Cadet from a rough neighborhood in Chicago enrolled in dance lessons to impress a girl.  He showed her how much he cared about her, something nobody in her life had ever done.  He fought for her.  And the rest is history.

I’ve learned the meaning of hard work.  My grandparents often worked multiple jobs to support their family.  They share stories of long nights and odd jobs just to make ends meet.  They scraped together everything they could to make sure they had a roof over their heads and food on the table.  Often, they were left with only a few extra cents for leisure once the bills were paid.  It was thankless and often grueling, but they did everything they could to support the people they loved.

I’ve learned the TRUE meaning of successful.  When I hear my grandparents gush about their kids and grandkids, it’s never about their accomplishments or titles.  It’s about the people they’ve become.  The charities they have helped.  The people they have moved.  The values they have lived.  All grandparents brag about their kids and grandkids.  Mine brag about the right things. 

I’ve learned that anything worthwhile in life is EARNED.  My grandparents made my dad work to pay for his hockey (partly because they couldn’t afford it, partly for the life lesson).  He earned the right to be able to play the game that he loved.  And because he had to earn it, he developed an unbelievable passion for the game.  I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for that passion.  Thanks, Dad. 

I’ve learned the value of discipline.  We talk about how my dad and his siblings were (gasp!) spanked.  I was (OH MY GOD!) spanked too.  And I deserved it.  I learned why it is important to discipline your children.  I was spanked when I was dishonest, selfish, or showed a lack of respect.  And today…Honesty, Loyalty, and Respect are three of the values that I cherish the most.

I’ve learned that showing up matters.  My grandparents were always there for all nine of their grandkids’ events.  From hockey rinks, to gymnastics meets, to…more hockey rinks… they were always there.  They didn’t just say “I love you” and “I care about you”.  They proved it.  And it meant the world to us.

I’ve learned the value of seeing the good in everybody.  When my Grandma talks about her father, she doesn’t allow herself to remember the bad.  She thinks about his laugh and joyfulness when he was sober, and the comfort of his big belly when they would snuggle together in her younger years.  She still calls herself a “Daddy’s Girl”.  Of all the pain that he caused, I honestly can’t believe how she does it.  But I think it’s amazing.

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Let’s face reality: We live in a world where the simple things like having a meal with those we love has gone by the wayside.  I fear that we have forgotten the value of these precious experiences. 

Instead of learning our values from the stories of our elders, we educate ourselves through the many “experts” on the internet.  Our sense of belonging and community comes through a phone or computer, rather than the deep connection with those who (actually) care about us.  

But I’ll be damn sure that I don’t miss a breakfast at 36 Crestview Terrace every chance I get.  The french toast is LEGENDARY, but not as much as the stories told and lessons learned at that little wooden breakfast table.

I am proud of the person that I have become, and I am who I am because of where I came from.  I’ll never forget that. 

And I’ll never forget my life’s education eating French Toast Breakfasts with Grandma and Grandpa Scott.