Cousin Rosemarie Lieb, you opened my heart to something I closed years ago.
Not ready to look inside. Almost, but not just yet.
Your words touched me with a warmth I haven’t felt in a long time. They caressed me, and I liken it to a mother’s love and pride I couldn’t handle at the family reunion last Saturday.
“He wrote speeches for the governor,” I heard you whisper to our Cousin John Westergom of whom I have not spoken more than 20 words the past 40 years. I detected a hint of, I don’t know, admiration or acknowledgement of an achievement I don’t normally dwell on, one I almost forgot. You spoke of something I had tried to forget. My past.
Don’t want to look at it. Or focus on it, the so-called achievements, that is. My future’s going to be so much brighter. The best years of my life are still ahead. Don’t want to sit on my laurels as if Life has passed me by, following a “retirement” of sorts with this PTSD disability. I still hope to do so much more and give plenty of myself to humanity, if only in a some humble way.
You reminded me of something my mother might have said with pride . . . that her son, Michael J Contos, had gotten a Finnegan Fellowship to study state government in Pennsylvania, thereby insuring a dinner at an awards’ banquet with then PA Governor Milton J Shapp. I had studied journalism at the Community College of Delaware County, and was placed in the “public relations” division of Penn DOT, the state department of transportation, where I wrote a speech for the governor, several press releases and provided the “voice over” for a television newscast introducing new buses that “kneeled” to let persons with wheel-chairs enter public transit buses. “This is Michael Contos, WGOL, Harrisburg,” I said in my one and only broadcast news report.
It was an achievement, writing for the governor. He used the speech verbatim and I made copies for my resume of “news clippings.” Never did get a copy of the voice-over. The VCR was not in wide use — if in use at all — in the early ’70s.
I wanted to tell you “it was no big deal.” The kid from a tough Philadelphia neighborhood, Brewerytown, made good, despite his working class roots. You see, I simply dug out a copy of an earlier speech the governor had given, brought it up to date, and put a new spin to it by adding a few of my words that “Democrats and Republicans alike will join in the celebration” for the construction feat. Also wanted to tell you I wrote a fictional short story that summer, two years out of Vietnam. The writing got a second place award in an Altoona, PA, contest. (Again, no “biggie,” even though it got coverage at Temple University when a teacher published the news in the school’s “house organ.” That’s newspaper jargon for a company-operated news letter.)
You’re the only one of my extended family I feel such a “motherly” connection with, if that is the right word for it. The type of connection I denied myself growing up, for fear of resting before I could reach some goal, some summit I wanted to ascend to prove I was . . . worthy . . . as a person . . . as a man.
I missed out. Stayed focused too much and too long on nothing but achievements. Now, I want to share those stories I minimized in the past; didn’t want anyone to think I got a “big head.” Still don’t, and that’s one reason why I’ve been reluctant to share. Afraid I’ll see how unimportant it really was . . . that I was just chasing windmills, if you know what I mean.
Want to visit the farm where Aunt Betty and Uncle Lenny showed us so much love; want to walk barefoot in the sandy roads leading to nearby Atlantic City. And pick lots of blueberries until the proverbial cows come home. Thanks for keeping the light on for this drifter, this black sheep of the family. Hope there’s still time enough for us . . .
I hope the Statute of Limitations has expired.
What a wonderful post. I grew up next door to the Westergoms at Linden Ave and Drosera Streets. Jack, as the oldest son (to whom I think you refer) was a year older than me and Barry was a few years younger. We were very lucky to survive many of our antics. My first real paying job was picking blueberries on the Liepe Bros Farm down the street. I remember your cousin Rosie and her folks. I distinctly remember “acquiring” some homemade blueberry wine from Mr Lieb’s basement where he also was fermenting sauerkraut (OK Rosie the secret is out, finally). So much for the ramblings of an old soldier. I went on to an Army career. Thank you for bringing back such warm memories after all these years.
Now I finally know what Uncle Lenny was working on when he’d excuse himself and disappear from the house to check on the blueberries. He was creating quite a “batch” of the home-brew type!
Glad to hear from you and your memories of the Westergoms, the Liebs and the Liepe Bros. farm. I’ll never forget ’em.
michael j contos
All your stories are so delicious! I always have no words to say after reading them. Thanks!
When I embrace someone as loving as my cousin Rose, I wonder if any of the paths I chose were worth giving up so much. And whether anyone can understand I had to walk alone, without family and friends as my father did in leaving Greece behind in search of the New World.
He was 15 and alone, never having returned to his “home” until his late 60s. How he must have missed the village life, his family in the island of Nysiros, and the love that only “one of his kin” could have provided knowing all he turned his back on to follow a dream.
I guess that’s the price we pay when we try to straddle two cultures, two different ways of life in order to reach certain goals.
It’s the way of the immigrant. My father. It was the way of my grandmother, too. Who did she leave behind and have little or no contact with as she made her way from Hungary to the place where “streets are paved of gold” only to find Jersey soil covered all of those so-called streets?
Really miss the blueberries. Not to mention a “still” I hear tell someone’s uncle created during Prohibition and might still be in use right now . . .
Michael, this is completely out of context, but I cannot recover the comment on one of your blogs referring you to the movie The Ninth Configuration.
I just finished watching it…totally fascinated. After you have had a chance to watch it…are the stats, etc. even close to real? Is the story authentic?
Hope to hear your take on it. – Amy
OK you people in control of the Cosmos. I can take a hint. Got to rent the movie, “The Ninth Configuration.” Two persons have raved over it and told me it was a “must see.”
Roger and Wilco.
That’s military lingo for “I understand” — Roger; and “I will comply” — Wilco.
Over and Out!
http://urbansannyasin.wordpress.com/ suggested it a few days ago. Thanks for the second opinion, Amy. Feel like I’m going to resonate with this as much as I did with the book, “Mister God, this is Anna.”
Ooops, Michael. Nagging not intended – enthusiasm, as a virtue, can go overboard into ‘pain in the ass’! No, this movie is different from Anna’s Buddy. I won’t explain my questions. Would spoil the freshness of the movie for you.
What a heartwarming post, michael! I have been swamped (still am) making it difficult to keep up with everyone else’s blogs, but I am glad that I came to this today.
How very blessed you are to have family connections and memories like these. I am happy for you (and feeling a wee bit jealous, too…I hope that is OK.)
Nice to know the family tales interest more than one family. You look closer at a homestead you admired long ago, and I bet you’d find a similar connection tucked away in one of your old memory banks.
We all have ’em. Just got to re-open the box you closed when you went away to grow up. Don’t have to be the immediate family. Maybe a cousin like my Rose.
It sure is a nice thought, michael. As a survivor of generational SRA…I really kind of doubt that I will find anything connected to family. However, I do have some really fond memories of what I can “adopted” family or “extended” family. Not biological…but more real as family to me than my bio family ever was…or at least that I can remember anyway.
Yes…I like reading about families…especially happy ones. 🙂
I detect a smidgen of “prodigal” in that marvelous family portrayal. That has to feel good, Michael! If it happened to me, I would melt. Apparently the banquet for ‘prod’ people is amazing. It’s those who stick close to the rules and who wouldn’t dare creatively change old speeches that have a little trouble whopping up the kind of love that Betty and Lenny know about.
I want to be like Aunt Betty.
Aunt Betty was always my favorite as well as my mother’s best friend. She made her house in Jersey a home away from home, and will rest at a place close to my heart no matter where I go, what I do, or how my Life turns out.
You have great intuition. Has anyone told you that recently, Amy?