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 . . .