Thursday, November 24, 2016

Guest Blog on Thanksgiving Day

This one is too good not to share.  Very personal reflections on a life lived well, and lots of lessons learned.  From my dear husband Paul, who makes it all possible - and worthwhile.

I’m not sure if it is Thanksgiving, or the election, or turning 80 years old, but I’m feeling like writing my feelings. (This is not at all normal for someone with 100% German genetics).
I feel good!  I feel blessed!

I feel the need to affirm the beauty and rewards of how DIVERSITY has enriched my life.  I was born and raised in a “lily white” community (Manitowoc County) that demanded residents to register any black persons who wished to stay overnight and whose childhood chants ridiculed the Irish.   I cannot remember that race was ever a topic with my parents or relatives.  I did know that Catholics were the only ones who would get to heaven (WRONG), that homosexuals were bad (WRONG), and that Case tractors and Chrysler products were better than the others! (That may have been wrong too?)   Valders  (Vikings) High School alerted me to the diversity of Norwegians.

Then came the University of Wisconsin and Madison.   The first night, a street person tried to get a dime from me.  No way!  (Could he tell I was from the farm?)   Daily, I was at the dinner table with black people and my botany lab partner dressed differently and had a red spot in the middle of her forehead!  Some of my acquaintances disliked the Jewish kids from the East Coast.   During spring break of my junior year, I spent a week in New Orleans.  I sat in a “BLACKS ONLY’ seat on the bus (because there was more room and I didn’t know it made that much difference . . . . found out  DIFFERENT!) and watched a fight break out when a black woman tried to take her son into a “WHITES ONLY” bathroom at a bus stop,   My teammate on the dairy cattle judging team was from Argentina.  His dad offered me a job when I graduated, buying dairy cattle for South America.  (That was stretching too far for me).
In 1959 I did my military duty and I trained and bunked with some black fellow officers.
Then I became a teacher in “lily white” Greenfield on the south side of Milwaukee.  One of my teacher friends talked me into joining Father Groppe and marching with the civil rights protesters into the Polish south side to promote integration.  That was a good step --- Thanks Jim Hondel.  

So that is some background.

In 1965 I married a CITY girl!  I guess I was ready for a little stretch.  Actually, she was the one that needed to be open to my farm boy ways --- and she was!  She said “yes” in spite of the fact that I told her I voted for Barry Goldwater, and she was pregnant for the next few years, so she was too busy to object.  Then she mothered our four children and slowly educated me to the need to be more open and less rigid. Who says people can’t change???

In 1973 we bought a large old farm house with 40 acres in Plymouth, and we also agreed to have more children --- just not our own.  We became the “Brandl Bunch.”   Twenty years as a licensed foster home and 11 foster  children later,  plus 2 exchange teachers (one from Mexico and one from Japan) a foreign exchange student from Switzerland,  and a variety of short term live-in guests  taught me a lot about diversity and its value to all.  

The experiences were themselves very diverse.  I remember the high school girl I brought home one night because she was afraid to go home after school (her father had found out she was pregnant and held a loaded gun to her head the night before).  Social Services wanted to hide her until she was safe.   Others children stayed for years.  I believe 13 years was the longest.  Certainly the outcomes of our parenting efforts were also very different.   I felt rewarded by the positive outcomes and saddened when some children were sent back home to unprepared parents.   I learned from each experience and I am still learning, especially from those who struggle with anxiety and depression and disability.

So how do I feel now?    I feel no hatred, or anxiety.  I feel lucky and thankful and….REWARDED!
I want to do what I can to affirm the beauty and rewards of a diverse society and express how it has enriched me.  With four wonderful children of our own and these 10 grandchildren, plus the foster children and these grandchildren, I have been blessed.  I now have grandchildren whose parents are Swiss, Russian, Tunisian, Indian, and African!   I love those who are married, single, divorced, transgender, Democrat and Republican.   When I think about my foreign friends, like Anita, Markus and Svenja, I do feel embarrassed by this last election.

I am going to try to be kinder, more caring, respectful, generous, thoughtful, and understanding than ever before in the time I have left!  LOVE is the answer!


  1. I was just alerted to your blog on 9/14 and really enjoyed reading this Paul. Your viewpoint is so heartwarming. (I'm your cousin from Wally's family.)
    Bette (Brandl) Hanson

  2. Thanks, Bette. I shared your comment with Paul. We both appreciate it!