About Elizabeth di Grazia

An artist, I follow the nudge inside of me. This nudge led me to write Peace Corps stories, find the front door to the Loft, and to graduate from Hamline’s MFA program. The story that became my thesis for Hamline is woven into my book manuscript: HOUSE OF FIRE: From the Ashes, A Family, a memoir of healing and redemption. It’s a story about family. And a story about love–for my partner Jody and the son and daughter we adopted from Guatemala. Most days, I can be found working as a Human Resource Manager for a foundry in Minneapolis. When I am not at the foundry I may be volunteering as a Police Reserve Officer for Richfield, MN or kicking butt at Kor Am Tae Kwon Do.

Why Does She March?

Photo Credit to Crystel

I ask myself this as I watch her and her friends, all clothed in black, carrying cardboard signs down our street. The air has a strong scent of paint thinner and diesel fuel from the markers they used to create their signage. One sign says, Silence is Violence. I say a prayer that the teens lives this motto and that they never stay still when they witness or have knowledge of a violent act. This would bring me lifelong comfort for their safety as well as others.

The five 17- year-olds are walking to 494 and Penn where there will be assembling with others.

Is this a protest? A march? A gathering? Jody and I are not sure. The information we get is a jigsaw puzzle at best. We hope to God that they aren’t planning on walking onto the freeway. Jody and I wouldn’t support that. We tell her so. Yet, we also wouldn’t stop her.

Be Safe, Don’t Die. I want to holler after the teenagers. I stop myself, though this is not an unusual farewell that my family has given each other when we leave the house. I don’t need to heighten any uneasiness the teens may be feeling. How do they know what they are walking into? For certain, I don’t.

Why does she march?

The pandemic has allowed our family more time together. Jody and I take hour-long walks with Crystel. On these walks Crystel talks about how she wants to make a difference. She is particularly interested in making a lasting change in Guatemala, the country of her birth. She had a 3-week homestay and language school trip planned at Casa Xelaju Spanish School in Guatemala for this summer. COVID-19 travel restrictions abruptly halted her plans.

Jody and Crystel joined the mourners at 38th and Chicago where George Floyd was murdered. Crystel placed white hydrangea blooms from our garden at the memorial site. Days later, I accompanied her and her friends to George Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis. I wondered if there would be a food truck and porta potties. When I confessed this to Crystel, she gasped and rolled her eyes.

Why does she march?

Don’t ignore something Because it Makes you uncomfortable

Why don’t I march? The question intrigues me. Why her, why not me? Then, I remember why I joined the Peace Corps when I was 30 years old. I had that same feeling, the same drive, that I see in her. I wanted to make a difference.

I’m thirty-one years older now. Crystel asked if we could donate to her friend whose family business was looted at el MERCADO CENTRAL during the riots. She asked if we could donate food and supplies to the families affected by riots.

We can do that. I’m thirty-one years older. I march in a different way.

Interviewed by a 17-year-old

I got this all wrong from the get-go. I had prepared answers for how to begin a career in human resources. What special characteristics and capabilities are needed in HR? What are my favorite components of the HR role? Describe the HR functions that are under your leadership and control.

The teenager, a friend of Crystel’s, started her questioning easily enough. She asked me about my past. I immediately thought this was an interesting technique. Maybe the teacher taught this method to loosen up your interviewee. Ask the people something they know well. Soften them before the meat of your inquiry.

“What is the most significant event in your life? An event that changed you?”

This was my first inkling that my assumption about this interview was off the mark. My career in human resources was certainly not the most significant event in my life.

How easy it would have been to lie. To not give her true and honest answers. To keep this interview on the surface.

And, wow, how unsatisfying that would have been for the both of us.

I was surprised how easily the answer came to me. How it was right there, bubbling just under the surface, a living certainty.

Without hesitation, I said, “Same-Sex Marriage.” On May 14, 2013 Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota. The new law went into effect on August 1, 2013.

This law legitimized me, my partner, and our children. I was no longer afraid to talk about Jody at work. I didn’t have to hide. It was okay for two women to be raising children together. I could have a family photo on my desk.

“How did you come out to your parents?”

I had to think about this answer because overshadowing everything, greater than having a same-sex partner was the sexual abuse in my family. It would have been so simple had it just been about choosing a life with a woman. Mired in all this muck was the fact that I wouldn’t stay quiet about sexual abuse. I wouldn’t back down from my truth. Telling my parents about same sex marriage paled in comparison.

“Are you happy where you are in life?”

I thought I’d be dead by the age of 25 either by drugs, alcohol or suicide. And, I would have been dead because of secrets. Not having secrets changed the trajectory of my life.

I told her all of this and more. About having an abortion when I was 14 years old and a baby when I had just turned 17. The same age she is.

“Are you happy with your children?”

Crystel was not just a fly on the wall during this interview. She sat right next to her friend. She watched as I cried. Because of course I would cry. We were talking about my children.

Her friend should get an A+ for this interview, I thought. Same-Sex marriage, sexual abuse, abortion, a baby, and now tears. This might have been more than she bargained for.

I wasn’t done. I asked her to include, if even as a footnote, that teenagers need to use birth control. Condoms are not 100% effective.  Birth control pills plus condoms increase the effectiveness in preventing pregnancy. I wasn’t sure if I was stating this for her teacher’s benefit or the millions of teenagers, including my two, who might read this paper. I told her that I didn’t want Juan and Crystel to be faced with the same decisions that I had to make.

There were more questions. More tears. Through it all, the interviewer was present, serious, and professional.

I didn’t realize until later that this paper was a history project. I’m history. Or, herstory. A study of past events, particularly in human affairs.

My interviewer was rad. The interview wasn’t awks. It was dope, very possible GOAT and I’m HUNDO P.

The Gen Z’s are alright.

Mount Fuji and Grey Hair

“How old are you?” The bike expert was putting a new battery into my cyclecomputer. How old am I? I wasn’t sure. I have had difficulty knowing how old I am. I’m going to retire next year at 63. On my birthday in September, I’ll be 62. I must be 61. 61 I told him.

“How much do you weigh?” I didn’t know that answer either. When was the last time I was on a scale? He must have taken my pause as a reluctance to reveal my weight. Before he could finish his explanation of why he needed my weight I made a guess and gave him a number.

On my bike ride home, I wondered, “If I didn’t color my hair, would that help me remember my age?” I don’t feel 61. If my hair was in its natural state, it would be completely silver or white. Maybe I’d look more my age. That is exactly why I have been coloring my hair for years in the first place. I didn’t want my children to have an old mother. I figured I’d wait until after they graduated from high school to go natural. Then the pandemic came. Now seems like a perfectly good time to work with all those feelings that grey hair will bring.

Sitting in the salon chair, I could see a family resemblance reflected in the mirror. I never wanted my mother or Aunt Annie to slide in and out of my face. With grey hair that might be exactly what I get.

Hiking up the ski hill, I imagined that our trip to Japan and our climb up Mount Fuji this coming July was still on. That trip may or may not happen. Like the rest of the world with this pandemic, my family and I are on a wait and see. Laboring for breath walking up the steep incline felt great. My entire body was committed to reaching the top. Once there I was graced with the Minneapolis skyline. I will continue to climb and descend regardless of COVID-19. Grey hair will certainly happen.

Cocktail Hour

Before all of us dispersed at the end of the evening, the leg broke loose from the fire pit bowl, toppling hot embers into the street.  It had been repaired once before using a zip tie.

Our melting pot of a block was gathered together for no reason other than a stay-at-home order was in place for midnight.

Lawn chairs were haphazardly set in a circular pattern at the dead end of the block in front of the No Parking Fire Lane sign.

Jody and I had been encouraging these get-togethers for over twenty years. Many had been held in our back yard. Now others on the block often sounded the alarm for a get-together.

Single, married, remarried, divorced, widowed, Indonesian, Hispanic, African American, white, young, old, Republican, Democrat, gay and straight mixed around the fire that I poked with my 6-foot distancing stick.

There were those who believed in conspiracy theories, those who loved our President and blame the Chinese, and those attracted to herd immunity. There were also those who were frustrated with the President’s response and reassured by the state’s plans.

Our entire block of eight houses was represented, in its diversity and imperfection, a potpourri of all there is in the world.

Throughout the evening, I moved from lawn chair to lawn chair, appreciating all our differences.

I took pride that we could come together time after time finding commonality and enjoyment in each other.

Before he left, the oldest guy on the block would say with satisfaction, “None of us on the block have it,” meaning the COVID–19.

I was happy to be a part of his ‘us.’ He was too. Though in all respects, he and I, are polar opposites in our religious and political views. I take delight in who he is. He’s gifted me fish he’s caught and venison from deer he has killed.

I believe, that despite our differences, if my family did get COVID-19, he and all the others on our block would look after us. We are all part of the ‘us.’

His wife stayed back helping me with the now broken fire pit. We doused the embers together. Before she walked down the street, she said, “We need a get-together at our house. We’ve never had people over.”

Our imperfect block will continue to rendezvous. The broken fire pit will once again get mended. Social distance will be respected in varying degrees.

At The Funeral

In January, a time before the corona virus, I sat with three friends from my writing group. Our other group member was up front, a part of the funeral party. Her mother had passed away.

We had done this before, sat together for a funeral. Then it was one of our own group members who had passed on. This time, it wasn’t a sense of déjà vu as much as it was a strong sense of community, of being with your tribe, your writing family. These people who read and commented on your stories, knew your family and your journey through life. We’ve been together for over fifteen years.

I had Kleenex scrunched up in my palm. Tears would come from who knows where, but they would come.

It touched me that we were supporting our friend and supporting each other. Several of us had taken the day off from work. Being present for one another was important. Sacred circles show up for each other.

The church was full of people of all ages and races to honor this woman of 89 who had passed away. A testament to her and the family she raised.

My shoulder brushed my writing friend sitting next to me. I dabbed at the corner of my eye. Being at funerals often connects me to other griefs and in that moment, I keenly felt my estrangement from my siblings. My bond to my sacred circle of writing friends made me feel the distance from my siblings even more. My Kleenex became soggier. I pushed my glasses up.

How Great Thou Art, chorused through the congregation. I imagined my feet reaching to the earth’s center.

While in prayer, I let myself grieve the alienation from my siblings. I was doing what I believed.  I was honoring myself, my partner, my children and my beliefs. I was honoring the essence of who I am. I stayed in this revered place with the universe. Wrapped myself in love. Cloaked myself in love. I was in a blessed place in this church, in this pew, and with these people. I felt love all around me.

While in communion with the Universe, I added a prayer, Universe, please help me find my memory stick. I had been putting blog posts on the stick and had yet to back it up. I knew that I should. Every writer knows that. The memory stick had blog posts on that I might publish after more revision. I’ve learned that the best time to write a blog post is when I have the greatest feeling. The memory stick was holding a lot of me. I had been looking for the stick for days.

In The Garden filled the place of worship. When I raised my eyes I could see clearly. I felt liberated. The veil of sadness had lifted.

At the podium, our writer friend was reading a story that she had written about her mother. A story that was familiar to the sacred circle. She was full of light and joy. Her gift bringing forth laughter.

Following the recessional, we said goodbye to our friend and decided the rest of us would gather for lunch. We needed to be together a little longer before we re-entered our daily lives.

Opening my car door, I moved pieces in the basket in the back seat that held loose items in the car. There was my memory stick. Thank you, Universe, I breathed. I am loved.