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.

I Really Did It This Time

They came and built things.

I didn’t think it would happen.

I thought I had it all under control.

I figured, I’d just pull the cross-country captains aside plus my own two children. It would be a business-like meeting. Just the facts. No feelings.

Jody and I regularly open our house to Juan Jose’ and Crystel’s friends and their sport teams. Our swimming pool is ideal for an ‘end of a run’ swim.

What we don’t want is any dunking or kids pushing one another into the pool. When things get reckless, people can get hurt.

The solution was simple. Bring the captains and my own kids together, and spell out their responsibility.

However, things didn’t go as planned.

They came and jumped off the diving board.

The coach called on me to speak.

I scanned the crowd. Adults, teen and middle school cross-country runners, younger brothers and sisters. All of us gathered for a barbecue at Augsburg Park in Richfield.

Crystel told me later that she knew it was going to happen.

Jody, Juan Jose’ and Crystel have a detector for my overwhelming emotions. Usually it will be Juan that says, “You’re crying, aren’t you?”

Any matter-of-factness I had ran out of the park when I eyeballed their friends and teammates, and I contemplated just for a moment losing any one of them to a drowning.

I paused a number of times during my ‘welcome to our home but I don’t want to go to a funeral’ speech. Even so I ended up weeping.

My tears are a gift from Juan Jose’ and Crystel. They broke me apart with love when they came into my life. I haven’t been able to put myself together since.

They came and relaxed.

I really did it this time, I thought. No one will want to go to that lady’s house. She’ll start crying.

“Don’t worry about my crying,” I said. “Juan Jose’ and Crystel know I cry all the time.”

The group laughed.

Thing is, I do cry all the time. What a gift.

I just don’t intend to share it so openly.

We will just have to see if the teams come around.

 

 

Advertisements

Unknown Adventure

Juan Jose’, Ani, Rosa

“She needs a blood transfusion, and then if possible surgery. The hospital is so busy because of the volcano victims.”

As of June 6, 2018, At least 192 people are missing and 75 are dead as a result of the explosion of the Volcan de Fuego in Guatemala according to the BBC news.

“Her blood levels are very low. She has to be in the hospital. She did not know. It was a surprise.”

Jody, Juan Jose’, Crystel and I are traveling towards the Volcano of Fire. Before our trip is over, we will learn that entire villages on the slopes of Fuego volcano were buried in volcanic ash, mud and rocks. Hundreds of Guatemalans

San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala. photo credit, Juan Jose’

are dead. Some have lost entire families.

Eight years ago, Volcano Pacaya erupted. Juan Jose’ and Crystel were 7. When we

landed in Guatemala on that trip, their first visit to Guatemala, volcanic ash was being shoveled from the airline strip.

Crystel’s words were, “We are in my country now.”

This will be our fifth visit to Guatemala.

Alex Vicente Lopez, Guide Extraordinaire

Before every trip, as I do with all of our vacations, I researched extensively. This year, I had planned a sailing adventure, leaving from Rio Dulce, Guatemala, sailing into Lake Izabal, and then on to the Caribbean after our visit with Rosa, Juan Jose’s birth mom.

All trip planning stopped, and we cancelled the sailing trip when we received a message that Rosa had advanced cancer.

This unpredictable country is Juan Jose’s and Crystel’s birthplace. Devastation, poverty, and constant struggle is a reality in Guatemala. News of volcanic eruptions and the hardships of birth moms who have given their children up in adoption slice Jody and I to the core. We provide what help we can. Our message to Juan Jose’ and Crystel is to be proud of where they come from.

Kayak Guatemala, Los Elementos Our Happy Place

Crystel was born in Amatitlan, in the shadow of Volcano Pacaya. Juan Jose’ is from the mountains of Rabinal. His grandfather and great grandfather died in the Civil War.

Through the help of our village of friends in Guatemala: Lee and Elaine Beal of Los Elementos Adventure Center, Lesly Villatoro, of El Amor De Patricia, and the organization De Familia a Familia, we received assistance for Rosa. Lesly accompanied

Rosa to the doctor. Rosa learned that she didn’t have cancer but a large fibroid that needed to be removed. We would be able to visit with her on our last day in Guatemala with De Familia a Familia providing interpretation services.

As in our four previous trips, we would stay at Los Elementos and have Alex Vicente Lopez as our guide for our 5-day stay at Lake Atitlan. And we’d have many unknown

Crystel in native dress. A gift from Juanita, Alex’s wife.

adventures, because plans can suddenly change.

We would be vacationing in Crystel’s and Juan Jose’s ever-changing birth country – traveling towards 37 volcanoes, 3 of them active, and 1 erupting.

Amongst the poverty, devastation, and volcanoes we would find beauty. Guatemalans are strong, proud, and loving.

Their country beautiful.

 

I’m A Gamer

Juan Jose guffaws, “That’s NOT a gamer, Mom.”

All three people in my household agree with each other that I’m addicted to the Ticket to Ride app on my phone. It’s the only game application that I have downloaded. It’s my secret pleasure, though it isn’t such a secret, when I tell them that I’ll be in the house as soon as my game is over. I sit in the car while Jody, Juan and Crystel unload themselves and make their way into the house.

I’m not convinced that I’m addicted. Though, one day I did cancel the app three times only to download it again.

Ticket to Ride, has brought me to a new understanding of teenage boys and why they like electronic games.

I’m totally sucked in when I’m playing. Voices in the house are just that—voices. Time drifts away. Once in awhile, I hear Crystel above the din saying, “Language, mom. Language.”

It is true that my vocabulary has grown since playing Ticket to Ride.

At times, Jody will think that I’m talking to her until she realizes that I’m having a conversation with my phone and these unseen people who I’m playing against.

Once another player (there are 3 other players—all anonymous) typed, “edigrazia sucks.” I had intentionally blocked their train route to gain advantage. I flinched. After the game, I quickly changed my profile name, edigrazia to just numbers. I felt more hidden, more anonymous. Currently, my profile name is juegodetren (playthetrain). I told Juan and Crystel that now the other players think I’m Hispanic. I even went on Google translate to get the spelling right.

“Oh, mom,” they said, shaking their heads.

Jody recently sent me a picture of a grandma gamer. “Maybe it’s good for your brain,” she said.

I think she was attempting to come to peace with my gaming, although she got upset the other day.

In our driveway she sat in the police car waiting for me. We were volunteering that evening for Police Reserves. I joined her in the front seat but asked her not to leave the driveway until I was done with my game. Sometimes, a quick change in web address will kick you off the game. And, I had an edge. I thought I might win this one.

Jody logged us into the police computer. I didn’t observe her because I was focused on my game. She pulled out of the driveway and it happened. I was kicked off.

Later that evening, dispatch was calling 2662 to respond to a complaint of a barking dog. We didn’t pay any attention because our call sign is 2552. There was a bit of confusion with dispatch and the sergeant. After some checking we realized that we were signed in as 2662.

Fortunately, being a police reserve officer is a volunteer position. You can’t fire a volunteer…or can you?

All because of juego de tren?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Person Can Make a Difference

One person can make a difference.

Aunt Kate did.

My Aunt died 30 years ago but it is her that comforts me. I imagine me sitting next to her, wrapping myself around her ham of an arm and never letting go. She loved me. That I know. I could see it in her worried eyes. I could feel it in her nervous energy. She wasn’t perfect, neither was I in our relationship. In my early twenties she had asked me to meet her at a wake for a dear friend of hers. I told her that I would but then I didn’t show. I had my excuses. I was too tired. I had worked long hours on the night shift into the morning. I was exhausted and needed sleep. I couldn’t summon the energy to dress into nice clothes, navigate through the cold wintry weather, and step into the funeral home. She asked me later that day where I was. I could hear her disappointment. I held the phone to my ear, imagined her waiting for me. My aunt who didn’t ask anything of me but this one time, who counted on me to be there for her.

Aunt Kate was a caretaker of her siblings throughout her life, before her service in the army and after. She never married.

It was her boyfriend from days gone by that had passed away and I didn’t show. My one unforgiveable regret.

She must have forgiven me because as she lay dying at age 83, she visited me though we were miles apart. Her white shadowy spirit passed through the room. I was kneeling at my bedside, sobbing because I knew that I would never make it to her in time.

At that moment, my mother called. “Aunt Kate died,” she said.

“I know.” I felt oddly comforted by Aunt Kate’s presence. By her choice to see me before she departed this life. She recognized my love for her. “I know,” she was saying to me. “I know.”

It’s because of Aunt Kate that I live my life differently. I show up for people that I care about though I may be too tired, too exhausted, too busy, and the drive too far.

I went to Aunt Kate’s gravesite on the anniversary of her death. She would have liked that I thought of her and put flowers at her headstone. She would have liked that I pulled two of the flowers from the bouquet and put one on each side of her at her neighbor’s graves though neither of us knew them. She would have liked that I showed up though it was impossibly hard to find her grave at Fort Snelling even though I had been there before. It was cold. It was windy. I had to go to the bathroom. I didn’t give up. She didn’t give up on me.

It’s her that comforts me even now.

I Didn’t Come This Far

My eye’s widened when the rich black velvety coffin box was opened. Inside was a sterling silver Eagle medal, an Eagle Scout embroidered emblem, an oval pin for the Eagle’s mother and one for the dad. The Boy Scout Eagle Presentation kit was impressive.

I was silent, contemplating the honor of being an Eagle Scout and the work it involved: 21 merit badges, camping requirements, an Eagle project, paperwork filled out and verified.

Everything about this presentation box was great, except one thing.

“Juan Jose’ has two moms,” I said. “Can I exchange the dad pin for another mom pin?”

“I don’t think that’s a problem,” the female receptionist agreed. “Let me check.”

I didn’t come this far in scouts with Juan Jose’ to get a dad pin.

Juan Jose’ and Beth

I reflected to first grade when he joined his Tiger den. I thought that I’d be able to drop him off at the meeting, run an errand, return and pick him up. I soon found out that dens were as strong as their parent volunteers. It was also clear that our Tiger den leader needed help with our group of boys. The male den leader and I became a team. I organized the projects and the field trips, and he used his booming voice to bring the boys to attention. When he couldn’t make the meetings, I’d surprise the boys with my wolf whistle when I needed them to listen.

Juan asked me why he had to be in cub scouts. Because you have two moms, I told him. You need to know how to navigate in a group of boys. There are things I can’t teach you. He responded saying he liked his life and I could be his dad. It doesn’t work that way, I said, though his words made me feel good.

Our den at a field trip to city hall.

I was proud of the fact that our den of ten boys stayed intact for five years, with many of the cub scouts receiving their Arrow of Light and going on to join boy scouts.

I had agreed with Juan that once he reached this point, he could make the decision to go on for his Eagle or to stop scouts. I thought for sure he’d quit. Especially, after the camping trip that was supposed to show how fun it was to be in Boy Scouts which seemed more like an evening of hazing. That night, the worst of nights, when it was darker than dark, we were both crying. I reminded him that he didn’t have to do this anymore. He could be done.

During troop visits, he found one he liked, and he stayed. I told him that I’d support him, be right at his side, but since this was his decision, quitting scouts wouldn’t be an option until he earned his Eagle.

Arrow of Light

I touched the softness of the presentation kit. I could hear a woman telling the receptionist that I could swap the dad pin for a mom pin in the Scout Shop downstairs.

In the Scout store, I opened the kit and asked to swap the dad pin for a mom pin. “My son has two moms.”

“Oh no, we don’t do that,” the man said. He was my age, greying at the temple.

“That’s not what they said upstairs,” I told him.

“Who said that?” he countered.

My voice raised, “The only two women up there. The receptionist and the woman she asked.” I was ready to go to battle. He didn’t understand that I didn’t spend all this time in scouts to get a dad pin. The fact that I had to argue about this was ridiculous. Two moms in Juan Jose’s life had been normal for him since he was eight months old.

“I’ll take it up with them,” he said. “Just a moment.”

When he came back with the mom pin, I smiled. I watched as he undid the dad pin, replacing it with the mom pin.

I couldn’t help it, my smile grew. “Maybe two dads will come in and you will have another dad pin,” I said.

He grunted. I laughed, knowing I had spoken his worst fear and that it could happen.