It was one of the hottiest days in Union City, New Jersey’s history when my mother exclaimed: “I just had a contraction”. My father wanted to grab my brother, pack my mother’s suitcase and head to the hospital. A discussion between my parents pursued. My mother stated her due date was a month away. Then, another contraction and my father hurriedly picked up ‘the soon to be’ big brother and escorted my mother to the car. The plan was to drop Robert off at our Aunt’s house. Good thing my father did not turn off the car or the newspaper headlines may have read “Union City woman gives birth to the premature daughter in the back seat of a car”. My father’s dark brown, wavy hair was permeated with sweat which continued to run down his face. An obstetrician met my parents at the hospital’s entrance. A gurney which housed my mother was rushed into the elevator. As the doors to the elevator opened, I made my miraculous appearance. The obstetrician started shouting multiple obscenities and swear words. My first day of life set the stage for who I am today: a hot-headed individual who seeks excitement, exhibits the value of punctuality, an actor and a person who has a way with words… or was it?
Recently, I saw a picture that was taken on my “birth” day. The physical characteristics of my father and grandmother were identical to me. Their hazel eyes were very round but not as prominent as their long and wide nose. My father’s and grandmother’s light skin tone was framed by their dark brown, wavy hair. At first glance, a person would think my grandmother was my twin sister. Later in life, I discovered how much I continued to look like my grandmother. I attended the black-tie festivities the White House celebrating the Veterans Administration’s fiftieth anniversary. My father knocked on my door and when I opened it he started balling like a baby. I asked what was wrong. Weeping profusely, he said, “I thought you were my mother”.
My brother was not pleased about the early arrival of his baby sister. This was understandable because he was only 13 months old and he wanted to continue being the center of my parent’s universe. He would crawl under my crib to bang pots and pans together as well as steal my toys to show his displeasure. As an infant, nothing rattled me. No matter how many times he took my toy, I picked up another one. I was bald until the age of two. Fortunately, my aunt and uncle worked in a factory that made children’s hats. The bonnets I wore as a toddler were beautiful. I was a quiet child. According to mother, I was extremely leery of strangers and afraid to stand in the same vicinity as my grandfather. I was very happy to say ‘good-bye’ when it was time to go home. I was not dressed in stereotypical gender-specific colors. I could not wear clothing that was tight.
Every day when my brothers and I got home from school we completed our homework assignments. Then we went outdoors to play. Our favorite place to go was the creek behind our friend’s house. Being home by 5:15 for dinner was a standing rule. We ate precisely at 5:30. I loved our conversations around the dinner table. We discussed our day, what we learned at school, or thing that may be troubling to us. We would continue our conversation after dinner by sitting Indian style on the floor. I will never forget the conversation we had one evening in September. Our parents told us we were going to have a baby. We were excited and started asking questions. My mother told us the baby was as big as the tip of her finger. Robert, my eldest brother ran down the steps and came back with a pumpkin seed. He asked, is the baby the same size as the pumpkin seed. We were very curious and started asking lots of questions. My parents did not use cutesy words to describe our anatomy. We were like sponges and absorbed everything they were saying. Our “think pink” campaign started. We decorated signs, cookies, food with the words think pink. My youngest brother (at that time) was enrolled at St. Matthias Catholic School because he was too young to go to public school. My brother went via a carpool to school with several of his classmates. As soon as he entered the car, he started telling fellow classmates what he had learned the night before. The mother who drove the carpool that day was appalled at the information he shared so readily
According to my mother, I was a nightmare throughout junior high and high school. Ida Lou stated, “she knew she was a successful mother if I graduated from high school without being pregnant or in jail”. My non-verbal communication must a story without me uttering a sound. I then asked the question “how did I rebel as a teenager”? Quickly my mother exclaimed “oh my heavens. You decided you wanted makeup and you were caught shoplifting. The Glenmont police called me out of my class.” The police wanted my mother to come right away to get me. She stated, “make her sit there until I am finished at school.” She made me sit in a jail cell for a long time. I was pouting when the police brought me out to my mother. Very traumatized by the experience, I never shoplifted again.
My first significant other experience was with my sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Tony. He had a way of encouraging me to try new experiences and to not be afraid of the unknown. My role models when I was young were television actors Chad Everett and James Brolin.
I inherited many of my creative skills. I used to love to watch my grandmother create artsy things out of things you could find around the house. Some of the crafts my grandmother did were crocheting, weaved baskets, painting, etcetera. My favorite artsy projects are creating topiary trees out of flowers and creating wreaths made out of paper flowers.
Italian traditions were passed down from generation to generation. Some of my immediate family traditions were reading on Christmas Eve “The Night Before Christmas” and the “Christmas Story” in the Bible. Every Easter my brothers and I would receive chocolate Easter bunnies. We would draw straws to see the order in which we sacrificed our chocolate bunny. My dad would cut up the chocolate bunny. The person who sacrificed their bunny went first. We went around the table and one by one we chose which piece of the bunny we wanted. The ears were always the first to go because the pieces of the chocolate were thicker. The last large piece to go was “the butt”. Of course, the jokes would roll every time a person picked “the butt”. We had Easter egg hunts that contained decorated real eggs and there were eggs that held money and other prizes. One year we found all of the plastic eggs but there was one real egg that we could not find. Months and months later my younger brother found the egg. Yes, you guessed it, he decided to open it up to see if it smelled. Another favorite tradition was our New Year’s Eve punch bowl and the Italian Rum Cake my mother made.
Our evening and weekend entertainment consisted of playing board games, listening and singing when my father played piano, and watching together the one and only television in the family room.
Throughout young adulthood, I continued to be very shy and at times incredibly awkward around others, especially people who I did not know. I felt comfortably sliding by under the radar of others. People who had the opportunity to “know the real Louise” knew me as an outgoing, funny individual. I am warm and supportive to those I care about. The person inside loves to tell lots of stories about the crazy antics of my family. My family and closest friends would describe me as determined, tenacious, creative, and courageous.
Resiliency is the ability to withstand and recover from difficult situations. Although I would never wish Multiple Sclerosis on anyone it has dramatically changed my life in a positive way. I have learned that I am one strong individual that can handle any adverse situation that comes my way. I have learned to push forward and I thrive from adversity. Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and then losing my quadriceps in my left leg forced me to break away from that “shy” person I used to be. I had to learn how to communicate with my doctors and to speak up if I felt their treatment plans were not what I wanted.
In conclusion, there are many things that make me who I am. My personality traits of being resilient and strong are instrumental in making me who I am today. I am a self-motivated problem solver. But, I am more than my character and my personality. It entails the things I do and say. My amazing metamorphosis has been the transformation of a very shy little girl to a motivational speaker talking at a conference in front of over four hundred people. There are many elements that make up the puzzle that is me – a unique individual.