I Count Myself Lucky

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| This is the 136th story of Our Life Logs |


The human spirit is very resilient. We can pick back up when we fail, and fail, and fail. We can find hope when we are still battling monsters. And we can learn all these lessons in a lifetime.

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I was born in the middle of a mess. After I was born in the early 1950s, my mother’s new boyfriend decided he didn’t want anything to do with me. So, my biological mother gave me to her second cousin who lived down the street. I wasn’t even adopted through the US government. From then on, I was in the hands of a woman named Dorothy Ann.

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Me as a toddler.

Dorothy Ann was a very evil woman. Living in her house, I endured extreme physical, sexual, and mental abuse. This was a very crummy start to life. The one good thing is that Dorothy Ann didn’t like to read and so she had no concept of what I was reading or of the power of those words. In the 4th grade I was so sick the school nurse and county said I needed to stay home. This ended up being providential because I began reading adult level philosophy and history. The Greek myths, Arthurian legends really stood out to me. I read and reread these books. The Greek gods seemed to care, whereas I had been raised a Jehovah’s Witness and taught that God kills the unrighteous and burns out their eyeballs.

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I ran away when I was 21 years old because I just couldn’t handle the abuse anymore. When I left I had $5 in my pocket and a gold Waltham watch. Shortly after leaving I remember having one of the most defining moments of my life. I stood on Hwy 1 by Coos Bay in Oregon, watching the tide coming in and out as the sun set over the ocean. It was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen in my life. Sitting there, I got a sense of peace and that Somebody—a God—cared for me.

Until this moment I had never done drugs in my life, but that was about to change. I kept hitchhiking and eventually a four-door 1957 Chevrolet pulled over. Inside were three hippies and I became number four. We drove across Washington state heading to Minnesota.

Halfway across the state, a police officer put his lights on. The driver and the other two guys absolutely panicked because they had drugs. They pushed the bag toward me and said, “Oh my God we can’t be caught with this. You need to eat this!” I didn’t know what to do so I took them.

It was about 30 hits of acid. I remember having visionary experiences from it—some of them were scary and some were just silly. Thankfully, the police let us off the hook and just told us to get out of his state.

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When we arrived in Minnesota, I chose to stay. By then I was friends with the three hippies. I didn’t have a college education, but I was a good cook. I was adventurous with food and had a great work ethic. I went to work at an American restaurant chain. Little did I know, the waitress who handed me the application would become my future wife.

I took to this job like a duck to water. I had a good sense of timing, organizing the tickets, and getting food out in a timely manner. Pretty soon, I was so good at it that I worked the graveyard shift by myself. My future wife was the graveyard waitress. I liked this late-night shift because I could spend time with her, but also because I could do drugs while working. Back then as long as you showed up and did the job, nobody cared.

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She and I became a couple. Together we endorsed and lived according to the natural hippie order of life back then; first and foremost, we were hippies, then, we were Jesus freaks, then, we were passionate about getting “back to the land” and going green. The money we saved went toward these goals.

My girlfriend gave me something to cling to. Before her, I had honestly thought I’d be dead by the time I was 35. She really helped me. Gradually I stopped using drugs and drinking as much as I had been. I started to believe and see that there might possibly be something more to life—to everything.

Our adventures took us to cult meetings started by preacher Victor Paul Wierwille. The group tried to “save” me and convert me to their religion. On one occasion, I pretended to speak in tongues. I was only doing all of this because I loved my girlfriend. She was into the cult much more than I was. At one point, she even convinced herself to move out to Knoxville where the cult was based. I was less sold on it and managed to convince her to go instead to Hendersonville, South Carolina to where the Mother of Earth News magazine came out. Rather than converting the world, we wanted to learn how to live simply. But a simple life seemed to elude us.

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South Carolina didn’t work out and I took a friend’s advice to move us to Florida and get a job harvesting oranges on the parking lot of what would later become Walt Disney World. We lived in a trailer park called Gopher Ridge, the filthiest place I’d ever lived in my life. There was a hole in the floor for a toilet and bugs covered the walls.

Running out of money and dissatisfied with work conditions, we quickly decided to leave Florida. After some adventures in California, we ended up choosing to live in Colorado because John Denver said it was great. We lived in the shadow of the State Capital building, and I ate organic food for the first time. Although I was still doing drugs, I started to think about a future and believe I was worthy of a better life.

In the middle of our search for a simple life, my girlfriend got pregnant. It really scared me. Suddenly, I felt a huge sense of responsibility. We weren’t married, and I didn’t know how this would all play out. I still believed deep down that Dorothy Ann was coming after me. Almost 30 days before we had the baby, we got married at a Justice of the Peace in 1976. We both wore the best clothes we had. Mostly, I remember this being a very scary day for me. Although I wanted to be a family, between the paperwork and the forms, I felt I was opening myself up to be found by Dorothy Ann. Maybe, I thought, signing a form would make me more traceable.

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Married and with a baby, we moved back to Minnesota shortly after our wedding. My wife experienced back to back pregnancies and our second son was born before I had a good job. We could not afford our mortgage payments and eventually needed to sell our house.

At this point, I was desperate. Walking into town, I saw the army recruiter’s office and joined immediately because of the $4,000 bonus. I told my wife I had a job and drove her back to her parents’ place with the two kids. At the time, I couldn’t see the blessing in all of this because it felt like my life was falling apart. When I joined the army, I didn’t believe that there was a God.

In the summer of 1980, I left for the army. My basic training was at Ft. Benning, Georgia and I was older than the drill sergeant. After 10 years of smoking and drugs, I was not in good shape, but I had a good work ethic and wouldn’t give up.

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Photo taken during my time in the army.

I made it through basic training right before Christmas of the same year. After the holiday, we were assigned to Colorado Springs, where I served for a year before being promoted from “Private” to “Private First Class.” They asked if I would consider going to Germany and I told them, “Yeah, sure!” I still had an irrational fear that Dorothy Ann was coming after me and my family.

After moving to Germany, we had two more babies—a boy and a girl—before the army decided that I’d had too much fun. They sent me to the worst place on earth: Ft. Polk, Louisiana. It was a very racist, mean spirited place. I never saw anyone attack anyone, but in 1985 I saw KKK members recruiting on the side of the road with their lemonade stands. In the event of a broken-down vehicle, we were instructed to never leave a black soldier there because they would kill him. In 1986, I had to make a decision. I either go to Korea or get out of the army. I decided to get out.

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We moved to Missouri, and I got a job as a salesman. I was a devoted father to my kids. I worked hard to give them all the things I never had growing up. I created all the family traditions I had read about. If Christmas was supposed to have holly and sparkling lights, I created it for my kids.

Out of the blue one day, I got a letter in the mail. It said, “You don’t know me but I’m your big sister. You were born in New Jersey. Your mother’s name is Helen Mitchell, and my mother’s name is Helen Mitchell.” Up until that moment I had no knowledge that I even had a biological sister. I was so flustered by the letter that I put it in a drawer and left it there for half a year. I couldn’t process it. My wife eventually persuaded me to call the number on the card. I am so grateful I did. My sister was beside herself with worry over me. I learned that she was five years old when I was given away, and that in many ways she had suffered more than I had. I went out to visit her and it was an incredible reunion. We even looked the same.

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With the kids growing up and still chasing stability and a simple lifestyle, we moved our family back to Minnesota in 1995 back near her dad. It was at this point in my life that I remembered the stories I had read when I was a kid—the  Greek myths. Something compelled me to re-read them, but in a different way. As an adult with four children, I read them again with the eyes of a believer.

Today I am 68 years old. I believe in many gods. The Greek myths are where my pagan beliefs come from. Most of all, I believe that the supreme God is a Mother. She has always been there for me, but I just didn’t know it. She was that presence I initially felt by the ocean when I realized that Someone cared. She was the presence that greeted me every morning when the sun came up and I started my day. She was the presence that watched over me when I was doing all sorts of crazy things that I should have died from. She was with me in the ‘57 Chevy—nobody should take that much acid and live, or even come out intact. That’s not just good DNA or lucky stars, that’s providence.

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Me in meditation.

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Despite everything I have been through, I consider myself very lucky. There are so many people who suffer so much worse. I have my wife, my children, and my grandchildren. Before, I didn’t have a true family. I now have a great, big family. There are 17 of us that I am now directly responsible for and related to. I count my blessings every day.

Section Break

This is the story of Jeremiah Meyer
Jeremiah remains very involved in his community. After being given away by his mom to his second cousin, Jeremiah was raised in abusive home where he lived in constant fear of the woman who raised him. After running away at 21, he was able to create a family and find happiness, return to his faith and count his blessings.  He currently works at MRCI, a rehabilitation center for people with disabilities, and as a tour guide at the local brewery. He is also a school crossing guard. When he is on duty, he waves to every car that goes by and tells all the kids to have a good day. In his spare time, he preaches sermons at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, a non-creed church across three states. He believes that religion can save lives.

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Jeremiah, 2018.

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on July 23, 2018.

| Writer: Mary Flanagan | Editors: Colleen Walker; Adam Savage |

2 thoughts on “I Count Myself Lucky

  1. I’m loving the stories you’ve sent my way. I’d be glad to expound on my “Married Widow” story. I understood you needed a brief account of my life. If you would like for me to complete what I started, I’d be glad to do so. Thanks much.

    Doris Thompson

    Like

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