Simply Theresa



I was born in Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of the Greater Kansas City Metropolitan area. It was during a time in which my parents spoke often about the Second World War, a period of their lives that was still very real. My Father, who served in both the Navy and Army, was a born entrepreneur and salesman and my Mom was well, my Mom. Her contemporaries have told me she was one of the most intelligent women that they’d ever met but, to me, she was the person who I came home to every day after school, fixed the best dinners, helped with homework and always understood what I was going through, both the good times and the bad times. My Dad owned a coffee company; not a Starbucks but a company that brewed huge amounts of fresh coffee every morning and delivered it in giant thermos’ to office buildings all over the City. He was fearless, could talk to anyone (and did), worked long hours right alongside his employees, had friends from all parts of society and had a heart of pure gold. My parents were what all parents should be, warm, loving, understanding, generous and always supportive.

I grew up with three brothers and a sister. We were all about five years apart in age and I was the second oldest. One of my brothers, Andy, died of cancer when he was nine years old. He and I were probably the closest of all the siblings, although he was also very close to my sister. His death had a profound effect on the rest of my life. You see, Andy became my guardian angel.

My paternal grandparents were what many people would call salt-of-the-earth, solid as a rock. My grandfather was another born salesman and the very definition of a southern gentleman. He grew up with seven brothers and worked in the family’s mule business. That then became a natural transition to selling automobiles, never cars; they were always automobiles. He worked for Cadillac and the Packard Motor Company and always drove a shiny, brand new model of whichever make he was selling at the time. He was another person, much like my Dad, that never knew a stranger. He liked and talked to everyone and never spoke ill of a single sole. A fond memory of mine is going with him one day to visit a close friend of his, the chairman of Commerce Bank of Kansas City. We ended up being late for our appointment because he got tied up talking to the parking lot attendant across the street from the bank, another very close friend of my grandfathers. Bub, his grandfather name, always wore a coat and tie, even on the weekends and holidays, and always smoked a pipe which smelled really good, like brownies or Christmas.

My two grandmothers couldn’t have been more different. My mother’s mother had been a widow nearly all of her life. She was a quiet woman who lived alone on social security and a small inheritance. She worked in her yard whenever weather permitted, listened to the radio, walked to the grocery store every day, wore very plain house dresses and loved to play card games. At least one weekend a month I would spend the night at her house and we would play canasta non-stop the entire time I was there, sometimes even late into the night. Helen Gereke was, in every sense, the very definition of dignified. My paternal grandmother, on the other hand, was the archetypical strong, confident woman. She started driving a car when she was fourteen and was the first female in the State of Missouri to ever receive an actual driver’s license. She marched proudly in the women’s suffrage movement and demonstrated vocally in favor of prohibition. She worked all her life outside the home. She dressed impeccably and sewed all of her own clothes. Lucy, who wouldn’t tolerate a grandmother name, despised anything that was remotely discriminatory towards any other human being. When it came to equal rights for all, Lucy was way before her time.

My aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives were all pretty normal, I guess. They all smoked liked chimneys, drank like fish and went to church every Sunday, at least most weeks. I grew up Episcopal and attended services at the highest of all Episcopal cathedrals, complete with ornate stained-glass windows and very stern priests. I remember getting attendance pins with little bars signifying how many weeks in a row I’d made it to church without missing. It was brutal in that “on my death bed” wasn’t a good enough excuse to get me out of church on Sunday. Those pins with the little bars were very important to some people, people such as my entire family.

We always lived in quiet, suburban, neighborhoods on the Kansas side of Kansas City, there was also a Missouri side. I went to modern schools throughout elementary and high school. I always had excellent grades and was enrolled in accelerated classes, now called "gate", and was particularly good in math and the sciences. I was a finalist in the midwest regional science fair when I was in 5th grade and won a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the Smithsonian. It was the first time I'd ever gone anywhere without a family member. It was a premonition of things to come.

I tried to participate in sports during high school but I was never very good at them, my best sport was probably tennis. It wasn't until later in life when I really focused on tennis that I could play a respectful match without embarrassing myself. I never had the perception that I was very well liked during these years. I was overweight (my Dad called in chunky) and was terribly self-conscious about it. I was painfully shy and had a really bad self-image because of it, or at least I thought it was because of my weight. I dated one person throughout high school. Both of our families shared a love for spending our summer vacations at the Lake of the Ozarks, in the Ozark mountains in south-central Missouri. We would spend nearly all summer and most weekends in the Spring and Fall at a small cabin we owned close to the lake. It was really an idyllic way to spend the hot summers of the midwest, laze around most days, fishing, swimming, water skiing and just floating in the clear lake water. The ritual was to open up the cabin right before Easter and close it down around Halloween. My sense looking back is that I was terribly spoiled during my youth. I had personal issues, but all-in-all, I lived a "Leave It to Beaver" lifestyle up until I went off to college.

to be continued.....