Posts Tagged ‘secrets’


“It may not look like it, but I am writing now,” I said to Tom as I was folding a new batch of clean, fresh towels just taken from the dryer and still snuggly warm. He was watching me from his lounge chair as I completed the task on the top of our new spring bedspread.

I was heading for my writing room as soon as I completed this household task, something writers often do — put other “stuff” in front of creative time. Yet starting points were bubbling up within me for writer’s warm up, so that’s why I count it as writing.

The next part of my writing was sitting a spell with words by Michele Weldon, author of Writing to Save Your Life, about the quality of quiet in a writer’s life. Something that really attracts me, since I am writing a book titled, Being Faithful to the Quiet,  (subtitle, Finding the Silence that Soothes Your Soul). My book is a mix between memoir and mystery, a long-lived mystery that encircled my life like the ripples formed when a pebble is thrown into the water. And that pebble was thrown at my birth.  It is about the grace of the quiet and the pain lived out in  being silenced.

I relate to much of what she says in one very small section of a great book. Did you know that the genre of books on writing is only topped in numbers sold by the Christian Bible. So many writers write about writing!  Anyway, this is not a diversion, my reading about writing, is is part of my warmup practice to get into the quiet myself and begin writing. Hence, before I begin on searching my words and rhythm for my drafts of my book, I continue warm up with a short contribution to Napkinwriter. I am grateful to  the writing and readership of my five year Napkinwriter blog to keep me practiced in writing. It has spawned poems and memories I either did not know was there or thought I had forgotten. That’s the magic of the written word. So many creative journeys open up.

Weldon quotes Sarah Orne Jewett in a 1908 letter she wrote to Willa Cather,

“You must find your own quiet center of life and write from that to the world.” And she says these words hold true almost a century later. They do, for me. And from that quiet center of life, I also resolved mysteries and dilemmas in my life.  That is what I write about in my book because I continued to find practices of prayer and movement and contemplation, different types all through my life. They were gifts of grace to me. Saving grace, I would even say. And not all grace and prayer look like prayer, just like my folding towels didn’t look like writing.






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Secret Things (from Day 17 – Archetypes of the Creative)
by Susan Heffron Hajec

She holds secret things
holy and alone.
Things of long ago
as she creates anew
on each new sunrise blessing
of a life gifted to her.
Human, yet divine
are the connections she feels.
Lost and found in her
own tiny soul.

Sacred things held dear,
held precious
within a silent yearning….
for what
…for what?

Secret yearnings
in grace-filled moments
nearing expression
coming oh so close.
coaxes heart to open wider
breathe deeper.

Those secret things
bubble to the surface
and she is with them
in the sun’s light and warmth
briefly —
then they disappear to the depths
once more
to be awakened again
…when enough love is present.

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Celebrate Living

I am combining two efforts of late in this writing: to continue writing 50 stories of our 50 years of wedded life and love together and: to share some of the images I’ve been busy with for the 50 days of Resurrection Prayer/Creative Art project through Christine and John Valters Paintner’s Abbey of the Arts and Dancing Monks community. I am having so much fun with the various art images and techniques and word reflections they are offering, that my writing activity has lessened and I’ve just fallen into the fun of color and creation.  So here is the word for today!

LIFE…...”I just want to celebrate another day of living!”

My life is total gift, given by God and a mother who died shortly after my birth. Completely unknown by me for many years, I was raised by a second loving mother, whose God qualities were order, discipline and cleanliness. I loved her too but I yearned for the “hugginess” I knew my birth mother would have given me. All is gift and as I searched and discovered the realness of my birth mother, outside my family, I was given a great gift….from her best friend….who erased doubt and guiltiness from my soul over my birth, her death. She told me my mother rushed to her when she discovered she was pregnant with me and in great excitement told her, “NOW I KNOW the purpose of my LIFE.” Such a great unknown and mystery, erased from my life forever. Mom wanted to give me birth. I celebrate the LIFE and LOVE I have in my family life of husband, children and grandchildren. My mother’s life and love and purpose carries on through them.


Even though this story begins before our marriage, indeed at my very birth, the story carried on well into our marriage and Tom supported me deeply as I put the pieces of my known and unknown heritage together.  Nothing much was said during my growing up years of my birth and my birth mother’s death immediately following.

Aunt Resh2Diane Tanberg, cousin (far right)…..My birth TANBERG side

After the birth of our first daughter, Laura, my mother’s presence to me was unmistakeable, and I set about finding out the details of my birth history, mostly through my cousin Diane on my mother’s side. Also through my mother’s nursing student companion and best friend and maid of honor at her wedding.  The pieces came together over time and through deep seated pain.  It was important to me to add name and photo of Doris into my daughters’ and grandchildren’s baby books.


And this has been done. She is in our family through three more generations. Mom LIVES.

As a writer, I’ve been told by my much admired mentor that the FIRST story you must write is your mother story. Mine comes in so many layers that it seems it is a kalaidascope of reoccuring glimpses, each one emitting, celebrating or grieving one glimpse of the total.
As for the creative word of the day from Valters Paintner…..LIFE…..I am deeply grateful for mine. I am also aware of the “thin thread” upon which I came into this world and in surviving a difficult birth, that grace was given to me to continue the lineage of Tanberg-Heffron through the very fine, abundant and happy lives of the Hajecs, Warriners, and Mitchells.

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Aunt Resh

Resh & Diane

My Aunt Resh died and went to new life last week, for truly love can never die. And that in a word was “Resh”, Loretta Tanberg.  If you ever need proof that love goes well beyond the confines of the heart in your chest, you just need to look to my Aunt Resh.

Living her life in what I would describe as the “somewhat tiny” little town of Spring Valley, Wisconsin…..Resh lived a tremendously BIG LIFE!

Filled with family and fun and laughter, and coping with sorrrows too deep to imagine, like the disability of her daughter Cathy, who could neither speak nor walk, I can still feel the energy of Resh with that child, her daughter Diane and later Jon and Lauri.

They had “the big white house on the hill” of this tiny valley town. That’s what my older brother Dave and I remember. And when we visited there, it was a raucous time with laughter, drinking and card playing by the adults. My father and Resh’s husband, my Uncle Dale’s main goal seemed to be to “get Resh going”.

Before you knew it, they DID have her going, and she would let them have it, more than what they dished out.

Resh was adamant about keeping Cathy in their home as long as it was possible and she was greatly assisted by daughter Diane, who also floated love waves upon her. I remember seeing such an expression of joy throughout Cathy’s body that sounded like noise. But it was unmistakeably JOY, not noise, rising up from within Cathy and shining in her eyes.  It was one of Resh’s deepest trials when it came time for Cathy to be taken care of in a home.

So besides raising her two youngest children, Resh then delved into loving her grandchildren and being so very present to them. Then she went to work assisting other little children she called “her babies” in a day care center, well into her “elderly life.” She was still taking care of the babies, into her eighth decade of life.

She called me “Susie” with such sweet lovingness. No one else really called me that but that is all I can remember her calling me.  Their home had the big screened-in front porch where I sat with my grandmother Tanberg on our summer visits. My grandmother Tanberg, who was my birth-mother’s mother. A fact I did not know when I was sitting with her until I was late elementary school age because their was a “forced-secret” culture present for all of us, and no one — child or adult — would break that silence.

That is the only sad thing I remember about that house.

My Aunt Resh made sure many, many years later when I was in my forties and had college age daughters of my own that I received my birth mother’s wedding gown. My grandma had given it to Resh who had kept it all those years. “You should have that, Susie,” she told me over the phone. “That belongs to you.”

Aunt Resh gave me many things. This was one of the best ….right up there with her gigantic smile and her hearty laugh.

God bless you Aunt Resh.

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 My Grandmother’s Rosary

Sue’s Mother’s Day Tribute

“Excuse me,” the gentleman said as he got my attention. “I’m sure you did not mean to sell this.” In his hand, he was holding my grandmother’s crystal blue rosary, with a dull and tarnished silver cross with her name, Katherine Heffron, engraved on the back of it. My heart leapt in my chest. I was so grateful for his kindness in assuming that this prayer tool had much more than a monetary value attached to it. He returned it to me and I keep it on my home prayer table now, connecting me in faith to my elderly grandmother who passed many years ago.

             We were in moving mode once again, leaving our country home for a condominium a little closer to Tom’s work. We were getting the final items arranged for the sale, sipping our wake-up coffee to warm us on the brisk Michigan  spring morning when this early-bird garage shopper arrived. He didn’t spend much time and quickly shopped the entire space, snatching up goods that were on his “hunt list”. Somehow, my grandmother’s rosary with her name inscribed on the crucifix, got into his catch. By returning it to me in the pre-sale hour, he saved it from the later rush traffic of the day and confusion which allowed me to keep this rosary in my family heritage.

             The rosary belonged to my Irish grandmother who prayed her beads faithfully each day. Most of my memories of this grandma stem from her visits to us in the 1950s in our home in Sycamore, Illinois when I was in grade school. Grandma lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She lived with her daughter’s family, my father’s only sister and I never knew my grandfather. He lived and died working the hard life of a lumberjack, cutting and hauling wood out of the northern Wisconsin and Minnesota forest lands.

             My own father, at a young age, took over the provision role for his mother and sister. Early photos I have seen of those times in the late 1920s and early 1930s looked tough and gritty. I do not know the specifics, but I came to understand that my dad sacrificed in many personal ways to ensure that his mother and sister had their needs met. Most of that information came from my mother. I don’t remember dad talking about it very much.

             What I do remember is that my father and his mother had a loving but very testy relationship. Volatile and explosive would be more accurate. Grandma was a pretty cryptic personality when she wasn’t influenced by a little whiskey swig, which she was known to steal on the fly on occasion.

             She had her long, white-grey hair usually pulled back in a bun at the neck and she wore soft nylon or cotton shirt waist dresses with a belt around her full torso. She always seemed immaculately clean to me and smelled of soft, fragrant body powders and cream. My mother bathed and medicated her legs faithfully after which they were bandaged with elastic wrappings and stockings. Grandma always wore what I called “Eleanor Roosevelt” shoes, the same black heeled lace up oxfords the Sisters of Mercy wore at school.

             My dad and his mother may have agreed on their religion but in almost any other discussion topic, they were starkly at odds – each with a stubborn Irishness that would  not let disagreement of opinion rest. So many of their discussions turned into broiler heated arguments, my dad’s voice raised to thunder level with my grandmother, shaking her head, making clucking sounds with her false teeth, and walking off in disgust and amazement at what she deemed as her son’s lack of healthy respect for her.    

              Needless to say, this was very disturbing to my brothers and me who could not admonish their father and who hated to see their grandmother upset. The fall-out continued later, too, as the pattern was that grandma would then be gruff or mean to my mother, who through no fault of her own, took the heat that was meant for grandma’s son.

             My suspicion is that the place where grandma settled all this was with her beads. She would sit in her rocking chair, sometimes completing her own debating points in the absence of her son to no one in particular in the room. Then, within a short period of time, a soft quietness descended upon her and she would reach into her dress or apron pocket and draw out her beads. I often watched her and was grateful for the calm settling over her and the house as she sat alone and began her prayers.

              I would sit in the room near her, perhaps reading a book or completing some homework. I could see and feel the tension and the upset in her give way, for this short period of time, to be replaced by the rhythm of the beads slipping through her fingers and the repetitive words of the prayers coming quietly from her lips.

             Grandma shared my bedroom with me when she came for visits. One of my favorite times with grandma was when we were alone in my bedroom at night, just before  going to sleep. I would ask her about times when she was a girl like me and she talked softly and sweetly to me as she shared things I cannot remember today. It was a twilight time together for us and I got to know a grandma different from my daytime grandma that I loved and cared about deeply. We even laughed together. I think she liked that. My father might come to the door and admonish us, “You two, go to sleep”.

             We would quiet down, and maybe whisper one more secret between us before turning over and settling into our twin bed covers and pillows. Then, before drifting off to sleep, I would once again hear the slipping of the beads and her whispering lips praying her nighttime rosary. Mary, Mother of God, called upon once again for all of our sakes.

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John, Grandma & Me.

Seussical Musical – Grama crashes the party!
Grandma with author Devon
This Grama is Fun!


We never used the words “step” or “half”, when referring to the mom who raised us or to the relationship between brothers and sister. But we were not told who Grandma Tanberg really was until my older brother and I started questioning the fact that we had grandparents with three different last names.

Originally our questions met a stall tactic by my parents. They would respond with things like, “Well, aren’t you glad she IS your grandma?” This, of course, was true because she was so much fun to be with. The truth did not come out until our curiosity pushed the questioning further and this was middle grade school time.

The eventual explanation of our heritage was a very huge piece of life for us, as young children, to digest — especially because there was little more offered than the historical happening. The little boy in that bed with Grandma and the banana was the baby her daughter chose from an orphanage as her first child. Her daughter’s first-born child was me.

Grandma’s daughter — my birth mother — had gotten very ill with toxemia poisoning near the end of her pregnancy. Then, the doctors discovered she had only one kidney which was failing. I was born prematurely and barely survived. My mother died shortly after my birth. About two years later, my dad remarried, and their love for each other added another brother to the family.

While there was no malicious intent to the secrecy, the outcome for me was the veiling of the identity of another very important person — my birth mother. After being told the factual information of my mother’s death, we were admonished not to talk about it because it was “nobody else’s business”.

It was my business, however, and I was haunted for many years with the desire to know the personality and reality of the person who gave life to me. I felt too tongue-tied to approach my father, who would have to relive his loss to answer my questions. I felt disloyal to question my second mom, but actually managed to expand my comfort zone to receive some information from her.

After I was married, and a mother myself, my search for knowing my mother as a person intensified. The birth of my first daughter brought the spirit of my birth mother very close to me, right into my hospital room to be exact.

Once I started asking questions, a cousin helped me unravel a lot of the mystery from those days of youth and silence. My mother’s best friend from nursing school — who was also my mother’s maid of honor — was another person our family visited regularly when I was a child and I had no knowledge of the connection between my mother and her. She just seemed to love me an awful lot for not being even an aunt or some relative.

But it turns out when I became an adult, we developed a very special writing relationship and she was then another person who gave me glimpses of my mother as a young woman and her friend. And because of her, I know two of the very best things I could know about my mother.

When my mother chose Dave from the orphanage, she expressed the conviction that he was definitely the son for dad and her. “No one can love him as well as I can,” she said to my father. The adoption took place. When she discovered she was pregnant with me, she exclaimed to her friend, “I am so happy. Now I know what my life is about.”

I feel the same way about the wondrous gift of my two lovely, talented and spirited daughters who live their lives to the fullest. I receive the greatest joy in our growing, ever-changing relationships.

I do not think that silence was golden during the time I could have learned so much about my own mother from my grandmother when we were together. Instead, I think I missed a golden opportunity to know my own mom by learning about her through her own mother’s eyes.

Grandma’s ability and discipline to remain silent (for obviously and unexplainably, she was under the same understood edict) was a most courageous act of love on her part. And she constantly imparted that love to me.

Until I wrote this column, over sixteen years ago, I was still dealing with all of the heavy ramifications of loss for my own self. But when I was completing this work, I was aghast at what it must have meant for grandma. How difficult it must have been. Whatever stopped either of us, if even behind a hidden pine-tree for me to either ask or for her to tell me she had something special to say to me and we could keep our own little secrets. You have to wonder.

I am a grandma now and I know, without a doubt, I would never be silent about my daughters, if their children had not known them. Period.

I also know I could not love my three grandchildren more.

When I wrote this column, our daughter Kathleen was soon to be giving birth to our first grandchild, who is now turning sixteen very soon.  I said at that time, “Just to think of the birth of our first grandchild — it makes me giggle. Pass the banana!”

And we’ve been bananas ever since!

My Three Favorite People




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