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Setting the Foundation
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of Power and of love and of a sound mind.
— 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
Let's start at the beginning.
My parents set the foundation. As a little girl, I always felt we were living above the average standard for a middle-class family. We lived in Buffalo, New York, where both of my parents worked full-time jobs and then some. They showed my brother and me by example that hard work, dedication, and daily devotion to the family were what brought food to the table. Our bills were paid, and a world of happiness surrounded us. I felt limitless.
The mind power and man power of our family built our home. Our Polish heritage, which I'm very proud of, inspired us to pull together and realize my father's vision. Enduring countless hours of intense, hard labor, our whole family gathered during evenings and weekends to build our dream home, which I called the "White Castle."
My grandfather was at the center of our family. He had endless talents. Anything he wanted to know, he taught himself by trial and error. If something was more difficult, he signed himself up for a continuing-education class in his neighborhood. He continually showed my brother and me that with hard work, perseverance, and a lot of determination, success was possible. I considered my grandfather to be the source of all my inspiration, drive, and creative imagination. There weren't any no's when I was a little girl; the answer was always, "Let's see what we can do," and then he brought us down to his basement workshop.
As a child, all his tools, nuts, bolts, pieces, and parts always intrigued me. There was an endless array of trinkets to create just about anything I could imagine. The place smelled like creation. My grandfather fixed everything in the neighborhood for everyone. If your lawn mower broke, you brought it over to Mr. Casey. If you wanted your hair trimmed or cut, or if you wanted a shave, he could do that too. Technically, he was a foreman at the local steel plant. But beyond that, he challenged his own mind each day, and by doing so, he challenged all of us.
My father took the challenge his father had set before him. A skilled cabinetmaker, he loves woodworking, building, and creating. He has a passion for life and lives simply. He dreamed he would build his own house for his family, so he did.
In 1973, when the city of Buffalo was beginning to change, many were thinking about moving to the "burbs," as they called it. This offered a life full of promise for raising young children outside the stifled city, away from the noisy buses and the congestion, and above all, away from the polluted air from the local factories. My parents set out and explored different lands slated for development. They wanted to own a special piece of property, one that would stay with our family for generations to come, a place where we could all grow up with a stable roof over our heads.
After many months of searching for a piece of property, they found the magical land. It was located in a rural area that felt hundreds of miles away from the city. At least it felt that way to me — it was far away from all I had known thus far in my young life. Most importantly, it was far away from my cousins, extended family, and my best friend, Carol Jean, who lived next door to my house in the city. There was a whole new world waiting there for us. It was something fresh, new, and undiscovered. I could feel my family's excitement in my bones. Although I was too young to understand the true impact the move would have on my life, my soul knew it was something pretty darn special. I felt special. I held my head higher, and I had a spring in my step.
My father's aunt gave him a personal loan to start the project. I am very grateful to that aunt, who is now deceased, for supporting my father's dream. In the end, he paid the loan back in full and never had to hold a mortgage. The property itself and the home he lovingly built on it left a legacy of fond memories. To this day, the White Castle continues to be a place where we can gather and reminisce about stories from the past.
My father gathered the family and explained his vision. Then he purchased the blueprints from an architect, and step by step, the hard work began. My brother and I visited on weekends to see the progress as my father, grandfather, uncles, and countless relatives worked day and night on our home for over a year. Watching this, I understood that anything in this world can be accomplished. Any thought, dream, or desire can be put into action and seen through.
Finally, one day, the white brick ranch house was finished.
I remember watching my grandfather plaster the last wall to perfection, secretly filling the walls with special energy. He was a man who lived with faith and inspired hope in every person he met. He was always smiling and joyful about life, happy to teach others and show them everything he knew. I learned many things from him in those early years: Don't ever give up. Persevere, and you will create the life you want. Find the joy and love in your heart, and you will be a magnet to others. Move away from negative energy and seek only the positive. Your garden will grow as you expand your mind and your thinking. Start with one simple plant; water, feed, and nurture it, and it will provide you with abundance in return.
I was seven years old when we moved in, and I felt like a princess. My brother and I ran through the hills, skipping and jumping over the mud puddles the rainstorm had left from the night before, surrounded by green grass and beautiful flowers. We were surrounded by wildlife, nature, and fields leading to the forest. The fresh air provided us with a sense of joy, hope, and new discovery. Many memories were to be made here over the years. Laughter and joy filled the walls of the house. Though, of course, we had heartaches, above all we were grateful and blessed. Our family's strong roots grew down through our house's very foundation.
I spent countless afternoons exploring the fields on foot with my doll and carriage in tow. Although we were only a thirty-minute drive from the city, it felt like we were a hundred miles away. To me, the place was paradise. The summer months brought bright sunshine that shone down on my face, and on endless warm summer nights, I lay in my bed, listening to the crickets sing in harmony. The sound provided me with calmness, a sense of being, and a promise for the new day that would follow. Life as we knew it was pretty simple.
The winters were quite harsh in upstate New York, and as I grew up, I was expected to pitch in and get us through. My father began a side business of selling firewood so he and my brother could earn extra money on the weekends. This meant spending many Saturday afternoons sitting on an upright wood round, helping them run the log splitter. I controlled the lever, running it back and forth as my father split loads of lumber. He and my brother delivered firewood to wealthy families in neighborhoods I only dreamed of living in. I sat for hours in the cold, bundled up in a snowsuit, hat, scarf, and gloves, most of the time with tears freezing to my rosy cheeks. All I wanted was to be in my warm house in front of the fireplace, writing poetry and creating imaginary tales about a little girl who got to run on the beach. As I sat by the log splitter, I couldn't wait to run back to the house for the hot chocolate and the hot homemade dinner my mother would have waiting for us. But in truth, we needed the money; the firewood sales paid for our extracurricular activities.
When we lived in the city, my mother had enrolled me in a weekly ballet class when I was five. It wasn't very successful; I have often listened to my mother tell the story of how I just stood there with my fingers in my mouth, crying. Now that I was seven years old, I begged my mother to enroll me in classes for tap and jazz.
My father was the breadwinner in our family. He was strict, and I feared him in some ways. At the same time, I felt my father's determination to show us how to earn a dollar, and teaching us lifelong skills were his way of showing love. When he forced our family to work together as a team, he was loving us.
Those long days of sitting in the bitter cold gave me the strength, courage, and determination to dream about what I did and didn't want for my life. I always felt there was something bigger, something powerful beyond anything I could ever even create. I just knew there was more to find, more to be, and a lot more to do.
When spring came, I made weekly trips with my mother to the city. Saturdays were my favorite; the early-morning drive from the countryside to the city always brought an exciting adventure. My mother, a hairdresser and aesthetician, needed to be ready with her pinking shears and straight-edge razor, because her first customer would be in the chair at nine a.m. sharp. While she tended to her elderly shampoo-and-set clientele, her desk filled up quickly with containers of homemade chrusciki, pierogi, and placek. All these baked goods and specially filled delicacies are traditional in Polish culture during the Easter season. My mother's clients were generous year-round; at Christmas, they brought a variety of homemade cookies. This was surely a perk of being a small-business owner. But Easter was my favorite. From Lent onward was simply delicious.
Although my mother is predominantly Italian, her father was Polish, and she inherited the great gene for cooking fabulous Polish dishes. She shared her love of baking with me, and this became a special time for us to bond. I remember standing on the step stool up against the kitchen counter while she taught me how to measure flour and sugar. I savored the smell of the vanilla extract while pouring a teaspoon into our favorite cookie recipe.
My mother's hair salon was directly across the street from the Roman Catholic Church in the dead center of a prominently Polish community. We have a deep-rooted, extended family throughout the area. My father grew up in the Polish part, and my mother grew up in the Italian neighborhood adjacent to it. Everyone knew everyone, and no one strayed far.
In such a tight-knit community, my parents let me be a "free-range" kid. As soon as I was able to check in all the morning clients, I could go off to meet my cousin Suzy. Suzy was a few years older than I, and our adventures gave us a great sense of freedom. I brought a few quarters for the bus ride and a few dollars for our window-shopping excursion, and we stayed downtown for the day.
I hopped and skipped all the way down the street a few blocks until I saw Suzy doing the same. We always met at our "halfway point," just a few blocks away from my mother's hair salon. First, we did our secret handshake, and then we spun around and embraced each other with a hug — always dressed as twins. One Saturday, it was purely accidental that we were wearing the same outfit, but it so delighted us that each Saturday thereafter we planned which matching outfits to wear the following week. We either tried to coordinate our colors with matching hair ribbons or had our parents purchase the same outfits for us.
Neither of us had a sister, and we both had one brother. Together, we were inseparable twins.
We walked to the bus stop to wait for our usual 11:20 a.m. Saturday morning 20B route, which would take us to the small downtown shopping district. The trip was the highlight of the week. We boarded the bus together and sat in the same seats every week, giggling and laughing about the stories of the week from our respective schools.
Suzy and I were very mature for our age. We loved having our matching leather banana-shaped purses over our shoulders. They came in all colors of leather — from bright yellow to subtle colors like black, caramel, and wine. We felt as if we were eighteen years old.
Once we arrived downtown, our first stop was always Fanny Farmer for chocolate candy cigarettes wrapped in colored foil and packaged in a plastic container. And then we wandered over to Hickory Farms cheese and d'oeuvres shop to collect all the free samples we could. Sometimes the woman who worked there gave us extras. Next we were off to lunch at our favorite, Burger King. The best part about this Burger King was that it was a two-story building. We loved to sit up near the second-floor window seat overlooking Main Street and the shopping district, thinking we were so cool. We beamed with pride because we were trusted to do all this without adults.
I could never have dreamed that I'd be treated more like an independent adult at ten years old than I would later in life. Little did I know that the feeling of being limitless would be nonexistent as a thirty-year-old married woman with two children.
Though my parents made me work hard for what I wanted, they weren't controlling. I learned that love and trust went hand in hand. My mother showed me how women could work hard, my father inspired me to live my dreams, and my grandfather taught me to do so with creativity, perseverance, and kindness. It was a limitless childhood; life as I knew it was footloose and fancy free.
Questions for Reflection
1. Who has inspired you in your life?
2. What lessons did you learn from this person?
3. What settings or situations inspire you?CHAPTER 2
Never regret anything because at one time it was exactly what you wanted.
— Marilyn Monroe
By the time I turned seventeen, my daily schedule was full of tap, jazz, and ballet classes. When school got out at the end of the day, I drove to my local dance school, where I spent many hours practicing, teaching, and performing. It was 1986, near the end of the school year, and I was determined to earn more money to reach my savings goal by the end of the summer. I dreamed of traveling abroad to Europe. Teaching dance wasn't going to bring in enough, and as I began to look for another job that summer, my dance teacher suggested I try the local dance shop and set up an appointment for me. On Pointe Dance Shop was where we purchased our dance shoes, leotards, tights, and anything else we needed to put on a show. With my passion for dance, my knowledge of the products, and the retail experience I had gained through working my first job a few years before, I felt this would be a great fit. With great excitement, I prepared to drive into the city for my interview.
Little did I know that stepping into this charming shop would change my life forever. It was an old building, built in the early 1900s. The old wood floor creaked when I stepped into the shop, and the smell of leather dance shoes filled the air. Hundreds upon hundreds of white and black shoeboxes filled the shelves. I was told to ask for a man named Mr. M.
As I entered, the bells on the door brought a short, young, dark-haired gentleman out from the back storeroom. "May I help you?" he asked.
"Um, yes, I am here to see Mr. M. I am here for a job interview."
"He is out on an errand right now," the gentleman replied. I must have had a perplexed look on my face since we'd made an appointment. "Oh, it's okay. My name is Rick, and I can help you. One moment please."
Rick walked to the back of the store and came back with a pen and a yellow legal pad held by a clipboard. "Please have a seat," he said with a warm smile.
I first noticed that Rick had big, deep, dark-brown eyes with a bit of a twinkle. Then I noticed his warm and comforting smile. Although I felt a bit intimidated by him, I listened intently to the questions he asked me. He asked me about my dance history and my prior retail experience, jotting down notes on his yellow legal pad as I answered. But mostly he stared at me as if his eyes were looking deep into my soul. It wasn't an uncomfortable feeling; it was as if I were meant to be there. My soul had found its home in that moment. He continued on with a few more questions and then said, "Well, when can you start?"
"Start?" I replied in a state of confusion. "Start what?"
"You came here for a job, right?"
"Okay, when can you start? We can employ you as soon as possible."
I smiled. I was so excited that I felt compelled to say, Tomorrow! Instead, I paused and said, "I can start on Monday. What time should I be here?"
I walked out of On Pointe, feeling like I was on top of the world. What could be better than being surrounded with hundreds of ballet shoes, pointe shoes, tap shoes, and all the glitz and glam every day?
I crossed the street with a spring in my step, walking to my car with thoughts of financial freedom. After all, at seventeen years of age, all I wanted was to be independent from my parents and show them I was well on my way to taking care of myself. Plus, I had a goal: I would save my own money and go on an awesome adventure in Europe. It was quickly approaching the fall of 1986. I knew the work lined up for me would take my heart to greater distances. The summer abroad in 1987 would enrich my life trifold.
Excerpted from "A Limitless Life in a Powerless World"
Copyright © 2019 Lisa Marie Runfola.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Setting the Foundation, 1,
Chapter 2 Independence, 8,
Chapter 3 A Limitless Journey, 16,
Chapter 4 Powerless in Greece, 25,
Chapter 5 A Chance Meeting, 35,
Chapter 6 Dependent, 42,
Chapter 7 The Lack of Autonomy, 48,
Chapter 8 The Affair, 53,
Chapter 9 The Truth Will Set You Free, 59,
Chapter 10 Forgiveness, 67,
Chapter 11 From Powerless to Limitless, 70,
Chapter 12 The Leap of Faith, 74,
Chapter 13 The Choice, 84,
Chapter 14 The Call, 94,
Chapter 15 Service, 98,
Chapter 16 Loved Ones, 107,
Chapter 17 The Promises, the End, the Defeat, 111,