With over 6 billion people on this planet, everyone is born with a different set of cards. Some people are dealt aces and some are dealt twos or threes. It is what you do with your cards (no matter how high or low) that matters.
Todays blog entry is very personal. I have turned this blog into a hybrid (half about my family and the other half telling stories, giving reviews, and coming up with other ideas). I decided I wanted to interview my dad because I knew his story was interesting and is one of highs and lows and perseverance. I decided the 4th of July weekend in Tyler would be the perfect time.
Yesterday we (myself, Dave, Christa, Brad, April, and my dad) sat on the patio drinking beers while I conducted my interview. There was lots of laughter, but also tears. So here is the story of my dad, Gregg Allen Skelly (age 63).
My dad was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan into a poor family that was comprised of 4 (and later 5) kids and a single mom. His mother (it's weird for me to call her grandmother) was an alcoholic with mental issues who never held a job and just collected welfare checks. Her oldest son is Larry, followed 10 months later by Brian, then 16 months later came Marica, and then my dad a short time later. They all had the same father who took off when my dad was a baby. Lottie (my dad's mom- who ironically was named Charlotte) married a nice man named George and had Kathy. Things didn't work out with George and Kathy was lucky enough to escape the chaotic Skelly household and live with her dad. Lottie had a 6th child that was put up for adoption that nobody knows what happened to.
When my dad was around 4, all of the kids were removed from the home by the State of Michigan and placed into different foster homes. My dad hit the jackpot by being placed with a couple who loved him so much.
Dad, "I remember being in a loving, normal environment with a couple I called Aunt Jean and Uncle Jack. They wanted to adopt me and I was very happy with them. One day when I was 5, a car driven by George carrying my mom, Larry, Brian, and Marcia arrived in front of our house. They were there to take me back. I was devastated. I will never forget that moment crying and crying and pleading to stay with Aunt Jean and Uncle Jack. Unfortunately this was during a time when the thought was that the best place for a child was with the birth mom.”
The next few years consisted of the same chaos, poverty, neglectful, unstable life.
Dad, "I remember when I was about 10 my mom had an account at Curly's Grocery Store. She would send me to the store to buy incidentals and they would charge her account. What my mom didn't know was that every trip I took, I brought a buddy and treated both of us to a 10 cent coke and 5 cent twinkie. I thought I was a “big shot”. One day Curly’s Grocery Store was going out of business and had to collect on all of their accounts. I remember my mom coming home after settling her account and beating me over and over. Apparently she did not appreciate the $8.00 I racked up in cokes and twinkies.
Another memory I have around the same age was that during the harsh Michigan winter months we would buy a month’s supply of coal. Inevitably we would always run out about a week before the next shipment. For some reason I was always the one that had to figure out a solution. I was 10, maybe it was because I was at the bottom of the totem pole. Anyway, I will never forget being 10, taking a wagon at night (so nobody would see me), buying charcoal and then going and gathering wood from abandoned houses that were to be torn down.
Me, “Wow, life sounded pretty hard, but it sounds like you had street smarts from a young age”.
Dad, “Another thing I remember was that we never ate meat. I remember the few times my mom would cook a pot roast (all the kids smelled it all day and could not wait), my mom and her girlfriends would get drunk and eat the meat. We were left with the vegetables.”
Me, “When you were a kid you and your brothers sometimes got into trouble and broke minor laws. How did you go from being raised in a horrible, chaotic environment to spending your young adult life and now a grandfather having morals, values, and a work ethic? How did you escape the cycle of poverty?”
Dad, “Wedgwood Christian Home for Boys. That place provided stability, love, and support. I was sent there when I was 12 years old (all the kids were taken away by the state again). The director was a 31 year old newlywed who was named Jim Voughberg and married to Claire. When I turned 16, Jim told me that I needed to move on because I was taking a spot. Of course he was joking and offered for me to come live with he and his wife. This was such a generous offer that I took them up on.”
Me, “And then you graduated from high school while you were living with them?”
Dad, “Not exactly. When I was 17 and a senior in high school I decided to move in with my brother Larry. Jim and Claire tried to talk me out of it. By the time I realized I made a mistake, Claire was pregnant with their first child and told me I couldn’t move back in.”
Me, “ Wow, I understand where they were coming from. What happened to them? Do you still keep in touch?”
Dad “They were wonderful people. They didn’t let me move back in, but continued to support me financially until I graduated high school and joined the navy. I have kept in touch with them all these years and visit them when I go to Michigan”
Me, “What happened to Wedgwood? Is it still there?”
Dad, “Yes it is still there. They have expanded it immensely.”
Me, “Have you been back”
Dad, teary eyed he said, “They contacted me a couple of years ago and wanted me to come and share my story.”
Sidenote: My dad joined the navy, married my mom, got a job bagging groceries and worked his way up the grocery store latter. Today he is Senior Vice President of Operations for the Super 1 Foods Division. He is in charge of over thirty stores in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. We did not know this until the interview, but he has given yearly donations to Wedgwood because he was grateful for his experience.
Me, “Did you go?”
Dad, “ No, I just couldn’t speak in front of people. I knew it would be too painful and I would be a mess. I agreed to do a video interview for them”.
Me, “Wow, how did we not know any of this?”
Sidenote: We are all in tears.
Me, “Ok, lets talk about Navy stories (trying to lighten the mood).”
Dad, “It was during the Vietnam Era and I was about to be drafted. Larry joined the Army, and Brian and I joined the Navy. The problem was that I did not know how to swim. I decided to pay another sailor to take my swimming test for me. My downfall was that I stupidly chose one of the best swimmers in the Navy and the second he started swimming, they knew it was not Gregg Skelly. We both got punished. He received 2 weeks in the brigg. I received 1 week in the brigg and 1 week guarding the guy I paid to do my swim test. They were going to teach both of us a lesson.
Another story I remember was that as soon as I joined, I had to take an aptitude test for them to determine my job on the ship. Unfortunately I was sick as a dog and did not score well. In fact, I scored so low, they thought I was mentally deficient. They stuck me in the worst job on the ship- laundry. It was 1969-1970 and I was the only white guy doing laundry. After a few weeks someone realized that I was in the wrong place and I got assigned to a higher position (peeling paint. not much better).”
Me, “What were you most proud of in your life?”
Dad, “I love my wife and am proud that everyone knows the all 4 Skelly girls have work ethic. I also regret being so tight with money with my wife”.
Me, “You have been in the grocery business for many years. What is something interesting you could tell us?”
Dad, “Well, it’s not interesting but sad. I talk to lots of young, hard workers who I feel would do great working their way up and making the grocery business a career. I tell them there aren't that many jobs that you can work very hard for 6-7 years and then make $75,000 on up. It disappoints me that most of these young people aren’t willing to put in the hard work and hours.”
Me, “Do these people have college degrees? I never made near that as a teacher.”
Dad, “No, these are people with a high school diplomas. However, the trend is going towards hiring people with college degrees because the pay is competitive”.
So there you have it. The story of my dad, Gregg Skelly. I can never remember if his name has 2 G’s or 3 G’s. I love him and am so proud to be his daughter. He has spent his life being generous behind the scenes, not wanting accolades.
So, for those of you who think that your life sucks, put your big boy pants on and think about Gregg Skelly- being taken away from people who loved him at age 5, searching for wood in the middle of the night at age 10, in and out of the foster care system, grocery store bagger who worked himself to Senior Vice President of a prestigious business- oh, and a wonderful Christian, husband, father, grandfather, and friend with a dry sense of humor:)