Kindness Rules - 38 Years, the internet - a story of Heidi, Christie and Jo-ann.

Once upon a time I was a freshman in High School - moving to a new school two thirds of the way through the year. Anybody who has ever been subjected to that will know exactly how I felt. Husky High (aka Forest Hills Northern outside Grand Rapids, MI) was as clique ridden as they come. It was not a very welcoming environment for a hippie wannabee coming from sunny Tucson.
Big aviator glasses n lotsa hair - taken in Tucson a few months before my transfer.
My parents divorced when I was a wee one and after the death of my older brother Doug, (the middle of three sons), my mom decided she needed to be in Arizona. We landed in Tucson after my mom finished her Masters Degree at ASU. I have some good memories of coming of age in Tucson - home of the U of A. I got to attend college football games with the other kids in my YMCA group - we had to get by all the protesters at the game against BYU (they did not allow black kids in their school then!). Speaking of protests - I actually marched in an anti-war protest and wore a black arm band to school in the 8th freakin' grade. How cool izzat? I saw rock concerts in local parks where Brent Cochran and I had older folks buy us bottles of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill - we gave them 2 bucks for two bottles and they kept one. (Yes, it was .99 cents a bottle then.) A 4 finger lid of Mexican pot could be had for ten bucks.

Whoops - I chased a couple rabbits there. As you might guess, I was a bit of a hand full for my mom - especially once Stanley Whitney and I began to experiment with some of the other substances available to latch key kids with a nose for trouble such as we. I forgot to go to school on several occasions, so my mom and Miss Young, my guidance counselor at school, decided it might be best if I went to live with my dad as opposed to doing some time at the Arizona Youth Center.

Side note: Miss Young was a wonderful example of the huge difference an engaged teacher or councilor can make in the life of a young person. She holds a special place in my memory and heart.

So, I found my delinquent self as a freshman in a mostly hostile environment.
Enter one Heidi Burnam.
Heidi was NOT sipping bubbly when we met.
Heidi and I had a couple of classes together. We never really hung out, but we did talk a lot. My strongest memory of her was the kindness that she extended to the New Kid. She had braces back then and she sure smiled a bunch. We both had minds that were a smidge twisted and neither one of us were too impressed with Mainstream High School Life.

Here is the wild part - after graduation in 1976 we went our separate ways. I never had any type of communication with Heidi for DECADES. However, the fun part of this story is that I would often remember her kindness, especially when I would drive by the house she lived in back in the day. The Burnams lived by Collins elementary on Greenbriar just off Fulton. If my wife Julie heard me relate how nicely I was treated by Heidi one time, then she easily heard it 215 times - we travel on Fulton (M-21) a lot.

Fast forward to a few years ago - there I am farting around on the interweb. If I recall, it was one of the few times I had been on Classmates.com. BINGO - there was Heidi! She owned a way cool art gallery in NYC (you can check the gallery here). Just for fun I sent her a message in care of the gallery, trying to ascertain it was the correct Heidi and wondering if she might remember me. She was and she did.

Thanks to the web we touch base with one another from time to time. She got me 47,897 brownie points with our daughter Amy a couple of years ago. The gallery Heidi operates was having an open house featuring the work of Stan Lee - yup, that Stan Lee. Amy and her husband Justin are comic geeks. Heidi provided me with an autographed picture of Stan Lee and I passed it along to Amy.

FYI Heidi - Amy n Justin treasure that treasure.

Heidi with her buddy Stan.

I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the care package Heidi sent my way whilst I was in Cancer Camp. There were treats, a little puzzle and my favorite thing - a clown nose. It arrived at a time when my spirits were just about crushed. Nothing can lift the spirits of a sick person like a clown nose.

Well, the real meat of this tale is that Heidi and I finally got to see each other again - the bonus was that I also met her daughter Christie. The circumstances that allowed this meeting were unfortunate in that it was a memorial service held in Ada for Heidi's mom - whom she loved very much. Jo-ann Burnam was by all accounts a very special person - a lover of life, spreader of good cheer, friend, volunteer, cancer fighter, and a fantastic mom-grandma-great grandma. (you can read about her here: Tribute to Jo-ann.)

The service was very moving - even though I had NEVER met Jo-ann. The love from her 5 children, ten grandchildren and two great grandchildren was palpable. Christie sang a wonderful rendition of Ave Maria and Heidi gave a moving tribute to her mom which included a wonderful story about Christie. Christie had learned of a Japanese tradition of folding one thousand Origami cranes. The legend has it that when one does so, the spirit of the cranes will grant a wish.

Christie not only folded one thousand cranes, but she wrote her grandma a wonderful letter to go along with them - I am tearing up as I recall it. The cranes and the letter were on display in the church.

I certainly do not pretend to understand much about the afterlife. But I hope that Jo-ann is getting some smiles from the legacy of love she has handed down to her daughter and grand daughter.

Well done Jo-ann.
Well done Christie.
Thanks Heidi for being so kind in 1972!

POST SCRIPT: Two years later I am happy to report that Heidi and I have remained in contact with one another. Julie and I have spent some quality time with her, including a most deluxe Sunday when she flew into Grand Rapids to surprise her dad on his birthday. Her sister got dad downtown and Heidi strolled up like a casual tourist to surprise him and a group of us got a behind the scenes tour and impromptu lecture about Maurice Sendek while seeing an excellent collection of his work on display at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Heidi knew and worked with Maurice for many years, so her knowledge of both his art and his personage was wonderful. 

One last thing I have to thank Heidi for. She gave me a much needed kick in the ass over dinner around Christmas 2015. I won't bore you with all the drama, but the previous couple years had been nothing but challenges (cancer and related debt, a second business Julie and I started failed, blah blah blah). My tail was dragging and Heidi asked me what my tombstone was gonna read. My response was, "Close, but no cigar."

Heidi brushed my negativity aside and proceeded to issue a challenge about finding my purpose and intention for my life. I wish I could say I was transformed in an instant, (hey, she ain't no fairy with a wand), but I can say that night was the start of a Big Mental Turnaround which has resulted in me getting up off the mat and back in the Fight.

My nickname for Heidi is Cartwheel on account of she turned several right before my eyes on a lawn while she and Julie were playing croquet. Pretty impressive for someone in my age bracket.

Thanks for lighting the fire, Cartwheel - may you live long and inspire many.



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