I entered the world during a baby shower for my mother. The women had purposely picked a Thursday evening for the shower, since that was my father’s bowling night, but to no avail. Paging a man in a noisy bowling alley wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but when my Dad finally got the message he finished the third game–there were only three frames left– and then rushed to the hospital. And there I was. A girl baby. My father claimed he didn’t care, although that wasn’t quite true. Silently, he gave up daydreams of fishing and golfing with a son, and he put up with me. On the other hand, my mother had desperately wanted a girl, so her joy was indescribable. Inspiration # 1. Nothing like a mother’s love.

After I am born we come to the first obstacle. My mother was a devout Baptist and my father was a practicing Catholic. (Those Catholics always practicing like they hadn’t quite got it right.) There was a rather heated discussion on whether I would be a Catholic or a Baptist. Catholic won out and so I was raised in Catholic schools by nuns. Inspiration #2. This may be hard to believe, but I was taught by the most liberal women I’ve ever known, who just happened to be nuns. I got a great education and l was taught to think for myself. They were also great proponents of the arts, and started me on my voyage of loving to create.

Once I was old enough to walk down the stairs to my grandmas’ home, I went there often. I played underneath my grandmother’s dining room table, a large table that she used where she made draperies for the store down the street. The cloth would cascade down to the floor, making walls for my house. My dolls and I occupied the under table world for quite a few years. Inspiration #3. My grandmas’ gave me permission to play, a gift I have managed to carry with me throughout my entire life.

As I got older, I was given little tasks in the sewing room–winding thread or skeins of yarn, or learning how to sew a straight line on the old Singer sewing machine. And eventually when I was much, much older, I was allowed to dust my grandmother’s set of miniature shoes which were carefully ensconced in a large glass cabinet. The china cabinet in the hall held more than 600 shoes from around the world and the United States, and it was quite a job to unload the shelves, dust the shoes and shelves and reload. I loved doing it, handling each shoe, looking to see if I could tell where it was from. Some had tiny tags on them telling the giver’s names. Those were my favorite. Inspiration #4 also belongs to my grandmas’. They taught me that work is necessary, but one can make work fun. (Many years later I would inherit that shoe collection. My grandmother astutely knew I was the only true lover of the shoes, and everyone else only loved the money the auctioneer could get for them.)

In elementary school, my first grade teacher was Sister Rebecca, one of the most caring people I have ever known. She taught me how to read and write, and I learned quickly how to devour books and make them my friends (when I was poorly needing friends.) Inspiration #5

I remember the last day of school in 8th grade. I remember that especially. My grandfather went to check on my great-grandmother and found her dead in bed. That was my first experience with death, and I mourned her silently but deeply. She had been my confidante over the years as I grew up in the big house, and I always knew her as my beacon of safety. I now felt adrift in a big sea. I loved my great-grandma the most of all the people I knew. She taught me (in absentia) how to mourn and how to come out to see the rainbow at the end of a long storm. Already listed as inspiration #3.

My first year of college was spent in my hometown’s college, living at home. I hated living at home. In desperation, I spoke with my advisor, Father Eugene Middendorf, and asked him what I should do. He suggested I go to the library and look up the colleges and universities that had physical therapy programs to see what was out there. I researched catalog after catalog and found a state school that had a PT program. Father Middendorf and I spoke with my parents and they hesitantly agreed that I could matriculate at an away college for my sophomore year. Inspiration # 6. He trusted me and gave me permission to spread my wings and fly.

After 2 years at the state college, I was admitted to Northwestern University for my final 16 months of study in their physical therapy school. I also worked in the kitchen, feeding the students of Northwestern, to earn my spending money. It happened that I met a guy who worked as the cook named Bob. He was a first year law student, and we became friends.
One weekend the dorm cleared out since many students took a road trip to see the Kentucky Derby. When Friday evening came, and my work shift was over, I asked Bob if he’d like to go for a pizza and to see a movie. We must have hit it off well, because I kept dating him and the next June we were married. Inspiration # 7. Bob has taught me how to share a whole life together while loving each other. He has taught me that family can go through unbelievable trials and survive.

When we decided to start our family, I had little trouble getting pregnant, but a harder time making the pregnancies stick. I had two emotionally painful miscarriages before we finally struck gold. Gold came in the way of Jeanne. Three years later, after two more miscarriages, I had my second baby, Jeffrey. Then Bob took a new job and we moved across the state. There we completed our family with Amanda’s birth. My inspirations #8, #9, #10. They taught me everything else I had yet to learn, and they still continue to inspire me to be my very best. They encourage me when I am in a slump and proclaim my victories when success comes around.

Oh, excuse me. See that table in front of the fireplace. All of the people who have inspired me are sitting there. Look. They’re waving at me to come. There’s one chair still empty. I must go. I need to give everyone there a big hug of thanks.

Barbara Fahrenbach

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