In the Coming months, we’re proud to bring you excerpts from the book “Dedicated to the Cup – Nine Ways to Reinvent a Life!” a collection of inspiring stories from many Willamette Valley locals who have overcome adversity and reinvented their lives. Our first is from Joal Traynor, a charming fellow who was raised in the midst of gang life in California, and turned it around.
From the Book:
From a young age, my goal was to avoid spending time in prison, unlike my dad, brother, and so many other family members. Yet, here I sit at 2:20 a.m., locked up. The difference is that I have the keys and get to leave after my eight-hour shift at an Oregon juvenile detention center, a job that occasionally gives me the chance to get lost in the reflections of my past and current lives.
When I go back home to Stockton, California, and talk to old friends and people I used to know, it’s like they’ve seen a ghost. I recently ran into one of my old coaches, and he told me he’d expected to see in the news that I was dead or in prison. He was proud that I was able to get my life straight and become a productive adult.
After some of my childhood experiences, it’s no wonder people are shocked that I am still around. One distinct memory is of my five-year-old self and my brother playing with toy cars on the living room carpet. Without warning, a rival gang sprayed the house with bullets, shattering the living room window. Even though gunshots were a familiar noise in my neighborhood, it was still a scary experience.
Another time, when I was 10 or 11, my mom and aunt told us kids they were going to go cut down a fresh Christmas tree for us. My mom left a big pot of Swamp Thang (pasta with Alfredo sauce) and some chicken wings, saying she would be back soon. We were happy, no doubt, because we were free to run the streets all day long. After two or three days, we ate up the food that was left for us and found other ways to eat after that. A week later, my mom and aunt showed back up with Las Vegas buckets full of coins but no Christmas tree. My mom didn’t care if we ate or if anything happened to us, just as long as we didn’t burn the apartment building down or go to juvie hall. Some time later, we found pictures of their fun-filled trip and wild times. It felt like we were just bumps in their road, holding them back at that time.
It was a life lesson and reminds me that I want to do better than my parents (with no disrespect to them), and with that, I want to raise my children with the hope that they will do better than me. To this end, my wife and I coach our children’s sports, something we both enjoy very much. I’m proud that we are the parents who are so involved, and even though they don’t say it, I know our son and daughter enjoy it when we’re there helping out or there for support, even just for all the pictures we take.
When I was younger and played sports, how I wished one of my parents would come to my games. My mom made a few but worked most of the time. My dad was locked up or just too busy. My stepdad would sometimes make it, but he also worked. Sometimes my aunt Sam and Uncle Robert would come and cheer me on, and my aunt would ring the heck out of her cowbell. My older brother Jeremie was always at my games. My number one fan, he drove me to most of my baseball games. By drive, I mean on the handlebars of a bike.
I wonder how the direction my life would be going today if I’d had more parental involvement. It would have been great to have my parents as coaches, especially my dad. What kid wouldn’t want his or her dad to be the coach? I would have loved to have that during my childhood years.
Believe me, I do know that it’s not easy to be a parent and that my parents did the best they could with what they had available. While being a parent is the hardest job around, it’s also the most rewarding job ever and something I wouldn’t change for the world.
Some of my own positive parenting attributes and work ethic come from my paternal grandparents, who raised 15 children and a variety of grand kids. One summer, I was sent to live with them for a time. We woke up no later than 6 a.m., ate a good breakfast, and then were off to work helping my grandpa. One of our projects was to take the mortar off a building’s worth of bricks and stack them in neat piles. He worked hard to provide for his family, and he instilled in me a desire to do the same. When I think of what he endured as a black man growing up in the south in the 30s and 40s, I am especially in awe of all that he accomplished and all that he taught me.
I’ve had my own share of struggles but also have so much for which to be thankful. All of these memories come flooding back as I reflect upon my life and how I’ve come to be where I am today. It makes me really want to enjoy life and the many gifts that come with it. Of course, not every day is going to be filled with sunshine and laughter, and we will have to overcome some hardships to make us better as individuals. It all comes down to personal choice. We all have the option to choose. We know right from wrong, but some of us choose to take a chance and see if Lady Luck will be on our side and guide us through.
As I reflect back, Lady Luck has certainly helped guide me. I look in the mirror and am happy with the man I’ve become.
Bonnie Milletto is a Portland, Oregon, based international speaker who finds joy in all things and loves a great cup of coffee. Her new book “Dedicated To The Cup, Nine Ways To Reinvent A Life!” is a tribute to the power of the human spirit to persevere and triumph in the face of challenging life lessons. The perfect blend of real life stories meant to inspire, encourage and motivate is now available for purchase on her website www.bonniemilletto.com/books or on Amazon.com for Kindle.