Valerie Testa Almquist is an: author, educator, comedian, mother, wife, and daughter. She performed stand-up for the first time when she turned 50, published her first book at 57, and by no means is this list complete. As the number of candles on her birthday cake increases, so will her goals.
Learn about her recently published book, LOOK BACK MOVE FORWARD, by visiting her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ValerieTestaAlmquist4GoodRead/. You can find LOOK BACK MOVE FORWARD on www.Amazon.com and www.Barnesandnoble.com.
THE FAMILY TREE: Roots Embed in the Essence of One’s soul
My family roots are embedded deep into my soul influencing thoughts and actions. Considering my father never feared anyone or anything, these roots are strong, weathering many storms while keeping each limb safe and secure. In 2012, at 82-years-old, esophageal cancer spread like a wildfire leaving a gaping hole where his branch once hung.
Crying was a daily ritual visualizing how he suffered, and how my sons and I couldn’t spend one more day with him. When dining in restaurants we once ate at together, my menu doubled as a shield, hiding the tears streaming down my face. As co-workers offered their condolences, my eyes stared at the floor, voice went mute and hearing muffled; nodding was my response. Walking into my parents’ house seeing his empty chair reminded me of happier days when my sons would sit on his lap eating snacks while watching movies.
I was fractured in need of healing.
My father was someone to be admired; growing up poor in a cold-water tenement nestled within an Italian immigrant neighborhood of Newark, NJ, he began working at 7-years-old. His first job was shining shoes on street corners earning a nickel a shine; seeking out the well-dressed guys he referred to as “The Suits” because they tipped a quarter. He was resilient and resourceful from childhood, with plenty of risk-taking adventures he shared with his grandsons.
His work ethic, love of music, honesty, fearlessness and humor are gifts passed down to me. Never did he feel sorry for himself or his impoverished beginnings. He hurdled any obstacle in his way, and held onto the ropes when life threw a tough punch. Eventually, I had to do the same. Although physically alive, I needed to once again feel fully alive.
Divine inspiration interceded when I awoke with an idea to write a historical fiction adventure intertwining world history with memoirs shared by my parents growing up in Newark, NJ during 1939. This call to action was strong; I quit my job and literally began a new chapter in my life.
Writing Look Back Move Forward was therapy for me, and an opportunity to sit with my mother and have her reflect back on her childhood. I now perceive the empty space where my father’s branch once hung as the pathway for bestowing sunlight on remaining limbs and seedlings. It’s an inspirational story:
“No matter how challenging one’s past might have been, it’s there to learn from, gain strength and move forward.” (Almquist, 2015)
LOOK BACK MOVE FORWARD: 58 Means Not Too Late
Writing allowed the dark cloud hanging over my head, depleting me of energy to dissipate. The light from above awakened my senses breathing life into a body that had not felt fully alive for far too long. I decided to embrace this energy by buying a pair of white go-go boots. This year celebrates the 50th anniversary of Nancy Sinatra’s hit “These Boots are Made for Walkin’.” When they arrived on my doorstep, I quickly brought them inside and opened the box with unprecedented excitement. With both hands, I peeled off the tissue paper and carefully removed one of the boots from the box. This was much more than a boot; in my hands, was a symbol of my childhood. Memories of: American Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show, 1960s Rock and Roll, dancing the swim, pony and twist consumed my mind.
From the ankle, I rolled my pants above my knees and tried on the boots. Memories combined with the magic of the boots created an energy surge throughout my body. I began to pony around my home-office, into the living room, and then I ran upstairs to pony in my son’s room only to be told to “get out” because he was studying for a final exam. Approaching 58-years old, I’m older than the go-go boot, but young enough to kick up the heels and rock.