Hello, my name is Cheryl Schiltz and I welcome you to my life. I welcome this opportunity to share the experiences my life has presented me and I am thankful that you have taken the time to walk with me as I share my story.
It’s not that I am an extraordinary person nor have I done anything that has made a monumental difference in the world. What I have done, however, is made a monumental difference in how I made a difference in me, a difference that has lead me to an extraordinary life which would not be complete if I did not share it with you. It is a story of being introduced to disability and how that introduction became instrumental in how my life grew into embracing an amazing experience every day. I will begin by sharing a little about where I came from…
I was born and raised in a small farming community in south central Wisconsin the only girl in the midst of three brothers. I had an old fashioned upbringing on that farm. A life of hard work, everything cooked and baked from scratch, bringing bounty from seed to table, and witnessing the wonders of nature and life along side a rural country road.
There’s something about being raised on a farm that remains with you. The openness of wheat and corn filled fields waving in the wind presenting sounds of tranquility as they float their way through farmhouse windows and embrace a place in the heart. Countless times I walked open fields wrapped in sunshine that beamed within me as if I were a sunflower. I explored the woods under cool shadows of canopies that were majestically woven by the trees. Never did I feel alone.
Our farm was a working farm with fields, gardens, milking cows and chickens. Being as young as I was, and probably because I was the only girl, I did not take part in the milking rituals but rather, my two older brothers played that role. I spent wonderful times with my mother learning the ways around a kitchen, gathering eggs and garden bounty. My time in the barn was to more or less look at the cows and from time to time witness the miracle of life as new born calves were born. It was a great thrill to help feed these little creatures. They seemed to trust that I would be gentle with them and I often snuck into the barn without accompaniment just to pet them and look into their beautiful big brown eyes. The hay loft was a great refuge with endless hideout possibilities. There were a multitude of cats and kittens that roamed free and I gave each and every one a name. On dares from my brothers, and, witnessing that I would not die by seeing them do it, I jumped from the top of the hay loft into the biggest pile of hay I’ve ever seen – what fun that was! Farm life, it became a part of me.
I was entering the fourth grade when my parents divorced and my mother, brothers and I left the farm and moved to Cambridge, Wisconsin where my mother and new stepfather opened the Curve Café and Truck stop. We all played a role in the operation of that restaurant from food preparation, cooking, waiting tables and cleaning up. I recall standing on a large soup pot so that I could reach the sink. There I would wash what seemed to be a never-ending stack of dishes, that to me, seemed already cleaned by the patrons who loved to come and visit and fill up on my mother’s wonderful home-style cooking. Truckers and families from all over would stop in to take part in an old fashioned small town tradition enjoying and sharing the welcoming of friends and neighbors.
My brothers and I were enrolled in a parochial school but before long transferred into the Cambridge public school system. Cambridge is where I call my hometown, but the farm was my home. I wasn’t particularly popular in school but rather more of a loner although not ever really feeling alone. I spent an extraordinary amount of time walking among nature, discovering places I was sure no one had seen before. My backyard was a treasure for finding natures nooks and cranny’s. Koshkonong Creek flowed gently by the bountiful garden my parents grew. Along a long stretch of sun filled embankment I could see the neighbors gardens that when gazed upon seemed to grow as one together. High above the garden spaces sitting on what looked like cliffs where the houses in which the garden tenders lived. As a young child it looked like cliffs leading from an ocean shore to a promised land. I would walk through self made tunnels of tall weeds and sit in make believe caves and let my imagination lead me wherever I wanted to go. I would walk as far as the creek shore would allow me listening to sounds of the breeze as it floated around me and through me. I held great honor to the wind and to the amazing environment that surrounded me. I began to believe that the wind held my future and that it was sent to me to tell me what direction I should go. I still do. I would float along with it in daydreams filled with going places that only my dreams could go. I would sing made up songs and imagine the breeze carrying my notes to someone who needed to hear a gentle reminder that song is everywhere around us. We need only to listen for it. I felt that all I was fortunate to be experiencing in this self made land of wonder was made only for me. It was a refuge for me, a place for me to go to belong to only me and to God.
This was a time of beautiful silence.
I graduated from Cambridge High School in 1976 and set my sights on college but didn’t find myself ready to commit to that goal and left after one semester. I got married, had my son Kristopher, and got divorced. I found myself out on my own with a young child and a lot of growing up to do. I spent time alone and time in relationships that were not right for me or my son and I wound up in a relationship that was unhealthy and abusive in spirit. limiting my esteem, personally demeaning and defeating in escape. It took a lot of lessons to be learned and a lot of pain but in 1997 the worst of it all dropped me to my knees. Literally.