Monday, April 15, 2013

Being Family, Doing Family

In the far corner of my kitchen counter stands a gallon jug of stage blood. I realize that is not a customary addition to the accoutrements of most household countertops. And it isn’t generally a part of ours, either.


For the most part—from the last cheer at graduation to the murky middle of the next January—my kitchen counter looks pretty much like anyone else’s.

By the time local high schools are putting in time planning for spring breaks, proms and graduation festivities, though, a new order of “Reel Blood” shows up on the far corner of the counter. Another season of “moulage” makeup arts revs up for the beginning of the Every 15 Minutes program. And my daughter sets herself to the task of making teenagers look like their parents hope they never will.

I endure the sight of something as unappetizing as a plastic jug of dark red liquid, first of all, because there is really nowhere else we can store it. A tile countertop is the easiest to clean when transfers from gallon storage container to more-easily-controlled squeeze-top tubes get messy.

I also put up with it because I can see the level of the stuff decrease visibly each week, event by event, reminding me that the last drop will soon be poured out. I know that once it is gone, the plastic container can be sent to the recycling bin for another year, and my kitchen can go back to being just a kitchen.

The main reason I acquiesce to such an un-culinary corner is that I know what that stuff can accomplish. As phony as it is, when applied to the use for which it was intended, it lends just the right air of somber reality to get teenagers to step out of the realm of invincibleness and into the realization of “This Could Be You.”

My daughter has learned from emergency room nurses how to craft realistic-looking wounds—the horrible kind that only emergency responders would know on an all-too-regular basis. She works, as part of our family’s business, alongside a team of professionals to re-enact scenes of fatal car crashes for the benefit of students whose high schools participate in the national program known as Every 15 Minutes.

Her work helps set the stage for the opening scene of that two day event. Then, alongside first responders from local fire, ambulance, highway patrol, police and sheriff’s coroner personnel, her father adds his efforts as trainer and motivational speaker to help change the hearts of students and redirect them toward choices that may very well keep them and some of their friends alive past prom night or grad parties.

In many ways, that gallon jug on my kitchen counter represents family. Right now, it demonstrates how family can work together in productive ways—community-building ways—through two members of a family-owned business working side by side, each contributing their best from their different but complementary skill sets.

It also represents family from the past, tying together our family history with our family destiny. Those of you who have joined with me on my blogging journey of documenting what happened in this family—from the story of Frank Stevens’ turn from happy-go-lucky high school student to early recruit during World War II to never-the-same-again man, husband and father of four, to the story of his son Kelly who followed in his tragic footsteps—may remember that it is this story that our family shares during the Every 15 Minutes program.

Today, I don’t want to include any photographs with this post. Though our family has so many from participating in more than ten years of this event—after all, anything that would fit with this subject would be quite gory—it doesn’t take much searching during the months of March, April and May to find many online resources that would provide examples. A simple search online will yield photos and videos of such events across the country. Newspapers in the cities whose school districts sponsor the program often run stories with photo montages. It is not hard to get the idea of what a graphic scene is re-enacted every week in high school after high school.

That story is shared with the hope that it will make a difference in the lives of other young people—a difference that brings about a better outcome.

We take a family working together to weave a family’s history into a greater compelling story, with an overall message to both students and their parents to turn their hearts and their loyalties back home to family. Somehow, in telling the tale, in demonstrating the tragedy, it all seems to come back to those ties of family.

There is no accident in the fact that we think of the family we come from in terms like “roots.” Family is what nurtures us, what gives us support and direction.

When I think of it all in those terms, I can endure a jug of stage blood on my kitchen counter. All I have to do is remember the difference it makes in multiplied lives and families over these few short months of Spring.

Disclaimer: national regulations require writers to be "transparent" in revealing any "conflict of interest" regarding financial matters referred to in their writing--so writing this post leaves me in a position in which I must make a declaration that, should you click on the family business link that further explains this family's involvement in speaking at the Every 15 Minutes programs, and should you subsequently be persuaded to choose to do business with the principals of that website, you may simultaneously be affecting me in a positive financial manner. However, you can be pretty sure that the things I said here were not influenced by financial considerations--believe me, living this stuff is not easy!--though they were influenced in a much more intangible way by my personal involvement with the subjects of these stories. There! Said it!


  1. The lessons of the past were painful... but your family has learned them - and is now spreading the "good word" and hopefully making a few youngsters with huge potential, sober and think about how our world is "easy come - easy go".

    1. That is always our hope, Iggy. I think it is working. We have former students from as long ago as ten years run up to my husband and greet him (once even when we were 300+ miles away from home in Disneyland). Hopefully, putting some memorable hooks into the story, instead of just a lecture, gives the message some stickability.

  2. Such a poignant post, Jacqi - I'm crying as it is sadly so true. How many of us have suffered the collateral damages of carelessness and drunk driving! Your family is performing a very special service. May God bless you for the lives you are saving.

    1. Thank you, Linda. We hope it does make a difference. Each life is precious--and so promising at that time in high school.

      Congratulations on your own recognition, today, on Gini Webb's column at GeneaBloggers! Nice write up. You certainly deserve it. The series you posted on your own blog, beginning with today's story, is just the sort of writing that makes me really value your blog.

  3. I've heard of "Every 15 Minutes" but I've never seen it enacted -- just one glimpse in a movie. I think it's wonderful that your daughter and husband are so involved. And that you can use your family history to help power the event. All definitely worth a jug of stage blood! Thank you for this heartfelt post.

    1. Mariann, the experience can be as heavy as spending two days going to funerals. But if it makes an impact that creates a difference in the school's culture, that is what counts. And yes, I'll gladly put up with a gallon of stage blood sitting in my kitchen, if it helps make a difference like that.

  4. Having spent a number of years as a Volunteer EMT..I applaud anyone and any program that will reach young drivers. It sounds like your husbands program touches many and makes the teens think. It is so scary to be a teen nowadays...just my opinion. I have no tolerance for drinking and Minnesota you are suppose to be in prison after the third DUI conviction and that is not being enforced..makes me sick. Sometime at night I feel like a sitting duck out there on the highway. Why is drinking socially acceptable anyway..what are we coming to as a the soap box now. I am certain your husband is saving lives with every program he gives..tell him Thanks! :)

    1. That's okay, Far Side, you are welcome to use that soap box any time! If you have been a volunteer EMT, you have seen it all--the stuff we are trying to prevent. It's horrible when it happens to anyone, but for a young person with so much hope and promise, it seems doubly senseless.

      Of course, it's not only my husband's program--although I like to think he brings something unique to the process--but a program available to schools across the nation. For us in California, the government believes so strongly in the program that they support the schools' involvement with grant money. It is an extremely labor-intensive teamwork effort that spans a year's worth of planning, fundraising, coordinating and community support. Not all schools may be equipped to launch such an effort. But for those who have, it is well worth the effort!


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