Richmond Hill, Georgia – Turn off Dr. Phil. Tell your own psychologist or psychiatrist to take a hike. Don’t go to your pastor or priest for advice. Instead chat with motel clerk Susan Renee for a few minutes. What she believes is clear, simple, interesting and apparently effective.
Susan basically believes: ‘This is your life. Take control of it. Don’t let anyone or anything have power over you. Refuse to be intimidated. Know where the lines are drawn. Walk right up to the edge. If you are right, keep going. Win. Refuse to let anyone steal or block your happiness.This is your life, not theirs. Happiness is all that really matters. Take control of your life.”
Susan’s laugh is infectious. And she laughed often as we talked. But only when it seemed appropriate.
She has raised three children working long hours. Her car, which was new when she bought it, is paid for. She says she has no credit card debt. She still has a mortgage on her home, but it is now half paid off.
“If I can do it, anyone can,” she contends.
I interviewed her on Sunday, May 3rd. She starts her workday five days a week at 5:00 a.m. with a security job at a chemical company. Several days a week she works at the motel desk at 3:00 p.m. and finishes the workday at 10:00 p.m. It is a challenge similar to what her own mother faced.
Susan was first raped by her father when she was 12. After awhile she began complaining of stomach pain. When she became pregnant her doctor and mother thought she had developed a tumor until she explained. Tests proved she was pregnant. Without fear she told the truth.
The answer? Her mother threw her father out of the house and divorced him. The doctor performed an abortion. The authorities didn’t seem to be interested in prosecuting her father in those days. It was 36 years ago, she explains. Now the situation has changed.
Life was hard while growing up because her mother had not been to college and had no marketable skills to provide the funds required to support her family.
A few years later Susan became a teenage bride. Her oldest daughter is now in her 30s. Her young husband worked at dead end jobs until he enlisted in the Army, They spent time at a number of bases around the United States as well as several years overseas when he was stationed in Germany. She and her first husband are still friends, she says. But she divorced him because “he never grew up.” Because he remained immature. they grew apart.
Eventually, after several years in the Army he was scheduled to be transferred from Germany to Georgia. At that time our nation launched Desert Storm. All their furniture and possessions were crated and on their way to Fort Stewart, Georgia. Her husband suddenly was ordered to fight in the Middle East. Susan arrived at Fort Stewart with three children and just two suitcases. The Fort Stewart command asked her why she was there. Plans had changed, she was told. His orders also had been changed. They said they could do nothing for her. That’s when her philosophy of refusing to be intimidated took over.
They asked her if she had relatives in the United States. She told them she was an adult woman and would not be “sent home to mommy.”
“I asked them if they wanted to ship us and all our furniture back to Germany. They said ’no’ so I asked what they intended to do. They had no idea. That’s when I worked my way up the command.”
Susan finally reached a lieutenant colonel in a phone call with the right connections in Washington D.C. and she told him about her situation. He said he would send papers to Fort Stewart that would solve the problem.
“I told the him that wouldn’t do. I had talked to my husband and he
was about to be shipped from Germany to Iraq. I told the Lt. Colonel to make a phone call to solve the problem. And he did. He ordered the officials at Fort Stewart to do whatever I asked them to do. I would make the decisions.
“That’s how I ended up here. There was no housing for us on the base so I purchased a house. Later my husband called me again. No one knew that Desert Storm would end so quickly. His orders were to report somewhere else. He told me to sell the house and pack our things again. I refused. I called Washington again. Eventually the Army sent him here. When he arrived and reported in they said,
Oh, so you’re Susan ——-’s husband. He asked me what I had done.”
Eventually they were divorced. She liked small town life in Georgia
She remarried. Her second husband beat her up. Once he made a major mistake and left a large bruise. She went to the hospital and had the bruise documented, which proved he was abusive. It no longer was her word against his. The large bruise was sufficient evidence.
She dumped the third man she married when he began molesting her daughter. Susan reported the molestation to authorities and her husband was convicted and went to jail. Ironically Susan’s daughter was the same age as Susan was when she was raped by her father.
She never asked for financial help from her former husbands. Never asked the court to require monthly payments, In her view she was responsible for herself and her children. It simply meant working two minimum wage jobs from earlier morning into the night.
I asked if Susan felt she felt she had been psychologically damaged for life by what her father did to her as a young girl. So many women say that is the case. Her answer was: “Absolutely not.”
“Why would I let him destroy the rest of my life. Its MY life, not his.
I am responsible for my own life. My happiness. He came through town several years ago. Wanted to see me. I was told not to talk to him, but I did anyway. He no longer had power over me. I refused to be frightened of him. That would give him power over me again. I am my own person. It is my life. He gave me his business card and said if I needed anything to let him know. I would never ask for anything.”
Following her personal philosophy she then went to court and changed her last name to Renee. Her middle name became her new last name. Her new identity helped prove her point. It cost her about $300, and she considers the money to be “well spent” – a modest amount “to claim my own life.”
“I am now my own person legally,” she pointed out. That act has real meaning for her.
She likes her job as a desk clerk because she says she meets interesting people. She has worked the desk for three years. When the motel owners went back to India for two months to attend their daughter’s wedding Susan and another woman ran the motel.
“Life is short. I believe you should enjoy it. You may not be able to control what happens to you, but you can control what happens afterward,” she frequently explained.
Several years ago she put herself through EMT school. It took four months. Then she worked as an EMT for two years. But now and then she was called to treat an abused child and she felt it was obvious one of the parents had hurt the youngster.
“I couldn’t maintain a professional demeanor when a child was hurt. I treated the child but I couldn’t say anything or do anything more. After you treat the child your job is done. I couldn’t help them beyond that. But I wanted to.”
So while she liked helping others, she decided to quit her EMT job and returned to working two minimum wage positions.
Her own children are now 31, 24 and 16 years old. The first two are girls and the 16-year-old is a boy. She is now determined to see that at least he gets to go to college.
“Its your life and what you do with it is up to you,” she explains.
Susan has a friend who graduated from college and is “making big money.” The friend has the latest iPhone and the best computer money can buy, and many other things. The woman is in her 40s and still doesn’t understand having material objects doesn’t produce happiness, Susan adds. To paraphrase a once popular song, her friend “is looking for happiness in “all the wrong places.”
“I am happy because I am my own person,” Susan repeats. No one and no material thing can control me.”
She recalls how she got her first driver’s license when she was 29.
Until then, working for a minimum wage, she rode a bike to work and home again at night. About a month getting her license she was stopped by a police officer because she forgot to turn on the lights on her car. She explained to him after riding bike to work every day and night she knew every inch of he road. He let her go.
Another officer followed her home from work a month or so later and accused her of failing to use her seat belt. He said he watched her from his cruiser through her car’s back window. And he didn’t see her raise her arm above her head to pull the shoulder strap down.
“I told him: Notice this is a convertible so the strap is attached below the level of the back window. There is no way you could look through the back window from your car and see what I did with the strap. He realized I was right. I will not be intimidated.“
This reminded me of another intimidation story that I shared with Susan. Col. McCormick, the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, had a reporter aboard a cargo ship that the Germans torpedoed at the start of World War II. The reporter made it to shore in a life raft and sent a cable to the paper. FDR had been angry at the Tribune for opposing some of his plans during the Great Depression, such as his goal to expand and pack the Supreme Court with his followers. So the president accused the paper of something similar to treason for running the story and tried to shut the paper down.
As I recall the story, President Roosevelt later came to Chicago to dedicate a bridge across the Chicago River connecting two sections of Lake Shore Drive. The newspaper owned a warehouse near the bridge where it stored paper shipped in by barge. Col.McCormick had the ability to tell the city which way to face the president’s podium, and FDR was forced to face the Tribune warehouse. McCormick had installed a sign on the wall with 10 foot letters that read: “The Tribune Will Not be Intimidated.”
If I didn’t get the story quite right, forgive me. In th 1930s and 1940s I was still a child. I didn’t begin working for the paper until the late 1950s, after the Colonel had passed on.
Susan Renee seemed enthusiastic and impressed by the Colonels courage and determination. It fit part of her philosophy exactly.
When I finished the interview. listening to the story of her explain her philosophy and answer questions about her impressive courage I felt it was time well spent. This cheerful, hard working survivor’s story may help others deal with their own struggles and problems.
It helps explain why I am going around the country talking to people of America about their lives. We are a nation of amazing individuals.
Remember, I was impressed by the woman who “got her husband, up off his knees” by opening a flooring shop with just $500 so he would no longer have to install carpets. This same woman took in more than 50 infants as a foster mother, eventually adopting 10. She has home schooled them. Then there is the mayor of Elberta, Alabama, who has cared for his severely injured son, a quadriplegic, for many years.
This required shedding three wives when, in turn, each began complaining – demanding more attention for themselves.
In my view, Susan’s story – if heeded – also could change lives for the better. Our nation needs more hard working, thinking people who refuse to complain. People who take responsibility for their own happiness and have courage, determination and backbone.