A Certain Regret.

 

Six feet two, at least, and all leg, polio hadn’t stopped him. Steel crutches swung the lower limbs, but the rest of the man carried on with the kind of aplomb that filled any room. Louie was the professor of cello at Fredonia State University, and beloved.

The year he finally died (“Why am I still here??”), his daughter presented his truest epitaph. Readying to leave the wake, and in the midst of a warm hug, Sarah said to me: “Dad didn’t live in the Land of Regret!”

Regret. The kind of sorry which affords no take backs. Louie either did it, or he didn’t, but when it was over he never looked over his shoulder.

Not so his perpetually fledgling student.

I suppose guilt is a factor. One cannot feel regret unless one entertains guilt. The Should Haves, in their illicit bed with the Could Haves. Seduced by the If Onlies.

“If only I’d done x, I could have had x. I should have done x; if I had, I could have had… well…x.”

About six months ago, something near, dear, and precious to me was destroyed. For nearly 32 years, I had been a member of the cello section in the Erie Chamber Orchestra and, for the back half of those, its principal cellist. This ensemble was unique. It’s founder, Bruce Morton Wright, had established the mission to bring classical orchestral music to the entire community, free of charge. And, that’s exactly what he did.

This monthly convocation of musicians was my social life. Four nights and one afternoon, every three weeks, preparing a concert program and then performing the music at St. Patrick’s Church, or the Mary Seat of Wisdom Chapel, for an audience of hundreds populated by retired professors, social misfits, loners, the extremely bright and the feeble and, unlike the monied who attend just to be seen, all of them genuine music lovers.

When this organization was cast into the trash bin by the local university which had subsidized it, my world was shattered. The value I had placed upon my role leading that cello section couldn’t be quantified; it had become my professional identity.

And, so, I became the loudest voice of protest. No; we would not go quietly. No; we would not be obliterated.

Others saw an opportunity.

Privately, a group was formed. Those of us from ECO who had been members of longest standing were to step back, and just wait. Wonderful things, we were promised, would happen.

We waited. All summer.

Plenty of time, to think and reflect. Gradually, without warning and not seeking one, I had an epiphany.

Taking a tally of the orchestral repertoire, I discovered that, over those 32 years I’d performed, in random order: all the Beethoven symphonies; all the Tschaikovsky; all the Mozart, and Haydn; all the Brahms. Most of the Dvorak, all Schubert, Schumann, and Mendelssohn; the Sibelius, Prokoffief, Shostakovich; All the Mahler! And, the Bruchner, the Saint-Saens, the Berlioz. Plus, Strauss’s Eine Heldenleiben, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; Ravel, Respighi, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons; Gershwin, Copland, Korngold (as pianist); the operas of Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, Strauss; Tschaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet; and, every requiem, oratorio, overture, and orchestral accompaniment to virtually every piano, string, brass, woodwind and percussion concerto on the books.

The realization was sudden: I could accept whatever the new orchestra had in store…..

Or, walk away.

But, why make the choice? Why not just stay, and play?

Because, in the world of fine art music – already proven too vast for one lifetime – there was so much music I had never played. Like, the solo and chamber repertoire, for cello and piano. These were my instruments, and their music had never been dependent upon an orchestra to be realized. For every symphony, composed by any and all of those already performed, there were several corresponding works for solo, duo, trio or quartet. A piano accompanist for decades (Creston; Brahms; Ibert; Hartley; Hindemith; Mozart; Beethoven, Shostakovich, et al) , I had never even covered the sonata repertoire; a musical freak, beyond R. Strauss and some Boccherini I had also never performed the solo repertoire for cello. One could spend a decade on Bach, or Chopin, alone!

Yes. Suddenly, an orchestra seemed confining. Always led by a conductor, a musical director, all programming dictated. Rehearsals, scheduled by those in charge of its calendar. I’d longed to wake up each day with music I alone had chosen to play; but, instead, there was always, it seemed, the next folder filled with material to be conquered. The cello part, so much of it non-melodic; sometimes, as many as 65 pages in one concert (one Mahler symphony’s cello part is over 35 pages, alone!)  Endless notes, equally endless hours, all requiring collaboration to musically complete. If I returned to all that, I might reach my final breaths never having touched the rest of the music!

Last Sunday, Yo-Yo Ma presented in their entirety the six suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Bach, on the stage at Blossom. He had likely been honing each movement of all these for the better part of his lifetime. There he was, alone on that massive stage, dwarfed by its majestic teakwood shell. And, there had to have been between ten and fifteen thousand people, nearly a half mile wide, in his audience.

Had Mr. Ma not chosen to submit to these masterworks, he might have endured a certain regret. I, however, am certain of this: he likely never missed the endless docket of orchestral folders. Not for a minute.

I can just hear Louie’s voice. I can see his bright smile. He’d be shaking his head, with a chuckle. “Rootie”, he’d say, with so much love. “You can do whatever the hell you want.”

And, so I shall. With absolutely no regret.

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©  8/15/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo        All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for listening. Stay tuned.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

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Uncle George O’Keefe.

Some men just stand alone.

George O’Keefe was an instantly recognizable American Irish. He’d been born in Erie, PA but never spent hardly a day in any run of the mill fashion. Devout, one might say precociously, as a young boy, while other kids rode bikes or played army this kid stood on the steps and played church, preaching to his sisters’ dolls.

Amen.

And, lest one think him a shirker, George had perfect attendance at public school. For 12, solid years.

Mum met him when he took up with her sister, Frances.

As a very young man, he’d prove traits like constancy. Our grandfather, Pappy, loved to tell the story. George would always reappear, at the door, no matter the misunderstanding or disagreement. See, George was hooked – on God, his Savior Jesus, and Fran Sweet – and, he never looked back. Not once.

Defying virtually all other Irish, not a drop of alcohol could be found at his table, unless he had just poured out the wine for Communion. Then, it was the sacred blood of the Lord. He knew this, like he knew his own reflection in the mirror.

George would marry Frances, and move to Spartansburg PA and then to Clendenin, WV. His bright bell tenor rang out everywhere he went – whether founding Bible study classes or camps, or playing outside with his children no matter the season. Becky, the eldest, said he was up at dawn every day, making breakfast for the whole family and packing each lunch for school. And, even into his late 70s, still water skiing, fishing, and hitting the racquetball courts.

Beyond all this, his influence extended into the lives of countless others. One of these was my father.

Dad had met mum on a train, during R & R from the US Army. The week he decided to travel to Erie, to check out her digs, George and Frances were on hand.

Calling the Bible a comic book, Dad had no use for the obvious brand of Christianity he would confront as he stepped foot into the home of Henry and Mae Sweet on 29th Street. Mammy, the first to hand Dad a small New Testament, set about praying for his conversion; Pappy, the hardliner, was sure this WOP was a lost cause, gruffly declaring:  “He’ll never be saved”.

But, George O’Keefe was also in the room.

And, the day Dad decided to propose marriage to Mum, he’d set his shrewd little ducks in a row; praying the “sinner’s prayer” aloud, he managed to convince Pastor George O’Keefe that he meant business.  And, George, filled with the kind of faith that gave even the hardest sinner the benefit of the doubt, was more than ready to believe it. In fact, he rejoiced; when Mum and Dad got hitched, George O’Keefe “married” them.

Two years in, Mum was pregnant and Dad’s cover was blown. He’d admitted to one of his customahs in the bahbuh shahp that he was “tired of the charade.” When Mum found out, he had no choice but to divorce her.

Ten years into that chapter, God finally made His move. Drawing Dad into the church of a family friend, Pastor LeBeau, the Almighty spoke the Gospel to him one more time. So convicted was Dad of his sins that he walked out of that service and drove to Cleveland, in search of a Burlesque show to distract his heart.

That lasted about twelve minutes.

Back to Erie, into his small one room apartment, Dad dug out his New Testament and read all the verses which Mammy had underlined for him. This time, he prayed in earnest, and repented, and accepted Jesus as his Savior. And, then he told Mum.

George O’Keefe, almost as happy as she was, rejoiced once more. And, George married them all over again, the second time – performing this ceremony in the living room of the new house they would call home for the next 50 years.

In 1995, Mum was stricken, for the second time – with cancer. This time, the disease was in her brain, and terminal. After a mere five and a half weeks, she lay in a hospice bed in the room I had always called mine growing up – mute, the tumor having taken her speech entirely.

Those closest to Mum had come to visit, if they could. Among them, her youngest sister, ending an estrangement that had lasted for years. Then, early one evening, Frances and George drove in from their cottage on Lake Chautauqua.

Mum’s face had taken on the shape of the tumor’s affect. Her mouth, drooped to one side. Her eye, nearly closed. George and Frances walked into the room, and George leaned down close to her ear.

In his bright, bell tenor, with that ever present, big broad grin, George told Mum a joke about a horse. The joke, and its punchline, would be lost to the ether but Mum, as soon as she heard it, burst out laughing – the laugh of recognition, indeed of comprehension, in a rush of affirmation. And, her number ten smile flashed across her face, obliterating completely any sign of palsy or paralysis.

Then, her eyes closed and she went to sleep, never to wake again. By morning, the sun streaming in through the windows, Mum had released her spirit and was gone from the earth.

But, Uncle George had brought the gift of his presence into the room. He’d provided us one more glimpse of our mother, before death came to take her body.

This past Sunday, Uncle George passed away. He was 98 years old. And, he left with that same broad smile on his face.

Thank you, Uncle George. Thank you for being such an important part of our family and the far more inclusive family of God. When the voice of the archangel heralds the trump of God, we’ll be ready to rejoice with you for all eternity.

 

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   4/11/18

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There You Are.

 

Once you enter into the life of an addict, you are there. Not only are you there, but you might often find that you are no longer here.

Here is where only you are. But, you are no longer. A barnacle, superglued to the other, not sucking life but giving, your purpose becomes it.

Every time you try to extract, the primordial ooze of regret suffocates you like a stagnant oil spill. You are sure that, without your presence, the addict’s return to dissolution will be far worse than the time before, perhaps tragically. So, you return, just to make the sludge drop off before you shower.

And, then you go to Al Anon. Al Anon is where everybody goes who can’t leave. And, they sit around, and follow all the rules of the meeting, and bite their lips during the droners and chew their tongues when somebody cries out for an answer. And, when it is finally your turn, you know full well that everybody else is either biting it or chewing it but you adopt the mantle of denial just long enough to say your piece so that your face doesn’t come off your head and melt under the lights.

Being at Al Anon serves one purpose. It helps you accept that, from within your particular demographic, there are between nine and twenty two other hapless partners and spouses whose lives are as inextricably caught as yours is.

There are two ways people exit these meetings. They either bolt out as quickly as they arrived, or linger interminably, usually gathered around the latest newcomer. When you are the newcomer, you experience a few minutes of comfort realizing that the rules of the meeting can be bent just long enough for some actual human contact.

Thirty eight minutes later, legs crossed in a standing position, you still haven’t shaken off the last, most desperate proselytizer, the one whose week was by far the most traumatic. That one really needs you. Without you, at least in symbol, the meeting will have been meaningless.

When you finally get into your car, momentary relief that you can finally go floods your being. And, this going is of the highest value. By leaving the meeting, you have performed the only true act of departure you’ve made all week.

And, you drive away.

At this point, you have two choices.

You can keep driving. Or, you can return to the arms of the addict, who waits anxiously for you.

And, everybody knows where you will go.

You go back. You go there, because that is where you are. Even when you leave, you are still there.

There you are.

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© 4/4/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo     All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

Lone Hometown.

 

“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it”  – Winston Churchill.

Just spied that as the heading to another WordPress blogger’s post, of this day. Hoping, at the moment, that the other blogger won’t mind the borrow; Churchill’s words are just too illuminating a heading for that which must be said here, as well.

No, dear readers, friends, enemies who also read. I do not intend to write history.

In this, my hometown, my options for shaking the earth have diminished to nearly nil.

Why? Because, in this blog of well over 500 essays and poems, whether the reader wants to hear about them or not all my sins are confessed. Before you, I am unafraid. I defend only truth.

This is a challenge to the actions of those who render the vulnerable both implicated or condemned. The late Fr Mike Annis, beloved man of God and brilliant mind, told me my ability to read others was uncanny and that I should be careful to avoid alienating until trust was established. This has been a difficult charge. But, I have learned, approaching the age of 61, that some people – for reasons driven by unspoken motive – will not be trustworthy. It is these I have sought to expose, in an attempt to nullify the power they wield over those they seek to control.

But in this, my hometown, there will be those whose sphere of power will just grow larger. The truth will be buried by their actions. Because, as soon as these are challenged, all their energy will be spent contriving ways and means with which to discredit the truth teller. And, with enough resources at their disposal, they might silence the lone voice.

Yes. Sometimes, too many become convinced that the story they have been given is the truth. Famous words: if a lie is repeated enough times, it becomes a truth to those who accept it.

At this juncture, perhaps you, my reader, can relate. Perhaps you, too, have held a truth all alone. Perhaps you have watched those who would have rallied in support of your veracity retreat toward those who have nefariously captured their trust. Perhaps you know the isolation.

At moments like this one, faith is the only buoy. We really do find faith when all else has failed us – all people, all circumstances, all events, all hopes or dreams.  I am convinced, now, that faith is far more than the substance of things hoped for or the evidence of things not seen; beyond this, faith is further evidence that humanity carries within its collective soul an ultimate gravitation toward the higher Spirit. We do not seek that Spirit often – only at moments of absolute finality, when all else has truly failed.

I may very well carry to my grave the truths which burden my heart, today. But, my Creator knows exactly what they are, and in that source of the truest power I forever place all my trust.

To the rest, I say: go forth, and write the history you intend for the world to believe. Most of the history books of the past seventy five years are being revised, as we speak. Apparently, the truth they should have contained is only finally coming to light.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   4/3/18    All rights those of this author, who speaks the truth, and whose name appears above this line. May God strike down all evil forces, everywhere, which rise up in protest.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

KEEP YOUR MONEY.

URGENT:

Dear beloved members of the Erie Chamber Orchestra audience: KEEP YOUR HARD EARNED MONEY.

Via a letter mailed to all patrons of the ECO, Gannon University is luring contributions. Do NOT give any money to Gannon, on our behalf! The money they receive will not come to us; it will be redirected to another, distinct entity.

Our ECO manager just told me, in print, that there are sufficient funds in our ECO budget to completely cover the cost of our final concert in April. Any money you send to Gannon, at this time, will therefore be considered “surplus”, and THAT money will never reach us.

I have that information, straight from the horse’s mouth.

The whole thing smells of some attempt to bolster funding for the hand-off initiative created by Gannon which, on the surface, appears to sustain the “dream” of Bruce Morton Wright. It doesn’t; rather, it sidelines the vast majority of his orchestral musicians, indeed the entire orchestra, selecting only the handful from within it who already have contracts with the other orchestra. Bruce was fiercely loyal to each and every one of his musicians, and eliminating even one of them from any effort which takes his name is nothing short of blasphemy.

By the way, citing Bruce’s historical role on the Board of the other orchestra is also deliberately misleading; disaffected, Bruce withdrew from that Board, years and years ago.

So, stop.

KEEP.YOUR.MONEY.

Wait for the actual Erie Chamber Orchestra to provide you the information you may seek. Attend our final concert, April 28th. We’d love to see you!

Thank you.

 

Sincerely,

Ruth Ann Scanzillo, principal cellist

ERIE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

member since 1986.

 

© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   3/21/18

littlebarefeetblog.com

A Year in Erie.

 

Tom Atkins is holding forth, on JET/FOX/ERIE, the latest weather forecast. Given tonight’s projections, our home town that time forgot might just jump into the national hot lights.

Seems we could break the all time record for 200 inches of the white stuff.

200 inches.

In one winter.

(Yes; around here, Punxsatawney Phil’s shadow notwithstanding, we will winter until the bitter end.)

Spring will arrive, according to the vernal equinox, sometime next week. But, Erie, PA is set to capture yet another snowfall, 8pm tonight through 8pm Wednesday night, 10 more inches that could blanket the already frosted landscape. Plus, another shot coming Thursday evening into Friday morning. It could happen.

But, take a moment.

Consider this.

Erie is known, already, for far more than snowfall in inches. And, the scope of its offerings could astonish you.

First of all, let’s look at the landscape.

Projecting out onto Lake Erie, one of the region’s most spacious state parks, the Presque Isle peninsula, boasts eleven public [public] beaches, complete with sunbathing, swimming, sailing, yachting, and skiing, as well as nature trail hiking, a family campground, bicycle path around the entire 13.4 miles, a nature center, lagoons for canoeing and paddleboating, the Oliver Hazard Perry Memorial, endless picnic groves and, nestled at its interior – a houseboat community!

Directly ahead of the entrance to the park, and careening overhead, the Ravine Flyer – a major rollercoaster – one of numerous amusement park rides, concessions, and arcade attractions at Waldameer Park.

And, the cherry on top? Sara’s, Erie’s 1950’s retro ice cream stop, featuring foot long Smith’s hotdogs with all the trimmings.

For evening, or other afternoon fare, try the Erie Seawolves, a pro baseball team at UPMC Park; a pro hockey team, the Erie Otters, and pro basketball, the Erie Bayhawks, at the Erie Insurance Arena; some 20! dance companies; more than one symphony; at least 5 (FIVE!) world class civic theatres; one of three of the original operational Warner Theatres; Jr’s Last Laugh, the comedy club; the fabulous Erie Art Museum (housing several thousand works in its collection); at least 10 art galleries; A Poet’s Hall; two Indy film societies; the Erie Zoo; LECOM – the largest Osteopathic medical school in the nation – and, 3 universities complete with their own collegiate offerings open to the public.

Hungry?  For every ethnic group ever populating this port city turned industrial turned vacation destination, there is a top notch dining experience. Latino’s, for authentic Mexico City fare; Cloud 9 Wine Bar; Mi Scuzi, Calao’s, and Serafini’s, only three of a multitude of Italian full course sit downs; Like My Thai, for the real Asian taste; Tandoori Hut, for Indian; and, Pineapple Eddie’s, for Caribbean. These are just a handful of remarkably high quality eateries literally too numerous to mention in one travelogue.

Thirsty? For wet: The Ale House. Jekyll & Hyde’s. The Plymouth. Two Public Houses. And, Brewerie, where a plethora of handcrafted beer holds court. Et al. For dry: The Juice Jar, or our Whole Foods Co-op. Et al, et al. ‘Nuff said?

But, here’s something else. The design layout of Erie is Philadelphia grid style. This means a geometry of symmetry. Anywhere you want to go, from the Polish/Russian/German/Irish/African American/Middle Eastern East side to the Italian/Puerto Rican/Mexican/Greek west, you can clock any trip within 10 minutes. And, easy access means increased options –  for a weekend packed with more events and encounters with friends and family than most metropolitans can manage in ten days.

In fact, actor Tom Hanks liked us so much, he made a movie here, “That Thing You Do”.

So, suppose you get displaced. Or, you just need to make that jump.

Do this thing. Spend one year in Erie. Erie, Pennsylvania. If, after 365 days, you don’t feel like settling into the plushest comfort of All [waterfront] American cities, you can go.

But, you’ll never know unless you come to town and find out.

We’ll be here, like we’ve been for over 200 years, still reinventing what’s always been the best thing about living. We’d love to have you.

And, a year means you’d still be around for the first snow.

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copyright 3/13/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  Share liberally. Thanks!!

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

“Blessed Assurance”.

 

The boy had a mouth on him.

He was the shortest, darkest, angriest trumpet player I had ever seen. Furthermore, his embouchure (through no fault of his own) had never been properly set and his tone, well, that’s what happens when your embouchure hasn’t been set right.

But, there was something in him. He had a deep, inborn sense of the good. He had principle. And, this combination produced a student of such determined commitment, a young man who put forth with every cell in his body to produce. I was merely the music teacher – a scant, 29 year old, belated second year fledgling – and this guy had convinced his impassioned concoction of underprivileged, underserved, and undertrained in the East High marching band to vote “Yes” to compete. I had my work literally cut out for me – by John Jefferson.

The first solution seemed to be a transfer to the F horn. This instrument’s conical bore mouthpiece would allow an easier tone production, in an alto range. John took to it. He learned the solo. I felt my first small triumph.

But, this, of course, was short lived. John spoke out. From the top tier of the bandroom at the end of the annex, he’d answer me back, in full on challenge, and loud enough for the whole room to hear. He was the alpha male, and I needed to know my place.

As for the next decision, I can remember neither the day nor the hour. I only knew that John needed to be out front. He needed to lead. And, that is exactly where I put him. By the end of his first season as a sophomore, John Jefferson was East High drum major.

The whole uniform fit him like the glove on his right hand. The epaulets were never more proud to grace any shoulder. But, most of all, John could finally assume the position he was born to take. John Willis Jefferson could stand, stock still – chin up, eyes fixed – at attention. And, John Willis Jefferson could salute.

The band did their absolute best. I always regretted that the association in charge of the competitions never produced a trophy for Most Developed Ensemble, because my kids deserved a big one. Nevertheless, led by John and his cohorts Shawn and Melanie, the students faltered not once. They just held up their heads .

John graduated from public education during my final year at his high school. The district would move me, against my will, across town to fill a vacancy, and I would never see either him or the rest of the students who would call me “mom” again.

That is, not until one, singular occasion.

Via the blessing of social media, I had been reunited with several former students. Naturally, one of the first to find me was John. Except that he had produced quite a life story – married, to Mindy, and the father of at least two of his three boys. But, about to realize more of that story, quite without warning I received news of an upcoming event: a 20th Class Reunion.

I’d been to several. In fact, every five years, my classmates from Academy High had dutifully taken on the enormous task of bringing us all together for dinner and more.

But, John.

John didn’t just tell me about his. John invited Miss Scanzillo to the East High 20th Reunion of the Class of 1990.

He was hosting, he said. Would I please come? They would be honored by my presence.

To my memory, no teacher had ever attended a high school class reunion. Certainly none of my former teachers were ever present at any of mine – not the 5th, the 10th, the 15th….you get the picture.

The night of the event, I thought perhaps I should appear low key. Clad in a casual, soft summer top and capris, I slipped into Calamari’s Squid Row. The doors opened into a full diningroom draped in white linen. A grand buffet spread across the front, covered in decorative stainless steel. And, presiding at the head of the long, formal room was: John Jefferson.

Master Sergeant John Jefferson, US Air Force.

In full dress.

The red and grey drum major’s costume had been replaced by the dark woolens of the United States Military, Sgt Jefferson’s chest emblazoned with three rows of colored ribbon and precious medals. I was beyond stunned.

Finding a discreet seat at one of the table rounds, I set my gaze on our John. He spoke as loudly as ever before, but with a refined speech, a grace, and a carriage that made my heart well up. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

We kept in touch, after that. Facebook chat was a great place to convene, no matter where he was deployed. He’d check in, from Iraq, Afghanistan….and, always, the sign off: “I love you!”

See, something else had happened to John.

During the first year he and Mindy became a couple, they had both committed their lives to Jesus Christ. Now, not everyone will know what that means to those about whom such an act bespeaks. But, to the faithful, becoming a born-again Christian is what happened to John. This meant that, like my father before him, John accepted a life changing force into his heart. They called this the Holy Spirit, and to this Spirit’s direction and counsel both men would vow to remain true.

John and I continued, now familiar references to prayer and faith peppering his dialogue.

Life marched on, past another decade of Veteran’s Days. Twenty five more years, to be nearly precise. My adored father passed on into eternity, age 95, and I retired from public school music education. Then, word came to me that John and his family were coming back to Erie for another visit. Would I please join them all, for dinner?

Overjoyed, I met the entire family – at Chic-Fil-A. The boys were sweet, quiet (like their mother!) and polite. John talked of his travels and experiences, of meeting President George W Bush; I marveled. Mindy and I met, for the first time, that day – and, before we ate, John bowed his head and publicly asked the blessing for our food.

Last October, (could it be?) John had reached a life milestone. Now Senior Master Sergeant, he was set to retire from the US Air Force. Twenty six years of devoted service to his God and country. A full military ceremony was scheduled, at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. On Facebook, the word went out as an open invitation.

It only took me a couple days to decide.

I flew in. Mindy met me, at the gate, to grant guest of family passage. High security, all around. Miles of real estate, devoted to air power, air men and women, and their commander. I was introduced to the latter, in the office where SMSgt Jefferson had been spending most of his time. A gracious civilian base employee chauffeured me all around the grounds, allowing me a few select photos.

And, then the ceremony. Getting a bear hug from John was the icing on the cake, or so I thought. But, then John’s colleague, a Major, stepped to the podium.

What followed was a litany of awards and accomplishments so vast that I could not contain the realization. John hadn’t just devoted his life to service; he had positively excelled. Officer of the Year. Medals for this, and medals for that. A contract officer, SMSgt Jefferson had, near as I could tell, managed millions of dollars of military monies over two decades of military action across the globe.

The celebration was surreal, a fascinating trek through life passing before one’s eyes. His insisting that I sit “with the family”, me stubbornly resisting that “order” so as to get my choice photos, I sat on the officers’ side. The formal presentation was followed by John’s individualized “thank you’s”. I received the final, single red rose, and words of gratitude which could only be overtaken by those of my own; this old music teacher just had to make sure everyone in the room knew that John had begun his career out front, directing the East High Marching Band. Always a leader, always an outstanding man, from the beginning.

Then, the final occasion.

Last week, I would receive the last of so many words on my beloved student, the boy who came closer to being my own son than any other child I would ever know. Inexplicably, after a mere two months of retired bliss and following a statistically innocuous routine medical procedure, John would cease breathing; efforts to revive him failing, his brain would swell; by sundown the same day, those in power would declare his brain death and, only hours thereafter on a vent and then off, at the age of only 45 his body would give up its ghost to the God of all believers.

This time, I could not attend.

John’s had been a life so worth celebrating; how could I even acknowledge his untimely and unacceptable death? My best effort was to sit, holding the single rose he’d presented to me, and weep.

The world had become, in large, increasing part, a frightening and sinister place for humans to reside. Nations, rising up against nations; holy wars fast becoming the order of the day. Addiction and apathy, married; deceit and treachery, lurching into the limelight; and, all efforts to revive hope, faith, and charity met by the darkest of demons.

Today, many a Scripture verse from the Book of my childhood speaks to me in solitude, along with the memes on my grandmother’s wall:

“For if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

I hope to God it’s all true.

Because, if ever there were a voice on earth deserving of the realization of its passionately held convictions, that voice belongs to the soul of SMSgt John Jefferson.

And, I can still hear him.

SMSgtJohnJeffersonFinalSalute2018

© photo by Ruth Ann Scanzillo 10/17.

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© 3/9/18   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  This piece dedicated to the life and memory of SMSgt John Willis Jefferson, of Erie PA. All rights to its contents the strict property of the author, copied only by the author and shared with those who carry respect for its subject.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Erie Chamber Orchestra Will Rise, Again.

 

Some things must never be said.

And, other things must never be done.

After last night’s performance of the Erie Chamber Orchestra, I can contain myself no longer. Having been urged to keep quiet about everything until now, it is time. I must speak.

I come to you as the principal cellist of the orchestra whose inception took place in the mind of one Bruce Morton Wright. An Erie boy, raised by faithful parents, he grew to express musical talent early on – earning enrollment at our local Mercyhurst College as a music major, on tenor sax. After completing his degree and spending several years “playing out” at various jazz clubs, he found himself in the audience of a symphony orchestra.  As he sat, listening, Bruce had an epiphany.

I can remember him telling us about it.

Bruce could always tell you about it. The man had stories, each more vivid and hilarious than the last. This one was fairly straightforward; as he sat there, in the audience, the thought occurred to him: “I could do this. I could start an orchestra.”

Never daunted, that is exactly what he did. Bruce traveled, first to Vienna, Austria and, from there, to Colombia, South America, to study conducting and gain experience. Upon his return to the states in the late 1970s, he and his wife Merja came home to Erie to establish his first orchestra. And – ever the maverick – the new maestro took his newly formed ensemble one step beyond the norm; Bruce vowed to make his performances available to anyone who wanted or needed to hear them. No admission charge. None.

Nearly 40 years hence, through a couple incarnations ( originally named the Erie Bayfront Orchestra, housed at a local urban center and, in its second decade, enjoying a CNN special feature interview broadcast world wide), Bruce’s orchestra still breathes life into the works of the greatest composers, living and dead. And, March 3rd’s concert was shimmering testament. We performed the Barber Adagio, Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, and – incredibly – the entire Vivaldi Four Seasons with none other than the brilliant Buffalo Philharmonic Concertmaster, Dennis Kim, as leading soloist. And, we did THAT in a 15 minute Tutti read and one 90 minute rehearsal.

N.o.b.o.d.y. does that.

The Erie Philharmonic doesn’t do that. I would wager that even a top ten tier orchestra doesn’t put Vivaldi’s Four Seasons out to the public on one rehearsal.

If you were in our audience, you heard the outcome. Thank you, so very much, for coming.

Now, here’s the ugly part.

Though the ECO was being sustained by both the Musician’s Trust Fund and the generous endowment of one Clarence Byers, about twenty years ago Bruce entered into an agreement with Gannon University. Founded by Catholic Bishop John Mark Gannon, it would become the region’s primary science and technology institution, attracting a long history of pre med students( in a partnership with Hahnemann Medical School) and  an ever increasing multitude of potential engineers of every persuasion, many of them foreign students. Gannon agreed to subsidize the orchestra.

From Gannon Bruce commanded comparatively little by way of compensation, and received for his musicians not a penny. As for staff, well, Bruce was everything: musical director, baton, librarian, publicity agent, and stage crew. Many a conversation in trusted confidence occurred after rehearsal, as Bruce stocked chairs and stands into their proper storage. As a single, self supporting woman teaching music in the public schools, I had no more valued an advisor or counsel than that of my chamber orchestra maestro.

In 2011, Bruce succumbed to multiple myeloma. We grieved, deeply.  But, in keeping with his vision, we pressed on; hiring a new musical director, as well as a general manager (knowing full well that Bruce could never truly be replaced), we never missed a beat. By fall, we were ready with our season. And, we thrived; our repertoire expanded, and our audience burgeoned to 800+, creating a lovely problem: we needed a performance space large enough to accommodate our audience!

Therewith the following six years.

According to the story we were given, in the fall of 2017 Gannon discovered that they could no longer support us financially. We aren’t entirely sure when, as an institution, they came to this conclusion; we only know that the news came to us, as a professional organization, when we read about it in the local paper.

Yes. Forty years of collective professional commitment and artistry, and we received the equivalent of that which a parent experiences when he/she first hears of a child’s death on the televised news.

Not a single one of our section principals was consulted. Our newest Maestro, Bradley Thachuk – also totally ignored. We were never even apprised of the ongoing financial concerns, yea the threat, of dissolution as it emerged; instead, we found out by reading the published announcement that our beloved orchestra would fold at the end of the season.

This act, on the part of Gannon University, was unconscionable.

Not only does it reflect badly on Gannon’s management but, far worse: their action represents a sin of omission, a complete abdication of the precepts upon which they, as a Catholic institution, were founded. What they did to us was callous, low class, and professionally unforgiveable.

Had any number of the orchestra’s membership been contacted with any degree of warning, we could have done several things. We could have set about to solicit regional support; we could have appealed publicly, via the news media; we could have prepared for the worst, in order to save our orchestra.

Instead, we were left high and dry, offered only the option of accepting the venture created by the one person Gannon contacted, allegedly on our behalf: our former general manager, who now worked for another orchestra!

Gannon actually promised our remaining funds to this individual, who created a chamber series (quartets/trios, et al) and went public about his plan. The only problem with this series is: the vast majority of Erie Chamber Orchestra members, both recent and of longest standing, are set to be displaced by this venture, which will only be utilizing contracted members of the other orchestra. At last count, there were only a handful ( I count eleven) of Erie Chamber orchestral musicians (total membership: 40+ ) holding contracts with the other orchestra.

I am among those displaced.

As fifteen years’ principal cellist with the Erie Chamber Orchestra, and member since 1986, I performed cello continuo last evening to Buffalo Philharmonic Concertmaster Dennis Kim’s Vivaldi. As of April 29th, 2018, I and dozens of others are officially without a position in a professional orchestra.

The blogosphere is world wide. You, dear readers, are hearing this story because it is a.) true; b.) worthy of your ears, and c.) of critical importance to the entire artistic community. We cannot let our educational institutions behave like hostile corporations. We cannot permit them to play with lives as if these are mere pawns on the chessboard of their own, self serving interests. And, we must preserve those entities which consistently produce the beauty and truth which the highest art embodies.

We need to start, from scratch. We need a new name, the funds to pay a conductor, plus enough to cover basic musician’s wage and advertising. Yes; we are already taking the steps to regroup. If/when we re-emerge, we hope to have your name proudly attached to those who care most about the ideals we bring to life. We hope for your support.

We have never asked much. Four rehearsals, plus performance, plus the unlimited number of hours in private practice preparation for a paycheck not exceeding $250 per musician. That is a pauper’s wage, in our time. If you were to step up to help us, our love for you would grow with every breath.

And, Bruce Morton Wright, from his spirit, would thank you.

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© 3/4/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo – Principal cellist, ERIE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA. Erie PA. PLEASE, SHARE LIBERALLY, WITH CREDIT TO THE AUTHOR, WHO WRITES ON BEHALF OF MARIAN BYARD, JAMES PEARSON, NICOLE MACPHERSON, GEOFFREY WANDS, BRIAN HANNAH, ERIK SUNDET, MEGAN RAINBOW, BRIAN WALNICKI, TED SMELTZ, MERJA WRIGHT, ANNA ROSE WELCH, CARL LAM, ANDREW SEIGEL, LAURA NELSON, JENNIFER DAUB ASHBAUGH, MICHELE NAPOLITAN, MAUREEN CONLON-DOROSH, HILARY PHILIPP, CARRIE BORLAND, KENT TUCKER, SLOAN LADWIG, HOWARD P. LYON, LOUIS NICOLIA, AND THE REST OF THE WONDERFUL, EQUALLY QUALIFIED PROFESSIONALS WHO FILL THE REMAINING SEATS OF THE ERIE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

Philip Tryon.

 

We may never know, Jim said.

I’m sure Philip wouldn’t have known, either, when he was four. Back then, in 1981, he was busy at the computer writing a story and, since the machine had managed to erase the whole thing, he had to stay right there until he could rewrite every word.

Then again, when he was six, at the piano, picking out every song he’d heard, so many tunes, the ones that seemed simple and the ones that sounded complicated, all of them.  Hunched intently over the piano keys, he’d not have had even a moment to know anything else, for sure.

Nor would any other considerations have crossed his mind as he stood in the middle of the bass section, on the Warner stage, sending forth with his choirmates the Brahms Requiem accompanied by the Erie Philharmonic Orchestra. In the midst of singing a mass for the dead, Philip was way too alive to know anything at all about what could never be known by anybody else.

In fact, Philip was extremely alive. Word was he had been born with a raw intelligence far superior to any other in his realm. His mind being his most interesting companion, he was easily engrossed for hours, days, weeks, and months, never once being distracted by any notion of time passing. By the time he was seven, he likely knew that time did not pass, that both space and time were on a continuum and that light was both a particle and a wave.

In truth, that which could never be known had long escaped his concern. All Philip knew was that whatever could be known reached his understanding with effortless ease, only to be quickly sorted, catalogued, and compartmentalized ad infinitum, all to be cross referenced later when integrated thought was required to feed theoretical proposition.

It was in just such pursuit that Philip apprehended the Bible. Having read every other book in his household, likely twice within any twenty four hour period, this one kept him fascinated longer than the entire Baroque and Classical repertoire combined. Having been taught to take this holy book with very great and sober respect, his allegiance to its prophets, psalms, proverbs and letters of admonishment was total; he’d memorized essentially the entire King James canon before even the most earnest had finished the study of one gospel.

Most could hardly grasp what Philip could know, about anything. One thing is certain: nobody knew Philip. Not like Philip did.

All anybody did know was that the man called by his name showed up for family get togethers, eager and smiling, bringing homemade cookies and board games, and then to work the next day, still smiling, ready to greet his loyal customers at the grocery check out with pointed acknowledgement of their families by each of their names and often in the language of their birth, regardless from which remote country they had come. Those who might have been inclined to observe would have seen a tall, slender, fair skinned gentleman, applying to tasks at hand his devoted energy until the last chicken had been bleached and packaged and the store had closed for the day. Still others might have seen him enter his solitary room at home, perhaps with more than one book under his arm, only to disappear into the vast depths of the comprehensive universe of his own company for the remainder of the evening.

Philosophers have been known to declare that one can never truly know anything but oneself, to which one should then be true.

Jim was likely right about one thing. We would never know what Philip finally knew.

Never know why. Why Philip jumped. Why he jumped to his death, from the bridge at Wintergreen Gorge, sometime between Saturday night and Sunday when they found him.

But, Philip did.

 

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” Now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as also I am known.”  — I Cor. 13:12

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/Philip-Tryon-obituary?pid=188012902

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© 1/30/18     Ruth Ann Scanzillo.    All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Respect the living, and the dead.  Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Sonnet to Nadine Elisabeth Moon.

 

Lydia Elisabeth “Betty” Sweet was my mum. She was born on February 11, 1919, in Erie, the second of four daughters to Henry T. and Mae Learn Sweet.

“Astrology impels, it does not compel”, so said the syndicated representative who appeared for years in our daily newspaper. That said, I do recall reading that Aquarians were natural dreamers, but that some of them would live against type. Mum was one who, ultimately, did.

While we’d collected more than one of Mum’s creations these three gems had been nearly lost to the ether until, as the family historian, our cousin Lydia Todd recently unearthed and sent them to me in a letter. Especially devoted to Mum, Lydia shares her birthday.

Though the poems were written in 1935, when she was 16, I can’t help but think about what eventually unfolded only four years hence in the United States: the Great Depression. Just prior to that tectonic shift in reality Mum had been hot on the trail of a dressmaking career, and would win a contest whose prize would have been a trip to New York.

Herewith her prophetic state of mind and heart, just before the door slammed on all those dreams.

 

“A Sonnet to Nadine Elisabeth Moon”

                                                         by Betty Sweet, about 1935

 

I saw a babe this afternoon

So dear, so loving, and so sweet

Lying there, so clean and neat

Ah! She is proud to be a Moon!

I’m sure she’ll show a smile soon

And, find enjoyment in her feet.

Her parents (surely, it is meet!)

Are proud, and hum a happy tune.

This babe, so pure and innocent

Knows nothing of what life will bring

Into her life, just now begun

Ah! Grant that she, whom God has sent

May live for Him and always sing

Of Him, the true and faithful One.

 

“God is Near”

                              by Betty Sweet 1935

 

As each morning dawns, anew

Filling the sky with a ruddy hue;

I know God is near.

When the sun is at its height

Revealing God’s great strength and might,

I know God is near.

Even when the sun sinks down

Silencing the country, lake and town

I know God is near.

When at midnight’s smallest hour

I feel God’s matchless love and power

I know God is near.

by Betty Sweet 1935

 

“Trusting”

Trusting Jesus, all along life’s way

Trusting Jesus, each and every day.

Trusting Jesus, whether sad or gay

Trusting, all life’s way.

 

by Betty Sweet.

 

Had Mum not been determined to live a life of faithfulness to Jesus, like her own mother before her, I am certain that I would not even be here today. Her model of what many termed “a Godly life” kept each of us in the family from coming apart, and taught us resistance to those things which would bring down our very lives. She led an honorable, committed life, both to her God, our father, and to us as her children, sacrificing her every want and need in deference to ours. Have not met another like her, since. ❤ Mum.

 

© 1/16/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo, quoting her mother, their author. Please respect our family. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pam Baker.

 

I learned one of life’s most valuable lessons from Pam Baker.

She wasn’t a teacher.

She was a classmate, and she sat behind me in 7th grade.

Pam wasn’t a close friend of mine. During the first months of junior high everybody was a bit strange, so many of us having converged from the various elementary schools in the area. I still missed my 6th grade teacher, and struggled to find each room in the building which had been designated for every subject being taught.

I was fairly tall for a 7th grader, as was Pam and, yet, we’d both either chosen or been assigned seats near the front of the room in the center row. Gone were the days when the tall girls ended up in the back, of each row, with the boys.

The scenic memory is vague. Perhaps we were doing seatwork, or the teacher had stepped out of the room for a moment. I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I turned around.

It was Pam.

“What race are you??”  she said.

In those days, white people called those of color Negroes. None of the white people had a clue what Negroes called their white counterparts because, in those days, there was no dialogue between people of differing race. Pam was one of the Negro girls and, that year, I was the darkest skinned white girl in the entire school.

My father’s parents had both emigrated to New York on a ship just as the 19th century was flipping to the 20th. They were each of Southern Italian descent, though my grandfather would have born the darker shades of hair and skin. Appearing to be Sicilian, my grandmother had the light eyes and broad, full features marking Moorish ancestry. Dad had only met his mother once and his father never, providing the family only a bridal photograph, and I took after him almost entirely.

In early September, Pam’s skin was the color of coffee with milk, just like mine. Hers stayed that way, though, as the winter encroached, and mine faded just enough to make the subject less of a concern to anyone.

Clearly, Pam had never seen a white girl with skin the same color as her own. And, up until then, I had seen few African American people at all in my world, only those who came from Virginia to Grove City College to attend our Eastern Bible Conference every summer, among them the Hintons – Arthur being the thin, quiet boy who always smiled at me across every room.

What I learned in 7th grade was that there were those who weren’t sure what I was when they looked at me. I also learned how it felt to be the person nobody was sure about, unless they knew my family or attended the Bible Conference where people came to worship in spite of their skin color even if they did not sit together. Arthur Hinton could have been my boyfriend, and Pam Baker and I could have been sisters, but in those days nobody would have understood.

The bitter cold had lifted somewhat and there were about forty minutes for three belated returns, one a large postal shipment, before my private students would arrive. A full thirty of those had already passed before I realized that the Post Office would be closed. Today was a legal holiday, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pam Baker would have remembered.

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© 1/15/18   Ruth Ann Scanzillo       All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Leave prejudice at the door. Thanks.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

‘Snow Kidding.

SNOWThruTheScreen2017
On the eaves…………………………
SNOWTheTree2017
….the tree………………….
SNOWTheShovel2017
…the shovel……………
SNOWBannisters2017
….the bannister………( 53 “, and counting………… )
SNOWDEC252017
” DOOOT, Doot, Do……… Lookin’ out my…..back door………..”  December 26, 2017. #1 in the Nation (The Weather Channel) and record-breaking @ 53″ + counting, 6:51 am, in Erie, PA. Totals at 11:30 p.m: 63″, and still coming…

Tip of the Iceberg Age.

 

The Museum of Natural History in Cleveland was the first.

A wooly mammoth, life sized, in a room trimmed by taxidermy. Murals, glass encased, tracing the alleged history of its life on this planet. Something about a monster ice floe and fossilized bones of sufficiency to reconstruct the entire elephant. On a trip with the eighth grade science classes, I was disinterested. The Age of Aquarius was all the rage that year.

A month or two ago, I and my equally old boyfriend took a day trip back to Cleveland. Yep; right alongside the whole Paleolithic Age, that wooly mammoth was still there.

The pre-historic had a new meaning to us, now, as we mutely viewed primate skulls and their gradual similarity to our own. Two elderly lesbians, aged a good decade beyond us, eagerly soaked up the narratives in each chapter of the timeline, reading aloud to one another as if no one else were in either the room or the world, for that matter.

A few hundred miles south of the museum, President Trump was meeting with his military advisors. The Senate and Congress were addressing the trespasses of members of his campaign committee and cabinet. Televised pundits worked overtime to cover everything in a single news cycle. The stock market was ballooning.

Biblical prophets had foretold the Last Days. Gog and MaGog would be lining up, all the power centering in Israel, then Jesus would come in the clouds and all the born-again Christians would disappear into the air with Him along with the dead in Christ, which would have been summoned first from the grave. Somewhere in Africa, in the midst of all this, a family of chimpanzees was screaming in the trees.

Today, it was Christmas. A snow squall the size of the North Pole swirled around outside our window, holding all of us living hostage until at least 2:45 pm while the prime rib seasoned in the new, French doored fridge. Having a “White Christmas” around this Great Lake used to be typical, so being enveloped in drifting and blowing snow felt oddly comforting, as if we weren’t really living in the Tip of the IceBerg Age. Maybe, for just one more night, the whole world would hold off melting with fervent heat before that great and terrible day of the Lord.

Twenty four hours hence, and a record breaking sixty three inches of pure as the driven. God only knows what our wooly mammoth would say about the whole thing.

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© 12/25/17  Ruth Ann Scanzillo         All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Be a civilized person; there’s still time. Thanks.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

Perfection.

 

Perfection.

We all think we know what it is. For the artists and designers, it’s all about symmetry – balance, equal emphasis on all sides. Others envision an absence of flaw, neither errant marking nor crooked cut.

But, all of us know one thing: perfection ain’t us.

Nope. Those angelic beings on the Hallmark Channel who gaze deeply into the souls of the downtrodden and despondent, assuring them of that which God sees in each one are the only ones convinced. We already know, full well, that they are likely full of the old, well meaning Welbutrin of life.

We know our every stumble, each faltering uncertainty a reflection of that profound propensity for fallibility.

One equally well-meaning fellow told me recently, in the form of a compliment, that he loved my vocal style as solo cellist. That particular performance, by my own assessment, had been plagued by inaccuracies, provoked by hasty rehearsal and general physical discomfort with the surroundings. But, momentarily, I’d been taken aback in a sort of reassured fashion, concluding that said “vocal” style so described was both pleasing and somehow elevated in value above the usual critique – at least, to his ears.

But, more to the intended point, that moment gave me further pause to consider. To what end do we recognize the distinction between both that which is flawless and that which is both worthy and beautiful?

Much like a white patch on a black cat, a well-placed mole can render a human face visually balanced and lovely; whereas, the bridge of a certain nose can interrupt the flow of an entire profile, tossing the whole impression into that familiar pile, the “plain” face.

Now, take the Creator. If God had wanted to reveal Omnipotence to the human race, might the Almighty have appeared in some daunting, looming, larger than life presentation, commanding our immediate subjection and pronouncing upon us, the created collective, one sweeping absolution?

And, how might we have responded?

Rather, the inconspicuous, messy fragility of childbirth, followed by growth to maturity – this manifestation coming upon the clear midnight with us almost entirely, save a handful of lowly onlookers, unawares.

How many of us have been, through the ages, then found to be drawn in by this, as if to a mystery, compelling our best intuitive, analytical and reactive efforts – and, our recognition?

That which is just beyond our reach and experience is ever of pre-eminent value.

Better to be persuaded to ponder perfection.

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© 12/22/17  Ruth Ann Scanzillo      All rights those of the author, whose lowly name appears above this line. Be human, but good. There’s the challenge.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

Butchie.

Butchie'sBowl

 

 

The Italians in Erie have always been different from those at the other end of Pennsylvania.

Not sure why, probably settlement patterns. Perhaps the bricklayers all ended up in our port city.

But, Butchie was typical of Erie. He was a Sicilian and Calabrese mix.

And, most of these were deeply familial, multi-generational. All associated, historically, with the mob mystique that shrouded our town for so many decades.

Many of the rest of us, whether Italian of heritage ourselves, or among the scores of other ethnicities represented in Erie’s closely juxtaposed ghettos, regarded the short, broadly smiling, muscular men of his ilk as classed alike.

Most of them worked for the City. Streets. Waste management. Water treatment. Parks and R. They were the crews in charge of maintaining what kept the city going every day.

I confess. I always thought Italian men born and raised in Erie would be workers, to the core. Never did I assume, and errantly, that a single one of them would be at all like Butchie DeFazio.

We’d met in the late 1980’s at Denny’s Restaurant on Peach Street, the old Sambo’s. He’d always come to the counter with Roberto, the tailor. Didn’t know it then, but they were both committed betting men, wagering on the horses at the nearby Downs racetrack. There’d be a coffee, and then several minutes at the PackMan over by the wall, Butchie leaning against it and deftly playing the thing like a slot machine.

Butchie didn’t say much. He liked short words, quick phrases, thick with his tough, second generation accent and attitude. He seemed like a street kid, shy but never letting on, and the first man in town to have hair implanted right across the forehead. Many others would make the attempt, and we’d find out how the pain aborted their efforts; not Butchie. Like everything else we’d come to know about him, he wanted a clean line and would do whatever it took to get it.

In 1986 Mr. Veltri, who’d taught sixth grade at Lincoln, came in for dinner and told me about a vocal music position opening up at the junior high I had attended.  Mr. Ciotti was retiring; did I want to apply? It had been over 5 years since my college graduation day, and this role as waitress had settled nicely for me; short, intense shifts, nothing loading the frontal lobe after hours…..I liked my life. But, expectation beckoned, along with a faint memory of why I went to college in the first place. I took the interview.

The panel included administrators, Personnel, the district psychologist…what were my thoughts on marching band? Obliviously, I gushed; as lead bugler, my father had led his battalion in a parade for the US Army dignitaries. I loved parades!

When the letter from the district arrived, I’d been assigned to East High School.

As music teacher to the East High marching band, choir, chorus, “stage band”, and whatever else the principal called his depository for students not destined for academic superiority, I was both energized and scared; I hadn’t been around teenagers since student teaching years before, and this was the roughest neighborhood in town. Gingerly, I stepped into the bandroom to check out my new digs.

Butchie stepped in right behind me.

Never knowing he’d been employed by the district all this time,  I was astonished to discover that, he having bid out and vacating the position to the newbie, I was the winner of his prized legacy.

Mr. DeFazio hadn’t been at East very long – maybe a couple years. Figures. He’d not been at all understood, by anyone there, any more or less than I might have been. Politically, the East side belonged to the Poles and the Germans and the Russians, after all, and the Italians should stay on the West side where they came from.

He was heading to the elementary schools, he’d said – something I would do many years later, to stay, just as he. And, then he carried on with his usual flair. Only this time he peppered his delivery with complex chord progressions; a jazz pianist, he disclosed, he had “played out” in the Erie scene for many years, all in the past, he kept assuring me.

Turned out we’d both graduated from Fredonia State University. He’d been a piano major, no less. Then, the teaching degree, same as mine. Who was this masked man, and why had I never heard him play?

I asked him to sit at the nearby piano.

He refused.

He’d stopped playing, he said. Stopped playing out. Stopped playing.

I stared at him.

And, I never, ever found out why.

Years in, when I had moved to the elementaries, he would stop in out of the blue. On his final visit, a couple years before I retired, he brought me a huge box of videotapes to use – and, did I want them all for just 200 bucks?

One time, I’d asked him to stop over to the house. I thought maybe, if he did, he could play me some Chopin. I’d heard from Mary Ann, his sister, that he played a hell of a classical piano, too. I pled. I begged. He never came.

About four years ago, after his beloved sister Judy died, he moved from his house to the Glenwood Towers. And, he called me. Would I stop over? He had some music he wanted me to check out.

He looked good. Enhh…a little sugar, he said. A bit thinner, but still vital and on it like always. He took me to the storage cages. Here were boxes filled with Fake books, sheet music, and volumes of classical literature – the Beethoven sonatas. The Brahms. My God. The man had played everything.

He insisted. Ruthie, he called me, Ruthie, take it. Take the stuff. Take the Fake books…….I left most all of those, selecting a Brahms folio and some Beethoven. It was so good to see him.

A few months ago, Butchie died. He had been failing, Mary Ann said – getting ever thinner and thinner. But, true to form, never a peep about discomfort, never a need expressed, always tough, always cheerful. The casket was closed. I averted my face, feeling utterly exposed at the funeral. Why did his death feel like a tragedy?

Mary Ann told me, a few days later. He’d played his graduating recital at Fredonia, and the family was there. She said he came out, and sat at the piano, and didn’t move. He sat, for an entire seven minutes, without placing one finger on the keys. Then, he began to play.

She said the performance was stunning. Everybody in the audience felt it. And, everybody at Fredonia talked about it, for weeks and weeks thereafter. Samuel “Butchie” DeFazio was brilliant. A master.

I don’t know whether Erie will survive. Our city has been mismanaged by proud, short sighted people for decades. Entrenchment has seeped its dulling, molding poisons into the landscape and, in spite of a whole generation of emerging talent and intelligence, its families of longest standing – and, their legacies – are threatened with extinction.

One wonders how many Butchie DeFazios have been lost in that terminal shuffle.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   6/24/17    All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Be a good person.  Thanks.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

Marshall’s.

“Oh, God. My God. How excellent is Thy Name, in all the earth.”
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Among his endless list of attributes, the new boyfriend has a far more evolved sense of style than the woman he calls his, these days. He’s left for the evening, calling back a shopping spree for later on tomorrow but, as the evening wanes, something fixates me: the Persian blue print maxi dress at Marshall’s he’d selected last week that just didn’t fit. Maybe I could alter it, like mum always did, he’d suggested – reminding us both that we still had a long way to go before we could say we truly knew each other.
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Finally, I can resist the compulsion no longer. After sufficient Reese Cup consumption, I jump into the car at, what, 8:50pm? and, cruise all the way up Peach Street in the increasing dark to the Best Buy plaza.
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Marshall’s. Where the dressing room lighting is so flattering, you buy everything you try on. Unlike Gabriel’s where, even though the merchandise was designer fare, the sight of yourself under poorly directed, cheap fluorescence made you break down and cry and go home with nothing. Gabriel’s is shut, reopened in disguise, is anybody surprised; Marshall’s lights are still on. The place is mercifully empty. I love slow close hour; you get the whole room to yourself.
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Sure enough, as expected, the dresses are no longer in the front rack. Marshall’s. They know how to mix it up. I look around. Over by windbreakers and sportswear, a stash of flowing fabric beckons.
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No Persian print.
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The girl with the laniard and the perfect skin tells me all the rack rounds have dresses. I am nothing if not tenacious. Me, the spider with the suction cups for fingers, I am.
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Thwap, thwap through the rack. Several other deep blues – stripes; solids, with flirty bodices. Suddenly, could it be, I see the Persian. Glory Hal, there it is – in a.l.l. t.h.r.e.e. s.i.z.e.s (S;M;L). I grab eight hung garments and drag ass to the fitting rooms.
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In the immensely enhancing golden glow of the Marshall’s ethos, it takes me only as long as dress on dress off; seventeen minutes later, four dresses, and three sets sleepwear/clearance, I am beating the clock to the check out.
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Now, why does the lone, spectacled African American beauty behind the counter look familiar? Do I dare ask her the Usual Question? Have I not struck out at least twice in a week with that socially jarring: “WEREN’T YOU MY STUDENT??” No; I would let her be. This was go time. I was the Purchasing Person at 9:15pm on Thursday. This was go time.
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Patiently, and with grace, she gathers all my hangers and my garments and my TJMax Reward Card Application because she is just that good, and then she says it.
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“Didn’t you teach at Grover Cleveland?”
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DANG, how’d I miss this one?? I am slipping, for sure. Old Ms. Scanzillo never overlooks a single one, especially not the stand outs. Hearing her name, it all comes rushing in like it always does, because it always does, every face, every personality, every student, all four thousand of them.
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Tamara Baker.
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Fourth grade violinist.
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Front row. Top of the class, always on it. A real future.
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And, she says it, too. “I always wanted to continue, but there was nobody to teach me.”
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I am already there. She graduates this year, from high school. And, this summer, there will be a violin in her hands again. I am already there. No student of mine gets passed over. Not by God Almighty.
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***
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Last week, adult student, Title I Reading specialist Kim, yearned for a string quartet. Was there anybody? I knew an attorney she heard me say, a violist, named Zanita. We’d look into it.
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The next day, driving up the hill to Sacred Heart auditorium, I’d prepared to cast my vote in the local Primary. Again, the room was mine, only one other person outside of the staff at table. And, behind that table sat Elva who, every year, greeted me with the reminder that we’d played in the Jr Phil string section together back in high school. But, might I be interested? This year, her piano trio needed a ‘cellist.
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Who was the violist?
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“Zanita”,  said…..well…..God.
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~~~
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Kismet. Serendipity. The Persian blue print, size S, fits. The boyfriend, who comes to me again tomorrow like a bolt just like he did a bit shy of nine weeks earlier, after twenty five years distance and nearly five years of increasing resignation that life is meant to be lived out alone unto death, will embody the surprise, too. Somehow, and only by our Creator, even the hairs on our heads are all numbered.
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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  5/18/17      All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Be a good person. Thanks.
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littlebarefeetblog.com

Mrs. Diehl.

Erie, Pennsylvania has been straining, lately.

The Commonwealth is being alarmingly recalcitrant about sending sufficient funds all the way to its northwest corner, as if defying the entropic forces that pull all assets toward the valley is just too much effort, too much of a threat to the homeostasis of those driven to entrench an already archaic class war; as a result, the School District of the City of Erie is in total crisis – closing high schools, losing five thousand students with only the scent of enough loaves and fishes to feed those who remain.

And, even the contingent of otherwise-safely retired teachers bite their nails, wondering if the time will come when somebody decides to dip into their rightful, guaranteed pensions, that portion of their salary which they deferred for twenty five to forty interminable years on the promise of that guarantee.

Mrs. Diehl doesn’t have to think about any of this. She’s long been dead.

Her daughter, however, just passed away. Today. Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong’s life ended in federal prison, her body succumbing to cancer, the disease which often overtakes those who are otherwise hopeless.

Marjorie, a troubled child taken in and adopted by the Diehl family, as accomplice to what would become the stuff of national tabloid news had managed to cap her life in Erie by participating in the most bizarre crime in the city’s history: the case of the “Pizza bomber.” Details of the morbid scenario included a frozen body, a bank robbery, and an innocent delivery man whose life came to an end in that bank parking lot in the blazing sun, the bomb strapped to his neck exploding in front of an entire flank of helpless law enforcement officers and medical personnel.

But, Mrs. Diehl had lived a generation before.

She first appeared at Lincoln Elementary School as a substitute teacher. In those days, substitute teachers paid their dues, and those dues were sure to be rewarded; show up enough times to cover the random classroom, and the offer of a secure, full time position was assured.

I first saw her, seated, at the upright grand piano against the wall, which ran parallel to the teacher’s desk in virtually every classroom at school. She wore perhaps a dark green Chanel styled suit – boxed jacket, small lapels, simple sheath skirt; on another day, a dark blue and black plaid shirtwaist, its full, pleated fabric draping the piano bench. Her lipstick was scarlet, and her hair raven black, classically curled around her ears and neck with the dramatic upward swoop over the forehead which marked a woman of real class who’d come of age in the 1940’s.

It was customary, during the 1960’s, to begin the school day with the Pledge of Allegiance and a silent prayer. But, if the teacher played the piano, there would also be a song. And, this is why I loved Mrs. Diehl.

Already seated as we entered the room in the morning, Mrs. Diehl would already be playing that piano. Full on, with the grandest of gesture, her arms arching and diving from bass to treble, the strains of “America the Beautiful” resounded like a cross between a rousing march and a triumphant anthem. There was nothing, absolutely nothing rudimentary about this woman or the music she made, and the result was utterly infectious. Had we slept restlessly the night before, or endured the screechings of a “We Can Do It”, post-wartime mother frantic to get her children off to school so she could get to the machine shop without being late, the sound of Mrs. Diehl at the piano dispelled any and all angst of such a hyperventilating morning with one, windswept burst of song.

Furthermore, after we had stood to Pledge, to pray, and to sing, only to dutifully be seated, Mrs. Diehl would continue to play. And, for myself, a budding young musical student already being chauffeured off to the Erie School of Music every Thursday at 4:00pm for my own piano lesson, I was deeply transfixed, listening, watching. Several minutes would pass, as Mrs. Diehl, never once making eye contact with any of us, her countenance intently introverted by her voluminous musical mind, played song after song. She would become my first true model of performance, giving herself totally to the enterprise, instinctively knowing and manifesting the inherent value of the music itself.

Other cultures on this planet also know the inherent value of the musical art. They make certain to include music and music related activities in as much as 50% or more of their student curriculum. And, research scientists who devote their efforts to the study of the human mind and the brain which drives it are consistently putting out data in support of the multi-level value of music as both a discipline and art form. Now, there is enough evidence to defy all detractors; those who make music, and specifically those who play the piano, have some of the most highly developed brains on the human spectrum.

Mrs. Diehl may have been a superior musician, but she was also a woman of compassion. No one knows for sure how or why she adopted the girl who was called Marjorie. But, she did. Yet, just as every human is capable of both strength and profound weakness, of confident stride and defiant misstep, Marjorie made a rocky pattern out of her life. And, Mrs. Diehl did not live to see the culmination of her daughter’s actions, a blessing indeed; diagnosed with mental illness, Marjorie very likely did not receive the benefit of music therapy in her lifetime and, in the end, even her mother could not alter the behavior potential of a starling child, though she had made the effort of a lifetime.

But, Mrs. Diehl did contribute to the nurture of hundreds and hundreds of Erie’s children, mentoring other teachers as well, and is remembered by many as a remarkable educator. She also left distinctive, inspiring musical renderings in the minds and hearts of everyone who entered her classroom. Lest the community of Erie and those who view it from afar regard the story of Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong as a tragic stain, a moment of honor is due her mother, whose efforts painted an elegant, graceful picture of enduring nourishment. Perhaps her story, and those of Erie’s best teaching professionals, should be celebrated instead.

Erie, Pennsylvania could use just such recognition and encouragement.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  4/4/17       – All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect for those whose story is told herein.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Spies.

So, now those who just read headlines are all up in a bunch, pantiwise, over the latest Wikileaks release.

Seems it’s merely official, finally; everything we say and/or do, on either our phones or computers, and even via our TVs if they are Smart /and, phhh, even if they are dumb as stone can be intercepted; viewed; seized; and, Lord knows, transported into any number of Files Are Us.

That said, allow me.

“Hey, there, iRobot. You like my style? You watch me chat with my people, and toss me a photo essay about the vegetables I search and their corresponding polyphenols? You like my test results? You need to feed me the latest fake horoscope?

Your attempts to flatter are folly, you of the artificial intelligence. If thou art so smart, why dost thou even need me and all my trolling patterns?”

You really think I’m not immune, by now, to all the ploys?

That bit about getting into our cars, via satellite radio, and programming us to crash? That’s old. Richard A. Clarke already told us all about that, in his novel, PINNACLE EVENT.

The Will is strong in me. I get my kicks out of skewing data. Anomalies Are Moi, I say!

So, there.

Factor that one up your faux ass.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo    3/7/17         All rights those of the living, breathing female human person from whom these blog posts come, whose name appears above this line. I’d thank you for your respect, but you don’t process the meaning of the concept.

littlebarefeetblog.com

That Good Part.

According to reports Judge Robert Sambroak was bedridden, under hospice care, the week I stood in line at the Post Office awaiting my appearance at small claims court. It couldn’t have been he, therefore, standing to my left as I prattled my anxieties, commenting: “ You feel irrelevant…” Yet, whomever that man was he did seem placed there for a purpose, like so many who found themselves in line at the South Erie Station. There was something about that gathering, a Federal office no less, which brought about the most unlikely convergences.

I had awakened this morning, Friday, with a passage of Scripture running across the ticker of my frontal lobe. The scene was Jesus, Mary at his feet in place to absorb his every word. Martha, her sister, bustled about the serving, taking care of the practical concerns that the presence of such a significant house guest likely entailed.

Jesus had spoken to Martha. She had complained to him, regarding her sister’s apparently passive position on the floor near Jesus as he sat teaching, beseeching him to implore her to help. He’d said: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and troubled, about many things; but, Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken from her.”

On such a Friday, after a week of arduous preparations, mine musical, tasks requiring repetition and drill, analysis, experimentation, and more drill, muscles tired, mind absorbed with the complexities, how was it that I had been awakened by this Scripture?

My mother was a task master. Rather, she mastered tasks like no other. Machine operator at a local manufacturing shop, her “piece work” tally always exceeded the rest of the workers’, a fact which isolated her from them. Yet, she pressed on, tirelessly, determined to produce above and beyond expectation. This was the American work ethic, nobly represented by the then-dominant working lower middle class, and my mother was at the top of the heap of the “We can do it!” women of her age.

But, it wouldn’t be until many years beyond adolescence that I would become aware of another aspect of my mother. Also a professional seamstress, she worked out of our home and, that, late into the evenings after much of the rest of the house had retired for the night. Our younger brother, however, one inclined to drive his latest, favored car until all hours, would often keep her awake well after she had slowed the treadle on her Singer sewing machine. Myself having taken a job as waitress in a local dinor I would often work two shifts, entering the house at odd hours; it was at just one of these junctures that I met my mother, seated in the kitchen at the table.

She wasn’t just having coffee. She was poring over her Bible.

Our mother, in dark green robe, would sit up waiting for our brother to return home, and read Scripture. Not neglecting those moments of reflection, of seeking counsel, of meditation and contemplation, she was effectively both Martha and Mary. Whether she read to calm her nerves or occupy her thoughts, mum sacrificed for the family all day and then sought that good part, for herself.

Judge Sambroak passed away, yesterday. He’d served the courts of Erie County more honorably than any other – advising even opposing counsel, entering the schools to set up “mock courts” – representing all that was good about the law. Like the Judge, mum’s life was cut short decades before she was likely intended to depart us, her body exhausted by the toxic overload the local environment had bestowed. But, she had lived her life with the kind of integrity that would, as the decades passed, become increasingly rare.

So, today might be yet another Friday. One more week in the life may be history, but I exhort us all to take that pause. The world is spinning, faster and apparently more recklessly by the minute, rendering our reality more unpredictable than ever before. If we seek that good part, one thing is as certain as the voice which intoned the words; Jesus said it shall not be taken from us. Seems like a worthy treasure, indeed.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  3/3/17   – All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting the work of all writers, both recognized and unknown.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Hinge.

[ final draft ]

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Take your hand off her shoulder

You

With the empathy of a brass hinge

Playing spine

To one grand plank

Of solid mahogany

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Were the door

To have her way

Such massive progeny of tree

Wood

Not to be cut

And hung

As subject

To the pushing and slamming

Of lesser living

Would choose

The wall.

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You

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Up against the wall.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  2/21/17      All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeet@msn.com

“The Most Recent Piano Trio.”

It’s almost impossible to believe.

Tomorrow night, by this time, there will have been a.) a Full Moon; b.) an eclipse; c.) a visible comet ; and, d.) the realization of the intended performance of the Erie Chamber Orchestra’s piano trio, formerly titled “Strange Bedfellows.”

Strange. A few hours past 48 ago, a very strange thing happened, indeed.

Right in the middle of dress rehearsal, without a cross word ever spoken, without an evil eye, without any confrontation whatsoever, one member of the trio walked out.

Doing the math, that left us two: myself and one other musician, aghast and agape, respectively.

This was never done. No professional did this. Certainly, in my nearly 60 years, 30 of which having been spent as a Union card carrying pro, this had never happened. Nobody bailed at the dress rehearsal – and, got away with it.

Maybe the impending Full Moon, maybe the alignment of the planets and our star sun, maybe the schedule of the comet. Maybe the Almighty God. Somebody found Julie.

Julie was the kind of phenom who entered a room without even a peep of apparent genius. She dressed for comfort. Easy going, a bit chatty; carrying a bottle of water – and, her viola.

Julie had never seen our music before in her life. Most chamber musicians hadn’t. There are only nine works of music at IMSLP for oboe, viola, and piano – and, we were performing three of them.

As of tonight, Julie has now seen every note. Three hours of steamrolling accomplishing the entire rehearsal task, as I write this she is likely home, nursing a sprained ankle, seated at the music, tightening up the last loose end. And, tomorrow, by this time, she will have triumphed over an unprecedented adversity.

Power is an awesome force. Sometimes it is grasped after, with the last functional breath. And, sometimes, it descends upon a scene like soft rain. Tomorrow, by this time, in the eclipsed light of the Full Moon, comet streaking by,  The Most Recent Piano Trio will have taken its place in a much smaller history. The power, on this serendipitous night, will have made its subtle and profound shift in the favor of three specks in the universe – three women, committed to making live music.

At this moment, the gift awaits.

What: “The Most Recent Piano Trio”:  Hilary Philipp, oboe; Julie Von Volkenburg, viola; Yours truly, piano. Performing works by Charles Martin Loeffler; Felix White; and, August Klughardt. Cee Williams, and Dr. Gregory Brown, featured poets.

When:  Friday, February 10, 2017

What time:  7:30 pm.

Where: Luther Memorial Church, Erie PA.

Extra parking in the West 11th lot.

Epilogue:

Here is a YouTube link to our videotaped performance. Though I utilized the mute pedal at frequent intervals and the lid was down, the audio quality reflects the fact that we are performing in a church, and you will note reverb. I wish I were beautiful, but my nose is strong and my jaw is weak and I talk like a biddy and that is just the way it is; however, our oboeist and violist are both lovely, so if you do feast your ears, you may cast your eyes upon them for a truly satisfying experience. We didn’t compose this music, but we are certainly among the most fortunate for having had the opportunity to perform it for you.

*Update: Do we suspect, also, that either YouTube “adjusted” the volume whenever the music became quiet, i.e. effectively neutralizing all dynamic fluctations (the videographer calls this “compression”), or that the videocam had a built in “adjuster”? Sigh.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 2/9/17

littlebarefeetblog.com

Betsy.

 

The sight of her, and the hearing of her, and the discovery that, though she plagiarizes from others the White House, no less, is  “100% likely” to be confirming her as Secretary of Education,  reminds me of the kind of [female] I once knew.

Perhaps you have also known such an one.

QUALITIES:

  • Posture: Nose in the air, yet always a condescending smile toward those who can act as servile or subordinate;
  • Attitude: Hostile, and two faced, toward those who threaten power of position, and/ or possess innate qualities which cannot be bought (i.e., talent, intelligence, etc.)
  • Backstory: Descending from money, generally inherited rather than earned;
  • Social Behavior: Moves within those whose code: ” You have it. I have it. They t.h.i.n.k they have it.” (“it” being money, i.e. “class.”) dictates their social circle, which is extremely tight, populated by their own blood, others of perceived similar social class, and a handful who are effusively encouraged to come/brought in to entertain, usually because of their blatant, if charming, idiocy. (Starlings are, on occasion, carefully selected, but can be dispensed with as fleetingly as a moment on the toilet.) Energy is spent selecting the finest garments and accessories, and twisting ones ankles from side to side in the seated position to demonstrate superior footwear.

I suppose I have taken this moment away from the gruel of my woodshedding at the piano, today, to bring these observations to the general public.

If you are in support of Betsy DeVos, and her ilk, none of these observations will make a dent in either your opinion or position; if you are not, perhaps I bring you a moment, in kind, of welcome levity. We are not, in fact, all alike, and we certainly are not all equal.

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Vive la difference!

Play on, thou minstrels – play on!

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo, starling and proud. 2/4/17    – All rights those of this author, from whom these observations come. Come Prima.
 

The Corner.

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The new set up finally felt right.

The laptop should never have been situated anywhere near the davenport. Hardly welcoming to plunk one’s “office” right in the middle of the living room. Add to that the endless stream of paper mail – charity pleas, financial statements, natural health provocateurs, catalogues. Burgeoning piles, taunting every, lifelong attempt to keep an orderly house.

No matter that finding the means to actually toss the static stacks forever eluded. This would harken back to that Great Depression mindset and, well, that was inherited.

Yes. The corner was, finally, just perfect. The wicker rocker had been lovely neo-nostalgia, but sprawling, determined to scrape the last of the baseboard paint all the way down to its 1895 dark wood. And, sitting in the rocker was never right; its ergonomics, or lack thereof, had wrecked both her neck and sacra, the latter already pesky after the fall from the stage in ’09. Perhaps the new chair was more than just easy to assemble. Perhaps she could finally extend her spine fully, and expand her lungs. Perhaps she could finally, functionally, actively: sit.

With the sofa pushed forward, making room for the slender pole lamp, peace lily to the left wafting its oxygen, and heat vent just below, she was at last comfortable enough to troll Facebook, watch Showtime, and write without descending into the dull, half-wit of the couch potato. She noted that getting up to go to the piano was a far more frequent occurrence, now, the most encouraging observation of the hour.

Hardly anybody of any social importance anymore even knew that she played piano. The purchase of the Steinway was only meaningful to her, after all. Funny how expectations were fueled by fantasies, and these by notions. Notions of relative value.

Time didn’t actually pass, she’d been told. But, years did. And, she hadn’t been part of the league of pianists since at least 2005. A decade, to the Millennials and those who spawned them, was a lifetime.

She noted that, from this angle, her reflection appeared in the screen. The way the light refracted provided a clear image. Her face appeared to be receding from its head, the absence of estrogen draining the last of its contouring fat. She used to see an exotic Napolitan, even at her loneliest moments marveling at how distinct she was from the sea of Sicilians in the spectre of her locale. Now, she could only ponder the generic picture of a woman toward which nobody would even look twice.

She wondered if anybody would be listening seven days hence, as she made her recapitulating debut on the live airwaves. The year was probably 1990; Mavis Sargeant, ever the pioneer and a rare Brit in a community of staunch Germans and ethnic ghettos, had initiated “Potpourri”, live classical and its corollaries for a solid hour at high noon at the local PBS affiliate. For quite awhile, it stuck; now, nearly two decades in, live music was once again featured at WQLN – FM. Her selected colleagues had agreed to perform a trio program, and the marketing standard included a live broadcast “teaser” to lure attendees to the scheduled recital.

Thus was her life, lived – by the standards of her alleged family – in complete self-indulgence. Somehow, she had missed the importance of being seen out, in the evenings, where people gathered. She had neglected to form relationships with those who would sustain her social standing. Now her words, last testament to the proof that she had lived, were batted about by anonymous ghost writers, grifters in a world of the younger, prettier, and classed.

Pressing the space bar and the shift key, she placed the next set of them onto the template of the laptop screen.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   1/27/17   Post #478, all authentic, created by this writer, whose rights are reserved in spite of all attempts to the contrary. Yeah. To all the pathetic parasites: Someday, all your sins will find you out. To the honest among you, go in peace.

littlebarefeetblog.com

How Shall We Know?

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Michael Gerson has an established history as a public commentator – most notably, as George W. Bush’s speech writer throughout said President’s administration. But, Gerson’s most recent article appears in The Washington Post. Its subject: Julian Assange.

Over the past couple of months, much has appeared in the publications of virtually every source of news and opinion available in print regarding the integrity, the credibility, even the veracity of the WikiLeaks founder and editor.

Until the week before the Presidential election, I had barely even heard of Julian Assange. I certainly had never been to WikiLeaks, and I knew absolutely nothing about its editor. My introduction came in the form of a Facebook post, shared by someone only known to a mutual friend; the post, a video, contained an entire interview given by Assange to Australian journalist and published author, John Pilger.

As soon as I viewed that video, my comments regarding its contents were posted into the political discussion already in play. What followed, almost immediately, were multiple entries by trusted friends. Two of them, both female, were particularly negative in their commentary; they did not like Assange, they did not trust him, and one concluded that a mere “gift of gab” drove his persona. Via their posts, I would be further informed that Assange stood accused of rape, living in seclusion at the Ecuadorian embassy because he was awaiting either trial, or extradition, or both.

In spite of this, I was compelled. The demeanor of this man as he sat answering John Pilger’s gentle, noticeably open and accepting queries, was sober, apparently humble, at times almost contrite. He spoke in measured phrases, with care to make only statements which were both clear, concise, and fact based. Furthermore, nothing he said by way of reply seemed to render him suspect, in my observation; rather, he seemed intent upon declaring the purpose of his every act, and that with an objectivity which centered around a search for the truth.

This central point spoke volumes. Dare I use a buzzword – yes; it resonated with me. Friends of longest standing knew me to be a clarion for the truth; and, as time had aged me, I had become more passionate about its value.

I researched this man. Dug into everything I could find online about him. Viewed nearly every interview, listened to every audio, and read as many of his words as were available to me in print.

What continues to strike me is this glaring reality: every news outlet, every publication intended to affect public opinion seems determined to malign, condemn, and pigeon-hole his efforts through a process of both conflation and grande accusation, the latter largely unsubstantiated. By contrast, Assange seems to provide substantive defense for everything about which he has been accused, the strongest of which is the declaration that none of the legion of Wikileaks’ posts over the past ten years has ever caved to scrutiny or been proven unverifiable. In fact, if he succeeds in protecting the integrity of his publication, WikiLeaks may very well rise to the level of the last truly independent counsel left on the world stage.

Yet, what of its founder?

In 2014, The New Republic released a detailed historical documentation of the rise of Assange relative to that of both Snowden and Greenwald. Its article painted Assange as an anti-authoritarianism subversive whose view of the world as “individual against institution” was informed by his personal history. And, that is the characterization which has pervaded the press, ever since. He is to be regarded as the enemy of our state.

Most recently, Assange agreed to a Reddit AMA(“Ask Me Anything”) online “press conference”. WikiLeaks offered a Twitter link to transcripts from that AMA, but hardly anyone has defended its contents. Instead, we have Michael Gerson, who now portrays Assange as an enemy of the “tribe”, one having caused threat to the lives of Americans. And, any American who takes an objective position with regard to him is being made to feel as if such objectivity is somehow akin to treason.

This is serious allegation.

I am an American. Born in the town wherein I have spent my entire life as a working professional, I remain committed to the ideals of our Republic. Humbled to own my home, to live responsibly, to maintain a lifestyle above reproach, and to owe no one, I do not take kindly to any suggestion that my honest investigation of Assange or anyone, however radical or challenging, represents lack of patriotism. I remain a defender of the freedoms of both speech and thought, and intend to devote the rest of my days to that which I have built – one life, lived with integrity. Perhaps I see myself as a lone individualist, powerless against institutionalized control; to this end, my world view may be akin to that of Assange. This does not translate as treason against the government of the United States.

Tonight, President Obama commuted the 35 year sentence of former Private Chelsea Manning, whose 700,000 leaked documents published by Assange at WikiLeaks disclosed human atrocities committed in the name of war. And, there are still those who believe that the act of releasing these “secrets” was a sin more grave than the very atrocities, themselves.

I will trust anyone who proves trustworthy. If Julian Assange can be proven guilty of anything by anyone, I will not sit as his judge; if, however, he is now extradited to our shores, given a fair trial, and proven innocent, I will stand in his support just as I stand with anyone who speaks and lives in truth. As Americans, we should set about to do just that for everyone; aligning, to any degree, with the alternative is to risk everything for which life is worth.

What say you, Mr. Gerson?

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  1/17/17     All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com

Censorship [edited].

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“For there to be justice, there must be open justice.”

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Dear Readers,

*UPDATE: The live streamed audio press conference, aired January 9, 2017, has been added to this blog post. It appears just ahead of the original video.

I am a home owning, tax paying American professional.

In our recent Presidential election, I voted for neither the DEM nor the GOP candidate.

Below is the long-awaited interview, by an American employed at a major news outlet, with Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

Does the thought of viewing this video scare you?

Why, or why not?

Don’t be.

Watch, and listen; then, repeat.

And — don’t shoot the messenger.

Thanks.

littlebarefeetblog.com

p.s. more updates following the Reddit Q & A. Should be interesting; did anybody see the Qs?

What Happened, 2016?

 

None of us can say what happened.

We only know that 2016 was filled with some of the most excruciating challenges, tests of both faith and resilience, and flat out heartbreaks in a lifetime of memory.

Here’s to the fresh start we are guaranteed, every morning. If I may borrow from AA:

One day at a time!

Hold fast to those who have proven trustworthy in your life. And, vow to be that one in the life of another. Honesty is the path; take it, with courage.

Happy 2017!

Your fellow blogger,  Ruth Ann Scanzillo

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

Jay Badams.

 

 

He’d stepped quickly in and out of our designated classroom, about to be introduced to our faculty collective by the Superintendent of Schools. Upon his return he’d stood, on the sidelines – black suit, white shirt and tie, black hair neatly trimmed in a conservative cut – as the Superintendent announced his name. I remember thinking how his presence harkened back to the men of my own extended family, the good boy still visible in his countenance and bearing.

I wondered, then, as he stood being lauded by his own boss, what the goals were for this man. Was he being groomed for something bigger? That was usually what happened within the hierarchy of The School District of the City of Erie, PA, the town that forever clamored to be just like all the big cities.

He wasn’t an Erie boy; of that, I was certain. Face a bit too clean, features smaller and more refined, frame just too tall to match its counterparts in the full figured strata of city workers and dutiful sons which populated our familial landscape.

What set the man further apart was his poise. He was only momentarily still; even when his feet stopped, the rest of him – his mind, his purpose – kept moving. He was ever forward thinking, yet reserved in the company of people.

The Superintendent introduced him as Jay Badams, the new head of some curriculum level; he was to be a force in the implementation of the latest plan. I remember thinking that, perhaps that year, the latest plan would actually have functional legs; this man seemed equipped to engage.

But, being the music teacher, once that convocation had ended I’d set about to perform the many tasks to which I was committed, and rarely gave another thought to the machinations of the District and its administration. The next time I heard about Jay Badams, he’d become just another of the multitude of parents in my building, the entire population of which were my students. He’d risen in rank and stature; but, to my purposes, he was Emma and Jack’s father.

Emma was quiet, a watcher and listener. She was bright, and talented, too, and perfect for the lead in A Christmas Story, and not because she was Jay Badams’ daughter. Her little brother was also on the quiet side, but a typical boy of his generation; both children were clean, like their father, well presented, respectful toward their elders, good students, and well liked by all.

I met their mother, Tiffany, and her mother, for the first time in the hall behind my stage door. It may have been on Parent Teacher Conference day; it might have been after a concert, or the show. I do remember that she made a point of expressing her appreciation directly to me for a job she deemed well done, and did so with grace and warmth. I also recall wondering if a woman of her presence had found a happy life in our town. Lord knew, I had become so fixated on my own work that I could hardly have been a friend to any parent, even if I’d wanted to be.

I remember, however, the next time I saw Jay Badams.

The day had been exhausting. It was production week, for the extra-curricular drama club, and the final concert of the student body. I’d managed to cram everything into the last days of the semester, every year, my mind and body paying the price and the students feeling the fall out.

There’d been a contingent of first grade boys that had worked my final nerve. And, while I knew that testing the teacher’s patience was a prospect anticipated with very great enthusiasm by many children, I always reserved my fiercest expressions for its limits. On that day, my pent up inner monster – raging against a system which had become increasingly thankless toward its hardest workers – had roared long and loud, sending more than one unblinking stare back to the classroom reeling from the onslaught.

School had dismissed, and there was the usual bustle of movement down my stage door hallway as the buses flanked in the lot outside. Something, perhaps it was the long, black topcoat, caught my peripheral vision. I looked up, as a father with his son passed quickly by the stage door toward the parking lot exit. His expression was one of concern, yet resolute; Jay Badams had his small young boy’s hand in his own.

A father, in black topcoat; a white collar professional, walking his boy to the door and holding his hand. He was not rushing. He was with his son. They were simply walking, with purpose, to leave the building at the end of the school day. But, the image of the two of them pierced me.

Had my ferocious bellowing frightened his child, that day? Had I scared all the children? Was I hurting my students? Would the Assistant Superintendent find out from his little boy, on the ride home from school?

So many parents had taken, in recent years, to reporting teachers to the school principal. A child coming home, with a story of alleged behavior, would frequently result in a closed door session between said parent, the principal, and the teacher being accused. And, these sessions rarely found the teacher anything but guilty as charged; rather, many an educator, usually a woman, would exit such a meeting in tears.

If I had traumatized Jack Badams that day, I never heard about it from his parents.

Needless to say, I would not forget that image. Nor would I forget Jay Badams, or his children, especially his daughter, who was musical; she took to the xylophone with the same determined purpose I’d seen on her father’s face.

A full year after my own father’s death, followed by my retirement, I ran into Jay and his wife, and Tiffany’s colorful father, at a local social establishment. Tiffany spoke to me as I approached their table. She wanted to know if I taught the xylophone. I gave her the name of our premiere local piano teacher, Linda Kobler and, within the year, Emma was performing as pianist in recital, reflecting a relationship forged between student and teacher that would endure to this day.

Jay had said to me, that evening, and every time I’d seen him since: “We miss you.” He said it with earnestness, and I knew that he meant it. He’d become the Superintendent, and, if I’d had even one second thought about leaving the District, it had been because Jay had become our leader. I knew him to be a supporter not just of the arts, but of every committed teacher who broke her back to make creative, nourishing, and memorable things happen in the lives of children.

This man has been a tireless worker on behalf of the students in our District. The forces of resistance he has encountered might very well vanquish the mightiest among us. One thing I do know; as teachers, we are trained to recognize. We learn to read behavior, body language, inflection, intent. To that end, I know Jay Badams. I’ve met his wife, his in laws; and, I knew his children, when he and his wife were raising them. To witness the entire community rise up against him in the ongoing crisis that is our public school system in this Commonwealth is to endure the sight of public betrayal.

If Jay leaves our city, the loss will be ours. I wish him the longest vacation his body can withstand, followed by a welcoming and warm contingent of dedicated educators and leaders who know the meaning of accepted responsibility. If he stays, we need to stand up and thank him for facing Harrisburg head on. He is the genuine article, a man of integrity and courage, and our town has been starving for a leader like him for a long time.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo    12/20/16

Quiet Men.

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I like quiet men.

But, there are three kinds.

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The Shy Boy.

Men who began their lives hiding behind their mother’s skirts (those who wore them full and fluffy, below the knee), are keenly observant but hesitant to make any version of a bold statement. As men, their actions do the talking, and are manifest in a self-possessed confidence which is, at heart, un-self conscious. To them, a woman is a source of fascination, much like their mothers were from the first moment. These are men who possess either an innate or finely cultivated ability to recognize and appreciate every detail about a woman’s body and mind. They look, long to touch, and the restraint they express makes a woman feel secure in their company.

Were they to speak or act suddenly, their fear is that the woman will turn away. And, since they are almost content to simply admire from afar, they provide by their silence the space for a woman, in turn, to fully express.

The Snake.

Some boys learn early on that they possess attributes which are considered commodities. Should those in their sphere laud such traits, fuss over them, make public commendations regarding their value, they develop a certain, smug self-satisfaction. Whether these features be physical or mental or even social in nature, the men who bear them enter a scene assuming that others will recognize both their presence and the prize they offer. For this cause, with the exception of those with comic ability they rarely develop social skills which garner attention, even if they seek any; content to simply appear, they are confident that what they both want and need will come to them, and that without effort. When it does, they take what comes, giving little in return; when it doesn’t, they often opt to drink heavily or simply leave the room.

Such men, while known to most everyone because of their persistent presence, can put some women off, as their lack of effort to engage others in anything but the most perfunctory, even slick dialogue comes across as self interest.

The Spy.

This man is quiet because he holds secrets. His own actions, either past or present, dictate his social behavior, setting limits. His demeanor is usually gentle, pleasant, even warm, but he reveals little. When prodded, he changes the subject. Such a man may be hiding a life of profound trauma, embroiled in international espionage, or engaged in subterfuge; whichever the case, his boundaries are clear only to him, leaving those who maintain a distance to conclude that he is merely shallow or simple minded.

A man who deliberately withholds remains uncommitted to individuals and groups, occupying the loner’s role with ease. Women are intrigued by such men, often drawn to them but, because their intuition picks up all the red flags, are rarely emotionally at ease in their company.

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I’m sorry. Were you speaking to me?

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****

So.

Boys…….

…….who are you?

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Let’s guess.

😉

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo    12/13/16      All rights those of the woman who wrote the piece, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you, children.

littlebarefeetblog.com

Pittsburgh.

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Tomorrow morning, unless a magical window of escape beckons before me otherwise, I am slated to appear in Pittsburgh, PA for a dentist appointment.

Along with its many and varied cultural offerings, Pittsburgh houses the national president of holistic dentistry. And, I have a hot root canal, poised to wreak its systemic havoc via the lymphatic channels of my unsuspecting body.

But, there is no havoc wreaked on the mind or body greater in breadth or scope than a trip to Pittsburgh.

The rest of the Commonwealth, at least at the northwest end, is easily accessible. The city where I live was laid out, port to its companion Great Lake, in a logical, “Philadelphia” style grid; everywhere we want or need to go is well within a solid ten minutes of commute in any direction. And, this is all accomplished simply by turning either right, or left, and proceeding in a straight line.

One wonders if the developers, who transformed Pittsburgh a couple decades ago from a smelly steel town into a hip and swanky hang for the wealthy and sophisticated, even cared if anybody ever came to visit.

The freeway lay as a driver approaches the metropolitan area is, simply put, foreboding. In an effort to escape the narrow streets and steep hills of its established neighborhoods, multiple steel reinforced layers of looping concrete envelope the entire landscape. Add to this an equal number of routes marked One Way, and you have a recipe for the Race to No Place. And, you get there in a far bigger hurry than you could possibly anticipate.

A couple years ago, I went my way down into that pit to search out a Steinway piano sale. The shop was situated on a narrow side avenue, across a bridge and between two hills that curved and diverged into infinity. The proprietor, a surgeon, was dispensing with all of his high end pianos because, he said, the location of the sales room drew few potential buyers and made deliveries difficult. Well, hello.

When I finally found the place, he was standing on the corner with his cell phone, directing me into the appropriate parking lot. Had the weather been pouring rain I would still be circling that block, two full years hence.

Historically, were the freight routes, bearing their loads of steel on large flatbeds, capable of being negotiated to and from the mills and refineries? If so, why are mere automated vehicles forced into this maze of intimidating, multi-lane, endlessly branching, suddenly exiting ramps and roller coasters?

There’s a trend in American civil engineering. Perhaps it receives its cue from the cardiac surgery industry. Take an existing ghetto, populated by the intractably impoverished, and build a cement bypass around it; take multiple slums, and build a whole tree of these. Get everybody to camp out at full speed for twenty nine minutes, just to be sure they never see how the other half lives, and hope they all arrive at your destination station without collateral damage.

I know one thing. No dental diversion will force me into a street marked Wrong Way, coasting to a stop just to stare balefully at the place where I am trying to go, its building fully visible from across the river. If the computerized voice on my GPS tracker can’t get me there, I’m not going.

And, Pittsburgh, you can bet that, next time, I’ll be inviting that dentist to move to Erie.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo    12/12/16        All rights those of the insulated resident of Northwestern PA content to live where there are eleven public beaches and total access to everything a human wants or needs, the author. Thank you for coming.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

We Are So Small.

 

The other day, as I proof-read some sundry social media post, the TV was prattling along in the not so distant background. Whether from some inherited distractibility syndrome, or due to my particular penchant for multi-media creative activity, or merely the generalized chaos of a brain on overdrive, it was not uncommon for multiple media to be activated in my realm. That is, simultaneously.

As I read, CNN was airing a special on the military’s role in the impending satellite conflict. War in Space, I think. And, this was the interview portion. Some Lieutenant Colonel was holding forth on tactical strategy intended against powers competing for orbital dominance.

But, what happened only needed an instant to manifest, yet left several minutes thereafter of baffling wonder in its wake. For, just as my eyes passed across a specific phrase in my own media post, I heard the Lt. Col. utter the very same words.

“Close proximity.”

I had typed, and was now reading the phrase “close proximity”, even as he was speaking the phrase aloud.

Just today, my elderly friend sat across the room from me as I completed transcribing some music, reading an article in an old issue of one of my magazines deliberately saved since the year it was published ( 1992.) At one point, she looked up from her reading to quote an adage which appeared there:

” Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? ”

Then, she marveled, had she not just been recollecting the very same just the day before, remembering it to be a favorite of her beloved church minister. There, merely leafing through the magazine, she would hone in on the phrase, word for word as it had appeared in her thoughts.

Given these two cosmic events happening so close in, well, okay, proximity to one another, I found myself commenting. If such convergences could occur so entirely out of our control, identical factors finding immediate locality, how did this not comment on the vastness of that which was really out there over which we had absolutely no domain?

Dr. Steven Greer, licensed E.R. physician, has stepped boldly into the public forum with his declarations about our universe. Herewith his latest,

CORE PRINCIPLES OF THE NEW COSMOLOGY.
* Linear, relative reality and non-local, non-linear reality both simultaneously exist as Reality. Their perception and understanding is wholly dependent on the level of consciousness of the observer. Even physical matter has an aspect of its nature which is non-local, transcendent and conscious.
* Conscious, intelligent biological life forms, whether on earth or from some other planet, have physical realities as well as spiritual realities. Pure mind or unbounded consciousness is innate to all such life forms. It is the ultimate highest common denominator which all life shares.
* Beings which do not have biological bodies (so-called astral or spirit beings) are also conscious, intelligent entities and as such can interact with other conscious life forms both biological and otherwise. On rare occasions they can even effect a physical manifestation. Once again, the highest common denominator linking these beings with other life forms is unbounded consciousness, or non-local mind.
* The universe consists of both linear and non-linear, or transcendent, aspects which, while seeming paradoxical, simultaneously exist at every point in time/space and non- time/space. From this standpoint, every point in time and space exists in every other point in time and space, through the quality of non-locality.
* The concept of God or of a Universal, All-Knowing Being is enhanced and magnified, not diminished, by the recognition of the vast multiplicity, infinite diversity and limitless scope of life in the cosmos.
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So how does intelligent life in the universe actually manifest? While keeping the above concepts in mind, let’s review this diversity of life and how we our inner and outer senses may perceive them.
From Dr. Greer‘s paper: Extraterrestrials and the New Cosmology
Read the full paper here.
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Can’t speak for you, dear reader, but I’m about to read that full paper. In the meantime, perhaps a little review is in order. A.) We are but specs in the magnificent reality of our cosmos, both physical and spiritual, both seen and unseen; B.) Our fixation on the relative size of our troubles is greatly diminished, thereof. In the words of another, comparatively famous quote, from Steve Martin: “Let’s get small.”
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My mother’s favorite comes to mind, perhaps quoted from her own mother whose birthday was this day in 1890.
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“Know your place.”
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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  12/5/16    All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect. Remember the little people.

Family.

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fathers’

mothers;

sisters;

brothers’

wives;

husband’s

lives;

other’s

   sin.

     .

  judge,

     .

   jury;

     .

     next of kin.

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from “Bad Poems About People”, Volume I (pre-publishing)

© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   11/27/16    All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com

WordPress.com won’t let me edit!

ALERT: WORDPRESS.COM won’t let me edit my most recent post, Family.

It freezes.

I force quit.

Firefox reappears, all embarrassed; I hit Restore, and the timer spins again.

The edit template will NOT let me in.

And, this only happens at the original poem, Family.

Oh. Waiting for a Happiness Engineer to receive, read, and respond to an email?

You’re kidding. Right?

Ruth Ann Scanzillo  littlebarefeetblog.com

p.s. Safari: same.

The Truth.[ edited]

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Unheard of by the mainstream on any continent, the Plymouth Brethren were the collective, non-denominational Christian sect which held domain over the first twenty five years of my life. From infancy through the end of my university education I regularly heard, from their pulpit:

“We have The Truth.”

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But, of course, they didn’t.

They – their earliest Bible scholars hailing from Scotland and Ireland, establishing Assemblies in America by the late 1800s, enduring repeated schism through the 20th century, and continuing to splinter off across the threshold of the 21st –  just believed that they did.

And, this belief, once I realized that it was only a belief, set me on a quest which would become a theme, occupying my days for twenty five more years and beyond.

I’d embarked on my own, earnest search for the truth.

Only, this time, I would settle for nothing less.

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First, the intention was benign enough: just simply vow to always speak the truth. Seemed easy – never, knowingly, make a false statement, to anyone. I was confident that, were I to tell the truth, somehow nothing but the truth would return to me, in kind.

This confidence was uninformed.

As life took us all through various levels of schooling and gainful employ, it grew increasingly remarkable to me how frequently, and ably, those around me could toss off a lie.

My little brother, whom I genuinely loved, was particularly adept.

Too oblivious, and fearful, was I to realize that he had harnessed a tactic which, in many ways, was motivated by my own behavior; whenever he needed to assert himself in the eyes of both our parents and my [ then overshadowing ] presence, he’d pop another just as easily as a hen lays a hot one.

But, to my ears, the lies were both awe-inspiring and mildly frightening. I felt their power, the alternate reality they created, recognizing that all it took for that reality to take hold in our parents’ eyes was their trust in the veracity they had allegedly instilled in us. It would take years for me to realize that truth was a precious commodity, and that I was surrounded by imposters.

But, the fear of God had imbued me with a certain fortitude; I would honor the truth, all the more fervently.

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Few shared my passion.

Behavioral scientists had determined that those whose reality seemed hopeless would take to creating one in their own minds for solace. But, those who imposed theirs on others for personal gain were the real predators. Most had learned that trust was a vital prerequisite to contriving a convincing reality. Either these had been taught this by example, or some random experience had been brought to bear; whichever the case, trust was the liar’s first prey.

And, the liar succeeded by isolating the gullible, those whose trust, for whatever cause, was blindly automatic.

I was among their prime targets.

Initially, this made manifest in “the butt of the joke” which, of course, was yours truly.  Exploiting the trust of the gullible teaches that a lie can hurt, and I learned to feel its isolating pain.

Perhaps the memory of this pain dulled my resolve; admittedly, the time would come wherein my veracity would be tested.

The stage of life which presented the greatest challenge to my determined commitment to truth was young adulthood. A late bloomer by all standards, I was still living with my parents at age 25, following graduation from college. Once the opportunity arose to establish autonomy from them I moved out, while they were on vacation in Florida. My lifestyle, though hardly promiscuous by most standards, just prior to and following my leave taking I’d attempted to withhold from my family. This was my first venture into the realm of deceit.

And, because I had to justify this deceit in my own mind, rationale stepped up. Only one thing trumped full disclosure: the bonds of love. I needed my parents’ love, and that of my family; revealing everything about my life to them would have caused everyone involved pain, and created enmity, I decided.

Interestingly, now that I am older and fully autonomous, nothing about my life is hidden from anyone. There is no longer any motive for deceit.

(And, by way of history, my beloved brother cast off his childhood penchant in favor of a life as practical missionary. He has also, for 25 years, been the devoted husband to one wife, raised five boys, and repeatedly sacrificed his every personal desire in the service of his wife and family.)

Nevertheless, “bearing false witness” is the bane of both safe, and secure, existence. It renders a climate of suspicion, demands of its generation a degree of wariness that drains health, and obscures any possibility for mutual trust. A society of liars is, at best, one which renders its members in constant competition for power over the running story and the constituents in place to believe it.

All have known the discovery of a perpetrated lie. All know the stages of emotional response. And, all know the tenacious effects, long after the deed is done.

If I have a prayer at all, it is that humanity return to its earliest recognized truth, laying hold of and marketing its value to anyone who will hear. And, most of all, I pray for those with the courage to tell it.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  11/16/16     – All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your trustworthiness.

Please visit littlebarefeetblog.com

Promming.

[*Note: The use of the adjective “sudden” appears without prior knowledge of its similar use in a published poem by my friend, Anna Rose Welch] 10/14/15

A rainbow of sequins shoots across the grey landscape of split-levels, flats, and bungalows.

Too early in the season for fireflies. Just another evening in spring for most everyone….maybe a movie at home, some goodies, a game.

Ah.

No.

Tonight is Prom.

And, the empty streets are budding.

Sudden boys in stiff tuxes, girls balancing on stilettos at the edges of tired sidewalks, leaning in for the anxious lens of a wistful parent.

Then, off.  Off to the blooming banquet ballroom, spongy carpet waiting to test the heels, brocaded corners settling in for the clusters of nervous children staring dolefully toward the dance floor.

Regal table rounds, draped with welcoming linens, ready to class the cliques and comfort the outcasts and soothe the swollen feet.

Noisy chattering over the relief of electronic sound emanating from the bandstand, not hearing anything intelligible, not caring. Laughing, just because.

Eyes glistening over icing on tiny cakes, licking fingers. Furtive glances across the chasm at the king and queen’s court, wondering how many minutes before all the chairs are empty. More chatter. More indefinability.

Photos, all. Phones, and photos. Poses, as many as Barbie and Ken could configure on the playroom floor. More songs from the band. Favorite songs. More looks from the DJ, waiting his turn.

Caravans of organza, tulle, crepe chiffon, and faux satin lumbering to the lavatory, clutching palm purses concealing tampons. Tinted mirrors, tugging bodices, mascara wands tracing eyelash tips.

One magnificent Conga line finale, led by the beloved gym teacher everybody knows is gay. No quibbling. No worries. True gaiety.

Trouping to the carpool, hormones at full tilt, sailing up the curb drive into the all-night restaurant. The grand, self-possessed entrance of a wandering circus act.

Mounds of fries and bacon and whipped creme.

Minds, winding down; bodies, wearing thin.

Hearts, hopeful.

Time, gathering its notes for the remembrance book.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

5/16/15  All rights reserved. Prom away.

littlebarefeetblog.com

We Do?

Do we ever feel like one person in our own bodies, but then see ourselves in photos and videos and think: “But…..that’s not who I thought I was?”

Our body language, the way our personalities play across our faces. It’s no small baffle, really. But, I’m talking about something else.

Maybe mine is a preoccupation of sorts, in more recent decades. Say, since 911.

Prior to that tragedy, being the Mediterranean in a room full of standard white people was the norm for me. To some, I was the “exotic” one, meaning of course that, to them, I was different. One guy actually saw me performing from a distance and thought he was looking at a girl straight from the Old Country. He told the conductor he wanted to meet “the woman from Italy”. And, his parents were both Italian. Go figure.

Hah. Ah, well. It was a fun year and a half. Too bad my shabby apartment, grey suede fringed boots, and acute lack of scholarly gravitas put him over the top. I was teaching marching band, for God’s sake; give me a freaking break.

Oh. Both my brothers have since been to Italy, the elder five times or more. The younger went to Rome on his honeymoon. Sure enough, he said: “All the women in Rome look like you. ALL of them.”

Okay, then.

After 911, I began to see something else in the mirror. I profiled myself, and was found wanting. I had the facial bones of a suspect.

Invigorated by regular summer travel, I’d been across much of Europe (though, not Italy) most recently for a third round to Scotland in August of that same year. Now, it was clear; no wonder the little children in Selkirk had stared balefully at me, their unblinking eyes wide with fear. I did not board a plane thereafter until 2006.

Now, as our American society becomes increasingly global in its representation, the Millennials seem completely immune to any effect from categorical differences. Whereas we from their parents’ generation notice Asians, Middle Easterners, and other fairly new nationalities as soon as they walk through a door, these kids never seem to look up. Or, if they do, the subject is addressed and dispensed with in some fleeting informality (“Are you, like, Thai? Okay. That’s cool.”) most probably because, among any group of six or more, there is likely to be a greater mix of types than ever before.

My problem, yes, so it is, might likely be related to having grown up surrounded by Anglo Saxons, never associating with my Dad’s side of the family. Being the brown one. Being the odd one. The boys took after mum. Being the only one.

In fact, I have a dear cousin I hadn’t seen in probably 15 years who, seated beside me at a family wake, kept repeating rather self-consciously: “You really look Italian.”

Hmm. Okay?

For all of these reasons, postulates, theories I see images of myself, and the first thought that takes shape is: ” I look like the girl whom many people don’t trust. I look like the villain. Hard, severe, and type-cast in my own body.”

For starters, people around this town, for multiple generations, saw a dark toned Medi and thought: “Roman Catholic, west side, multi-generational family; probably Sicilian, or Calabrese. Somebody’s niece. Father worked for the city.”

All wrong.

[Former] Sectarian Fundamentalist, east side, second generation; mom’s side indoctrinated English, nobody’s niece anymore. Dad was a barber, from Boston, and his father was Napolitan. Didn’t know what gnocchi was until I bought my house on the west side.

Wrote a short poem years ago. It’s in my original poetry; you can find it. “Ode to the Ethnic Child.” That’s actually the second title. The first one was: “Ode to the Unwanted Child.” Yeah, well. Changed it, when I thought such a moniker wouldn’t sell. I’m shrewd like that.

Oh, and just to deflect that percentage of the readership that is poised to find complimentary ways to respond, I’m really not addressing relative attractiveness. This is about what makes people feel warm, secure, safe, comfortable.  For all their attributes, “exotic” and “ethnic” to those who are neither, well, they don’t make that cut, do they.

See, the term “ethnic” has undergone its own evolution. Some social factions think the term applies to black folks. Still others think it must include Latinos. Really, “ethnic” to these people applies to any nationality not already appearing in their own DNA.

[ insert winking smiley icon]

As for “exotic”, many shop at Pier I because they want to add a certain element to their decor. More drama; striking texture; the unexpected image. To them, that’s exotic. Imports. These bring it.

(No surprise to anyone, I love Pier I. Feels like home, to me – !)

The interesting thing about the exotic element is, were people to be brutally honest and open they’d have to admit that decorating their entire home in exotic images, shapes, textures, and elements might just make them feel, well, a tad uncomfortable. Exotic elements are meant for accent pieces, or that one, relatively small room featured when they entertain.

Touche. Like the court jester, trotted out to amuse the King.

Now, all this would be a benign yawn were we not talking about a real person with, allegedly, a soul and a mind, a heart, feelings and, that load, needs. But, we are, see? We’re talking about a girl. With a look that didn’t match who she thought she was when she entered a room. With a presence that still might leave all kinds of misleading impressions in her wake.

In fact, this might be one of the reasons I started this blog. Beginning with those in closest proximity and reaching all the way across the planet, I sought to dispel myths. Myths, first, about myself, and then well beyond merely me to reach all those baseless suppositions that push people apart instead of bringing them together.

We, perhaps instinctively, seek our own. And, we self-segregate. Yes, we do. It’s about familiarity, which is synonymous with comfort. We don’t call ourselves bigots, because we don’t feel like bigots, and we certainly aren’t prejudiced because we hate prejudice and self-loathing is not healthy.

To one extent, I might be the only formally Caucasian woman who understands how black folks feel in American society. Or, the newest of Middle Eastern immigrants. Not because I have a rich Mediterranean heritage, because I actually don’t; my father was displaced from his immediate family at birth, remotely connected to them thereafter, and absolutely none of the customs of the Italian American were ever a part of my life.

How I do relate with these is as one who appears to be different. I know how it is to be superficially accepted, to be gently patronized, to be called “striking” (please stop), to be kept, ultimately, at arm’s length – just beyond the mainstream of power and influence. You know, like the “ethnics” in the perceived majority of American society.

Perhaps actors are the only group immune to all this agonizing self-examination. They probably take a frank look at their faces and body language in some Movement or Characterization class, acknowledge their “type”, and proceed to compile their qualifications into a series of head shots and demos. They learn to believe Who They Can Be and, by some mercy, can forget who others might think they are.

Maybe this is why, for all my life, I have been so transfixed by thespians. You know, the ones who can put on a thousand masks and be whatever their role asks of them. Who can enter any room at any given moment, and bring whatever they choose to be. I can’t imagine where they go for trust, or comfort, or any sense of reality. Perhaps they are as protective of their own as the rest of us, and place a premium on their families. But, beyond this, at least they have a community of distinctive and disparate individuals, all under the same tent – clowns, tragic heroes, buffoons, tyrants, ingenues, matrons, sages. Like the children of our generation, they look past type and see one another.

Can we do this, too?

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  3/22/15; edited 7/12/18

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