Tony the Barber.


He was beaten over the back of the head with the buckle-end of a belt, in the foster home of his earliest memory. For six years, he ate cold porridge at the Walter E. Fernald School for the Feebleminded in Waverly, Massachusetts. Escaping to the hot, dry railroad cars that cut across the deep South, he played his harmonica and hand-carved “bones”, earning loose change for a plate of food at each stop. Twenty years later, he sang to my future mother, in full US Army uniform, on a steam train bound for New York City, and she married him.

When I was a babe in arms, he sang to me. Sitting at the kitchen table, he’d feed me creamy tea by the spoonful. He’d tell captivating stories, the tales of a sparkling imagination – funny, mysterious, and sad. His eyes twinkled when he smiled.

On Wednesday afternoons when all the shops shut, he’d take me with him in the big, black De Soto. I’d ride on the fat brown leather backseat all the way to wherever we went and home again, listening to him whistle.

On Sunday afternoons, he’d sit with his elbows on the back of the park bench, chewing a toothpick under his straw brimmed hat, while my brother and I’d go wild in Pixieland at the zoo. On a rare Sunday evening, the Spirit of God would speak passionately through him from the pulpit of our tiny church meeting hall half a block up from Holy Rosary. On weekdays, he’d walk to work in his small, corner barbershop on the lower east side, and walk home again to supper after the sun had already set.

This man was my father. In a cut-throat world, he had no enemies; in a world where it was considered correct to be political, he had no agenda; in a world where power played, he served the public; in a world where families faltered, he came home from work; in a world where reason overrode, his faith was unshaken; in a world where we gathered up the pieces of selfish lives and struggled to re-learn the art of unconditional love, my father was always there. I never wondered if he loved me. He was my continuing link to sanity, my captive audience, my counselor, my soulmate, and my first and last hero. He was God’s gift to my life.

Dad, your little girl still loves you.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

circa 1994/revised 2015.

all rights reserved. Thanks.

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