Category Archives: civic commentary

city life; local color;

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

 

 

 

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The Gift Card.

 

 

Last week, I thought I’d found it: the perfect Xmas gift.

In fact, it seemed perfect for BOTH of my oldest, and dearest, friends.

Free food. Who could possibly reject free food – for the whole family, for a solid week, brought to their doorstep, complete with all supplemental ingredients and specific instructions as to how to prepare each meal for a truly gourmet dinner? And, how truly practical, as well; who enjoyed taking time to grocery shop during the holidays?

Yet, there it was: Hello, Fresh! the company – and GROUPON, the third party offering a discount that just could not be ignored.

Eagerly, I clicked on the appropriate online link, and ordered the products as Gifts. Filled out the forms, paid with PayPal, and off they went. So enthused was I a big, pink Facebook post followed; I’d found t.h.e. perfect Christmas present.

At first Lisa, my old college housemate, was ecstatic. She’d just sold their house in NY, was closing on the new one in the LA burbs in just days and starting a new job within the week…..this, she said, was a “godsend.”

Well, God’s been busy. It’s the holiday season, after all and, in these times, He’s had to field all manner of religious holy weeks and festivals and fasts and, well, who would want that job?

PROBLEM #1: How would this [free food] be shipped to either of my friends (in California), if their addresses had not been filed by GROUPON?

Oh.

The Voucher.

There was a Voucher, a Gift Card of sorts, which had to be printed by the Gift recipient who, in turn, needed to sign on to the site to select the meals. I quickly emailed my friend, with the heads up.

In between viewing job prep clearance videos and appointments for the requisite physical, she’d managed to open the email and become thoroughly confused. Perhaps she’d wait until her husband came home from his job as cartoon editor at Warner Bros. He’d make heads and/or tails of why she couldn’t seem to.

PROBLEM #2: And, this was huge. Access to the menu selection site. GROUPON, she said, was actually asking the gift recipient for credit card info, claiming some “ongoing subscription” requirement.

WHAT??! Did I do this to my two, best friends?!

Over on the other side of the county Alex, whom I’d called Sandy since first grade, was beyond any gratitude; she was incensed.

To her, self-employed business owner for decades, the whole thing felt so impersonal, and annoying, and no way was she entering any credit card info in order to receive food or anything else alleged to be a “gift.”

Several texts and emails later, far longer than it would have taken to coast over to the nearby department store for its weekly Tuesday Over 55 sale, true story: Hello, Fresh!, greedy as they came, in cahoots with GROUPON, the latter offering a discount to the giver, was roping the gift recipient into some ongoing subscription contingency; in short, no Hello, Fresh! meals delivered unless membership was first established which, of course, everybody knows, could be Cancelled At Any Time By Calling The Number On The WHAT??

My wallet was already filled with Gift Cards. There were 5 bucks left on the Bed, Bath & Beyond; at least one bookstore; and, now defunct, a local Mall card so old so as to carry an actual expiration date – meaning, in spite of the money put down by my former students’ parents, after a certain date that chunk of cash was doomed to the ether, or Bank of America, whichever held out solvency longest.

I’ll give you Cancel At Any Time.

I’ve got your number.

Commercial America: you want attention?

I’ll send you a card.

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© 12/13/17  Ruth Ann Scanzillo    All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Be a good person; it’s free.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tim.

 

Pulling himself out of the driver’s seat he rose up, hulking, above the diminutive walker, a solid 6′ 4″ even stooped over, and trudged forward – the door to the Post Office just ahead beyond a cement incline.

He was immense. Baggy jeans, lumberjack plaid flannel, knit skullcap, sagging grey face enveloping vacant, downcast eyes. His image, apart from the size of him, taking her back to 2009 or 10 and her own father she was, already, at the door – opening it, leaning back against it, standing, waiting with careful, familiar, experienced patience.

As he approached, she offered a calculated greeting, something about pretending to be in New York and having a door(wo)man. No reaction, no response; without looking up, he placed the walker across the threshold and passed through into the lobby.

Her eyes followed him plod toward the glass doors leading to the office counters. Its long, late Saturday morning postal line still testing the space, she quickly stepped up to catch its door for him as well when, without any warning, he spoke. Loudly.

“Come ON, Tim – for ChrisSAKES! What’s TAKING you so LONG?? GET OUT OF THERE!!”

The voice which sprang from his body belied both its countenance and carriage. Gruff, angry – and, directed at somebody almost hidden in the middle of the line.

As if spotlit, the face of Tim turned. Instantly, and deftly, with the intent of one trying not to be noticed at all he slid past the women who had quickly backed up at the sight, and through the door she stood holding, and out into the lobby.

Tim was of medium height, wearing a dark colored Steelers knit hat, short dark blue jacket, dark pants. Approaching middle age, his face was plain, unmemorable, except for the skittish averted eyes when she spoke, eyes which behaved like those of a child who expected to be slapped as a matter of course.

She placed her hand on Tim’s shoulder.

“What’s your name?” she said, automatically.

“…er…Tim!” he nodded, as if to affirm what he’d been called moments before.

“Is he your father?”, she apologized.

“Um, no…….my neighbor….”

She nodded. Slowly. Feeling her forehead contract.

“Bless you”, she said.

Moving to exit the post office, she stepped through the door. Once outside she turned, yet again, gazing back into the lobby….and, re-entered.

The two men stood side by side at the self-serve booth, Tim waiting as his neighbor inserted and received the customary materials for mailing, describing as if rehearsing the proper steps to be taken.

Task completed, they both turned to leave. She, still standing there, looked up again at Tim and asked for his last name. “Lauer”, he pronounced. As they exited the lobby, she continued: “Are you in the phone book?”

“No…!” he turned, swiftly, head down, trying to remain anonymous. She spelled the name. Looking away, he corrected:

“L-o-w-e-r.”

Again: “Bless you”.

Hunched over, Tim headed toward the car. She looked up, facing the Post Office door. The large man was coming toward it. This time, inspired ever and only by every dutiful act branded into her consciousness, she opened the door and stepped back. He looked up at her, brightly, and spoke:

“Oh! Are you the door man?”

“I am, today…” she said.

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© 11/25/17 Ruth Ann Scanzillo     All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting the creative material of those beneath you in class or station. Be a good person.

littlebarefeetblog.com