Category Archives: creative writing

Perry Street.

People live as cities to fight and flourish. How they do so determines whether or not they survive the winds of change.

In one of these, and to honor its venerated ship captain famed for the Battle of Lake Erie, Perry Street was rolled out through the east side of the city called by its lake. On a short, but memorable, stretch of this gradually ascending path southward, I grew up.

Mrs. Kubasik was stocky, thick, ever in house dress with opaque sup-hose and sturdy laced black work shoes, white hair pulled back tight, spiking strands about the chin on the whitest skin you ever saw. A first generation Pole with thick Eastern European accent, she lived on the corner across, looking left, in a white flat sided Cape Cod, and only came to the door on Hallowe’en.

The mottled grey brick flat was next, upstairs tenant a mystery, downstairs Marie & Honey who both smoked, Honey outliving Marie using a walker to get to the door and subsisting on vanilla ice cream and cartons of Winstons, which I had been enlisted to bring her weekly from Krush’s Superette down the hill and across busy 28th Street where you could buy lemon sherbet in paper push up cups from the cold reach in freezer with the top sliding glass.

Just beyond their driveway, the pale yellow house with the tiny, centered porch, flowers all around, owned and maintained by Mrs. Lacey and her slender, bald, adult son Harold who never said a word. The vacant field right next to them, and directly across from us, was always the easiest access to our cousins, the Marshalls, whose visible garage faced 29th but whose property could be entered by wading through the tall weeded grasses and squeezing past Aunt Dora Mae’s lilac bushes into their driveway. Cousin Frannie had a raccoon in a large rabbit cage on stilts smack in the middle of that garage, never used to house Uncle Frank’s maroon Chrysler which he kept at the curb spanking clean, all the way to any flecks appearing on the hood which he’d deftly capture with a moistened fingertip.

On the other side of the field was the biggest, whitest, single family porched clapboard you ever saw, owned by the Sawtelles, Timmy and his sister and his mother, who also owned the lot on the other side just next to the only Bungalow on the block. Mint green and small and elegant, with shiny hardwood flooring throughout, this demure structure housed Mr. and Mrs. Watson whose granddaughter was murdered out in the county. Mrs. Watson talked at a very rapid tempo, and might have been Jewish though the subject never came up. On Hallowe’en, she would keep the candy just inside the open front door, and we could all see in for quite a bit as she would emerge from the kitchen, across from the hardwood livingroom where Mr. Watson would be sitting near the fireplace in the wingbacked chair reading.

The ash blue Cape Cod on the right side corner at the bottom of our slight hill remained silent for most of my life on Perry until the unnamed man inside died and Mrs. Dias moved in, she without any apparent husband the mother of one girl. Mrs. Dias had dark hair, wore glasses, and was friendly.

Directly across from her were the Rogalas, in a dark red brick Shaker Heights style Cape with the sloping asymmetrical entryway. They had tall, blonde, grown children, all professionals, their son a lawyer, the twin girls one of them an airline stewardess, and Mrs. Rogala would frequently talk about her brood with mum when they’d both be out watering their lawns in the evening. About once a year, we might see one of the girls pop in and out on a visit, always heading to her car in the driveway facing 30th Street, never knowing which twin she was.

We lived in the mauve shingled house dad had built for mum before they remarried each other, which mum designed and whose plans I own rolled up as blueprint and stored in the tall cylinder plan can found a few years ago in an Edinboro antique store. Mum’s pink and purple azaleas and rhododendrons were the focus of bursting color right in the middle of the sunny side of the street, and we were the center of vocal noise on an otherwise quiet stretch of Perry.

Our nextdoor neighbors on the Rogala side were Joe and Vivien Fish, whose house was a small ranch with a 30 foot fir out front and a back cement patio where they’d sit with their black curly haired dog, Michael Sammy, and daughter Marian, drinking into the late evening together, Marian’s guffaws ringing out across to my bedroom window over their driveway. Joe owned a business which he operated out of his basement called Ken’s Permit Service, providing highway documents for semi truckers who would often park their cabs at the curb. We thought they played Poker in the basement every weekend or so, because a couple times a year the big, brown wailing Inhalator would idle by that same curb, revolving red light atop, and carry off some hapless gambler who’d just lost money on a bad hand.

Because only in America, our neighbors on the other side were the Tom Hookers. Theirs was a two story red brick solid, and son Tweed who brought purebred German Shepherds from Germany where he was stationed, daughter Kathy who always ran down the hill up the porch steps and into the house but who died of an aneurysm too young, and youngest Tom Jr who lay in the backyard summers and actually talked to me a couple times once I became of age all often seen, Tweed less so, eldest daughter Alex already married who smoked as much as her mother and died of lung cancer after only having a pain near her collarbone. Tom senior outlived his wife and two daughters, walked with a limp from the war, and tended his yard every day, chatting with mum across the chain link fence where the Honeysuckle grew as she trimmed and weeded the flowers and he always giving her huge, Beefsteak tomatoes from his garden. The week mum was dying, he was still outside even in the history breaking heat, warning us that Ensure was milk based and would cause more mucous in her throat.

The house next to Hookers faced 29th Street. Mrs. Yaeger lived there, also first generation like her neighbor to the right but German, the only German on our block on Perry though the entire east side had been settled by them.

We were the only Italians, for blocks, on Perry or the entire east side until 26th Street because dad met mum on a train. Everybody had porches, and flowerbeds, and driveways, and every house across from us had a big Maple tree on the curb except the two corners which took the sun full on. We had the telephone pole, and all the cables feeding everyone’s conversations came from it across front lawns and the street under the tree branches. Our short block and its slight grade to the right stood between the two steepest hills on Perry Street, which took all who traveled it all the way south to 38th, passing Lincoln School and Immanuel Presbyterian to the corner at the very top.

A few years ago, a major windstorm took down the 30 foot fir in front of what used to be Fishes house, throwing it across the road and blocking Perry Street for days. Joe and Debbie had moved in after the Fishes retired to Florida, replaced thereafter by Hank and Bonnie who lost the tree. Billy Blanks’ family bought Rogalas, Tullio Construction had a small house built on the field property where Ann, its first tenant, might still reside, Lee and Mary moved into Lacey’s and the rest faded into the future to become Dad’s new neighborhood after mum died, looking out for him and giving him leftovers whenever they were able.

As the fiery battle raged on the Bay, Captain Oliver Hazard Perry hoisted a flag upon whose face the inscription read: “Don’t Give Up The Ship!”. Those who’d settled that little block between East 29th and 30th never did, holding on to their own histories, their heritage, their identities, through ’til the last of their brood was grown and gone. The neighborhood is still quiet, shaded by Maples, mum’s azaleas and rhododendrons since removed by dad for the mosquitoes – did I talk to him, for a week? – replaced by rose bushes and children, playing in the now fenced in front yard she used to mow and hose all by herself.

Perry Street’s people always held on, knowing and caring for one another.

Sail on, neighborhoods.

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© 9/30/21 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No names have been changed; all are authentic residents of Perry Street, circa 1957 – 2009. No copying, in whole, part or translation including screen shot, permitted without signed written permission from the author. Sharing by blog link, exclusively. Thank you for respecting the true story.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Late Boomer.

Duct cleaning was the real world equivalent of a colonoscopy.

Beyond fundamental purging of the crud adhered to household infrastructure, what mattered in the end (npi) was all the unfinished business unearthed in the process.

I’d purchased the old farmhouse in ’89, at the ripening age of 32. Among my phase of the Boomer generation, this was considered respectably progressive; most single girls were renting in townhouse complexes held up by select, emerging studs. I was the girl with other things to do.

Like, build a creative life.

And, toward that particular endeavor, such construction yielded the acquisition of: things.

It only took three decades. In that time, I’d managed to retain eighteen throw pillows, four keyboards, seven hundred ninety eight gig check stubs, one Koehler beer bottle, George Foreman mini grill, Jack Lalane Juicer, Oster food processor, Skinny bullet, Cuisinart countertop, two rotary phones, seventeen curio boxes, six hat carriers, five unmatched end tables (from Sundance), ten lamps, three sofas, fourteen area rugs(half off, shipped direct), and each piece of clothing ever handmade by Mum or purchased from Newport News catalog. Everything was a potential theater prop. Every issue of The International Musician, Suzuki journal, CD sample, 8.5 x 11 page of sheet music, and idea scrawled empty envelope ever hewn, molded, collated, or conceived. Hard copy was the hallmark of my people; we had history, because we made history.

But, post-pandemic, it was time to get this hoard in order.

Duct cleaning services only ask for the simplest compliance: make every warm air vent and cold air return accessible. Large expanding hoses, I dimly remembered from well over a decade past, needed to be attached to each and then run outside through a noisy compressor the size of a pediatric hot air balloon in the shape of a human stomach. A couple hours hence, and the digestive system of the old Saraceno homestead would be purged.

Well, not so fast.

The constipation of thirty plus years was compacted. Furthermore, like most artists, I’d re-designed the floor layout as many times as the visual landscape warranted, which was frequently, and with no regard for anything as life sustaining as air flow. And the cellar, become the catch all for 25 years in K-12 vocal /general /instrumental and dramatic music, held enough foamboard, posterboard, cardboard, laminate, and plastic binned handhelds to start a very smelly bonfire at a summer camp.

Speaking of fire, I’d spent the two full hours and nineteen minutes ensconced in the attic loft contemplating how many minutes it might take to evacuate my four most precious treasures in the event of such an alarm. From there, I could hear the two cleaning guys at the back mud room doorway as they wrapped up their afternoon.

Then, it happened. That moment, in every Woody Allen film, where the frame falls away and the viewer – exposed – becomes the central character. From my perch on the landing of the loft, I heard one say to the other:

“This place is a mess.”

Down the back stairway I pummeled, ready for confrontation. Had they finished, and was I not so sorry about the cluttered entryway and the prohibiting things. What was the condition of the ducts. Genuinely surprised, I stared as the one who denied making any judgment declared that neither the ducts nor the vents were caked in soot. What, then, had caused the overwhelming dust bunny convention in virtually every room of the house?

My collection of, you guessed it: things.

Paper and cardboard, to be exact. The stuff of all conflagration. The cause of the problem was the problem. Shit, effectively begetting shit.

In spite of the questionable integrity of the first floor wiring, the Nutone heat lamp timer on the bathroom wall still worked. If I set it to its maximum 15 minutes, I could start at the south end of the kitchen and work my way north. The white washed Pier I country house bench, wedding gift from Lisa in ’93, would be the first suffocation rescue; what remained would take the rest of my life.

Faintly, in the distance of my inevitable future, I could almost feel it:

Boom.

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© 6/10/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in whole or part including translation, permitted. Sharing by blog link, exclusively. Thank you for respecting the transparencies of original writers.

littlebarefeetblog.com

“Erietown.”

To a creative, idea theft is the ultimate violation.

When I was a server for DENNY’S, Inc, the ubiquitous family restaurant chain, my District Manager took a proposal I presented at a store meeting and unveiled it as his own, District wide, in Willoughby, Ohio.

During a stint as judge for a student instrumental music competition, I made what I thought was an astute comment as we on the panel discussed prior to meeting with the proctor to hand over our decision. When the proctor appeared, another member of the panel took the words right out of my mouth, offering them to the proctor.

The real clincher came during my two decades as elementary music teacher. I wore theatrical costumes, self devised, every day; every lesson had a theme, and my get up with props served that objective. The kids were enrapt, mouths agape; never once did I ever need to raise my voice in discipline.

Soon, young women began appearing in my classroom. They were elementary ed students from the nearby college in the county, sent to observe my work. Eagerly, they soaked up everything I ever did. What I didn’t realize was that they were just as eagerly reporting back – to their methods instructor.

It would be a good five years hence, and a forced move to a different site, for me to realize what had unfolded. A young student teacher asked if she could present a lesson to my music class for credit. I obliged. When she entered my room in full snorkel and flippers, my heart fell to my feet. Later, I would discover that her “mentor” was a woman at the very same institution which had sent its young to my original classroom. Apparently, this woman had scrambled to establish herself all the way to a doctorate in education, publishing and hosting workshops specifically targeting integrating music into the classroom. And, to my mind and heart, she’d done it riding on the back of my singular efforts of the previous five years, possibly others as well.

Of course, in every case as outlined, no credit was ever given to the source.

During the first year or so of my foray into the world of blogging, I was pretty much oblivious of skulking and lurking pirates. By the time my folly was realized, hundreds of chapters of my life had been disclosed at this, my writer’s site. How many times could my words have been parsed out? Maybe thousands?

Granted, my story is as unique as anyone’s. But, one aspect stands out: every observation always came from the lens of one who was both born, raised, and ever lived in one place: Erie, Pennsylvania.

We all dream of great accolade. I think it’s part of our natural egoism, borne in the part of our brain which drives survival. We want not just to be alive, but productively so and, then, once we’ve worked our fingers to the bone and our hearts to their core, we hope that at least one person we have come to respect notices. We want our efforts to seal our social security on the planet.

But, just now, after having read a piece about Evangelicals and the covid vaccine, I noted its author: Connie Schultz. Googling her, I was stunned to see that she’d published a novel for which the Pulitzer Prize had been awarded. The title about took my breath: “The Daughters of Erietown”.

Sure. She came from Ashtabula, and her town in the novel is fictitiously attributed to Ohio. But, everybody who has grown up and lived here knows that, for decades, all the local news and weathermen had one, affectionate moniker for our city: “Erietown”.

So, nobody around here is fooled.

As for whether my exhaustive efforts as an amateur writer have been compromised, I am certainly powerless to argue the point. In a couple weeks: birthday 64. Nope; never met nor married a politician. I have yet to gather my chapters into a novel. Perhaps, by now, doing so will be moot. Everybody else consistently gets there first, whether by hook or by crook, and my name will have never come up in the conversation.

But, if you’re reading this now and you have been following since the fall of 2014, go buy the book. Read it. Let me know if you see anything familiar. Or, not. Write me off as a jealous sniveler who cannot take action, on her own behalf, to promote her own work up to the speed of those not otherwise sporting the big “L” on their foreheads.

Meantime, you know what I’ll be doing. Plugging away, like Erma Bombeck, from my sofa in the livingroom of my house on Poplar Street. Maybe something I say will have raised a thought, pricked a conscience, hit a nerve, touched a heart.

Or, not. That part is up to our ever-lovin’ Creator, who makes all things new every morning.

Now, there’s an idea nobody can steal.

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© 4/11/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo All rights, yes, she’s going there, those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Sharing by blog link, exclusively; no copying, in whole or part including translation, permitted without signed permission. Thank you for being less ambitious and more good.

littlebarefeetblog.com

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