Category Archives: family history

My Christmas Card List.

When Mum found out she was terminally ill, I remember her smile of resignation as she looked from one to the other of us, sitting there on the front porch, together, nearly all of us in the family. It was almost apologetic, as if somehow she’d disappointed each of us by not getting the “good” diagnosis. That was Mum, always determined to do the right thing, the acceptable thing, the thing which was expected.

But, then she set about, to plan, as plan she would whenever anything presented to be addressed. With a noticeable sense of urgency, her ability to verbally communicate rapidly deteriorating, she insisted on finding [managing to get me to find] her box of Christmas cards. In methodical if repetitive silence, she flipped through them all, searching for names and their addresses. Since organized thought was diminishing with the tumor’s encroachment, this was a trying task. She enlisted me, yet again, haltingly explaining that she needed to “let everybody know.” I would compose a letter, to copy and send out to everyone on her list. These were the people who meant the most, who would care to know; these were those whom she loved.

Most everyone I knew who still sent out Christmas cards did so dutifully; there were endless, extended family and both present and former coworkers, that end of year stock taking of those still considered part of the relevant realm. But, to Mum, the list was precious; these were her dearest friends.

In her world, actually spending time with others just for fun had to take a back seat to the needs of the family. Dad had his shop; he could never leave his haircuts. There was no time in a given year to travel – except for that one week in August, south of town to the college campus about 90 minutes away where everybody on her Christmas card list would convene for seven full days of heavenly Christian fellowship.

These were people she’d known, together with all the cousins out east, since childhood. They’d kept in touch every year, for the entirety of their lives. Most had married, raising children who would represent inter-familial connections from within the fellowship. They were all joined at the heart.

Or, at least, Mum thought they were. She carried them all in her mind, as she sat every day at the sewing machine, revisiting any number of brief encounters across the whole of her life. Her thoughts devoted to every detail of a vivid recall, so each person would materialize in her memory. It was inside her head that she would sustain her relationships with each of them, tucking her favorites into their own corners for reference as they came into the frame of her story.

I’d sat, perusing the list we’d gathered. Many of them were totally unknown to me; surely, I had never met these, at all. Some were familiar, among the few ministers who would visit yearly with their wives; still others just names I’d heard spoken over the phone, in conversation with a sister or two. Mostly, had we ever actually seen these people cross the threshold of the front stoop, our house would have been filled every week to flowing with the glow and glitter of live laughter, of real life interchange. I was certain, sitting there next to Mum in the chair beside her bed, that they’d all have felt her love just as much as she did without them present in the room.

But, they hadn’t been, and they weren’t, and now she was about to die without them. She would send my letter, and some would call. Most would send cards, and set reminders to order flowers. But, she would know them, well, as well they ever could have been known, with a kind of devotion unseen and unspoken. And, every Christmas thereafter, maybe she would occur to them, and they would finally know.

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I was the second born, the love child of a reunion marriage. Often, I’ve been known to declare myself the embodiment of both my parents’ strongest and weakest traits. Among these, I bear Mum’s willingness to love from afar, her inability to materialize relationships, her life of wistful imaginings. If you are on my Friend list, I carry you in my heart. Whether we live or whether we die, you will have been loved, if only by me.

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© 3/11/21 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting, in whole and part, the entirety of this story – by leaving its contents intact and untranslated. Sharing permitted via blog link, exclusively. Thanks, again.

The Rule of Disparity.

I just spent about four minutes scanning a Yale professor’s piece on the nature of genius. Nothing really grabbed me until he touched on gender bias. Women seemed less interested in competing for intellectual superiority. (As if such were even possible, in a woman’s world or any.) When I reached the professor’s self-devised formula for defining genius, I stopped reading.

Apparently, in his equation and in order to qualify, one’s life had to have the fated S. You know, G = S + whatever. S stood for Significance; one life contribution had to reach a wide swath of other people, such that its influence either affected social change or altered the course of history.

Don’t worry. I’m not about to make any claims of cerebral superiority; my elder brother wears that mantle. Plus, all the sugar consumed since retiring from public education has likely dissolved much of whatever there was of pre-frontal cortextuality.

What struck me was the term. “Significance.” That’s really what I’d been seeking. Not Recognition, or even Affirmation. Just the feeling associated with having done something to make being on the planet worthy of breath.

Just under four years ago about to the day, I’d embarked on loving somebody. What made the decision so jarring was just having come off perhaps the peak of my performance career, a collaborative piano recital garnering the, okay, affirmation of those I’d clamored after for decades – full professors of music, whom I’d called colleagues in the privacy of my mind. Had I stayed on that new plateau, really traveled across its terrain, I might not be sitting here in the silence of my house typing this story at all.

No. Instead, I arose the morning after that concert and met up with the man. We walked his dogs. We talked. He would have kissed me, as we parted. He came back, instead. And, we were off.

Off, that is, to pursue and indulge and submerge and strive and cleave and hew and cry, then wonder and fret, antagonize, apologize (me), modulate, recapitulate. The song was way too long. The theme was nothing new, and the composition simply would not hold itself together.

Yet, the whole time, I told myself I was loving somebody.

Somebody, other than myself. Not the artist, the creative, the somehow talented younger sister of the celebrated family genius. Some one other person, alone in the world, fraught by a history only a handful could claim, really difficult to crack open, the ultimate challenge of other-directedness. This project would elevate my life beyond petty competition for rank or station. This would transcend securing a position as staff pianist for a university music department. Choosing to love more than mere aspiration would be a spiritual quest, requiring every facet of human awareness and commitment.

Growing up in the shadow of genius makes a person acutely aware of all the disparities. Not in social opportunity; I’m talking about what’s between people, that which separates them, the stuff that makes people different rather than the same.

I learned early that what I did easily, what drew me, occupied me alone. Nothing I really wanted to do involved anybody else. And, as I grew, my value became about what I could do which distinguished me. By adolescence, my body told me that this would never be enough. I looked outside of myself, and discovered a need to feel more than merely the object of curious attention.

We siblings were all taught the same things, but how we made them relevant in our lives was as different as we were from one another. The genius went out, and made the world come to him. I stayed home, and waited for what was born in my imagination to appear. When it only manifested inside my head I relinquished to what I’d been told: if I wanted love, I must first give it.

My attempts to do so were always wholehearted; the results were repeatedly bewildering and, ultimately, heart aching. I poured myself back into my art.

Choosing to try, one more time, coming just as I had finally hit my expressive stride will have to be explained by the one looking on. Veering off a path so clear, the mind specialists might offer, is about a certain fear. Perhaps I had acquiesced to the rule of disparity. Perhaps I could not accept that fortune and artistic satisfaction were my future, and chose instead to give myself away.

Somewhere, the tune changed. Then, the music ended. Everything cliche’d about intention and mutuality played in a loop, on an old cassette recorder in the corner of solitude. Whatever I thought I’d been doing just stopped.

The object of my love wanted no part of my intention. He repeatedly extracted himself until only figments remained in final retreat. Absolute absence left no ripple.

Pianos don’t move; they just wait. I’d been playing, all along, kind of on low grade maintenance as a service; but, slowly, each new piece began to bespeak a strange promise. Today, I played like my life depended on it. And, that piano loved me back, with its own, unconditional song.

Perhaps what we do and why we do it isn’t for us to say. Maybe we really are just a flicker in the flow of life, as insignificant as we can be. Even the genius has a moment or two of wonder mixed into all that grand earth shaking. Ask the child with special needs; even brilliance has its season.

I suppose the Yale professor, and all those whose time is spent observing those on the floor above might have something to say about all this. But, while he and his ilk are figuring out everybody else, you’ll know where you can find me. I’ll just be starting up where I stopped, perhaps differently than anything deemed significant, but loving in the only way I ever knew how.

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© 1/29/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. Please don’t parse out this piece, or translate and then publish it. I wrote it, and it represents what was born in my head. You have something in yours. Go, find it. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com

How the Good Souls Are Taken.

After not one, but two, articles appeared in major newspapers covering so-called “White Christian Nationalists” devotion to the Trump regime, I figured that piece I’d been toying with writing had better hit the page. God’s inspiration should never be ignored, after all. Oh; and, believe me: I mean that, sincerely.

For all practical purposes, I am a voice of the “white Evangelical Christian.” My family was established into the fellowship of the Fundamentalist sect of the Plymouth Brethren by our grandfather, a street preacher who’d migrated from eastern PA to get a job building cranes and raise his children. A couple elders of “the meeting” on East Avenue in Erie met him, at the local jail, and invited him to join their assembly. Soon Henry, his wife Mae, and their four daughters Dora Mae, Betty, Frances, and Martha, would be born and raised among them, attending Sunday School, Morning Worship and Gospel Meeting – all on Lord’s Day – plus, Prayer Meeting and Bible Study on Tuesday and Friday.

Aunt Frances, the most liberal thinker among his offspring, would go radical and marry a Baptist minister. The rest raised all of us on the self-same attendance regimen and its accompanying rules for dress and decorum; head coverings for the women, seated silence for all females in the presence of their men.

Pappy, as we grandkids would come to call him, was a closet Republican who came to accept that, like the rest of the Brethren, his citizenship was in Heaven and that God would put into office whom He will – with no need for his actual vote. My parents, and our entire extended family (with the exception of the Baptists) modeled after their patriarch, listening intently to the election results on the radio but refusing to participate in the democratic process.

I accepted Jesus into my heart at age six, but registered to vote at age thirty one, in 1988, the year our grandmother’s soul left her body for the seventh Heaven. The competition for the office of President was Bush/Dukakis and I, torn between Dukakis’ education plan and Bush’s GOP platform of fiscal conservatism and social traditionalism sat, biting my nails until the polls closed – never placing my vote.

The next time being a Christian became relevant in my political world was the year 2000. For some reason, though I’d long since left the constraints of the PBs and church culture in general, I’d found myself in the convocation of our local mega-congregation, curiously named at the time “First Assembly”. Movie screens were mounted to the left and right of the sanctuary, primarily intended to present praise lyrics but, on this occasion, the projectionist was preparing a form of worship from which there would be no escape.

I don’t remember what was said from the lectern, by way of introduction. I just remember the ceiling lights dimming and strains of the Battle Hymn of the Republic wafting from speakers mounted throughout the large, wide church as an authoritative baritone underscored in narrative what we were about to experience.

This was no missionary appeal, with its opening report about life in the Caribbean or African interior. This was a film about George W Bush, designed specifically for the church congregations of all America. There were images of uniformed military, and family photos of the Bush dynasty, splayed out across a metamessage of persuasion as moving as an altar call at the City Mission. I was aghast, astonished; what was politics doing amongst the faithful? Furthermore how, two thousand years after the birth of Christ, did a piece of campaign propaganda ever find its way into the First Assembly of God?

Now, twenty one years hence, I think I know.

Now, I recall my immediate family’s open defense of the President soon to be history. I trace back further, through conversations with my beloved former student, a high ranking military officer of the US Army Air Force and born-again Christian, his ardent support of the George W. whom he actually met filling his eyes with light. Mostly, I call to mind prayer breakfasts for whose keynote speaker politicians were pinned, political rallies populated by entire church contingents, the voice of America’s morally upright finally being heard by a mainstream society clearly in precipitous decay.

Here’s the thing about “true” Christians, the ones who read the Bibles they own and who live for the Christ they call their Saviour. Once they’ve accepted the doctrines which dictate that the Truth is theirs for the delivering, they hear the mandating call to go out and preach that gospel to every tongue, people, and nation. These having spent generations separated from the World and all its fleshly lustings, some shrewd political strategist finally realized that one more call, tactically placed, couched in all the trappings of a real conviction to act, would render an entire demographic literally clamoring for a place in the palm of their hand.

Now, there would be no need for the subliminal strains of an electric organ cued by a pastor’s gentle request for bowed heads. Just a country song, sung by a Christian entertainer, and youth group car washes popped up in every church parking lot in the nation – complete with bumper stickers declaring the candidate of consensus. Just a message, insidious in its power, that the marginalized faithful were important, thrust into the spotlight of the Almighty God’s intention for His people and summoned to a service no true Christian could, in good conscience, refuse.

What nobody calculated was the incredible intractability of the true Christian. To say they are an emboldened fringe is a dangerous oversimplification; this is far beyond extremism. These are both Fundamentalist and Evangelical. This is an entire mentality of infinite scope, with eternal life its branded hallmark. Psychologists would say that theirs is not a dilemma. The path is clear; wavering is not part of their lexicon. They shall not be moved.

Somewhere between the promise of prosperity and sinless perfection, the message these march has the Kingdom of God all over it. Pandora’s box should have been left tightly closed, just like the fellowship of the Plymouth Brethren, exclusive unto itself. But, politics played its ever-greedy hand, and now we all pay the price for that unforgivable sin.

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© 1/18/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting authentic original stories.

littlebarefeetblog.com