Category Archives: family history

The Preoccupied Sex.

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[*Note: this piece is rated PG.]

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In matters of gender, Billy Joel had already drawn his conclusions; Catholic girls started much too late.

The fact that she had never been Catholic and hadn’t qualified as a girl for at least forty eight years gave rise to her current contemplations.

All the junior orchestra students were already actively in high school when she’d joined their company and Ron, percussionist from the west side, had produced the first erection ever to have its effect upon her; the fact that he did so from a standing position, feet apart, bound by denim, to the right of the mounted snare was significant. She wouldn’t see a live one for another nine and a half years.

Christian Fundamentalism was all over itself about f~~king. In fact, the most venerated among their entrenched patriarchs were known to equivocate on matters of condemnation by spelling sin: “s-e-x.” In spite of rampant gossiping, slander, and generalized gluttony among its ranks its young were, from infancy, indoctrinated to revile the flesh and anything which felt of it. Subliminally led by Barbie and Ken who, though molded in malleable plastic and shaped to accommodate exterior attire bore neither nipple nor shaft, she would gradually reach her own realization – peaking at the image of a naked Christ on the cross. The Romans weren’t just bulky barbarians; they’d specialized in humiliation. Crucifixion was their preferred mode of execution precisely because it rendered the penis of their perceived subordinate fully engorged. (1)

Art and religion, by rolling definition, would romanticize this harsh reality across the centuries. She was not immune. Christ and any of his images, rendered or imagined, never aroused in her anything but pious empathy for suffering, and dutiful obeisance, and the inspiration of awe. And, none of them were any help when it came to the overtaking ruminations on coitus and its mechanical apparatus. What one cannot know becomes precisely that about which one broods incessantly. 

Mr. Kranz taught history; Mr. Connerty, earth space science. Her classmates seemed distinguishably able to separate the valued from the dispensable. She, on the other hand, spent most of her energy surveying them. Which ones were doing it? With whom? How did they manage? Why did the boy she liked so much seem to want to touch girls who weren’t even smart? The other boys found her a curiosity; a couple of them looked at her with wet, squinting eyes, one in particular, dark, with small cauliflowered ears, a body so big that his legs opened outside of the desk into the aisles. But, most of the time, she fought to remained focused on taking notes and doing the dutiful things which would earn the high grades, for which purpose she had not yet determined. Actually engaging her frontal lobe for such things as critical, let alone divergent, thinking wouldn’t be happening, anytime soon. Art, and the half semester cycle by senior year, allowed temporary respite from all this anguish; the teacher recognized her abilities early, producing all manner of human body parts, cast in plaster, for her to render. The parts located between the thighs were not among them.

By the autumn of her nineteenth year, enrolled on portfolio scholarship in the fearlessly secular SUNY College at Fredonia the universe, ever ready, had ordered a proper introduction. Darren Small’s Drawing II model was godlike in proportions, of the rarest coloration auburn and green eyed and, gently flexing and stamping his feet, appeared before her with no warning at all.

Loincloths had long since been dispensed with by the life drawing community, even in the educational setting. The man was nude, from the curls on his head to the balls (of his feet). She was enraptured, forevermore.

Curiously, however, this idealized sensibility regarding beauty of form and face didn’t translate. What she had finally seen never reached out to touch her erogenous zones. Aesthetics were stubborn like that, not having been designed to meet need. 
 
And so, she resumed in the manner to which she had become accustomed. History of Architecture, for whose Ivy League professor she would, as work-study, mount slides ; Energy and Man, the latter a by-product of the conserving 70’s, taught at night by a bearded pot belly likely housed in the hills with, she calculated, a penchant for Spam and farm animals; and, Western Civilization, required after the registrar had determined that she had enrolled as a freshman without having completed sufficient high school credits to graduate. The professor for this course was, she decided, the homeliest man she had ever seen; yet, on a bus trip with the class to the Buffalo museum, she noted his exiting alone at a gated piece of gentrification and, in the next block, the girl with the long honey hair who had always sat closest to his desk and who had brought a large historical volume to share with him getting off next, neither of them returning to the bus en route back to school.
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Her daytime lunch partner was a muscular ruddy who’d been to Hull and back on an exchange, he and she sharing the distinct title of being the only two in the entire department who could actually draw. He’d daily recount his nightly escapades with each young woman as she appeared in the Union, describing just short of what they actually did once he’d seen the fine hair all over her body. He lived in one of the old houses in town, with a girl who had big eyes and no chin and who baked cookies every day, again no word on how he might’ve done with her what he may.
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By the next semester, she’d moved off campus with three dear Fundamentalists, one of them fancying herself liberal, allowing her strapping rock climber hunk to actually spend the night one weekend and ordering a glass perfume bottle shaped like a ghost the size of a man’s thumb from Avon to “give to her mother.” Of the other two, one would regularly entertain her fiance on the living room sofa after dark, the plywood walls separating her bedroom from the sounds emitted therewith utterly useless as any barrier to unbearable and unrequited imagination.
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Perhaps it was time to take a transfer to another school.
Her portfolio deemed strong by the drawing instructor, she submitted it to one of the Big Nine and was accepted in short order for the following semester, 3rd year. A tour of the Cleveland campus and its population of costumed characters provoked images of avant garde couplings seen in late night Grade B movies, their unrated references fleeting but memorable. Had the financial aid office of that institute not already bestowed its last penny of loan monies to, as her elder brother loudly accused in person, “minorities”, she would have certainly found out whether half of this could have been true.
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Instead, she remained on hiatus for the next two years, working and saving money and maintaining her hymen as intact as it could have been, given the painful injury caused by the steel painted child’s toy on the floor outside of the infant’s playpen for which a doctor had to be consulted. During those two years, she replaced glasses with contacs, got a Farrah Fawcett cut and perm, and had her eyebrows plucked away from center. Men in the office supply store now looked back at her from the front check out to the rear station, strikingly handsome men from the rich suburb, even a prisoner and his escort. She had two dates, one with a boy who took her to a dance club and sat arguing that dancing wasn’t like sex at all, that he never even thought about sex when he was dancing though she would not dance with him or anyone.
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The other was a trip to Indianapolis, to be hosted by her elder brother’s college friend who had become a doctor. He had invited her to visit specifically for her 21st birthday, to take her virginity, and he’d said so in no obscure terms. But, as she lay beside his half clothed body, the reality of his heretofore undisclosed debauchery was overtaking as was the large raised mole in the middle of his back, and she came home still wondering about the mechanical apparatus and how the whole act was managed, knowing only that she would have to be provided with some aesthetic allure in the future were she to even reconsider.
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By the following fall, she had returned to school, the same one from which she had taken leave two years earlier. This time, her thrust would be music, with the goal a teacher’s degree. Those who can, do; those who can’t do, teach; and, those who have never been told how fend for themselves, grasping blindly in the dark.
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Music History was presented in the recital hall auditorium by an already aging professor whose materials included a stereo turntable, a multitude of long play records, a standing microphone, and the magnificent capacity within his cranium for aural detail. Again, she sat, gazing around the room at the college students who played musical instruments, all of them having sex, all of them knowing how, all of them with a clear view of their own goals for the future. Some of them even knew how to play jazz. The imagery was almost too glorious to comprehend.
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The number of hours she sat in that class, the number of masterpieces of the musical literature which passed between her ears, the number of opportunities to actually hear and reflect upon the nature of the evolution of the form and structure of music as fine art, the golden chance at actual scholarship, all squandered at the feet of unwitting nymphomania.
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Perhaps that about which she would finally know so little was what kept everyone in institutions of higher learning together for one more year.  It had certainly sharpened her powers of observation to the razor’s edge. Instead of absorbing the chronological history of civilization, or the principles of higher maths and sciences, she had become a master of human behavior, a doctor of the art of the human condition.
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Whichever the ultimate, ascribed value, by Billy Joel or any number of other commentators hers was the embodiment of a lost generation of unfulfilled women, lives sacrificed at the altar of obsession with that which had been held just beyond their reach.
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p.s. to my Christian readers: this piece is neither an indictment of Christ (God forbid), nor people of faith; it is a third person account of the effect of male dominated dogma on the life of women.
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© 7/4/2020       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 or transcription, permitted without express written permission by the author. To request permission, please contact: littlebarefeet@msn.com
littlebarefeetblog.com

My Mammy’s Touch.

Mae Elisabeth [Learn] Sweet was my maternal grandmother. Her first grandchild, Alan Marshall, called her “Mammy”, and it stuck; she, and her husband, would be Mammy and Pappy to all 19 grandkids, thereafter. Let me tell you about her.
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Mammy (seen in this photo, at about 95 years) was widely regarded by all who knew her as a human saint. She was the absolute sweetest, most loving, most gentle, most prayerful, hardworking, resourceful, generous, forgiving person anybody knew. Her character made most men whither. She prayed, daily, for everyone she knew, whenever they “came to mind.” I am not alone in believing that she was nearly psychic, able to attune to the slightest and most immediate needs among her brood, and beyond. And, when mum met dad on the train and began to write letters to him, placing those letters in the iron mailbox just outside the front door on the porch wall for the mailman to pick up and deliver, Mammy would discreetly take those letters and cross off the final two syllables of dad’s surname. Mum told me this, having discovered the act. Why did Mammy do that? Mammy did that, not because she wasn’t a loving, caring, forgiving, generous, prayerful, hardworking, resourceful mother and grandmother, but because systemic racism had borne itself out, in her; dad was Italian, and he was a source of shame to her. She had to remove the final two syllables of his last name, to make it appear different than the identifying  ” – zillo” which appeared naturally.
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Was it Mammy’s fault, that she behaved this way? Did her actions arise out of some corrosive gangrene in her soul? No; it did not. It emerged because she had been taught by her Eastern Pennsylvanian, Danish/English/Germanic societal roots, to regard Italians as second class citizens, as shameful members of American society.
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And, it is just such deeply rooted, largely subconscious behavior toward people of color which those of American “white” society have and continue to portray, however subtley however fleetingly however rarely, in their actions throughout the generations.
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In 1944, mum married dad. Almost ten years later, after a nearly decade long divorce, they remarried. I was their second child, and favored my father; my hair was black, my skin was dark. And, Mammy was fond of stroking my face, doing so every time I would sit beside her. She would regularly exclaim at the beauty of my skin, its softness, and smile with deep fondness into my eyes.
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It’s my belief that my birth changed my Mammy, ever more; she realized, and thereafter made conscious effort, to appreciate that which she had been taught to shame. And, in just such the same manner, only when we reach out and touch that which we are taught to revile will we ever hope to heal from hate.
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© 6/28/2020     Ruth Ann Scanzillo.     All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting the rights of authorship.
littlebarefeetblog.com

Minneapolis.

I remember so much about Minneapolis.

The first visit, winter. The year, 1978. My elder brother’s college buddy had come to town, charmed our mother, and swept me off my feet. Tall, ruddy, he was the one who’d applied himself – getting the grades, being accepted into med school and, now, establishing his own clinic in greater Minneapolis/St Paul. He’d even just purchased his own white cottage, complete with hardwood floors. I, being almost 21, couldn’t have been more willing to submit to the fantasy of a lifetime.

Well, almost. But, I did fly out for a visit. With him, I did eat banana pancakes, drink Cold Duck, and inhale a reefer, all for the first time ever; alas, a list of firsts which omitted that which he’d most anticipated.

But, I did see the city.

Winters in the midwest were fabled for their dry cold, the kind you didn’t feel, unlike those frigid to the bone affected by the Great Lakes. The first thing you noticed was the absence of significant snow. Oh, there was a certain whiteness, but it was hard, frozen, packed down like pavement. The only thing betraying the season was the cloud of breath coming from your mouth, as you made your way downtown; once you stepped inside the massive mall pavilions, the strip, chain restaurant nooks, or the concert venues, all was warmly lit and wonderful.

I remember thinking, months later, drawing comparisons to New York’s Manhattan and the likes of Cleveland, Ohio that what distinguished Minneapolis was its pace. People moved more gracefully through this city, nothing propelling them either from behind or within. Enjoying all the amenities and style of its contemporaries to the east or west, nobody there seemed driven; everyone was settled, content.

Returning, on or about 2015, this time in the fall to visit a dear old friend – herself, a native Minnesotan – we again spent time both in her suburb and the city itself. An antique store, where I acquired four carnival blown milk glasses; a bakery, serving large loaves of German breads. Again, I marveled at the elegant design of the wood framed downtown center, the grand foliage, the parks and, yes; the pace of the people. Nothing appeared to disturb their peace.

Today, I endured another realization.

Recalling both of these visits, separated by decades, I was now able to recognize one, unavoidable feature through the incisive view of hindsight; nowhere had I ever remembered SEEING a black person.

In fact, I wouldn’t have been able to tell if Minneapolis had any minorities, at all, among its residents. If they were there, they must have been miles from wherever I had been.

Now, I wonder. How many of those miles separated me from what, back home, could only be termed an integrated community? How far apart, instead, were its residents from one another – black to white, Latino to Caucasian……………German to Swede……..

How carefully crafted, by city planners, the American heartland. How many decades of suppression veiled deep bias, among its peoples.

Minneapolis. The heart of the midwest. Today, aflame.

False peace; deeply disturbed. Vastly entrenched racisms; exposed raw.

Fond memories, nevermore the same.

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© 5/29/2020 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting the authenticity of another’s experience.

littlebarefeetblog.com