Category Archives: family history

The Sweet Nature.

 

Some people are born to it.

There are all kinds of traits which, science is now disclosing, are expressed rather automatically because, well, they appear as genes along the strands of our DNA helix. We are so proud, we humans; we’d like to think that we never intended to be the person we actually are.

But, in large part, we get dealt a hand and then the game plays itself out.

Or, does it?

My mother was one of four daughters. Her father’s name was Henry Thomas Sweet. He said his parents were from Cornwall, on the English coastline. Ancestry.com lists:

“This Anglo-Saxon last name has three origin theories. First, it is a baptismal surname meaning “the son of Sweet”…. Second, it derived from the nickname “the sweet”, a good, pleasant, or agreeable person, from the Middle English word swete. The old English personal (first) names Sweta and Swete also derive from this word and may by the source of the surname. Third, as asserted by William Arthur in his book An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names, the name refers to a Swede, a person from Sweden or who was native to that country. Fourth, it can be an Anglicized version of the German/Jewish surname Suess ….. The given names Suet and Suot were documented in the Domesday Book of 1086 AD, which was a survey of England and Wales ordered by William the Conqueror. Fifth, the book English Surnames by Mark Antony Lower claims it’s a nickname for a person “who has either a vinegar face or a foxy complexion”.

Hah.

One wonders if “agreeable and pleasant” married “a vinegar face or foxy complexion” to form the genetic expression handed down to me by my mother’s father.

“Sweetness”.

Sort of a vague reference to guileless, I guess. Gentleness comes to mind, in tandem, along with pleasant countenance. Ain’t no bitch face in the sweet one.

I can say that “The Sweet Girls”, as they became known – Dora Mae; Lydia Elisabeth “Betty”; Frances Magdalene, and Martha Louise, if ever they bore common “sweetness” would have largely been due to the nature of their mother, Mae. Rather, each had an immediate feistiness, manifest more readily by the first, third, and fourth born. Mum’s was demonstrated on her own turf, where she ruled the roost with a formidable tone, but hidden in public behind a radiant grin and a gullibility born of her Aquarian dreams.

So, what’s in a name? Any number of ultimate aspects, all of them inherited.

Mary M. “Peggy” Zeppenfeld, however, was truly sweet. She was a flute player, in the Erie Chamber Orchestra and Erie Philharmonic, and a music teacher. Her students adored her. Her family adored her. Her colleagues did, too. She was “kind”. She was “devoted” to her students, and to music education, an “extraordinary teacher”, generous of spirit. Her maiden name was Munro, Irish to Scotland to fight for William Wallace. Robert Munro served Robert The Bruce; Alice Munro would descend to write sterling short stories, her characters never socially important but always both starkly recognizable and memorable.

Peggy Munro was entirely without ego. Preferring to observe from a distance, watch she did; I can remember more than once looking up, from my seat at the front of the orchestra we shared, to see her gaze directed at me. Peggy was keenly aware; she likely picked up signals from body language that others missed entirely. Perhaps she was just alarmed by any number of reactions which I so irrepressibly demonstrated, but I often wondered if Peggy was the only musician in the room who perceived my needs. Whenever I felt frustrated, or dismissed, or ignored, I could feel Peggy’s eyes on me.

Peggy’s career in the world of professional performance wasn’t so brief – 25 uncelebrated years. Like me, she came to it all by default, receiving an appointment at a time when someone with her qualifications seemed right. And, just as quietly, when the players at the card game increased in power and might, she lay down her hand and bowed out.

This past week, Peggy died. She was only 55 years old, nobody with the power or might to prudently diagnose the disease which took her life having stepped up to save it. And so, another sweet one escaped the earth, to leave behind all those whose hearts hurt because they were so touched.

And, these were innumerable. So many young, eager students. So many colleagues. So many family and friends. And, even one such as I, from the distance between her eyes and mine.

I will miss you, too, Peggy.

Perhaps some are born to live briefly. All are born to die.

It’s the nature of life.

Thank God for those who are born to bring the sweet.

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Mary M. “Peggy” Zeppenfeld

January 1963 – January 2019

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© 1/19/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  All rights those of the author, who can be sour, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting this tribute.

Just Girls.

 

A long time ago, when there were “used books” and “junior high”, and something called “playing outside”, we were the American girls. Much has been said, steeped in nostalgia, about how much simpler life was then. Implied in that descriptor is the unspoken conviction that life was also somehow better. These days, we “downsize”. Yes; we crave a return to that something.
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Come with me, back to 1969.
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Now, we in our family were Christian fundamentalists; as such, we were taught to “come out from among them, and be separate”. I was never fully in on that concept but, back then, I obeyed my mother. God’s retribution scared me into submission, He nothing if not male, and females were taught from breath number one to take second.
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Many things mattered to my mother. One of them was territorial protection. She didn’t want me to have school friends for sleepovers, and I was not allowed to stay all night anywhere but at my cousin’s house in Lawrence Park. So when Darlene, from school, invited me to spend the night at her parents’ barn out in the county,  literally in the hayloft, I held out little hope.
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Who knows what went on inside my mother’s head? One thing was certain; plenty did. Mum was a romantic. She’d read every Christian romance novel in the Elsie Dinsmore series. She’d had a French soldier pen pal for years before she met Dad and, even when she became old, hoped I’d find him on my first and only trip to Paris. Perhaps my mother thought sleeping overnight in a haystack in a barn was just as pure and worthy as her best fantasy because, to my astonished surprise, she let me go.
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And, it was all that. Darlene was great company. She was among all the other girls the embodiment of what used to be called “self possessed”, and she knew – in spite of the sprawling city planning maps we built in our “Urban Geography” class – that everybody should experience what she had to offer out there on the county farm.
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Because, even though we had a grand time romping around the property into the late afternoon, and crawling all the way up into the loft by nightfall, what we’d witness the next morning Darlene knew would trump all the rest of it.
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I was always a night owl. That night, I can’t tell you if I slept at all. But, I do remember that Darlene was up at the crack of dawn and, somehow, managed to wake me, too. And, she was eager. I had to follow her, out the barn and down into the field.
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The field…of wild strawberries.
The morning dew was peaking. But, the berries weren’t even host.
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It were the spider webs. Dew drop decked spider webs, dozens of them, draping and lacing rows and rows of the nearly hidden wild berries beneath the early morning sun.
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We squatted all the way to the ground, and peered down each long row as if gazing through an infinite prism. The glistening geometry rivaled a crystal landscape.
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Everybody knows that there are some things impossible to forget. It all has to do with the senses. If one is sufficiently aroused, every detail imbeds in memory. And, there was something about that whole idyllic scene: the musty crackle of the hay bales, the scent of unseen critters, the feel of farm living, setting the backdrop for the secret which had unfolded that morning.
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For two days, I was with my friend. We were just two girls. Her father was quite away, inside the farmhouse, just enough presence to play landlord. He left us to our own. We didn’t have to obey him, or God, or anyone. The farm, and the barn, and the field, and the strawberries, even the spiderwebs bathed in dew. There was no fear, and no reason for any.
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At the end of this past year, Darlene came back. I hadn’t seen her since junior high, she being one of only a couple who hadn’t remained with the rest of us in our class. She’d been married, had five kids, divorced, married again, one more baby. Six children, and her husband, the love of her life. That precious man had just passed away, far too young, succumbing to the side effects of a disease. Months before, her mother had also died. Yet, just as I had remembered her, the girl was still in possession of herself. She, in spite of everything happening around her, remained visibly undefeated. She still knew, even in the wake of death, how to find what was so special in the simple life and, even after over forty years, was ready to share that essence again with a girl she still called her friend.
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The disparity between the haves and have nots widens every day. Technology has produced more collateral for consumers to covet than ever before, so much so that even the Christmas stocking is obsolete. But, that which fills our senses and our hearts has not changed.
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Find the freshest air, the clearest water; go to the untouched places, and leave them undisturbed. Take only the sensations with you, when you go.
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And, then, share them with your oldest friend.
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© 1/12/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.     All rights those of the author, an old girl, whose name appears above this line.   Thank you, Darlene Pitonyak Brown.
littlebarefeetblog.com

Italians.

DadRima&AngeFINALCROPPeople.

It takes all kinds.

And, I’m glad to say so.

What if we were all reticent and deferential? In America, we’d be stuck on a street corner, bowing and gesturing for the other to cross. Crowds would form. Traffic would stall. Chaos to commerce. Only the strong would survive. Finally, one lone person, likely among the shortest, would push through the throng and head across the road, shaking his or her head in disbelief at the inefficiency of it all. That would be the Italian.

For every proponent of tolerance, acceptance, and the next festival in celebration of diversity there’s an old Dago who sits, reading the paper and chuckling. Somebody brings him a sandwich. Talking with his mouth full, he’ll tell you what for. He knows. He’s Italian. We always do.

For the final decade of my twenty five in public education, I worked at an elementary school at the cusp of the county line. Demographically, there were few Italians living over there. True to their history in our town, the surviving generations were still maintaining their family homes closer to the center of the west side. I remember being told by my then very blonde and fair skinned boss that I was “a bit harsh.”

Nobody at the other school, over in Little Italy, would have called me by that moniker. Everybody who worked there or ran that building told it like it was. There was a happy extroversion in that climate. And, the faculty was the most cohesive social group in the entire city. I will never forget the night of my first all school program; there had to have been seven teachers there, all helping run herd, and they’d all organized entirely unsolicited by me. They were led by one woman. She was Italian.

For just under three years, I had a mother in law. She thought Italy was a third world country, and “loved my brown eyed grand children just as much as my blue eyed grandchildren.” Everybody tries, some more than others. But, we’re all different, it’s always easier to stay the way we are, and inherent bias is unavoidable. But, when you cross the line, the Italian will tell you so.

What line?

Well, back when civilization was trying to evolve beyond barbarism, there was a people who, though their motive was to establish power, were adept at assessing a situation, identifying its obstacles, and spending intelligent energy and willpower developing a solution. To expand their influence, roads were developed and constructed, the kind which could be traveled beyond the dusty sandal and walking stick. In fact, entire transport systems were created which ultimately established connections, yielding an increase in trade and cultural exchange.  Prior to this, there were kings and their extended families, and land owners, and slaves, and the poor – the latter, in droves. These expanding road systems enabled pockets of civilization to become independent and self governing, by virtue of their access to resources which existed, well, down the road. These pockets became known as cities.

Yes. The very structure of workable American society is framed by transit routes and cities. And, we have the Romans, from Italy, to thank for it; their drive to achieve a dominating empire left behind what we now call infrastructure.

Oh, and the next time you look at something beautiful that did not occur in nature, take a moment. Be they paintings, sculpture, even cathedrals, much of the world’s most magnificent works of art were created by Italians. Inlaid tile. Stained glass. Frescoes. Even before Michelangelo and DaVinci, there were artisans. These swarthy, well oiled, slightly hairy brutes did their part to decorate the entire, known world. They frosted the cake.

Yes. Every human frailty eventually makes itself known. There is weakness, right along side strength. Nothing lasts forever, not empires, not even life. But, for every moment constrained by decorum, there will be an emergent crisis. Let’s be ready to thank the personality which steps up. That will, eight times out of ten, be the Italian.

From us, you will get candor. We’ll smile at you in public if you deserve it, and reprimand you in kind. You’ll always know where you stand, with us. We are as proud of our heritage as you are of yours, and we know one more thing. We know the value of preserving that history. We are a part of the greatest generation, in this country we call home, and you can call us by our name. It’s pronounced exactly the way it’s spelled.

Let’s eat.

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© 12/22/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.        All rights those of the author, whose name is pronounced “Skan – ZILL – o”, and appears above this line. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com