Category Archives: grief

death; loss; healing

“Even If We Cry.”

I met Kelly after a show, in 2015. She’d been in so many others, our meeting rendered me utterly fan girl helpless. Everything you’d ever want to experience, from a consummate dramatic talent, Kelly was impeccably, comically hilarious; deeply, even darkly introspective; and, visually dazzling.

What struck me most, in real world terms, was Kelly’s warmth. This girl wrapped her arms around a person, gathering you in like a grandmama in a much younger woman’s body. Her soul was so open. She really, genuinely, cared about other people and, even with an ever burgeoning audience of admirers, still able to take us one at a time. Perhaps it was a kind of timing, on my part, but I found her affection much needed nourishment to the heart.

I, being about ten years behind the social curve, had to catch up on this local gem. Turns out she was mother to three dear boys, two of them twins, and shared their parenting with a young man, Jeff, who would stun me with his own, equally gargantuan talent, versatility, and depth. Both together and separately, Kelly and Jeff easily displaced every celebrated actor whose characterizations I’d ever venerated. Not only were they both world class, to Kelly their relationship was special; I can remember her telling me, wide eyes glowing: “I’ve never loved anybody so much in my life.” Given that she had produced multiple lives at once (the twins, within a minute of each other), it was no wonder she had love that big – plus, enough for the rest of us, too.

As the years unfolded, we would continue to cross paths, more recently finding ourselves together in my home preparing a musical revue in rehearsal. I found her to be easily relaxed in ensemble, then earnest, intensely focused on her own skill building at closer range, as if not realizing how she’d long since already arrived beyond fully prepared. I was so honored with the opportunity to work directly with this magnificently gifted woman, even taking her interior home layout advice regarding my insistent red rug as coming from a natural set designer. After she left solo session I, who never let anybody tell me how to do anything, moved that rug into the next room just as she’d suggested.

As time and life events would change us all, so they’d altered Kelly and Jeff’s landscape. Discreetly, they’d become coparents in separate living situations, but continuing to thrive as performing professionals and enjoying their growing family. Via social media, I would observe as she and her boys interacted with a newly acquired pup, grieve with her after one of our last rehearsals when this dog had escaped the yard to be fatally struck on the road, then vicariously celebrate the next pet who came to comfort them. Through it all, I could clearly see; Kelly the grandmama spirit loved her house full of boys with the same, open, giving, heart we all had come to both feel and try to return.

The pandemic scourge was particularly hardest on these most gifted stage performers. They treasured their privacy, but thrived in live character; how to make life work, day to day, in such enforced proximity was new and almost formidable. Managing in home virtual learning scenes was a far cry from a sitz probe. Understanding young, tender boys entering adolescence even more daunting.

This is where the curtain rightfully closes. None of us from the outside looking on can know the challenges of another during this universally imposed condition reduced at times to mere existence. Life has become both momentarily exultant and cruel. Just the night before last, Kelly’s entire, rapidly blending family had celebrated her mother’s birthday; and, the following morning, the unthinkable. One of her dear boys born within the same minute had breathed his last, reasons known only to the God we’d hoped would be there.

The obituary appeared just hours ago, written in bursts of expressive color, each detail tumbling over the next as if enough could not be said about this boy named Kris whose emerging dreams lay just before him. Primal screams with no outlet swell our chests. Arms whose reach we cannot even extend grasp the air for the feel of another’s beating heart. Kelly, Jeff, and Mark and the boys remain to endure. From Kelly: “Please be a good friend and a good brother in his honor…… talk to us about him when you see us, even if we cry.”

Kelly, I vow to grant this request. We’ll be bringing our tears, too.

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© 10/4/21 Ruth Ann Scanzillo.

https://www.goerie.com/obituaries/psom0075544

“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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Show Up And Play.

Nightmares.

Some are so soul crushing that the relief which occurs upon waking is akin to epiphany.

I’d found myself back in the cello section of the Erie Philharmonic. (That alone, to those who know the history, was already a foreboding dream marker.) Herewith, the scene unfolding.

First, the orchestra was performing in the pit not of the spacious and soon to be reborn Warner Theatre/Erie, PA but of Grover Cleveland Elementary School, a site never before graced by this orchestra (although the Erie Chamber Orchestra would find its way there a year or so before its own demise). Further, my position in the cello section was outside last desk (which had almost never been my seat) and the cellist sitting inside was a student, the only private student who had left my studio during my actively performing years and who, during this scene, was no longer my student. Given this arrangement, the dream concert would likely have been a Jr Phil “side by side” performance, no doubt inspired by photos posted on Facebook which I’d just perused before retiring to bed the night before.

I’d taught at Grover Cleveland School for twelve of the twenty five in total dedicated to related arts, public education. My seat as outside last desk in that pit put me very near the spot of the place where, twelve years earlier, in full view of an auditorium filled to capacity with young children and their teachers, I’d flown from the stage edge to smash to the floor, breaking my hip and sacra.

Now, in that very place, the orchestra sat in dress rehearsal. My former student was sustaining sound on one note noticeably beyond cue of the conductor’s baton, affectionately known by seasoned professionals as “the stick”. Watching the stick had been something to which I’d been absolutely loyal for nearly 30 years. This was a feature of my own contribution to the ensemble which I’d been sure established my value within it.

I gave my former student a sidelong glance of teacherly disapproval.

Suddenly, the dream scene changed. The conductor was at my elbow, leaning across me, lavishing the student with praise – and, ignoring me. This conductor, that is, none other than the Maestro to whom I’d been most devoted, the one and only Eiji Oue who, as a Bernstein protege, had filled our hall every concert for five glorious years.

I looked up at Eiji – bewildered, frustrated, and sad. Then, I spoke. “Maestro, do you…….should I just leave the orchestra?” With snide condescension, almost irritated by the question, he responded.

His reply was affirmative. I don’t remember what he said.

Rehearsal having ended, audience had begun filing in. Standing up, preparing to buck the encroaching crowd, I spied my younger brother already seated in the auditorium. I called out to him, declaring that I was being eliminated from the orchestra. He gave me a challenging look, the kind he presents when he’s about to wordlessly act. Then, he turned, and ushered his couple boys out of the row.

I looked over the throng, beginning to feel the panic. Was I carrying my cello in its case up the steep aisle toward the foyer? Once there, the space resembled the inside of a local parking garage near the Warner, all cement, with painted steel rails. I had to find my brother; he’d transported me to the event. Didn’t his truck have my housekeys in it?!

My brother, because this was a dream, could not be found.

I returned to the inside of the auditorium, which was filling fast. Heading down the aisle was a strange young woman with long, thick, honey colored hair, carrying a cello case. Reaching the last desk, she began unpacking her cello. Her face was one common to my dreams, clearly identifiable but totally unrecognizable by me. I called to her. Refusing to look at me, but with a knowing smirk, she continued setting up her instrument.

That fast, I’d been replaced for the performance by a sub willing to “show up and play”, the moniker for those whose entire performing lives are dictated by a willingness to wait for a call at any moment, said calls tabulated and reviewed and documented for income tax purposes.

I turned. I looked back over the audience. I looked back at her. The room was closing in. I spoke to a woman near. I’d been eliminated from the orchestra after three decades. She looked back at me, as one looks at a sad stranger. I looked around the room. I stood. The sounds in the room increased in volume around me to a maddening pitch. I woke up.

Eyes opening, sticky from sleep, I felt the weighted blanket hugging my hips. The bedroom chair, dimly seen, the bathroom doorway, the music room through the bedroom door with my cello laying on its side by the piano… I’d returned to the haven of my own reality. I was intact.

Most dreams linger, their images gradually fading as we move through time. This one was different. This time, with a clarity as yet never experienced, I knew something.

No one other person, however importantly perceived, however grand in sphere of influence, however innately capable, determines another’s value.

No single moment within time determines destiny.

None, perhaps, except epiphany.

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© 4/8/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Sharing permitted via blog link, exclusively; no copying, in part or whole including translation, permitted. Thank you for being a good person.

littlebarefeetblog.com