Category Archives: nostalgia

personal history; parents/grandparents; family and personal relationships

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

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 United State of Disgrace.

The predictable effect of the synergy of intensive cacao and sumatriptan had driven her to the mud room. Clock said 7:30 (8:30 in real time/why change it, now?). With resolute intent, she tore up the east corner of its push broom, straight broom, inherited outsized jean jacket, step ladder, white garden picket fencing panels, branch pole cutter, basket of citronella, bag of broken glass, sack for Goodwill, tin sprinkling can, wire hangers, stained sofa cushion slipcover, feral cat infested throw rug, broken plastic trash can filled with aluminum freezer wraps, old DNK winter boots, flat, treadless Red Dogs – and, faded American flag, torn by the wind.

Sweeping and shaking out the grit, soil, and bug residue from the carpet rems beneath provided plenty of meditative reflection. That flag. Offered every year by a veterans’ support group, this one had seen its day, slapping and billowing to the Southwesterlies’ tune through all four seasons. Caught once too many times on the thorns of the climbing yellow blush cabbage rosebush, its edges were split and frayed. She never had obtained the proper anchor and, wrapping and taping it around the porch post had worked for the most part until, embodying its symbolic role, the weight of just everything bent the pole and the flag with it forward in a dejected, resignated bow to audience.

She’d left it like that, for several days. Something had to herald to the world that they were in trouble – led down a path of disease and death by a demagogue with dictatorial designs on their democracy. Might as well be Old Glory, from the southeast corner of West 22nd on the street where the Saraceno family had raised its generations, the Kilmers thereafter and her, barren of offspring, to occupy space for who would have known to be thirty years.

Not one to toss much, being the child of a Keeper of Functional Things ( daughter of the Great Depression), she was discriminating with the pile. Once actually clean, repositioning most of it made for a more settled layout for that corner of her world. She stood, gazing for a few moments, mentally calculating that just as much time might be spent in phase two – actually selecting out the no longer useful. Yet, best that the actual dirt was mostly gone; all malingering superficials would survive the frost for a spring purge.

That spring purge was always the goal. Except just enough sorting and stacking had a lulling, entropic effect. Even knowing, after all these years, that she’d likely never get to the second phase at all carried no power; what mattered was that she had addressed the problem. Appearances were kept. This was the way of the English, founders of their great republic. Things had to look right, even if they were entirely, inherently, wrong. A semblance of order in the midst of utter chaos was foundational, after all. How the world regarded what it saw carried pre-eminent weight in the social and domestic consciousness.

Fast forwarding with a lurch out of her pre-Revolutionary reverie, she shook the last of the dustpan’s collection into the overfilled trashcan and eyed the clock. 8:30, almost on the nose. Can ye not watch with me, one hour? Jesus had said. In that episode of 60 minutes, she’d completed just enough to convince her mother from the bed in her grave that her intentions were good and her effort realized. One corner of the mud room, down; the rest of the national disgrace, in the hands of God.

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© 10/10/2020 Ruth Ann Scanzillo All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in part or whole – including translation – permitted. Thank you for being the good person.

littlebarefeetblog.com Originally published in My Notes at Facebook/Ruth Ann Scanzillo.