Category Archives: nostalgia

personal history; parents/grandparents; family and personal relationships

Yesterday.

 

I love the past.

1970’s superstar Billy Joel has his own SiriusXM station. Unlike the breadth of his continuing career, he gets to keep Channel 30 for just a few weeks, kind of like a feature. I’ve been enjoying his retrospective, while driving to the Food Co-op, or out on errands – every time I’m behind that wheel. Along with legions of others, I get this brief chance to travel across his repertoire with him, in between snippets of commentary and gems from his recollection.

Of particular interest is the story of how he became a songwriter. Apparently, his mother always played her favorite records, at home. She loved Gilbert and Sullivan, and others from her era. Billy absorbed solid songwriting from these masters but, as he recounts, his fire wasn’t really lit until he heard the Beatles.

And, the other day, while presenting his Songs I Wish I’d Written segment, he invariably cited one of them: Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday.”

Now, everybody knows that the popular song is the capsule for every memory, in our lifetime. And, most of us have a narrative for every favorite we can name. But, only the psychologists have warned that nostalgia isn’t particularly “healthy”; they, along with those Be In The NOW proponents, argue that living in the past is oppressive, even toxic.

At least two songwriters might challenge that.

Here we have legends, in their own time – Joel, and McCartney. I’m betting neither of these song meisters are wallowing in whatever happened to them. Their respect for the past is a real religion; they both know that, if we lose faith in what has made us who we are today, we’ll have little upon which to grow for tomorrow.

The Millennials, who live in a world of instantaneity, may not have a concept of history. They may be missing a reverence for that which is foundational, upon which the new must be built. They may not realize that what they deem worthy may have come from the mind of one for whom effort to produce it was lifelong. From their perspective, that which isn’t current is both passe and dispensable, devoid of value. Displacement has supplanted any concept of what used to be termed “classic.” Yet, how many of their pop celebrities are producing music which will endure? Whatever happened to “the test of time”?

We may long for that which is past, but we can hide away, even believe, in our yesterdays. I’m grateful, today, to be part of a generation which can still embody what it can also remember.

Sing on, gentlemen.

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© 10/21/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.

 

The Closet Politik.

PappyAndTheGirlsAtTheBeachCirca1929
L to R:  Dora Mae; Lydia Elisabeth (“Betty”); Henry Thomas Sweet; Front row, L to R: Martha Louise; Frances

My grandfather was a closet Republican.

Harry Truman was his hero.

Born in Wilkes-Barre, PA, of parents who’d hailed from Cornwall, England, he’d brought his young wife, Mae, across the Commonwealth on or about 1915 to build cranes at Bucyrus-Erie. Yet, Erie, newly founded, was up and coming and this move – for a working class conservative – was, at its heart, progressive.

But, after having attended a tent meeting led by Christian evangelist Billy Sunday, this naturally gruff dogmatist had experienced a conviction of belief which would solidify his politics for life. He brought with him to Erie a Bible thumping, street preacher’s passion and, after meeting two elders of the Plymouth Brethren at the City Mission, would join their fellowship at the Gospel Assembly Hall on East Avenue.

But, Henry Thomas Sweet would not register to vote.

He and the rest of his fellow fundamentalists would populate a small, but ardent, segment of this growing town. Their teachings were the most extreme among conservatives; preaching that only those things due Caesar would be rendered, the rest would be left up to Almighty God – who would put into office whom He will.

Still, Henry Sweet taught his family all the values upheld by the Republican party. Hard work having yielded sufficient income, all resources would be put toward the sustenance of family and a tenth toward “the Lord’s work”, all capital kept close to the vest for just such purposes. The downtrodden were to be regarded as slacking, irresponsible, vagrant, and were admonished – from the street corner pulpit – to “Get up out of the gutter, repent, and get a j.o.b.”

What Henry and Mae did was work. Raising four daughters, they used their hands – baking bread, and delivering it door to door; hooking and braiding rugs, from old, discarded wool coats rescued from the Salvation Army; planting vegetable gardens, and fruit trees, gathering their harvest (had poultry been permitted inside the city limits, they’d likely have had hens and chickens); “slaving” over the stove, preparing meals for the entire, extended family for every holiday and birthday celebration. Mae also sewed, repairing and altering all manner of clothing, and creating from remnants everything from pajamas to suits and spring coats, draperies, and furniture slip covers. Henry, after a long day at the crane factory, maintained every inch of their humble property on East 29th Street, as well as their royal blue Chrysler.

In his final decade, disaffected and excommunicated from the Brethren for “railing”, sunken into his harvest gold La-Z-Boy recliner in the northeast corner of the livingroom reading his National “Geographs” and his Bible, listening to talk radio (and, calling in daily), he would brood.

Sympathy was not part of his lexicon. Compassion was merely a concept, to be contemplated while meditating upon the person of the Christ. Weakness was not to be indulged; one was given a life, and one must take up the reins of it and serve the Lord with all one’s might. Paying income tax was the bane of existence.

Three of the four daughters carried on the traditions of his closet politics. All honorable citizens they, nevertheless, also never registered to vote – raising their children to accept having come out from among them, being separate, avowing to touch not the unclean thing. There were us, the elect bride of Christ, and there were them, the reprobate, damned to hellfire lest they repent and believe the Gospel.

I don’t know what happened, but something did. Time, and its inevitable evolution. Being Republican of mentality used to mean such noble (if self centered) intent, even if it appealed to the most narrow minded among them. One wonders if the GOP was forever affected by those who would only vote for he or she whom their God had ordained. Being a Democrat came to defy such selfish, belief driven ideals. In between, I now find myself – a registered Independent, caught, without a closet in which to hide. We are all part of America, a nation of so many countries, fighting to stay socially intact, more exposed than ever before, members of a globe of earthly nations pushing and pulling and hanging on.

And, the world’s eyes are still on our family.

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©10/15/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line.

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The Missing Earring.

It happened so fast.

One final flourish, at the piano, in the midst of the soprano duo. Up went the right hand, catching the hoop and flicking it out of the piercing in my earlobe.

At a momentary break in the service, I stepped over to my pew and set the earring in my gig bag. Two Sundays and a Tuesday hence, I searched for the pair to complete a casual outfit. Only one hoop appeared.

Yesterday, the purge began.

I’d been keeping a whole lifetime of outfits, with matching accessories, for years. Probably a symptom of a life deferred. How was the daughter of strict fundamentalists to know that a career scrambled after would render an artificial social milieu which would leave her starving for the nourishment which living out her true identity would have provided? She could only manifest this subconscious realization by regularly purchasing clothes and jewelry from mail order catalogs, like shut ins who live in the country. Her world, perpetually adorned in black, would rarely afford her the creative pleasure of wearing any of it.

So, now seemed to be the time to dig through all the jewelry. Two hours in, and my bedsheet was gritty with dust and residue from any number of bracelets, rings, necklaces, pins and earrings.

The last wrangle of particularly intractable chains was the most resistant. A rhinestone bordered cut out heart, silver mounted, reminded me of its original owner. My first sister in law would last 13 years as a member of our family, but bequeathing to her skinny pre-adolescent equivalent this piece. I remembered wearing it, every summer at the annual Bible conference and its subsequent winter retreats, through any number of hopeful crushes and handholding in the dark. The tiny silver “R”, on its even more delicate chain, was a throwback to the lumpy fonts of the 1970s. But, the shiny heart locket, gold in color. What was this?

I opened the heart.

Inside, a tiny photo of mum, smiling into the sun she loved so much. Given to me, only now recalling, by my cousin’s wife ( the daughter of mum’s first crush ) at the time of mum’s death.

Stroking the miniature photo with my thumb, I sat, its context returning. The locket, back then in 1995, had seemed gaudy, shiny next to my usual wardrobe. I’d been teaching elementary music, dressing most days in full theatrical costume to illustrate concepts as a human object lesson, a tactic keen student observers would take back to their methods college classes and hand off to their instructor’s eager doctoral candidate’s thesis. When out of such get up, I dressed for comfort; sweats, and flat shoes, were the order of my hopelessly nocturnal brain and interrupted sleep each morning. The locket had been relegated, with mum’s watch and the opals inherited from her Aunt Mary.

Now, twenty three years hence I sat, and remembered only my mother.

Our singular Mum, speaking to me yet again, and always during a cleaning run. Mum, always sorting everything, keeping busy, pushing down all the unrealized dreams by organizing the small but vital world over which she had domain. Mum, always with me whenever I’d “finally get around to it.” I closed the locket, and wrapped its chain around my throat, attaching the clasp.

The lost earring would take its place among the sundry and unimportant. Better to get busy and spend my remaining energy in the joy of living authentically.

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© 9/12/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo   All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Please respect the original stories of their narrators. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com