Category Archives: nostalgia

personal history; parents/grandparents; family and personal relationships

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

The Bloodstone.

 

Dad never knew his parents.

Uncle Gabriel and Aunt Marietta told him stories.  Raimondo was a foreman, a tenor, a brute and a womanizer; Giovina, defenseless, speaking only Italian dialect, had been committed to a sanitarium by her husband. Tony, her third child, was born there.

Dad would be taken from her, at birth, to live alternately at the Bracchi’s foster home or the Walter E Fernald School in Waverly, Mass.  But, on or about age 15, to bolt, literally running away, he with his institutionally bequeathed harmonica and trumpet trained lip, caught the freight cars and rode them all the way to Louisiana.

From the deep South, this rambler would take odd farmhand jobs and then head West, learning life and copying a cigar box set of “spoons” by carving a John Deere plowhandle into his own hand held rhythm section. Together with harmonica in his right, bones in the left, he became a bona fide panhandling drifter, his travels reaching their ultimate end at the California coast. After a week invited to stay with a touring big band, he joined the US Army.

The Army would send him back east, to Fort Riley KS.  Training there for the impending war, he would ride yet another rail, this time a steamer to New York on a final R&R, and meet Mum, with whom he sat and sang and played out his life story all night. By the time the fighting broke out, they were already married.

Deployed to Germany, where he would serve under Patton as a forward observer, reach Corporal as lead bugler organizing a parade for the dignitaries, and earn the Bronze during the Battle of the Bulge Dad had many interactions with every walk of life. Somehow, along the way, he acquired mementos: two decorative swords, of fine silver; a German luger pistol; an emerald cut topaz from a fraulein named Kitty; and, a bloodstone pinkie ring, set in gold.

When I was eleven, Dad gave me that bloodstone as a reward for learning his favorite piano piece, “Alpine Glow”. I have worn that ring, nearly every day, for the past fifty one years.

In spite of everything he did tell us, there was still so much we never knew about Dad. There were gaps, in time, for which there was no clear explanation. There were the repeated AWOLS, and the stint on Pearl Harbor day (his birthday) in the guard house, and one more memento, that oval silver tag with the name Tony Marino bearing his social security number which he wore as a cabbie.

Still, there was his sister Frances and her husband Al, who played clarinet for Artie Shaw, first cousins, same surname; his brother whom he’d met at the Fernald, Luigi, whom everyone called Tom, no physical resemblance, living as an electrician in Hartford. There was his niece, Rhonda Lee, who died tragically at age 51; his nephew, Richard, whom we’d only seen once; and Rima, beloved to Mum, who actually came back with her husband Ange to see Dad in the year before his death. These were those we did know, only as we did know them.

Research reveals that the bloodstone is claimed as an excellent blood cleanser and powerful healer, heightening intuition and increasing creativity, grounding and protecting against geopathic and electromagnetic stress. My memory speaks that Dad’s bloodstone was acquired in exchange for a pack of smokes. It’s owner never revealed anything about the ring to him, as far as we ever knew.

My hand, through which his blood still flows, bears Dad’s ring to the end. What Dad never knew, and what we never knew about him, are in God’s.

 

Bloodstone

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© 12/18/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Neither copying, in whole or part, nor translation permitted by anyone at any time. Thank you for being the better person.

littlebarefeetblog.com