Category Archives: nostalgia

personal history; parents/grandparents; family and personal relationships

The Capriol Suite.

Strains of Warlock, piped across the live night air; amplified, then compressed: a posted video, momentarily searing the thymus. A fresh brushburn.
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Wax;
wane;
philosophize.
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Before that which honors principle, do most choose that which serves them?
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Remembrance of the glory days, decades past, under the town’s most celebrated maestro’s baton, integral to these. The house, always full; the town, equally filled, with its talk. Performance, live, virtually every weekend. Inside; outside; running out, further, by bus. To most ears and eyes, everybody fully involved, equally satisfied.
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Except not.
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One handful, older musicians, heretofore secure, contracts unceremoniously revoked, scheduled to drop out of sight from month to next.
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These, positioned, in the back desks of string sections, barely noticed by the teeming and energized, that complement rallied close to the stick to be among those increasingly closer.
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The lesser talk, of discontent, unnoticed; no warning, no choice; mutterings, whisperings of master contract terms, incongruent with the surrounding ebullience. Such exchanges not self sustaining, lacking gravitas, generating remote, averting eyes, fading like irrelevance…
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Now, among these, to float, beyond the stage
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to dance
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the Capriol Suite.
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© 7/16/19  Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, who played the Capriol Suite, and all the other Suites, under all the batons. Please; don’t steal “fading like irrelevance.” Okay? Thanks.
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littlebarefeetblog.com

QUESTIONING The ANSWER: How to Get Labeled the “Troublemaker” in Your Own Hometown.

 

Anybody who was born in Erie, Pennsylvania within the past century knows.

This town has an unspoken history.

What has appeared in print, alternately surreptitiously or boldly depending on the relative acceptance of the author’s credibility, has alluded more than once to what everybody has always known: this was a Mafia “mob town”.

Back when Italians and Irish were the dominant first generation immigrant population, the “connected” families were well established. One of them led the city’s government for decades. These were the days of scenes from The Godfather movies; small business fronts, numbers runners, clubs, and neighborhood networks all set up to keep everything smoothly under control.

Into this picture, my Italian father appeared as a displaced citizen. A Bostonian ward of Massachusetts, he’d found himself here by way of a night train and a native Erieite who would become his wife, twice – the first time, in 1944, and again in 1955. Having graduated from barber school after WWII, he would set up his first shop on what, in those days, was the center of the East side: Parade Street. A decade later, he would move to purchase a cement block building on the corner of East 5th & Wallace Streets, and serve a regular clientele of Russian and Polish immigrants as well as city officials for 44 years.

I can remember Dad speaking about the BB gun holes in his plate glass windows on 5th. He and Mum would discuss them, in front of my brothers and me; these were Union people, harassing him to join and follow all their rules for price fixing. I cannot remember when the BB gun holes ceased, but something happened to end them because, once they stopped, they never appeared again. The city officials, however, continued as loyal customers until their deaths by natural causes. Many a final haircut would Dad give, to each of them, in their hospital beds at Hamot, St. Vincent, and over at the Vet’s.

A dear widow and long time Erie resident told me her take on the city, recently. Her late husband was beloved, and well known. And, as secretary to an attorney’s office, she knew who all the racketeers were, by name. She said that, back then, there was no crime in Erie; the mob saw to it that the streets were clean.

Nowadays, Erie is in transition from being an industrial mecca to a vacation resort, and shows promise. But, socially, vestiges of its history can be found in a continually manifesting tribalism. Because, geographically, the city is set on the water’s edge of Lake Erie its flat terrain is laid out in the “Philadelphia grid” style of endless, square city blocks. Consequently, there is nothing to distinguish one neighborhood from another except immediate, unspoken boundaries of ghetto; those living in poverty can be found one square block away from the wealthy, investing elite who own historic villas converted into office space and executive rentals just down the street from City Hall.

So, these tribes of peoples, set apart by closely juxtaposed neighborhoods from Glenwood Heights to the upper lakefront blight, still function in parallel proximity. Even as each nationality represented continues to celebrate its heritage in the multiple summer ethnic festivals, one problem persists: Social segregation. Now, who is in control?

And, that is the first question.

In Erie, as in these United States, every citizen is free to ask that first question. Ask any question, once.

The answer given is expected to be accepted.

But, what if the answer, often the official position on any topic, isn’t acceptable?

What if there is a problem with its content?

I have always been the inquisitive child. If Why? is the question, I will be the first to ask it. Unfortunately, though an established professional in my own right, I am merely the barber’s daughter. Who will give me the straight, factually accurate response? Do I need to know it?

In Erie, you can ask; but, you cannot ask, again. If you challenge the answer you are given, what happens to you is swift and inescapable: you are labeled the “troublemaker”.

And, once branded, you had better retreat into the shadows and stay away. Control is everything to those grasping after it and, in a town where the history was all about leaving well enough alone, if you wonder you are to do so in solitude; if you doubt, you are to keep quiet; if you disbelieve, keep your religion to yourself.

To what end can we know how Erie, Pennsylvania will survive those who do?

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© 6/12/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  Born at Hamot; raised on the East side; educated in the public schools; taxpaying homeowner on the West side; lifetime Erieite. God Bless Our Home, and all who dwell within it. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

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