Category Archives: nostalgia

personal history; parents/grandparents; family and personal relationships

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.

The American Girl.

This is my story. I was, from birth, an American girl. Only in America can a girl tell such a story, and only here will her story be acceptably distinct from the next.

Initially published in the 1950’s, “AMERICAN GIRL” was a magazine intended to help lead the nubile female through adolescence – her self image soundly indoctrinated and properly refined. But, that was the 1950’s. I was born too soon.

Raised by a strict subculture, its roots in sectarian Fundamentalism, I was never a subscriber to “AMERICAN GIRL” or any magazine intended solely for female teens. And, that is only the beginning.

Though born in 1957, post – 911 profiling in the United States and abroad was no news to me. I had effectively known it my entire life. Rather than systemic racism or any of its tangents (prejudice, bias), what I knew was that the way I looked consistently misled nearly everyone.

As a child, all I needed do was enter a room to be visually assessed. At maternal family gatherings, I didn’t look like any of the other cousins. While bearing inherently many of their traits – talkativeness, musical aptitude, a bit of clamoring – I would never have been named as among them by most outsiders unless one looked past the obvious.

The obvious was that my skin was a degree of brown. In those days, the term was “olive”. Neither the warm tones of the American southwest nor the African cafe au lait, it was a cooler hue given to darkening quickly under the sun’s rays and sallowing in winter.

The reason for my immediately distinct appearance was, at that time, simple; my mother’s side populated the extended gatherings, and hers was a mix of paternal Anglo-Saxon and maternal Danish/German. My father not having been raised by either parents or relations, his Napolitan/Sicilian people were never represented in my sphere. We visited them once, when I was five.

When I was just a toddler, mum would braid my long, nearly black hair. Having already borne a brilliant male child and birthed another soon after me, she might have argued too busy to dote upon her daughter with the expected buttons and bows; rather, corduroy overalls and sunsuits were the order of my apparel, mixing into the boys laundry with practical propriety given one, single exception: Sunday dress. Here, Mum’s premiere dressmaking skill shone, every even seam topstitched with rick-rack, every smock uniformly tooled, each elastic, cap sleeve unbearably scratchy with only occasional, stiffly starched lace. Perhaps for this reason alone I would grow to dread going to Meeting, what for the sheer lack of physical comfort being costumed afforded.

Once grown, I would carry a structure of frame and face that distinguished me from all who knew me well. But, those who did might have missed its significance.

Our northwestern Pennsylvania community having been founded first by Irish port fishermen and, a bit later, German machinists, its ultimately large Italian population would take claim on the city’s west side; however, my father having hailed from Boston, none of the Italians on that side of town resembled him or, more importantly, called him family. They were mostly Sicilian or Calabrese, hair black, faces round, skin not as dark, many with blue eyes. To every Italian who lived either there or on our east side, dad was “swarthy” – bearing the aquiline nose and angular jawline less familiar to their ilk.

I would inherit these features. Interestingly, Mum’s father’s nose was also regally aquiline – but, his parents being from the Cornwall coast of England, their heritage was Roman influenced. None the matter; strangers increasingly thought me a pure Italian, even first generation Rome, and nearly every one of them was sure I had been raised Catholic on the west side.

Nobody ever saw the W.A.S.P, though the revelation would sting many with surprise. My behavior never fit the image I bore. Only expressing the occasional Italianate gesticulation, my Puritanical, closed off social limits left many scratching their heads. I carried a Bible. I shunned dances, and parties, and anything likely to tempt the average teen. Mine was a life of Godly fear, and compliance was the order of my carriage.

Of natural course, college education at a nearby New York institution offered me welcome respite; there, blending remarkably well with those from “the city” or “the island” I no longer appeared odd, resembling many. And, higher learning on one of the country’s most liberal, secular campuses meant that none were judged by appearance alone. I flexed my stunted wings, learning far more than the arts and sciences, and grew to both relish and celebrate every aspect of my heretofore anomalous self.

In my case, childhood may have been one of mistaken identity; in adulthood, I now proudly represent the culmination of nature and nurture informed by as random a set of features as the melting pot will bear.

And, for that, no magazine is required.

Who is the American Girl? Allow me to introduce you. Properly.

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© 8/25/2020 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 or by translation, permitted without written permission of the author. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com