Category Archives: sociology

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.

*********

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.

.

.

.

.

.

.

© 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 Exceptional Stranger.

The gurney is hard, the fluorescence above it humming. Nubbing legs dangle over the side of the frame, an IV port pinching the tender skin on top of my hand every time I forget not to move it. A single, nearly square corkboard on the wall beside holds a smattering of 9×12 memos, one of them hot pink. I stare at that one, mesmerized. How many among this newest crop of strangers will have seen their memo, that day, and would they be ready for the moment of my death?

The half hour preceding, high drama. Arrival, gasping with terror, the creeping itch encircling my face and crawling between my bosom, around, under my arms and across my back, and then the rear of the tongue rising to meet the pharynx, daring to close entirely, heart racing, skin clamming, the lights, lights so icy bright, the smell, always the smell of sterility.

These are the minutes over which nobody has any control. The roughly twenty odd ones after the puncture of Epinephrin and IV push of Benadryl, during which our father, Time, the only sure indicator of ongoing life vs. cardiovascular collapse. And, after four of these in one year, again left alone by strangers in the ER bay to ponder the outcome, mind attached to body gradually succumbs to the antidote of semi-coma.

Strangers. At the moment of theoretical death.

This is the realm of the anaphylactic.

Unlike those stricken with terminal illness or even massive stroke, the anaphylactic cannot feature the luxury of familiar faces, phone calls, cards and letters, even bedside caregivers who’ll call us by our name. If we’re lucky as well as fastidious, we’ll carry with us the proper packet of antihistamine or the Epi-pen, provided we are also completely able and willing to inspect every ingredient contained in every appetizer, entree, salad, and dessert offered by anyone beyond the scope of our own, protected kitchens.

Were we to be anybody outside of our actual selves, we might observe the scene at the neighboring table on a Friday evening – server, hunched over the menu, squeezing a pencil, forehead pinching, corners of the mouth twitching neurolinguistically to mask cursing annoyance, fixated guest rattling on about oils and additives next to a bewildered date mentally reviling why he’d been so determined to know this woman.

We’d not have been able to enjoy our own meal, what with the server hastening off to the chef’s lair to consult, report back, consult again, report back, smile assuredly, take the order, bring the order, take it back, the date leaning in toward the anxious female, arms folded across the table’s edge, eyes sucking into his head behind a smile stretched to its breaking point.

We might have left the restaurant with a social checklist ticking across our own foreheads. We’d have recognized the woman from having seen her on the various pages, she with her dubious references to multiple former lives. We’d have concluded many things. Clearly a narcissist, judging by the texture of her dark hair and the angle of her nose the spoiled daughter of he who sold back room numbers, she would just have to be spending everyone else’s time in public grasping for singular attention. Yes; siphoning the entire room of its last particle of energy, in her own mind she would be exceptional.

Exceptionality. The curse of the oblivious.

Cosmopolitan life renders a certain mass anonymity. When merely dozens are displaced by hundreds of thousands, that which is distinguishing fades from immediate view. Blending is both habit and practice; that which doesn’t easily finds enough of its own kind to forge new criteria for acceptability. By contrast, in small towns anything or anyone who is unavoidably different can become quickly pigeonholed, marked, recognized, and not in a good way. Traits borne by these are subconsciously dismissed as, ultimately, forms of weakness. Exceptionality becomes a force which both pulls and pushes, and that against itself.

The coronavirus has at once rendered every civilized center, regardless of size, homologous. All are flanked according to appropriate distance, masks obviating familiarity, no one a stand out by either class or station.

All, that is, except we anaphylactics. Our fears are inextricably distinguishing. Virus, or vaccine; we face the threat, of death, whether we do or we don’t. Statistically a tiny minority, exceptionality neither our excuse nor our defense, we remain the stranger.

.

.

.

.

© 2/26/21 Ruth Ann Scanzillo All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in whole or part, including translation without written permission from the author. Sharing permitted by blog link, exclusively. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com