Category Archives: tributes

Paul Yoculan Younger, Epic Prince of Entertainment.

 

Pop was never my thing, back then.  But, I secretly wished it could be.

Raised on two part a capella worship music, sung by the untrained, first listening to my father croon into my ears while he fed me the bottle I always had an affinity for a grown man who could really sing.

Paul was definitely grown. His skin betrayed his age, but he still wore a shag to the shoulders as if it were the coolest, and a denim jacket same.  And I think, but I’m not sure, that the day I stepped into Larry’s basement for my keyboard “audition” he might have already been there.

The Classmates were a vocal quartet of high school friends circa 1957, which was the year I was born. Frank, Jim, Larry, and Ronnie, three out of four second generation Italian and one black American with voices to blend. But, Paul was their friend, and became a final set fixture at nearly all our gigs. The reason he was in that set was because we always closed with “Peppermint Twist”/”SHOUT” – and, these were his signatures. Paul had spent his heyday singing them with his band, The Epics, both in Vegas and at the “World Famous Peppermint Lounge” – in New York City. The Epics were the band The Beatles came to see and hear after they played New York. It’s true; look it up.

I’d always had a solo voice, of sorts, suited for weddings and funerals, a solid Debby Booner. But, when our tenor couldn’t quite carry the Frankie Valli leads, and Frank asked me if I could, these became my own semi-signature tunes from behind the keyboard for the second set. “Big Girls Don’t Cry”; “Sherry, Baby”; my choice, the Ronnie Spector “It’s My Party” and, nod to the Beatles, “Twist and Shout”.

To Paul, I was probably the furthest cry from a female singer. I didn’t dress the part and, worse, I didn’t carry it. Frank had saddled me in the shoes of the same name when I produced my own pair and, when he acquired royal blue bowling shirts with white cuffs and collar for the guys, I got one too – along with one each of the violet and pink ruffled tuxedo long sleeves to match with black pants.

Never sure if this were on consult or his own idea, but one day Paul had me come over to his house and meet him in his basement. He wanted to coach me into singing lead. Out front. Like a real girl singer.

His wife, sweet and accommodating, provided iced tea on a serving tray. I squirmed. This man sucked on a Throat Disc and wailed like his life depended on it; how could I possibly learn from him? Ah. The arrogance of youth.

I actually don’t remember all of what happened during that session. He told me stories of his days in the circuit, and we listened to some forty fives and he talked about style. I concluded that I was probably the only female singer he’d ever met who would not be groomed for the front. He must have been convinced; we never met again, over iced tea or anything else.

But, what we did do was play out. Paul got us the best work in the big bars. He’d always be our finisher, and he was so good at it – stirring the crowd into a frenzy, pushing his cords until I thought they would just splinter out every time, I was content to crank the keyboard bass until the woofers jumped from the floor and ride all the way to the end on that Roland Hammond B3 preset like a boss. I was so happy just to be part of his show.

Paul’s show kept on, too. Long after I left that band to accept my first public school teaching job, he’d still be found singing. Few of us musicians knew he also coached baseball, and well enough to do so for major high school programs in our region. But, he would not stop singing. That voice which, to my ear and experienced vocal nodes, was always on its last legs just never gave out.

I don’t know what happened, really. Something about a heart problem, requiring major surgery, and complications, and the ICU, and then death. How does that occur, in our time, anymore? Yeah. Paul was 82. But, from the first time and every time I’d seen him over the years he was always, already older than me, old – but young. Younger than all the rest. Paul Younger.

Rest in Peace, you old crooner. Or, keep on wailing. It’s your call, Paul. You were our prince of Pop.

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© 12/29/19    Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose first hand story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Please respect this tribute, exactly as it is written. Thanks.

 

 

The Good Family.

 

The best of families live.

In denial.

They have memories of storybook clans, or those they knew from afar. In more recent years, many have taken TV sit coms as models. But, whatever the persuasion, families which remain intact enough to celebrate a holiday together know the meaning of turning a blind eye.

They look the other way when the drunkard shows up. Nobody talks openly about the homosexual, particularly if any one of them can’t see the point. The children who wreak havoc and break things are found to entertain their grandparents’ peals of laughter.

The single young adults who arrive late and forget presents are praised for their hairdos and shoes. The sloppy and overweight are given the best easy chairs, the nervous the napkins and silverware to arrange, and the most chatty the smiles and nods of oblivious disregard.

The best food gets all the praise because why bother, otherwise? Everybody flies in to eat, after all, and all those outside of strict Fundamentalism to drink. Any thoughts of hierarchy of importance, i.e. whose children are the smartest, the prettiest, or the strongest are kept quite private, to be discussed later in hotel rooms or upstairs at the homestead.

The best families tell jokes, and with very great finesse. All debate or disagreement is soundly tabled in favor of palate pleasing platitude. Hugs are felt, peculiar smells at close range tastefully ignored, chin hairs noted in stoic silence.

And, somehow, by the time the plates have been filled, the dinner consumed, and the left overs packed in take home carry ons, all are convinced that theirs was the best celebration ever. All are immensely proud of their own comportment,  their positive attitude,  their polite if pretensive compassion, their wit, personality, and enthusiasm for life.  Each one hopes to be thought of by every one present as the friendliest, warmest, most desirable relative in the room.  Each one’s wish is that theirs will be the family which endures to survive another year.

They all know this, each in their own hearts because, without a willingness to carry on, the alternative is unthinkable. They opt, in a world which breeds hatred, violence, loneliness, and isolation to pretend that, at any moment, they might all be saved from it.

Whatever it takes, theirs will be the good family.

And to this they hold on.

For dear life.

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Happy Holidays!

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© 12/15/19    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. Thank you for respecting original creative material. You are the better person.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

The Sweet Thanksgiving.

 

The brisk breezes would stir the “whisker” tree’s fist sized tumbleweeds, scattering them between our feet as we scrambled up the steps and took the path between the rock gardens to the front porch at Mammy’s house. In summer we’d take the lazier, flat wide stone walkway from the drive, parallel the porch, the potted geraniums and succulents snuggled side by side along its railing under the broad, royal blue canvas awning flapping in the wind. From that side path, we could almost look Mammy in the eye, cushioned into her steel porch rocker in the far corner awaiting our appearance, smile alight.

But, come fall, we’d hasten past the battened down and molting toward the warm yellow light framed by the front door, halfway up the porch already hearing Aunt Martha’s belly and Pappy’s booming laugh, rising out of the maelstrom of chattering chaos already testing the outer walls of the entire house. Grasping the round, brass doorknob, and leaning into the glass paneled hardwood, we’d push and burst through, hardly noticed by the throng until one face turned and then Pappy, arms above his head, hands curled from hard work, roared out his raging welcome and everyone except the aunts who never stopped talking turning then to gather yet another of us into their arms.

Kicking the snow from our overshoes onto the multilayered hooked rugs, we’d stack them and take the short diagonal between the twin bookcases past the round oak dining room table and the African violets in the east window through to the kitchen, passing the ceramic cookie jar setting our paperbagged salad fixings carefully on the kitchen-turned- server table next to the apple, mincemeat, pumpkin, and rhubarb pies, where Mammy stood over the stove in her rick rack trimmed cotton apron, stirring a pot of gravy with a wooden spoon, the pressure cooker’s indicator bobbling and sputtering over the back burner like a steam train waiting in the station. All the aunts took their wide hipped turns in the kitchen, two of them diligent about the food and the other two appearing to inspect and taste test, the youngest with a wink toward a niece or nephew as she licked her finger.

Pappy was loud, and three of his four son in laws quiet, each quick with a joke or a witty comeback, Uncle Frank sitting with a closed eyed smile, Dad who was called Uncle Tony with his hands in his belt, napping already in the only scene where he would not command the center of attention, Uncle Bud standing tall near a corner already giggling through a long, spun yarn for the home movie camera, and Uncle George, egging Pappy on with his bright, Irish bell tenor.

We grandchildren were fifteen in all, the firstborn Alan, a brilliant artist and pianist, rarely able to come home anymore being married in Michigan, his four other siblings Philip, Lydia, Lois and Frannie often present, living only two doors down, the elder girls wearing their engagement rings dressed in wool sweaters and straight skirts and pointed pumps, Frannie in keeping with her other, younger counterparts in winter wear warm enough for playing outside if there were enough snow later. Then, cousin Bonnie and half brothers Butch and David from Lawrence Park because Uncle Bud worked at GE, and me and my two brothers, Nathan and Paul, having walked from around the corner and across the street and, finally, our four cousins from Ohio, Becky, Beth, Timmy and Kathy, the latter two with flaming red hair. Being either the first or last to arrive, once all were in house the card table would come out, and the floral painted linens, we among the smallest cousins relegated to the workroom where the rugs were braided and the clothes sewn and the toybox waited and, while the piano took turns being played and songs chosen for singing, the family like a choir from an old country church, Pappy the only tone deaf voice among them, the potatoes were mashed, the boiled bacon drippings poured over the salad, the parsnips and rutabaga and peas and Lima beans and corn ladeled into their divided serving dishes, the silver plated forks knives and spoons set on each soft, embossed linen napkin, tomato juice poured into the slender tulip glasses and set at the center of each China plate, head lettuce leaves placed on each smaller one for salad, fruit filled Jello squares lifted onto each leaf, one half teaspoon of Hellmann’s to dot each center, the gravy poured into the boat, the butter set in its silver dish, the roast carved and, finally, the Parker House rolls, ready and hot, in the round, linen lined bowl basket to table.

Pappy could be heard from any room in the house, but usually Aunt Dora Mae or Aunt Betty would call all to the dinner table. Aunt Dora Mae was hands down the better cook among them, Mammy’s eldest, but Mum’s voice was the most penetrating on account of her hearing loss and Aunt Frances was likely in earnest discussion with another of equal intellectual bent and Aunt Martha busy, laughing in a far corner, her nephews gathered around her ready audience testing their latest comedic mettle.

But, the food drew us all, to the oak table round circled by both Dora Mae and Betty as they’d labored the delivery of their firstborn, to the card table in the living room where Risk, Monopoly, Probe, and Life were won and lost, to the child’s table and chairs that Pappy made in the workroom just beyond the pantry and we, the Sweet family, sat our chaos down to the warmth of hot, family style Thanksgiving dinner and bowed our heads while Pappy thanked the God who brought him all the way across the Commonwealth to build cranes at BuCyrus-Erie, to the street corners to preach, to the City Mission and the Gospel Assembly Hall to settle his family in the east side neighborhood at 923 East 29th.

Then, everyone filled their faces, still all talking at once, Mammy finally sitting down at the kitchen end of the table, laughing with her mouth full, Pappy hunched over his plate, gumming his food with his teeth out, the aunts and uncles and cousins all tasting the same food with their own unique manifestations of the family DNA, all together, the whisker trees’ tumbleweeds flying about outside the east windows, as remnants of the feast wafted throughout the house to leave behind its everlasting aroma in the wallpaper, the white silken window curtains, the ceiling plaster, the floor underfoot, and the dark wood framing each room in the house, the collective spirit of nourishment sustaining life on one small, thankful speck of the planet as the world spun around once more.

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© 11/27/19    Ruth Ann Scanzillo     All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line.

From the heart of Sweet gratitude: Happy Thanksgiving! from littlebarefeetblog.com