Category Archives: tributes

“Even If We Cry.”

I met Kelly after a show, in 2015. She’d been in so many others, our meeting rendered me utterly fan girl helpless. Everything you’d ever want to experience, from a consummate dramatic talent, Kelly was impeccably, comically hilarious; deeply, even darkly introspective; and, visually dazzling.

What struck me most, in real world terms, was Kelly’s warmth. This girl wrapped her arms around a person, gathering you in like a grandmama in a much younger woman’s body. Her soul was so open. She really, genuinely, cared about other people and, even with an ever burgeoning audience of admirers, still able to take us one at a time. Perhaps it was a kind of timing, on my part, but I found her affection much needed nourishment to the heart.

I, being about ten years behind the social curve, had to catch up on this local gem. Turns out she was mother to three dear boys, two of them twins, and shared their parenting with a young man, Jeff, who would stun me with his own, equally gargantuan talent, versatility, and depth. Both together and separately, Kelly and Jeff easily displaced every celebrated actor whose characterizations I’d ever venerated. Not only were they both world class, to Kelly their relationship was special; I can remember her telling me, wide eyes glowing: “I’ve never loved anybody so much in my life.” Given that she had produced multiple lives at once (the twins, within a minute of each other), it was no wonder she had love that big – plus, enough for the rest of us, too.

As the years unfolded, we would continue to cross paths, more recently finding ourselves together in my home preparing a musical revue in rehearsal. I found her to be easily relaxed in ensemble, then earnest, intensely focused on her own skill building at closer range, as if not realizing how she’d long since already arrived beyond fully prepared. I was so honored with the opportunity to work directly with this magnificently gifted woman, even taking her interior home layout advice regarding my insistent red rug as coming from a natural set designer. After she left solo session I, who never let anybody tell me how to do anything, moved that rug into the next room just as she’d suggested.

As time and life events would change us all, so they’d altered Kelly and Jeff’s landscape. Discreetly, they’d become coparents in separate living situations, but continuing to thrive as performing professionals and enjoying their growing family. Via social media, I would observe as she and her boys interacted with a newly acquired pup, grieve with her after one of our last rehearsals when this dog had escaped the yard to be fatally struck on the road, then vicariously celebrate the next pet who came to comfort them. Through it all, I could clearly see; Kelly the grandmama spirit loved her house full of boys with the same, open, giving, heart we all had come to both feel and try to return.

The pandemic scourge was particularly hardest on these most gifted stage performers. They treasured their privacy, but thrived in live character; how to make life work, day to day, in such enforced proximity was new and almost formidable. Managing in home virtual learning scenes was a far cry from a sitz probe. Understanding young, tender boys entering adolescence even more daunting.

This is where the curtain rightfully closes. None of us from the outside looking on can know the challenges of another during this universally imposed condition reduced at times to mere existence. Life has become both momentarily exultant and cruel. Just the night before last, Kelly’s entire, rapidly blending family had celebrated her mother’s birthday; and, the following morning, the unthinkable. One of her dear boys born within the same minute had breathed his last, reasons known only to the God we’d hoped would be there.

The obituary appeared just hours ago, written in bursts of expressive color, each detail tumbling over the next as if enough could not be said about this boy named Kris whose emerging dreams lay just before him. Primal screams with no outlet swell our chests. Arms whose reach we cannot even extend grasp the air for the feel of another’s beating heart. Kelly, Jeff, and Mark and the boys remain to endure. From Kelly: “Please be a good friend and a good brother in his honor…… talk to us about him when you see us, even if we cry.”

Kelly, I vow to grant this request. We’ll be bringing our tears, too.

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© 10/4/21 Ruth Ann Scanzillo.

https://www.goerie.com/obituaries/psom0075544

Perry Street.

People live as cities to fight and flourish. How they do so determines whether or not they survive the winds of change.

In one of these, and to honor its venerated ship captain famed for the Battle of Lake Erie, Perry Street was rolled out through the east side of the city called by its lake. On a short, but memorable, stretch of this gradually ascending path southward, I grew up.

Mrs. Kubasik was stocky, thick, ever in house dress with opaque sup-hose and sturdy laced black work shoes, white hair pulled back tight, spiking strands about the chin on the whitest skin you ever saw. A first generation Pole with thick Eastern European accent, she lived on the corner across, looking left, in a white flat sided Cape Cod, and only came to the door on Hallowe’en.

The mottled grey brick flat was next, upstairs tenant a mystery, downstairs Marie & Honey who both smoked, Honey outliving Marie using a walker to get to the door and subsisting on vanilla ice cream and cartons of Winstons, which I had been enlisted to bring her weekly from Krush’s Superette down the hill and across busy 28th Street where you could buy lemon sherbet in paper push up cups from the cold reach in freezer with the top sliding glass.

Just beyond their driveway, the pale yellow house with the tiny, centered porch, flowers all around, owned and maintained by Mrs. Lacey and her slender, bald, adult son Harold who never said a word. The vacant field right next to them, and directly across from us, was always the easiest access to our cousins, the Marshalls, whose visible garage faced 29th but whose property could be entered by wading through the tall weeded grasses and squeezing past Aunt Dora Mae’s lilac bushes into their driveway. Cousin Frannie had a raccoon in a large rabbit cage on stilts smack in the middle of that garage, never used to house Uncle Frank’s maroon Chrysler which he kept at the curb spanking clean, all the way to any flecks appearing on the hood which he’d deftly capture with a moistened fingertip.

On the other side of the field was the biggest, whitest, single family porched clapboard you ever saw, owned by the Sawtelles, Timmy and his sister and his mother, who also owned the lot on the other side just next to the only Bungalow on the block. Mint green and small and elegant, with shiny hardwood flooring throughout, this demure structure housed Mr. and Mrs. Watson whose granddaughter was murdered out in the county. Mrs. Watson talked at a very rapid tempo, and might have been Jewish though the subject never came up. On Hallowe’en, she would keep the candy just inside the open front door, and we could all see in for quite a bit as she would emerge from the kitchen, across from the hardwood livingroom where Mr. Watson would be sitting near the fireplace in the wingbacked chair reading.

The ash blue Cape Cod on the right side corner at the bottom of our slight hill remained silent for most of my life on Perry until the unnamed man inside died and Mrs. Dias moved in, she without any apparent husband the mother of one girl. Mrs. Dias had dark hair, wore glasses, and was friendly.

Directly across from her were the Rogalas, in a dark red brick Shaker Heights style Cape with the sloping asymmetrical entryway. They had tall, blonde, grown children, all professionals, their son a lawyer, the twin girls one of them an airline stewardess, and Mrs. Rogala would frequently talk about her brood with mum when they’d both be out watering their lawns in the evening. About once a year, we might see one of the girls pop in and out on a visit, always heading to her car in the driveway facing 30th Street, never knowing which twin she was.

We lived in the mauve shingled house dad had built for mum before they remarried each other, which mum designed and whose plans I own rolled up as blueprint and stored in the tall cylinder plan can found a few years ago in an Edinboro antique store. Mum’s pink and purple azaleas and rhododendrons were the focus of bursting color right in the middle of the sunny side of the street, and we were the center of vocal noise on an otherwise quiet stretch of Perry.

Our nextdoor neighbors on the Rogala side were Joe and Vivien Fish, whose house was a small ranch with a 30 foot fir out front and a back cement patio where they’d sit with their black curly haired dog, Michael Sammy, and daughter Marian, drinking into the late evening together, Marian’s guffaws ringing out across to my bedroom window over their driveway. Joe owned a business which he operated out of his basement called Ken’s Permit Service, providing highway documents for semi truckers who would often park their cabs at the curb. We thought they played Poker in the basement every weekend or so, because a couple times a year the big, brown wailing Inhalator would idle by that same curb, revolving red light atop, and carry off some hapless gambler who’d just lost money on a bad hand.

Because only in America, our neighbors on the other side were the Tom Hookers. Theirs was a two story red brick solid, and son Tweed who brought purebred German Shepherds from Germany where he was stationed, daughter Kathy who always ran down the hill up the porch steps and into the house but who died of an aneurysm too young, and youngest Tom Jr who lay in the backyard summers and actually talked to me a couple times once I became of age all often seen, Tweed less so, eldest daughter Alex already married who smoked as much as her mother and died of lung cancer after only having a pain near her collarbone. Tom senior outlived his wife and two daughters, walked with a limp from the war, and tended his yard every day, chatting with mum across the chain link fence where the Honeysuckle grew as she trimmed and weeded the flowers and he always giving her huge, Beefsteak tomatoes from his garden. The week mum was dying, he was still outside even in the history breaking heat, warning us that Ensure was milk based and would cause more mucous in her throat.

The house next to Hookers faced 29th Street. Mrs. Yaeger lived there, also first generation like her neighbor to the right but German, the only German on our block on Perry though the entire east side had been settled by them.

We were the only Italians, for blocks, on Perry or the entire east side until 26th Street because dad met mum on a train. Everybody had porches, and flowerbeds, and driveways, and every house across from us had a big Maple tree on the curb except the two corners which took the sun full on. We had the telephone pole, and all the cables feeding everyone’s conversations came from it across front lawns and the street under the tree branches. Our short block and its slight grade to the right stood between the two steepest hills on Perry Street, which took all who traveled it all the way south to 38th, passing Lincoln School and Immanuel Presbyterian to the corner at the very top.

A few years ago, a major windstorm took down the 30 foot fir in front of what used to be Fishes house, throwing it across the road and blocking Perry Street for days. Joe and Debbie had moved in after the Fishes retired to Florida, replaced thereafter by Hank and Bonnie who lost the tree. Billy Blanks’ family bought Rogalas, Tullio Construction had a small house built on the field property where Ann, its first tenant, might still reside, Lee and Mary moved into Lacey’s and the rest faded into the future to become Dad’s new neighborhood after mum died, looking out for him and giving him leftovers whenever they were able.

As the fiery battle raged on the Bay, Captain Oliver Hazard Perry hoisted a flag upon whose face the inscription read: “Don’t Give Up The Ship!”. Those who’d settled that little block between East 29th and 30th never did, holding on to their own histories, their heritage, their identities, through ’til the last of their brood was grown and gone. The neighborhood is still quiet, shaded by Maples, mum’s azaleas and rhododendrons since removed by dad for the mosquitoes – did I talk to him, for a week? – replaced by rose bushes and children, playing in the now fenced in front yard she used to mow and hose all by herself.

Perry Street’s people always held on, knowing and caring for one another.

Sail on, neighborhoods.

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© 9/30/21 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No names have been changed; all are authentic residents of Perry Street, circa 1957 – 2009. No copying, in whole, part or translation including screen shot, permitted without signed written permission from the author. Sharing by blog link, exclusively. Thank you for respecting the true story.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Retriever.

Nero loved to chase the stick.

And, she was born in the backseat of a junked car. Go figure.

Markings of a Shepherd, but with a butt bigger than her face and ears that just wanted to flop over, we knew nothing of her heritage and, for much of her life, didn’t care. She was high energy, outspoken, wriggly, affectionate, and loved.

But, the retriever in her was locked and loaded.

I never knew which part she craved most. Was it the running, or the catch? Clearly, her ancestors went for the birds; the higher and faster the stick flew, the more she scrambled to tumble over herself at the capture. Whichever, this dog ran tirelessly after her “prey.”

Retrieval. For this aging Boomer, the singular challenge. In my case, not chasing a prototype mallard, mine is the ever ephemeral: thought.

The choicest fowl to fly across my firmament most often appears on the cusp of sleep. A kernel, a title, for the next essay. The whole piece, were I awake enough to log on and begin, would write itself; yet, if I do not rise up, feel for the crayon, and scribble the two at most three words into my bedside book, by morning…….flown.

Why, however, does the mind retrieve everything else instead?

Why will it totally recall seeing, even hearing the idea as well as the very position of my body at that moment, without re-sending the bird across my sky? Because, once flown….gone?

Last week, due to ongoing migraine plus my mother’s history with brain cancer I had my once every decade brain MRI. The radiologist was thorough; no lesions, no evidence of stroke, just those pesky, chronic microvascular ischemic “hot spots” in my white matter. The neurologist, fielding my pile of questions, insisted vascular constriction as a cause, said provocateurs being pain meds, the summatriptan I’d taken for over twenty years, and the headaches themselves along with several other indicators most of which did not appear on my health profile. My BP was generally below normal; I never smoked; I wasn’t obese. Yes; I’d had mildly elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, and one month with an A1C of 5.8. But, mostly, my vessels were just sick of being squeezed, and several of the most remote were caving.

Dad, a multi-decade marathoner, had always loved to quote author Jim Fixx:

” Running opens up new avenues of blood vessels!”, he’d crow, after a hot shower upon return from four hours on the open road.

Fortunately, there was hope; for every death, a theoretical regeneration. All I need do was get up off my spreading rear and move.

The same likely not said for the elusive thoughts which had traveled each now defunct pathway. Nero had also succumbed — to a flipped stomach, a horrible way for a dog to die and caused, sure enough, by running on a full belly. The retriever in her, ever at war with the digestive system of whichever breed(s) populated the rest of her DNA.

In our beloved Nero’s memory I’d resolve to get up, and run. Run, for the blood, the vessels, the mind, and every thought which elected to gain entry.

Chasing the stick was in my genes, too.

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© 5/05/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Sharing by blog link, exclusively. No copying, in whole, part, or by translation, permitted. Thanks for being the honorable person.

littlebarefeetblog.com