Category Archives: tributes

The Assembly Line Mentality and Public Education — Feeding from the Same Trough?

My mother was a World War II “We Can Do It” poster girl. When she wasn’t seated at her sewing machine making gowns and coats and fully lined three piece suits, she worked a semi-automatic machine at Csencsis Manufacturing, a shop which produced nuts and bolts for the war effort.

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Every morning, my brother and I would awaken to her shrill holler, frantic herald that our nocturnal sludge threatened to make her late for work. The round jar of Pro-Tek greeted us on the toilet tank, next to her fragile hairnet, foreshadowing that petroleum products intended to protect skin from the stain of petroleum products would shorten her life. And, every day after we walked to school, she’d stand at the noisy, oil spewing tool, tapping and threading out “piecework” until the buzzer signaled either lunch or the end of her shift.

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Like everything else mum did, she excelled at the numbers; her quota always long exceeded, the other workers grumbled that her standard was beyond expectation and made them look lazy. But, to her, one must put one’s hand to the plow and do the work to one’s best ability. This was all part of the grand order of things: the assembly line of life, and her part in it.

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Back in school, mum was a math “whiz”, and tutored other students. She also wrote clever verse, and kept a diary. But, hers was a life of deferred dreams; winning a sewing contest as a girl, the award — a trip to New York, to study fashion — was aborted when the Great Depression called a halt to everything, and the French soldier pen pal over whose letters she obsessed would never come to the States to finally meet; instead, she would deliver the home baked bread door to door, take in sewing, and marry the Italian soldier, who appeared on the night train just in the nick of time to save her from a life with preacher Willie. Once the war ended and the dust settled, dad would have a house built for her and faithfully carry home the cash from his barbershop, on Saturday nights, to count it on the kitchen table.

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The extra money earned in the machine shop meant more material for our clothes, which were all handmade by her, and food for the cooking; my brothers and I ate at mealtime, then dad would arrive home by 8pm to sit down and eat his supper alone. I never had any memory of mum having supper with any of us.

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While mum was at work and dad was at work, I’d be up the hill to Lincoln School, watching the other children in my class, trying to remain in my scratchy spot on the Kindergarten rug, cringing bewilderedly at Mrs. Williams gentle scowl every time I opened my mouth, then stretching my arm as high as it could go and waving my hand until she finally let me speak. There were so many things in the classroom — easels, for painting; a piano for playing; so many books to read; so many things to make. I would look around, at everybody on the rug, then stare at the teacher’s laced up shoes, waiting, waiting for a moment to do what I wanted to do. To my eye, everything in that room was there to be used, and I couldn’t stand sitting while we talked about the calendar and the days of the week and what time it was until we could finally do any of it.

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Twenty five years later, I would be at the front of the room, facing hundreds of children, all week long. For the first time, I could actually see all their faces, and absorb their expressions. And, for twenty five more years, I did this every week from September to June.

Fifty years went by; had I contributed anything important?

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The assembly line mentality had herded me, and my mother before me, into a predictable, limited life. I grew up to perpetuate the myth that controlling the masses mattered most, that a democratic majority could be found among those who followed along. Somehow, in spite of intellectual strength and inborn gifts, my mother would die at age 76 from a cancer which had never, before or since, appeared in any member of her family, a disease which the assembly line had wrought, caused by multiple chemicals produced in shops, chemicals used on the lawn at which she knelt all summer weeding the flower gardens, chemicals in the artificially sweetened beverages she drank to lose mid section weight brought on by daily, sedentary toil and malnutrition, chemicals in the air surrounding the manufacturing machine and in the water she used to make her coffee.

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The assembly line generation is fearful that their jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence. This is borne of a lulled sense that, apart from the job they do all day, their lives have no further value. And, that is tragedy on the cusp of realization.

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Ours is a structurally outmoded society. And yet, those in power persist in allowing war to dictate how our economy survives. If this doesn’t change, we could very well starve to death before we have ever truly lived.

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© 8/1/19  Ruth Ann Scanzillo      Originally published at Medium.com    Thank you for respecting original material.

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The Sweet Nature.

 

Some people are born to it.

There are all kinds of traits which, science is now disclosing, are expressed rather automatically because, well, they appear as genes along the strands of our DNA helix. We are so proud, we humans; we’d like to think that we never intended to be the person we actually are.

But, in large part, we get dealt a hand and then the game plays itself out.

Or, does it?

My mother was one of four daughters. Her father’s name was Henry Thomas Sweet. He said his parents were from Cornwall, on the English coastline. Ancestry.com lists:

“This Anglo-Saxon last name has three origin theories. First, it is a baptismal surname meaning “the son of Sweet”…. Second, it derived from the nickname “the sweet”, a good, pleasant, or agreeable person, from the Middle English word swete. The old English personal (first) names Sweta and Swete also derive from this word and may by the source of the surname. Third, as asserted by William Arthur in his book An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names, the name refers to a Swede, a person from Sweden or who was native to that country. Fourth, it can be an Anglicized version of the German/Jewish surname Suess ….. The given names Suet and Suot were documented in the Domesday Book of 1086 AD, which was a survey of England and Wales ordered by William the Conqueror. Fifth, the book English Surnames by Mark Antony Lower claims it’s a nickname for a person “who has either a vinegar face or a foxy complexion”.

Hah.

One wonders if “agreeable and pleasant” married “a vinegar face or foxy complexion” to form the genetic expression handed down to me by my mother’s father.

“Sweetness”.

Sort of a vague reference to guileless, I guess. Gentleness comes to mind, in tandem, along with pleasant countenance. Ain’t no bitch face in the sweet one.

I can say that “The Sweet Girls”, as they became known – Dora Mae; Lydia Elisabeth “Betty”; Frances Magdalene, and Martha Louise, if ever they bore common “sweetness” would have largely been due to the nature of their mother, Mae. Rather, each had an immediate feistiness, manifest more readily by the first, third, and fourth born. Mum’s was demonstrated on her own turf, where she ruled the roost with a formidable tone, but hidden in public behind a radiant grin and a gullibility born of her Aquarian dreams.

So, what’s in a name? Any number of ultimate aspects, all of them inherited.

Mary M. “Peggy” Zeppenfeld, however, was truly sweet. She was a flute player, in the Erie Chamber Orchestra and Erie Philharmonic, and a music teacher. Her students adored her. Her family adored her. Her colleagues did, too. She was “kind”. She was “devoted” to her students, and to music education, an “extraordinary teacher”, generous of spirit. Her maiden name was Munro, Irish to Scotland to fight for William Wallace. Robert Munro served Robert The Bruce; Alice Munro would descend to write sterling short stories, her characters never socially important but always both starkly recognizable and memorable.

Peggy Munro was entirely without ego. Preferring to observe from a distance, watch she did; I can remember more than once looking up, from my seat at the front of the orchestra we shared, to see her gaze directed at me. Peggy was keenly aware; she likely picked up signals from body language that others missed entirely. Perhaps she was just alarmed by any number of reactions which I so irrepressibly demonstrated, but I often wondered if Peggy was the only musician in the room who perceived my needs. Whenever I felt frustrated, or dismissed, or ignored, I could feel Peggy’s eyes on me.

Peggy’s career in the world of professional performance wasn’t so brief – 25 uncelebrated years. Like me, she came to it all by default, receiving an appointment at a time when someone with her qualifications seemed right. And, just as quietly, when the players at the card game increased in power and might, she lay down her hand and bowed out.

This past week, Peggy died. She was only 55 years old, nobody with the power or might to prudently diagnose the disease which took her life having stepped up to save it. And so, another sweet one escaped the earth, to leave behind all those whose hearts hurt because they were so touched.

And, these were innumerable. So many young, eager students. So many colleagues. So many family and friends. And, even one such as I, from the distance between her eyes and mine.

I will miss you, too, Peggy.

Perhaps some are born to live briefly. All are born to die.

It’s the nature of life.

Thank God for those who are born to bring the sweet.

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Mary M. “Peggy” Zeppenfeld

January 1963 – January 2019

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© 1/19/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  All rights those of the author, who can be sour, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting this tribute.

The Menagerie.

 

He said it, again.

“I need to be alone.”

Well, he might.

But, according to my calculations and a bit of simple math, he’s not.

At last count there were – first – two, large dogs. Brody and Bella, lab mix and Rottweiler each, occupying as much space stretched across the king mattress as another human slightly larger than his broad shouldered, 5’ 6” frame.

Then, little Fitz Willie (Fritz), the cat.  I’m severely allergic, but the anti-dander creme allowed us a sweet fondness.

Oh, but let’s take a walk outside.

Down across the grassy stretch of the first acre, just to the right of the pond we reach the fenced in coop. Four fluffy, extremely well nourished laying hens. We bought them, together, from the little store down the country road which closed last summer, when they were just chicks, days old. There were six, but Bella got one and a hawk the other. I brought home several scarecrows, to protect the remaining four who grew into beauties.

Follow me, back up toward the house. We’ll pass the gardens. Squashes, spinach, arugula. A whole row of red raspberries, still bearing fruit into November. The pear tree. The next, raised beds, framed with leftover wood from my front porch. Asparagus, first every spring, surrounded by gladiolas. More spinach, red and green leaf lettuce. Beets. So many radishes. A row of onions. A couple carrots. And, kale. So much kale, most of it left for the rabbits.

Another row, this one blueberries. I remember netting these, to try to save them yet again from the early birds, who got their feast even before the tiny fruit had matured.

The apple tree. Helping to gather them, soft green and sweet, and the applesauce later which needed no added sugar.

Stand with me, and turn. Gaze back down the yard, all the way past the four hundred foot hose I found so he wouldn’t have to haul sprinkling cans. Rows, and rows, and rows, and rows, of tomatoes. Red, and green, peppers. This year, added chilis, and a whole line of tall garlic.

Now, stop, and listen. Hear them? The birds. Cardinals, wrens, robins, bluejays, finches, Baltimore orioles, red winged blackbirds, chicadees. Hummingbirds.

The bird feeders, filled with sunflower seed – four, maybe five, of these, circumventing the entire house. I won’t forget the sight of their banquet, last winter at the first snow.

And, if you stay ‘til dusk, you’ll hear the final chorus:

Tree frogs.

For these, there are simply no words.

Yes; this is where he spends his time, “alone.”

 

For the past nearly two years, I’d spent much of my time there, too.

Never in my life had I ever been surrounded by the fruits of one man’s labor. Not ever had I been with a man who was truly self made, who needed nothing from me. I treasured every minute he permitted me presence, the true opportunity to share in his little world.

I was just, however, another form of life. Just one more. Letting me go, for him, would be comparatively easy, maybe even welcomed. One less mouth to feed. One less need to meet. One less voice, to interrupt the serenity. Hardly missed, one less heart to break.

But oh, how I will miss him. And, the dogs, Brody Ode and Belly Belle, mommy’s two velvet babies. And, Fitz Willie, preferring the guest room by day but padding across my fleece covered body, poking at me until I crawled out to feed him before the sun came up. And, the chirring hens, their abundance of eggs more than enough for both of us.

And, the birds.

I had tomatoes, this year. They all bore fruit, without once watering. And, in spite of neglect, last year’s kale shot up just ahead of the first frost.

I have birds, in my tree. And, the trees down the street. They offer me their own chorus, at summer’s end and, again, crackling in the spiraea through winter.

But, the tree frogs.

What will I ever do without them?

My love, and his menagerie. God, protect them all.

May they never be alone.

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© 11/28/18   Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is, whose name appears above this line and whose menagerie is glass.

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