Category Archives: tributes

BEDSIDE.

 

 

 

When Andrew Rainbow isn’t conducting, arranging, playing piano, or directing the pit orchestra for the Erie Playhouse, Andrew Rainbow is a nurse – for a team of cardiologists. Decades running, Barb McCall, who raised two, strapping drummers, has been a nurse – in a hospital burn unit. My sister in law, Linda Barnes Scanzillo, mother to five wonderful sons and, herself raised in Nairobi the child of a missionary to Kenya, is a nurse – on a church campground. Jean Claar Bassett, wife to a mitochondrial disease researcher, is a nurse. My student, Allisandra, percussionist and budding cellist, is a nurse – in a hospital ICU. Nadine’s father, Jay Sherman, is a nurse – in critical cardio care. Marian’s husband, Kerry Byard, is a nurse. My boyfriend, who shall remain anonymous, is a nurse – in dialysis and ICU. These are RNs – registered, trained, and committed people.

Throughout my life, I have been known to challenge nurses, to make their lives difficult – asking obscure medical questions, behaving in an arrogant and sometimes defiant manner, me with my “patient-centered” approach to my own healthcare. When mom was dying, there were nurses assigned to her care who did not know how to operate the chemo infusion machines. These were those who, overworked and understaffed, challenged me – as I sat bedside for seven, 24 hour days with her.

There were also nurses, on my mother’s floor, who were assigned to run the entire wing alone – and, who still had time to talk with me and answer questions. There were nurses in the ER who monitored me during near-anaphylaxis allergic reactions. And, there were nurses who cared for my father in a loving and dedicated way, those who came to the house, and those who served him in both hospital and nursing home who, even with their mound of paperwork, had time to spend bedside. And, there were nurses who worked for Hospice, who traveled all the way into town from the outlying county to treat mom in the middle of the night.

For the past twenty five years in Erie County, PA there has been a shortage of nurses, particularly for bedside care. If you know anybody training to be one, currently working, or retired from the profession, please honor these this week. The medical profession, especially surgeons, would be nowhere and nothing without them, and sick people need them every day.

NATIONAL NURSES WEEK — MAY 6 – 13.

 

 

 

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 5/9/17    littlebarefeetblog.com

 

Jay Badams.

 

 

He’d stepped quickly in and out of our designated classroom, about to be introduced to our faculty collective by the Superintendent of Schools. Upon his return he’d stood, on the sidelines – black suit, white shirt and tie, black hair neatly trimmed in a conservative cut – as the Superintendent announced his name. I remember thinking how his presence harkened back to the men of my own extended family, the good boy still visible in his countenance and bearing.

I wondered, then, as he stood being lauded by his own boss, what the goals were for this man. Was he being groomed for something bigger? That was usually what happened within the hierarchy of The School District of the City of Erie, PA, the town that forever clamored to be just like all the big cities.

He wasn’t an Erie boy; of that, I was certain. Face a bit too clean, features smaller and more refined, frame just too tall to match its counterparts in the full figured strata of city workers and dutiful sons which populated our familial landscape.

What set the man further apart was his poise. He was only momentarily still; even when his feet stopped, the rest of him – his mind, his purpose – kept moving. He was ever forward thinking, yet reserved in the company of people.

The Superintendent introduced him as Jay Badams, the new head of some curriculum level; he was to be a force in the implementation of the latest plan. I remember thinking that, perhaps that year, the latest plan would actually have functional legs; this man seemed equipped to engage.

But, being the music teacher, once that convocation had ended I’d set about to perform the many tasks to which I was committed, and rarely gave another thought to the machinations of the District and its administration. The next time I heard about Jay Badams, he’d become just another of the multitude of parents in my building, the entire population of which were my students. He’d risen in rank and stature; but, to my purposes, he was Emma and Jack’s father.

Emma was quiet, a watcher and listener. She was bright, and talented, too, and perfect for the lead in A Christmas Story, and not because she was Jay Badams’ daughter. Her little brother was also on the quiet side, but a typical boy of his generation; both children were clean, like their father, well presented, respectful toward their elders, good students, and well liked by all.

I met their mother, Tiffany, and her mother, for the first time in the hall behind my stage door. It may have been on Parent Teacher Conference day; it might have been after a concert, or the show. I do remember that she made a point of expressing her appreciation directly to me for a job she deemed well done, and did so with grace and warmth. I also recall wondering if a woman of her presence had found a happy life in our town. Lord knew, I had become so fixated on my own work that I could hardly have been a friend to any parent, even if I’d wanted to be.

I remember, however, the next time I saw Jay Badams.

The day had been exhausting. It was production week, for the extra-curricular drama club, and the final concert of the student body. I’d managed to cram everything into the last days of the semester, every year, my mind and body paying the price and the students feeling the fall out.

There’d been a contingent of first grade boys that had worked my final nerve. And, while I knew that testing the teacher’s patience was a prospect anticipated with very great enthusiasm by many children, I always reserved my fiercest expressions for its limits. On that day, my pent up inner monster – raging against a system which had become increasingly thankless toward its hardest workers – had roared long and loud, sending more than one unblinking stare back to the classroom reeling from the onslaught.

School had dismissed, and there was the usual bustle of movement down my stage door hallway as the buses flanked in the lot outside. Something, perhaps it was the long, black topcoat, caught my peripheral vision. I looked up, as a father with his son passed quickly by the stage door toward the parking lot exit. His expression was one of concern, yet resolute; Jay Badams had his small young boy’s hand in his own.

A father, in black topcoat; a white collar professional, walking his boy to the door and holding his hand. He was not rushing. He was with his son. They were simply walking, with purpose, to leave the building at the end of the school day. But, the image of the two of them pierced me.

Had my ferocious bellowing frightened his child, that day? Had I scared all the children? Was I hurting my students? Would the Assistant Superintendent find out from his little boy, on the ride home from school?

So many parents had taken, in recent years, to reporting teachers to the school principal. A child coming home, with a story of alleged behavior, would frequently result in a closed door session between said parent, the principal, and the teacher being accused. And, these sessions rarely found the teacher anything but guilty as charged; rather, many an educator, usually a woman, would exit such a meeting in tears.

If I had traumatized Jack Badams that day, I never heard about it from his parents.

Needless to say, I would not forget that image. Nor would I forget Jay Badams, or his children, especially his daughter, who was musical; she took to the xylophone with the same determined purpose I’d seen on her father’s face.

A full year after my own father’s death, followed by my retirement, I ran into Jay and his wife, and Tiffany’s colorful father, at a local social establishment. Tiffany spoke to me as I approached their table. She wanted to know if I taught the xylophone. I gave her the name of our premiere local piano teacher, Linda Kobler and, within the year, Emma was performing as pianist in recital, reflecting a relationship forged between student and teacher that would endure to this day.

Jay had said to me, that evening, and every time I’d seen him since: “We miss you.” He said it with earnestness, and I knew that he meant it. He’d become the Superintendent, and, if I’d had even one second thought about leaving the District, it had been because Jay had become our leader. I knew him to be a supporter not just of the arts, but of every committed teacher who broke her back to make creative, nourishing, and memorable things happen in the lives of children.

This man has been a tireless worker on behalf of the students in our District. The forces of resistance he has encountered might very well vanquish the mightiest among us. One thing I do know; as teachers, we are trained to recognize. We learn to read behavior, body language, inflection, intent. To that end, I know Jay Badams. I’ve met his wife, his in laws; and, I knew his children, when he and his wife were raising them. To witness the entire community rise up against him in the ongoing crisis that is our public school system in this Commonwealth is to endure the sight of public betrayal.

If Jay leaves our city, the loss will be ours. I wish him the longest vacation his body can withstand, followed by a welcoming and warm contingent of dedicated educators and leaders who know the meaning of accepted responsibility. If he stays, we need to stand up and thank him for facing Harrisburg head on. He is the genuine article, a man of integrity and courage, and our town has been starving for a leader like him for a long time.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo    12/20/16

Toni Dillon.

 

The good teachers – the really good ones – don’t wait for rewards.
They’re usually too busy to market themselves to anybody. Anybody, that is, except their beloved students.

Such was the case with our Toni Dillon.

I’d met Toni at Lincoln Elementary, the big brick fortress on East 31st street where even my mother had been a student back in the 1920s. Having attended Lincoln myself, I was already familiar with the lay of the three floors, the hardwood, the massive stairwells, the big bay window in the largest Kindergarten classroom, and the steep auditorium whose stage was the lip of the gym. There were old school buildings all over Erie, but none quite like Lincoln.

Toni hadn’t grown up in our town. She was one of those special people who’d applied all around the country, and taken the first position that had opened up for her. Toni was from New Jersey, and probably one of only a handful of people from that state who had ever even been to Erie, Pennsylvania.

Newly bid into K-6 from the high schools, I was grateful to get one of the largest classrooms, an old art space complete with working sink, right across from the big Kindergarten with the bay window where I’d sat on the rug in 1962.

Toni was around the corner and across the hall, right near the door, and she had a whole wall of windows. Her students were the Emotional Support kids, boys, ages 9 – 11. Her room wasn’t huge, but it was packed with everything imaginable.

She had live critters everywhere, and growing things, and gizmos, and collections, and graphics, and all sorts of new activities to do every week, which she called her Projects. And, nobody was more enthusiastic about the latest Project than Toni, herself.

You could not contain your own energy when Toni was around. She was a whirlwind. She had to be; her boys, some of them fragile, many of them potentially volatile, needed her keen, undivided if indirect attention at every moment. And, Toni made it her mission to keep that attention, from the moment they passed through the door in the morning until they were safely on the bus at 2:30.

The reason I got to know Toni was all because of her personality; not a natural mixer, I was content to stay in my space. But, she loved to pop in, with an old filmstrip series found in a forgotten closet that she was sure I could use, or some other such reason to make contact. She called me RAZZ, a moniker I frankly enjoyed because, well, Toni “got” me; I, too, was enormously enthusiastic about my job as music teacher and, during those five years at Lincoln, probably the most committed and immersed in my role as I ever had been before or since.

The most admirable aspect of Toni was revealed to me the day she told me about her trips to the circus, with the one child in her class whom she had discovered to be essentially without family. This young boy, a slight little child with curly brown hair, had become a focus for Toni. Way beyond the call of duty, she had become a major part of his life. And, she did it simply because she was needed. Nothing ever stopped this woman from caring. Nothing.

The winter following my mother’s death, I’d spent Christmas day with almost everyone in my family except, of course, mum. The day was fractured by miscommunication. And, I, without going into detail, had been deeply hurt by the actions of my unwitting family. Running home to throw myself into bed and wail from the depths of grief and loss, I became quite hysterical and felt frightened by my despondency. I knew I needed to talk to somebody.

Toni was the first person who came to mind.

When I called her, she was actually home. And, she picked up. And, she listened. Toni listened, and let me cry it all out, and shared in my hurt and pain. She’d had similar experiences in her own family, as it turned out, and understood acutely everything that had just happened to me.

I never forgot that day. She may very well have saved my life.

As we proceeded through our teaching careers, forced to submit to the district’s bidding process, we were both moved out of Lincoln the same year, torn from students who had become such a part of our lives. Fatefully, the two of us ended up at Perry School, once again just down the hall from each other. And, for five more years, I was blessed again by her enormous heart.

But, the district would re – pair the schools, yet again, and this time I had to make the gut wrenching decision to leave Perry School. So, Toni and I were separated for the first time in nearly a decade.

Like too many teachers who had worked in those buildings, Toni had been diagnosed with cancer. She’d battled back, but this time the disease had moved further into her body and the fight was a full on suit of armor. We stayed in touch via email, Toni putting us all on a long list of friends and colleagues and, in true Toni style, mincing no words in describing her latest treatment plan and its progress.

For ten intense, exhausting years, Toni battled. Her goal, every year, was to get back to school. She needed to be with her students. And, somehow, she’d get through every day, sick as a dog, pushing, pushing, making it always, somehow.

Her funeral, just a few days after her 50th birthday, was impossible for all of us. We weren’t supposed to lose this woman. She’d been an Amazon of strength, of positive, up beat, fully open energy. She was always out there – kayaking (kayaking?!); befriending everybody at the Erie Zoo; mailing huge shipments of Care Packages to the soldiers in Iraq from, of course, her students (we’d met in the Post Office, the day that happened); supporting student efforts in the community, everywhere; and, even finding time to pay her respects to those who had passed (another bear hug, in the funeral home.) She was our Woman of the Year.

Toni died on Orthodox Christmas, January 6th, 2014. One of her dearest colleagues had made hologram ornaments for each of us, as remembrances; her face, and an angel, flickering back and forth, with her name on the back and the reminder: “Toni – an angel on earth, and now in heaven.”

I had saved mine on the secretary in the music room, amongst so many little things of sentimental value to me with which I could not part. Somehow, her face ended up propped against a mug and a Hallmark keepsake, between a tape measure, a ribbon, and a Sharpie, in random memorial.

This afternoon, I was in the midst of giving private Suzuki cello lessons in the music room. At one point, just after spending an intense phase of a session playing conductor to my newly appointed junior orchestra enrollee, I sat back down in my cello chair, to take a moment.

In that moment, I happened to glance over at the secretary.

There was Toni’s face, shimmering in hologram, smiling right at me.
But, right beneath her face, inexplicably, coming to me from the dimension where only Toni could reside, was the back of the tape measure upon which the ornament rested. And, this particular tape measure had extra room on its metric side, just enough for these words to appear, words which, at that moment, leaped out at me from across the chasm that separates us all from those who occupy the world which awaits:

“Commit. Succeed.”

Toni’s smiling face and, now, her caption: “Commit. Succeed.”

 

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As if that weren’t totally enough to transport me for hours thereafter, I vowed right then to capture this in photograph.

When I went for my phone, and aimed its lens at Toni’s face, the hologram had more to say. Instead of Toni’s face, all I could seem to get was the angel!

Frustrated, I pulled up my cello chair and sat, to stabilize my arm, thinking that all my excited trembling was causing the angel to phase over Toni’s face.

Amazingly, as soon as I sat, Toni reappeared, smiling impishly right at me.

I stood up. And, the angel, again, covered her face.

I could only see Toni unless I was seated, on my cello chair!

“Commit. Succeed.”

tonidilloncommitsucceed2016

Toni was telling me something. She was reminding me that it didn’t matter if I was pushing 60. It didn’t matter that I had retired, and only had some 14 students now instead of 800+. As long as I remained devoted to them, both I and they would reach the goals we’d set together.

All I had to do was stay in my cello chair. Be the cellist. Make the music. Teach my students the cello’s music. Some day we’d all rise up; but, until then, Toni’s angel would watch over us all.

tonidilloncommitangel

 

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 9/12/16  All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect – for Toni. ❤

littlebarefeetblog.com