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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

 

 

 

Open Letter to Mayor Schember, City of Erie PA:

Open Letter to Mayor Schember, City of Erie, PA:
Dear Mayor Schember:
When, and why, was “Event Parking” instituted in the City of Erie? Who benefits? And, why are there no ATMs in the ramp stairwells?
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Last night, I drove downtown to attend the Erie Philharmonic’s symphonic concert. Having been a regularly performing member for hire as both a section cellist and orchestral pianist from 1986 – 2013, I knew that parking for musicians of record with large instruments was still likely the bank lot south of the 9th Street stage entrance; but, I followed the caravan of those planning to attend, east on 8th toward the two public parking ramps.
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My friend had offered me his extra ticket, and said we could meet in the Warner lobby, so I was among those arriving after 7:30 and the first ramp’s placard already read FULL. I continued east on 8th to the second ramp, opposite the arena. Having parked there more than once in the past for other reasons, I knew that newer ramp to be equipped with card readers upon entry.
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Pulling up to this ramp, however, I noted not one but FOUR uniformed parking attendants, all of them male, posted two each at the double entryway. One of the two posted at the left motioned to me to enter on their side and, while I waited for the two cars ahead to move forward so I could turn in, I rolled my window and called out: “For a minute, I thought maybe you were a street crew? Haha! Not digging any holes, tonight!”, or words to that effect. They seemed to get the joke, without visible rancor. Finally able to maneuver my car up to meet the two attendants on the left, I asked how much?, reaching for my credit card.
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” Five dollars – cash only!”
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Startled, I squinted back: “What? I’ve used my card here, before?!” But, they wouldn’t budge. “Cash only – didn’t you see the sign?!”
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NO — the sign, positioned at the curb on the right drive up which he’d motioned I not take, was totally obstructed by the vehicles moving ahead of me. I had not seen it – and, I had no prepared cash.
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I looked around, hemmed in by the steady caravan of vehicles. What was I to do? “Look, I played in the Phil for 27 years — can you give a girl a break, here?” (I failed to note that this ramp was serving the hockey game directly across at the arena). “Nope! Cash only! Drive up, turn right, go out the exit….” I had to move my vehicle out of the ramp; other people needed to park.
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Moving forward, I followed his insistence and turned right into the ramp proper. About 25 feet east, cars merging my lane from the parallel entrance, I spied what appeared to be the exit he referenced, with its accordion pleated door closed to pavement. I slowed, stared at it, thinking: “ What, exactly, is the set up, here?” (I’d never taken such an exit, facing 8th, from this ramp, in the past). It did not APPEAR to me to be the kind of exit door which would be electric eye triggered to open and, furthermore, the steady line of cars behind me was pressing to park.
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Soon, it became apparent that I’d coasted beyond any option to turn and attempt to take that alleged exit. (I’d actually entertained an additional notion: what if this was NOT a working exit, and what would happen if I got stuck there, completely unable to back up to escape it – thereby being late for the concert, my first priority to avoid?) All this having been considered in the twelve seconds so described, I kept moving, bearing left and up into the next level of the ramp. I reasoned that I would park my car, and figure out how to pay the 5 bucks on foot, thereby saving myself time and allowing the rest of the drivers to continue moving through.
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Finding spots on the 3rd or 4th level, I pulled into one and then saw a sign reading “Parking for TLC Only”. Good Gourd – what was that all about?? I got out of my car, just as both the woman pulling in next to me asked the very question of me and my former ECO cello section member appeared, parked two spaces up, in full tails removing his cello from his trunk. The three of us decided to leave our vehicles in these [marked] spaces, and we walked down toward the street together.
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During this walk, I suddenly remembered that I might have some cash in my purse! At some point, I removed this cash, discovering only two dollars. Perhaps the attendants would accept this as a downpayment, and trust me for the remainder after the concert. After all, I’d already told them I’d played in the Phil for 27 years. I was confident of my veracity and trustworthiness.
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But, as we approached the pedestrian exit point, the meanest attendant was already positioned to accost me. No, I would not get out/sneak out on foot, I would go back and get my car and drive it out of the ramp, as instructed. I extended my hand, which was holding the two dollars. Would he accept this much, for now, with a promise I’d return after the concert with the remainder? No, I’d have to get the cash, or move the car.
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Frantic, I said again that I’d played in the orchestra for 27 years, and added that I might very well be the only honest woman he knew. There were two of them now, and the second one said they might have done me a favor, had I been “nicer to them.” “Nicer?” How had I not been “nice”? Oh, I’d been “very rude!!” The other one shot back: “ If you had played for 27 years, you’d have known the rules for parking here!”
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I realized, then, that telling him we’d always parked in the bank lot behind the theater was futile. My history had preceded his; I was totally unknown. Where was Dave Mazzone, or Ray Reilly? I didn’t know any of these guys, and they were all bullying me. Furthermore: none of them knew where I could go to get cash, only one of them pointing up toward French Street, several blocks away!! Then, one of them asked the head attendant, who was receiving money from steadily entering drivers, if I could give my two dollars. That attendant said no, that he “had to account for every car in the lot. “
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All of this was unfolding in full view of people entering the ramp in their vehicles. At that point, 30 years of civic contribution on my part lit my mercury. I’d had it with these people. I said I’d go get my car, and park on the street someplace, calling my friend to tell him the whole ridiculous story, him saying there was a spot — by the police station, four long blocks away. It was well past 7:30, at this point. Suddenly —  one of the attendants approached me, dripping with condescension: “See that building, over there? You can go in there, and get cash out of the ATM, in there.”
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My head spun. I began to walk toward the building. Then, the meanest one actually called to one of his guys to ESCORT me to the arena, “in case she tries to skip out on us.” Me! 25 years of service to the Erie School District, 34 years as an orchestral musician! Being treated as if I were some vagrant, just because I didn’t have three dollars in my purse?!
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Mortified, I crossed 8th with the attendant escort, in full view of all the drivers entering the ramp. Tears were in my eyes. I wailed: “I knew I should have stayed home from this concert!!”
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When we got into the arena lobby, here was a Do Not Cross tape blocking access to the ATM. I turned to the attendant, pointing this out. He said to go ahead and reach across and use it, anyway. God help me if that machine was compromised.
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The smallest denomination permitted at that ATM was $20. I removed the $20 bill, walked toward the attendant, handed it to him…… and, kept walking. Reaching the lobby door, I leaned against it to exit.
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He called to me. “Ma’am? I have your change, come get your change….”
I said: “Keep it. You need it more than I do!”
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He protested. “Nope!” I said. “Keep it.”
“But, be sure you tell your buddies I gave you a twenty.”
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He said: “I don’t lie!”
And, I repeated, with finality:
“Neither do I. ”
Then, I was out of the arena, and heading across the promenade toward the Warner Theater.
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Mayor Schember, one more time: Who benefits from Event Parking/CASH ONLY, at parking ramps which are fitted with card readers, and why on earth can’t these card readers be used when drivers approach the ramps without five dollars in their pockets seeing as there are no ATMs in the ramp entryways? Is it worth the chaos and humiliation, just for yet another source of city revenue at the expense of civic minded professionals who pay their taxes?
© 11/17/19 Ruth Ann Scanzillo.   All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line.
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