Category Archives: WWII

Separately Together*

[ *this piece written, entirely oblivious of Dr. Martin Spurin’s book, Separately Together © 2016 ]

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I can still see her face, and hear her voice.

Carol Burnett, on the Tonight Show, crowing:  “Oh, I’d LOVE to get married, again! He could live in his house – right next door – and, I could live in mine!”

Perhaps it’s simply that she and I share a birthday. Stars aligned, and all that. Needing our independence, abhoring being led around by anyone – especially a h.u.s.band.

But, just yesterday, an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Apparently, seniors like me – single, little baggage, or kids all grown and gone – are finding themselves perfectly content to sustain relationships without the benefit of cohabitation.

In fact, there were several couples cited by name and photograph enjoying just such a radical lifestyle. Yes; imagine that. Loving somebody, without living with somebody.

Up until encountering that societal revelation, I’d been struggling mightily with my relationship of the past two and a half years. Both of us over 60, each of us happy in our own homes, I’d been driving out more than three times weekly to spend much of my time on his property with him; after all, I’d been retired from my full time teaching position for over five years, and he was still trying to eke out the final two before he could leave his position as a dialysis nurse to our regional medical center and take his own. I rationalized that being on site had to be a help, rather than a hindrance.

But, I was underfoot. The things I did, all voluntary, were not required by him. My desire to modify my surroundings to make them feel more welcoming to me were taken as criticisms, as if he needed to make changes heretofore unnecessary. The pop of color I wanted to add to his dreary den in the form of pillows and throws pleased me but, to him, they were just more things and, invariably – considering the presence of his two Rottweilers – more laundry.

On the nights I’d spend there with him, he’d need to be asleep well before 10 in order to rise by 4:30am, while I’d need several more hours of nocturnal biorhythms to wind down. Likewise, the mornings on his rare days off he’d already be up and roasting coffee before I’d even had my REM phase of sleep.

As winter encroached, his desire to keep the house at 64 degrees F hit my small boned body like a rush of blowing snow when the door opens. I shivered until my heart almost hurt, resorting to leaving my coat on through dinner until he commented that doing so was unsettling. Wearily, I’d pull on double layers and endure, not so secretly wishing I could just crawl into my warm bed.

After the first full year, taking stock and keeping tabs became my subconscious ritual. How many times had I driven out, vs his effort to spend a day with me at my house? When I counted the dollars spent on gas, and declared them, this was cause for one of many, increasing disagreements which became verbal volleys which, in turn, escalated into a pattern of lashing out every time I had overstayed my welcome. At the height of each of these, I would pack up whatever I’d brought with me and drive away. Unbeknownst to both of us ( until the counselor intervened ) he interpreted these actions as evidence of an unstable relationship which lacked the emotional security he sought.

Were we breaking up? Were we getting back together? What, exactly, were we doing?

Admittedly, we’d talked about what we’d do, going forward. He’d alluded more than once to selling his 2 acre rural idyll and downsizing to a condo near the water; I’d openly stated that, after 30 years, I would never sell my house. This was clearly our impasse, and I wondered if it would become our deal breaker.

Imagine my astonishment.

Entering the fray: The 100th Monkey Phenomenon. The Wall Street journalist had been doing the study and, here, as by fire, were the results: couples meeting later in life were opting to stay in their own, individual homes and sustain their loving relationships anyway.  And, by all accounts, they were actually happy.

Mum and Dad loved each other, exclusively. Theirs was a match made on a train, circa 1940; Providential meeting, whirlwind courtship, broken engagement (hers) and a wedding before the war. Living together, for them, was a trial. Dad took to jogging to get out of the house, and Mum sat at her sewing machine to be alone. They held out until death, leaving so much for the family to vividly recall. My brothers had long since left town, but I’d stayed as witness.

Now, I love to witness my partner drive away. I know where he’s going, and I know where I am. I’m home, where I can keep him in my heart and thoughts until we meet up in the next day or so. It’s called space, and now it’s okay to both want and need it. And, it requires faith, expressed and exercised. Trust is better nourished when tested.

Yes. We are two old habits, and we cannot break. And now, we can still love each other, thank God.

Even if, on this particular night, we only see and hear each other in our dreams.

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© 9/5/19  [essay by] Ruth Ann Scanzillo.      All rights those of the author (of the essay), whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting original [ essay] material.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

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.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

QUESTIONING The ANSWER: How to Get Labeled the “Troublemaker” in Your Own Hometown.

 

Anybody who was born in Erie, Pennsylvania within the past century knows.

This town has an unspoken history.

What has appeared in print, alternately surreptitiously or boldly depending on the relative acceptance of the author’s credibility, has alluded more than once to what everybody has always known: this was a Mafia “mob town”.

Back when Italians and Irish were the dominant first generation immigrant population, the “connected” families were well established. One of them led the city’s government for decades. These were the days of scenes from The Godfather movies; small business fronts, numbers runners, clubs, and neighborhood networks all set up to keep everything smoothly under control.

Into this picture, my Italian father appeared as a displaced citizen. A Bostonian ward of Massachusetts, he’d found himself here by way of a night train and a native Erieite who would become his wife, twice – the first time, in 1944, and again in 1955. Having graduated from barber school after WWII, he would set up his first shop on what, in those days, was the center of the East side: Parade Street. A decade later, he would move to purchase a cement block building on the corner of East 5th & Wallace Streets, and serve a regular clientele of Russian and Polish immigrants as well as city officials for 44 years.

I can remember Dad speaking about the BB gun holes in his plate glass windows on 5th. He and Mum would discuss them, in front of my brothers and me; these were Union people, harassing him to join and follow all their rules for price fixing. I cannot remember when the BB gun holes ceased, but something happened to end them because, once they stopped, they never appeared again. The city officials, however, continued as loyal customers until their deaths by natural causes. Many a final haircut would Dad give, to each of them, in their hospital beds at Hamot, St. Vincent, and over at the Vet’s.

A dear widow and long time Erie resident told me her take on the city, recently. Her late husband was beloved, and well known. And, as secretary to an attorney’s office, she knew who all the racketeers were, by name. She said that, back then, there was no crime in Erie; the mob saw to it that the streets were clean.

Nowadays, Erie is in transition from being an industrial mecca to a vacation resort, and shows promise. But, socially, vestiges of its history can be found in a continually manifesting tribalism. Because, geographically, the city is set on the water’s edge of Lake Erie its flat terrain is laid out in the “Philadelphia grid” style of endless, square city blocks. Consequently, there is nothing to distinguish one neighborhood from another except immediate, unspoken boundaries of ghetto; those living in poverty can be found one square block away from the wealthy, investing elite who own historic villas converted into office space and executive rentals just down the street from City Hall.

So, these tribes of peoples, set apart by closely juxtaposed neighborhoods from Glenwood Heights to the upper lakefront blight, still function in parallel proximity. Even as each nationality represented continues to celebrate its heritage in the multiple summer ethnic festivals, one problem persists: Social segregation. Now, who is in control?

And, that is the first question.

In Erie, as in these United States, every citizen is free to ask that first question. Ask any question, once.

The answer given is expected to be accepted.

But, what if the answer, often the official position on any topic, isn’t acceptable?

What if there is a problem with its content?

I have always been the inquisitive child. If Why? is the question, I will be the first to ask it. Unfortunately, though an established professional in my own right, I am merely the barber’s daughter. Who will give me the straight, factually accurate response? Do I need to know it?

In Erie, you can ask; but, you cannot ask, again. If you challenge the answer you are given, what happens to you is swift and inescapable: you are labeled the “troublemaker”.

And, once branded, you had better retreat into the shadows and stay away. Control is everything to those grasping after it and, in a town where the history was all about leaving well enough alone, if you wonder you are to do so in solitude; if you doubt, you are to keep quiet; if you disbelieve, keep your religion to yourself.

To what end can we know how Erie, Pennsylvania will survive those who do?

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© 6/12/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  Born at Hamot; raised on the East side; educated in the public schools; taxpaying homeowner on the West side; lifetime Erieite. God Bless Our Home, and all who dwell within it. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com