Tag Archives: Cornwall England

The American Girl.

This is my story. I was, from birth, an American girl. Only in America can a girl tell such a story, and only here will her story be acceptably distinct from the next.

Initially published in the 1950’s, “AMERICAN GIRL” was a magazine intended to help lead the nubile female through adolescence – her self image soundly indoctrinated and properly refined. But, that was the 1950’s. I was born too soon.

Raised by a strict subculture, its roots in sectarian Fundamentalism, I was never a subscriber to “AMERICAN GIRL” or any magazine intended solely for female teens. And, that is only the beginning.

Though born in 1957, post – 911 profiling in the United States and abroad was no news to me. I had effectively known it my entire life. Rather than systemic racism or any of its tangents (prejudice, bias), what I knew was that the way I looked consistently misled nearly everyone.

As a child, all I needed do was enter a room to be visually assessed. At maternal family gatherings, I didn’t look like any of the other cousins. While bearing inherently many of their traits – talkativeness, musical aptitude, a bit of clamoring – I would never have been named as among them by most outsiders unless one looked past the obvious.

The obvious was that my skin was a degree of brown. In those days, the term was “olive”. Neither the warm tones of the American southwest nor the African cafe au lait, it was a cooler hue given to darkening quickly under the sun’s rays and sallowing in winter.

The reason for my immediately distinct appearance was, at that time, simple; my mother’s side populated the extended gatherings, and hers was a mix of paternal Anglo-Saxon and maternal Danish/German. My father not having been raised by either parents or relations, his Napolitan/Sicilian people were never represented in my sphere. We visited them once, when I was five.

When I was just a toddler, mum would braid my long, nearly black hair. Having already borne a brilliant male child and birthed another soon after me, she might have argued too busy to dote upon her daughter with the expected buttons and bows; rather, corduroy overalls and sunsuits were the order of my apparel, mixing into the boys laundry with practical propriety given one, single exception: Sunday dress. Here, Mum’s premiere dressmaking skill shone, every even seam topstitched with rick-rack, every smock uniformly tooled, each elastic, cap sleeve unbearably scratchy with only occasional, stiffly starched lace. Perhaps for this reason alone I would grow to dread going to Meeting, what for the sheer lack of physical comfort being costumed afforded.

Once grown, I would carry a structure of frame and face that distinguished me from all who knew me well. But, those who did might have missed its significance.

Our northwestern Pennsylvania community having been founded first by Irish port fishermen and, a bit later, German machinists, its ultimately large Italian population would take claim on the city’s west side; however, my father having hailed from Boston, none of the Italians on that side of town resembled him or, more importantly, called him family. They were mostly Sicilian or Calabrese, hair black, faces round, skin not as dark, many with blue eyes. To every Italian who lived either there or on our east side, dad was “swarthy” – bearing the aquiline nose and angular jawline less familiar to their ilk.

I would inherit these features. Interestingly, Mum’s father’s nose was also regally aquiline – but, his parents being from the Cornwall coast of England, their heritage was Roman influenced. None the matter; strangers increasingly thought me a pure Italian, even first generation Rome, and nearly every one of them was sure I had been raised Catholic on the west side.

Nobody ever saw the W.A.S.P, though the revelation would sting many with surprise. My behavior never fit the image I bore. Only expressing the occasional Italianate gesticulation, my Puritanical, closed off social limits left many scratching their heads. I carried a Bible. I shunned dances, and parties, and anything likely to tempt the average teen. Mine was a life of Godly fear, and compliance was the order of my carriage.

Of natural course, college education at a nearby New York institution offered me welcome respite; there, blending remarkably well with those from “the city” or “the island” I no longer appeared odd, resembling many. And, higher learning on one of the country’s most liberal, secular campuses meant that none were judged by appearance alone. I flexed my stunted wings, learning far more than the arts and sciences, and grew to both relish and celebrate every aspect of my heretofore anomalous self.

In my case, childhood may have been one of mistaken identity; in adulthood, I now proudly represent the culmination of nature and nurture informed by as random a set of features as the melting pot will bear.

And, for that, no magazine is required.

Who is the American Girl? Allow me to introduce you. Properly.

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© 8/25/2020 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in part or whole or by translation, permitted without written permission of the author. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Autograph.

Mammy had an autographed photo of Billy Sunday’s wife.
She kept it in her Bible.
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But, why?
According to Wikipedia, William Ashley Sunday was an American athlete who, after being a popular outfielder in baseball’s National League during the 1880s, became the most celebrated and influential American Christian evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century. Helen Amelia Thompson Sunday was his wife, an indefatigable organizer of his huge evangelistic campaigns during the first decades of the twentieth century, and eventually, an evangelistic speaker in her own right.
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Mammy was my grandmother. Born in 1890, she and Pappy moved to Erie from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when Pappy was hired by BuCyrus-Erie to build cranes.
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She used to tell me of the tent meetings down state which she had attended, where she met Pappy. These were huge gatherings of people, who came together from all points rural to hear the Gospel preached by Billy Sunday. I believe Mammy recounted that she was led to the Lord by Helen Sunday, after one of these meetings. I also remember that, while she used to enjoy playing Solitaire alone in her bedroom, Mammy gave up the deck of cards once she got saved. I often wonder if thereafter she stopped playing the Key Game, which celebrated psychic skill and at which she excelled, as well.
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Mammy’s name was Mae Elisabeth Learn. She’d been second maid to a wealthy, Jewish brewer in the Poconos before meeting Henry. He courted her, to and from Sunday’s tent meetings, until the day he declared: “ You Mae Learn to be Sweet.”
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Pappy’s name was Henry Thomas Sweet, and his parents had hailed from Cornwall, England. When he and Mammy married and traveled to Erie, Pappy carried on Billy Sunday’s evangelism by preaching on the street corners. His was a hellfire and brimstone, Bible brandishing English orator’s style; with his booming, a-tonal baritone, he’d hand down God’s order to the vagrants: get up from the gutter! repent! and, get a job.
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When I look at images of Billy Sunday, I can’t help but note how much he resembled my grandfather. They shared cut features and a strong jaw and the same, resolute expression. Mammy did not resemble Helen Sunday; she had a softer countenance, and always bore a sweet smile.
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But, together, they had both responded to the call of evangelism proposed by Billy and Helen Sunday. They’d pulled up stakes and moved all the way across the Commonwealth to carry it forward. And, Mammy, who spent the rest of her days raising their four daughters, tending two flower and vegetable gardens and, together with Pappy baking hundreds of loaves of bread and both hooking and braiding rugs, sat in her rocking chair when day was done, Bible in hand, praying for everyone who came to mind, with Helen Sunday’s photograph just inside the cover of her Bible.
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I remember the year I met my husband. We’d been introduced through a mutual friend, whom we both respected greatly. Our friend, and his private teacher, was the principal oboeist of the Erie Philharmonic during the years when Maestro Eiji Oue held the baton.
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I had developed a deep respect for our maestro, which bordered on fixation. He had aroused every passion within me, from artistic to sensual to spiritual. He, however, had a strong preference for his principal oboeist, whose petite stature and feisty nature matched his own.
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My husband to be was enamored of her, as well; but, she was soundly married to the love of her own life, consumed by their mutual performing careers and and the raising of their four children.
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And so, each of us foundlings was brought together by stronger forces, upon the common ground of emotional commitment to another – he, to our mutual friend, and I to my Maestro. When my husband proposed marriage to me, the act was spurred by her very challenge; when I accepted, my anticipations extended to include the potential for an expanding realm of human connection which a bond with him would create. I would marry up, into a world which could include, by scant degrees, the object of my passions.
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Maestro Oue did not attend our wedding, though I believe we sent him an invitation, and both of us were sure to include our beloved oboeist in the musical ceremony. Our marriage lasted just over two and a half years (not counting the year of courtship), the second of which my husband spent living and working in Indiana, and it ended seven months after my mother’s death.
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I have two, framed companion photos of myself with our maestro. And, there is a Wheaties cereal box which features his image, nestled on the top shelf of my entertainment center in the music room of my home where I have practiced, rehearsed, and provided private lessons for 30 years.
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At the top of the box, just above the logo, in Japanese:
his autograph.
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© 9/18/19 Ruth Ann Scanzillo.   All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in whole or in part, permitted without the author’s permission. Thank you for respecting original material.
littlebarefeetblog.com

The Closet Politik.

PappyAndTheGirlsAtTheBeachCirca1929
L to R:  Dora Mae; Lydia Elisabeth (“Betty”); Henry Thomas Sweet; Front row, L to R: Martha Louise; Frances Magdalene;

My grandfather was a closet Republican.

Harry Truman was his hero.

Born in Wilkes-Barre, PA, of parents who’d hailed from Cornwall, England, he’d brought his young wife, Mae, across the Commonwealth on or about 1915 to build cranes at Bucyrus-Erie. Yet, Erie, newly founded, was up and coming and this move – for a working class conservative – was, at its heart, progressive.

But, after having attended a tent meeting led by Christian evangelist Billy Sunday, this naturally gruff dogmatist had experienced a conviction of belief which would solidify his politics for life. He brought with him to Erie a Bible thumping, street preacher’s passion and, after meeting two elders of the Plymouth Brethren at the City Mission, would join their fellowship at the Gospel Assembly Hall on East Avenue.

But, Henry Thomas Sweet would not register to vote.

He and the rest of his fellow fundamentalists would populate a small, but ardent, segment of this growing town. Their teachings were the most extreme among conservatives; preaching that only those things due Caesar would be rendered, the rest would be left up to Almighty God – who would put into office whom He will.

Still, Henry Sweet taught his family all the values upheld by the Republican party. Hard work having yielded sufficient income, all resources would be put toward the sustenance of family and a tenth toward “the Lord’s work”, all capital kept close to the vest for just such purposes. The downtrodden were to be regarded as slacking, irresponsible, vagrant, and were admonished – from the street corner pulpit – to “Get up out of the gutter, repent, and get a j.o.b.”

What Henry and Mae did was work. Raising four daughters, they used their hands – baking bread, and delivering it door to door; hooking and braiding rugs, from old, discarded wool coats rescued from the Salvation Army; planting vegetable gardens, and fruit trees, gathering their harvest (had poultry been permitted inside the city limits, they’d likely have had hens and chickens); “slaving” over the stove, preparing meals for the entire, extended family for every holiday and birthday celebration. Mae also sewed, repairing and altering all manner of clothing, and creating from remnants everything from pajamas to suits and spring coats, draperies, and furniture slip covers. Henry, after a long day at the crane factory, maintained every inch of their humble property on East 29th Street, as well as their royal blue Chrysler.

In his final decade, disaffected and excommunicated from the Brethren for “railing”, sunken into his harvest gold La-Z-Boy recliner in the northeast corner of the livingroom reading his National “Geographs” and his Bible, listening to talk radio (and, calling in daily), he would brood.

Sympathy was not part of his lexicon. Compassion was merely a concept, to be contemplated while meditating upon the person of the Christ. Weakness was not to be indulged; one was given a life, and one must take up the reins of it and serve the Lord with all one’s might. Paying income tax was the bane of existence.

Three of the four daughters carried on the traditions of his closet politics. All honorable citizens they, nevertheless, also never registered to vote – raising their children to accept having come out from among them, being separate, avowing to touch not the unclean thing. There were us, the elect bride of Christ, and there were them, the reprobate, damned to hellfire lest they repent and believe the Gospel.

I don’t know what happened, but something did. Time, and its inevitable evolution. Being Republican of mentality used to mean such noble (if self centered) intent, even if it appealed to the most narrow minded among them. One wonders if the GOP was forever affected by those who would only vote for he or she whom their God had ordained. Being a Democrat came to defy such selfish, belief driven ideals. In between, I now find myself – a registered Independent, caught, without a closet in which to hide. We are all part of America, a nation of so many countries, fighting to stay socially intact, more exposed than ever before, members of a globe of earthly peoples pushing and pulling and hanging on.

And, the world’s eyes are still on our family.

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©10/15/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line.

littlebarefeetblog.com