Tag Archives: daughters

Tony the Barber.

He was beaten over the back of the head with the buckle-end of a belt, in the foster home of his earliest memory. For six years, he ate cold porridge at the Walter E. Fernald School for the Feebleminded in Waverly, Massachusetts. Escaping to the hot, dry railroad cars that cut across the deep South, he played his harmonica and hand-carved “bones”, earning loose change for a plate of food at each stop. Twenty years later, he sang to my future mother, in full US Army uniform, on a steam train bound for New York City, and she married him.

When I was a babe in arms, he sang to me. Sitting at the kitchen table, he’d feed me creamy tea by the spoonful. He’d tell captivating stories, the tales of a sparkling imagination – funny, mysterious, and sad. His eyes twinkled when he smiled.

On Wednesday afternoons when all the shops shut, he’d take me with him in the big, black De Soto. I’d ride on the fat brown leather backseat all the way to wherever we went and home again, listening to him whistle.

On Sunday afternoons, he’d sit with his elbows on the back of the park bench, chewing a toothpick under his straw brimmed hat, while my brother and I’d go wild in Pixieland at the zoo. On a rare Sunday evening, the Spirit of God would speak passionately through him from the pulpit of our tiny church meeting hall half a block up from Holy Rosary. On weekdays, he’d walk to work in his small, corner barbershop on the lower east side, and walk home again to supper after the sun had already set.

This man was my father. In a cut-throat world, he had no enemies; in a world where it was considered correct to be political, he had no agenda; in a world where power played, he served the public; in a world where families faltered, he came home from work; in a world where reason overrode, his faith was unshaken; in a world where we gathered up the pieces of selfish lives and struggled to re-learn the art of unconditional love, my father was always there. I never wondered if he loved me. He was my continuing link to sanity, my captive audience, my counselor, my soulmate, and my first and last hero. He was God’s gift to my life.

Dad, your little girl still loves you.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

circa 1994/revised 2015.

all rights reserved. Thanks.

Mom.

From the time I graduated from college, and as far back as is possible to recall, I always wanted to do things with my mother.

Other girls did. They’d be seen in restaurants having lunch, or shopping in malls. What other girls did with their mothers seemed easy, natural for them.

But, I could never figure out what made us different. Which one of us was it – her, or me? Other girls often talked about the families they wanted to have someday, the kids they hoped to raise. And, other mothers talked about their “babies”, their daughters. I can honestly say that, while vivid, my fantasies about the future never extended beyond the usual romantic scenarios to include infants and children or motherhood, in any order.

Yes; especially, the older I got, the more the longing to have a relationship with my mother like those I had witnessed grew. I wanted to actually be one of those daughters. Instead, it seemed, I was just the female child who lived in my mother’s house.

Onlookers may have seen a daughter who was self-absorbed, a mother who was absent from the social milieu. But, Mom wasn’t quiet. She didn’t shy away from conversation. On the contrary, she dominated it. Her need to be heard was born of a future checked at the door  and the belief that women should train to become homemakers. This need was ever-present, genetic, and encouraged from all sides by her family, an Anglo Saxon coven of sisters who competed for every morsel their limited life had to offer.

By all appearances, we lived in a regular neighborhood, but we always felt like we owned it. After all, mom’s eldest sister’s family lived across the street and around the corner; her parents, two doors further; and, the tiny, separatist Christian assembly hall populated primarily by the extended family one block around the next.

And, there were plenty of girls in this picture; my aunt had three daughters of her own. But, I never did any of the things they did, either for or with their mother. They ironed handkerchiefs, and washed dishes, and made home-made baked beans and stuffed creme puffs. They planned the frequent family get togethers and summer picnics at Waterworks beach.

Over at our house, Mom did the sewing. She cleaned the whole house, and then kept it clean. And, then she sewed again. She made every piece of clothing in my closet and bureau except the underwear – dresses, blouses, sunsuits, shorts, pants, shirts, skirts, coats. Hats. Purses. Her output was staggering, and her efforts solitary.

I never “helped” my mother. She was fond of saying so. My aunt’s daughters had little pieces of note paper on their kitchen table every Saturday that they would consult, upon which each of their chores were itemized. I longed for my own little list, but none ever appeared. Mom had two positions she assumed; standing at the kitchen sink, or sitting at the sewing machine.

As I grew to adulthood, my mother’s dynamic became apparent to me. She was the second born daughter. The helper. The obedient one. She saw the outcome of her elder sister’s behavior, and her father’s treatment of it, and compensated ten-fold  – doing the two younger sisters’ chores plus her own, all before heading off for school. She dreamed of becoming a fashion designer in New York, only to see her award-winning dressmaking stalled by the onset of the Depression. She dreamed of meeting her French soldier pen pal but, though I’d traveled to Paris in 1984, I could not find him in any of the phone registries. She’d married the soldier she met on the train, instead, and he would remain devoted to her, come what may. But, while she heralded my birth as one of the “happiest days” of her life, the person I became was just too much to bear; her only daughter was the embodiment of every trait that had either surpassed or stumbled her, and wasn’t even sweet about it.

To say that I loved my mother, or she me, would be the understatement of the age. We loved each other frantically, with the agony of helpless observation. We were usually worlds apart, yet bonded by the strongest emotion known to survival: fear.

At the age of 36, I did something for my mother. It wasn’t something any of the other girls did for their mothers. It was much, much bigger.

In fact, it was so big that it swallowed up every household chore ever imagined by Heloise, every lunch, breakfast, brunch or dinner out, and every sale at every mall in the tri-state area. It only took one full day, and I picked the day myself.

On August 14, 1993, I got married.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 4/2/10

all rights reserved. Thank you.