Tag Archives: family

Turkey.

Musicians have a slightly different take on the holidays.
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 We are the not so silent, persistently present color in everybody else’s landscape. We are the string quartet for the Good Friday service, Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, Lenten Sundays; the background Sousa marches for Fireworks on the Bay on the 4th of July, the marching music in the Memorial Day Parade, the Labor Day Telethon; the New Year’s Eve party band. We are the ubiquitous celebrants. And, then we go home.
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 Don’t get me wrong. We love making music; we wouldn’t be there, if we didn’t. And, the 200 bucks we put in our pocket, if we plan it just right, will buy groceries for two, solid weeks.
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 But, there’s one holiday, every year, that puts us all to the test. On this day, we can’t hide behind a music stand. We can’t wear the right costume. We can’t play the right song. We have to face the sum total of our lives.
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 Yeah. It’s the feast in November. Every year, we scramble to do one of two things: 1.) Did we clean off the diningroom table? 2.) Did we reserve a seat at the local buffet?
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 I’ve been riding my merry go round for five decades. I think it’s harder when musicians actually have wonderful memories of this holiday. I’m one of them.
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 Our grandmother spent her adolescence as second maid to a wealthy Jewish family in the Poconos. She learned how to create a feast, alright – Pennsylvania Dutch-style. Stuffed turkey, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, peas, corn, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes. Home made gravy. Rutabega. Wilted lettuce, with bacon drippings (that, from the Danes). Apple pie. Cherry pie. Elderberry pie.
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 The oak table was massive, and round, but had a leaf to make it elliptical. And, we cousins with the aunts and uncles, proletariats all, we knew how to squeeze over 20 people into that room, plus a card table in the sewing room for the teens.
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 The same would be true of Christmas, adding the cousins from Parma. And, for that, the card tables would spread into the livingroom – a linen tablecloth, for each.
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 But, the Thanksgiving feast was the first and, without all the presents to open in the morning, this one was all about the food. We’d eat until our stomachs were distended, and all stay the day, too, making turkey sandwiches later with fresh lettuce and Miracle Whip.
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 I loved all my cousins. Each one was more distinct than the next. Mouths full of teeth, all stops out belly laughs. We were all full of ourselves, and we knew how to sell that fact. The boys were natural comics; the girls, ready audience. And, everybody had their story to tell. I don’t remember anybody listening to mine, but I soaked up everything coming at me. And, as each one got married, there’d be a curiously quiet spouse to add to the mix, usually twinkling with amusement at the whole lot of us.
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 Not sure when it was that I missed the boat. It was probably somewhere between the competitive marching band and mom’s death, followed by the divorce, and the private students, and then Carolyn Dillon’s retirement from fifth grade in the building where I taught music to the children all day. I inherited her after school drama club, and reveled in producing a fully staged, fully costumed, fully underscored musical together with as many as 60 kids and one parent every year thereafter for a decade. To an outsider, this was a fully realized life; to me, it was just what I did.
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 What I didn’t do was have a child. What I didn’t do was raise a family. What I didn’t do was convince any member of the one I already had that attending my concerts and other live performances would enrich their lives and cement a lasting relationship with me. I guess, like my mother before me who ended up always doing all the housework alone, I assumed they would all just naturally see the value in participating in my life. Lord knew, at the end of my day, preparing a complete meal for anybody but myself was out of the question.
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Actually, I did prepare Thanksgiving meal one year. The year mum died. I made dinner for 18 of my family members, all by myself. The 25 lb. turkey; the long grain rice stuffing with dates and mushrooms and walnuts; the sweet potatoes with raisins and pineapple; the squash, in butter, with pepper. The peas, in basil. The tossed salad, with everything. And, baked Gala apples, with drizzled Brie, for everybody. I was never invited by the family after that, until the year my nephew was sick and they needed somebody to sit with the other children. The span of years between those meals was an embarrassing sixteen.
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 That feeling, somewhere between the heart and the thymus, that I get whenever I think about Thanksgiving now is also embarrassing. It’s an ache, similar to the one I used to feel after a break up with a boyfriend. That a fully fledged, reasonably attractive, post menopausal woman who still had all her teeth should have this feeling approaching the day when, ironically, every American is urged to take stock of all blessings and be thankful, is hard to admit. But, I feel lonely. And, I don’t enjoy any part of that realization. Not one bit.
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 Funny. Had I raised a family like most everyone else, there would be grandchildren to hold and cuddle this week. There would be lives to laud and honor, details of accomplishments, and travel itineraries, and photos, and mementos. I might be the matriarch at the head of my own table. I might be the one.
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 But, I wouldn’t have become a cellist and pianist, or even this amateur writer. I wouldn’t have developed the ability, at any given moment, to make – using my hands – something rapturously beautiful out of simple sound. Nor would I have had the energy to teach thousands of children and train several. I would not have brought to the table my gifts, because they would have lain fallow in the service of another purpose.
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 And, so, on Thursday of this week, the windows and doors will be flung open. The autumn sun will stream in. And, I will clean my house. I will have the whole, entire day, uninterrupted by expectation. Maybe even play somebody else’s music on the CD player, and sing along.
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We are all born to something. Eat your turkey. Don’t you worry about me;  I’m an artist. I’ll be just as thankful as anybody else.
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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 11/24/15   All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you.
littlebarefeetblog.com

The Invitation.

Sitting here, reflecting on my father’s life, deliberating about heading west to the cemetery to visit his grave, something I hadn’t done since his death in 2011.

This business of standing over a grave. Dad and I were of like mind about such things. We knew that our loved ones weren’t really there, and that was enough for us. Better to remember them in the moment.

And, so, I was recalling his life, especially those years after Mom died. And, a particular, repeating event began to press at me. Today being his birthday, I was thinking of how many times he’d spent a birthday dinner at my cousin’s house, about twenty-five minutes outside of town.

It was just the strangest thing.

He’d receive an invitation from my cousin for dinner. They’d pick him up, and take him out Route 5 to their splendid, lovely home, where as many members of their family as could attend would convene. He’d always have so much to say about how much fun he’d have there. They’d always have him tell his own life stories, a new one every year, maybe sing, always play his harmonica and bones. And, laugh. Oh, how they’d laugh together.

And, the food was always so tasty, too. Dad appreciated a good meal more than anyone, growing up without anything as a foster child and ward of the state of Massachusetts. He’d rave for days about a good meal, and my cousin’s wife was as talented a cook as she was a painter.

Looking back, I’m guessing that his birthday would fall most frequently on the week of the Erie Philharmonic Pops. It must have been that. I guess I had rehearsals and a concert across the days that would have been convenient for me to attend a birthday dinner in my father’s honor? For some reason, you see, though I lived in the same city, alone in my own house, I was never invited to these birthday dinners. I was Dad’s only local child but, somehow, not included at that table.

And, I was never sure why. Had I turned down an invitation the first time it was offered? Had I offended my cousin? Or, was it something else? Was an assumption being made that, somehow, I was neglecting my father’s birthday every year? Did the world not know that I always took him out to dinner?

Memory gets clouded, by grief, bewilderment, bafflement, palpable isolation, age. I just don’t know anymore. But, as those days retreat they seem uglier, somehow, a distortion, some kind of mockery of me. My beloved father, enjoying himself on his birthday, in somebody else’s house . Maybe the word was: “She never prepares a meal for her father. She never invites him to her table. What is wrong with her? How selfish. How self-centered. How wrong. How sinful she is.”

Hah. I turn my head, for yet another view of the dining room table in my own house. The clutter is a fixture. At best, its contents compartmentalized into squared-off piles, to make the whole monstrosity easier on the eye. I never eat there. Draped by an Alpine lace tablecloth, its laminate presence, at all, the result of a nagging ex-mother-in-law who insisted:  “Everybody needs a dining room table.” She, who would search until she found one, complete with six chairs, in the home of two nuns, for sale for $265.

Did I want it?

No matter that I liked my music room exactly where it was –  the room adjacent to the livingroom, where the north light poured onto the piano rack and there was plenty of room for the cello. No matter that I had no need to interrupt that room with a piece of furniture that would totally displace both instruments and force me out of it. “Everybody.needs.a diningroom table.” Didn’t I want it?

Okay, fine. Then, the business of hauling it – from Woodstock, Connecticut to northwestern Pa. Yeah, that.

Oh; she was a Norwegian, married to a Swede. She could lift the whole damned thing with her bare hands. And, she did. She packed the table and all the chairs into her ISUZU, and drove it all from Woodstock to my doorstep in.the.winter. And, she unpacked it. And, she brought it into my house. And, she and my husband set it up. And, when she tracked melting snow onto my kitchen floor, she mopped it up with a dry mop – and, wrang the mop out in my kitchen sink.

My horror could not be contained. Mop water, from the sidewalk of Slumtown, in my kitchen sink?!  My dismay was, are you surprised, completely dismissed by both of them. Had I found a dining room table? Had I brought it home? Had I set it up? What was wrong with me, anyway?

Making dinner for my father, to be served to him at that table, was not a thought which ever found its place in the actions of my consciousness. Not until I rolled him to the edge of it, in his wheelchair, years later. (Then, platters of baked sweet potatoes, soaking in pineapple juice and peppered with raisins, dates, and walnuts. Chicken casserole.)

But, in actuality, in those years before he moved in, I never made dinner. I ate on the fly, like most musicians.

And, so I was duly punished. The heart ache of being left out of his dinner celebration, for so many consecutive years, never realized or acknowledged by anybody. Choosing an evening that was convenient for his only daughter’s schedule was beyond anybody’s ability or effort. Apparently, in order to demonstrate my love and devotion to my beloved father, I was to have asked 60 professional musicians to agree to a change of schedule to accommodate the needs of my cousin and his wife. Or, something like that. I was at a total loss to comprehend it.

I must have turned them down, the first time. That had to have been it. I couldn’t come the first year, so it was conveniently assumed that I was unavailable every consecutive year thereafter. Nobody ever thought, for a single minute, that I would have loved being included in a dinner celebration of my father’s birthday.

Who knows? Maybe he, himself, commented about how busy I was. The neighbors alluded to such a possibility. There were a couple who, even when I moved in to care for him and then brought him to my own house to become his nurse maid in the final years of his life, thought I’d been too busy to look after him. None of them knew, apparently, how many times I’d call to check on him, only to hear the cheery:  “I’m an old soldier! I’m doing great! I don’t need a thing!  You’re busy with your work, and your Daddy’s proud of ya!” How was I to know, at the sound of this, that his refrigerator only had four cupcakes in it?

I remember the day they were discovered. He’d sounded so odd over the phone, when I’d called from out of state that summer in 2006. He kept telling me how much he loved me. There was a strange desperation in his voice. I got on a plane, and came home to him. He’d been walking outside in 90 degree weather, wearing wool sweaters over a T. He was disoriented. He was sure he was dying.

From that point forward, Dad was my ward. Off and on for the next year, and then from 2008 onward I lived with him, or he with me, until his death in 2011 after a two-month incarceration from nursing home-induced pneumonia. For every single home-cooked birthday dinner he’d enjoyed without me, there were countless days and evenings of just my company. Yes; at my dinnertable. What a load for my poor father, Just me. In his house, and then in mine. I was no fun. There weren’t any people around. There was just me, his daughter, trying to do the right thing by her dad. Forsaking him was unimaginable.

My mother in law had been the bane of my short-lived marriage. She was oppressive, umbilically bound to her son my husband and, after two years of this, I was sure that my head would pop open and spill its brains all over everything. But, she said one thing that haunts me to this day. She said: ” The only thing that ever matters in life are the relationships.”

On that note, in spite of everything I ever did or tried to do, both personally and professionally, I failed. She was right; somehow, I never learned how to forge or sustain healthy relationships, with anybody in either the family or the local community. I became the woman who never got invited to the table, because I never set my own for anybody. Oh, well, yes I did. The year Mom died, I had Thanksgiving for 18 family members, and made most all the food myself – including 18 baked apples oozing with Brie. And, yes; we sat at my diningroom table. And, I had Father Mike, and his wife Joyce, and their two visiting island girls. And, I even had my cousin and his wife, too. Yes; dinner for them. Once.

I guess once wasn’t enough. It never is, is it. One marriage that fails is only redeemed by a second try. No matter if you don’t get that option. One invitation, declined, however, is apparently all it takes to be left off the guest list. One mistake must be followed by a thousand repentances, one sin by a thousand confessions.

We stand ready to find the misstep in everyone but ourselves.

One life; one death. That’s all we get. One mother. One dad. One family of cousins. And, if we’re lucky, only one mother in law. In her honor, I think I will do one thing, however. The next invitation I receive, I’ll accept. Just tell me what to bring. And, if you want, I’ll even promise to leave myself at home.

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“Judge not, lest ye be judged.”  Selah.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 12/7/14 all rights reserved. Thanks.