Tag Archives: inspiration

Uncle George O’Keefe.

Some men just stand alone.

George O’Keefe was an instantly recognizable American Irish. He’d been born in Erie, PA but never spent hardly a day in any run of the mill fashion. Devout, one might say precociously, as a young boy, while other kids rode bikes or played army this kid stood on the steps and played church, preaching to his sisters’ dolls.

Amen.

And, lest one think him a shirker, George had perfect attendance at public school. For 12, solid years.

Mum met him when he took up with her sister, Frances.

As a very young man, he’d prove traits like constancy. Our grandfather, Pappy, loved to tell the story. George would always reappear, at the door, no matter the misunderstanding or disagreement. See, George was hooked – on God, his Savior Jesus, and Fran Sweet – and, he never looked back. Not once.

Defying virtually all other Irish, not a drop of alcohol could be found at his table, unless he had just poured out the wine for Communion. Then, it was the sacred blood of the Lord. He knew this, like he knew his own reflection in the mirror.

George would marry Frances, and move to Spartansburg PA and then to Clendenin, WV. His bright bell tenor rang out everywhere he went – whether founding Bible study classes or camps, or playing outside with his children no matter the season. Becky, the eldest, said he was up at dawn every day, making breakfast for the whole family and packing each lunch for school. And, even into his late 70s, still water skiing, fishing, and hitting the racquetball courts.

Beyond all this, his influence extended into the lives of countless others. One of these was my father.

Dad had met mum on a train, during R & R from the US Army. The week he decided to travel to Erie, to check out her digs, George and Frances were on hand.

Calling the Bible a comic book, Dad had no use for the obvious brand of Christianity he would confront as he stepped foot into the home of Henry and Mae Sweet on 29th Street. Mammy, the first to hand Dad a small New Testament, set about praying for his conversion; Pappy, the hardliner, was sure this WOP was a lost cause, gruffly declaring:  “He’ll never be saved”.

But, George O’Keefe was also in the room.

And, the day Dad decided to propose marriage to Mum, he’d set his shrewd little ducks in a row; praying the “sinner’s prayer” aloud, he managed to convince Pastor George O’Keefe that he meant business.  And, George, filled with the kind of faith that gave even the hardest sinner the benefit of the doubt, was more than ready to believe it. In fact, he rejoiced; when Mum and Dad got hitched, George O’Keefe “married” them.

Two years in, Mum was pregnant and Dad’s cover was blown. He’d admitted to one of his customahs in the bahbuh shahp that he was “tired of the charade.” When Mum found out, he had no choice but to divorce her.

Ten years into that chapter, God finally made His move. Drawing Dad into the church of a family friend, Pastor LeBeau, the Almighty spoke the Gospel to him one more time. So convicted was Dad of his sins that he walked out of that service and drove to Cleveland, in search of a Burlesque show to distract his heart.

That lasted about twelve minutes.

Back to Erie, into his small one room apartment, Dad dug out his New Testament and read all the verses which Mammy had underlined for him. This time, he prayed in earnest, and repented, and accepted Jesus as his Savior. And, then he told Mum.

George O’Keefe, almost as happy as she was, rejoiced once more. And, George married them all over again, the second time – performing this ceremony in the living room of the new house they would call home for the next 50 years.

In 1995, Mum was stricken, for the second time – with cancer. This time, the disease was in her brain, and terminal. After a mere five and a half weeks, she lay in a hospice bed in the room I had always called mine growing up – mute, the tumor having taken her speech entirely.

Those closest to Mum had come to visit, if they could. Among them, her youngest sister, ending an estrangement that had lasted for years. Then, early one evening, Frances and George drove in from their cottage on Lake Chautauqua.

Mum’s face had taken on the shape of the tumor’s affect. Her mouth, drooped to one side. Her eye, nearly closed. George and Frances walked into the room, and George leaned down close to her ear.

In his bright, bell tenor, with that ever present, big broad grin, George told Mum a joke about a horse. The joke, and its punchline, would be lost to the ether but Mum, as soon as she heard it, burst out laughing – the laugh of recognition, indeed of comprehension, in a rush of affirmation. And, her number ten smile flashed across her face, obliterating completely any sign of palsy or paralysis.

Then, her eyes closed and she went to sleep, never to wake again. By morning, the sun streaming in through the windows, Mum had released her spirit and was gone from the earth.

But, Uncle George had brought the gift of his presence into the room. He’d provided us one more glimpse of our mother, before death came to take her body.

This past Sunday, Uncle George passed away. He was 98 years old. And, he left with that same broad smile on his face.

Thank you, Uncle George. Thank you for being such an important part of our family and the far more inclusive family of God. When the voice of the archangel heralds the trump of God, we’ll be ready to rejoice with you for all eternity.

 

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   4/11/18

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Brilliant.

Brilliant – n. Very bright. Glittering. Striking, distinctive. Distinguished by unusual mental keenness.

British :  very good :  excellent
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My big brother was the genius.

So said all the definitive tests, administered on or about 1959.

He scored in the range that set him apart, statistically speaking, from the bottom 99.8 %, in mathematical conceptualizing, computation, and application; language identification and application; spacial relations; and, whatever else deemed worthy of exaltation by our society at the time. I can’t remember. I wasn’t there. I was teething.

Somebody told him his exact test score, in fact, a teacher at the high school. In front of everybody else in the class, it was all kinds of drama. “Scanzillo!  With an IQ of blahblah, you should be ……”

And, eventually, he did.

Do.

What was expected, of an IQ.

Of blahblah.

It was quite the affair.

He raised hamsters in the basement, and sold them, and set up a hand made sign out front to advertize them, rigging an alarm with string and a buzzer to prevent the sign from being stolen. Playing piano and trombone, he led a big band which he’d organized that rehearsed in the basement, next to the hamsters. Then, he went to college, for pre-med, and raised guinea pigs by the dozens, dissecting them in a make shift lab ( in the basement ) using mum’s baking pans and canning jars. He drove all the way to Seattle and took to the hills, selling dictionaries door to door to pay for college. After college, he taught high school chemistry, and then worked in a paper mill developing paper coatings out of dyes and other chemicals. He taught himself how to build whole houses, constructing every home he and his wife ever shared. Then, he went to Cleveland, and finished his PhD in chemistry, and became the local diagnostic lab director. With his second wife and children, he moved all across the country, directing labs, serving in court as expert witness, building and selling homes, and becoming a nationally recognized consultant. He led a highly regarded life.

Last week, he retired.

I inherited the basement. By default, it became my bedroom/in house apartment, after mum’s Uncle Ewart, for whom the space had been filled and decorated, chose to reject it on the basis of rising damp. Cluttered with acquired objects, my clothing, drawings and, mostly, my own personal chaos, after graduating from college myself I would sleep down there, all day, for weeks, immobilized by anonymity and a sense of pre-destined defeat.

In America, we are really good at celebrating ambition. We reward acquisition and accomplishment. We revere, and fear, those who have established power to limit our options.

And, we are also hasty to ascribe qualitative labels to those who excel, according to their predicted likelihood. We call them “brilliant”. And, the results of their efforts we call “phenomenal”, as if we are continually surprised that a human can do anything at all.

Except that there are seven billion of us, strong. Swarming. Churning. Heaving, and careening around the planet. And, these brilliant phenomenals hover over our heads, like pressure systems teasing the barometer, testing the mettle of all humanity, setting the bar and then swiping it away just as we extend our reach.

Is it any wonder, then, that popular culture is born. And, then marketed. And promoted. And, celebrated.

A weird sort of backlash, to appease the masses? A grande comfort zone for the mediocre?

Whole tribes, doing what is popular. Until a majority of humans in America no longer care about producing anything without duplication, let alone effort. An entire people, out of touch with their own capacity for birthing beauty or truth.

This past week, I had a life changing experience. I learned to meditate. Actually, the sectarian brethren had  exposed me to such practice from shortly after birth, but never as focused or directed activity. From childhood, I’d only known that meditation was reserved for thoughts of Christ carrying his cross and then hanging from it.

But, this meditation put me in touch with all that I saw within me – thoughts, feelings, attitudes, perceptions….propensities.

And, this led to the inevitable confrontation. With self.

Who was I, really, and of what was I made? What was the full range of my capacities, and how did I regard my potential role in the scheme of life?

And, I was not alone. Seated around me were several, mostly women, from all parts of north America and beyond. And, among us, we shared one thing: a love for music.

Some of us were already regarded by others as “accomplished musicians.” Others of us were awaiting such recognition, or not seeking any. But, we all shared this: we were all about to become wholly ignited by our own, natural illumination.

By the time we closed our week together, most of us were born anew. There was no altar call, no postlude, no public declaration of intent. Our birth took place in the most profound silence, because the shells holding us in were so thin and unimportant that they merely fell away as we emerged.

The light, however, was all encompassing. No angels; no demons. No hamsters, or dictionaries. No highest scores, or notions of superiority. Just humans, with hearts, baring and then carrying souls, and presenting spirits ready to burst forth with singular and magnificent brilliance.

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*This piece dedicated to Madeline Bruser, “The Art of Practicing”, and inspired by our Mary Duncan.

© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   8/2/15   All rights reserved.  Sharing permitted, upon request, and with kind and appropriate reference to the author. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com

Bare-Naked Ants.


The carpenter ants tried, again, this year to take up residence in my house. This time, they entered through the bathtub – or, more specifically, the slit where the grout used to be. Each scout would spontaneously appear, fatter and bolder than the last, only to be crushed by my jaded and insensitive stomp.

But, maybe because of the heightened awareness that often accompanies intense concentration, or merely the singular vantage point the toilet posed, from my seat on the “throne” over this miniature kingdom I would witness a small phenomenon.

Expecting the shower to have cleansed the tub floor of my latest victims, I was not prepared for the sight on one particularly-sunny mid-morning. Gazing over the porcelain precipice at what appeared to be not one, but two scouts, to my astonishment they appeared to have curiously mutated. As I peered down at their elongated asymmetry, I discovered to my greater amazement that they were both carrying something. Known to be burden-bearing insects, what these latest emissaries had found was not a precious morsel of toe-jam to hoist but, rather, the very carcasses of their carpenter counterparts. Yes; they were bearing their dead, and traveling at quite a pace.

Momentarily distracted by the bizarre sight of them I did not note right away that, though they were moving fast, these ants seemed to have no clear destination. The slit where the grout used to be was all the way at the other end of the tub, and nothing they did put them anywhere near the map; rather, these pallbearers appeared to be following an erratic pattern, a ritual of panic.

What happened next is less important. The purpose of telling this story is not to disclose the author’s primitive inclinations regarding the efficient disposal of pesky pests, living or dead, but to take the lesson they were there to teach. And, it is this:  do we sometimes run figure-eights across strange terrain, carrying our dead, hoping some primal instinct will lead us to resolution – or, is there another way for us to honor our humanity without severing the bond we will always share with those whom we love?

The world of earth’s creatures is, while highly organized, intensely vulnerable, exposed, transparent; we humans, whether by contrast or design, spend long hours weaving intricate disguises intended to protect our need to hold on. In so doing, we mask, some more unsuccessfully than others, our pain, our loss, our grief. And, those of us who are least successful can be seen, marked by our gait, as we travel that unmarked path across time, wearing the banner that bares all.

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© ruth a. scanzillo 8/19/12

all rights reserved. Thank you.