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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Acquisitionist.

 

CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

She wasn’t sure who had inserted the list of seven deadlies into the catholic penitential practice. Likely not an indulgent English King and surely not his God ( to whom all sins were created equal ), but regardless whence they’d come these were the generally recognized cardinal variety: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, rage, and sloth.

He’d conquered a couple of them.

To the observer, this one was never lazy. And, demonstrating rage being expressly forbidden in the unspoken code of professional conduct, if present, there were no witnesses. Likewise gluttony, as applied to the ingestion of substances; while inclined toward the fats of bacon and cheese, he’d never been seen packing it in.

But, the corporate organism had definitely found a host.

She’d been around long enough to remember life quite free of mendacious, monopolizing influence. There were still members of her family who rarely left home – home being the house, the homestead, the four walls and the rock garden out front of the furnished porch and the flowers and vegetables out back.

And, even those among her ilk who had escaped poverty on the most verdant side of old money could be found, after an elegant meal, reading an historical novel by a grand fire in the study, whose window overlooked a carefully cultivated rose garden, the latest recording of fine symphonic music filtering a rarified air punctuated only by perhaps the occasional waft of equally fine pipe tobacco.

Quite outside of such a truly removed scene, and squarely at the hub of all things prescient, he stood. Arms folded tightly against the chest, square head cocked, lips tightly closed and eyes lowered so as to feign genuine interest in his subject, not a native of these parts he resembled no one in the room, an aspect which drew an even greater degree of interest from those who clamored after social connection. He was the acquisitionist; one only stood near him if one had nothing to lose but one’s identity.

Does the wisdom of age render sin with greater clarity?

Turned out, she’d discovered the seven deadlies had been isolated by the Christian hermits – monks, living in Egypt. Perhaps solitude, and its accompanying reflective contemplation, rendered this clarity.  She only knew that the acquisitionist was never alone for very long. That which he’d been lusting after fed his envy, and his envy the greed which drove the grasping. As for that which he had managed to seize, the cloud of minions at his beck had seen to it that all who starved for a reason to feel important resounded the chorus of his affirmations at the altar of their own unwitting self sacrifice. It would take at least another decade before most of them would know the encroaching negation which floated along in his wake, waiting to lap up against their own saturated, wilting flesh.

Perhaps all that remained was pride. But, he’d feel enough of that for all the rest of them, put together.  In the end, they would be required simply to feel nothing.

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© 4/7/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo       All rights those of the author, whose insights these are, and whose name appears above this line. Go watch a movie. Thanks.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

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