Tag Archives: Italian American men




The floor was bare wood under her summer shoes. There were no rugs. People, clocking and clunking up and down the steep stairs with their heavy feet, then around the corners, the tallest men tipping their heads to pass through the small rooms and narrow doorways all making her feel as though everybody there knew each other like family.

She was five, now. Being small and just five made moving around in the Old North Church with so many tall people, and smelling the real bare wood, wildly exciting.

They stepped out into the street in the bright sun, squinting ’til their eyes almost shut. Mum wore her hand-made cotton white print dirndl skirt, the flat black cotton shoes with the tiny turquoise stars on them, a sleeveless blouse, and clip-on sunglasses over her real ones. Mum had made her two new sunsuits, and she wore the pink one today. Daddy, who always wore a hat, had his straw brown one on with the light blue ribbon, a plaid short sleeved shirt, his favorite slacks, a brown belt, change in his pocket, and his walking shoes on. They held hands with Daddy to get to the house across the street, bending their heads to follow everybody else inside.

She could just reach the soft velveteen tubes draped between the posts that circled a man seated at a strange round table that moved under his feet. Her little fingers loved the feel of the smooth fabric wrapped around the firmness beneath, and she could just reach all the way around if she used her thumbs, though mum said she mustn’t. Her eyes fixed on the man seated at the round, spinning table as he threw a wet, grey mound onto the center of the part that moved. When it jumped off, he tried another. She watched as he squeezed his smooth, long hands around its middle, making it turn into mum’s leg and then mum’s waist, and then, like magic, his fingers forming a perfect circle rim and turning a tiny spout like Mammy’s English teapot. Mum said: “oh! my…lookit thayat!” All the tall people around her breathed out at the same time as they recognized what they now saw. She looked up at everybody, looking at each other, smiling and nodding.

There were wooden chairs, and wooden buffets against the wall with plates and pots and cups on them, and embroidered doilies like Great Gramma Learn made in her rocking chair back at Mammy’s house. There was a fireplace, too, with shiny cans the color of a Lincoln penny sitting nearby. And, she thought she saw, up on the wooden wall, resting on hooks, guns as long as a clothes pole, black and heavy looking. Paul Revere had lived here, a long, long time ago, Daddy said, and this was his house.

After lunch that Mum packed, Dagwood sandwiches and cold milk, off they went down toward the water. There was no grass under her feet, but bricks, each one a little bit different than the next. She kept her eyes on the ground, away from the squinting sun, hopping onto the next favorite brick each step. Daddy whistled and hummed: “lol, lol, lol; LOL lah – lol…..” Mum smiled under her sunglasses. In the distance behind them, the bell bonged its tune from the Old North Church. She stopped, and swung from Mum and Daddy’s hands, lifting her bare legs up all the way off the ground.

It was during that big swing that she saw it. The biggest boat in the whole world. A ship, Daddy called it. Not a rocket ship, but a boat almost the size of one. They got in line behind the tall people, and up the ramp they went, with the water lapping in the sun under their feet.

The boat was a huge sailboat, and the sails on it whipped as loud as Mammy’s awnings on the front porch when a storm was coming. There were ropes as prickly as Pappy’s arms, twisted like Mighty Fine donuts but as long as a whole block on Perry Street. Men with straight backs walked on the ship, taking long slow steps, wearing dark blue coats with shiny buttons down the front of them and cornered hats like she had never seen. And, the floor was bare wood under their buckled shoes.

*   *   *   *   *

Daddy was bon heah, he said. He was a little boy from Boston. He never knew his mum, or his father. His Uncle Gabriel would let him visit once in awhile. “Wall-yo! Come uppa downstauhs an’ bring a peecha wine!” Hah, hahhhh! Daddy laughed. Mum looked at Daddy. They smiled, and were quiet.

Then, they got in the car, and headed to Aunt Frances and Uncle Al’s house in Springfield. The house was grey, and the whole porch was made of the same grey wood. The wood moved under their feet as they crossed to the front door. Inside, Uncle Al was tall and silent, and Aunt Frances ran to the door, rocking from foot to foot as she stretched out her arms to pull everybody close.

Aunt Frances was dark, like Daddy, and funny. Her fingers were long, and she touched everyone’s faces with her hands. Uncle Al stood, next to the refrigerator, looking out from his twinkling eyes while Aunt Frances stirred the ziti in the big pot. Ziti was different from the rigatoni Daddy liked for suppah, and Aunt Frances had meat in her sauce.

She clamored up to watch the ziti simmer in the pot. Aunt Frances took her into her lap, to hug her and smooth her hair and give her a little taste of ziti. Uncle Al wanted to show everyone a trick. Eyes closed. Eyes open, and a piece of candy in his hands appeared. She saw that Uncle Al was missing the first part of his middle finger. She asked Uncle Al what happened to his finger. He said that he played clarinet in Artie Shaw’s band, but his finger got caught in a machine at the shop, and he had to stop playing clarinet. So, now, he did magic tricks. And, his eyes twinkled when he said it.

*   *   *   *   *   *  *

They were in Boston for five days that summer. This was the first and last time. The only vacation the family ever took together that she could remember. Aunt Frances would come to visit seven years later, and one more time until she and Uncle Al moved to Fort Lauderdale. They never saw The Walter E. Fernald School where Daddy grew up, or Mrs. Bracchi’s house where Aunt Frances had lived, or Uncle Tom’s, either. But, they’d been to Boston. And, now they knew.

They knew how to make ziti with meat sauce. They knew the smell of real wood, that the streets could be made of brick, and that some peoples’ houses could live longer than the people in them. They knew how teapots were made, and where the biggest ships sailed. And, she knew where her Daddy had come from.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Many years later, she went back to Boston. Once, with her then-husband, and again by way of Harvard Square.

But, her father still calls her, from the depths of his childhood. She feels his hands on her face, and she wants so to answer.





© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

3/3/15  all rights reserved. Not yah story, not yah right.


A Selfless Giant.

Composers, like poets or painters, travel incognito. They aren’t visibly weighed down,  unlike instrumental musicians with those often unwieldy cases. Unlike actors, they wear faces nobody knows. In mixed company, most might see them as afficionados or patrons. But, their agenda sets them apart. When composers attend performances, they are present as keen observers, taking nourishment. They are the unseen, as yet unheard harbingers of the music to come.

In my brief lifetime, I have known only a few composers. One of them is a dear friend.

I met Stephen Colantti, first from afar, then up quite closely.  He’d moved to Erie after twenty years living and working in New York City, and we were formally introduced at the former Mercyhurst College D’Angelo music department’s opera workshop. Around these parts, we seemed to have few Philadelphia-born Italians, and his raven hair, in those early days, was a social stand-out. So also his countenance, always bright and sunny, engaging all who met him.

And, it still does. Stephen has, to this day, the face of a happy boy. One might miss, at first glance, the depth of his capacity for reflection, for contemplation, for wise commentary, or the breadth of his emotional range. But, one will almost immediately grasp his earnest and passionate appreciation for art and artistry.

To my uninitiated ear, his voice was embodied magnificence. I had never sat in such close proximity to a real, Metropolitan tenor – I, with my classical background limited to orchestral and chamber music, my vocal exposure first to that of my beloved father’s croon and, later, the hymns of the Protestant mind. That Stephen Colantti would invite me to learn his original compositions based on the poems of Edna St Vincent Millay, and then perform them as pianist while he sang, was the truest honor.

How surely his melodic line could carried above such harmonic complexity. This was a true scholar, one who could lift motif and element effortlessly from all stylistic periods, yet still let his heart lead. Although more than a decade had passed since my introduction to his writing, I knew what this composer had in him  – and, fully expected more to come. And, more did come.

Stephen took his retirement from public education a bit prior to my own, and this began his molting period. He’d worked for several years at Harding School, helping the children create and develop unique childrens’ operas, each one more worthy than the last. But, the bleak and frigid winter of 2013, he was finalizing what would emerge in the spring as his “piece de resistance” – an opera for all audiences, based on the poetic story of the same name by Oscar Wilde:  “The Selfish Giant.”

From the moment soprano Lisa Layman gave voice to Autumn’s aria, I heard the first of what would bespeak Stephen Colantti’s small masterpiece. All at once, he had captured the personality of the four seasons, the nature of the encumbered giant, the purety of the child. His color palette was tonally rich, laying down hues and tints and shades from across the emotional spectrum. His sense of drama so well-paced, married to the sensibilities of one devoted to the craft of solid structure and seamless segue. I couldn’t wait to be a part of the realization of this work of art.

“The Selfish Giant” made its world premiere in 2014 on the graciously offered stage of the Erie Playhouse. This spring, almost a year to the day, many of those of us who enjoyed that debut will enter the studio to make this wonderful work available on audio recording. Mark Steven Doss, Grammy-award winning bass-baritone, will sing the role of the giant. We are all fully aware that we are going to be part and parcel of something exquisite, humbly created, brilliantly conceived, and devotedly shared – by our own, gifted composer, Stephen Colantti.






Ruth Ann Scanzillo, principal ‘cellist

Erie Chamber Orchestra at Gannon University.

© 2/24/15  all rights reserved.