** originally written & published January 13th, 2016 **
I only ever got into one real fight in my life. You know, a real knock-down, drag-out fist fight. It was 1960s Shadyside, Ohio, I was the new kid in town and it was one of those classic ‘Your mama wears combat boots’, defending-your-mother’s-honor kind of fights.
Now, in 2016, this past Monday night, that same mother gave UP the fight.
Yeah, leave it to Mama Z to decide to drop her body and move on from this world at roughly the same time as the planet’s most notorious shape-shifter, rock icon David Bowie was doing the same an ocean away.
Bowie got all the headlines. Except here.
Born in the days before the Great Depression, in 1925 Johnstown, PA, Phyllis Ziants pursued a nursing degree at Pitt … and a certain young man from the neighboring coal town of Windber.
Who knew when Charlie & Phyllis went on that first date at the roller skating rink all those years ago what was to come? Oh, what a tangled web we weave when at first we practice to conceive.
Their union yielded five kids – Linda, John, Mike, Tom, and Steve.
I’m sure we never crossed their minds as they skated around to the refrains of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” that night – it was their song – the one pop carried with him off to war —
“And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we’re apart…”
Wars end, as wars sometimes do, Charlie returned to his Phyllis, they got married in 1947 and began the odyssey.
Together with her husband, she moved the Tribe of Ziants countless times across state lines to new homes, new churches, new schools, new doctors, seemingly every other year.
From Pennsylvania to Florida, then on to Ohio, back to Pennsylvania, then back to Ohio, Phyllis kept a steady hand on the wheel, kept us all fed, and kept us all occupied (in the days before digital) with music lessons, ping-pong, and card games.
She loved “Kings On the Corner”.
Her nursing degree sure came in handy, as she tended to every wound life could inflict – lost jobs, unemployment, hospitalizations, broken hearts, divorces – and was always there with advice, consolation and compassion.
Don’t get me wrong, like all humans, she had her quirks … boy, could she talk (seemingly endlessly at times, even derailing her own train of thought), tended to fall asleep in front of the TV (narcolepsy?), and (no doubt a skill cultivated through years of corralling five rambunctious kids) could be quite the ‘control freak’.
Hey, it was all part of her unmistakable charm.
After pop’s passing in 1996, she sold the family home and downsized to her condo, then to the nursing home, and then this past week to hospice care … and now, there is no more ‘then’.
I once comforted my boy Ben-Jam after his first visit to a funeral home with the thought that the body after death is but a fingerprint that the soul leaves behind.
What a gal. What a fingerprint.
And from the coal mines of West Virginia and Ohio, to the newspaper at Pittsburgh, to the recording studios of N’awlins … this woman’s fingerprints are everywhere.
Now, it’s eternal.
Much love, kisses, prayers & peace, mother dear.
You’re still the first one I think of whenever I fall down and go boom.
And please tell Sister T. and Charlie Z. “Hi” for me.
“You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by…”
~ Mom’s final Birthday Wish to her boy, Mikey * July 2015 ~