Angelo Zuccolo

If you read Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar, you know there was a teacher who changed my life. He was the theater director at the community college I started out at. One of the reasons I decided to “go public” with the book was because I wanted teachers to read it. I wanted them to know how much power for good they hold in their hands. How far and wide their ripples extend. How much some kids truly need a kind word, or a little extra support. How truly transformative it can be when we get it.

Over the last 25 years, Angelo Zuccolo has been the teacher I’ve stayed in touch with. He rallied the troops for the benefit concert we held to raise money for Riley’s service dog. He’s written me glowing references for every job I’ve ever had. He has a way of puffing up one’s accomplishments, and forgetting about your failures.

My dear friend and teacher Angelo Zuccolo left this earthly plane quickly and unexpectedly yesterday. He leaves behind his two beautiful daughters, just little girls when I met them. He leaves behind so many friends and students whose lives he changed for the better. One person who read my book emailed me in March and said, “That exercise your theater teacher had you do…the one you mentioned in the book….I just did it with my students and it was amazing!”

25 years later, a teacher all the way across the country, her students, benefitting from his ripples.

He made me feel like I was worth something. Like I mattered. And you know what? He did this for everyone. He parented his two girls, and then had enough left over to parent the rest of us some, just enough to see us on our way.

I will miss him.

Below, I am re-posting a piece I wrote about him in 2010.

Angelo, it was an honor and a privilege to be in your circles.

I love you.

Thank you.

 

It is always such a treat for me when my former theater professor writes a new book of poetry. I was fortunate to do a work study in the theater, and we worked side by side for a couple of semesters. In all that time, he never talked much about his personal life. He was a single dad. Sure, he gushed about his daughters, but not a peep about his love life.

His romantic poetry is so very personal. It almost feels like I shouldn’t be reading it! Like I happened upon his diary and took advantage of the situation!

Still, it’s the poems about his daughters which get to me most. Angelique and Marielle. Just little girls when I met them. Both grown now. Gorgeous dark haired beauties, making their way in the world as successful adults.

Looking Forward to Heaven

Sometimes

people ask me

if I’m looking forward to Heaven. 

My reply is always

the same,

namely

that I have already been to

Heaven

every time that I walked down

our road

with you on

your little blue tricycle

on my left

with your little sister in

her little blue stroller

in the center

and

our wonderful family dog

strutting along on our right.

We sang marvelous little songs

as we went on our way,

laughing

smiling

calling out to the world.

Oh yes,

I’ve already been to Heaven

many times, and

it’s as incredibly joyful

as people say.

See why he’s so special?

Everyone should have such a teacher in their lives.

Here’s hoping we all look around and see a little heaven in our own lives today.

Angelo Zuccolo is the author of At Nighttime’s Bedside, New Year’s Laughtears, The Ocean Rose, Forty-Four Poems in Search of a Long Black Dress, and numerous short stories and playscripts.

Diving

This is my grandmother, in 1918. On the back of the photo it says her swan dive was 99.9% perfect. She was 16 at the time. She would go on to marry. Live in NYC for a while. Move back to her home town. Have twin boys, then another boy, then after many years, well into her 40’s, (44,45?)a girl. My mother. My grandmother was my age when she started over with a new baby. When that baby was 6, she would leave her drunk carousing husband once and for all, and venture out on her own as a single mother, before single motherhood was a norm.

She had an eighth grade education but she was smart. She worked as a secretary at a lumber yard for over forty years, hardly ever getting a raise, but she was frugal and managed to get me and my sibs one good pair of school shoes every year and a couple of articles of clothing.

When we would arrive at her apartment, unexpected, on school nights or weekends, at 10PM,  (bad nights when my mom didn’t want to leave us home with my father when she went off to work graveyard shift), my grandmother would fling the door open and exclaim,

“Oh Joy!”

She never made us feel like a burden.

She ate dandelions and pickled things, and loved to feed and watch birds. She was not a fan of cats, but learned to love our family dog, (secretly).

Recently, my sister and I discovered we both think of her whenever a red cardinal makes an appearance.

Soon after she retired at age 87, she moved in with my mother to become caretaker of my two preschool aged brothers, who had come along well after the rest of us, unexpectedly, a lot like my mother had. My father had left us, and did not pay support. My mom needed her to move in, to survive. Gramma cooked and did her best to clean, and did her best to raise the boys, though often she used shame as a method of keeping them in line. She meant well, and didn’t know better.

I was one of the closest people on earth to my grandmother. I was the last family member to see her before she died of congestive heart failure, staying with her in the ER until they got her settled into a room.

As we get ready to move south, and my whole world is up in the air, everything I think I believe has gone flying out the window, and I’ve been filled with panic at times. My faith in all things working out seems to have left me and I kind of see it off glinting in the distance somewhere, but I can’t quite reach it. Then my ego has a field day with this, a regular hootenanny, flagellating me, for being such a spiritual hypocrite. It isn’t enough to be afraid, but I then beat myself up over it too.

I know I don’t have life figured out. I often think I do, but my grandmother’s life serves as a reminder that I don’t.  At my age, she was starting her life anew, just beginning with my mother. So much was ahead of her.

Now…tongue firmly in cheek here, ……at my age, she wouldn’t even meet me, one of the closest people on earth to her, for another 20 years! (Yes, my grandmother’s life was all about me). Can you imagine? I might not even meet one of the people who will be there with me holding my hand, the day I die, for another 20 years?

But much to my amazement, my grandmother had a whole life before me too. There are photos to prove it. My mother gave me a whole envelope, years after my grandmother died.

Look at the photo above. She dove! What did it feel like to feel so free in your body Gramma? You never talked about it!  99.9% perfect.

And look at this one. Who is this Mabel Rodman, obviously a BFF…that you never once mentioned?And when by God, did you ever wear high heels or pose flirtily hanging off a train? Gramma? I knew ye only in orthopedic shoes. And who took the pictures?

 

 

There are so many chapters in the story of a life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are about to start a new one. It feels so frightening. So much appears to be on the line. We’re losing so much money on the house, it’s like completely starting over financially.

But…. we’re, “going in the light that’s given us.” Truly, we are.

and…

“Things have a way of working out.”

and…

God loves us.”

Beyond my fear, I know these things to be true.

I know it.

My gramma gave me that.