On a rainy Sunday morning, after my mom, Debbie Bazzell, had just returned from Mass, I surprised her with my arrival back home, and threw an interview on her. I was surprised that she took it so well. My mom is a planner and I thought this spur of the moment request would send her over the edge, but she was happy to oblige and excited to share the story of her beloved sister with me and those to come across this interview.
Me: This is my Mom, Debbie Bazzell. Her sister is Susan Beth. [To Debbie] So, I’m going to ask you a few questions as an interview, and answer as you please.
Me: Um, Do you have any stories about how your family came to the U.S., like where they settled, or what they did for work?
Debbie: Um, they came to the U.S. via Ellis Island, and settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I’m not quiet sure what they did for work.
Me: That’s fine. How were holidays celebrated in your family, like when you were a kid or even now.
Debbie: A big Italian Christmas, seafood on New Year’s Eve, I mean Christmas Eve going to Mass, on Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. Um, the Masses were always in Latin. Then they did a pasta, uh, dinner on Christmas Day.
Me: Alright, um, what is your favorite childhood memory?
Debbie: Um… going to my grandmother’s in Scranton, and looking out the window, uh, to see if it was going to snow. And, when I went to bed that Christmas Eve, it wasn’t snowing, but when I woke up, it was e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. It had to have been 8 or 9 inches.
Me: So, your first White Christmas?
Debbie: My first White Christmas. It really was my first White Christmas.
Me: Um, as kids did you and Auntie Beth get along well ?
Debbie: Yes.. Yes we got along very well.
Me: Okay. What would you do together as kids?
Debbie: Laid out in the sun.
Me: On the roof, right?
Debbie: On, On the roof.
Debbie: A particularly good time in high school.
Me: Um, what is one word you would describe Auntie Beth as?
Debbie: Full of life.
Me: Um, what is your favorite memory of Sue that captures her spirit best?
Debbie: Um, your video went off, I think.
Me: I don’t know if it did.
Debbie: Oh, it didn’t. Sorry. Hello. Okay. Excuse me?
Me: What is your favorite memory of Sue that captures her spirit best?
Debbie: Oh my god, there are so many. She was, mmm. My favorite memory of Susan that captures her spirit best? Oh, she was dangerous. Um probably when we started to see heat lighting at the pool, and everybody was getting out. She didn’t get out. She said, “If God wants me to die, I’m going to die anyway.” Always taking chances.
Me: I don’t want to say your least favorite memory, but what was the worst time you’ve gotten mad at her, like the maddest you have been at her?
Debbie: Oh gosh. Um, I can’t even think of the maddest I have ever been at her because I wasn’t the type to, uh..
Me: Get mad.
Debbie: To fight or get mad, I kinda kept it to myself, but, um, probably… maybe not knowing where she was at one time.
Me: Yeah, or I remember that story where she got that cigarette burn in your shirt.
Debbie: Oh, yeah, well, those were… I worked hard for my clothes to lend them to Auntie Beth and they never came back right.
Me: Um, what was the most trouble she ever got in?
Debbie: The most trouble she ever got in?
Me: Well not serious trouble, but like…
Debbie: She was never in serious, serious trouble, but there were so many times she got in trouble. Um, the most trouble she ever got in? Maybe would have been riding on the back of a motorcycle with a boy with no helmet on.
Me: Who caught her?
Debbie: My mother.
Me: Ah. Did she have any nicknames given by friends or family?
Debbie: Umm, Sue-B. That is what her friends called her, I believe… Umm… In high school she was just called Sue. Everybody knew who Sue was.
Me: What was her favorite way to pass time?
Debbie: She loved to garden and cook, well when she was older, yes.
Me: Okay. What was she like in high school?
Debbie: She was a wild child. She used to drop me off in the front of the building and wave to the principal. He would say, “Are you coming today Sue?” [Sue] “No, I’m not.”
Debbie: He always knew.
Me: Well, since she was so wild, well not wild, in high school, did she end up being a good mother and housewife?
Debbie: Oh, absolutely, and that was really surprising to the whole family because she wasn’t very maternal, but she raised a wonderful son. She was a great homemaker, worked full-time. She did the gardening and the cooking and took care of her elderly neighbors.
Me: Yeah, I remember she always made me buttered white toast.
Debbie: Yeah, I know you remember that. I fed you wheat she fed you white.
Me: I know that’s why I liked going there.
Debbie: With real butter.
Me: Is anyone else in our family, uh, kinda, kinda wild?
Debbie: No, not like Susan.
Me: Not your dad?
Debbie: Oh, Oh my dad. Oh Lord yes. He was wild up until 2 weeks before he died. He lived a life too.
Me: I remember. What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
Debbie: The craziest thing I have ever done? God, I cannot even think of anything. I have always walked on the sidewalk my whole life. Um… I don’t think I’ve ever done anything.
Me: I, mean, there’s still time.
Debbie: There’s still time.
Me: There’s still time.
Debbie: That is true.
Me: What is the biggest lesson Sue taught you?
Debbie: The biggest lesson Susan taught me… I can’t say the words, but, just in a very short two words, she said “Don’t worry about what other people think about you.”
Me: That’s a good one. You taught me that one, too.
Me: I see where it trickled down from.
Debbie: Just gotta keep on, yes.
Me: How did she impact your life most?
Debbie: She brought a lot of joy to my family and to my parents. And, seeing that, you love your children in different ways, and you love them all the same, but different children give you different, um, perspectives, and she was always the light of our family. She never walked into a room where she didn’t brighten it up.
Me: What is one similarity between me and Auntie Beth?
Debbie: You give me the same joy that she gave my parents. I know… I understand now, that I had you, how they felt about Susan, and I see that immensely in you.
Me: Awe, um, when did you notice this similarity?
Debbie: Between you and Susan? You looked like Susan when you were born. You have the dark skin and the dark hair, and um, you were always just so ya know, out there. Just different. You danced to the beat of your own drummer, always, and enjoyed it along the way. And, not many people can do that and be a good, sweet person at the same time.
Me: What do you miss most about Auntie Beth?
Debbie: Um, what do I miss most about her? I miss most seeing the joy she gave my par… my dad passed right before she did, but I miss most the joy that she gave my mother and the rest of the family, but particularly seeing my mother have such joy in her life, that’s what I miss.
Me: Well, your joyful, too.
Debbie: I know, well, Mom loves you and she sees Susan in you a lot and that’s why every time you come home it’s, “Where’s Macy. Tell her to come see me.”
Me: Okay, well I will go see her, and once again, this is my mom, and I love my mom.
* When my mom was talking about the biggest lesson Sue taught her that she couldn’t say the words, she came up to me after the interview and said ever so eloquently that those two words were, f*ck them. Although those words aren’t widely accepted, I believe there are no other words that perfectly encapsulate Susan’s. She really did not care what others thought of her, and that is why she was able to live such a full and carefree life in the short time she spent on Earth. Those words are words that every single person should live by. It does not matter what their opinion is, so do your own thing, and “Fuck them.” Pardon my French.
The story my mom tells of my Auntie Beth, Susan, perfectly encompasses the image of her: a wild child. Susan was always living life on the edge and doing what she wanted, when she wanted. In my mother’s words, she, like myself, “Walked to the beat of her own drummer.” It has been something my mom has said about me and my Aunt as well as long as I can remember. Nothing bothers us and we do what we want.
Although my mother isn’t the “tradition bearer” of the family. She was the closes to Susan, and I believe her perspective on Sue and her life is so beautifully candid that I could not have gotten a more enveloping response than that response I got from my straight-edge mother. If you can’t already tell, my mother admires Susan, and me as well. She wishes she would just let go and be loose, but there is something about her that won’t allow herself to. Don’t get me wrong, my mom has lived a crazy beautiful life, but I believe that the stark contrast between the personalities of the two add a different perspective to the interview. It is not the perspective of a parent, or a friend, or even a sibling, but the perspective of someone who adores the other.
Many of the things my mom spoke of, I have already heard or knew, but seeing the light in her eyes when she spoke, was something I missed. Ever since Susan’s death, my mom has been distant and unreachable, confined to her own thoughts, but as she spoke, a little bit of her life returned to her. She loved talking about the girl who impacted her so much. It was like I was talking to the teenage version of my mother.
Initially, I did not want to interview my mom, I thought it would hurt her too bad. So, I was going to interview my grandmother, but within the past few weeks her health has declined as well as her mind. So, my mother told me it might actually be good for her to talk about it. She was right. When I left to return to school, my mom was happier than she has been in months. I’m glad to have helped her find that joy again.
At the start of this project, I was lost. I will admit I still am a little lost, but the good lost. I’m looking at where else I can look. What else I can learn. What else I can find. I am so happy with what I have discovered about my family history, my Aunt, and even myself. I have found myself more interested in my family and even wanting to spend more time with them. As much as I have learned about Auntie Beth, I would give anything to talk to her one more time, or hug her, or back flip off her diving board. Just one more time.
I started this project in memory of her and to draw similarities between her, me, and our Italian descent and I believe I have done just that. Anyone who reads this should long to know Susan Beth and the stories of her life. The good news is that they have me. I admit I am a close second to the wild adventures of Susan Beth Peters and her eloquent motto, “F*ck them”.