Tuesday, April 21, 2020



There has been a lot about Freedom recently. Protesters with guns are complaining that they are being denied their freedom to work, to go to church, and to congregate in large crowds. They embrace the word freedom, but ignore the responsibility that comes with it, reducing it to a meaningless word designed to trigger an emotional “gut” response in the listener or reader. A recent diatribe on social media against some perceived broach of “freedom” ended with the declaration, “we are born free”.

What does it mean to be born free? That we are not born into serfdom or slavery? That we are born with the freedom to think, say, and act anyway we choose, free from the restraints of the rules of the state, or the community, or our families? That we are born free from any obligations to others, to our community, or to our government? To say we were born free is meaningless.  In this country we share living space with 310 million people, and whatever freedom we want for ourselves must take into consideration everyone else.  This means making compromises and accepting restrictions that would have made no sense 250 years ago. Freedom comes with responsibility to others and to our community. Freedom cannot exist at the expense of the wellbeing of others.

Sunday, March 29, 2020


 I get along well with food. My life long relationship with it can be divided into 3 stages. The first was growing up in a house dominated by my mother’s kitchen, the center of our family life, and heavy with the aroma of garlic, basil, and oregano. Food was seamlessly connected to family and friends, and was an integral part of all social gatherings. All visitors were directed to the kitchen table where they were offered coffee, food, wine, or any combination of the three. This experience was comfortably tucked away in my psyche where it quietly remained for most of my adult life - the second stage. The third stage began gradually as I entered into the so-called Golden Years. As those childhood experiences of food re-surfaced I began to appreciate how much they helped define who I am, and I eagerly embraced them. And the association between food, family, and friends so firmly ingrained in my mind, continues today. I enjoy food more than ever before, and the enjoyment is always greater when Patience and I are sharing our table – or kitchen counter – with family and friends.

In recent years I have become a big fan of the mid-day meal. Regardless of where I am or what I’m doing I usually manage to find time for the lunch. It doesn’t matter if I’m hungry or not. At 12 o’clock I leave the studio, cross the breezeway into the kitchen and call – actually yell – to my wife that it’s “time for lunch”. The meal is usually a simple affair with little cooking required, and generally consists of whatever I find in the fridge: leftovers, roasted peppers, cheese, Mortadella or salami, and a fresh tomato when available. With Patience’s homemade bread, and a little olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, anything is possible. A recent addition to my lunch menu is the 8-minute egg – an undercooked hardboiled egg cut lengthwise, drizzled with olive oil, salt, and black pepper - simple, elegant, and delicious.

But in addition to being one of the simple pleasures in my life, lunch has become a constant reminder of my father, a man who could not hide his enjoyment of food. Like all farmers, my father’s life was defined by long hours of hard work. His day would begin with early morning chores and end late in the afternoon or early evening, interrupted only by breakfast, and the mid-day meal. I can see him sitting at the kitchen table with his face breaking into a satisfied smile as my mother places the food on the table. I can even here the soft audible sigh he would invariably make. It didn’t matter if it was a few leftovers from the night before, or an assorted collection of cheese, bread, peppers, and other “whatever’s”, his enjoyment of each meal was obvious and genuine. Of course if it was pasta the sigh was always a little louder. His mid-day and evening meals were always accompanied by a small juice glass of his red wine from one of the barrels in our cellar.

This simple mid-day meal has become a welcomed oasis in my daily routine. In addition to the delightful flavors that make it such a treat, there are those moments when a particular taste or smell triggers a fleeting memory of my mother’s kitchen. It is easy to imagine my father sitting across from me now, sharing the joy of this simple meal. We raise our glasses and silently toast one another. It can’t get any better than that.

Luciano Pavarotti was correct when he said,
 “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”

Bill Renzulli can be reached at wfrenzulli@mac.com

Sunday, November 10, 2019


Paducah Sun  ll-10-19

We said our goodbyes, and as he walked away he turned and said, “I’ll see you shortly”, not see you later, or see you next time, but I’ll see you SHORTLY. Even if he was unaware of it, I knew what he was implying.

I was born short, and have remained short in stature all of my life. Sadly, with the years taking a toll on my spinal column, I am becoming even shorter. Most of the time it has been a non-issue. I think the first time I became aware of my shortness was in my pre-pubescent years. I remember aunts and uncles telling my mother that it was only a matter of time before I would “shoot up”. That was the phrase they used, and it has stuck firmly in my mind – shoot up. I don’t remember ever asking my parents about it. They were both short, as was the entire lot of the Renzullis and Rondinellis. I wonder if my parents were concerned about my lack of height. Were they disappointed that I did not “shoot up”. Did I fail them? I don’t want to think about that.

For the most part I am oblivious to my shortness, and it’s only in certain circumstances that I’m forced to deal with it. One that seems to becoming more frequent is being in close proximity to a very tall person. I make a concerted but subtle effort to avoid being so close that I have to look up at them. I will move away to allow some distance between us - 10 or 12 feet for casual acquaintances and 4-6 feet for close friends. My wife says I look all “shifty” when I’m creating this buffer zone, but I don’t believe it.

I recently stumbled across an article about famous Hollywood actors who were short. I thought this would give my self-esteem a big boost, but it was not to be. The actors they were calling short were all taller than me! If you’re 5’5” tall, 5’7” is not short! That’s tall. Over a dozen actors were listed, and they were all taller than me. The only one shorter than me was Danny Devito, my new role model.

The real reason for today’s diatribe is a recent encounter with our new washing machine. It was early morning and I was getting ready to get in the shower when I realized I needed a towel. I yelled to my wife who said clean towels were in the dryer. Still in my underwear, I made my way to the laundry room where I found a towel and proceeded to remove the remaining dry cloths from the dryer. The problem began when I decided to transfer wet clothes from the washer to the dryer. This was my first encounter with our new top-loading washer. The task went smoothly until I reached the last of the cloths, mostly socks, at the bottom of the tub. I stretched by lean sculpted arms as far as they would go, but could not reach the bottom. I stood on my toes and pressed my abdomen hard against the edge of the washer and came tantalizingly close, only to have the *&%#@ socks slip from my fingertips. After several unsuccessful tries I became a cauldron of frustration and determination and would not be satisfied until I got that last miserable sock. I managed to lean over until my feet were no longer touching the floor, balancing on the edge of the washing machine that was now quite familiar with my belly. It was then that I realized the elastic band of my underwear was caught on something, and was the only thing keeping me from reaching the socks. I thought if I began rocking back and forth I might reach the bottom, but quickly dismissed that notion when I almost did a header into the tub and was saved by my underwear, which was now being severely tested. I could only imagine what might have been a nightmare scenario for my sweet wife – finding me lost in the bowels the washing machine with only my legs and feet visible and my underwear around my ankles.  I loved her too much to expose her to that. So I carefully settled back down to the floor, checked my underwear for tears, and grabbed a coat hanger. With some creative twisting I fashioned a hook with which I eventually retrieved the socks. I met Patience in the hallway on my way back to our bedroom. She looked at the deep large red line across my lower abdomen and said, “Oh dear, you didn’t empty the washer did you? There was one more cycle left for that load.”

I wonder if Danny Devito does his own laundry. Probably not.

Friday, September 13, 2019


I love barns: old and new, large and small, dairy, tobacco, and well kept or falling apart. I think I can honestly say I’ve never met a barn I didn’t like.  This love affair began long before they became subjects for my art. Barns and outbuildings were a part of life growing up on a farm. The barn was a playground for me and my friends, a place for hiding, building forts in the hay, for climbing, and for jumping out of lofts and second story windows. Our barn had little to offer architecturally. It was a plain 3-story structure with a tin roof.  The stone and concrete ground floor that supported the 2 framed floors above, housed the various livestock. The top floors were home to several hundred chickens. It wasn’t until I was old enough to accept the responsibility of daily chores that I developed a new appreciation of our barn. 

Milking the family cow was one of my assigned chores, a task I did under duress during the deep days of summer. The barn was hot, the air thick and heavy, and seated by her udder with my head resting on her flank I would be smacked in the face repeatedly by her tail flipping from side to side to remove the flies constantly settling on her. But on cold winter days it was an entirely different experience. I recall reading that a cow generates enough body heat to warm a small cottage. I don’t know if that is true, but I can say with certainty that the animal gives off heat. Sitting on that stool with my head pressed into her flank was like sitting in front of a heat vent.  There was no tail to worry about, and her teats warmed my hands better than any gloves could. Completing this experience were the kittens that seem to be found in every barn everywhere. Somehow they knew it was milking time and would gather around the milk pail in anticipation; I loved to watch them scramble over each other after I squirted them with a stream of milk. I think milking a cow one more time before my last breath will go on my bucket list.

In the years since leaving the farm I cherished the fond memories of a warm and intimate space, a docile cow, and a swarm of fuzzy kittens. Forty years later there was another barn in another place, with horses instead of cows and sheep. And once again I think of escaping the cold winter wind and relishing the warmth and the smells of the horses and straw in freshly cleaned stalls. (Note the focus on winter, and not the hot, sticky days of summer.) I should also mention that in this barn, my wife did ALL of the mucking...her choice. I got to enjoy the fruits of her labor.)

Beyond my personal experiences, I love barns for their architectural and historic qualities. I am drawn to the drama and the mood of a solitary barn, simple or elegant, sitting alone in an empty field, or the intimacy of a barn and several outbuildings, huddled together to create a family haven. I am especially fond of the rambling dairy barns, where one or more additions have been tacked on to the main structure, concerned only with function. The result? A mish mash of architecture and texture...much to my great delight. Looking at these rural icons, many of them now abandoned or a little more than storage facilities, I wonder about their stories, and the hopes and aspirations of the families they served when they were first conceived. I imagine the livestock in their stalls, cats milling about, and children running around, playing in the hayloft, the barns, elegant or simple, served a central role in the daily life of all members of the farm family.

It is sad to see so many of these wonderful structures fall into disrepair and treated with such little respect and appreciation for all that they have provided. Even the unpretentious tobacco barns with their simple lines and lack of any architectural flare stand as lonely reminders of a life that is quickly becoming only a memory.

Sunday, June 30, 2019


I admire men and women of who demonstrate their strength, courage and humanity in their behavior as well as their words. They:

Lift others up, rather than put them down.
Recognize the worth and value of ALL human beings.
Are willing to acknowledge their own weaknesses and failures.
Accept criticism and respect differing opinions.
Have the courage to apologize when one is due.
Are aware of their own shortcomings and strength.
Are not afraid to ask for help.
Know how to balance pride and humility.
Speak the truth (this is tough for all politicians)
Value people for who they are, and not their social and economic status.

Do not bully and call others demeaning names.
Do not need constant affirmation and praise.
Do not need to belittle and mock others to make them selves feel and look strong.
Do not need to lie.

Monday, February 18, 2019


ANOTHER VICTIM OF AGE or The Secret life of Walter Mitty

I have always enjoyed a rich fantasy life. As an only child growing up on a farm I was accustomed to being alone, either playing or doing daily chores.
Daydreaming, an older child’s version of “make believe”, was a way to combat boredom and become more than I was. Picking up stones from the driveway and batting them over imaginary fences with a piece of plaster lathing I became Mickey Mantle. Singing my way through five chicken coops while I gathered eggs transformed me into another Frank Sinatra. (I have no idea what my singing may have done to the egg production.). My heroic accomplishments in the first 18 years of life were nothing short of amazing. That small farm boy from South Jersey became the hero to fans all over America. And as I made my way through the years ahead my daydreams followed, adapting themselves to the changing circumstances. I became a star football player in college in spite of my size, a surviving doctor in a plane crash who saved the lives of other survivors, a famous artist living in NYC, or a victim of amnesia wandering around the country trying to survive, to name just a few of my fantasies. My retreat into these make believe worlds usually occurred when I was driving alone in the car for hours at a time, lying in bed unable to sleep, or waking up in the middle of the night worrying about ridiculous non-existent problems that only arise in the dark hours of the night and early morning.

I choose to believe that occasional daydreaming is a normal and common mental exercise that everyone engages in at one time or another.  I have no interest in learning otherwise. In fact I believe my occasional forays into the world of make believe have served me well, improving my psyche and mental health, in addition to fending off those useless night time worries. But to my great dismay, for the past few years it has become increasingly difficult to retreat into these fantasy worlds, and I’m convinced it has to do with my age.

Regardless of the absurd plots, all of my daydreams have had an element of possibility to them, albeit quite miniscule, and they were all age appropriate. Now, approaching my 79th birthday, it is more challenging to come up with a heroic plot for someone this age. Oh I still do it, but far less often, and with more modest accomplishments. This is one affect of ageing that I never anticipated. I feel blind-sided by it.

I shared this with my wife, telling her I was thinking of writing about the diminishing fantasy life in the 8th decade. She quickly suggested that I avoid using the word fantasy, since it has acquired some carnal implications. I told her I was aware of that and planned to refer to “Walter Mitty” moments. She gave me a blank look, clearly having no idea who Walter Mitty was. When I explained he was a character who was always daydreaming in a short story by James Thurber and made famous portrayed by the late Danny Kaye in the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, she offered that most people would not know that, and said I was really showing my age. Wow, that really helped.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

NOTES FROM THE 8TH DECADE #31 Looking back to look ahead

   Looking back to look ahead

1950 - Fifth Grade class photo

The relentless process of ageing finds expression in our bodies and our minds. I’m not sure which I find more challenging to deal with, the physical or the mental expressions. Recently I’ve been questioning everything I have always thought about myself, looking back on my life with a critical and skeptical eye, questioning my choices and behavior over the many years. Was I a spoiled only child? How did my friends and my cousins see me? Was I so centered on my own interests and goals that I ignored the needs and problems of others, especially my parents? And as an adult, have I been less than honest with myself regarding my relationship with others, and in my assessment of my art and my ambitions?

These are some of the questions I’ve been struggling with in recent weeks. I don’t have answers yet, but I expect they will eventually make themselves known. I also expect the answer to each of them will be yes and no, and I will come away from this enterprise with a better understanding of myself, both then and now.

The eighth decade began with an intense desire to go back and reconnect with the past, through family, friends, old classmates, and acquaintances. Each connection would trigger a new memory and/or bring a fleeting flush of excitement over hearing a voice or seeing a face after 50 years or more. It appears to be ending with the same desire for retrospection, but with a different focus. Now the goal is to reach a deeper understanding of the life I’ve lived, its purpose and meaning, to me and to my family and friends. I seek an honest, unvarnished understanding of myself, one I can accept and embrace with the hope it will enhance the quality of my remaining years.

In spite of all the attention to the past, my primary concern is the quality of the remaining years of my life. I want them to be filled with the same meaning and purpose as those that came before. Artists do not retire. They may rest a bit, and move a little slower, and perhaps walk away from the commercial community, but the words, the art, and the music never cease. I believe I have something worthwhile to contribute to my family, friends, and community, how ever modest it may be. It’s complicated, but I believe an honest understanding of my past is critical to the work I have yet to do.